Old Testament reading:
[Psa 51:1-12 ESV] 1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
New Testament reading:
[Eph 4:25-32 ESV] 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
[Luk 12:54-59 ESV] 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? 57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”
[1Th 5:19-22 ESV] 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
We now continue in Paul’s commands at the end of his first letter to the church at Thessalonica. Last week we saw he commanded us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Now he continues “Do not quench the spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from evil form of evil.”
This will require much explanation. And we’ll see that these commands are related; hence why I’ve chosen verse 19, 20, 21, and 22 as a unit for today’s sermon.
First is the command “do not quench the Spirit.”
I. Do not quench the Spirit.
What does this mean? It is important here, as always, to understand the Bible’s intended meaning, and not to import our own meaning into the text.
“Do not quench the Spirit.”
Quench is somewhat an archaic word. We don’t use much in our day. The King James Bible translated this verse using the word “quench” and most modern Bibles have followed suit.
There is one, however, THE NET Bible, which says “do not EXTINGUISH the Spirit.”
This is perhaps a better translation of the Greek. “Do not extinguish the Spirit.”
Now, “the Spirit” spoken of here is THE HOLY SPIRIT. In fact, whenever the scriptures say “THE Spirit” they are referring to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the text is not speaking about OUR Spirit; that is, it is not telling us like a school pep rally to have more spirit. It is referring to the Holy Spirit.
“Do not quench the HOLY Spirit.”
The term quench is used in one modern context that I know of. Metallurgy. If you’ve studied metals you’ll know that there are various kinds of steel, with admixtures of iron, manganese, nickel, etc. that provide for different properties. But types of steel are not only distinguished by their ingredients, but are also made different by the processes in which they are created. And one of those processes is quenching. When metal is quench, a red-hot piece is dropped into water or oil, and the chemical structure of the metal suddenly changes, usually hardening the metal or altering some other property.
To quench therefore is to put water on a fire.
The Holy Spirit is often likened to a fire.
In Isaiah chapter 4 we read:
[Isa 4:3-4 ESV] 3 And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, 4 when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.
Then Jesus says in Matthew 3:11
[Mat 3:11 ESV] 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
But most clearly, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as “tongues as of fire.” (Acts 2:3)
Christians then are “of the Spirit.” Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, and enlivens us to do the good works the Lord calls us to.
We are “on fire” for the Lord. Do not quench that fire!
Now, naturally, we know because of God’s irresistible Grace — spoken of in many places in the Scriptures — that we cannot overpower God, we cannot win a battle over the Holy Spirit, we cannot fully snuff out that fire of the Holy Spirit that is in us. The Lord has called us to be His own people, and He will keep us as eternally his.
But there is yet the warning “do not quench the Spirit.”
What is then being spoken of in our text is the “work of the Holy Spirit.” We are not to quench the FRUIT of the Spirit; we are not to throw water on that fire, we are not diminish nor lesson the Holy Spirit working in us.
That work of the Holy Spirit is summarized in Galatians. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
To quench the Holy Spirit is to sin, and therefore not have the fullness of this fruit.
The command may be put: “Don’t throw bad deeds (water) upon the good works (fire) of the Holy Spirit.”
This understanding matches with the context, which tells us “hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil.”
This is the Biblical understanding.
It is necessary to briefly warn against those who use this verse – “do not quench the Spirit” – for other purposes. Say a person desires to build an addition on to a church, or to expand a Christian College, or even wants you to believe some new teaching that they’ve come to accept. And say you resist these. Perhaps, you say, “It is not wise for us to build on to the church” or “there is not money to expand the college” or “I disagree with that view you are promoting.” Then — and understand this — if the advocate of the building projects or the new teaching says that your opposition is “quenching the spirit,” they are misapplying that verse. One can very much have the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – and be either FOR or AGAINST a particular plan or a particular non-essential teaching.
But let us never quench Spirit, let us never throw water on that fire that burns within us and brings fruit. Let us never mix sin with good works.
Ephesians 4 is a similar text. There Paul says “do not GREIVE the Holy Spirit of God.” And he explains not sin: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
So we are to be encouraged: Let your love for God and the Fruit of the Spirit in you be glowing hot coals. Have zeal for the Lord.
And so, returning to Paul’s command to rejoice always, an old Puritan minister said “The way to keep oneself warm, is to keep the fire burning. It is a foolish thing for a man to quench his fire and then think to keep himself still warm. He that would rejoice evermore must keep the Spirit unquenched.”
Then, with the Spirit unquenched, we may REJOICE ALWAYS, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.”
Paul then continues in 1 Thessalonians saying
20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
II. Do not despise prophecies.
“Do not despise prophecies.” This also requires some explanation.
Certainly we may despise prophesy-mongers. Those who declare themselves to be prophets and see the end of the world in every news story.
False prophets are routinely criticized the Scriptures.
Jesus said “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
In Deuteronomy chapter 13 and in chapter 18, God even commands that the false prophet shall be put to death.
But now we have the verse “Do not despise prophecies.”
The word here is Προφητείας and it shows up in the New Testament some 19 times. The Bible dictionary tells us that it means “prophetic utterances.”
What are these prophetic utterances?
Now, in three cases it is clear that this is in references to the revelation in the Old Testament. Matthew 13:14, 2 Peter 1:20, 2 Peter 1:21 refer to the prophetic utterances of God’s prophets in the Old Testament.
Then, in 5 cases (all in the book of Revelation) (Rev. 1:3, Rev. 22:7, Rev. 22:10, Rev. 22:18, Rev. 22:19), the prophetic utterances are the words of that text itself.
We certainly are not to despise the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament or of the New. These are the very words of God.
There remains then a number of other verses which have that word Προφητείας. (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 13:2, 1 Corinthians 13:8, 1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:22, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 1 Timothy 1:18, 1 Timothy 4:14, Revelation 11:6, Revelation 19:10)
We do not have the time to look at each of them in depth.
But what we find in general in those references is that “prophecy” is not only (or even usually) a NEW REVELATION, but that prophesying or “giving prophecy” is to repeat or explain the Word of God that is in Scripture.
Calvin, for example, says
Calvin: By the term prophecy I do not understand the gift of foretelling the future, but as in 1 Corinthians 14:3, the science of interpreting Scripture, 3 so that a prophet is an interpreter of the will of God. For Paul, in the passage which I have quoted, assigns to prophets teaching for edification, exhortation, and consolation, and enumerates, as it were, these departments. Let, therefore, prophecy in this passage be understood as meaning–interpretation made suitable to present use. 4 Paul prohibits us from despising it, if we would not choose of our own accord to wander in darkness.
And certainly we shouldn’t despise that!
A couple others are worth quoting here for filling out our understanding of this idea of “prophecy.”
John MacArthur — not a Reformed exegete but a well respected theologian —says “The verb form propheteuo means “to speak of proclaim publicly”; thus the gift of prophecy is the Spirit-endowed skill of publicly proclaiming God’s world (cf. Romans 12:6). New Testament prophets sometimes delivered a brand-new revelation directly from God (Luke 2:29-32; cf v. 38, Acts 15:23-29). At other times they merely reiterated a divine proclamation that was already recorded (cf. Luke 3:5-6; Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35; 4:25-26; 7:2-53).” – MacArthur, p. 196.
And Matthew Henry says: By prophesyings here we are to understand the preaching of the word, the interpreting and applying of the scriptures; and this we must not despise, but should prize and value, because it is the ordinance of God, appointed of him for our furtherance and increase in knowledge and grace, in holiness and comfort.
Our text then is one of those places that shows us the connection of Word and Spirit. Not despising prophecies of the Word of God, but searching the Scriptures, we do not quench the Spirit, but grow even warmer. The more of the Word of God that we study and meditate on, the greater we learn to have the Fruit of the Spirit be produced in us. The greater the fire is kept alive.
III. Abstain from every form of evil.
Now, finally, we read “but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.”
We’ve noted this already: abstain from every form of evil. Don’t quench the Spirit. Keep the fire alive.
So there is this command to “test everything.”
How do we “test everything”?
To determine whether something is good and true, we need something true to compare it with.
In carpentry we use a square, a tool that is known to have an angle of exactly 90 degrees. And so to test a fit of two pieces of wood, to see that they are square, we put the square tool up to it.
If you open up the hood to you car, you might (like myself) be bewildered by all of the mechanics. Something could be totally out of place, and I won’t notice it. I need to have a diagram or a picture of what it is supposed to look like. Then I can compare it, and see what is wrong. A better mechanic might have that true image in his mind of what the engine compartment should look like.
Now, the standard Paul has is the Word of God. We are to test everything with the Scriptures. That is the true image, the perfect square 90 degrees.
Whenever anything comes your way, you compare it with Scripture. God, who is true, has given His true word to us. And with that word we are to compare all things. And therefore know what is a good work and what is sin.
We keep the Spirit unquenched when look to the word of God and follow its precepts.
So we are to keep the fire alive.
Are you on fire for Jesus?
Are you alive for Jesus?
Perhaps you say “not as much as I should be.” And that is maybe always correct. But the fact that you are here this morning, when so many are at home, is evidence that you are on fire for Jesus.
But attendance at church may mean only that the fire is not put out. We then desire to make that fire hotter. We must use the bellows to add air to the fire so that it is hotter. We must look to the word of God and grow in it. For man shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God.
How else may we keep the fire alive?
Let us sing hymns, loudly. These hymns have been vetted to be Biblical by a committee of persons in both the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Church in America, as noted in the preface of the hymnal. And this hymnal has been approved for our worship by the session of this church. Of course, we as individual Christians should also compare the words of the hymns with the Scriptures. And if you do, I think you’ll find them in accord with the truth. And by singing these hymns you sing truths about God and his revelation to us in His word.
Hearing the Word of God, read, preached, and sung we then grow in the Spirit, learning more of living for Christs and producing fruit in accord with that fire of the Spirit.
Keep the fire alive.
Do not quench it.
When you are tempted to sin, look to the word of God, and say “this is sin and I shall not do it.” I don’t want to quench the Spirit!
And when we live in accord with the commands of God, we praise the Lord for it is His very Holy Spirit who works in us to will and to do. Let us then look to the Lord, and look to his word, praying that Holy Spirit works in us to obedience, sanctification, and holiness, every growing our love for the Lord and keeping the fire alive.