The Spirit in the Church
The Holy Spirit of God is exceedingly active in the corporate life of the Church of Christ. His activities occupy an important place in the New Testament, where we see (1) how this Divine, invisible Presence clothed Himself, that the purpose of His coming might be fulfilled; and (2) what tremendous potential has been placed at the disposal of those with whom He resides. That the Spirit provides the sphere of the Church’s existence, is evident from a study of the baptism in the Spirit.
Baptism in the Spirit
John the Baptist introduced the idea of a Spirit-baptism (together with its solemn alternative, a baptism of fire) as being the work of the coming Messiah (Matt. 3:11-12). Those who submitted to immersion by John, signified their penitent readiness for the rule of God’s Anointed.
To all who recognized His claims, the promise was, “He shall baptize you with (or in) the Holy Ghost”. (The baptism of fire is reserved for rejectors.)
The risen Christ took up John’s prediction, and showed that part of it would be fulfilled in a few days —meaning, of course, the mighty effusion of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:4-5). (The reference to fire is significantly omitted here, because its fulfilment awaits the day when the chaff shall be burnt up with unquenchable fire.)
In writing to Corinth, Paul spoke of the baptism of the Spirit as a past event. “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks” (1 Cor. 12:13, R.V.).
Hence, we can say that on the day of Pentecost, Christ’s promise was implemented, the work of the Messiah was carried out, and the body of Christ was formed. The Spirit Himself, present in all His fulness, constituted the living bond that united all believers in one body. It is He Who united the members on earth with the Head in Heaven, and thus He is the sphere and realm of the Church’s being.
Headship of Christ
In Ephesians 1:20-23 Paul wrote that God gave the resurrected exalted Christ to be the Head of the Church which is His body. Here was something attained by personal worth and mighty conquest (and something unknown till then) — the triumphant Saviour elevated to the highest plane and given the Headship of that unnumbered host that would eventually be comprised in His body.
The Father has demonstrated Christ’s Headship by raising Him from the dead and subjugating to Him every kind of empire, both in this age and in that which is to come. A hint of the great intention is discernible in the words, “The Church which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”
Just as in His incarnation, He assumed a body in which He could express His Divine-Human personality, so in this age (while physically absent) the Lord Jesus has assumed a body, a mystical body, through which He can give expression to Himself.
The relationship of Head to body is one of a spiritual identification so close that it is said, “The body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). The absent Lord would meet the needs of the world and manifest His love to it through the members of His mystical body.
The Spirit’s Activities
The Holy Spirit protects the rights of the Lord and Head of the Church (1 Cor. 12:1-3).
If we remember the former association of the Corinthians with pagan worship and vileness, we shall more readily understand the words, “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (I Cor. 12:3).
Evil spirits were evidently seeking to take advantage of their pre-conversion practices in order to deceive, and to dishonour Him Who had saved them from spiritism and impurity. The Holy Spirit always exalts Christ as Lord, and any contrary or lesser confession of Him is manifestly not of the Spirit of God. All true ministry upholds and guards the supremacy and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ amongst His people.
Christendom has yielded to the evil that threatened these early Christians, until now Christ is often ousted from His control and directorate of His Church. In any gathering of saints for worship or service, where the Holy Spirit has sway the evidence of it is always seen in the prominence the Spirit secures for the Lord Jesus Christ in the ministry of God’s Word, in the affections and praise of the Lord’s people, as well as in the ordering and control of the gathering.
The second main value of the Spirit’s presence in the Church is that He provides the gifts of its members.
It is the province of the Spirit to enrich the body of Christ with suitable gift (1 Cor. 12:4). “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Then these are called manifestations of the Spirit, nine of which are enumerated (I Cor. 12:7-11).
Any gift in function was intended to bring profit to all present, so that the most useful gifts are found to be heading the list: “the word of wisdom,” and “the word of knowledge.”
Let us pause to recall that the church at Corinth was not the whole body of Christ, but most decidedly it operated “body-wise”. There was a reflection there of the greater in the less; of the universal in the local. The same principle operates everywhere: the function of any gifted believer is for the edification of all. “Covet earnestly the value of lesser gifts (such as speaking with tongues) to the detriment and practical exclusion of the more profitable ones — those which could convey gems of wisdom and knowledge to the household of faith (1 Cor. 12:31).
Tongues and interpretations were by their very nature and purpose of transient value, while direct communication and instruction in the word and mind of God are an abiding necessity to us all (Cf. 1 Cor. 14:3-4, 19, 31). The Church’s infancy required such sign-gifts, but the presence of the complete Canon of Scripture makes their exercise unnecessary.
Anyone who rises today to address the church should ask himself these questions, “Am I acting under the Spirit’s impulse?” “Does my communication carry something for the good of God’s people?” There is often a failure to distinguish between the thoughts we should share with our Lord alone, and those we should share with others publicly.
Thirdly, the Spirit’s presence and control also make for a harmony of function amongst the members of His body, the Church. There should be no monopoly, no isolation, and no schism. “For the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:17). No servant of Christ has been endowed with all the gifts. The Spirit distributes them as He wills, but never concentrates them all in one individual.
Scripturally, an assembly is reduced to its poorest condition when all its ministries must be conveyed through one channel. God’s plan secures the greatest possible enrichment of the assembly. When all gifts are in operation under the Spirit’s direction, there is the communication of truth in its widest variety and so in its most profitable form. It should be appreciated too that a fixed or limited ministry impoverishes worship Godward as well as sustenance manward.
There should also be no isolation; i.e., no witholding by a member of what is due to others. The writer adds, “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the ear, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” (1 Cor. 12:15-16).
There is a counterpart to this in almost every assembly; it is the brother who isolates himself from all public ministration or worship because of an exaggerated view of others’ gifts and because of an underestimation of his own. Were he to grasp the idea of the body, he would see that his little part is essential to the harmonious working of the whole, even though his contribution might be only the announcing of a hymn (which, while not requiring great gift, demands spiritual discernment and leading).
Furthermore, the members of the body should be so vitally and intimately connected that there is a sharing of mutual joys and sorrows. “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26). Sympathy of this sort is vividly illustrated in the physical body — a hint as to the love which should be the actuating principle of all our relations as members of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul described the indispensable love which is greater than all gifts, and which gives value to every Christian activity. It produces strong Christian character; self is abnegated, others are considered. It remains when prophecies, tongues, and knowledge have ceased. It excels even in the presence of faith and hope. “The greatest of these is love.”
The foremost fruit of the Spirit, love breathes the life of Christ from first to last. Read 1 Corinthians 13 again with the thought in mind of a body where no schism exists, where member weeps for member, where love sings when a fellow-member is exalted. Into such blessedness the Spirit of God and the Spirit of love could lead us all if only we were yielded to His blessed Person, His will, and His ways.