Quenching the Spirit
By Fred Zaspel–
In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 the Lord gives us a command through his inspired apostle that I have often found fascinating. In most translations the verse reads, “Do not quench the Spirit.” In our NIV it reads more colorfully, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” I find this verse fascinating not simply because of what it commands but also because of what it implies.
We understand that this New Covenant age is the age of the Spirit’s abundant work. The Spirit of God has come to “indwell” God’s people in full measure, and he works in us in many different ways. He is “the Spirit of sonship” in that he ministers to us a confident sense of God’s fatherly love to us and an assurance that we belong to him as his children. He gifts us for service. He “leads” us into practical godliness and cultivates in us “the fruit of the Spirit” — those virtues of Christlikeness that God requires of us. And of course it was the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith at the very outset of our Christian experience. In all this the Spirit of God works sovereignly and powerfully. We would be nothing without him. We would not grow in grace, we would not serve God, we would have no assurance, and we would not even trust in Christ in the first place. What a blessed and vital role he serves in our salvation!
Yet God tells us that we should not “quench” him. We should not “put out his fire,” as it were. The plain implication is that by our sin we may stifle the Spirit’s effectiveness in us. We may by our sin hinder the work which he has come to do in us and for us.
In regeneration God acts sovereignly, and he acts alone. He works within us to bring us to life and to faith in Christ. We believe, but only in response to his initial and powerful work in us. We call this “irresistible grace,” simply because God’s calling proves irresistible in bringing about our willing conversion. In John 3, in his discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus spoke just this way — the Spirit is like the wind that blows effectually wherever he wants!
But in the process of growth in grace, a certain cooperation is required on our part. Everywhere in the New Testament we are called to “yield” ourselves to God, to submit to his leading and promptings to godliness. “Walk in the Spirit,” we are commanded. “Be filled with the Spirit.” We must work with Him in the cultivation of godliness, and only as we do will we know the fullness of his blessing. “Trust and obey,” we sing, “for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.” We must trust and obey. And if we do not, God’s Spirit may be quenched and his effectiveness stifled.
Still further, the apostle Paul in this passage (1 Thess. 5: 11ff) is speaking to the church corporately, and there is just the hint that his warning is not to be understood merely on an individual level. His caution to the church is that by their sin — in context: by their thanklessness, their prayerlessness, their lack of appreciation for those who lead them, their lack of concern for the public ministry of the Word of God, and so on — they may quench the Spirit’s work among them. What otherwise might have been accomplished among them has been shut out by their sin.
This, then, is just one of those passages that warns us of the effects of our sin. Our sin carries with it consequences both for us and for those around us. Like Achan in the book of Joshua, whose sin halted the progress of Israel’s army and brought the death of many, our sin can drastically hinder the Spirit’s work among us and hold back the blessing we might otherwise realize.
For God’s sake, for our own sake’s, for the sake of one another, and for the sake of our corporate advance of the gospel, let us be careful to walk in the Spirit and see to it that His work among us will not be hindered.
Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010); Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.