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Monday, February 18, 2013

Acts 8: Baptism, The Holy Spirit, and Tongues

Acts 8: Baptism, The Holy Spirit, and Tongues

Acts 8:18-19

What has gone before...

Philip's preaching brought crowds in Samaria to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Sustainer. They gladly proclaimed their repentance and dependence upon God through water baptism. But something more was yet in store for these new believers. Peter and John prayed for the Samaritan Christians and they received the Holy Spirit.

Moving on...

"Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, - Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." Acts 8:18-19 (ESV)

Simon the Magician was a believer, baptized along with crowds of men and women who had listened to Philip and saw the signs that he did. Simon must have also been among those for whom Peter and John prayed, and upon whom the Holy Spirit had fallen. Luke does not describe what "receiving the Holy Spirit" looked like, but it would be proper to assume it was what the apostles themselves had experienced previously:

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)

A loud sound as of wind, tongues of fire and the ability to speak in other languages were, for the apostles, the signs of the Holy Spirit.

Soon after, the Christians in Jerusalem again experienced something similar:

"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness." Acts 4:31 (ESV)

No such description is found, however, concerning the believers in Samaria.

Why?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Was your conversion to Christ accompanied with a distinct, miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit? Is the description found in Acts 4:31 something you've long desired, or have you found it to be better that God's presence was quietly in the background at your conversion?

Let's look first at examples of the Holy Spirit's immediate, powerful manifestation in newly converted believers. We've seen references to it happening first on the day of Pentecost and then later, following persecution from the religious rulers of Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-4 and 4:31).

On another occasion, Peter was preaching to a household of Gentiles, non-Jews who sought to learn of Jesus. Their belief was instant and powerful, with unmistakeable signs of the Holy Spirit's indwelling, surprising Peter, who had long held deep animosity against all non-Jews.

"While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, - Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? - And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

In this instance, the first Christian conversion of non-Jews, the Holy Spirit's manifestation was immediate and powerful. It occurred without water baptism and without prayer or laying on of hands.

The apostle Paul encountered a few disciples, only twelve, of John the Baptist, in faraway Ephesus. He asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They expressed ignorance of the existence of such a thing, explaining that their only baptism had been that of John's.

"On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying." Acts 19:5-6 (ESV)

Paul's response upon first meeting these disciples demonstrates that, for Paul, the Holy Spirit always manifested Himself in outward, observable ways for every genuine believer. He had expected, and evidently didn't see, such manifestation in these men in Ephesus. For Paul, it was evidence that the men's belief was not founded upon Christ. Paul's manner also indicates that he did not expect the Holy Spirit to come upon the men without his prayer and touch.

The common denominator in each of these examples is that of "firstness". Peter and John's arrest was the first recorded instance of religious persecution following the crucifixion of Christ. Peter had refused to consider a ministry among Gentiles, until God's Spirit persuaded him otherwise. The far-flung disciples of John the Baptist had not even heard of such a thing as "Holy Spirit", and they probably didn't even realize that the "Lamb of God", preached by John, had been crucified and resurrected as Lord and Savior.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does the notion of "firstness" seem, to you, to apply to the question of why the account of the Samaritan believers lacks any mention of loud wind, shaking walls or speaking other tongues? What other reasons might there be for the difference?

Now, let's look at instances of believers receiving the Holy Spirit without any suggestion of powerful signs.

Peter preached to a crowd of Jews in Jerusalem:

"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls." Acts 2:38,41 (ESV)

No mention of tongues of fire, miraculous languages or boldness.

The same thing happened not long after, with a crowd of Jews who had witnessed Peter and John heal with a word a man lame from birth. After preaching, about five thousand men had believed. But, again, no mention of the Holy Spirit coming upon the new believers in fire and boldness (Acts 4:4).

Philip preached to an Ethiopian eunuch in the desert. The man was a Jew, returning to his home country after worshiping in Jerusalem. He believed Philip's words, was baptized and filled with joy, but there is no mention of his receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26-40).

Paul believed, and was baptized, but with no tongues of fire, no foreign language nor bold speaking, although the boldness did appear a few days later (Acts 9:17-20).

In these examples we can see that the Holy Spirit's manifestation in a believer is different from person to person, from situation to situation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you share with the group a passage or verse of Scripture that you've found helpful or encouraging concerning the Holy Spirit? How have you found God's Spirit working in or upon you in your Christian walk? Why, do you think, is the Holy Spirit's ministry often seem confusing or controversial?

Let's look at references to the purpose or essence of the Holy Spirit's ministry. Shortly before ascending into heaven, Jesus comforted the eleven apostles:

"Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Luke 24:49 (ESV)

Jesus was reminding His closest friends of what he had said early in His ministry.

"The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." John 14:26 (ESV)

The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to be the presence of Jesus with those who love him. Through the Holy Spirit, believers remember and understand His words.

"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:13-14 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit is given to believers as a guarantee, a confirmation of our eternal relationship with God, His precious, beloved children who have a glorious future beyond life on this earth.

Peter connected water baptism with the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." 1 Peter 3:21-22 (ESV)

Just as water will remove dirt from the body, the baptism of the Holy Spirit removes from the spirit the dirt of guilt. The Holy Spirit's primary influence upon a believer is the creation of a good conscience. Guilt, for a genuine believer in Christ, is removed, based upon the decree of Jesus, the One given all authority and power, including the power to grant forgiveness of sin.

It seems crucial that Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize disciples "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:20 (ESV)

This implies that it is essential that believers understand with their mind and treasure with their heart the knowledge that God is triune, that they have been spiritually reborn and immersed into the life of God, Who is their Father, their Lord, and their Spirit. All three manifestations of God are necessary for righteousness and truth to be understood and valued.

Jesus regarded the Holy Spirit as the motivating Force for His ministry:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)

This passage implies that the Holy Spirit's influence upon believers is the boldness to speak and preach.

It may be that the Lord's Prayer can be understood as a good overview of the Holy Spirit's ministry upon a believer:

"Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, - Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. - And he said to them, - When you pray, say: - Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation." Luke 11:1-4 (ESV)

Immediately after this example of prayer, Jesus emphasized the believer's dependence upon God, using an extended story to describe God's willingness to help those who ask. Jesus finished the lesson with a statement that connected the prayer directly to the Holy Spirit:

"How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:13 (ESV)

This passage implies that asking God for food, forgiveness and protection is, for the believer, a prayer for the Holy Spirit's help. The Holy Spirit's ministry might be described as one of providing physical and spiritual health and strength for believers.

This conclusion is supported by other references:

"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." John 6:63 (ESV)

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, - Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. - Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." John 7:37-39 (ESV)

In contrast to descriptions given in the the Book of Acts, the writings of Paul connect the Holy Spirit with a spiritual ministry much deeper than the sound of wind shaking a room, tongues of fire or miraculous ability to speak unknown languages. Paul spoke of the Holy Spirit's influence as being joy and peace in the believer:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." Romans 15:13 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? With Scripture presenting many difference facets of the Holy Spirit, can you make some general conclusions that might connect together all the different ways in which the Holy Spirit influences people? What overall principles might include everything from loud wind, speaking in tongues, boldness, healing and hope?

Paul connected the Holy Spirit with spiritual power, but emphasized the variety of ways in which that power may be manifested:

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (ESV)

This explains the seemingly inconsistent descriptions of believers receiving the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. God is not held to a rigid pattern of behavior, although the foundational purpose of His Holy Spirit remains the same: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

For many Christians, the miraculous ability to speak unknown tongues has seemed the primary, perhaps only, evidence of a person's baptism in the Holy Spirit. The apostles certainly spoke different languages immediately upon receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), and tongues were evident in the conversion of others (Acts 10:44-48, Acts 19:5-6).

Paul listed the gift of tongues as one of the many different manifestations of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10, 28). But in the same passage, Paul cautioned Christians to avoid insisting that everyone possess the same gifts:

"Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 (ESV)

The expected answer to these rhetorical questions is, "No!"

"All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." 1 Corinthians 12:11 (ESV)

In fact, Paul explains that tongues, among other spiritual gifts, will pass away:

"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away." 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (ESV)

Paul describes love as "perfect", while prophecy, tongues and knowledge are "partial". Later, Paul lists three "perfect" spiritual gifts:

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV)

It may seem difficult to imagine "knowledge" (gnosis, knowing absolutely) passing away, as if there will come a day when we will "know" nothing. However, Paul's exhortation describes the spiritual gift of miraculously "knowing" something, a gift that some Christians are given by the Holy Spirit. The gift will pass away, according to Paul, implying that "knowledge" will no longer depend upon the spiritual ability of some Christians. Rather, "knowlege" will be completely known and understood by all, in the form of faith, hope and love. This is supported by Paul's connection of prophecy with "mystery" with "knowledge":

"If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing...One who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit." 1 Corinthians 13:2, 14:2 (ESV)

The definitive purpose of the gift of tongues is presented in Paul's letter to the Corinthian Christians:

"In the Law it is written, - By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord. - Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers." 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 (ESV)

Paul cited a passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 28. The prophet Isaiah described the spiritual condition of the Jewish nation, calling the people "proud drunkards", "reeling and staggering". Isaiah implied that the Jews were children, "weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast". He accused the people of being unable to hear God's words, unable to connect together anything but the very smallest ideas, "precept upon precept, line upon line." The Jewish leaders were mistaken in their visions and stumbling in giving judgement.

As an indictment against the Jews, God revealed to Isaiah His plan to confront the proud, willful deafness of His people with a reflection of their ignorance. A "people of strange tongues" would witness to them of God's power and providence.

The gift of tongues was meant as a picture of the confused, ignorant hearts of God's people, the Jews. God was putting to shame the proud Jewish scholars who so badly misunderstood His words, comparing them to people who did not understand His language.

Tongues were meant as a sign to the ignorant hearts and minds of unbelievers. They were not meant to encourage or teach believers.

Paul encouraged Christians to understand the purpose of all spiritual gifts, including the gift of tongues, cautioning the Church to not forbid speaking in tongues:

"So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order." 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What has been your experience with the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues? In your opinion, has the need for miraculous language passed away? What immediate effect does the gift of tongues seem to provide today?

Abstract - Photomorrobay photographers in one-second blur-exposure by Mike Baird, Creative Commons License