Living in the Spirit

1 Corinthians

Lesson Focus: This lesson explores the Person of the Holy Spirit and His work in the lives of believers.

The Spirit is God: Genesis 1:2; Acts 5:3-4.

[Gen. 1:2]  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

[Acts 5:3]  But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? [4]  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." [ESV]

[Genesis 1:2]  Verse 2 describes the condition of the world after its creation but before God prepared it for human beings. The earth was without form and void, covered with water. Having described the land as uninhabitable, the remainder of the account pictures God’s preparing of the land for His creatures, especially humanity. He makes it fit for their habitation. The land lies empty, dark, and barren, awaiting God’s call to light and life. While the Hebrew word here can be translated either wind or Spirit, the traditional reading Spirit of God is the only reading compatible with the verb hovering, a verb not suited to describing the blowing of a wind. Thus the phrase expresses the powerful presence of God moving mysteriously over the face of the waters. The image of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters is recalled in Deuteronomy 32:11 by the metaphor of God as an eagle hovering over the nest of its young, protecting and making their nest fit for them. The use of this similar divine imagery both at the beginning of the Pentateuch and at its end suggests a picture of the work of the divine Spirit in both passages. The identity of the Spirit of God in verse 2 finds additional support in the parallels between the creation account and the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus. Many lines of comparison can be drawn between the two accounts, showing that the writer intended a thematic identity between the two narratives. Here it will suffice to note that in both accounts the work of God is to be accomplished by means of the Spirit of God. As God did His work of creation by means of His Spirit, so Israel was to do their work by means of the Spirit of God.

[Acts 5:3-4]  These verses contain Peter’s response to Ananias. Peter wastes no time asking why Satan has filled Ananias’s heart to lie to the Spirit and keep back the proceeds. The concept of filling the heart refers to the control Satan has to influence such a decision to lie. Satan filled, and the result was the lie. This filling is the opposite of being filled with the Spirit. Satan is trying to undermine what the new community represents. Ananias is accused of being unfaithful in very direct terms. He is to be honest before and to God, but his integrity is severely compromised, and Peter and God know it. Such lying is dangerous to the community and dishonors God. The final remark (you have not lied to men but to God) makes it clear that the responsibility for the act, though influenced by Satan, is Ananias’s directly, for it is out of his heart that Ananias has acted and disobeyed God. The deceit and allegiance represented here reflect the personal characters of Satan and the Spirit respectively, one reflecting deceit and the other honesty and faithfulness to God. Nonetheless, the sin is Ananias’s because he left himself open to follow Satan. There are implications here for the person of God, since to act against the Spirit is to act against God. In Luke’s view, these are not metaphorical forces but the expression of real, unseen beings. This is not the only option Ananias possessed. Peter points out that Ananias had control and authority over the land both when it remained unsold and once the proceeds came to him upon its sale. There is nothing required of him by the community. After the sale, the proceeds are still under Ananias’s authority. He had the option to keep the proceeds or dispose of only some of it. So the deceitful act was completely premeditated, apparently motivated by the desire of Ananias and Sapphira to appear more generous than they truly are. The desire for human praise is more important to them than being faithful to God. The verb contrived means to set something or to purpose to accomplish something. Ananias’s action represents a priority to obey man or seek human praise rather than to honor God. It is an act of defiance and disobedience. The verb lie is repeated in each verse to focus on the particular sin committed by Ananias. The parallel between Holy Spirit in verse 3 and God in verse 4 emphasizes both the personhood and divinity of the Spirit.

The Spirit Indwells Believers: John 7:37-39.

[37]  On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. [38]  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’" [39]  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. [ESV]

The proclamation of Jesus recorded in these verses, with its dependence on a water metaphor, is entirely appropriate to its setting in the Feast of Tabernacles with its water-pouring rite. John tells us that, on the last day of the feast, Jesus cried out. What He says is proclaimed loudly and emphatically so that all might hear and all might heed. Jesus is also said to have stood. A teacher usually sat with his disciples, so that the Master’s posture as well as His voice called attention to His words as important. In words reminiscent of those of 4:10 Jesus gives the invitation to the thirsty to come to Him and drink. There is the implication that the thirsty soul will find  supplied in Jesus that need which could not be supplied elsewhere. The appropriateness of the words at this feast is that throughout the seven days libations were made in the temple with water brought from the pool of Siloam. But on the eighty day no water was poured, and this would make Jesus’ claim all the more impressive. At the same time His primary reference may be not to the temple rite, but to the supply of water from the rock in the wilderness which was remembered during the feast. The drinking of which Jesus spoke is possible only to those who come in faith. And faith has its results. When the believer comes to Christ and drinks he not only satisfies his thirst but receives such an abundant supply that veritable rivers flow from him. This stresses the outgoing nature of the Spirit-filled life. As the believer receives the gift of God, so he passes it on to others. Or to put the same thought in another way, when a man believes he becomes a servant of God, and God uses him to be the means of bringing the blessing to others. Living water is the gift of Christ in 4:14. Here we must think of the gift as divine in origin, but as channeled through the believer. John explains that the statement by Jesus in verse 38 concerns the Spirit who will be given to those who put their trust in Christ. This explanation about the meaning of living water helps us interpret passages like John chapter 4. The statement as yet the Spirit had not been given probably refers to the period after Pentecost. The gift of the Holy Spirit to the infant church that day transformed everything, so that all that followed might be called the era of the Spirit. The Bible does not speak of the Spirit as totally inactive up till that point. There is much about Him in the Old Testament and the Gospels. But there is nothing that we can compare with the activity of the apostolic age. John tells us that it was the work of Jesus that made the difference. It was not yet the age of the Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified. Calvary is the necessary prelude to Pentecost. Notice that the cross is referred to in terms of glory, not of shame. Once again John sees the cross and the glory as one. And he sees the atoning work of Christ as the necessary prelude to the work of the Spirit. It is plain that the believer’s sin must be dealt with before he can enter on the life of the Spirit. It is a point repeated in this Gospel that the Spirit could not come during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry [16:7]. But when that work was consummated the Spirit was given [20:22].

The Spirit Gives Boldness: Acts 4:29-31.

[29]  And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, [30]  while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." [31]  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. [ESV]

Now the community offers their prayer request which is that God take notice of the situation. The community leaves to God the moral judgment of the opponents and their actions. It does not pray explicitly for opponents to be crushed, nor does it seek to be spared opposition. It asks to face the opposition and suffering faithfully. The second request is that God give the community boldness to speak the word. The word boldness reappears in verse 31 to show the answer to the prayer. The community’s members describe themselves as God’s bond servants, a term that fits the address of God as Lord at the prayer’s start. As the community preaches, it is confident that God will show power by means of your hand. God will heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Jesus, as God did in Acts 3:1-10. The prayer is not so much a request but an understanding in faith of how God can work. The reference to God’s hand looks back to verse 28, linking the request to the theological rationale already given. So the prayer is asking for enablement to match God’s visible activity and sovereign ability to heal with the proclamation of God’s word. God is to show His compassion to the people as the community proclaims the word and faces opposition. The signs serve the sovereign God and God’s message. With the prayer complete, three signs of divine response follow: (1) the place where they pray shakes, (2) all are filled with the Spirit, and (3) they speak the word with boldness. The shaking of the place of prayer is an unusual sign of confirmation. In Acts 16:26 an earthquake opens up prison doors and makes the prison shake. Whereas there it shows God’s work to free those persecuted, here it shows that God has heard the prayer. The filling with the Spirit means the enablement to proclaim the word that follows. This is a separate act from the indwelling that appeared in Acts 2. It is specific to the request for boldness. The word of God is spoken with boldness. The community’s goal to be enabled for mission is met. In sum, this prayer is an expression of complete dependence on God, a recognition of His sovereignty, a call for God’s justice and oversight in the midst of opposition, for an enablement for mission, and for the working of His power to show that God is behind the preaching of the name of Jesus in healing and signs. The reliance on God, the resting in God’s justice, the willingness to suffer persecution, the desire to preach Jesus, and the call to God to show Himself – all are signs of a healthy community. Turning to God leads to boldness.

The Spirit Equips for Service: 1 Corinthians 12:4-7.

[4]  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; [5]  and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; [6]  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. [7]  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [ESV]

[4-6]  Paul argues in 12:4-11 that the Spirit gives a variety of gifts to people. These gifts are not given as a sign that the recipients are especially spiritual or have received a super-sized portion of the Spirit. The Spirit distributes the gifts according to His sovereign purposes – for the common benefit of all and for the unity of the community, and certainly not to stir up divisions in the church or to create a first team of select Christians and a second team of also-rans. Lowering the Corinthians’ glamorized estimation of tongues, which has created division, is the ultimate target of this discussion. The key verses are 7 and 11, which speak of diversity of spiritual manifestations and the unity of the source. Differences exist among believers because they have been given different gifts by the Spirit. The emphasis here in verse 4 is not on the variety of the different gifts but on the one Spirit who distributes them. The Greek word that Paul uses here for gifts (charisma) is a derivative of the Greek word for grace (charis). Thus Paul emphasizes that these are grace-gifts which are given by God to be used for the purpose which He has designed for them. The allotment of these gifts is diverse and falls into three broad categories: gifts, services, and activities. The source of the gifts has Trinitarian overtones. These are not simply gifts of the Spirit, but the entire Trinity is involved. The parallelism of 12:4-6 is obvious: varieties of gifts … same Spirit; varieties of service … same Lord; varieties of activities … same God. These categories are not hard and fast, however. All these same phenomena can also be identified as the manifestation of the Spirit [12:7] and as activated by the one and the same Spirit [12:11]. The Spirit represents the activity of God in the lives of believers, since it is God who works all things in all persons [12:6] and God who places gifts in the church [12:28]. Consequently, one should not infer that the three figures do different things – the Spirit gives only gifts, the Lord only services, and God only activities. Paul is just emphasizing here the work of each of the members of the Trinity in the distribution of various gifts to the Church. Three points to glean from these statements in 12:4-6. First, Paul’s intent in listing these gifts in this way seems designed to reinforce the idea of variety. God is experienced in a variety of ways, and divine gifts should be expected to be multifaceted. Second, Paul affirms that all gifts come from the same divine source. There can be no distributions without the One who distributes them [12:11]; there can be no workings without the One who works them [12:6]. Third, Paul is intent on broadening the Corinthians’ understanding of spiritual gifts to include humbler forms of expression such as everyday acts of service. He designates the collection for the saints, for example, as a ministry of service [2 Cor. 9:1, 12-13; Rom. 15:31]. Although the collection may seem less spectacular than some other manifestations of the Spirit, it is no less a sign of the Spirit’s working in them. All of life in the church is charismatic and has its source in God’s Spirit.

[7]  Paul now gives the basic thesis for this chapter: to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. The gifts are given to individuals so that they may benefit others and serve the whole body. In 12:8-10, Paul develops the statement to each is given by the Spirit. In 12:12-26, he develops the meaning of the phrase for the common good. The metaphor of the bodily members [12:12-26] suggests that Paul believes that each member in the church has been given a gift and function. Paul’s point is that the Spirit works in each member but works differently in each member [12:29-30]. Each of the terms – gifts, service, and activities – are now included under the umbrella term manifestation of the Spirit, which reveals that no special significance can be attached to its different expressions. Manifestation also makes clear that the grace gifts are not some hidden talent but a particular action or utterance which can be described as manifest or open, or which makes manifest or discloses the work of the Spirit. The present tense of the Greek verb (is given) underscores the Spirit’s abiding presence and the believer’s complete dependence on the Spirit. The passive voice makes clear that the source is not the individual’s own talents. It implies that no gift should be construed as evidence of spiritual accomplishment, and consequently no one should boast about them or use them to show off. Two things should be noted from the phrase for the common good. First, if the purpose of the gifts is for the common advantage, then no member is given anything that is not given to the whole body of Christ. Grace-gifts are to be exercised for the well-being of the whole body. In 1 Cor. 14:3 and 12, Paul further explains this common good as that which builds up or edifies the church. Second, gifts are not given to promote an individual’s personal status. Persons should not regard themselves as gifted, and the manifestations of the Spirit in their lives should not be used to augment their image, prestige, or station in the community or to downgrade another’s. They should recognize that the source of these gifts comes from a sovereign power outside of them, and love should govern their usage so that the persons manifesting the gifts become Christlike.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What do we learn about the Spirit in Genesis 1:2 and Acts 5:3-4? What was the motivation behind the sin of Ananias? How was this motivation completely different from how the Spirit was motivating the other members of the community to give their possessions?

2.         What does Jesus mean by inviting us to come to Him and drink? What is the living water? How can you tell when streams of living water are flowing from within you? Why did Jesus have to die before the Spirit could come to us? Consider what did Jesus’ death accomplish, and what is the Spirit’s work?

3.         What did the believers pray for in Acts 4:29-31? What does this teach us about what we should pray for when facing opposition? In these verses, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? What can we learn from these verses about the signs of a healthy church?

4.         What do we learn about spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12:4-7? About their source and their purpose? How can you use your spiritual gift or gifts for the common good?


Genesis, John Sailhamer, EBC, Zondervan.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Acts, Darrell Bock, Baker.

1 Corinthians, David Garland, Baker.

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