The lesson this week takes us into some very interesting territory. It leads us to think about an aspect of the Holy Spirit that is very intriguing, namely that the Holy Spirit, for reasons not fully understood by us, works behind the scenes more than in the limelight. The official lesson even uses the word, “elusive.” If we ascribe personhood, or personality, to the Spirit, we could very quickly come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is somewhat introverted, perhaps. Truth is, we do not know very much at all about the Holy Spirit, but we do have lots of evidence that—using the traditional masculine pronoun—He has a lot to do with all kinds of things but not in a prominent or public manner. This thought called a mental picture to mind, a happy little illustration, that of people going quietly to shovel out their neighbors after a big snow storm then leaving furtively before they can be discovered. They have done a good deed, have done it unnoticed, but the effects of their activity are plain to see. And their deed is accepted with gratitude and joy. Given the apparent furtiveness of the Spirit, we might even assume that this lesson, which calls attention to the Spirit and what He does, makes him somewhat uncomfortable!
With this basic idea of the Spirit working behind the scenes, the following items are of interest:
- The discussion in John 3 in which Jesus likened the Spirit and His doings to the wind: We can certainly see the effects of the wind, but the wind itself is not visible to the human eye. What are the implications that might have for our understandings of the work of the Spirit both in our own lives but also in the broader spectrum of life? What might we expect to see if the Spirit is active?
- The Holy Spirit and His work at creation (Genesis 1:2): We are left to imagine what that activity looked like, the Spirit moving on the waters like wind, perhaps?
- The Holy Spirit and the construction of the Sanctuary in the Old Testament (Exodus 31:1-5): This story is of particular interest because it states very clearly that the Spirit gifted certain people—one in particular—with the ability to work with their hands, doing all kinds of work with wood and metal and cloth. When talking about the Spirit, we almost always limit our thoughts to things of a spiritual nature. But here, the trades, if you will allow, are included. Might it be that we have under-sold the capacity of those who work with their hands to have good effect on the growth of the Kingdom? (Compare this with I Thess. 4:10-12).
- The Holy Spirit and Christ: This is could be a very big subject for it runs the gamut from his conception all the way to the ascension. (Luke 1:34, 35; 3:21, 22). The Holy Spirit was not only instrumental in “arranging” for Jesus to come to earth. He was also active in elevating the work Jesus did on earth, empowering his activities, and drawing people to the Savior. This kind of work must have gone on within the minds of those who heard but also in public ways through miracles and powerful teaching and preaching.
- The Holy Spirit and the New Birth (John 3:3-8): This little passage of Scripture is well-known because of the image of a new birth it speaks of. This metaphor opens a lot of space for thought particularly toward the idea that we, in our natural state, are in trouble enough that we need to be given new life. Classical Christian theology holds tightly to the idea that the Fall, spoken of in Genesis 3, has had a universal effect on humans, putting us in a situation where we have a preferred future to gain, but on our own we cannot attain to it. The good news is that the Spirit can renew that which was lost and so put us on a right footing with God to the point we can be transformed. Lots to think about here.
- The Spirit as Advocate and Comforter: (John 15:16; 17). Here, and in other places, we get insight into the fact that, when Jesus left, he did not leave us alone. He promised the Spirit who would be present in a new and great capacity. Particularly poignant is the discussion Jesus had in John 17 with his disciples, an intimate conversation about what was to come for them, and, by specific extension, to all those who believe. These portions of Scripture warrant lots of careful thought and contemplation for they let us in on the fact that the Spirit is now active here on earth doing all kinds of things not the least of which is drawing people to God then transforming them to become more like God. This is a truly remarkable process that unfolds at the behest of the Spirit.
In summary, because the Spirit prefers to work behind the scenes, we should go around paying careful attention to what is done quietly all the while looking for the results to be manifest in public. I suspect that it is in quiet places we will best be able to tune into his doings; it is in humble places we will most readily see His workings; it is in unexpected ways that we will see the results of His work. We need to learn to pay attention to background happenings if we want to tune ourselves to some of the profoundest and most amazing work of the Spirit.