This morning, what drives us and "lights our fire?" When you meet people, it really does not take long to discover where their highest interest lies. Generally speaking, things that people want to talk the most about are things that really get them going. Whether they want to talk about their family, job, hobbies, etc., you can see a fire within coming out when they talk about these things. Fatherly pride comes out like burning coals when he speaks about his wonderful children. Burning beams flash out of the man that talks about a profession that he really enjoys. Embers of joy burn brightly in the man that delights in telling of his day at the lake or golf game that he just had. Whatever the enterprise or field of consideration, the fire is easy to spot. Biblically speaking, there are fires that we should strive to keep burning brightly in our lives.
Our study verse this morning has some rather interesting language just on the surface of it. When considering what the word "quench" means in relation to the Spirit, one might get the wrong impression if they are too human-centric. The word "quench" means to put out or extinguish. It should be apparent from the whole of Scriptures what this verse cannot mean, but let us briefly state it anyway. Man is not more powerful than God. Man cannot extinguish or kill the Holy Spirit of God. Paul is not admonishing people to keep them from bending God to their will. Such an idea would be patently opposed to the very tenor and fabric of Scripture. Having lined out the obvious point of what the verse cannot mean, let us investigate what the verse in actuality does teach.
Though God has all power, He has never exercised the fulness of His power. Though He could force human beings into abject prostration, He generally does not operate in such a manner, though He has done so from time to time (like He did with Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4). As the old saying goes, "God is not willing to do everything He is able to do." He has far more power than we can possibly imagine. God's most frequent operation method when interacting with His people here on earth is by way of impression, guidance, and direction. He plants the inward desire and ability within His people, and fully expects us to exercise the abilities He gives. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Since this normal pattern that God exercises does not use forced coercion, we can begin to peel back the teaching that Paul here employs. However, before we do, let us make one more observation about what this verse is not teaching. Some have mistakenly framed the idea of us refusing to act on God's impression as an idea that impeaches God's sovereignty. One man actually told me, "If you say that we can do something other than what the Spirit wants us to do, you're saying we have more power than God." His point wast that all of God's children would act in a certain way (though he never said precisely what that way was) since we could not contradict or go against the Spirit. When I attempted to reason with him from our study verse, the conversation degenerated into him venting his opinion in raised tones. Friends, this verse and its associated meaning in no way impeaches God's sovereignty. Had He desired to not act this way and interact with us a different way, that was His prerogative, and He would have been just in doing so. He is still sovereign and just for interacting with us in this way.
Back to Paul's thought, we see that failing to act on what God has done for us through thanksgiving and praise is failing to utilize what His Spirit has planted within and daily impresses us with. This impression is like a fire that God expects us to stoke and burn brightly. Sometimes I hear people denigrate the value and worth of grace. Some even make the claim, "Preaching grace either rocks people to sleep or fattens them up beyond fruitful use." Truth be told, grace is the subject that unlike any other will stoke the fire and make the flames burn brightly. Instead of thinking of grace as a blast of water upon the flame, grace should be thought of as extra fuel to make the fire hot and make the engine go.
In our passage, Paul has been exhorting the Thessalonian brethren on the practical importance of looking forward to the second coming of Christ. No greater thought could be pondered today than the eventual return of our Lord and King. Thinking about that blessed subject should be coupled with thoughts of soberness, righteousness, and holiness. These thoughts and devotions provide strength and comfort to our world-weary souls. When seeing a crumbling and decaying world, nothing will build the embers like holy thoughts about the Divine return of Christ. To keep those thoughts, we need to put off the works of darkness (Verses 3-5), pray continually (Verse 17), and rejoice evermore (Verse 16). These short, staccato verses towards the end – like our study verse – show how we keep the thoughts burning.
When considering these things, we should not willingly and knowingly do things that we know are going to make us sluggish and muted in our thoughts of them. When things of the world crowd in too much, we then forget for a season that we are going home. We forget that He is coming for us. We forget what a rich standing we have with Him. The impressions of the Spirit and the tugging and yearning from home are quenched for the time being. However, even though this thought revolves around the second coming of Christ in this passage, the message can be broadened out greatly to many other spiritual matters.
This past Sunday, we had some visitors at church – an older man and his wife – that had never been there since I have been the pastor. Only some of the members knew them, but they seemed to supremely enjoy the services (the lady even came back for our evening service). After service, she approached me, introduced herself, and said she had a question. Since she was unfamiliar with Primitive Baptists, she said, "Do ya'll allow women shouting in church?" My response to her was the same standard response that I give when people ask about saying "amen" or shouting. If you feel genuinely impressed of the Spirit to shout or say "amen," then do it. If you feel no impression, then don't. I have been in services where I have experienced what I thought was "good" shouting and "bad" shouting. I have seen what appeared to be genuine "amens" and the put-on variety. One thing I would recommend to anyone (which I recommended to the lady) is to never do something that quenches the Spirit.
Sometimes good sermons are ruined when they go longer than the Spirit impresses. Sometimes good sermons are ruined when they are cut short of the Spirit's impression. Some men have sat down 5 minutes too late, while others have "stripped it too green" as the old saying goes. One thing I have learned from painful experience is that quenching the Spirit today may yield a very prolonged and dry season. Occasionally, quenching the Spirit will lead to never regaining certain things. For example, whenever I get an impression to look at a certain passage, word, or subject in the Bible, I now try to act on it as quickly as I can. In the past, I have put off looking at something I felt impressed to look at saying, "I'll be sure to look at that later." When later finally came, I had nothing. No insight. No impression or guidance. By quenching the Spirit, I never got the direction and guidance from that thought that I would have should I have acted in the way I was directed.
So it is with so much of our lives. Fires only burn and burn well when they are fed. Now, His Spirit is ever near with fresh mercies every morning and daily grace. However, our feeling of that sufficiency and experience will hinge greatly on our efforts to feed the fire. When people's "world" is their family, they devote time, energy, and devotion to their family. They are feeding the fire of desire that burns for their family. When someone's "world" is their job, they feed that fire by "living at the office" and breathing their occupation. When someone wants to be a good fisherman, golfer, etc., they will devote hours and days and weeks to improving those things. The fire burns, and they cannot seem to get enough of it. The more they put in, the more they want and the more they enjoy it. So should our time, effort, and energy be with the Spirit. The more we feel Him, the more we should want and desire that blessed time.
I remember the first time that Bible reading was not drudgery to me. I can still recall the first sermon that seemed over in a flash, and I wondered, "Where did the time go?" Painted fresh in my memory are walks that I have had with the Master where the burning embers heaped up in flames with a passion to stay ever with Him. These are times that we should not only not take for granted but desire to find them more often. One of my dad's simple answers to those that asked him for Bible reading plans was a one word response, "More." When they asked for explanation, he said, "Try to read it more. More today than in the past. More in the future than today. More next year than last." Truly a day in His courts is better than a thousand beside, but a day in His courts should make us want a thousand more in them. May we find those moments with the King, follow His impression, and never shirk away or let things crowd in. In so doing, we will not only keep the ice water away from the flame, but we will also burn brighter as shining lights than we did before.