The movement of the Holy Spirit can be found throughout human history, from creation, through Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and up to today in the here and now, through people like you and me. This five-part series is a retelling of those stories, and starts when the beginning begun. Missed the beginning? Rewind to part 1. Stay tuned for the final installment in the next few days.
While God was thrilled with all Jesus had done on earth, and the disciples seemed to be making inroads forming the early Church, God knew those disciples had their limitations. For one, they formed councils and groups for almost any major decision, sometimes crowding out the chance for the Spirit to do her thing. For another, on occasion they could be such a motley, indecisive crew, especially Peter, who was best known for being a bit brash, cutting off ears and denying Christ at the most inopportune times.
Then there was the writing. Or said differently there was the lack of writing. These disciples were great fishers of men, but most couldn’t read, much less write. Their stories would be carried on for decades orally before being jotted down. God was looking for someone to start this New Testament sooner than that. And looking for someone to see the risen Christ with a fresh set of eyes, be deeply moved, and write letters that leapt off the scroll when read, all to encourage these early communities of faith. And to help document, for eternity, what exactly the Holy Spirit was up to in a post-resurrection world. Yes folks, God knew what was needed next: God was looking for a writer.
And not just any writer, but one willing to go to cities big and small, near and far, be embraced, be shunned, be imprisoned. And of course be willing to jot it all down for the world to see. God searched and searched for the right person, eventually settling on Paul. To seal the deal God asked Jesus to meet Paul, who went by Saul before seeing the Light on the road to Damascus. You can read more about this encounter, and the early adventures of Saul turned Paul, in Acts chapter 9.
The next turning point for Paul, after meeting Jesus, was when he was infused with the Holy Spirit in Acts 9:17. Once blind, now he could see, and began to preach of Jesus, and the work of the Spirit he saw all around.
Paul, a learned man, spoke of the Spirit differently than anyone before him. For one, Paul, being both Jewish and a Roman citizen, could connect with many and varied audiences in person and in his letters. This broad perspective led him to famously tell the church of Galatia that, in Christ, there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one” (Gal 3:28). It’s almost as if Paul is reaching back to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, describing how Christ has broken even more barriers that separated God’s people. It wasn’t just language barriers the Spirit was removing, it was the barriers of race and ethnicity, affluence and poverty, even gender. Paul, guided by the Spirit, moved from an encounter with Christ, as orchestrated by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and was about to change the world.
One approach Paul took to explaining the movement of the Holy Spirit – one among many — is through the concepts of faith, hope, and love. He builds a case for faith from the Old Testament, writing in Romans 4:13 that “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” He expands on this to consider how one lives by faith, saying in Galatians 2:20 that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For Paul, living by faith is an essential ingredient to experience this new life in Christ.
Paul too was man of hope. He reaches a rhetorical climax on the implications of hope in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, concluding that “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Why all the optimism, Paul? Aren’t you constantly in trouble with the law, often ending up behind bars, wasting away? He gives us a hint about the source of this optimism in Romans 8:11, reminding us that “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” No wonder you’re hopeful Paul, the Spirit of Christ is in you. And in all of us.
When it comes to understanding the importance of love in Paul’s Spirit theology it’s hard to top 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. In modern terms it’s easy to envision the apostle walking around in a tye dye shirt, Jesus sandals, giving lots of hugs and high fives and passing the peace pipe. The love chapter first describes the importance of love, with Paul suggesting you can be the best speaker, the brightest visionary, the most giving philanthropist or even a martyr, but if you don’t have love, well, you are nothing. Whoa, that kind of sounds important. Paul continues, telling us in chapter 13, verse 7 that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Does that understanding of love remind you of anyone? Remind you of any particular event? Reflecting on this my mind wanders, ever so slightly, to the cross.