Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 12 2013 - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 – The fire of the Spirit

As we have seen, Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica caused many to turn “from God to idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). They have been labouring in the work of the kingdom with an “endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). So, at the end of this letter, Paul encourages them to go on living in this way – to live as those who look for, long for and work towards the day when Christ shall appear. Paul reminds them that Christ “died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him” (5:10). If we know that in death we shall be with him, so in life we are to live with him and for him.

Paul ends this letter with a series of rapid-fire exhortations, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (5:16-25). Not only are the Thessalonians to live towards the day of Christ’s appearing, God is also preparing them for that day by his Spirit.

One of these closing exhortations is therefore, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This is an uncomfortable image of the Spirit; fire is so destructive. We prefer the image of a dove, the symbol of peace. But John the Baptiser said of the one for whom he was preparing the way, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matthew 3:11). Jesus himself said, "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49). And when the Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost he appeared in the form of tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).

The outpoured Holy Spirit is like a fire, but he has not come to destroy but to cleanse and purify. As with God's appearance to Moses in a burning bush, the Holy Spirit's fire makes us conscious of the presence, power, glory and holiness of our God. It is an uncomfortable encounter to be sure, but it designed for our blessing.

"Don't put out the Spirit's fire," says Paul. "How can we do that?" we might ask; "Surely we can as soon put out the sun with a fire extinguisher!" We cannot stop the Spirit's work, but we can damp down his activity in our own lives. We can grieve the Spirit by our ungodly thoughts and acts. And we can become so comfortable with how we are that we insulate ourselves against his transforming power. We lose the vision for all that God has called us to be and do in Christ; we grow cold.

Jesus not only came to bring fire on earth, he longed for it to be kindled. How much do we long for the blazing fire of the Spirit: long for him to sweep through our own lives, burning away all the rubbish and refining the gold; long for him to sweep through our world like a forest fire, cleansing and renewing the whole of creation?

"Don't put out the Spirit's fire."

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father's glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze, Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth Your Word, Lord And let there be light

Peter Misselbrook