In parts one and two of this series, we have been considering how the Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit, following the model of how Christ Himself, in the wisdom of the Father’s plan, ministered on earth through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus it is the role of the Holy Spirit to empower the Church to serve as the Body of Christ.
So what does this look like? The Scriptures make it clear that the works of Christ on earth continue, but with various functions spread out through the different individuals who make up the Church. Each individual does a part of this ministry, contributing to the whole, the community, the Body. It is the Body that does the work as a whole, and to the various individuals are distributed the various works.
One image that the Bible uses to describe these apportioned functions is “gifts.” These gifts the Spirit distributes as He wills throughout the Body:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:4-7)
Accordingly we see the individual church members doing these works as Christ did them. Let us see what this looks like:
Jesus gives a personal prophecy to Peter in John 21:18-19:
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)
In context this prophecy of Peter’s death was very much as Paul tells us for Peter’s “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” (1 Cor 14:3) He had failed in his love when he thought he wouldn’t. Jesus promises he will ultimately succeed in his love for Christ, to the very death, even though he now thinks he cannot.
Similarly, prophesy in the body of Christ has this same role. It is not only proclamation of the gospel, but also “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”
Prophecy also serves to convict the unbeliever:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Cor 14: 24-25)
By prophecy God is exposing the secrets of the person’s heart, “reading his mail,” as they say. This is what Jesus said the Spirit would do, “convict the world concerning sin” (John 16:8). Why? Because Jesus was going to the Father, and that was one of the works that He did on earth, as He prophesied to the woman at the well:
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. (John 16: 16-19)
“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (v. 29)
“Can this be the Christ?”
“God is really among you.”
So while the prophesies themselves are individual, personal in their content, they serve to point to Christ, to glorify the Father, to drive home the gospel:
Prophecy is just one example. We have also reference to the “utterance of knowledge’ (1 Cor. 12:9). What is this? Well consider this exchange:
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:46-51)
Now it seems very clear to me that here Nathaniel understood Jesus’ seeing him sitting under a tree to be something other than natural sight. He reacted to this knowledge as miraculous. As a miracle, it is rather modest, yet through it God revealed Himself to Nathaniel, opened His heart to believe in Christ.
Similarly, New Testament believers experienced sight beyond the natural, instances of knowledge given by the Spirit for ministry.
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” (Acts 14:8-10)
It is difficult to know how Paul would be able to see “faith,” apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. He understood that apart from Christ he could do nothing. Indeed, he saw what God was already doing in this man. Jesus Himself said:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”(John 5:19)
If this was so for the Lord Jesus, how much more do we as His Church require the knowledge given through the Spirit to carry out His works?
3. Other gifts
Is there any need to demonstrate from the gospels how healing, miracles, distinguishing spirits, speaking wisdom, acts of service, teaching, showing mercy, exhortation and such are all works performed by Christ in his earthly ministry? And they are also works said to be performed by the body of Christ on earth (Rom 12:5-8; 1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28-30).
Many of the gifts however, explicitly entail communication through the Spirit. In one way or another, certain information, certain content comes to exist in the mind of the individual. The Scripture indicates that as in a human body, the head connects to and coordinates all the various members of the body (Eph. 4:15-16). A human body accomplishes this in part through the efferent and afferent pathways of the nervous system. It should not be surprising that Christ’s body similarly maintains interconnection through flow of information, sensation, and activation from the head.
This necessary and essential flow of information should not be confused with communication of a different kind.
The message of the Church is the gospel, the good news about Christ’s finished work. Proclamation of this message is the primary mission of the Body. It is sometimes asserted that true prophecy and any utterance of knowledge will express this message and only this message. Yet this is not at all what we find in Scripture, which indicates that the Body not only communicates with the world but within itself for such purposes as “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3). This may involve matters quite mundane, such as Nathaniel sitting under a tree or contain crucial and time-sensitive information for specific believers in a given time and place (Acts 11:28). All these are ultimately oriented toward the good function of the Body, and in that way serve the proclamation of the gospel, though not every individual message is in itself a gospel message.
Second, communication through the Spirit should not be confused with expression of doctrine or expansion of the Canon. This is simply not what the continued practice of New Testament prophecy and similar speaking gifts is intended to do. Only a tiny percent of what Jesus Himself said and did in His life is recorded in the Scriptures (John 21:25). In His ministry He spoke to many people the things given Him by His father to say (John 12:49). The Spirit uses what He wishes to effect His results.
So then, Jesus Himself, who functioned in the power of the Holy Spirit (though He was Himself God), carried on his ministry be being in continual communication with the Father, through the Spirit, as we saw above:
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. (John 5:19-20)
We have already seen the similar statement in regard to us vis-a-vis Christ:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
Communication through the Spirit then, constant contact with Christ, is not only not presumption or denial of Christ’s work or pointing away from Christ. It is of the essence of the Church being His Body, and of the individual being a member of that Body.
In summary, the Holy Spirit empowers the church, yes, to proclaim the good news of the unique Son of God and His finished work on the cross. But He also empowers the Church to be the Body of Christ that does the proclaiming. The Holy Spirit in several places in the New Testament effects works of communication. This includes proclamation of the gospel, communication specifically about the person of Christ and about His work. However, this is not the only subject He communicates about. He also is described and exemplified as speaking to specific details of individual lives. This is the way He operated through Christ in His earthly ministry, and by multiple statements we are assured that He also operates in the body of Christ in these same ways. This understanding is quite basic to the concept of the body of Christ, and according to Christ is to continue as long as the Church serves on earth as His body, that is until the end of the age.