Do not put out the Spirit's fire

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. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

This past Sunday, I finished up a sermon series through 1 Thessalonians. As is our custom at NewLife, I gave some time during the final sermon for people to share testimonies about what they learned through the series or what God did in their life.

As I reflected on what I learned from 1 Thessalonians, I found that the passage that challenged me the most was 5:19-22, where Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, “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.” In this brief encouragement, Paul lays out a challenge to avoid two extremes and to walk the Spirit-led path towards holiness.

When it comes to the supernatural – prophecy, tongues, healing, etc. – it is much easier to live on the extreme ends of the continuum. On the one hand, it is very neat and clean to be a cessationist, to claim that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit died out when the New Testament revelation was complete, and that any demonstrations of prophecy, tongues, or healing are counterfeit, deriving from the flesh or the devil and not from the Spirit. But on the other hand, it is just as easy to see everything that appears to be supernatural as originating from the Holy Spirit – every utterance in a tongue, every claim to supernatural healing, and every expression of “the Lord told me.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5, however, I believe that Paul calls us to walk the harder path of not quenching the Spirit by rejecting everything supernatural as counterfeit, but also not accepting everything that appears supernatural as being from God. Instead, Paul tells us to test everything, to hold on to the good or genuine, and to avoid every kind evil (or reject the counterfeit). I believe this means first of all being open to the possibility that the Spirit still speaks today, that God can reveal Himself through words of prophecy, that tongues are for today, and that God can still heal. It means listening to people who claim to have a word from God. But it also means testing everything: does what is being shared line up with Scripture? Does it preach a different Jesus or a different gospel? Does the speaker have godly character? And does it build up the church?

I want to be open to the Spirit’s leading. I want our church to be led by the Spirit. I want to see things in my life and in the life of our church that can not be explained in human terms. But I also don’t want to open myself or NewLife up to deception and the tricks of the devil. The answer, I believe, is in asking God for the courage and discernment to live out what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonian 5:19-22: “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.”

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