Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19)
First of all, let’s seek to understand the word “quench” here. It is a word that is used several times in the New Testament, most of the time with some kind of relationship to fire or light. I remember a few years ago when I was on my way to church on a Sunday night, I was driving along (a bit early) when I happened to look into someone’s yard. I noticed smoke but didn’t think much of it and then I saw the flames—their gas grill was on when a spark shot down and ignited a pile of dry leaves right under the grill. This was during a very dry time and the grass was ignited all around a shed that had probably 5 containers of gasoline inside it. The owner of the home didn’t come to the door when I pounded and so I went to work doing my best to smother the flames. I tried a shovel that I found in his shed, I tried using my feet but the flames kept growing. There was too much fuel for the fire—dried leaves (right next to the grill?), dry grass, a small pile of firewood, and if we didn’t hurry, lots of gasoline, oil, etc. Finally the guy came out to find some man in a suit with his shovel standing in the midst of the flames in his yard. He quickly brought out a few buckets of water and between that and some dirt the flames died down. We had to rob the fire of its fuel, which consisted of burning material and oxygen. We essentially smothered the fire. When we speak of quenching a fire we are in essence speaking of dousing it with something. The word that is used here brings to mind this kind of activity—it is literally, “to put out”.
Some commentators translate this verse as “do not put out the Spirit’s fire”. This is probably fitting for it was on the Day of Pentecost when the followers of Christ were gathered together that the Spirit of God descended upon them. How did the Spirit appear? “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3). What does it mean then to “quench the Holy Spirit”. This is not a reference to the Person of the Holy Spirit but rather to the activity of the Spirit of God in the human heart. Don’t douse the activity of the Holy Spirit of God your life. How might this be done?
To answer this question effectively we must ask and answer another question: What is the work of the Holy Spirit? Only when we identify what the work of the Holy Spirit is can we arrive at the manner in which His work is quenched.
The best answer is found in John 16:13-14 (and related verses) in which Christ himself says of the Spirit’s work, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (my emphasis). In John 15:26, the Lord declares, ‘He will bear witness to me.
James Boice, in his work Foundations for the Christian Faithn,points out four areas in which the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (pp. 381-388).
1.) The Spirit glorifies Christ by teaching about him in the
A. John 15:26; 16:12-13
B. 2 Peter 1:21
C. 1 Corinthians 2:13-16
2.) The Spirit glorifies Christ by drawing men and women to
Christ in faith.
A. John 3:3; 6:44; 14:17
B. 1 Corinthians 2:14
C. Rom. 8:14-15; 1 Peter 1:23
3.) The Spirit glorifies Christ by reproducing His character in the
lives of believers.
A. Galatians 5:22-23
4.) The Spirit glorifies Christ by directing believers to serve
Christ in the Church through spiritual gifts.
A. 1 Corinthians 12:11; Romans 12:3-11
B. Acts 13:2-4
This is a good Scriptural outline of the work of the Holy Spirit. When we ask what the primary work of the Spirit of God is we answer simply by saying that His primary work is to glorify Christ. The Spirit glorifies Christ in the areas we have outlined above. Now to the first question, “How is the Spirit quenched?” We can apply this instruction generally to the hindering of the work of the Spirit in these areas (the four mentioned above). However, it seems to be that Paul provides the specific answer for us in this text. The temptation for us may be to see these brief exhortations as disjointed or disconnected from one another. There are some commentators that believe that 5:19 stands alone. However, it seems best to understand that verse 20 gives us a specific action by which the activity of the Spirit may be quenched. In other words, he gives us a first hand example regarding a common way that people quench the activity of the Holy Spirit. It was probably even taking place to some degree within the Thessalonian church.
The context seems to indicate that the work of the Holy Spirit is quenched in the area of God’s authoritative revelation of truth. In the very next verse we find that Paul brings up the subject of prophecies. “Do not despise prophecies.” Quenching the Spirit, in Paul’s mind, has something to do with the next injunction.
Let’s look at this carefully. The word “despise” could rightly be translated “discount”. It is a strong word meaning “to treat with contempt”. Remember that he is writing to the Thessalonians. It is likely that the church was the victim of “second-coming speculations”. There were those who were speaking error and flaunting false doctrine. This of course would lead many to simply discount any “prophecy”. Thus there were those who were discounting the prophetic proclamation of the word. That is exactly how we are to think of “prophecies”?
Paul’s instruction for them then was clear—do not discount the prophetic messages that you hear, even though some have spoken errantly and without authority.
(This understanding fits the context well. In verse 12 he instructs them “to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.”)
So, is there any application to us today now that the canon is complete and there is no new revelation from God. Before the Scriptures were complete the main focus of prophecy was revelation, but now that the Scriptures are complete the main focus of prophecy is proclamation. Therefore, we affirm that prophecy is the declaration of the will of God from the word of God. And I believe that the command here is equally important for us as it was for the Thessalonians.
I’d like to be very direct at this point: When the man of God speaks the word of God we must give our serious consideration and attention. It is not something that is to be taken lightly and especially not something to be despised. Because when we do, we are essentially dousing the work of the Holy Spirit.
Please, don’t douse the work of the Spirit of God!