Quenching the Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 May 2021

1 Thessalonians 5.19-21.

More farewell stuff from the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians; general advice which can apply to Christians of any and every church. Each of these one-verse or one-line instructions have turned into entire sermons, lessons, and even doctrines. And in fact today I’m only gonna deal with three short verses, mainly because of what’s been taught about them… and of course what’s been mistaught.

1 Thessalonians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Don’t extinguish the Spirit: 20 Don’t void prophecies.
21 Examine everything: Hold onto what’s good.

In the King James Version this becomes “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” That’s the version I memorized as a child.

Back in the 11th century, Margaret Atheling of Wessex (later, St. Margaret) was an English princess who grew up in exile in Hungary. She went to Scotland to marry King Malcolm Canmore, third of his name. The story has it she nearly drowned while crossing a river. One of the Hungarians who accompanied her, named Bartolf, saved her life by fishing her out, or carrying her across. The story varies, but all of them have him tell her to “grip fast” to him, or a rope, or his horse; whichever. Bartolf was given some land in reward, including a town called Lesselyn… which evolved into Bartolf’s family name, Leslie, and Clan Leslie’s motto is “grip fast.” This is, more or less, the story we Leslies tell of its origin. Maybe it’s true. Doubt it, ’cause it’s far more likely Bartolf and Margaret spoke Magyar with one another.

I didn’t necessarily have this “grip fast” idea in mind when I first read verse 21 as a kid. It just so happens I’m a big fan of examining everything to see whether it’s so. But in context verse 21 isn’t about testing everything; it’s about testing prophecy. It’s just I happen to test everything else too. Just being careful.

So verse 21 has kinda become a “life verse” for me… even though I don’t always stick to the proper context of the verse when testing everything. The more important thing is to hold onto what’s good. Hold tight to it. Abide in Jesus and what he teaches; let everything else go. But like I said, the context of this verse is to hold onto valid prophecies. And if they’re not valid, stop clinging to them as if we can wish them into being if we believe hard enough. That’s not how prophecy works; that’s how magic works, and magic’s not real.

Okay, enough about me and misquoted life verses. Let’s step back to verse 19 and “Quench not the Spirit.”

What does quenching mean?

You might already know when the ancients first came up with the idea of elements—basic building blocks of the universe—they didn’t imagine ’em as atoms, nor as the 118 elements we currently have on our periodic table, from hydrogen to oganesson. They figured there were just the four: Air, earth, fire, and water.

Sometimes the ancients speculated a quinta essentia/“fifth element,” or quintessence; something we don’t have on earth and therefore can’t study. (That’s why scientists have adopted the term to describe dark energy.) Various Christian philosophers have speculated spirits are made of this quintessence, and that’s why we can’t study spirits with our sciences. But the ancients were pretty sure spirits were made of the four basic elements. Oddly, not air, even though πνεῦμα/néfma literally means “wind.” But because spirits are dynamic and moving and powerful and mighty, they can’t be made from merely still, unmoving air. So, they deduced, spirits are made of fire.

Yep. This is why we see so many fire metaphors for spirits in ancient literature. Especially ancient Christian and Muslim literature. And obviously there are fire metaphors for the Holy Spirit in our scriptures.

Acts 2.2-4 KJV
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

So when Christians talk about fire, we either mean God’s refining fire which purges evil out of us, Ml 3.2 or the fires of hell… or the fire of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we mix the metaphors, and talk about the Spirit’s fire as if it’s come to purge evil out of us. (And that’s not always a good thing!) But more often, especially among Pentecostals, we’re talking about the Spirit’s power. His fire’s gonna make us able to cure the sick and prophesy and otherwise perform miracles.

So when Pentecostals talk about quenching the Spirit—and especially about not quenching the Spirit—we usually mean the Spirit wants to do something mighty and supernatural through us Christians. But we won’t let him.

I know. This idea is dumbfounding to deterministic Christians. We won’t let God do something? How on earth can a clay pot tell the potter, “Nope, I’m not gonna hold oil like you intended; I wanna hold beer!” He made us, so we do as he wants. It’s ridiculous to imagine otherwise.

And yeah, they’d have a point if we were simply inert pottery. We’re not. Paul’s pottery metaphor Ro 9.20-21 doesn’t apply to everything in our lives; its point is to explain God’s the creator and we’re the creation, and he knows best what we’re made for. Nonetheless he imbues his creation with free will, and while it’s unwise for “the thing formed to say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” the fact remains “the thing formed” can still ask this question. And sometimes rebel against the creator’s intentions. Humans sin, y’know.

So yeah, if the Spirit wants to do something in his churches, but the people of his churches don’t wanna do that thing, we can resist him. We shouldn’t; it’s stupid. But we do.

And there are gonna be consequences.

Revelation 2.5 KJV
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

If a church is resisting the Spirit, it’s not following Jesus; and if it’s defying Jesus, it’s not his church anymore. It’s heretic. It’s its own thing. That’s a scary place to be—and if you’ve visited such churches, they can be scary places to visit.

But do not get the false idea that the ability to resist the Spirit and do our own thing, makes humanity sovereign, or in any way more mighty than God, or that the Spirit has in any way debased himself by letting us humans do our own thing. Insurgency doesn’t mean the insurgents are in charge now. It only means they think they’re in charge, for now. The hammer’s gonna come down later… when they don’t expect it.

Quenching the Spirit, or quenching immature Christians?

Whenever Christians talk about quenching the Spirit, we have a bad habit of presenting it as a worst-case scenario—a church that’s gone very, very wrong, and cut themselves off from God himself. We Pentecostals in particular have the bad habit of claiming any resistance to any spiritual thing whatsoever is “quenching.” Specifically, spiritual things we wanna do.

Fr’instance a prophet who stands up in the middle of a service, even right in the middle of the sermon, to declare, “Thus says the LORD,” and give out a prophecy. There’s a time and place for this, but they’ve taken it upon themselves to do it right now, and interrupt others. Don’t get me wrong; it might be a legitimate message from the Holy Spirit. But by picking the wrong time to give the prophecy, the prophet’s being a dick, and fruitless prophecy tends to nullify the prophecy. People aren’t gonna remember what we prophesied so much as the interruption, disruption, and rudeness.

If the Spirit gives us a message mid-sermon, the fact something else is going on which it’s rude to interrupt, should be our tipoff that we need to sit on this message for a bit. Meditate on it. Ask the Spirit questions: “What’d you mean by this?” And after the service, talk it over with a few other prophets for confirmation. Blurting it out in mid-sermon means you lack patience—or are more interested in getting attention than sharing God’s message, and prophets are supposed to be humble.

So when someone disrupts a church service, and is told to sit down and shut up: No, nobody’s quenching the Spirit. They’re quenching a jerk. Hopefully kindly. Because when the Spirit disrupts stuff, he does it kindly. He’s being helpful and constructive, or preventing evil. Unkind prophets are doing it wrong. They’re being selfish, unloving, out-of-control, and fleshly.

A lot of the things churches and Christian leaders are accused of “quenching,” are precisely this sort of behavior. Christians who wanna sing for the entire service, even though a preacher has spent all week listening to the Spirit and studying the scriptures to prepare a message: They don’t wanna hear a sermon. They wanna sing! They love that hook in their favorite worship song, and wanna sing it 50 times in a row. It makes ’em feel stuff, and since they don’t know the difference between emotion and the Spirit, they’re convinced it’s totally the Spirit—therefore stopping the music is “quenching the Spirit.” But no it’s not. Your euphoria isn’t producing fruit. Don’t kid yourself.

Likewise Christians who wanna pray in loud tongues during a prayer service, and won’t hear it when people tell ’em to not be so noisy. Or Christians who wanna have a special time of prophecy, not because they wanna share God, but because they want people to listen to them for once, as they prophesy. Really, anybody who wants to hijack a church service and turn it into their thing—and claim it’s really the Spirit’s thing.

Is it the Spirit’s thing? Look at the fruit. No fruit? Quench away.

What if you’re not sure? Well first of all, relax: The Holy Spirit is gracious. If we ever mistakenly stop him from doing his thing, but we are still trying to follow and pursue him, he’s gonna inform us we were mistaken. “I really do want you to hold a healing service for the sick. Do it next Sunday.” And we’ll apologize to him for putting the brakes on him, and apologize to everybody else, and do as the Spirit wants. It’s never too late to repent and try again; don’t let any immature, impatient Christians tell you different. (Because they’ll definitely tell you different: “You’re quenching the Spirit! You’re ruining an opportunity! It has to be done right now!” Hogslop. If it really had to be done right now, the Spirit would’ve forewarned a lot more of the people in charge.)

But pretty much every time we tell an angry, impatient person, “No no, we’re not doing that right now,” it’s not quenching the Spirit. If they produced better fruit, they might have a case to make. But they aren’t, so they don’t.

Quenching the Spirit is not stopping a noisy Christian. Properly it’s intentionally, deliberately, consciously defying the Spirit. It’s deciding, “We don’t do prophecy.” It’s making our official church position a cessationist one: The Holy Spirit stopped talking in bible times, and we don’t recognize anything he has to say unless he only speaks in bible quotes. It’s putting him on mute, because now we get to interpret bible on our own, and promote our doctrines instead of God’s kingdom.

Don’t void prophecies!

The primary way God reveals himself to people, and speaks to us, is through prophecy.

Yeah, even though we have a bible. The bible is prophecy too, y’know: Old prophecies, breathed by God for our benefit, 1Ti 3.16 which are still relevant ’cause it’s the same God, and humanity hasn’t changed any. Anything the Spirit tells us today, isn’t gonna contradict and nullify what he has in the bible, ’cause again: Same God.

When we cut off God’s voice by claiming he doesn’t speak to anyone anymore, we’ve cut off the Holy Spirit. We’ve cut off the one Jesus sent us to make sure we stay true to him. Jn 16.13 We’ve cut off the one who builds up, directs, and explains things to the church, his followers. 1Co 14.3 We might claim, “Yeah, but we have bible”—but we’ve cut off the person who makes sure we interpret his bible correctly!

When Christians claim prophecy’s not for the church anymore, y’notice they now have to rule their churches with an iron fist. Because if the Spirit doesn’t provide them direction and purpose, somebody’s gotta do it. Without the Spirit they’re gonna be fruitless, and get into dozens of disagreements about little, stupid, nitpicky stuff. The whole group is gonna be led astray—not by evil practices nor false doctrines, but simply by the fact nobody knows where they’re going. And nobody’s gonna admit it. And certainly not accept correction about it.

This is what we see all the time in cessationist churches: They don’t follow God, and despise the Spirit’s prophecies. So they become little cults which follow a pastor who’s treated as inerrant. Or, on the other extreme, they turn into benign, powerless groups which squabble over trivia and get nothing done.

Test everything.

If we’re gonna embrace a lifestyle of prophecy, we have to test prophecies and prophets. There are a lot of fakes 1Jn 4.1 —either frauds who want to exploit us, or fools who don’t know what they’re doing; both of whom will lead us astray. We can’t accept just any self-anointed prophet who sounds inspiring, who appeals to our greed, our prejudices, our patriotism, our sense of propriety, or whatever floats our boat.

Jesus warned us to watch out for phonies, so we gotta test prophets. Much as the con artists insist we test nothing, and just trust ’em, because shouldn’t we have faith? And yes we should—but faith in Jesus, not them, and Jesus tells us to test prophets! If their message legitimately comes from the Holy Spirit, it can stand the scrutiny, and if it’s not, it won’t. So test everything. EVERYTHING. Including all the stuff you’ve been taking for granted so far. You’ll be surprised how much of it turns out to be crap. I regularly am.

And once it stands up to testing, you grip fast to it. It’s from God.