A Year in Essays: The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts & Paul, Semester 2

Now here was a module well outside my comfort zone – brought up in a cessationist context, I’ve come to think that’s not right, but I’ve never done any real Bible study on it. So a Pentecostal tutor who’s written a book on Baptism in the Spirit – a challenge to say the least!

The module was a ‘Biblical’ one, in the sense that it was primarily focussed on the texts of Luke-Acts and the Pauline Epistles, specifically in comparison between them. Yet in practice, since the actual verses up for discussion were relatively few, we often ended up having discussions that really said ‘such-and-such an author said this, but this other person disagreed, for these reasons…’ This culture of discussion was quite hard for me to engage in immediately, I found it a bit dry and detached.

My topic for the essay was anything but detached – it was on the connection between the Holy Spirit and suffering:

Compare and contrast the approaches of Luke and Paul to relationships between God’s Spirit and suffering

The bulk of the essay examined some key passages in Luke (2:25-35, 4:14-30, 12), Acts (4, 5, 6-7, 9, 20:17-38), 2 Corinthians and Romans 8. The purpose of the essay was to draw out differences and similarities between the two biblical authors, but I also wanted to briefly look at what it might mean today, as well.

We have seen some differences in the way Luke and Paul link suffering with the Holy Spirit. Luke, with his mission emphasis, has only ever described suffering and the response of Christians to it in terms of persecution because of rejection. The Spirit predicts this suffering, inspires the message that is rejected, supports persecuted witnesses and even specially commissions some to a life of suffering evangelism. In Paul’s epistles, we have found that suffering can be a mark of witnessing and his apostolic commission. But in Romans, Paul expands the idea of suffering to include the bondage of all creation, including Christians, and the yearning for eschatological redemption.

Suffering in both Paul and Luke is not personal or individual. On the one hand it is because of identification with Jesus and the Spirit-inspired but rejected gospel; on the other is is because we identify with the groaning of all creation. The question ‘why is this happening to me?’ is not on their horizons. Either way, our identification with a bigger story in our suffering brings great hope, for the Spirit is with us. The promise of the support of the Spirit when we are persecuted is to keep us from being anxious (Luke 12:11 12). And as we identify with a groaning creation, Paul says that the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning when we cannot express our suffering in words. All the suffering we have explored is underwritten by the remarkable idea of a suffering God. We suffer with Christ and the Spirit suffers with us.

Rather than explaining away suffering, Paul and the apostles recorded in Acts think it is something to be celebrated, an honour. Persecution is a response to the gospel and rejection is what Jesus and the apostles experienced. The authentic response to it is thanksgiving and prayer for boldness. Suffering that is not persecution is an opportunity to join with the Spirit in interceding for the redemption that we hope for to come. The deep groaning that Paul writes about can only come from experience; it is a unique opportunity to join in with the Spirit’s work.

Exploring the idea of the suffering God is something that I have recently picked up again, and will write on soon, as I explore Moltmann’s Crucified God. To me it’s a crucial idea (pun intended).

Holy Spirit Essay – download a .pdf file of the full essay.

Creative Commons Licence
This essay by Jon Rogers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.jonrogers.co.uk.