Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:30a “And. . .”
This conjunction links our present text with the previous one. Bad words hurt and good words help (4:29) the common fellowship we share in the Body. Since the Spirit is responsible for Christian fellowship, He is the One mentioned here (4:30), as opposed to the Father or the Son. The Spirit, responsible for the bond of fellowship, seeks to bless others through our words. God the Spirit is love, and wants to speak loving words through us.
Eph. 4:30a “. . .grieve not. . .”
“Grieve” means to make sorrowful, to cause emotional pain. When we do not let the Holy Spirit speak loving words through us, we sadden Him. He is hurt by speech which is not loving. A crime against the fellowship is a crime against the Spirit Himself, and brings Him pain. The love of God has its wrath-side, its servant-side, and yes, its grief-side.
This is one of the most moving verses in the Bible. The command itself implies a blessed and precious truth. The Spirit who indwells us is capable of feeling, and thus is a Person, not an it, a phantom, or a force. The Holy Spirit is a Person with a heart. At the heart of Heaven is a heart, upon the throne’s right-hand seat is a heart, and within our heart of hearts dwells another heart. Father-Creator cares, Son-Christ cares, and Spirit-Comforter also cares and feels.
Of Israel and God the Father, Isaiah (63:9) said, “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” At Lazarus’ tomb, God the Son “wept” (JN 11:35). Our present text tells us God the Holy Spirit is also given to emotional reaction. He is susceptible to grief, and it is in our power to grieve Him.
There is a tenderness in the words of our text. Paul avoided the term “anger.” When someone flashes forth with anger, we usually want to respond in kind. Grief, though, tends to elicit a response of tenderness. Anger begets anger, but grief should beget compassion.
Many have refrained from sin due to the grief it would cause a parent. The same motivation can help us if we deem the Spirit within us a Person capable of grief. As we contemplate He is a Person, we will be more likely to talk to Him, and commune with Him. As we ponder the fact He has feelings, we should be more motivated to make Him happy, not sad.
The very fact we are capable of grieving God is in and of itself an amazing evidence of His love. God has forever been totally self-sufficient. He has never needed anything, but chose to create beings which He allowed to gladden or sadden Him. This was infinite condescension and love.
“Whenever one loves someone, he lays himself open for hurt as wide as the sky” (Criswell). As Barbara Johnson has said in one of her books, to have children is to let your heart move outside your body and walk around. We open self to pain when we love. This is exactly what God did.
Deity grieving over frail creatures of dust is a marvelous truth. God does not reign over us in solitary isolation, separated from us by a vast gulf. Instead, He takes up residence in the cottage of our heart, a mere hut when compared to His heavenly home. Every believer has the honor to host this blessed, heavenly Guest. He indwells us, takes part in our day to day existence, and allows Himself to interact closely with what we are doing. We should desire that the Holy Spirit be able to dwell cheerfully within us, as in a pleasant and happy house. Deity should never be treated carelessly.
All sin hurts God, but evil in His children especially pierces the Spirit’s heart because He cannot escape the scene of the sin. Once He enters a believer’s heart, the Spirit never leaves. He cannot flee, and thus has to endure within the small confines of a heart-hovel the ugliness of our sins.
Rather than leave us when we sin, the Holy Spirit withdraws to a corner of our hearts to grieve. All spiritual empowerment for our lives grinds to a screeching halt. People burdened under a heavy heart cannot perform their tasks as they would otherwise; neither can the Spirit. If we grieve Him, He cannot cheer us, comfort us, teach us, help us. He never leaves us, but does withhold the manifestations of His presence.
Our sins cause the Spirit sickness of heart. They grieve Him for at least three reasons, the first being for our own sakes. He is alarmed at our choosing paths which are harmful to ourselves. He does not gloat over punishments we receive, but hurts over damage already done by the sin itself. The Spirit yearns for our circumstances to get better, not worse. Kind and caring, He desires us no ill. He is our warmest well-wisher.
Secondly, our sins grieve Him for Jesus’ sake. They open fresh wounds in our precious Savior. Jesus died to purchase our undivided loyalty. When our affections are expended elsewhere, the Holy Spirit grieves over the sadness in Jesus’ face.
Our sins grieve the Spirit, thirdly, for the lost’s sake. His assignment is to win unbelievers, a task made more difficult by the sins of believers. Sinners often justify their sins by the fact these same deeds are being committed by saints. “It is ill when Jerusalem comforts Sodom, and when the crimes of the heathens find precedents in the sins of Israel” (Spurgeon).
Imagine! Grief for us, grief for Jesus, grief for the lost–our sins cause the Spirit within us to suffer grief not merely doubled, but tripled. This may help explain some of the sadness we experience from time to time as believers. Being knit as one with the Holy Spirit, when He is cast down, it drags us down, too. A vital part of any close relationship is the intertwining of two people’s emotions. When Ruth is sad, I am sad; when I am sad, Ruth is sad. Our lives are so knit that oneness of feelings often characterizes us. Being in the presence of a sad loved one causes us to become sad ourselves. This truism applies in the case of believers and the Holy Spirit. We are closely knit with Him, and share a oneness with Him we cannot escape. We are in actual fact seated in heavenly places. The Holy Spirit and we are in the same place. When He is sad, we will be sad.
Sin makes us sad not only due to the Spirit’s fallen countenance. Sin saddens us also because it forces the Spirit to withhold from us heavenly joy. Sin is “the wrenching of myself away from the influences” (Maclaren) of heavenly gladness. Sin chokes the flow of joy. Joy from God is not given to us. The Spirit uses conviction and misery effectively. He has to keep us burdened, mindful of our sin, until we confess and forsake it.
Consecration by the Spirit, and contentment in the believer, have been made forevermore inseparable in the church. I fear we do not appreciate the Spirit enough. Jesus, being flesh and blood like ourselves, understandably receives the first impulses of our spiritual thoughts. We do not need to love Jesus less. We need to dwell more on the Spirit’s love for us, thereby being stirred up to grieve Him less.
The Holy Spirit was there in the eternal councils when the plan of salvation was conceived. He was one of its original designers. The Son offered to submit to the Father. The Spirit yielded to both Father and Son.
The Son volunteered to redeem us, and Someone had to retrieve us. The Spirit volunteered to come fetch us, to apply to us the redemption purchased for us by Christ. Jesus would not let us perish, the Spirit would not let us go. He determined to change our hearts and make us trophies of Christ’s power to save. We said “No!” but the Spirit said “Yes.” We said “Leave!” but the Spirit said “Come.” We would have dashed ourselves against the walls of Hell, but He grabbed us, and holds us fast. Jesus came down to a manger; where did the Spirit come down to find you and me? Jesus stooped to our level at Bethlehem; the Holy Spirit stoops repeatedly.
Who “opened your blind eye to see a dying Saviour? Who was it that opened your deaf ear to hear the voice of pardoning love? Who opened your clasped and palsied hand to receive the tokens of a Saviour’s grace? Who was it that brake your hard heart and made a way for the Saviour to enter and dwell therein? Oh! it was that precious Spirit” (Spurgeon).
For many of us, when the Holy Spirit found us we were but children, insignificant to the world, but precious in the Spirit’s eyes. He convicted us, touched our hearts, and brought us to Jesus.
Through our Christian life, how often would we have thrown ourself into sin had it not been for the Spirit’s gentle yet firm refraining influence? He is the One who energizes us and enables us to do what the Father commands. He is our teacher. All we have learned of God, He has taught us.
Our teacher is also our physician, binding our brokenness. How often would our broken heart have shattered to pieces had it not been for the Holy Spirit holding it together. When our heart was broken, and we sensed comfort come over us like a wave, did we stop to think it was the precious Spirit? He is the Comforter. The blessed ministry of spiritual comfort leads us to think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This is proper, and we do not need to think less of Jesus, but ought to appreciate the Holy Spirit more.
The Holy Spirit is the One who voices our prayers for us when they are unsayable. Often a prayer cannot be uttered. Words cannot be found. Vocabulary fails us. Sentences will not form, our agony too deep for words. When we hurt, the Spirit hurts. When we are bowed low, He bends low.
Do you not sense we have done an injustice to the sweet Spirit of God? The fact we can, and do, break the Spirit’s heart should break our hearts. Let us “grieve not the holy Spirit.”