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The Holy Spirit is the wonderful third Person of the Trinity about whom we know so little. He loves so tenderly, cares so personally, and ministers to us so faithfully. How amazing that perhaps the most common symbol of this beautiful Person found in the Bible is flaming fire! Why does Scripture choose fire to illustrate His presence and role? What blessedness does this suggest for us when we are Spirit-filled?
An important symbolical message for us in the fire of the Spirit is undoubtedly His work of purifying. This is the central reality in the experience of being filled with the Spirit (Acts 15:9). However, there are other significant truths taught by the fire-symbol of the Spirit. Let us look at these.
John the Baptist had prophesied of Jesus that "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). The coming of the Spirit is to have the effect of fire. Christ desired that all the fiery ministry of the Spirit be active in the life of His own. He kindled the holy flame of God in the hearts of His followers as He began His earthly ministry. Only on the day of Pentecost, as visibly symbolized by the descent of the holy flame of the Spirit, did Christ so empower by His fiery baptism that the 120 began to spread God's holy fire across the world.
Jesus had said, "I have come to bring fire on the earth" (Luke 12:49). While not all commentators are agreed as to the meaning of this fire which Christ so longed to have arrive, yet over the centuries a host of noted scholar-leaders of the Church have seen it as referring to or including reference to the mighty ministry of the Spirit.
Zeal for accomplishing God the Father's purpose was burning in Jesus like an unquenchable fire. He had a "burning readiness to do all the Father's will, even though it cost Him His blood." Our flaming-hearted Savior should have disciples with hearts similarly aflame.
Bishop William Quayle, speaking of a leader, said he "stands at the center of a circle whose entire rim is fire. Glory envelops him. He is a prisoner of majesty." He says that even the speechless should become ablaze on such themes as the gospel compels us to grapple with. "We must not be insipid. There is not a dull page in all this age-long story of the redeeming of the race."
Quayle pleads with us not to be apathetic but to be vigilant. We "are burdened with a ministry which must be uttered lest we die, and, what is more of consequence, which must be uttered lest this wide world die." Let your heart be kindled with his further words: the minister "has his own heart strangely hot. Love girds him. The Christ applauds him. Eternity becomes his tutor. Heaven owns him as its ambassador. With him is God well pleased. A thousand points of fire leap along the horizon of his loving thought and design.
Benjamin Franklin confessed that he often went to hear George Whitefield because he could watch him burn before his very eyes. We have forgotten the root meaning from which we get our word "enthusiastic." It is from en theos, i.e., in God. When God gets His flaming Spirit into our personalities He naturally burns within us with holy dynamic. We become ablaze and we set others ablaze. It is a sin for a Christian leader to be drab and uninspiring.
That prince of English preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, insists, "Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire...What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence."
A respected educator of New York University, H.H. Horne, said the secret of great teaching is contagion. This is the secret of all great leadership, of whatever kind. Martin Luther did not want to lose the fire from his soul; neither dare we. Fire attracts. Fire motivates. Fire kindles fire; it is the nature of fire to set ablaze....
God said to Jeremiah, "I will make my words in your mouth a fire" (Jer. 5:14). On that occasion God was referring to fire as a judgment. But God similarly makes our words fiery in order that His people may become aflame with holy love, zeal, and obedience.
When the Holy Spirit sets our heart aflame He will cause our words to be aflame. When our personality is aflame with commitment to Christ and with a burning vision of what He purposes to do for us, our whole leadership comes alive with life and becomes vibrant with power.
We must constantly maintain our consecration, even as the priests maintained the fire on the altar of the temple. God honors when we make repeated occasions to renew our commitment, confess our total dependence upon Him, and appropriate and implore anew His gracious Spirit's ministry within and through us. Let us note more fully this fiery ministry of the Spirit.
He sets you aflame with His fiery baptism. "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire," said John the Baptist of Jesus (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). This refers to "the fiery character of the Spirit's operations upon the soul--searching, consuming, refining, sublimating--as nearly all good interpreters understand the words." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary, 888). The inner fire of the Spirit sets the Spirit-filled person ablaze with His divine presence.
He empowers you with His fiery divine energy. The fire of God speaks also of His divine energy constantly ready to empower His own who are totally surrendered to Him. Christ desires that all the fiery ministry of the Spirit be active in your life. "I have come to bring fire on the earth" (Luke 12:49). He kindled the holy flame of God in the hearts of His followers as He began His earthly ministry. But He knew they needed more of the Spirit.
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit visibly descended in holy flame upon the men and women gathered in the Upper Room. Empowered by the Spirit, they began to spread God's holy fire that very day. For decades the Spirit's fire kept burning and spreading. Persecution could not quench their fire, it only served to fan the flames. Pentecost lit a flame that by God's grace will never go out.
He sets you aglow with His fiery radiance and zeal. Romans 12:11 urges, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor." You have spiritual zeal when you are spiritually ablaze. Weymouth translates this, "Have your spirits aglow"; Goodspeed, "on fire with the Spirit"; and the Revised Standard Version states it, "Be aglow with the Spirit."
The Holy Spirit revives your spirit, fills you with abundance of life, love and zeal, and sets you aglow so that you manifest the vibrant, radiant life of God. He will revive your devotion, accelerate your obedience, and fan into fame your zeal. As a Spirit-filled believer you should be marked by the intense devotion, eager earnestness, and the loyal bond-service which characterizes the heavenly angels. Apollos (Acts 18:25) was thus ablaze. The literal translation can be that he was "burning in spirit," or "glowing with the Spirit."
When the Spirit burns within you in freedom and fullness, your inner life becomes radiant, your zeal intense, and your service dynamic. You, in the words of Ephesians 5:16, are "making the most of every opportunity."
The need for this spiritual glow and zeal is emphasized by the condition of the church in Laodicea which had grown lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16). The spiritual temperature of a Spirit-filled leader should remain high. The Spirit desires so to fill you with burning, glowing agape love that your life is constantly radiant with His presence. Whether the translation of Romans 12:11 is to be aglow with the Holy Spirit or to be aglow in your own spirit, the Enabler is ever the Spirit Himself. His active fullness must permeate your personality and service.
He provides you gifts which you are to stir into flame. Spiritual gifts are endowments for service given through the activity of the Holy Spirit. God provides whatever divine enablements we need for the service to which He appoints us. The Holy Spirit Himself is God's great gift to us (Acts 2:38) but He bestows grace-gifts (charismata) providing divine endowment and enablement for serving God and the body of Christ.
"Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you," Paul urged Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6). Notice the gift was "in" him. The Holy Spirit primarily works from within, not upon in some external sense. He does not manipulate us, He enables by His indwelling presence and power.
God never appoints or guides you to do a service without being available to endow and empower you with all you need to do His will. But there is a cooperating role for you to play. You must kindle anew, or fan into full flame the divine endowment. God's gifts are given to be cherished and used. To fail to use them as God desires is to fail God and people. We develop them by use. As we use God's endowment, the Spirit enables us, guides us, and makes us fruitful.
The constant tendency of fire is to go out. The Spirit does not waste divine energy. If we do not obey and use the grace God provides, He ceases to bestow. The Greek tense of the verb emphasizes the continuous rekindling of the flame. The spiritual biography of many a Christian leader is "once ablaze." Was there a time when you were more ablaze for God than you are today?
Praise God, a flickering flame that is almost gone can be fanned into brilliant fire again. That fanning must be a continuous process. Five times in Leviticus 6 God instructed that the fire on the altar of burnt offering was never to go out. He had initially given that fire from heaven (Lev. 9:24; 2 Chron. 7:11). God supplies the fire, but we must keep it burning. We constantly need the Spirit's fire, symbolizing the divine presence within us, and we constantly need the touch of God's grace provided through the atonement upon us. Our consecration to God should never lapse and His presence and power in and upon us should never diminish.
God has created our spirits flammable. We are spiritually combustible. Our nature is created to be set ablaze by the Spirit. We are spiritually most blessed, most victorious, most usable when we are ablaze. We are most Godlike when we glow with holy flame--the flame of the indwelling Spirit.
The fire of God gives an unforgettable attraction to the personality of God's messenger and to the content of his message. It imparts a sacred authority that cannot be counterfeited by human efforts. It so seals with the mark of God that others are unable to ignore it. It gives a holy authenticity and assures of integrity. It impresses with the obvious involvement and partnership of God.
Whatever the cost, we must keep the flame of the Spirit burning on the altar of our hearts. The Greek word in "fan into flame" in 2 Timothy 1:6 refers to the use of a bellows to cause a smoldering fire to flame up. This takes effort. Timothy was to do all in his power to intensify the manifestation of the flame of the Spirit. Our cooperation with the Spirit is essential to consistency of flowing ardor, spiritual radiance, and flaming zeal.
General Booth urged his people, "The tendency of fire is to go out; watch the fire on the altar of your heart." Our constant danger is to cool off spiritually, to lose our fervor, and to slow down in zeal. Personal revival comes through renewed commitment and reaffirmed consecration. Everyone needs such personal revival again and again.
We have the great gift of God, the Holy Spirit, but we need to hunger more for the manifestation of His presence, and open our hearts constantly in faith's expectancy for His working, His empowerings and constant enablings in our life. God gives us capacity and the Spirit wants to imbue our whole being with His reality, making us His channels of expression that His holy fire may be constantly visible in us. We must choose whether we will neglect the Spirit, quench the Spirit, or fan into flame the Spirit's presence.