Is Grieving the Holy Spirit Still Good News?
Posted on August 20, 2013
Ephesians 4:29-30 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Yikes! How does this passage fit under the heading ‘good news?’ It fits perfectly. But please start by reading the preceding passage beginning in vs. 17 through vs. 28.
Notice, Paul is addressing ways of thinking (vs. 17 – futility of their thinking) that lead to wrong understanding of the nature of God (vs. 18 – darkened understanding, which created separation from the life of God due to ignorance) which leads to poor behavior. Catch this, poor behavior is rooted in poor understanding of the nature of God. He encourages the reader to be renewed in the ‘attitude of their minds’ (vs. 23) and to sink into (put on = greek word endyo, which means sink into or resting/trusting the truth) their new self, created to be like God. He goes on to address speech and actions towards others. This sets the context for verse 29-30.
In verse 29, it is helpful to know that the word unwholesome can translate as corrupt, while the word benefit can translate as grace. Taking into consideration the preceding passage, I believe what Paul is saying is, stop speaking to the corrupt nature of sin, like the pagans do, when you speak to one another. Rather let the truth of what the grace of God has accomplished become the speech with which you build up and call up one another. In 2 Corinthians 5:16 he (Paul) reinforces this idea when he says, we no longer treat anyone according to the flesh. Now let me be clear, speaking from a paradigm of grace does NOT mean we don’t address poor behavior, it simply adjusts the manner we address it. If someone is acting below their identity, my confrontation begins in what they believe about God and themselves (in Christ) and aims to restore their identity. Even with an unbeliever my confrontation can begin in the same place of belief, but my offer is to show them what Christ has done for them, and invite them to accept this new identity He has already secured as a free gift.
From this place of speaking grace and no longer corruption we now read verse 30, which calls us to not grieve the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it fascinating that Paul is tying grieving the Holy Spirit to treating people below the gift that Jesus offers them? It grieves God when we view and treat people below the royal blood that was spilled for their reconciliation. Absolutely astounding.
My final thought is a slight adjustment but totally relevant to this discussion of grieving the Holy Spirit. This verse reveals a depth of awe in my own heart in seeing the nature and character of God that creates a security which is unparalleled in any human relationship. Consider this. The Most High, All-Powerful, God of Heaven, prefers to confront us (His creation) through His vulnerability rather than through His authority. Make no mistake, He is the ultimate authority and can do whatever He wants to do. But this verse reveals His preference is to show His heart and the sadness over our decision to believe and consequently act below the gift of His Son in us. Mind blown. In my experience the most challenging part to this thought is, “Can God really be that good?” It is as if we are standing in Abraham’s shoes, with God inviting us to leave our country and our family (our understanding of Him and our effectiveness in society) to go to a place (being in Christ) He will show us or help us come to a right understanding of the truth.
This is the good news! It includes repentance, outward change, high character, and divine power. But it is received and governed by His life and power (grace) not our best attempts to prove ourselves. It is truly an upside down kingdom in every sense. And it is more counter-intuitive than we ever imagined (see Eph. 3:20-21). And maybe through Ephesians 4, God is showing us a better way to deal with behavioral issues? Maybe through this passage He gives us a glimpse into Romans 2, which declares His kindness is the catalyst to deep and lasting change? And in the end we will all see that His correction and grief are good news!