Paul urges the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4.30), but what does he mean by that?
To answer this question, we need to understand that the Holy Spirit is God’s personal presence and the third person of the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all, in a very real sense, God. The Holy Spirit is therefore a person whose identity is God.
God is not aloof and impassionate, rather he is emotionally involved with his creation, and with human beings especially. Indeed, the scriptures describe God displaying a wide range of emotions. We are emotional beings because we are made in the image of God and our emotions come from God. However, whilst human emotions are tainted by sin, God’s emotions are pure, perfect and come from a place of love.
Grief is a powerful emotion that is usually associated with death; however, it can mean intense sorrow of any kind. When we express sorrow (grief) for another human being, it is closely connected with love. We grieve when we love and the depth of our grief is proportional to the depth of our love.
All three persons of the Trinity are said to grieve in scripture: the Father (Genesis 6.6), the Son (John 11.35) and the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4.30). When God grieves for us, it is an expression of his love.
The Holy Spirit dwells within all those who know and love Jesus, thus animating the body of Christ (the Church). In Ephesians 4, just before the part about “not grieving the Holy Spirit”, Paul writes the following:
“…When you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Entering into a relationship with Jesus changes us for the better; as Paul says, we are to, “put on the new self”. However, becoming “like God in true righteousness and holiness” is a process that will not be completed this side of the grave. It is our cooperation with God’s Spirit living within us that speeds this process along, leading to our spiritual improvement.
When we, deliberately or inadvertently, behave in a way that is inimical to our spiritual improvement it grieves the Holy Spirit; in the same way that a loving parent is grieved when his or her child behaves in a self-destructive manner.
In Ephesians 4.31-32, Paul lists a number of behaviours that are destructive within the Church, including bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and every form of malice. On this occasion, Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit, who seeks to bring unity within the Church, is grieved by all such behaviour.
There is no doubt that we all grieve the Holy Spirit in various ways because we are all sinful. The good news is that we can repent (turn away) from our sin and towards Christ, in the knowledge that God will always forgive those who truly repent.
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First published on The Parish of Springfield website in July 2022.Jump to next article