Grieve Not The Spirit

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Spiritual Life


A Study of Ephesians 4:30.

One church named itself, “Happy Church.” All of us, I think we can confess, desire to be happy–to experience feelings of contentment, delight, enjoyment, and satisfaction. I would venture to say that if I asked you, “How many of you desire to be happy?” all of you would nod your head, “Yes!” The opposite being happy is the experience of grief–of being unhappy, of feeling sorrowful, agitated, oppressed, depressed, or sad. In the very depths of our souls, these two emotions, happiness and sorrow, seem to be in constant competition with each other. Most of the time, we are either glad or sad. We feel either up or down.

Though the Bible does have much to say about “joy” (I think of the number of injunctions by the apostle Paul to “rejoice.” In Philippians 4:4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!“), my purpose will not be to specifically address the subject of joy, but rather to address those things in our spiritual life which can make us unhappy; specifically, that behavior which grieves the Holy Spirit. If causes of grief are dealt with, then it stands to reason that the Christian will be able to live a well-adjustedly in the Spirit.

But an unbeliever once told Hannah Whitall Smith, “You Christians seem to have a religion that makes you miserable. You are like a man with a headache. He does not want to get rid of his head, but it hurts for him to keep it. You cannot expect outsiders to seek very earnestly for anything so uncomfortable.” [1] A positive disposition of our soul, it seems to me, lies at the very heart of a Christian’s credibility. Believers who are comfortable within their skin attract others to the faith. Believers who are discomforted within their souls will not positively impress those outside the faith. So for our Christian living, it becomes vital that we understand what it is that can make us happy, or what it is that can make us miserable. But before looking at what can cause misery in the heart of the Christian believer, we need to know something of the Holy Spirit, and the Christian’s relationship to Him.

First, the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the divine Trinity. In Acts the fifth chapter, there is recorded the instance of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. To the apostles and the early church, they made a promise that they would sell a parcel of land they owned and give the proceeds from the sale of that property to help the needy in the Jerusalem church (Acts 5:1-11). But human greed being what it is, the couple kept for themselves part of the profit from the property’s sale. In other words, they didn’t make good on what they promised the church. Peter and the apostles found out that they “cheated” on the promise, to have, as the text put it, lied to the Holy Spirit. Peter said to Ananias, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3). Then just before God smote Ananias dead for his duplicity, Peter stated of Ananias’ lie to the Holy Spirit, “You have not lied to men, but to God” (Acts 5:4). The Holy Spirit is God. When dealing with the Holy Spirit, we are dealing with God.

Second, the Holy Spirit is also a unique and distinct person. The Holy Spirit is not a “force” or an “it.” The Holy Spirit is “He.” Jesus affirmed of the Spirit: “But when He (masculine demonstrative pronoun), the Spirit (neuter gender) of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you” (John 16:13-14; In verses 13-14, the personal pronoun “He” occurs 8 times.). The Holy Spirit is as much a person as you or I, and as a person, He possess all the constituent parts of personality–intellect, will, and emotion. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal “force.” He is a Person, and as a person He possesses emotions. He is the “sensitive Spirit.”

Because He is personal, the Holy Spirit can be “unhappy.” As Ephesians 4:30 tells believers, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The Spirit’s feelings can be hurt. The verb “do not grieve” means “to cause pain or grief . . . to distress . . . to cause someone to be sad, sorrowful, or distressed.” Furthermore, the tense of the verb demands that the Ephesian believers stop actions and behavior that were in progress. But some of you might ask, “What is it that can grieve the Holy Spirit?” Is it a failure on our part to engage certain rituals or rites? Is it because as individual believers, or collectively as congregation, we are failing to do something the Holy Spirit wants us to do? What grieves the Holy Spirit is far more concrete.

The key to understanding how we grieve the Holy Spirit is found in the surrounding verses in the context. In this passage Paul wrote:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:29-32)

The context suggests that, when engaged in by believers, certain types of speech sadden the heart of the Holy Spirit. Our speech can cause the Spirit grief. And if the Holy Spirit is grieved, His sadness within bears certain implications not only for believers personally, but also for churches corporately. Grieving of the Holy Spirit has everything to do with “life together.” And here’s why.

The Bible teaches that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit lives “in” us personally and individually. In fact, the marker as to whether or not people are Christians is the Spirit’s presence within them. Paul wrote, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9b). Those in whom the Spirit dwells are “saints.” Those in whom He does not dwell are “aints.”

To the Corinthians the Apostle Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that your (plural) body (singular) is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you (plural), whom you have (plural) from God, and that you are (plural) not your own (plural)?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Individually, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If you are a believer, then say to yourself, “I am a temple of the Holy Spirit.” But corporately, together, true Christians are also the temple of the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that you (plural) are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Again Paul wrote, “For we (plural) are the temple of the living God . . .” (2 Corinthians 6:16). In unison, a congregation must confess and say together, “Together, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” For reason of His residence in and among us, the Holy Spirit bonds us together in Christ. By Him, we are sealed together for eternity, and this yoke cannot be broke (See 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30.).

But in and among the saints, the Holy Spirit’s presence is “felt.” His feelings interrelate with the feelings of the saints. His emotions interact with our emotions producing in us feelings of sorrow or joy. By faith we know He dwells in us. In part, our experience authenticates the Spirit’s living presence in and among us. Together we are His temple. At the psychological point of soul where our speech interacts with the Spirit’s emotions, we can cause Him grief or joy. If within me the Holy Spirit is happy, then it stands to reason that I will be content. But if within me the Holy Spirit is grieved, then it stands to reason that I will not be happy. Such is the way in which the Holy Spirit’s personality interacts with ours. Such is the manner of our symbiotic relationship to the indwelling Spirit of Christ. That is the stark reality of our life together in the Spirit. But what, we might ask, is the Holy Spirit trying to do in us and among us?

In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples. For them He asked that, “may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me . . . that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:21, 23). In the unity of the church the Father is glorified and to outsiders the Christian faith becomes credible. If there is no demonstable and organic unity among believers an unbelieving world will conclude the the Father did not send the Son. It’s just that serious. As Peter Scholtes wrote and Larry Norman sang, “We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord . . . And they’ll [i.e., unbelievers] know we are Christians by our love.” [2] Upon reflecting upon this passage, Francis Schaeffer remarked,

If as Christians we do not cringe, it seems to me we are not very sensitive or very honest . . . if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: we cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.

After having stated that in a disbelieving world, “This is the final apologetic,” Schaeffer then states and asks, “Now that is frightening. Should we not feel some emotion at this point?” [3]

In answer to Jesus’ prayer, the Holy Spirit attempts to build unity in the church. He does so by His abiding presence within us and among us. As a congregation, this unity being built by the Holy Spirit is something that our spirit ought to cooperate with. As Paul began the chapter, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Emphasis mine, Ephesians 4:1-3.).

But Satan’s name means “slanderer.” The evil one ever attempts to frustrate God’s plan by breeding division and strife in local churches, and he does so by using words. That’s why division resulting from evil words spoken between and among professing Christians in a local church becomes the Devil’s playground.

What grieves the Holy Spirit is disunity in the church, disunity that is caused by any “rotten” speech (See NASB Marginal Reading, Ephesians 4:29). In answer to Jesus’ prayer, complaining and gossiping speech frustrates the Spirit’s work of creating unity. Another pastor, Carlos Azurdia, wrote, “It must also be acknowledged, however, that sins of the tongue bring a singularly painful grief to the Holy Spirit because they directly threaten the unity He seeks to establish.” [4] Again he writes, “When Christians, by the means of sinful speaking, threaten the unity established by the Holy Spirit, they cut Him to the heart.” [5] Another pastor writes that, “the Holy Spirit is a sensitive Spirit. He hates sin, discord and falsehood, and shrinks away from them.” [6] An unhappy Holy Spirit makes for unhappy believers and congregations.

If the Holy Spirit is grieved within us, then it means that He will be grieved among us. In the Body of Christ, none of us lives unto ourselves. No man is an island. In confronting a case of immorality in the Corinthian church, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6). Just as sexual immorality can leaven a congregation, so also can speech immorality. Like leaven, evil speaking can permeate a congregation, and if it does, that congregation will become as miserable for those inside the church as it will become repulsive to those outside the church. If there’s discontent in us, there will be discontent among us. Count on it. If we are unhappy individually, we certainly will be unhappy collectively. And the chief means by which we grieve the Spirit is through our words. If there is an undercurrent of evil speaking (gossip and slander) and malcontent (talk . . . talk . . .talk . . . opinions . . . opinions . . . opinions . . . factions . . . factions . . . factions) within a congregation, then it makes for an unhappy church. Evil speech causes the Spirit grief.

Grieving the Holy Spirit carries with it certain implications for the church. If the Holy Spirit is grieved in us, He will also be grieved among us. If we grieve the Holy Spirit individually, we also grieve the Holy Spirit collectively. Grieving the Holy Spirit by a church leads to disunity. Disunity leads to separation between Christians and cliques in the church as the members continue talking among themselves about themselves. Cliquish gossip becomes “insider talk” that will ruin a congregation’s fellowship, and such churches will never be attractive to visitors. In fact, a gossiping and divided membership will be so fixated upon themselves that it will ignore the strangers and visitors in their midst. Upon visiting a congregation which is grieving the Holy Spirit, outsiders intuitively know something is wrong. They will feel it. Furthermore, because everybody is into themselves, nobody speaks to them.

Thus, as Pastor Azurdia writes, “The first responsibility of the congregation may be summarized as follows: the congregation must consciously refrain from any kind of attitude or activity that might contribute to a withholding of the effects of the Holy Spirit.” [7] In other words, if the Holy Spirit is not happy within us, then neither will He be happy among us, no matter how we might try to generate happiness through artificial means. “Rotten” speech, discontented murmuring and complaining, makes for factions and cliques in a congregation, and outsiders, whether they be believers or unbelievers, will not be attracted to any church that is divided for reason of its grieving of the Holy Spirit. Individuals who grieve the Holy Spirit negatively impact the church body.

Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist and English preacher at the latter part of the 19th century wrote somewhere,

God the Spirit does not bless a collection of quarrelling professors. Those who are always contending, not for the truth, but for petty differences, and family jealousies, are not likely to bring to the church the dove-like Spirit. Want of unity always involves want of power.

And I might add, want of unity also leads to an undercurrent of “unhappiness” both in and among believers. Churches in which members speak derogatorily of one another will not be happy.

Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1952): 15.
[2] Peter Scholtes, “They’ll Know We are Christians,” The Celebration Hymnal, Tom Fettke, Senior Editor (Word/Integrity, 1997): 429.
[3] Francis A. Schaeffer, “The Mark of the Christian,” The Complete Works of Francis A Schaeffer, Volume 4 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982): 189.
[4] Arturo G. Azurdia III, Spirit Empowered Preaching, Involving the Holy Spirit in Your Ministry (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1998): 155.
[5] Ibid. 156.
[6] John R.W. Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979): 189.
[7] Azurdia, Preaching, 153.

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