Sometimes we read scriptures, and we know that they have good things to say; but we just don’t get them. We don’t understand what they mean. Unfortunately, and all too often, when this happens, we simply turn the page and keep reading.
This has happened to me on more than one occasion. One of the verses was Ephesians 4:30: “…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Right in a list of things to avoid and attitudes to check at the door, here is this verse. What in the world does this mean? I got to thinking: If I am supposed to avoid doing this, I probably should figure out what it means to grieve the Holy Spirit.
To begin, I looked up the word in the dictionary. “Grieve” simply means to suffer grief or to cause great distress. This made me think about when I was a young boy, visiting my Uncle. He would ask me about every time I would see him, “Are you causing any grief?” For the longest time, I had no idea what he was talking about. I did not know what grief was. But when I understood what grief was, I began to understand his question.
I think the same goes for this verse. Once you understand what grief means, we can ask ourselves, “Are we causing any grief for the Holy Spirit of God?" That puts a very different view on the verse. Do we have that much effect on how the Holy Spirit feels?
Charles Ellicott, in his New Testament Commentary for English Readers (1878), says that using a phrase like “grieve not the Holy Spirit” would imply that we have, at some level, a personal relationship with the divine person—the Holy Spirit. That is a huge implication. To think that our actions influence the attitude of the Holy Spirit is incredible!
So, what types of actions would cause the Holy Spirit grief? I think the list where we found this directive would be a great place to start (Ephesians 4:25-31). In the context around the imperative statement, we find things to avoid such as stealing, lying, anger, malicious talk, bitterness, rage, brawling, and slander. In the last verse of chapter four, we see what we ought to do instead of these things: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.”
So, a big part of not grieving the Holy Spirit is to avoid sinful actions—to live like Christ. Now, this does not mean that we are going to live perfect lives and never be tempted by sin anymore. But it also does not mean that we can just live however we want to live without any regard to the consequences of our actions.
I had a young man tell me once that he felt so badly for his friends who did not know Christ. He felt like he needed to share the gospel with them. But he also said that he felt like he always had to be this perfect kid around them. My advice was simple. You don’t have to be perfect around them. If you try to be perfect around them, then when you do make a poor choice or you fall to the temptation of sin, they will call you a hypocrite. That will do more damage to your witness than it will do good. So, don’t pretend to be perfect because you are not.
What does that have to do with grieving the Holy Spirit? Well, there is a big difference between living a sinful life and living in a struggle against sin. You see, Hebrews 10:26 describes this difference. It says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left”(NIV).
Since we are in a personal relationship with God’s Holy Spirit, since He lives inside us, He knows our hearts. He knows when you are sinning because that is just what you really want to do or if you are actually struggling against the temptation to sin. The sad part is that we know the difference, too. We know the times we give into temptation after a long, hard struggle. And we know the times that we sin just because that is what we wanted to do.
When my Uncle used to ask if I was “causing any grief,” I now know what he was asking. Was I deliberately causing problems for others? Was I choosing to pick on my sister to intentionally hurt her feelings? Was I doing things that I knew my brothers did not like, just because I knew they did not like them? Understanding that point helped me to understand what it means to grieve the Holy Spirit.
What is my intention? Am I trying to avoid the things that I know will cause great distress to the Holy Spirit? Am I putting up any kind of a fight or struggle against the temptation to sin?
Examine your heart. Examine your intentions. Examine your struggle. Are you causing any grief?
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