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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Inspired by God

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God..." (II Timothy 3:16)

What does it mean to be inspired by God?

In beginning to understand the concept of inspiration, we should look at the Greek and Hebrew words that were translated into English as "inspiration." The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (1984) identifies the Greek word as "theopneustos" and informs us that it is derived from the words "theos" (God) and "pneo" (to breathe hard or to blow). Hence, the word literally means "God-breathed" or "God-inspired."

Now the association of spirit with breath or wind is a concept that is familiar to the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments. Strong's identifies the Hebrew word for "inspiration" as "neshamah." Like its Greek counterpart, this word also denotes a "puff of wind" or "breath" and is used to indicate Divine inspiration (as in Job 32:8).

So the use of both words indicated that God was actively influencing whatever was being done. Christ once said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). Although we are unable to see the wind, we are aware of its presence when a tree's leaves and branches flutter and sway.

With this background, it is clear that the Holy Spirit should be regarded as the invisible agent of Divine inspiration that was and is capable of producing a perceptible effect on whatever or whomever it touches. In other words, God's Spirit is the force behind the phenomenon. This is consistent with what is revealed in Scripture.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so THE THINGS OF GOD KNOWETH NO MAN, BUT (by) THE SPIRIT OF GOD" (I Cor. 2:11). He continued, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14). He also wrote to the saints at Rome that "the carnal (natural) mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Romans 8:7-9).

We also have Peter's statement "that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake AS THEY WERE MOVED BY THE HOLY GHOST" (II Peter 1:20-21). In short, God reveals his will to mankind by sharing with them his Holy Spirit, and understanding how that Spirit works is the key to understanding inspiration.

Although most Christians would accept the points just made, many of them share a misconception about the way that the Holy Spirit works. They think of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the OPPOSITE of demon possession. In other words, they view the Spirit as something that controls, orders and dictates to the person to whom it has been given. This, however, is not consistent with what Scripture reveals about the way that the Spirit works. According to the Bible, the Spirit leads, influences, gives, sends, designates, empowers, teaches, witnesses, moves, reveals, warns and sometimes even hinders (Mark 13:11; Luke 2:26, 4:1, 12:12; Acts 1:8, 2:4, 13:4, 16:6, 20:23, 28; I Corinthians 2:13; Hebrews 10:15). The Spirit DOES NOT CONTROL, it works through humans to produce results.

This important understanding is best illustrated by the concept of the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all (the Spirit does not eradicate or suppress the personality of the individual). But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will" (I Corinthians 12:4-11). So Paul portrays the Holy Spirit as giving different gifts or talents to various individuals within the church.

This stands in stark contrast to an understanding that would turn someone acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit into a mindless automaton or robot. Notice also in this passage that Paul referenced the "word of wisdom." Strong's identifies the original Greek word translated as "wisdom" as "sophia," and it implies a wide ranging, general kind of wisdom. Paul also referenced the "word of knowledge" in his letter. Likewise, Strong's identifies the Greek word used here as "gnosis," and it is used throughout the New Testament to indicate spiritual or moral knowledge. Hence, the ability to communicate effectively about things spiritual is also a function or gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ made this aspect of the Spirit's work clear to his disciples when he told them that God would supply them with the Holy Spirit to help them after he (Christ) had returned to the Father. He said, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26).

Remember, it was approximately twenty to thirty years later that some of the disciples decided to write their gospel accounts of Christ's life, and it was the Holy Spirit which helped them to recall those events and words. Jesus told his disciples, "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (John 15:26). In other words, the Spirit would serve in the capacity of a witness who would testify on Christ's behalf.

From these scriptures, it is reasonable to conclude that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit guided, helped and supplied the various human authors of the Bible with the material which they included in their writings. Nevertheless, the question remains: Does the inspiration of the Holy Spirit make its human host infallible? An objective evaluation of the scriptural evidence dealing with this question would invariably lead to the conclusion that the answer to that question is "NO."

In fact, the scriptures are literally full of instances where individuals with God's Holy Spirit failed to live up to God's perfection. We have many instances in the New Testament of Christians who fell short of perfection in spite of the presence of God's Spirit: Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Spirit and tempted it (Acts 5:1-11). There was contention among the saints over the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). They disagreed over whether those Gentile Christians should keep the Law (Acts 15:1-29). Aquila and Priscilla had to correct Apollos' imperfect understanding of Christianity (Acts 18:24-26). There were divisions among the Christians at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:10-17). Many of the people from that group had also accepted the practice of fornication (I Cor. 5:1-8). Some of them were also engaged in lawsuits against each other (I Corinthians 6:1-7). Widespread problems existed among the early church members concerning their belief system (Romans 14:1-23; I Corinthians 8:1-13, 11:17-29, 15:12: Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1). Finally, toward the end of his ministry, Peter had to warn Christians about the presence of false teachers among them (II Peter 2:1-3).

For all of these individuals, the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit did not prevent them from making some very serious mistakes. Their human imperfections still manifested themselves in some dramatic failures, and they all (even those in leadership positions) fell far short of the infallibility and perfection of Almighty God.

We should also note that the Apostle Paul apparently felt that it was possible to “grieve,” "quench" or "neglect" the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit as he warned against them (Ephesians 4:30, I Thessalonians 5:19, I Timothy 4:14). What should we conclude from these examples? The inspiration of God's Holy Spirit is perfect, but how we humans respond to that inspiration is NOT always what it should be.

In the Old Testament book of Exodus, we read that God inspired the craftsmen who constructed and furnished the Tabernacle of the Congregation (Exodus 31:1-11, 35:30-35). Are we to understand that the workmanship resulting from this inspiration was completely flawless and perfect? Are human hands even capable of that kind of perfection? To propose that the craftsmanship of those individuals was flawless as a consequence of their having been inspired seems absurd and unnecessary to our minds. However, when we talk about Scripture, we say that this (flawlessness) is an essential characteristic of the work of the men who wrote them.

So we wonder: Could God have built and furnished the Tabernacle himself? Would not the finished product have been perfect if he had? The answer to both questions is most assuredly YES, but HE CHOSE to work through human instruments. God could have handed them everything on a silver platter, but HE CHOSE to involve them in what he was doing. God wanted them to have a stake in what he was doing. God wanted them to share in the responsibility for the finished product!

Inspiration is the Creator's part in a joint venture with the created. God certainly has the ability to do everything himself, but HE HAS CHOSEN to operate in a different fashion. God has chosen to work through human instruments. Moreover, he knows that the workmanship of those human instruments is subject to errors and imperfections - HE DESIGNED US!

Nevertheless, God has designated a role for mankind to play in every instance of his interaction with us - the entire story of the Bible underscores this important point. God has involved mankind in order to teach mankind, because he wants us to learn and grow toward perfection!

Hence, while Divine inspiration doesn't ensure perfection, it does help us to strive for perfection. God can inspire someone to write something, but that inspiration does not dictate the finished product! Even so, God's involvement in the process does guarantee that the result will be better than it otherwise would have been, and it does make it profitable for the things that Paul told Timothy it could be used to produce (doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness).

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