By CATHERINE UPCHURCH, Little Rock Scripture Study | Published April 2, 2009
When Paul speaks of his experience of God, he most often talks about Jesus the savior or he speaks of the risen Christ who reveals God’s plan for salvation. And yet, Paul’s writings are filled with an appreciation for the Spirit as well.
Fundamentally, the Spirit originates in God and in Christ and is an expression of their love. In Romans 5, Paul speaks of the virtues of faith, hope and love and he says in verse 5, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Later in verse 9 we read, “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
Belonging to Christ, what Paul calls living in Christ, is living in response to the Spirit of God who has been given to us. In fact, Paul reminds believers that we are temples of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is the indwelling Spirit who gifts us for life in community and then allows us to see the fruit of such living.
Among the most easily recognized passages from Paul’s writing is the teaching about spiritual gifts: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit … To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Corinthians 12:4,7).
He goes on to name such gifts as wisdom, knowledge, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation. The key to appreciating these gifts is that they are “given for some benefit,” a benefit that is not usually personal but communal.
The body of Christ is built up and thrives in good health when the variety of gifts is esteemed just as each part of a physical body is valued and necessary (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
While it is true that all gifts are valued, their worth to the community is governed by how they are employed. Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians measures all gifts against the greatest of spiritual gifts, which is love.
Without love, speaking in tongues is just the sound of cymbals clashing. Without love, even giving away all of one’s possessions means nothing. “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated . . . It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4,7).
By its nature love requires relationships. It is there that the Spirit of God animates us, shaping our dispositions and informing our actions. In this way, the gifts of the Spirit build up the body of Christ.
As Christians, we recognize that through the waters of baptism we are sealed with the Spirit. This gift of God is ritualized in our tradition using the elements of water, oil and light. The Spirit given in baptism actually enables us to embrace our life in Christ and our bond of unity with the community of believers (Ephesians 4:1-6).
The Spirit of God is difficult to describe or to envision. It has been depicted as a dove, no doubt because at the baptism of Jesus it descends on Jesus in this form (Matthew 3:16; Luke 3:22). It is associated with fire and wind as when the followers of Jesus experienced the power of the Spirit as they gathered in confusion and fear in the upper room after Jesus’ crucifixion (Acts 2:1-4).
Perhaps it is best, though, not to settle on one portrait of the Spirit. Given how Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit, I think he might even prefer that we see the Spirit when we look at the lives of those who possess the Spirit.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he draws a contrast between those who live by the Spirit and those who live according to the flesh. For Paul, the “flesh” refers to those attitudes and behaviors that stand as obstacles to our relationship with God. In various places in his correspondence he lists everything from sexual impurity to jealousy to bad temper and rebellion against one’s parents (Galatians 5:19-20; Romans 1:24-31; Colossians 3:5-10).
In contrast, those who live by the Spirit produce its fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). A life marked by these virtues gives evidence of the Spirit and paints its own beautiful and unique portrait.
In Paul’s earliest existing correspondence, he admonishes the church, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This gift of God’s loving presence is an invitation to fullness of life, and becomes the instrument of unity and hope in our world. Paul would have us fan the flame of God’s Spirit.
This article was originally published in the Arkansas Catholic, Nov. 8, 2008. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved.
This is the sixth in a series of 13 columns on St. Paul and his teachings, written by the directors of the Little Rock Scripture Study (Diocese of Little Rock, Ark.) for the Jubilee Year of St. Paul. The Jubilee marks the 2,000-year anniversary of the apostle’s birth.