When was the last time you thought of your baptism?
What if you could upgrade?
What if that new baptism asked more of you?
Paul on his on third missionary journey would be less wide-ranging than his second journey. In fact, rather than breaking new ground, Paul was now revisiting the familiar places from his first journey some 10 or 15 years earlier. So, he started from Antioch and headed overland into Asia Minor. There he visited communities we heard of before such as Lystra and Derbe. Then he crossed the Aegean Sea to Neapolis and Philippi before turning homeward through islands that are favourite holiday destinations nowadays.
What was the reason for this reprise?
Well, where on his second journey Paul had used the 3Ps – preparation, perspiration and panache, this time he deployed the 3Cs – consolidation, confirmation and correction.
Because it seems in his absence, other preachers had come along and misled some congregations he had founded. Since there seemed to have been quite a good franchise in nipping around and telling people about this new fangled Christianity
And so, Paul was going to them personally.
As a result, he often found things weren’t as they should have been.
Gifting the Holy Spirit in Baptism
In Acts 19.1-7 we read of some of these errors at Ephesus
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.
Now, this is very interesting!
Some wandering evangelists hadn’t got the memo from the Head Office in Jerusalem. Were they the out-of-date followers of John or had they not got the best of instruction?
Well, in the famous words of Sir Patrick Moore – we just don’t know!
But the important point was Paul had to put this misunderstanding right.
Therefore, he offered them a new baptism; the better baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.
Because of their acceptance of this hugely generous upgrade, 12 Ephesians received the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, they received the gifts, power and direction of the Holy Spirit.
Well, the result of offering the baptism of Christ to the Ephesians must have created interest.
In fact, other Christian communities who had only received the John Baptism must have been asking if it was worth trading up. Put more bluntly, new Christians must have been wondering what’s in it for me.
The Holy Spirit as our Satnav
Well, Paul broaches this subject when he was writing to the Roman Christian community (Romans 6.1-4).
Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Here then he starts by pointing out that we all require baptism to put our past faults, failing and flaws behind us.
And although he didn’t say it – John’s baptism would have done that as a symbol of a person’s repentance.
However, Paul then points out that true baptism in Jesus takes us beyond repentance. In fact, it then answers the question – what next?
Since, as we have heard, he tells the Romans that they are now dead to their old selves and it is now time to rebuild the new.
And this is the work that the Spirit can supremely assist us with.
For, the Spirit’s ever-present voice in our hearts points out when we are falling away.
The Spirit speaks up when our old self is returning.
As important, the Spirit shouts out directions for us to get back in shape and move upwards.
In modern parlance, the Holy Spirit is our SatNav and iPhone.
The Romans must have thought that was OK. Yet it also sounds as if the Spirit could be a tad troublesome. So they must have asked themselves, is it worth all the bother?
Paul replies – you bet!
For it not so much offers life after death but the continuity of life. Since, because of Christ’s baptism, we are already resurrected and set on the way to everlasting things.
Yet despite the benefits, we too can hold back from claiming the fruits of our own baptism.
Why is that?
Well, Billy Strayhorn tells of an overweight man who took up tennis. He took lessons from a pro. He read several self-help books which advised him to “think positively” and “develop a winning attitude.”
A friend asked him how his tennis was going. With a positive, winning attitude in his voice, the man replied, “When my opponent hits the ball to me, my brain immediately barks out a command to my body: ‘Race up to the net.’ Then, it says, ‘Slam a blistering shot to a far corner of the court. Then immediately jump back into position and return the next volley to the far corner of the court.’
But then my body says, ‘Who, me?'”
When we see the challenge to be the new me we say to the Spirit – who me?
And It replies resoundingly yes you!
FAQs about the Holy Spirit
Back in Paul’s world, the ‘Christ baptism was catching on. Yet the questions still kept coming. And with no websites, or helplines where else could people address their FAQs? Obviously, one source of answers was Paul himself.
One query that might have been incoming was how do I know I have the Holy Spirit?
Is the acid test the speaking in tongues, or healing people or even must I cast out the odd demon to two?
Paul, however, has another test. It was – can you now show love?
And what was his definition of love?
We hear in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love then is a royal command from our master.
Love is a prerequisite of all the fruits of baptism.
Love is the destination of the Spirit’s directions.
What if we don’t feel loving at the moment?
I rather like the story that Dr Harry Emerson Fosdick once related from his own childhood.
His father had said to his mother, upon leaving the house one Saturday morning: “Tell Harry that he can cut the grass today if he feels like it.”
Then, halfway down the path, his father turned once more to add:
“And tell Harry that he had better feel like it!”
You can claim to have the Spirit and speak in tongues. You can claim you have the Spirit and be a prophet. You can claim to have the Spirit and be a proverbial saint of charity. But if you cannot make yourself feel loving you are deluding yourself.
And why is love the most important blessing of the Christ baptism?
Because it is the foundational stone of everything else we do.
It is the powerhouse to keep us doing all that we do.
Above it is the golden reward for all the rest we do.
And we can see a demonstration of this love at the end of Paul’s third Journey.
For then, he asked the elders of Ephesus to meet up with him at Miletus.
And it was there he expressed the love he had for them.
This is what we read at Acts 20.32-37
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.
Well, after this goodbye, Paul went back to Jerusalem where he was arrested before eventually being martyred in Rome.
But, even today, Paul’s teaching on this journey has so much to say to us. Since we too have the blessing of the Christ Baptism. Therefore, we have the gift of the Spirit.
That means, like Paul, we must travel with the message of the gospel. We must go in love and speak for those who need our voice. But, surmounting these, we must call out this often cold, self-absorbed even mendacious world with the challenge of the Spirit.
Since, as Tertullian once said of the Spirit itself, we can then spread beauty and fragrance.
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