What does it mean to “grieve the Holy Spirit”?

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Ephesians 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

I’m particularly struck by v.30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”. It’s an interesting phrase isn’t it? But what does it mean to “grieve” the Holy Spirit? Well, the phrase is used here in a context in which Paul is encouraging people to turn away from divisive behavior (bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, malice) and instead strive toward kindness and forgiveness.

Unity is a big deal to God, but was hard to come by in a place like ancient Ephesus. In fact one of the most powerful forms of witness in Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, and other places was for the church to be at once diverse AND unified. Slaves and slaveowners, Jews and Gentiles, men and women actually worked together for the sake of the gospel. This kind of mixed community was unheard of. But the power of the Holy Spirit made it possible.

And so it troubled Paul to learn there were people in the church undermining the unity which God had cultivated by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus “grieving” the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for “grieve” is “lipeo” which has a strong sense of feeling behind it. To “lipeo” (grieve) something was to experience a deep sense of sadness, pain, and loss. Hence, losing unity in the church mattered deeply to the Holy Spirit.

As a pastor I’m aware that I’m seeking to lead in a time of rapid change, both outside the church and inside the church. While there is always a sense of “lipeo” when moving in new directions, today reminds me how important it is to God that we work hard to maintain unity whenever possible. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

 

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