Bible Study Series: Holy Spirit - Roles, Types and Imagery
Holy Spirit: Blowing in the wind - Gifts & will of the Spirit
by I Gordon
Do you like the wind? Silly question I know. Sometimes yes, sometimes no right? If you are out flying your kite (which I'm sure you do most evenings) you are probably keen for a wee bit of wind. If you are out biking then wind is not usually your best buddy... unless it is behind you of course! Wind can be incredibly powerful, being both useful and destructive. While refreshing on a hot summer's day, it can also give you an instant bad hair day! It brings the rain, disperses the seeds, powers electrical energy, regulates earth's temperature and clears pollution to name a few of its essential benefits. It is critical to the functioning of the planet. Yet it can also destroy homes and cause death.
So why are we talking about the wind? Have I been watching too many David Attenborough Planet Earth shows? Maybe! Well, no... it's because the Holy Spirit is likened to the wind. In fact both the Hebrew word 'ruach' used in the Old Testament and the equivalent Greek word 'pneuma' used in the New Testament can equally be translated 'wind', 'spirit' or 'breath', with the context determining its use. Because of this, scripture and even Jesus Himself contrast the wind with the Holy Spirit. So in this study we'll look at the following:
- A general limited look at wind in the Bible
- Jesus' use of the wind to illustrate the Holy Spirit
- Gifts of the Spirit in the Church age
- An area of controversy - the gifts will cease. But when is the question!
The use of wind in scripture
So let's have a quick look at some mentions of the wind in scripture. While this is a very limited list, you'll see it is used both literally and symbolically. Here are seven points:
- The first mention of wind in the Bible comes when God used it to drive back the flood in the days of Noah:
Gen 8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.
- It was also used at the time of the Exodus to both deliver God's people, Israel, and to judge the Egyptians:
Deliverance: Exo 14:21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.
Judgement: Exo 15:10 "You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them (the Egyptians); They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
- It is also used symbolically of the blowing on the wicked in judgement - both as individuals and for entire earthly kingdoms when the Lord returns:
Individuals: Psa 1:3-4 (The Righteous are) like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Kingdoms of this earth: Dan 2:35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
- Jesus used it symbolically of the troubles of this life that the righteous can endure while the wicked it destroys:
Mat 7:24-25 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (25) The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
- About now is good time to remember that the Lord has full power over the wind (both the literal wind and it's symbolic use concerning trials and difficulties!). Both the Old and New Testament testify to this:
Old Testament: Pro 30:4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son?1 Tell me if you know!
New Testament: Mar 4:39-41 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (40) He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" (41) They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
- It can be used symbolically for being blown left and right by the latest false spiritual teaching doing the rounds:
Eph 4:14 Then (when we are mature believers) we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
- Finally, we have the last mention of wind in scripture... and interestingly it is when God turns the wind off.
Rev 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.
Now you might think - 'well that doesn't sound too bad. No wind... just a nice calm day. Sounds quite pleasant actually. What could go wrong?' Um... yeah... about that. Please go and do what I did. Go and google 'what would happen if there was no wind?' Part of the answer, according to one scientific website said that 'without the wind earth would be an otherworldly, alien planet with our ecosystems that give oxygen to the planet largely destroyed.' Ok - so the wind is essential for life... the wind is critical!
Jesus' use of the wind to illustrate the Holy Spirit
But there is another type of wind we need. We've looked at various scriptures about the wind but we haven't looked at the most important one for this study. And that is how Jesus used the wind as an illustration of the work and will of the Holy Spirit.
Joh 3:6-8 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (7) You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' (8) The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
In contrasting the wind with the Spirit, Jesus said that the wind blows where it pleases. You hear it's sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. Let me ask you a simple question - Have you ever seen the wind? You might think 'well yeah, it was blowing a gale last night. The chairs blew over on the porch, the house was creaking, Uncle Tom got caught outside and had his wig was blown off. It was crazy!' Yeah, sounds dramatic, but have you ever seen the wind? No one has seen the wind for it is invisible gas particles. We can feel the wind. We can see the effects of the wind as it influences things around us. But the wind itself is invisible. Nor can we control the direction of the wind. It is the product of gases moving according to different high and low pressures over the face of the earth. So now you can see why Jesus used the wind to illustrate the Holy Spirit. Like the wind, we cannot see the Holy Spirit... yet we do feel His Spirit and see the effects of His Spirit upon people.
This verse contains a wordplay which cannot be adequately expressed in English. The Greek word pneuma means both wind and Spirit. The work of the Spirit (pneuma) is invisible and mysterious like the blowing of the wind (pneuma). Man controls neither.
Bible Knowledge Commentary
It's funny what sticks with you when you listen to an album but I remember listening to a D.C Talk album quite a bit in the 1990's and they had the following spoken part which always stayed with me::
"Can you catch the wind? Can you see God, have you ever seen Him? I've never seen the wind. I seen the effects of the wind. But I've never seen the wind. Can you see the breeze? There's a mystery to it"
DC Talk, Lyrics from "In my minds eye"
And just as the wind blows where it pleases (under God's control) so the Spirit moves and influences people according to His will. The work of the Holy Spirit is generally in the heart of people - a work that is unseen yet incredibly powerful! That's why Jesus said 'flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.' Can you remember seeing someone that you never thought would become a Christian soften and change towards God? You thought 'oh that's just Betty, she's just bitter towards God and doesn't want to know.' And then signs of life are seen in Betty as she starts asking questions and wants to come to Church.' Or you think 'that's Muhammed. He'll be a Muslim till the day he dies.' And then Muhammed starts quietly asking about Jesus! Let me add that the wind of the Spirit is definitely blowing through the Muslim world at the moment!
So there is an unseen wind, the moving of the Holy Spirit, in the mind and hearts of people. I was like that. In one year I went from being totally uninterested in anything to do with God to being frightened of hell and willing to give my life to Christ. I have seen others that I hoped for, but was not overly hopeful about (from a human perspective), come to the Lord for salvation. Why? Because the wind blows where it pleases. God is no respecter of persons and sees what we seldom see - the inner man or woman. So who are you praying for at the moment? Who are you asking God to draw and convict by the Holy Spirit? Do you believe that the wind of God's Spirit can blow upon that person?2
So, right now, take a moment and think about someone that you can ask God to breath upon that they would come to life!
The Wind of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost
There is obviously another famous passage connecting the wind of the Holy Spirit. There is probably no more dramatic scene in the New Testament (well - apart from the second coming of the Lord Jesus in all power and glory! NOTHING tops that!) than the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers and begin the Church age on the day of Pentecost. Look at what happened:
Act 2:2-6 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (3) They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (4) All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (5) Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. (6) When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
"The coming of the Spirit involved a sound to hear, a sight to see, and a miracle to experience."
William MacDonald - The Believers Bible Commentary
You will note that the Spirit came with the sound of a powerful wind that filled the whole house. And it wasn't just the believers but men from every nation that heard the sound of a tremendous wind blowing and came to see what it was. We need to remember that people would come from all around during this special time of Passover to Pentecost. The Jewish historian Josephus says that the normal population of around 150,000 in Jerusalem would swell to over 1,000,000 people at this time. For the waiting believers, this sound of the wind was followed by the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit along with spiritual gifts as well. One gift was to speak in tongues. And as they praised God and declared His wonder and glory, the people that had came from many nations all around each heard them speaking and praising in their own language! Amazing.
Now because of this event, some in the Church today, especially in Pentecostal churches, believe that speaking in tongues is the evidence that you have received the Holy Spirit. For example, a recent guestbook entry on my website took issue with the fact that I said that a believer receives the Holy Spirit when they believe in the Lord Jesus. This person wrote: "You don’t receive the Holy Ghost when you first believe. There is a sound you hear when you receive the Holy Ghost. You speak in tongues as the spirit gives the utterance. Acts 2:38, Acts 4:31. You can’t have his Spirit on the inside of you by just believing you have to receive his Spirit. (It's) through speaking in tongues." Unfortunately there can be controversy and even division within the Church around the gift of tongues and other more 'supernatural' spiritual gifts. Which is a great shame for they were not given with that intention obviously. There are many within the Church for whom any discussion of the Holy Spirit is automatically equated and associated with the gifts of the Spirit. This again is a shame for He is far more than the gifts He gives. So is there a 'sound' that you hear leading to the gift of tongues when you receive the Spirit as this person wrote? Are the supernatural gifts still for today? Is speaking in tongues the evidence that you have received the Spirit? Should all speak in tongues? What is the truth?
The will and gifts of the Spirit
Just as Jesus said that the wind blows where it pleases, so we see the same concerning the gifts of the Spirit. The gifts are given as the Spirit determines according to His will3, not ours. Scripture does tell us to desire the gifts (1 Cor 12:31) but the Spirit determines what we receive. Being God, He sees exactly who you are, who you will become, and what you need. There are many different gifts but in 1st Corinthians 12 Paul speaks of what we would call the more 'supernatural' gifts of the Spirit (which really isn't a great way to classify them as all gifts from the Spirit are by nature, supernatural!) Paul writes:
1Co 12:4-11 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. (5) There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. (6) There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (7) Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (8) To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, (9) to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, (10) to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (11) All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
So the Spirit determines, or wills as other versions say, what gifts are given to each person. It is His choice. But each person does receive one or more spiritual gifts for 'to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good'. Note that last part also - for the common good. The gifts are given to build up the body of Christ and for the benefit of others within the body. While there are other gifts of the Spirit mentioned in other scriptures, the passage just mentioned lists 9 gifts so it is a pity that some only equate receiving the Holy Spirit with one gift, tongues, as this is one of many and it is clear in the Bible that not all have this gift. Paul wrote:
1Co 12:18 ...God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
1Co 12:28-30 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. (29) Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? (30) Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
We see again from these verses that God has arranged different positions or parts in the body of Christ (as He has the human body) as He wants them to be. It is His will and determination. Paul then goes through a series of rhetorical questions that all have the same answer - 'Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?' They answer to those questions being 'no, no, no, no, no, no and argh finally... no.' So, no... there is no one gift be it tongues or anything else that defines whether a person has received the Spirit. We are far better to look for the fruit of the Spirit than possible gifts in determining the reality of a born again experience. Other religions, in contact with the spirit world, have false signs, wonders and abilities... but it is hard to fake the inner peace, love, hope and joy that comes through a true born again experience!
So when did/will these gifts cease?
When you get to the next chapter in 1st Corinthians, we see that these gifts of the Spirit will cease. But the question is when? We read:
1Co 13:8-10 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
Clear from this scripture we see that prophecies and tongues, along with the other gifts, will cease. They will be stilled. But when? Some commentators/teachers believe that this indicates that the supernatural gifts ceased when the Bible was completed at the end of the first century. They believe that the completed canon (having all the books of the Bible) is what Paul meant when he wrote that 'when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.' But this is not what Paul meant by perfection for he carries on to say:
1Co 13:11-12 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (12) Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
When this 'perfection' comes (when the gifts will cease) we shall 'see face to face' and 'know even as I am fully known'. Clearly this is not talking about the arrival of the completed Bible. It is speaking of that day when we are face to face with Jesus! It is speaking of that day when we have been transformed fully into His image, at His return, and are like Him! (1 John 3;2) That is when these gifts cease for we will be with the Lord and know all things, no longer having any need for these temporary gifts. Until that day the gifts of the Spirit continue.
Like I said earlier, the supernatural gifts can be a controversial topic and everyone's story and experience can be different here. Speaking personally, the first three Churches that I went to, over the initial 7-8 years of my Christian life, were all Pentecostal churches. The Bible college I attended was 'mostly' Pentecostal based and, though they didn't say it directly, the implication from some teachers was that if you didn't speak in tongues you either didn't have the Holy Spirit yet or weren't filled with the Spirit. This is not correct as we've seen above but it certainly made some students feel very much like second-class Christians! During those early years of my Christian life I remember going forward in Church meetings over 10 times to be 'baptised in the Holy Spirit' which I equated with having a supernatural experience, boldness and speaking in tongues. Did I experience anything? Well, it is quite likely and probable that God saw and answered my desire for Him in His own way, but I didn't speak in tongues or have an experience that suddenly changed me. Like I said earlier, wind blows where it pleases and the Holy Spirit moves and gives gifts as He wills as He sees what is most important for the person.
And yet, to bring a balanced perspective, I saw the complete opposite with my friend Brett who manages the website with me. He has been my best friend since we were 10 years old and after I became a Christian I told Brett about the Lord and gave him a Bible, And through the blowing of the Spirit of God, before long he had given his life to Jesus! Awesome! Not long after, on one of his first trips to Church, he had a powerful experience that radically changed him. God simply came upon Him. He spoke in tongues (even though he had not yet got up to or read Acts in his Bible and had never even heard of tongues) and had this overwhelming compulsion to pray for people - even with supernatural insight and words of knowledge as he prayed. Now... this isn't Brett naturally speaking! He is far more reserved and doesn't seek the limelight. Yet it was amazing to see the change in him! In fact to this day that experience is still the closest I have personally ever seen to what happened in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost.
So why did God do this for my friend Brett and not for me? Does He love Brett and not me? Did Brett have faith and I didn't? If anything I went in expecting and desiring while Brett had zero expectations. Only God knows but His decisions are based on what we need and what I do know is that Brett was about to step into, and would experience, an environment that included A LOT of spiritual attacks and warfare. He mother was fully into the New Age at the time with a personal Indian Guru's that she travelled overseas to meet and meditate with. They had a big hold on her life at the time and as a radically changed Spirit-filled Brett came home from University (where He had just been saved with this radical experience of God) the spiritual warfare and attacks from the spirit world were very very real. I won't go into that here but to make a long story short, Brett's Mum saw the change that had happened with Brett, the peace that he had which she had always sought, and became a believer herself. She repented and rejecting her Guru's, threw out all her New Age merchandise and received Jesus as her Lord! It is now nearly 30 years on from that day and we are all still going strong : )
An example of a gifted man
Looking around at some of the things that pass as Christianity today, it is easy to get put off certain spiritual gifts when you see all the false that abounds out there in Christendom. If you are like me you probably can't stand all the youtube and TV "prophets" speaking in the name of the Lord about the next revival that is apparently just about to break forth. Or how the end time church will be glorious and take over the world. Or how Donald Trump will be elected in 2020... until he didn't. As it was in the days of Micaiah and Jeremiah, where there were far more false prophets saying what people wanted to hear than there were true prophets, so it is today. But it is great to see the real thing. Let me give an example.
Eddie Cairns was such a man. Eddie was the founder of Mission Outreach in the city that I live in and he had a tremendous heart for missions in general but specifically in helping the persecuted Church and getting Bibles into areas that had restricted access. He was a unique individual truly gifted by God. He was a man of prayer, genuinely humble, yet powerfully gifted by God. My brother Fraser was part of Mission Outreach for many years and was amazed at the supernatural insight that was given to Eddie concerning both nations and individuals, with Spirit-given words of knowledge and wisdom. Yet all done without hype or fanfare.
One day, back in 2000, Eddie was asked to come to our house. Mum had had a nervous breakdown at the time trying to cope with Dad over many years and was not in a good way at all. She was almost bed-ridden all day and we were quite worried for her. When Eddie saw her he simply said 'there is nothing to worry about here. This is fertile soil.' That wasn't what we were expecting but truly gave a God given perspective on the situation! He also said he saw a picture of a ship that was in turbulent seas which was about to come into a calm harbor. He didn't even know that Mum had just been given a verse by the Lord that He would draw her out of the deep waters (Psalm 18:16-18). He also saw my father for the first time that day and immediately said that he saw a picture of a deer that had had its antlers removed. And it had been placed in a field fenced off by itself, so that it could be protected from the other stags. This, unfortunately, summed up my Dad as well at that time and for a good part of his life. These were true words of knowledge and wisdom from the Spirit.
And yes... Mum did come into the calm harbor soon after! Eddie went to be with the Lord in Dec 2021, Well done good and faithful servant!
Conclusion (& a few do's and don'ts)
So we have looked at the imagery and link between the Spirit and the wind. We've seen that the wind blows where it pleases, according to the plan of God, and so does the Spirit. He is moving, unseen, yet powerfully in the hearts and minds, drawing people to the Father. And His gifts for believers are like this. They are given according to His will, as He determines, yet for the building up of the body as a whole. So just to conclude this study here are a few do's and don'ts, as I see it, concerning the gifts and work of the Spirit.
- Do recognize that the Spirit still gives these gifts today as He wills. The gifts of the Spirit haven't ceased. From scripture we can see that occurs when we reach our state of perfection at the coming of the Lord.
- Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. That is, don't reject true supernatural 'gifts of the Spirit' even though there is a lot of rubbish in some 'Christian' circles that does need to be thrown out. Expressed another (biblical) way, don't quench the Spirit and despise prophecies, but do test all things and hold onto that which is good (1 Thes 5:19-21)
- Do desire spiritual gifts as Paul said in 1 Cor 12:31. You see it's not really for yourself. It is for the building up of the body. It is to be exercised to help others.
- Don't equate having spiritual gifts with Christian maturity. The Corinthian church had the gifts operating yet were the most carnal Christians that Paul wrote to!
- Do look at the fruit of those that are exercising gifts. Be wise. Weight all things against scripture. Look at their character. Not all that glitters is gold, even if someone tacks on a 'thus sayeth the Lord'!
- Don't be naïve to the fake and false. One of the most important gifts today would be the discerning of spirits. That is, the ability to see what is from God and what is not. The enemy always sows the tares amongst the wheat and God calls you to be discerning!
- Do stir up your gift as Paul told Timothy (1 Tim 1:6-7) if you are not using it, for the benefit of others in the Church.
- Don't think that you are 'less' of a Christian if you don't have any one particular gift - whichever that may be. All believers are Priests and Kings in Christ - even if you don't know what gift you have been given!
- Do remember that there is something far more important than any of the gifts... and that is love! (! Cor 13) This is what we should exercise to all, even if they see some things differently to you.4
Ok... you probably haven't had that many do's and don'ts since you were five years old and were caught stealing chocolate biscuits. And that came from your parents, not some random stranger on the internet! Time to end... God Bless!