Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 ESV
In the old TV sitcom, All In The Family, Archie Bunker used to regularly tell his wife, “Stifle yourself, Edith!” Inevitably, Edith was talking and Archie wanted her to stop. It was his way of telling her to shut up. And in a way, as believers, we can do the same thing to the Holy Spirit. He talks and we simply tell Him to stifle Himself. That is what the Greek word Paul uses really conveys. It is sbennymi and it means “to extinguish, suppress or stifle”. It can be used to refer to the putting out of a flame or, metaphorically, the suppression of divine influence. But how do we suppress the Spirit’s influence in our lives. It’s really quite simple. All we have to do is live life in our own strength. This can include trying to do good things without His help or doing bad things against His wishes. In his highly popular devotional guide, My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers describes it this way: “ The sense of warning and restraint that the Spirit gives comes to us in the most amazingly gentle ways. And if you are not sensitive enough to detect His voice, you will quench it, and your spiritual life will be impaired.” In other words, we quench the Spirit every time we fail to hear His voice or simply choose to ignore it. We can also quench the Spirit when we refuse to allow Him to do what God sent Him to do – guide, direct, empower, and transform us into the likeness of Christ.
Attempting to live the Christian life apart from the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit is impossible. Trying to live righteously in our own strength will prove futile. Our flesh or old sin nature will not allow us to pull it off. And every time we try, we stifle the Holy Spirit’s work in our life. It is so easy for us to assume that we can pull off the Christian life in our own strength. Many of us suffer from the good old American work ethic. We have been indoctrinated with the idea that we can accomplish anything when we put our mind to it. But Jesus told His disciples, “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven” (Luke 24:49 NLT). Power from heaven. That is what we receive when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us at salvation. And the power the Holy Spirit provides is meant to make possible the impossible. It is He who gives us the strength to live the life we have been called to live. And every time we attempt to live it in our own strength, we are, for all intents and purposes, telling the Holy Spirit, “stifle it!” We are telling that still, small voice within us to shut up. In essence, we throw water on the very fire we need to fuel our faith.
That is why Paul provides us with this admonition: “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses” (Galatians 5:16-18 NLT). It is essential that we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us. When we try to do it on our own, we are attempting to live under the law again. We are subjecting ourselves to the futile effort of gaining favor from God apart from faith. At the end of the day, we are either living according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. And even when we try to do good things apart from and without the Spirit’s help, we suppress His power in our life. We stifle Him.
So when Paul tells us to “warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 NLT), he is reminding us to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. To attempt to do any of those things in our own strength would be futile. That is why he follows this list with the warning, “Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.” Don’t try to live your life in your own strength. Depend on the power from heaven. Rely on the God-given source that He has placed within you. So Paul would remind us, “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13 NLT).