Word & Spirit: Necessities For the Health of God’s Community

John LathropBlog

I have recently been reading the book of Ezra. This Old Testament book deals with the return of the Jewish people to Israel. It provides information about the steps that the Jews took to once again establish themselves in the land and rebuild the Temple. At the time they enjoyed the favor of some non-Israelite kings but that does not mean that their work did not encounter opposition. As is frequently the case when God is moving, there are some who resist it. This was true during the time period that the book of Ezra covers. Some local leaders sought to shut down the work that the Israelites were doing. In fact, they did temporarily stop it for a period of time (Ezra 4:23-24). However, the Israelites, with the help of some Persian leaders, prevailed against the opposition and eventually completed the construction of the Temple (Ezra 6:14).

One thing that caught my attention in the book was the spiritual help that the Jews had at this time. There were some significant spiritual influencers in their midst. The prophets Zechariah and Haggai were there (Ezra 5:1-2). Both of these men have books in the Bible that bear their names and which contain their prophecies. They prophesied to the Jews and we are told that they helped the people there (Ezra 5:2), presumably by their prophecies. Ezra 6:14 tells us that the Jews continued building and they prospered under the preaching of these two prophets. The other spiritual influencer that I would like to mention is Ezra. He was very knowledgeable of the Law of Moses and was a teacher (Ezra 7: 6). We are told that he “devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 NIV). So he conveyed God’s truth to the people from the written Word of God. And it is worth noting, that though the Word was spoken to their ancestors, it was still considered relevant to them in their day. One specific case in which they violated God’s Law is mentioned later in the book; they disobeyed the prohibition about intermarrying with foreign peoples (Deut. 7:3).

These three men represent two different types of ministry both of which are important to the spiritual health and wellbeing of the people of God. I am referring to the ministries of prophets and teachers. This is not a tangential idea nor is it one that is found only in the Old Testament. In the New Testament we also find prophets and teachers together in the same location. We find them in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1). Five individuals are mentioned, though we are not specifically told which ones were prophets and which ones were teachers. The apostle Paul tells us that these two ministries (along with others) have been placed in the church by Christ (Eph. 4:11). In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12:28 he mentions these two ministries one after the other. If I may state it differently, both the Old Testament community of faith in Ezra’s day and the New Testament community of faith, the church, were both exposed to the ministries of Word and Spirit. It is true that the words of the prophets, Zechariah and Haggai, are now part of our Scriptures, but their prophecies were very likely originally given as spontaneously inspired words for the community (which were later written down). Ezra on the other hand, delivered the Word of the Lord from previously inspired Scripture that was written down, he expounded the Law of Moses. Both of these ministries proved helpful to the people. The same held true in the New Testament church and continues even down to the present day. We need the ministries of both prophet and teacher, the ministries of both Word and Spirit. It is not one or the other, we need both.

The importance of the Word of God to us can be seen from a number of biblical texts. For example, we are told that we are to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). In the text in Matthew as Jesus refers to the verse in Deuteronomy He says “It is written” (Matt. 4:4). In order for us to live by the Word of God we need to correctly understand and interpret it (2 Tim. 2:15). The Scriptures gives us guidance (Ps. 119:105) and can keep us from sin (Ps. 119:11). They are to be the subject of our preaching and teaching in the church (2 Tim 4:2; 1 Tim. 4:13). The beneficial purposes of Scripture are spelled out for us in 2 Timothy 3:16. The Bible’s importance is also brought out by texts that encourage meditation on it (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2). Biblical Christianity is Word based and we desperately need this today. The apostle Paul wrote about a time in which people “will not put up with sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3 NIV). We see evidence of that happening in our day, even in some Pentecostal churches.  

The importance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is also brought out in Scripture. The Spirit has been involved in some of the most significant works of God. He was involved in creation (Gen. 1:2) and the resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 8:11). But He also plays a significant role in the life of the individual believer and in the life of the corporate body, the church. Both the individual and the Christian community are a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, both are God’s temple (1 Cor. 6:19; 3:16). The Spirit leads the believer (Rom. 8:14), enables him or her to live a godly life (Gal. 5:22-23), and empowers each one to be a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8). One example of the corporate ministry of the Holy Spirit is the distribution of His gifts to each member of the body of Christ so that each one may benefit the other members of the body (1 Cor. 12:7, 11). 

We make a big mistake if we minimize the place of either the Word or the Spirit in the church. I understand the concerns that people sometimes have about being open to the ministry of the Spirit. While there may be some concern about what the Spirit will do, I think the greater concern is what some uninformed or immature person will do or say and attribute it to the Holy Spirit. This is exactly why we need sound biblical teaching! God gave both the Word and the Spirit to us, they are both important. The Scriptures supply us with valuable history that we can learn from (1 Cor. 10:1-11), they also set forth the principles that we are to live by. The Holy Spirit manifested through the gift of prophecy, can give the direction, encouragement, and motivation that the people of God need. Both the Word and the Spirit provide health to the community of faith. 

John P. Lathrop

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and  Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.