As you know, a recent quarterly lesson study was about oneness in Christ.
Division in the church as been around since the early days of Christ and His apostles. Even while Jesus was on earth, His disciples quarreled amongst themselves. And when the mother of James and John petitioned to Jesus that one sit on His right hand and the other on His left in the heavenly kingdom, the other ten “were moved with indignation against the two brethren” (Matthew 20:24).
And even though Barnabas was a champion for Paul to be accepted by the fearful church members following Saul/Paul’s conversion, Paul and Barnabas managed to disagree with each other as to whether or not to take John Mark with them on their 2nd missionary journey. Acts 15:39 states that the “contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other…”
Today division still exists at the core of the church. And even though it seems as if this rift is growing bigger each passing day, Ellen White states that the church will not ultimately fall. In Selected Messages book 2 she states—in context of the Sunday law:
“…The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place” (380.2).
The Early Rain
Following Jesus’s ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and went into an upper room. There were about 120 of them there (Acts 1:15) and they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication…” (Acts 1:14, emphasis added). Ellen White states in Acts of the Apostles:
“In obedience to Christ’s command, they waited in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father—the outpouring of the Spirit. They did not wait in idleness… (35.2). As the disciples waited for the fulfillment of the promise, they humbled their hearts in true repentance and confessed their unbelief… (36.1). The disciples prayed with intense earnestness for a fitness to meet men and in their daily intercourse to speak words that would lead sinners to Christ. Putting away all differences, all desire to for supremacy, they came close together in Christian fellowship. They drew nearer and nearer to God… (37.1) These days of preparation were days of deep heart searching. The disciples felt their spiritual need and cried to the Lord for the holy unction that was to fit them for the work of soul saving” (37.2).
The Bible puts it this way:
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1, emphasis added).
Following 10 days of humility, prayer, and unity, something amazing and wonderful happened - the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the form of the early rain at Pentecost. What a scene and experience that must have been - rushing wind, cloven tongues like fire setting on each person, speaking in tongues (Acts 2:2-4). Wow!
But how was it that these previously quarreling and erring followers of Jesus were able to be together in one accord to receive this outpouring? Some words above give us a key - obedience, humility, repentance, confession, prayer, and earnestness are just a few of them. They also put away their differences and desire for supremacy in order to come together in united Christian fellowship. There was a deep searching of heart. It was only through this recipe that they were to be of “one accord” and prepared to fully receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Can this same unity that the early church experienced occur again? Although at times it may seem doubtful, we know from scripture and Ellen White’s inspired writings that this can - and will - happen again in the future in the form of the latter rain. When it will occur is a question we don’t know.
The Latter Rain
Just like a farmer’s crop, human beings go through a growth process in their spiritual development. The seed needs to be planted and the germination of the seed takes place by the early rain (Holy Spirit). There is a maturation period with the final ripening brought about by the latter rain of the season.
“Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month” (Joel 2:23).
The latter rain in the Bible symbolizes the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit in which God’s church will be brought to ripeness for the harvest when Jesus comes. Ellen White puts it this way in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers:
“The latter rain, ripening earth’s harvest, represents the spiritual grace that prepares the church for the coming of the Son of man. But unless the former rain has fallen, there will be no life; the green blade will not spring up. Unless the early showers have done their work, the latter rain can bring no seed to perfection… (506.2). Many have in a great measure failed to receive the former rain. They have not obtained all the benefits that God has thus provided for them. They expect that the lack will be supplied by the latter rain… They are making a terrible mistake” (507.1).
To make sure we don’t miss out on the latter rain, we need to first have the former rain. We need to invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts. By preparing our hearts now, we will have life within to ripen for when the latter rain falls.
The Need of the Holy Spirit
We need the Holy Spirit in our lives for salvation. John 3:5 states “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Whether or not we have been born of the Holy Spirit is a life or death issue. We will not be saved without the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Romans 8:6 states “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
Ellen White powerfully states in Christ’s Object Lessons that “Almost but not wholly saved means to be not almost but wholly lost” (118.1). Wow! We can be almost saved but wholly unsaved! The “almost” group doesn’t make it to heaven. This is when we realize our need of the Holy Spirit in our lives and cry out to God for mercy and to fill us with His Spirit.
We need the Holy Spirit in our lives to live the Christian life. We often try to live a Christian life without the power of the Holy Spirit which not only is impossible, it can also be very frustrating. It is like like trying to operate a train without the engine. Even Jesus began and ended His ministry with the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22, John 1:32) and before Jesus ascended to heaven, He said “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” (Matthew 28:19). Luke 4:1 states that even Jesus was “full of the Holy Ghost”.
We need the Holy Spirit to be unified with one another. Check yourself against this list in Ephesians 4:2,3:
“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3. Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
How to Obtain the Holy Spirit
We have seen that we need the Holy Spirit for salvation, to live the Christian life, and to have unity with one another. But how do we become filled with the Holy Spirit? The answer - ask, believe, and claim. This is done with an open, contrite heart.
First, we need to ask for the Holy Spirit. I heard a Sabbath School teacher mention in Sabbath School class one day that once we have the Holy Spirit, we don’t need to keep asking for Him in our lives. I had to speak up and respectfully disagree. I reminded him that Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s Spirit (2 Kings 2:9), and I’m sure Elisha already had the Holy Spirit at the time of his request!
And the man in the Bible who repeatedly knocked on his friend’s door to request bread for his midnight guest did not go away empty handed. What encouragement that is! Persistence pays off. Luke 11:13 goes on to say:
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
We see that asking is necessary - and good. God will give us the Holy Spirit if we ask Him for it. This leads us to the next steps, and that is to believe and then claim God’s promise that He will do what He says He will do. `Jesus says that if we ask, it will be given to us (Matthew 7:7) and that whatever we ask in His name, He will do (John 14:13). If we ask for the Holy Spirit, we need to believe and claim that we will receive the Holy Spirit, even if the “feelings” don’t necessarily follow.
But what happens if we don’t ask for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives? Ephesians 4:30 states that the Holy Spirit can be grieved. And if we feel the tugging of the Holy Spirit in our hearts but keep resisting Him, His voice will grow dimmer and dimmer until it is impossible to hear it anymore. That is when we have committed the “Unpardonable Sin.” Matthew 12:31,32 states:
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: But the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”
This text show how serious it is to resist the calling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He longs to enter in, but will not force Himself.
Going back to the contention between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark, the story doesn’t end there. The Bible indicates that they were reconciled. 2 Timothy 4:11 has Paul later telling Barnabas to “…Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
When looking at Paul and Barnabas, both were godly men and filled with the Holy Spirit. Both set out on missionary journeys and set up churches. Both endured persecution. But they were fallible and didn’t always agree with each other.
What lessons can we glean here?
1. There will be differences in opinions amongst church members, even godly church members.
2. We should have a humble, open, and contrite heart to recognize if we are wrong.
3. When we are wrong, we should admit it.
When disagreements occur, and the views are polar opposites, someone will be wrong. Let us pray for an openness of our heart to be filled and guided by the Holy Spirit. And while a Spirit-filled reconciliation should occur, unfortunately, many hearts are hardened and it will not always happen. The tares grow together with the wheat until the harvest when they are then burned (Matthew 13:30).
As division occurs in the church, let us all take a personal responsibility to approach each situation with a Spirit-filled, humble heart and recognize that we are all children of God.
Let us treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with love to “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King” (1 Peter 2:17).
And let us repeat Psalm 139:23,24 that says “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Oh what a beautiful, united church we would be if this was the prayer of all!