LET THE FIRE BURN
By Pastor Glenn Pease
An embarrassing situation marked the passing of a well known fire chief. None of the family has spoken to any member of his engine company since the funeral. With the best of intentions these fire men sent what they felt was a high tribute. It was a floral arrangement with gold letters saying GONE TO HIS LAST FIRE.
Fire is a touchy word, and we need to be careful how we handle it verbally, as well as how we handle fire literally. We need to be aware that fire is both an instrument of hell and a tool of heaven. It is both a power for good and a power for evil. It is associated with both judgment and salvation. It can be destructive or constructive. God used fire for the building of most of the universe, for our Sun and all of the stars are great balls of flaming fire. Fire is also a tool by which God will destroy the world. Fire is a symbol of God in the Old Testament. He revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush. He led Israel by a pillar of fire. In Heb. 1:7 His servants are called flames of fire, and the Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire.
On the other hand, fire is used in a negative way also. A sword of fire kept Adam and Eve from reentering Eden. Fire is a sign of judgment. God is called a consuming fire. The lake of fire is the fearful and of all who do not yield to the fire of the Holy Spirit. Fire plays a dual role all through Scripture. It can be a symbol of either heaven or hell. It can stand for fierce anger and hate, or it can stand for warm and gentle love. As the song of Solomon says in 8:7, "Water can't quench the fire of love."
This dual nature of fire leads to the paradox that the Christian is to both seek fire and shun it. A Christian is to be fire proof, and also to be filled with fire and ablaze with the Holy Spirit. The church cannot survive without fire, and yet it must fight fire continuously. Fire is both friend and foe, and the battle of life is fire against fire. Thousands of churches have been destroyed by fire. This kind of loss by fire has plagued the people of God all through history.
When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem we read in I Chron. 36:19, "And they burned the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its palaces with fire." Solomon's magnificent temple was turned into a smoldering pile of ugly black ashes. King Herod rebuilt the temple, but it too became a victim of fire. When the Romans took Jerusalem in 70 A. D. a soldier threw a firebrand into the temple. Titus, the general, tried to distinguish the fire, but it was no use, and the temple was again lost to the flames.
The people of God in New Testament times have also been subject to great loss by fire. Nero blamed the Christians for the terrible fire of Rome. Christians taught that the world would be judged by fire, and so it was easy to cast suspicion on them as being fire bugs. They were punished by being burned as human torches. Fire became a common means by which heretics were eliminated. Whenever we speak of making a bonfire we do not realize that the word comes from the gruesome practice of burning people, which was known as a bone fire. This kind of experience with fire makes exciting movies, but it is not the kind of experience that appeals to us. Most Christians do not have a martyr complex. The poet gives us a realistic picture.
Movies about a Christian hero
Getting burned by a Roman Nero,
Seem to attack wide spread attention,
Especially so in the third dimension,
But the appeal of the film does not inspire
Modern Christians to brave the fire.
There is no good reason why any Christian should desire to burn, as many martyrs of the past have done. Too many temples of God have already gone down in the fires of persecution. Every Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the fire of God. With the fire within the Christian is to burn and fight the fire without. It is divine fire against demonic fire. Every man is facing one fire or another. Either he is being a channel of the fire of hell, or he is being cleansed and motivated by the fire of heaven. T. S. Elliot has recognized this two fold fire and writes,
The only hope or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
The destiny of every person is determined by which fire they allow to burn in their hearts. No one knew this better than Paul. He was a Pharisee who was being consumed with blazing bigotry, and the flame of rebellion against the church of Christ, when suddenly he met with a flame more fierce than the sun and he cleansed by the fire of Christ's love. From that time forth Paul was a flame-thrower for Christ. He was filled with the fire of Holy Spirit, and he became a crucial weapon against the fiery darts of Satan. Paul was used of God to keep Christian conscious of their needs to let the fire burn within. He wrote, "Quench not the Spirit." This is a warning Christians need to hear in every age, for Christian can throw a wet blanket on the fire of the Spirit, and the result will be that the fires of Satan will burn with greater intensity. If the fires of hell run wild, it is because Christians are quenching the superior fires of heaven. Leighton Ford wrote, "The greatest need of the church of Jesus Christ today is to catch fire."
We need a Pentecost at any cost, for only the fire of the Spirit can empower us to be victorious over the raging flames of hell that threaten the world and the church. The Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire because fire is the source of the 3 things that are essential for abundant and victorious life. The Holy Spirit supplies these three essentials that we want to look at. If you quench the Spirit you will know it by weakness and defects in these three areas. First of all, fire is essential for-
Take away the fire of the sun and earth becomes a giant iceberg. Life cannot survive without fire and the warmth it produces. This is true in the spiritual life also. Take away the fire of the Spirit and God's people will become God's frozen people. Instead of being a volcanic mountain the church becomes a snowcapped mountain. It may be appealing to the eye, but with no power to melt the cold hearts of men. It takes the hot lava of love to soften people's hearts and melt them so they can be impressed with the Gospel. Jesus was filled with the Spirit and had a heart of such warmth that people loved to gather around Him. Billy Graham put it beautifully when he said, "The multitude, starved for compassion, love, and companionship, were attracted to Him as chilled men are drawn to glowing embers." His very words produced the heat of emotion. The two on the road to Emmaus said, "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us by the way....?"
Only as we have fire within will we have the warmth and emotion to kindle others and cause them to be ablaze with the love of Christ. This is the key to evangelism. Centuries ago Augustine said, "One loving spirit sets another on fire." Fire is contagious and it spreads. Drop a match in a forest and thousands of acres can go up in flames. Drop an ice cube and only one square inch gets chilled. That is the difference between a fire filled Christian and one who has quenched the Spirit. A Christian who is not enthused about Christ and the Gospel will never warm anyone else and draw them to Christ.
Elton Trueblood in his book The Incendiary Fellowship says, "Evangelism occurs when people are so enkindled by contact with the central fire of Christ that they, in turn, set others on fire. The cold Christian can never be a soul winner. If the non-Christian sees you as dull and unenthused about your faith, he will write you off as having nothing to offer. A British lawyer said, "The world does not believe, because it does not believe that the believer's believe."
Our words and actions must come hissing hot from a heart filled with the fire of the Spirit, or we leave the world cold. Examine your life and ask yourself, do I impress anyone as being enthused about my Lord? Do people know I have an enter glow when I consider my Savior? Do they know I am thrilled and excited about God' love and His purpose for my life? Have I allowed the pressure of the world to smother the flame of enthusiasm for Christ? Sad is the poem of Lord Byron who wrote in anguish of his spiritual decay:
I am ashes where once I was fire,
And the soul of my bosom is dead;
What I loved I now merely admire,
And my heart is as gray as my head.
This can happen to anyone, and that is why Paul warns us not to quench the Spirit. Let the fire burn and feed it, for a fire not fed will go out. Christians need to add fuel to the fire day by day that they might be consistently warm of heart and emotionally enthused. An unknown poet wrote,
Give us a militant spirit, Lord,
Come, set our spirit on fire.
Give us a passion to share thy Word;
Give us consuming desire.
Give us a flaming and burning zeal,
Moving us forward and on.
Help us the urgency, Lord, to feel,
Till greater victory is won.
Dr. Kirsopp Lake has written, "Early Christianity succeeded by the contagion of an enthusiasm." This is just another way of saying that they let the fire burn. They did not quench the Spirit, but let the heat of love warm their own hearts so that others could not help but be warmed. If this heat is no present in our lives then we are quenching the Spirit. The second value for which fire is essential is-
Take away the light and man is blind to all beauty and truth. Take away the fire and spirit and man is left in the darkness of ignorance and shut off from the truth of God. As he refers to the emotional nature, so light refers to the intellectual nature of man. The fire of the Holy Spirit is essential for the head as well as the heart. Theophylact wrote, "In the night of this life God gave us the Spirit for a light." The Spirit bears witness to the truth, and he illuminates the Word of God for the mind. Without the light of His fire the mind cannot discern the will of God. Billy Graham wrote, "When the disciples were baptized with fire on the day of Pentecost, their intellects were sharpened, their understanding was quickened, and their powers of comprehension were transformed."
The disciples had a balance of heat and light. Emotion ran high, but it was always under the control of reason. Peter preached a sermon of such powerful logic, and with such persuasive facts of history that 3000 were compelled by the evidence to bow to Christ as Lord. A sharp critical and alert mind is not inconsistent with burning enthusiasm. Many tend to set up the heart and head as opponents, and create a battle between emotions and the intellect, but the Bible unites them. They are allies, and are meant to work together. When one seeks to go it alone the balanced life is lost, and there is trouble.
In verse 21 Paul says to test everything. He means that we are to use our heads and not get so enthused about everything spiritual that we forget to use sound judgment. All emotion and enthusiasm that is truly of the Spirit will conform to the truth of God's revelation. Charles Finny saw the Holy Spirit work in revivals as much as any man in history, but he also saw the danger of too much heat and not enough light. He wrote, "Sometimes I have seen a burst-a real tornado of feeling in a revival; but in such cases, truth loses its hold on the minds of the people; they are too much excited to take sober views of the truth and of the moral duties it inculcates. ....It is always well to avoid that measure of excitement which throws the mind from its balance and renders its perceptions of truth obscure or fitful."
People must see that we are enthused to be attracted to Christ, but they must also see that our enthusiasm is based on solid ground. We must have a reason to give for the hope within us, and the reason must be sound and appealing to the mind. Truth is the means by which the Holy Spirit moves us and uses us. He is the Spirit of truth. Close your mind to truth and you quench the Spirit, and you lose the light of His fire. Whenever a Christian has the pride to say he knows enough of the Bible to get by he quenches the Spirit. Whenever a Christian pretends to know the last word on a difficult biblical subject and closes his mind to new perspectives, he quenches the Spirit. When we judge a person, group, book or theological system as having no light when we have not studied it, then we are quenching the Spirit.
Charles Finny warns, "The Spirit is quenched by indulging prejudice. Whenever the mind is made up on any subject before it is thoroughly canvassed, that mind is shut against the truth and the Spirit is quenced." A Christian whose mind is not open to conviction and new ideas and truth has thrown a wet blanket on the fire of the Spirit. He is saying that he needs no further light. Show me a Christian who is satisfied with what he knows, and I'll show you an iceberg devoid of both heat and light. God forbid that any of us should be content to be cold and indifferent while the fires of hell are busy burning. Only the fire of the Spirit can defeat those demonic flames. Let our prayer be that of Ralph Cushman.
Set us afire, Lord, stir us, we pray!
While the world perishes, we go our way.
Purposeless, passionless, day after day.
Set us afire, Lord, stir us, we pray.
We need fire for heat, and we need fire for light, but thirdly we also need the fire of the Spirit for-
Fire the source of most of the power that is made man what he is. Man is the animal that has made friends with fire said Henry Van Dyke. Atomic power is fire power. The power that takes astronauts into space is fire power. The source of power for most industry is fire power. Fire is power and that is why the Holy Spirit, who is referred to nearly 300 times in the New Testament alone, is constantly associated with power. The fire power of the Christian is dependent upon his being filled with the Spirit. Heat and light are forms of power, but they are ineffective if there is not enough power to move the will. Cannon Fremantle said, "It is not enough that religion should be merely capable of defense. It must lead and inspire or else it dies."
We need fire of sufficient power to do more than warm our own hearts and open our own eyes to truth. We need fire that is contagious, and fire that will move us to labors of love, and which will cause others to be kindled and become torches of testimony for the glory of God. Shakespeare recognized this when he said, "Heaven does with us as we with lighted torches do, not light them for themselves." "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." If the fire of the Spirit is burning in us we will be empowered to do work that captures attention and admiration. If we tend to be lazy and uninvolved in labors for the church and the cause of Christ it is obvious we are quenching the Spirit. The Spirit is power, and so if we say that we are too tired to labor for Christ then we are quenching the Spirit.
Paul says in Rom. 12:11, "Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord," If you are letting up in zeal, and if you are becoming dull and less radiant, and if you cutting back on your service for the Lord, it is clear that you are throwing a wet blanket on the fire of the Spirit. As fantastic as it sounds, we who can do nothing to quench the fire of the sun can quench the fire of Him who made the sun, and all the blazing stars of heaven. We have in the power of our wills the greatest fire fighting power in the universe, for we can refuse to be fuel for the fire of the almighty Spirit. But we can also obey the first commandment and love God with all of our heart, which gives heat. We can love Him with all of our mind, which gives light. And we can love Him with all of our strength, which gives power.
His fire will consume the world, but we can refuse to let Him burn in us. Paul recognizes that God has given man this power, and that is why he urges them not to use it, but says quench not the Spirit. Let the fire burn he pleads. We need the heat, the light, and the power that only can be ours as we yield to the fire of the Spirit. Let our prayer be that of the hymn writer who wrote,
Thou, whose purpose is to kindle;
Now ignite us with thy fire;
While the earth awaits thy burning,
With thy passion us inspire.
Overcome our sinful calmness,
Rouse us with redemptive shame;
Baptize with thy fiery Spirit,
Crown our lives with tongues of flame.
What will you do? Will you quench the Spirit, or will you let the fire burn?