06 June 2011

"He said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?' They replied. 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.'" (v. 2)


The disciples that Paul found when he arrived in Ephesus were apparently like half-baked biscuits. They had most of the right ingredients, but there was something missing. They were still being formed, but had not realised that there was another stage to go through. They had experienced Baptism, but it had been the kind of Baptism proclaimed by John the Baptist, who understood his role as that of preparing the way for the one who was to come (verse 3). The emphasis of John's Baptism was upon repentance - turning one's life around - and waiting for the Holy One of God to come. Paul asked if they knew about - or had received - the Holy Spirit, and decided that they should be baptized according to the Baptism of Jesus. When he prayed for them "the Holy Spirit came upon them" (v. 6). The sign of the Spirit working through them, was that they "spoke in tongues and prophesied" (v. 6).

It is clear from what follows in the story, that Paul put much energy into speaking and arguing persuasively in the synagogue for the next three months. Eventually, however, in the face of resistance, he and the disciples of the Way, left the Jewish congregation. Although they were now better-equipped - even fully baked - and knew something of the power of God's Spirit working in and through them, they were not able to convince this particular congregation of Jewish believers to join them in the Way they had chosen (verse 9).

Before Paul arrived, this group of disciples must have drawn great strength and encouragement from one another. Paul's visit was hugely significant for them and must have brought further encouragement. Their discovery of the gift of the Spirit brought them fresh energy, but for their life together to continue and grow, they had to continue to work together and to build trust and commitment for one another. The gift of the Holy Spirit did not diminish the challenges they faced, but deepened their resources of courage and faith.

To Ponder

To what extent are Christians often like half-baked biscuits?

Why do we prefer to rely just upon our own efforts?

Which course of action, do you think, is a more courageous act of faith: to persist in being an irritant in a hostile environment, or to branch out on one's own (but with others)?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Liz Smith

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