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 Vol. 8, No. 12 

December 2006

~ Page 13 ~

Give the Spirit to Those Who Ask

By T. Pierce Brown

Image We find in Luke 11:13, "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?" Have you ever asked God for the Holy Spirit? If so, did you get that gift in answer to your prayer? Since we do not recall ever having read any sound scholarly exegesis of this passage, we shall try to make some observations about it from our own limited knowledge and viewpoint. We checked more than a dozen comments from people like Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, Charles Spurgeon and various others from many denominations, but none of them addressed and answered such questions as these: Who is promised the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38? Does "those who ask" include everyone, Christian and sinner? If every child of God gets the gift of the Spirit when he becomes a child of God (Romans 8:9), why does he need to pray for it? One commentator suggested that the promise was universal--to all that might ask, whether regenerate or unregenerate. He did not bother to explain how a child of the devil would receive the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer. Neither H. Leo Boles nor Burton Coffman in their commentaries on Luke give any significant insight into the passage. Coffman says something like, "It is evident that we should pray for that which was promised in Acts 2:38." But why we should pray for that which is given automatically to every person when he becomes a Christian is not made clear. Some of the most trusted conservative scholars suggest that the admonition was for those of the first century who were given various spiritual gifts, and is not applicable for us today. However, that still leaves us with the question, "Where do we find any person receiving one of those miraculous gifts as a result of praying for it?" We do find that they were given by the laying on of the apostles' hands (Acts 8:18; 19:6, 2 Timothy 1:6), but in no case to we find a person praying for one of those miraculous gifts and receiving it.

At the moment, it is my opinion that a more satisfactory solution can be found in an examination and exegesis of Colossians 1:9, Ephesians 5:18-19 and a parallel passage in Colossians 3:16. Paul prayed that they be filled with the knowledge of his will. He admonished the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit. In the parallel passage in Colossians he said, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." If we can pray for each other that we may be filled with knowledge of his will in all spiritual understanding, and can pray that we can obey the injunction to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly then it seems logical and proper that we could pray that we be filled with the Spirit. Of course we would not be praying for the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit that was promised to and given to the apostles in Acts 2, nor the miraculous gifts that were given by the laying on of the apostles' hands. We would recognize that as we studied and meditated on God's Word, admonished each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, we would be letting the Word dwell in us richly. When the Word dwells in us richly, we are being filled with the Spirit. Since the Spirit operates through the Word, which is called "the sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17), then it is proper for us to pray that we have more of the Word (and therefore the Spirit) in our lives.

We have no information in the Bible that suggests that God will give us the Holy Spirit directly through prayer, nor any example of where or how it was done in the apostolic age. But we do have information that suggests that the Christian may quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). We do have the command to "be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). We do know that Paul prayed that the Ephesians might be "filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19). So it seems beyond question that one may have a greater or lesser degree of the Spirit's influence in his life. It also seems beyond question that it is proper for us to pray that we might always desire that the Spirit be allowed to have a greater influence in our lives. If it is proper to say, "God help me that I may trust you more completely and follow your will better," surely it is proper to pray that God will give you the Spirit in the sense we have indicated.Image

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