Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 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." - Acts 19:1-7
That Paul could size up a church in no time. He took one look at the church in Ephesus and knew they had not received the Holy Spirit. How did he know that?
Were they stressed out and worked up?
Were they irritable and quarrelsome?
Did they talk more than they listened?
Did they think they were responsible for everything?
Did they strive to be excellent and polished over humble and faithful?
Were they fearful and joyless?
Were they dour and sour and no fun to be around?
Was their worship service lacking a pulse?
Did they profess love more than they showed it?
Did they ignore their neighbors in need?
Did they fail to confront abuses of power and stand with the marginalized?
Did they sidestep justice issues to avoid being "political"?
Did they not give generously to the ministries of the church?
Did they argue over small matters and ignore the important stuff?
Were they more focused on the church's survival than on God's mission in the world?
Were they more full of themselves than of Christ?
Were they squeamish or mystified by talk of this so-called "Holy Spirit"?
I have worshipped in many churches, from fiery Pentecostal to frozen congregational. All of them showed a surplus of the Spirit in some ways and a deficit in others. Perhaps Paul knew the Ephesian church lacked the Spirit, not because they were especially profane, but simply because they were a church.
Lord, even if I didn't know it and don't always show it, thank you for blessing me with your Spirit. Just for today, don't let me give cause for Paul, or anyone, to call me out for not representing You. Amen.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince, will be available March 9, 2018.