Having highlighted our need to identify with the people we are ministering to, Fernando secondly emphasises the importance of ministering not in our own strength but in God’s power through His Spirit. As before he roots this in the ministry of Jesus, and also relies on the account of the early church in Acts.
Fernando discusses the much-debated concept of ‘fullness of the Spirit’ and concludes that it “is speaking of a state where the Spirit governs people’s lives so that his work is evident in both their behaviour and ministry.” (p33) He helpfully notes that we often seen an emphasis on the second of these whilst the first (holiness of life) is often neglected.
There are important warnings about avoiding an arid, life-less ministry, dependence on God and holiness of life, and also encouraging examples from the lives of various saints – past and present. Fernando is extremely honest about his only struggles in this area too.
Most helpful is a strong emphasis on our need to spend time with God in prayer, meditation and study, and a seeking after an ‘immediacy’ of the Spirit – which is one of the hallmarks of New Testament faith (cf. 1 Cor 3:16).
If I have a small criticism, it is that although he alludes to differences of opinion about how to read Acts (crucially, is it normative or simply descriptive?) he slightly fudges the issue. In particular on the question of whether ‘filling with the Spirit’ is at the start of the Christian life or subsequent to that, he writes, “this issue does not need to be a huge problem. Whether the baptism is initiatory or subsequent, it is clear that the way the figure of baptism is used implies fullness.” (31)
On the other hand, I am all for avoiding unnecessary divisiveness, and if his slightly ambiguous observations on this mean that his extremely helpful chapter can be read and enjoyed by a broader range of believers, then I am all for it. He certainly keeps the main thing, the main thing. And to that end, I will finish with a help quotation he cites from Robert Coleman:
“The promise [of the fullness of the Spirit] is not a dogma to be argued, but a reality to be experienced. Nor is it a fringe benefit of a few Christian zealots, or the peculiar teaching of some evangelical churches. True, it may be called by different names and variously interpreted according to one’s doctrinal viewpoint, but the reality of the all-encompassing, Christ possessing holiness of the Spirit is basic New Testament Christianity.” (22).
May all our ministry be authentic, Spirit-empowered, and Christ-honouring.