Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. 1 Corinthians 2:12.
We possess a veritable gold mine of spiritual riches which many of us seem utterly to neglect. I am speaking of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Paul reminds the Corinthians that this glorious gospel message did not come to them in superiority of speech or of wisdom. He did not use persuasive words of wisdom. Instead the gospel came in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power so that their faith would rest, not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. He goes further to say that the gift of the Holy Spirit opens up a whole new world to believers. They have spiritual wisdom and power of which the world knows nothing.
One of the missing ingredients in preaching today, perhaps the most important and vital one, is the unction of the Holy Spirit. What is it? Is this a biblical concept? What results from it? How does a preacher get it?
First, we may define unction in preaching as a supernatural empowering and enabling by the Holy Spirit to do the Father's work for the glory of the Son. Let's break this down a bit. Unction is supernatural. This has nothing to do with one's educational level, how gifted a communicator or orator he may be, how much experience he has, or how charismatic and engaging his personality is. It is supernatural. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is the Spirit himself filling and dominating a man.
To go further, unction is empowering and enabling. By empowering I have in mind what we read in Luke 24:44-49 when, after the disciples had been with Jesus for three years and seen his remarkable ministry, after his resurrection, he told them to preach repentance for forgiveness of sins in his name to all the nations. However, they were to remain in the city until they had been clothed with power from on high. They dare not go forth in ministry without the Spirit's power and presence. Repeatedly we find the Greek wordsÂ exousiaÂ (authority) andÂ dunamisÂ (power) used in reference to Jesus and his apostles and their earthly ministries. As only one example, consider Acts 1:8, 'You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the utter most parts of the earth.' Unction is the power of the Holy Spirit controlling, dominating, convicting, converting, and sanctifying. Unction is the enabling work of the Spirit. It gives the preacher insight into Scripture, the ability to gather the truth together in a clear, concise manner. It gives him the ability to drive home biblical truth to his hearers so that they receive it, not merely as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also performs its work in those who believe (1 Thess.Â 2:13). When a preacher proclaims gospel truth in the power of the Holy Spirit his words, in effect, become the word of God to those with ears to ear.
In Romans 10:13ff Paul says, 'Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. And how then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent. Just as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!" However they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has received our message?" So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.' Paul is thus saying that as the Holy Spirit works through the preacher, as the Spirit applies the truth to the hearers, then these become the very words of God to him. It is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who makes this possible. A preacher preaching with unction is preaching the words of God to his hearers.
And the unction is a specific work of God the Father. We find the anointing or unction of the Spirit in the Old Testament symbolically administered with oil. Oil was placed upon the heads of the prophets (1 KingsÂ 19:16), priests (Exod.s 28:41), and kings (1 Sam.Â 10:1). We know the Holy Spirit came upon people differently in the Old Testament times than from after Pentecost. He came upon people for specific purposes. Thus we find Bezalel being filled with the Spirit in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship so that he may have the skill necessary to build the instruments of the tabernacle (Exod.Â 31:2-4). This anointing also carried with it the idea of consecration (Exod.Â 30:30,Â Lev.Â 8:12). These men were set apart by God for their specific works on behalf of Yahweh, the King of glory. This 'coming or going' of the Spirit explains why David, after his sin with Bathsheba said, 'Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit away from me' (Psa.Â 51:11).
This Holy Spirit anointing is a means of power, vitality, and fruitfulness in the preacher's life and ministry. No doubt there are times in every preacher's life when he is overwhelmed with fatigue, discouragement, and a sense of powerlessness. The anointing of the Spirit can be a source of strength and power spiritually, physically, and emotionally. We read in 1 Kings 18 of Obadiah, a servant of wicked King Ahab, who nonetheless was a godly man who preserved the lives of one hundred young prophets of God from a purging by wicked Queen Jezebel. While on a search for water, due to the drought God brought through Elijah's prayers, Obadiah ran into Elijah. Elijah told him to have Ahab meet him at Mount Carmel for a showdown with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah. As we know, the prophets of Baal called all day for their god to consume the sacrifice but nothing happened. Elijah prayed down fire from heaven which utterly burned up the offering. The Holy Spirit gave Elijah the spiritual power he needed to fight the battle against Baal and Asherah. Later, as clouds form in the distance, Ahab and Elijah both watch as the clouds opened, pouring rain on the parched land. Ahab rode in his chariot from Mount Carmel to Jezreel in the fruitful plain between Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee, while Elijah outran Ahab and his chariot, a distance of some thirty miles, farther than a marathon. How did Elijah have that strength? The Spirit empowered him! And later in 1 Kings 19, after hearing that Jezebel is still keen on having Elijah killed, he flees first to Beersheba and eventually to the Sinai Peninsula, a distance of well over two hundred miles. Elijah wanted to die, but the Spirit ministered to him, not by the earthquake, wind, or fire; but by a gentle voice (1 KingsÂ 19:11-14). God strengthened Elijah emotionally.
If you are a pastor, then you know the plague of discouragement, the temptation to quit and find another line of work. This discouragement comes in many forms. You know you battle indwelling sin daily and sometimes your sin seems to get the best of you. You are alarmed and fearful of the thoughts that enter your mind, of the words which privately come out of your mouth. And then there is the discouragement of trouble in your marriage. You know what it is to live with disappointment with your wife. Perhaps you have grown cold in your devotion to her, secretly longing for another woman. And then your children can be a means of discouragement, even when they are relatively young. Perhaps you have seen sinful patterns in them that look very similar to what you see in yourself, and you know they learned these from you! And what pastor has not heard discouraging words from church officers? Even if the words are meant as 'constructive criticism' they, nonetheless, sting all the same. And sooner or later almost every pastor experiences church division, people leaving in droves, blaming you for their departure. 'You cannot preach . . . you are not feeding me with your sermons . . . I get more out of the preacher at the church down the street . . . my children need a better youth ministry . . .'
My dear friends, we must have the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon our ministries, not merely in our preaching, but in everything - our teaching, counselling, leading, administrating, discipling, and our evangelizing. We need supernatural enabling in every spiritual dimension of ministry. The work of regeneration and sanctification is simply impossible. You are no match for the secularization of our culture, the immense problems of people in your community. And we need supernatural power in the physical dimension of our lives. Many times, especially after arriving in another country, eight or nine time zones away, I have been called upon to preach and was totally exhausted; but I have also seen God supernaturally empower me physically to deliver a message I know was not given in my own strength. We need the Spirit's anointing physically. Whitefield knew this first hand. He often would enter a new town on horseback, ravaged with fever, having already preached two or three times that same day, physically and emotionally exhausted. But as he began to preach the Spirit came upon him and he caught fire, and was used mightily of God. And we need his anointing emotionally. Ministry is not for the faint of heart and discouragement can threaten to undo you, but the Spirit can meet you powerfully and lift you up with great joy, boldness, and resolve to stay on task.
How do you receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit? Two things are clear. First, you must have faith. 'Without faith it is impossible to please God' (Heb.Â 11:6). 'Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened to you' (Matt.Â 7:7). 'If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him' (LukeÂ 11:13). 'Until now you have asked for nothing in My name. Ask and you shall receive that your joy may be made full' (JohnÂ 16:24). Simply believe what God says. But second, you must earnestly seek Christ. David says, 'O God, Thou art my God. I shall seek Thee earnestly. My soul thirsts for Thee. My flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen Thee in the sanctuary, to see Thy power and Thy glory' (Psa.Â 63:1-2). There is no substitute for earnestly seeking God like a thirsty man does water. Go into the sanctuary of God daily, expectantly, looking for and receiving a word from the living God!