Friday, June 08, 2007

Thinking about “unction” (or “the anointing”), Part 2

What is “unction” or “anointing”, as it relates to the preacher and preaching? Biblically, exactly what are we praying for when we pray for God’s “anointing” on the preacher? In my last installment, I mentioned that “unction” and “anointing” are practically synonymous words. As an aside, I found this interesting: “Anoint”, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, means “to rub oil or ointment on”. “Unction”, on the other hand, can be either “the act of anointing” or “the oil…used for this”. So, we could say that someone who is “anointed” has “unction” or “the anointing”. Or, how about this? To “anoint” is to put the “unction” on someone. I don’t know about you, but I found these definitions helpful. I’ll come back to them, later. In the meantime, there are a few Scriptural passages in the New Testament which come to mind, where the word “anointed” or “anointing” is used, that might be helpful in discovering the answer to our question.

The first place is found in the gospel according to Luke. Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry, after His baptism, entered the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he [“the Lord”] has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).

The next place is in Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians:

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (1 Corinthians 1:21-22).

The last two places are found in the first epistle of John, as John warns his readers about antichrists:

“But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all knowledge” (1 John 2:20).

“I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you—abide in him” (1 John 2:26-27).

I find a common denominator is each of these passages: the Holy Spirit. Do you see it? First, the Holy Spirit is directly named in the gospel passage from Luke. Then, we know from elsewhere in Paul’s writing (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30), it is the Holy Spirit who seals believers. Finally, it is the Holy Spirit who is our spiritual teacher and giver of knowledge (John 14:26; 16:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13; 12:8).

Taking these passages of Scripture together, I think we can safely say that, according to the word of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit and the anointing go hand-in-hand. Where the Spirit is, the anointing is there also. I think we can also say that it is God the Father (“the Holy One”) who anoints with the Spirit. Finally, I think we can safely conclude that the Spirit, Himself, is the anointing that is received.

But, how does this relate to preaching? What are we praying for when we pray for God’s anointing? I think this is where those dictionary definitions I mentioned at the outset of this installment come in handy. According to my dictionary, someone who is “anointed” has “unction” or “the anointing”. If the Holy Spirit is the anointing or unction, then to pray for the anointing or for unction is to pray for the Holy Spirit. But, in what sense do we pray for the Holy Spirit? All believers in Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. We know this because it is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit which distinguishes a child of God from a child of the devil:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9).

So, how can believers pray for the Holy Spirit who already dwells within? Is it Scriptural to pray this way? I most definitely believe it is Scriptural, on the authority of Christ’s own words:

“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13, emphasis added).

So, what are believers praying for when they pray for the anointing or for unction? I believe we are praying for a fresh baptism of spiritual power.
(To be continued...)

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