1. Ephesians 4:30 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit?

Ephesians 4:30 (ESV)

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

In short

To grieve the Holy Spirit means

  1. having practices that frustrate the unity of the church; or

  2. polluting oneself through sinful practices.

After warning the Ephesians to watch what they say, Paul exhorts them not to grieve the Holy Spirit. What does Paul mean by this?

Most likely Paul has in mind that if the Ephesians disrupt the unity of the church, this will grieve the Holy Spirit. We can deduce this because in chapter 4 he is focused on the unity of the church. He has already called the Ephesians to unity in the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3), because there is one body and one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). He then explains that Christ gave gifts to the church for the purpose of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), which is why one should not speak unwholesomely (Ephesians 4:29). Finally, in Ephesians 4:31-32 he calls the Ephesians to put away all bitterness, anger, and wrath and to love and forgive one another. Clearly, he has in mind that the Ephesians not disrupt the unity of the church, for such disharmony grieves the Holy Spirit.

Some contend that grieving the Holy Spirit has to do with individual sin. The idea is that the Holy Spirit lives in believers, and when believers speak unwholesomely, or have anger or wrath inside them, this grieves the Holy Spirit. Of course, it is true that sin grieves the Holy Spirit, but we want to know what Paul means by this phrase in 4:30. And Paul seems to have in mind sins that lead to disharmony, so that grieving the Holy Spirit is related to disunity. In any case, since the Holy Spirit is grieved by both disunity and individual sin, Paul may not be making the distinctions that this view has in mind. Rather, he may agree that grieving the Holy Spirit has to do with frustrating unity and individual sin.

In the end, the context of chapter 4 suggests that Paul has something like frustrating the unity of the community in mind, but we should also admit that the Holy Spirit is grieved by individual sin.

Interpretation 1:
The Spirit is grieved by practices that frustrate the unity of the church.


The Holy Spirit works in the community of believers in order to build up and unify the body of Christ. Thus, Paul exhorts the Ephesians not to partake in practices that disrupt the unity of the church, for such disruption frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit.

Humans are sinful by nature, and incline toward disharmony. To solve this problem God recreates believers through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we promote unity in the church. When we resist the Spirit’s unifying power by theft, or gossip, we frustrate the Holy Spirit’s work. Of course, the Holy Spirit is God, so to frustrate him is foolish indeed.


  • Steven Baugh

  • F. F. Bruce

  • Stephen Fowl

  • Trevor Grizzle

  • Margaret MacDonald

  • Thomas Slater

Minor differences:

Our authors agree that grieving the Holy Spirit has to do with the community at large in Ephesians 4:30. That is, the community is built up by the Holy Spirit, and church members who frustrate this unity grieve the Holy Spirit. There is a subtle difference between Stephen Fowl and Steven Baugh. Fowl contends that when Paul says the Holy Spirit is grieved, he speaks analogically.1 That is to say, according to Fowl, the Holy Spirit is God and God does not experience passions the way humans do. Baugh, on the other hand, takes Paul’s comments as proof that the Holy Spirit is personal. Baugh admits that it is mysterious that humans can grieve God, but it is important to see that this is the case, because it implies that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal wind or power, but a person. 2