What does it meant to be filled with the Spirit?
I believe this is one of the most important principles of the spiritual life. Learn this and you will discover a source of supernatural power that can help you every single day. As far as possible, I would therefore like to set all controversy aside and impress upon your heart your great need to be filled with the Spirit. This is our great need. Indeed, this is the need of the hour—for God’s people to discover what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
Some questions immediately rise to the surface.
What is the filling of the Spirit?
What difference does it make?
How does it happen?
What a question! What is your answer? Suppose someone asked, “Are you filled with the Spirit?” what would you say?
Before you can accurately answer a question like that, we need to know what the filling of the Spirit is—and what it isn’t. Let me mention three common misconceptions.
1. It is an emotional experience.
This is probably the first thing that comes to mind for many of us. We hear of strange things happening in revival meetings. The filling of the Spirit is not primarily an emotional experience. Emotions work differently for different people, and there is no way to predict how people will respond. I see that when I preach in various places.
For some people coming to Christ will be accompanied by tears and a sense of enormous emotional release. Others will be very matter-of-fact about it. My point about the Spirit’s filling is that we don’t need to feel that we must have some sort of emotional experience in order to be filled or that anyone else’s experience must match our own.
There are times when we are emotionally moved and times when we aren’t.
2. It is reserved for special Christians.
The second misconception flows from the first. Because we hear of these unusual things happening, and because they don’t happen to every Christian, it’s easy to think that the filling of the Holy Spirit is reserved for some special class of super-Christians. It’s not true. The Bible clearly commands every Christian to “be filled with the Spirit.”
3. It is controversial and therefore better off ignored.
Again, this follows from what I have said. Some people overreact to the excesses of others and dismiss the doctrine of the Spirit’s filling. Some even refuse the entire doctrine of the Holy Spirit. That’s a huge mistake because the Holy Spirit is the One who brings the presence of Christ to our lives. Again, without going into controversy, may I simply say to you that we desperately need the Holy Spirit today.
The Bible clearly commands every Christian to “be filled with the Spirit.”
The greatest preacher of the 19th century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, said, “The grand thing the church wants in this time is God’s Holy Spirit.” More than anything else, we need to rediscover the Holy Spirit and learn anew to depend on him.
With that we turn to our text—Ephesians 5:18. Eugene Peterson in The Message: “Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him.”
1. Note the contrast between wine and the Spirit.
There is a direct parallel drawn between being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit. What precisely is the point of comparison between wine and the Holy Spirit?
This is influence or control. A person under the influence of wine experiences altered behaviour. He may say or do things he would not ordinarily do. Emotions may be heightened for a brief period, causing the person to experience anger followed quickly by elation followed quickly by depression. If the person drinks enough wine, his mental processes will be affected and his decision making ability will be radically altered—almost always with a negative result.
Likewise, the filling of the Holy Spirit produces a change in behaviour. In the Book of Acts, once timid disciples became flaming evangelists for Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 5:15-21 Paul mentions a number of practical things related to the filling of the Spirit:
Wisdom for living in this evil age (vv. 15-16).
Understanding of God’s will (v. 17).
A joyful heart filled with singing to the Lord (v. 19)
A heart filled with thanksgiving (v. 20).
An attitude of mutual submission (v. 21).
When we submit from the heart, we are saying, “I don’t have to have my way all the time.” Only a heart touched by the Holy Spirit can maintain such an attitude in every relationship of life.
2. This is a command.
In the Greek this verb is in the imperative. This means the filling of the Spirit—isn’t an optional part of the Christian life. Every Christian is to be filled with the Spirit all of the time.
3. It is in the present tense.
Greek present tense has the idea of continual action. It’s not a one-time event.
We could legitimately translate this verse this way: “Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit.”
4. It is in the passive voice.
We’re much more used to active commands: “Go and buy up some milk, please.” Paul doesn’t say, “Fill yourself with the Spirit” but rather “Be filled with the Spirit.” That’s a bit hard to understand. It’s like saying to someone, “Be loved.” How do you do that?
This is the key to everything. To be “be filled” means that the filling of the Spirit is a work of God, not man.
Let me illustrate. Suppose I command you to “be loved.” But if there’s not someone who wants to love you, you can’t obey that command. Likewise, if there’s not someone who wants to fill you, you can’t “be filled” with the Spirit. He’s not saying “fill yourself” but rather “be filled.”
The filling of the Spirit is supposed to be the normal way of life for the Christian.
I draw two important implications from this truth:
1. The Holy Spirit is ready and willing to fill us at any moment.
2. We must make ourselves available to him.
That’s why the New Living Translation says, “Let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.”
Let me give you a new term I just made up. The term is “fillability.” It’s what happens when you go to a petrol station and say, “Fill ‘er up.” The person pumping the gas knows that the statement “Fill ‘er up” means two things:
1) I’m empty, and
2) I want my car to be filled with fuel.
That’s fillability. It’s need plus desire. When your need to be filled with the Spirit becomes your great desire, you will be filled. Over and over again. Every time.
5. It is a plural command.
God intends—and desires—that all his children be filled with the Holy Spirit. The church as a church is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit imparts life-giving power that transforms the church from a social club or a religious gathering into a living body of Christ. We can see that clearly in the verses that follow:
Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (v. 19).
Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (v. 21).
I am to be filled with the Spirit—but I am not to be filled alone. When the Holy Spirit fills us one by one, our corporate life will be transformed. Perhaps this one factor accounts for the difference between a church that is “alive” and a church that is “dead.” Both churches have the same Bible, they may sing the same songs, they may even have the same programme. But one is alive.
The other is dead.
What makes the difference? The Holy Spirit!
what happens when the Holy Spirit has the controlling interest in your life.
Drunken and Spirit-filled people have one thing in common. They are both controlled people. Their lives and their behaviour are radically changed by that which fills them.
—If a man is filled with anger, then anger controls his life.
—If a man is filled with greed, then greed dominates his life.
—If a man is filled with love, then love influences all he does.
When the Holy Spirit fills you, he will have the controlling interest in your life.
It is “control by consent.”
Let me stop and make a critical distinction. Being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean I have more of the Spirit; it means the Spirit has more of me. It doesn’t happen all at once any more than you get drunk all at once. Being filled with the Spirit happens as you continually choose to live under his influence.
The Issue of Cooperation
The central issue is one of cooperation. Am I going to cooperate with the Hoy Spirit and let him lead me or I am going to keep on trying to do things my own way?
So many of us struggle at precisely this point. We fight the Lord because we want to do things our way. And God says, “Okay, we can do it your way for awhile, but it’s not going to work.”
In that sense, if we won’t cooperate with God, he’ll cooperate with us by letting us do things in our own strength and by our own will. But then we fail and cry out to the Lord and he says, “Are you willing to cooperate with me now?”
F. B. Meyer explained the Spirit’s filling this way. He said that most people think of the Spirit as a substance to fill us, like gas filling up a tank. So we run out of the Spirit and God fills us again. But that’s not the best image to use.
Think about the underground trains. Those trains run on three rails—two for the wheels and one for the electricity. The electricity is always there, but the train doesn’t move unless there is contact with the third rail. Touch that rail and the train moves, pull away from that rail and it stops.
The third rail is like the Holy Spirit. His power is always available—There’s never a power cut
I close with this thought. God is ready, willing and able to fill you right now. He’s more willing to fill you than you are to be filled.
Some Christians are so full of themselves, they have no room for the Holy Spirit.
Some Christians have simply closed their heart to the work of the Holy Spirit.
In a sense being filled with the Spirit is an impossibility—at least as far as it depends on us. Only God’s Spirit can fill us. We need two things—emptiness and openness. You can’t fill a jar that’s already full, and you can’t fill a jar that is not open.
We need two things—emptiness and openness.
There must be a sense of need—“Lord, I’m empty and I need to be filled by your Spirit.”
There must be a willingness—“Lord, I’m open to you. Let your Spirit fill me now.”
The filling of the Spirit is really as simple as that.