Flashback Friday: Being “Filled with the Spirit”

Every week we try to take a look back at some past sermons.  In this week’s Flashback Friday we will look at a past sermon on Ephesians 5:18-21 and “What it Means to be Filled with the Spirit?”

So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;  always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;  and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-21 (NASB)

What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit”?  Many have given attempts to answer this question, but often I find the answer is not found using the Scriptures but subjective experience.  Often the Holy Spirit of God has been put in a box to be nothing more than a “warm fuzzy” which seems to only come when the slow songs are playing, and on the 6th repetition of the bridge.  “We can unleash Him, we just have to get the situation right.”  “We just have to set the mood.”  But, according to the Scriptures, we have it reversed.  Being “filled with the Spirit” is not produced by our Sunday gatherings, but our being filled with the Spirit produces our Sunday gatherings!

Let’s take a closer examination of the text.  Paul is writing to the Ephesians and has just spent the first three chapters of his letter teaching the glorious doctrine of sin, salvation and the church.  We find ourselves in the middle of the second half of his letter where the theology he passionately taught is now meant to be passionately applied.  Orthodoxy was meant to lead to orthopraxy.   Right believing leads to right living.  Paul’s point in Ephesians 5 has been exactly that, knowing who Christ is and what His Will is essential to now living out our life of love (5:2), as children of light (5:8) and as wise, not as unwise (5:15).  We attain this by understanding the “will of the Lord” (5:10, 5:17).  Then Paul makes this statement, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit”.  What is God calling for us here?  Some mystical experience?  I think the best conclusion is that God is calling us to live out what He has been for the whole chapter: a life of obedience to God.

“Plerousthe” is the command in Greek(1).  This word is not a past tense or future tense, we as Christians have already been indwelled and baptized in the Spirit (Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3), but this word is present imperative; this word describing a lifestyle.  We can’t lose the Spirit, but we can be filled innumerable times.  We all lose fuel in the Christian life, but by the Spirit our gas tank never reaches zero.  Yet, at the same time the filling of the Spirit is our divine gas station.  Let me put it plain: to not be filled with the Spirit is to disobey God.  If you don’t fill up, you end up in a wasteland, so it is in the Christian life. This is a regular experience in which believers should be experiencing.  I believe all the mysterious mumbo-jumbo that is often associated with the Holy Spirit is false and just plain unhelpful for understanding this text.  We are not be called to an emotion high but to radical obedience.  Misunderstanding this is why many Christians live there life of faith in a wasteland.

Now that we know a bit about what being filled with the Spirit is; how do we get filled?  If we are regularly supposed to be filled, what are we supposed to do?  Once we examine the context of the verse, and a partner passage, it becomes rather simple.  The best interpreter of Scripture is always Scripture, not our experience.  As already noted, Paul is calling the Ephesians to live out a life of obedience through knowing the “will of the Lord” (5:10, 17).  How do we as Christians learn the “will of God (this isn’t a trick question)?  Through His revealed Word!  Moses put it this way, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” (Deut. 29:29).  The Spirit-filled life is a Bible-filled life.

This is made only clearer through Paul’s command to the Colossians.  Colossians 3:16, which finds itself in the same context as Ephesians 5, says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God”.  Being filled with the Word and being filled with the Spirit carry the same result and thus can be reasoned are one and the same command.

To be filled with the Spirit is to pour over the Word of God and to let it pour over you!  Ultimately this leads to worship pouring out in our actions.  Worship is the outflow of being filled with the Spirit.  The Spirit makes much of Christ (John 14-16) therefore those filled with Him must also make much of Jesus.  This filling is meant to spill over into our relationships in the gathered church.  Ephesians 5:19-21gives us four ways this spills over; 1) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, 2) singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord, 3) always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father, 4) and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 

     Our personal time in the Word is meant to overflow into our corporate singing, which is both meant to edify others (Col. 3:16) and to edify the singer (notice it says to sing “in your heart”).  Being Spirit filled should be obvious in the singing of God’s people, if the word dwells in them, then the word will soar out of us.  We also see that our filling by the Spirit is the source of our constant thankfulness because once the word has its way in our hearts; our perspective becomes drenched with the promises of God, which leads us to see the blessings of the Lord clearly.  Lastly, the Spirit-filled Christian finds the joy in submission.  Properly understanding the fear of God, we seek to live in humble submission, both as a body (21), in our marriages (22-33), in parenting (6:1-4), and in whatever relationships remain (6:5-9, Colossians 3:17).

Each Christian has a responsibility to God and to their brothers and sisters to be Spirit-filled, to not be so is to forsake God’s design for His people.  This starts with daily intake of the Word of God, not simply reading the Word, but letting the Word read us, and by the Spirit transforming us, (i.e. filling us) so that in whatever we do, we may do so for the glory of God (Col. 3:17).

1) For understanding the Greek present perfect tense I found immense help from the ESV Study Bible and Blue Letter Bible

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