10 Things You should Know about The Filling of the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18
Today we continue our weekly series on 10 things you should know. Our focus is on being filled with the Spirit as Paul describes it in Ephesians 5:18.
1. Being filled with the Spirit is contrasted with being drunk with wine. Thus, it is a question of influence, control, or power. If you insist on getting drunk, be inebriated with the Holy Spirit! Please note, however, that the force of this exhortation is not that Christians should stagger and slur their speech as those drunk with wine do. The influence of the infilling Spirit is moral in nature, the results and tangible evidence of which is the spiritual and relational fruit that Paul describes in Galatians 5. Paul envisions a community of people (the church) whose lives are so totally given over to the Spirit "that the life and deeds of the Spirit are as obvious in their case as the effects of too much wine are obvious in the other" (Fee, 721).
2. Paul does not say, "be full of the Spirit," as though one were full of the Spirit in the same way one is full of wine. He says, "be filled by/with the Spirit." The emphasis is on being filled to the full by the Spirit's presence. This is similar to Ephesians 3:19 where Paul speaks of being "filled unto the fullness of God," i.e., of being filled up with God himself.
3. There is considerable disagreement among commentators on the proper translation of the Greek preposition en. Does Paul mean we are to be filled “with” the Spirit, as if the Spirit is himself the content with which we are filled? Or does he mean we are to be filled “by” the Spirit, the content of which is not clearly specified? Peter O’Brien takes the latter and proceeds to argue that “the earlier uses of the ‘fullness’ language in Ephesians are determinative for understanding what that fullness is here at 5:18” (392). He points to “fullness” language in 1:23; 3:19; 4:10 and concludes “that the content with which believers have been (or are being) filled is the fullness of (the Triune) God or of Christ. No other text in Ephesians (or elsewhere in Paul) focusses specifically on the Holy Spirit as the content of this fullness. It is better, then, to understand 5:18 in terms of the Spirit’s mediating the fullness of God and Christ to the believers” (392). O’Brien’s view, however, is by no means certain.
3. The verb, “be filled with/by the Spirit,” is imperative; i.e., it is a command. This is not a suggestion or a mild recommendation or a polite piece of advice. Being filled with the Spirit is not optional. It is obligatory.
4. The verb is plural. “The fullness of the Holy Spirit is emphatically not a privilege reserved for some, but a duty resting on all” (John Stott/60). The exhortation has primarily to do with community life, i.e., the need for God's people to be so collectively full of God's presence that their worship is transformed, their relationships are renewed, and their lives as a totality are changed.
5. The verb is present tense, perhaps indicating that Paul envisions a continuous, on-going experience. This is not so much a dramatic or decisive experience that settles things for good, but a daily appropriation. Says Richard Gaffin:
“This command . . . is relevant to all believers throughout the whole of their lives. No believer may presume to have experienced a definitive filling of the Spirit so that the command of verse 18 no longer applies. Short of death or the Lord’s return, it continues in effect for every believer.”
6. The mere fact that we are commanded to be filled implies that a Christian faces the danger of being “low” (but never empty!). We are always in need of refreshing and renewal.
7. In view of this command, we should cease speaking of the “second” blessing and begin to seek God for a “third” and a “fourth” and a “fifth” and . . .
8. The consequential evidence of being filled with/by the Holy Spirit is spelled out for us in Eph. 5:19 and following. When we are filled with the Spirit we will address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; we will sing and make melody to the Lord in our hearts; we will be incessantly thankful for all that God has given us in Christ Jesus, and we will joyfully submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
9. How does one go about being filled with the Spirit? What must one do? Keep a clean heart and walk in holiness. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30-31). Walk in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Be sensitive to his leading and prompting, ever pursuing his presence. Thirst after Jesus (see John 7:37-39).
10. One final and essential step in being filled with the Spirit is to pray without ceasing for it. It was Jesus who said: “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 11:13). Could it be that this exhortation to pray for the Holy Spirit flows from Jesus' own experience of the Spirit? Could it be that he himself prayed for continued, repeated anointings, infillings or fresh waves of the Spirit's presence and power to sustain him for ministry, and here encourages his followers to do the same? Yes, I believe so.