Summary: Ephesians 5:18b-21 teaches us what is involved in being filled with the Spirit.


Today we are concluding a sermon series in Ephesians 5:1-21 that I am calling, “Be Imitators of God.”

Last time we began to examine what Paul meant by being filled with the Spirit. Today, we shall complete our examination of Paul’s teaching on being filled with the Spirit.

Let’s read about being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18b-21:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18b-21)


In October 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed much of the bustling city of Chicago. But, surprisingly, the flames actually started on the other side of the Chicago River. So how did the fire cross over the river and reach Chicago?

The river-jumping fire is partially explained by the high winds that spread the fire to wooden ships moored in the river. But there was also another even more important factor in the spread of the fire. In those days, the Chicago River was a shallow, sluggish sewer for the entire city. The Union Stock Yards in Chicago dumped all their animal waste into the river. People called it “The Stinking River” or “Bubbly Creek.” It was so bad that the waste was actually combustible.

All of this putrefaction flowed into Lake Michigan, where there were drinking-water intakes for the city. Waterborne diseases broke out. Every year through the 1880s and 1890s, at least 10,000 people died from cholera and typhoid fever. In 1885, fourteen years after the Great Chicago Fire, nearly 100,000 people died from illnesses carried by the river’s putrid waters.

Finally, city engineers took action. First, they started digging 28 miles of canal. They moved more earth and rocks than were moved building the Panama Canal. They set in locks and gates. Then, on January 2, 1900, a worker opened a sluice gate at Lake Michigan, and the entire Great Lakes flowed into the Chicago River, pushing it a direction it had never flowed. They reversed the flow of the Chicago River. It now flowed the opposite way—into the canal, into the Des Plaines River, into the Illinois River, and, finally, into the Mississippi River.

This brought a huge flow of fresh water. Instead of shallow, sluggish, diseased water, making the community sick, the river now brought the city life. Some writers argue that Chicago would not even be around today, had the flow of the Chicago River not been reversed.

There is a similar principle at work in our new lives as Christians. Before we became Christians, we moved in the direction of sin and darkness and foolishness and drunkenness, as Paul has been describing in Ephesians 5. But, now that we are new creations in Christ, the flow is in the complete opposite direction, in the direction of love and light and wisdom and being filled with the Spirit.

In this sermon series we have been examining the new life in contrast with the old life. Let us now continue our examination of what is involved in being filled with the Spirit.


I. The Command to Be Filled with the Spirit (5:18b)

First, let’s look at the command to be filled with the Spirit.

Paul said in verse 18b, “…be filled with the Spirit.” Dr. James Montgomery Boice notes the following:

First, being filled with the Spirit is not the same thing as being “baptized” by the Spirit. Some, having confused the two, have taught the need for a second work of grace, usually accompanied by the gift of speaking in tongues, if a person is to grow or get on in the Christian life. Actually, the baptism of the Spirit refers to the work of the Spirit in regenerating us and uniting us to Christ, which is how we become Christians in the first place. It is rightly called “baptism,” because baptism is the sacrament marking the beginning of the Christian life. It is something that happens to every Christian and does not need to be urged upon him.

Being “filled” with the Spirit is something that is urged upon Christians, which is what Paul does here. But it does not concern any special miraculous gifts such as speaking in tongues. Rather, it refers to our being so under the Holy Spirit’s control and leading that our thought and life are entirely taken up with Jesus Christ, to whom it is the Spirit’s chief responsibility to bear witness.

There are several things that are not meant by being filled with the Spirit.

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