Summary: Having the Holy Spirit is not the same as being FILLED with the Holy Spirit.
On Being Filled with the Spirit
It is safe to assume that everyone here today has indoor plumbing. If we want a glass of water, it is simply a matter of taking a glass, placing it under the faucet, and turning on the water. The water is available for us. It is simply a matter of taking it and using it.
Jesus used the idea of water when he talked about the Holy Spirit. In John 7:38-39, he said that any person who places his faith in him would have “rivers of living water” flowing out of him. John even wrote in parentheses after this statement, “Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit who would come.” Believers receive the Holy Spirit in abundant supply at their conversion.
Our message today, however, is on being filled with the Spirit. We know that we have Him in our lives if we have trusted Christ as our Savior, but what does it mean to be filled with Him? The only place in Scripture that examines in a literal fashion the act of being filled with the Spirit is Ephesians 5:18-21. As we look at these verses today, I believe we will see more clearly how to be filled with the Spirit. As a result, I hope that it is something that we will seek in our relationships with God in the days ahead.
The best way to examine our passage today is a three-step process. Paul’s words in verse eighteen are a command, an imperative issued for Christians. In order to understand this command, we need to examine three things. We will begin by looking at the context for the command, the verses surrounding this particular mandate. Secondly, we will examine the construction of the command itself. This particular Greek form is rich with meaning in light of the way the Holy Spirit works. Finally, we will investigate the qualifications of the command, the evidences of obeying it. In these ways, I believe we will come to understand clearly exactly what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
The context of the command. The fifth chapter of Ephesians begins with the words, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children . . .” Paul then tells them how they may accomplish this by a series of contrasts. In verses three through five, he tells them not to be known for immorality, but instead for thankfulness. He contrasts light and darkness in verses six through fourteen. Paul continues with a charge to refute foolishness with wisdom in verses fifteen through seventeen. Finally, in verses eighteen through twenty-one, he describes the in-filling of the Holy Spirit as contrasted with immoral drunkenness.
Do you remember the response of the crowd to the disciples on the day of Pentecost? Acts 2:13 says, “Others mocking said, ‘These men are full of new wine.’” The behavior exhibited by the disciples led some of those observing them to accuse them of being under the influence. But what did Peter say in response? Verse fifteen tells us that he said they were not drunk, but instead were the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. What was that prophecy?
Joel 2:28-29 tells us that God said, “ . . . I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; and you sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.” This is what happened at Pentecost. The believers may have been under the influence, but it was not under the influence of spirits. Instead, they were under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Every reference to the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts carries with it an understanding of power, exuberance, or boldness. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you . . .” We have already seen the example of the believers on the day of Pentecost. In Acts 4:8, we see Peter testifying before the council with boldness as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. The first deacons were required to be men “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Stephen, one of the first deacons, preached powerfully to those who stoned him. In Acts 7:55, we are told “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” It was at this point that they cried out and stopped up their ears as they picked up the stones to kill him.
So is it possible that being filled with the Spirit might resemble drunkenness? If it means an increase in boldness or a relaxing of inhibitions related to sharing one’s faith, then I would venture to say yes. Does being filled with the Spirit mean a loss of mental and emotional or even physical self-control, a type of euphoria accompanied by such manifestations as speaking in tongues and being “slain in the Spirit.” I would have to raise some red flags in this area.