I love idioms. Idioms are local or cultural words or phrases that have dual meanings. If, for example, someone says that you are cool or hot, they’re not talking about your body temperature. Cool means unaffected by pressure or it describes a certain winsome personality or just means good. Hot, of course, means extremely handsome or beautiful. The idioms I enjoy the most are those with an interesting origin behind them which gives them a deeper meaning. Let me give you some examples:
Pushing the envelope. What does this mean? To us it means going beyond your ability or pushing something too far. “This expression comes out of the US Air Force test pilot program of the late1940’s. The envelope refers to a plane’s performance capabilities. The limits of the plane’s ability to fly at speeds and altitudes and under certain stresses define what is known as its performance envelope. It’s an ‘envelope’ in the sense that it contains the ranges of the plane’s abilities. ‘Pushing the envelope’ originally meant flying an aircraft at, or even beyond, its known or recommended limits.
“‘That’s all she wrote!’ was said after a soldier finished reading a ‘Dear John’ kiss-off letter from his girlfriend. So the term came to mean, ‘It’s over.’”
“What does hand over fist mean? The original expression was hand over hand, which was chiefly nautical and referred literally to rope work: climbing a rope, or pulling something in with a rope, would be ‘climbing it hand over hand,’ that is, with each hand brought over the other. This was then extended figuratively to mean ‘with continuous progress; with regular advances’, especially as used of a ship chasing and gaining on another ship. From here it’s a very small step to ‘speedily increasingly’, the sense in ‘making money hand over fist,’ which is about the only way the phrase is found nowadays.
"Fly off the handle - If you’ve ever seen a person ‘fly off the handle,’ you may have been impressed at the energy and speed involved with that eruption of anger. Frontiersmen found it hard to control their tempers when tools suddenly failed them. A common cause of such a turn of events was the shrinkage of wood - universally used as tool handles. After having hung in a shed for months, the handle of a hoe or a rake was likely to come off after a few strokes. In the case of an ax, badly worn or shrunken wood is positively dangerous because the head of the tool can come loose at the first lick. When the blade of an ax flies off the handle, it endangers the user and everyone standing nearby. That makes it almost as great a source of danger as a violent explosion of temper.”
This morning I want to explore a phrase that has become something of an idiom. Although the Bible speaks clearly about it, Christians, over the years have assigned it a somewhat different meaning. The phrase is “Spirit-filled.” If I said, “Who wants to be Spirit-filled?” I’m certain there’d be at least three responses. Some of you would be excited and want to know more. Some of you would be spooked because imagines of worship services out of control with people speaking in tongues, falling down on the ground, praising God loudly, and raising their hands come to mind. Some of you would be bored out of your minds because it’s just a churchy phrase that has no relevance to your life.
Being filled with the Spirit of God does matter. A Spirit-filled Christian lives a wise life as opposed to a foolish, wasteful one. It is the only kind of life that pleases God. And, best of all, being a Spirit-filled Christian has benefits for the believer who goes after it. It is the kind of life where there’s joy, and peace, and purpose because when you’re Spirit-filled you’re at the center of God’s will.
Some Christians have overly mystified the meaning of Spirit-filled. They have made it into a one-time, supernatural experience that somehow makes you a “Christian-plus.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul wrote to the Ephesians believers:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18
The wording explains what being Spirit-filled means. First we see that it’s more about influence than empowering. It is not so much a supernatural zap as a yielding to the presence of God that is already within the believer. If you’re drunk on wine it’s not giving you superhuman power. You’ve simply placed yourself under its influence and the result is misspent, directionless, wasted time that makes you feel bad the next morning due to a hangover and regret at your actions. The original language tells us that being filled with the Spirit is not a one-time event. In the Greek it’s literally “be being continuously filled.” The verb is an imperative, making it a command for all Christians, but also passive which means you can’t make it happen yourself. It seems contradictory, but it’s not. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, that is to say, the moment you believed that He sacrificed His perfect life for your sinful life on the cross and that He rose from the dead after 3 days, you were forgiven completely, made right in God’s sight, promised eternal life, and the Holy Spirit took up residence within you. Every follower of Jesus Christ is a vessel of the Spirit of God. That’s a work of God, not of man. Your part is coming under the Spirit’s influence. You have the choice moment by moment to resist Him or to be filled with Him. Being Spirit-filled is a continuous daily choice all believers are commanded to make which is an outworking of our salvation.
That’s all well and good, but we need to get really practical. Paul doesn’t just lay down a command and leave us hanging about how to accomplish it. He gives specific ways to hand ourselves over to the influence of God’s Spirit within.
Signs of a Spirit-Filled Life
The first sign we’ve seen before in Ephesians. It’s a theme Paul repeats again and again in his letters.
A heart inclined toward thanksgiving
Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19b-20
Praise and thanksgiving are a choice. Praise occurs when you comprehend who God is and you say it or, better yet, sing it back to Him. Thanksgiving happens when you express your appreciation for what God has done for you. What does it take to be a person singing praise and thanksgiving to God with your mouth and in your heart? It does not take a supernatural zap of spiritual juice to make it happen. It takes intentionality. You choose to stop focusing on yourself or others or your situation and your purposefully focus on God. The presence of goose bumps or warm feelings do not indicate being Spirit-filled. It’s about paying attention to the person and work of Jesus Christ and responding in an appropriate way.
When we gather on Sundays we have an opportunity to be Spirit-filled in this way. As Sunday school teachers lift up the word of God you will naturally learn more about the person and work of God. That should lead to a heart inclined toward thanksgiving. In our worship services we hear songs, and scriptures, and sermons pointing toward the same thing. We’re Spirit-filled when we take it in, comprehend it, and respond with praise and thanksgiving. I’m convinced that this doesn’t happen very often because most of us are so passive when we gather together. If we’re paying attention at all we’re usually more concerned about what we’ll get out of it than what we can put into it. Many of us are so caught up in ourselves and what’s going on internally that we completely miss out on an opportunity to come under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
A heart inclined toward thanksgiving is one that is intentional about coming under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Church services are not the only ways this can happen. Personal daily Bible study and prayer can have the same effect. Read the Bible with the desire to see more of God and His work, rather than trying to determine the date of Christ’s return, or the meaning of the beast’s big toe, or whether we’re predestined or have freewill, and you’ll be led into praise and thanksgiving. In your daily prayer, don’t barge into God’s presence with a grocery list. Begin with praise and thanksgiving. Submit to His will and you will pray more effectively when you take that grocery list out. You’ll find God directing you how to pray if you seek His face before seeking His hand. Let me also add that intentionally listening to praise and worship music as well as hymns and other spiritual songs inclines the heart toward thanksgiving.
Laura and I have a small collection of praise and worship music. We’ve found that anytime we’re feeling anxious or uncertain or overwhelmed that listening to this music brings peace. I think it’s because such music turns our attention to Christ and take it off of us or our circumstances. We’re filled with thanksgiving because we’re under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Remember it’s not a spiritual zap, it’s an intentional choice. The second sign of a Spirit-filled life is closely related to this:
An attitude of contentment in all circumstances
Did you notice in verse 20 that Paul said give thanks “in everything”? That means all situations – good and bad. You cannot give thanks in all circumstances without some serious contentment. Contentment means that you’ve learned to be satisfied. This too is intentional.
I think this attitude is demonstrated most powerfully in Paul’s address to slaves. Not once did he tell them to rise up in revolt and throw off their chains. He never told them to even seek their freedom. Instead he said Christian slaves should have a distinct attitude toward their masters and servitude:
Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. Ephesians 6:6-8
Elsewhere in his letters Paul does say that slaves should take their freedom if it’s given, but rather than seek to change their circumstances, his primary counsel is to have an attitude of contentment. He wants them to work hard as if serving Christ as His slave. They were to seek His reward, not that of their masters. The only way this is possible is if a person has intentionally chosen contentment. This is part of what it means to be Spirit-filled, choosing contentment.
The complainer looks at their circumstances and they decide to either rebel against it or to sink into despair. In ancient Rome a slave couldn’t realistically rebel. A violent uprising against your master would likely result in your beating and crucifixion. Running away would get your branded on the forehead or executed. The easier choice would be a brooding despair. Your only revenge would be to do a bear minimum of what the master ordered you to do.
Paul said that a Spirit-filled slave would be content in their situation. They would trust that God was in control. He had put them in that place for a reason. Their responsibility was to honor Jesus Christ in their circumstances. They were to work hard seeking His reward and expecting nothing from the hand of their earthly master. Then Paul extended this command to every Christian, slave or free.
The way you handle circumstances is a sign of whether or not you’re Spirit-filled. If you find yourself giving in to anxiety or the desire to control or to grumbling or to despair you’re not handing yourself over to the influence of the Holy Spirit. If you’re working hard to make something of yourself or to acquire more stuff to insulate you from a cold cruel world, that’s not coming from the Spirit of God. A Spirit-filled Christian is content, no matter how good or bad their circumstances.
Lately I’ve been witnessing this attitude in Novelle Bean. She’s going through some difficult days physically. (She has been for a long time.) A mini-stroke sent her to the hospital and now rehab in a nursing home. I’ve yet to hear her complain or see her cry. To my knowledge she hasn’t lashed out at family or healthcare workers. She has a positive attitude and a good sense of humor about it all. Rather than give in to anxiety she says, “I’ll take it as it comes.” Friends, that’s what it means to be Spirit-filled: choosing an attitude of contentment in all circumstances.
The third sign of a Spirit-filled life is …
A yielded ego
To yield means to give the right of way to another. If you’re entering a highway and you’ve got a yield sign it means that if traffic is coming you must stop and let them go ahead of you. A Spirit-filled life looks the same way. It is the intentional, conscious choice to yield the ego or self.
When Christians gather together Paul said:
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Ephesians 5:19a
It’s funny how most people read verse 19 and get caught up in parsing the meaning of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs when the point is “speak to one another.” When we worship God we are to be simultaneously yielded to one another. Our focus is to be God and our neighbor. Anytime we gather in Christian community our concern is to be for the encouragement and edification of other believers. It takes a yielded ego to do that. In fact, Paul says we should be yielded to one another at all times.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21
This is one of the signs of a Spirit-filled believer. You must actively choose to yield to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to stop thinking of yourself first. Your natural inclination is selfishness. You will never overcome this inclination this side of eternity. What God counsels you to do is act contrary to this natural inclination and yield to others. The remaining instruction of this section is just an expansion of the command to submit.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. … the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:22-24
What does this mean? To be Spirit-filled a wife must yield to the leadership of her husband. The Bible says this unambiguously. Rather than give in to her natural desire to control and dominate the wife is called to submit and respect her husband. By the way, ladies, respect is the number one need your husband has from you. You would see a change in his bad behavior if you extended respect. If you wait for him to earn it, you’re in for a miserable life and a difficult marriage. The command for wives seems harsh, but it’s mild in comparison to the way Christian husbands are to demonstrate being Spirit-filled:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church … each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself… Ephesians 5:25, 28-29, 33a
Just as a wife is to submit to her husband’s leadership, the husband is to submit to his wife’s needs. Did you notice that wives are not called to love and nurture their husbands? Why? Women tend to be natural lovers and nurturers. Men are not. Men tend to be self absorbed and passive in their relationships – much more so than women. They’re quite active when it comes to their careers and hobbies, but naturally inert when it comes to their wives. Paul says pretend that you’re Christ and your wife is the church. Resist the urge to do your own thing and sacrifice yourself for her. Care for her like an extension of your own body because that’s what she is. Husbands can’t get rid of their egos, but they can chose to yield their selfish desire. Gentlemen, if you don’t know your wife’s needs, ask her. She’ll tell you. Give her permission to remind you what they are and to tell you when you’re not meeting them.
This concept of a yielded ego is extended to all relationships. Kids are to yield to parents by honoring and obeying them. Parents, particularly fathers, are to yield to their kid’s feelings and not cause resentment. They are not to lord it over their kids in same way that they are not to abuse their authority with their wives. Slaves are to yield to masters from the heart and not just outwardly. Masters are to yield to their slaves as people created in the image of God. Having the position in life of master did not signify God’s favor upon the master and His disfavor upon the slave. A Spirit-filled Christian submits to all others. The Holy Spirit’s influence comes when you chose to put others first no matter what your selfish ego says. Ultimately, being Spirit-filled is submission to Jesus Christ. This leads us to the last sign:
A perspective in which Jesus Christ is placed at the center
Did you notice how often Paul used the “in the Lord” or “to the Lord,” “in Christ” or “to Christ”? Jesus is the motivating factor behind each of the commands in this section of Ephesians. Sing to one another and God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Wives submit to your husbands because you’re a member of the church which is submitted to Christ. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. Children obey your parents in the Lord. Fathers raise your children in the Lord. Slaves obey your masters as if you’re obeying the Lord. Masters don’t forget to be kind like your Master.
Being Spirit-filled means empty of self and filled with Jesus Christ. D. L. Moody said,
“I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.”
Your world must revolve around Jesus if you hope to be Spirit-filled. Those who have genuinely been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit are the only ones who will have this desire.
You will only love Christ enough to put Him at the center if you have been loved by Him first. You can only be filled by the Spirit if you have received the Holy Spirit by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Admit sins; confess faith in Christ; Receive Him; Thank Him