Be Filled With the Spirit

            In just a little bit, we’re going to be in Ephesians chapter 5, if you’d like to be turning there in your Bibles.

            But first, I heard a story recently about a henpecked husband who was advised by his counselor to assert himself.  He said, “You don’t have to let your wife bully you.  You go home and you show her that you’re the boss.”

            And so, this husband decided to take his counselor’s advice.  When he got home, he slammed the door, shook his fist and said, “From now on, you’re taking orders from me. I want my supper right now, and when you get it on the table, go upstairs and lay out my clothes.  Tonight I am going out with the boys.  You’re going to stay at home where you belong.  Another thing, do you know who is going to put my tie on?”

            His wife said very calmly, “I certainly do.  The undertaker will take care of that.”  We all want to be in control, don’t we?  But one of the things that we need to learn as Christians is that we are not in control, that a major part of the Christian life is giving up control.

            Our text this morning is Ephesians 5:18 (NIV), where Paul wrote, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

            If I were to ask you right now to raise your hand if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, I suspect there might be a few of you who would be hesitant to raise your hands.  And I think the reason for that is that you’re not really sure what it means to be filled with the Spirit.  And if, for some reason, you’re not filled with the Spirit, you’re not sure what you need to do to get filled with the Spirit. 

            When it comes to matters of the Holy Spirit, we’re a little bit uncomfortable.  Now, God the Father — we know about him.  And God the Son, Jesus Christ — we know him even better.  But the Holy Spirit?  Not so much.

            We know the Holy Spirit is real.  We know that he is at work in the world today.  We know that he lives inside every child of God.  Paul said in I Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you…?”

            Furthermore, we know that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the power that we need to live the Christian life.  Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:14, “that [God] would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.”  But most of us don’t really know how the Spirit does that.

            In Acts chapter 19, we read about Paul’s first visit to Ephesus where he met some disciples of John the Baptist.   I find it interesting that he didn’t ask those people the same question that we tend to ask people.  If someone comes to us and we don’t really know them, one of the first questions we will ask them is this, “Were you baptized for the remission of your sins?”

            But that’s not the question Paul asked.  Paul wanted to know, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2).  I wonder what would happen if that’s the question we started asking people.  Whenever somebody wants to place membership, the first thing we want to know is, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

            And I would imagine that some people would answer the same way that the disciples in Ephesus did.  They told Paul, “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2).  Paul, we don’t even know what you’re talking about.  And I’m afraid that some Christians would say the same thing today.

            Now the purpose of my lesson this morning is not to cover everything the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit.  Rather, I want to focus on one very important question:  How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? 

            And I think this is one of the most important principles of living the Christian life.  If you can learn the answer to this question, you will find a source of power that can help you to live the Christian life every single day.  

            Let’s take a look again at our text — Ephesians 5:18.  And I want to give it to you in several different translations:

  • The English Standard Version says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
  • The New Century Version says,“Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit.
  • The New Living Translation gives a slightly different wording:“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life.  Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.”  

            Let me to point out a few things from the text.

1.         First of all, I want you to notice the contrast between wine and the Spirit

            This is important if we are going to understand what Paul is trying to say here.  Paul is drawing a parallel here between being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit.  To use our modern day language, Paul is saying, “Be filled with the Spirit, not with the spirits.”

            So what is it about wine and the Holy Spirit that makes them similar?  The answer has to do withthe matter of influence or control.  In fact, what do we call it when someone gets drunk and then drives their car?  “Driving under the influence”.  Which is really just a shortened way of saying “driving under the control” of the alcohol. 

            Someone who is under the influence of wine experiences altered behavior. He may say or do things he would not ordinarily do. Emotions may be heightened, causing the person to experience anger, or elation, or depression.  And if a person drinks enough wine, his mental processes will be affected and his decision‑making ability will be radically altered — almost always with a negative result.

            In a similar way, the filling of the Holy Spirit produces a change in our behavior. In the book of Acts, you have these disciples of Christ who were once very timid.  When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, they all ran away.  When Jesus was crucified, they all went into hiding.   But in the book of Acts, you see these bold men who were willing to stand up to the authorities and preach the gospel.  What was it that produced that change?  And a big part of the answer is that in Acts chapter 2 they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  That changed the way they behaved.

            And being filled with the Holy Spirit will change our attitude and behavior.  I think that’s what Paul was talking about in Galatians 5:22-23 where he lists the fruit of the Spirit.  He says, “This is the way the Spirit affects a person’s attitude and behavior.”

            If you know someone who drinks a lot, I’m sure you could finish this sentence – “I can always tell when he or she has been drinking a lot because this is what he or she is like.”  He’s more belligerent.  She’s more talkative.  He makes really poor decisions.

            And if you know someone who is filled with the Spirit, you can also finish this sentence – “I tell that he or she is filled with the Spirit, because she’s so loving, because he’s got so much joy, because she’s at peace, because he’s so patient and kind.” 

            The Holy Spirit will alter your behavior just as surely as alcohol will change it.  But the Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23).

            Paul says, “Don’t let alcohol control the way you behave.  Let God’s Spirit control the way you behave.”

2.         When Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit”, he’s giving a command.

            In the Greek language, the verb here is in the imperative mode.  What that means is that Paul is not suggesting this as an option; he’s giving it as a command.  And it’s a two-part command.  The first part is “don’t get drunk” and we would say, “We would agree with that.  If you’re going to be a faithful Christian, you’ve got to pay attention to that command.  You can’t get drunk.”  But then Paul follows that with a second command, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

            What that means is thatbeing filled with the Spirit is no an optional part of the Christian life. Every Christian is to be filled with the Spirit.  And if you’re not filled with the Spirit, then you’re not being obedient to God.

3.         When Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit”, he uses a tense indicating continual action

            Let me exp-lain what I mean by that.  Suppose you tell your children to go out and pick up the pine needles in the yard before it starts raining. And maybe they go outside and they pick up a few pine needles and then come they back in.  When you look out in the yard, you see that most of the needles haven’t even been touched.  So you say, “Why didn’t you pick the needles up?”  They say, “We did.”  You say, “Why didn’t you pick up all the pine needles?” They say, “You didn’t tell us to.”

            So you tell them, “You go back outside and you pick those needles up, and you pick them up and keep on picking them up until all the pine needles are picked up.” That’s what this Greek tense means here in this verse. You keep on doing something. It’s not just a one-time event. 

            The International Standard Version actually translates this accurately when it says, “Stop getting drunk with wine, which leads to wild living, but keep on being filled with the Spirit.”  It’s not sometimes you do every now and then.  It’s not something you do just on Sunday mornings.  The filling of the Spirit is supposed to be the normal way of life for a Christian.  

4.         When Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit”, he uses the passive voice.

            In the Greek language, just as in English, commands can be either active or passive.  Now, we’re much more familiar with active commands: “Go to the store and pick up some milk.”  That’s an active command.  If I say, “Fill that hole with dirt”, that’s also in the active voice. 

            But Ephesians 5:18 is in the passive voice. Paul doesn’t say, “Fill yourself with the Spirit.”  Rather he says, “Be filled with the Spirit.”  And that’s an important distinction.  Because tobe filled with the Spirit means that the filling of the Spirit is not something that we do, but rather it is something that God does.

            Paul doesn’t say, “fill yourself” but rather “be filled.”  Now there are a couple of important implications that I draw from this: 

            First of all, the Holy Spirit is ready and willing to fill us at any moment.  Secondly, we need to make ourselves available to him.  

            Let me give you a word that’s not really a word.  The word is “fillability.”  It’s what used to happen many years ago when you went to a full-service gas station and you said, “Fill ‘er up.” The person who was pumping the gas knew that when you said, “Fill ‘er up” that meant that you were making your car available to be filled with gas. That’s fillability.  There is a need plus a desire.When your need to be filled with the Holy Spirit becomes your great desire, then God will fill ‘er up.

5.         When Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit”, it is a plural command

            Our English language can sometimes be a bit confusing because the word “you” can either mean “just you” (singular) or it can mean “all of you” (plural).  But, in Greek, as in most foreign languages, there is a difference between the singular “you” and the plural “you”.  And here, Paul uses the plural.

            Now, one of the great benefits of living in the South is that we are able to distinguish between the singular and plural “you” in a way that those Yankees can’t.  We use the word y’all for the plural.  And so if I need for one of you to help out at the church building, I would say, “Can you help me?”  And if I need a whole bunch of you to help out at the church building, I would say, “Can y’all help me out?”

            Well, the command that Paul gives here in this verse is in the plural.  It’s as if Paul is saying, “Y’all be filled with the Spirit.”  “Let each and every one of you be filled with the Spirit.” On one hand, this means the command is for every Christian.  God intends—and desires—that all of his children be filled with the Holy Spirit.

            But there’s also a sense in which this is a corporate command. The church as a whole is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The filling of the Spirit is not something for my own personal edification. God’s Spirit transforms the church from a social club or a religious gathering into a living body of Christ.  We see that in the verses that follow:

Verse 19 — Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs

Verse 21 — Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ

            God wants me to be filled with the Spirit — but he doesn’t want me to be filled alone.  When the Holy Spirit fills us all, our corporate life is transformed.  And I think this is one of the factors that accounts for the difference between a church that is “alive” and a church that is “dead.”  Both churches may have the same Bible, the same rituals, they may sing the same songs, they may even have the same programs and the same schedule of services.

            Outwardly they may look very much alike.  But one is alive and the other is dead.  What makes the difference is the filling of the Holy Spirit!  We need the filling of the Spirit not just for our own personal spiritual life but for the life of the church.

            Let me explain why this matter of being filled with the Spirit is so important.  I know of a lot of Christians who struggle with sin, and they want to know, “How do I get rid of this anger?  How do I get rid of this lust?  How do I get rid of my filthy language?”

            Years ago, D.L. Moody was speaking to a large audience.  He held up a glass and he asked the question, “How can I get the air out of this glass?” One man shouted, “Suck it out with a pump!” Moody replied, “That would create a vacuum and shatter the glass.”

            After numerous other suggestions, Moody smiled, he picked up a pitcher of water, and he filled the glass with the water. He said, “There, all the air is now removed.”  He went on to explain that victory in the Christian life is not accomplished by “sucking out a sin here and there,” but by being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Because once we are filled with the Spirit, there isn’t room for anything else.

            Let me close by pointing out three things that we need to think about related to the filling of the Holy Spirit.

1.         The Issue of Control

            As I pointed out in the beginning of this lesson, we all want to be in control in every situation.  But a major part of the Christian life is giving up control. 

            Here’s my definition of the filling of the Spirit.  It’s what happens when you allow the Holy Spirit to control your life.  Go back to the contrast between wine and the Spirit.  Drunken people and Spirit-filled people have one thing in common.  They are controlled by something other than themselves. Their lives and their behavior are radically changed by that which fills them.

            When you are filled with something, you are controlled by it.  When Jesus told his disciples that he would soon be leaving them, he said:  “Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.” (John 16:6, NIV).  Their grief was so overwhelming that it dominated their thoughts. In other words, it controlled them. 

            In Acts chapter 5, “Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?” (Acts 5:3, NIV).  Satan filled his heart.  Ananias let him take control. 

  • If a man is filled with anger, then anger will control his life.
  • If a man is filled with greed, then greed will dominate his life.
  • If a man is filled with love, then love will influence everything he does.

            And when the Holy Spirit fills you, he will influence everything you do.  Some has put it this way – “Being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean I have more of the Spirit, it means the Spirit has more of me.”  

            And it doesn’t happen all at once any more than you get drunk all at once.  Being filled with the Spirit happens as you continually choose to live under his influence.

2.         The Issue of Cooperation

            Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit the moment they are baptized.  Peter said in Acts 2:38 to “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

            So, the question for us is not, does the Holy Spirit live within me?  He does.  The question now becomes one of cooperation.  Am I going to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and let him lead me or I am going to keep on trying to do things my own way? 

            And this is where so many of us struggle. We fight the Lord because we want to do things our way.  And God says, “You can do it your way if you want to, but you need to know it’s it’s not going to work.”   If we won’t cooperate with God, he will let us do things in our own strength and by our own will.  But then when we fail and we cry out to the Lord, he wants to know, “Are you ready to cooperate with me yet?”

3.         The Issue of Contact

            In one of his books F. B. Meyer explains the Spirit’s filling this way.  He says that most people think of the Spirit as a substance to fill us, like gas filling up a tank.  So we run out of the Spirit and God fills us back again.  But he says that’s really not the best image to use.

            Think about the elevated trains that you find in many large cities. Maybe more familiar to you is the monorail that you may have ridden at Disney World.  All of those trains actually run on three rails — two for the wheels and one for the electricity.  The electricity is always there, but the train doesn’t move unless there is contact with that third rail. Touch the rail and the train moves; pull away from that rail and it stops. 

            Meyer says that third rail is like the Holy Spirit.  His power is always available.  But sometimes we don’t maintain contact.  We don’t pray.  We don’t study God’s Word.  We separate ourselves from God, and the power’s gone.  It’s important to maintain that contact.


            So, here’s my definition of the filling of the Spirit:  It is when we allow the Holy Spirit to do what he wants to do in our lives.  The filling of the Spirit is not an emotional experience, and it’s certainly not reserved for a few super-Christians.  It’s nothing more than the normal Christian life when the Holy Spirit is in control.

            And that’s why the command is in the present continual tense:  We are continually to be controlled by the Spirit, cooperating with the Spirit, and in contact with the Spirit.

            Let me close with this thought — God is ready, willing, and able to fill you right now.  He is more willing to fill you than you are willing to be filled.  So, if for some reason you aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit, it is not because of God’s reluctance.  We don’t have to beg God to get him to do what he has already promised he would do. Rather, God is the one begging us to give up the control of our lives so he can do what he wants to do! 

            The problem is, Godcan’t fill what is already full.  If I’m in a restaurant and I’ve got a glass full of lemonade and I stop the waitress and ask her to fill my glass with sweet tea, she’s going to be very confused.  Because she can’t fill me glass with anything until I first empty it.

            You also can’t fill something that’s not open.  Suppose I come to you with an empty jar, but the lid is screwed on tight. You can’t fill that jar either.

            The point is, some Christians are so full, they have no room for the Holy Spirit.  They are full of their stuff, full of their family, full of their job, full of themselves.  And there are other Christians who have simply closed their heart to the work of the Holy Spirit.

            I heard one woman describe her husband by saying, “He is so full of himself that he is closed to anything that God might want to do in his life.”  She didn’t say that with anger but with tears.  And I wonder if perhaps that describes some of us, that we are so full of ourselves that we are closed to anything that God might want to do in our lives.

            Remember that the filling of the Spirit is passive.  We can’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit.  Only God can fill us.  But we need two things — emptiness and openness. You can’t fill a jar that’s already full, and you can’t fill a jar that is not open. 

            There must be a sense of need — “Lord, I’m empty and I need to be filled with your Spirit.”   And there must also be a willingness — “Lord, I want you to take control.  I want you to lead me where you want me to go.  I want you to use me to do what you want me to do.”

            The filling of the Spirit really is as simple as that. As long as we are conscious of our need and as long as we are willing to yield to the Lord, we will be filled with the Spirit because that power is constantly available to us.

            I hear a lot of people say that we need to see a revival in America. And I think we do.  But may I remind you of the Chinese prayer that goes like this: “O Lord, change the world.  Begin, I pray, with me.”  Because it’s not just the people “out there” that need to be revived by God’s Spirit. It’s you and me.

            Our nation will be better when our churches are better.  Our churches will be better when we are better people.  And we will be better people when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, when we allow God to take control of our lives.



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