34: The Filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18)

Ephesians 5:18

Among the countless beauties of nature is the waterfall. We see them scattered here and there throughout the world and often see paintings and snapshots of them. They range in size and power from the smaller ones we might see in a creek that winds through a city park to the well known “Seven Falls” in Colorado, to the mighty Niagara Falls at the border of the U.S. and Canada. But the most interesting thing about waterfalls, which they all have in common is that they are capable of generating great power. They are another example, by the way, of the fact that God almost always has several purposes for whatever he does or what He creates. Engineers estimate that the water going over the Niagara Falls is capable of producing four million horsepower every second! So that that particular waterfall has the practical power of producing electricity and at the same time providing a well known source of countless dollars for the tourism industry.

But did you know that there is a very real parallel in that phenomenon of nature and the Christian life? It is true! Within the heart of every believer, every Christian, is the power of God Himself. But unfortunately another part of the parallel is that many Christians have never even discovered that fact, in spite of the fact that they know enough about God to have accepted Christ as Savior.

In addition to that there are many Christians who understand something about that power, but they only use it occasionally, if at all. Interestingly enough, engineers who have harnessed the power of Niagara Falls, estimate that they are only using about ten percent of the energy it could produce. And there are a lot of Christians just like that also.

Interesting and productive as waterfalls may be, that is not the real purpose of our study today.

Look at Ephesians 5:18 again:

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit

This is a verse that is very well known to those who preach against alcohol. And that is a very legitimate and important application of the verse. But actually that is not the primary application of the verse. Now don’t misunderstand, I am absolutely opposed to alcohol for any purpose. Alcoholism is one of the worst evils of our day. It is responsible for break-ups of marriages, failures of businesses, and innumerable fatalities in car collisions.

I believe that Christians should not drink alcohol for any reason. In the portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in which he is dealing with meat that had been offered to idols, he refers to “doubtful things” – things about which Christians differ – and in today’s society alcohol would certainly be among those things. But again I say, that is not the primary point of this passage. The actual point of this statement is that this another part of “walking circumspectly”

Now if you have missed the last several lessons in this series that statement might sound like a foreign language to you. So let me review for a moment what we have been seeing in this chapter. Ephesians chapter 5 is all about living the Christian life. And in an effort to help us understand that much misunderstood subject, the Holy Spirit inspired to use the illustration of “walking” in several different ways.

And that is very fitting, because the Christian life, contrary to popular assumption is not just a “one time” change in which a person suddenly becomes “holy.” But, rather, it is a matter of individual steps and decisions as we move through life, just like walking is a series of individual steps.

In verses 1 through 14 he talks about the childlike walk. Paul doesn’t call it that, but I am using that term in our outline on the basis of the phrase in verse 8, “walk as children of light.” And then in verses 15 through 21, the part of the chapter we are working on now, he is talking about the circumspect walk. And we take that phrase from verse 15, where it says “see, then, that you walk circumspectly.” When we get to verses 21 through 32 we are going to see a third illustration of the Christian life, the cooperative walk, based on the phrase in verse 21, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.

But right now we are working on the circumspect walk” described in verses 15 through 20.

In the first part of this section we saw “the perspective” of the circumspect walk, which contains some “implications” and some “illustrations” of walking circumspectly. Now in verse 18, we find the power for the circumspect walk. And in verses 19 through 21 we will see the product of the circumspect walk.

And by the way, here is another example of a truth that we find again and again in the Bible. And that is that God always pays for what He orders. In other words, in verses 15 through 17 we have been seeing all of these things that God wants us to do in the Christian life. But now in verse 18 we see that He has provided the ability to do those things. Look at it once again:

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit”

Do you see what this verse is saying? It is saying that you and I can actually be filled with the power of God Himself!” The first step toward an understanding of this power is from a negative standpoint. It is by refusing human resources: “Be not drunk with wine.” Think about this for a moment. What do we do when we face the various problems and pressures of life? Too often we immediately think of some step that we can take to solve our own problem, don’t we? And very often people turn to alcohol in a time like that. It relieves the pressure,” Or “it loosens them up.” Or it helps them forget;” all of those kinds of things. .

Obviously, that is not the resource that everybody turns to, but it is an example of all of those things that we do turn to. For some people it might be food, or sex, or a dozen other human resources. But what God is saying to us in this verse is “don’t turn to those human resources; you have the very power of God in you. Turn to Him.”

So in living the circumspect life effectively, we are to “refuse human resources” and to “rely on heavenly resources.” What does God mean when He says “Be filled with the Spirit?” Well, first of all we need to realize that what we have here is a purposeful command. This is a commandment. It is written in the Greek form in which all commandments are written. It is just as much a command as any of the other commandments with which we are familiar (although we may not think of them very regularly.) You see, the filling of the Spirit is not just a fringe benefit; it is not a luxury; it is not something that the especially holy or pious Christian can get into if he wants to. It is a commandment (and a privilege) for every believer.

Here is another place in the scripture where it is helpful to understand the intricacies of the Greek language to get the full impact of the statement being made. And I don’t like to go into those details unless I have to, because I don’t want to give people the idea that you can’t understand the Bible fully if you can’t read Greek. But if we were to take the time to “dissect” the Greek sentence we would find that it means that the filling of the Spirit is not just for the crisis times in the Christian life; not just for the emergencies, but rather it is something that should be the normal state of the Christian life.

But there is still another thing to notice about this command. Notice how verse 18 begins? “And be not drunk with wine. . . .” This is a grammatical construction that we have in English and in Greek, but it is not as pronounced in English. It is called an “elaborative construction” in both languages. An example might be if it were almost time for dinner, a mother might say to her teen-age son or daughter, “get off of Face Book and come and get ready for dinner.” Now the point is this: Verse 17, which we studied in some detail in our previous lesson contains the command, “do not be unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” And then verse 18 is really a continuation of that command – and be filled with the Spirit.

Now what does that mean? It means that you will not be able to fully understand what the will of the Lord is unless you are continually filled with the Spirit. It means that you will not be able to “bring knowledge together” about the way the Lord works as we talked about in our previous lesson unless you are continually filled with the Holy Spirit.

A drunk person is under the influence of alcohol;  a force from outside himself – so is a Spirit filled person. A drunk person has strength, power, and freedom not his own – so does the Spirit filled person. A drunk person becomes that way by a deliberate submission to a force outside himself. A drunk person maintains that condition by continuing to drink. So does a Spirit filled person. The filling of the Spirit is temporary unless it is reinforced along the way. In summary, a drunk person has abandoned self control to the control of alcohol. And the Christian who wants to be filled with the Spirit must do exactly the same thing.

But there is something else to notice about this command, and that is that it is written as a in the present tense. Now I assume that everybody knows what the “present tense” in English means. It refers to something that is taking place right now, at the present time. But the present tense in Greek refers to something that is going on right now and will (or should) go on until another command is given. Then another thing about this phrase is that it is an imperative, a command in the Greek. So what we have here is a command that is supposed to continually take place now and in the future. That means that the filling of the Spirit is not just for the “crisis” times in the Christian life; not just for emergencies, but rather it is something that should be the normal state of the Christian life.

When you have time, look at Galatians 5:19-21. Listed there for us are the kinds of things that we will do if we control our lives. But the verses following that, verses 22 and 23 show us what is produced when the Holy Spirit is in control “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness temperance, and self control.

So this is the picture of the filling of the Spirit that God gives us in this verse. Unfortunately, however, there are some other things that can fill our lives. For example, Luke 4:28 refers to some Jews who were “filled with wrath” when the gospel was given to Gentiles. Acts 13:52 refers to the disciples being “filled with joy” after a time of great ministry in the city of Iconium. In Acts 5:3 when a man named Ananias lied to the apostles about the amount of money he had given to help support the early group of believers, Peter said, “Satan has filled your heart” to lie to the Holy Spirit.” Do you see the pattern here? In each of these instances there was control. The thing that had “filled” the hearts of the individuals involved, had control of them.

So what does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit?” Simply to be controlled by Him. Letting the Holy Spirit take control of your life.  And let me remind you that we are not talking about something is for the elite, the especially holy; this is some thing that is available, and in fact commanded for every Christian.

Now in talking about the subject of the Holy Spirit you need to know that there are several terms that can be confused with each other and thus confusing to us. So to be sure we understand our subject today, let me remind you that this is not talking about the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a one time thing. The scripture doesn’t command us to be baptized by the Spirit. That has already been done. It takes place at the moment of our salvation. It is God’s action of placing us into His family, “the body of Christ.” But what we have been talking about in this lesson is the “filling” of the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is an act of the will in which we consciously ask God to fill us with His spirit.

Now it may seem like we have gotten away from the subject of the chapter, so let me go back and review the over-all picture. The subject of this whole chapter is what is usually called “the Christian life.” But we are using the term “walk” in this study, because it appears several times in the text. And that is fitting because contrary to popular opinion the Christian life is not a “one time” event in which a person suddenly becomes holy. Rather, it is something that progresses step by step, just as in walking. So in verses 1 through 14 Paul talks about “the childlike walk.”

Then the next step of progression toward spiritual maturity is the circumspect walk in verses 15 through 21, which we have just finished talking about. In that discussion we have seen “the “perspective of the circumspect walk,” containing some implications and some “illustrations.”

Now we have see “the power for the circumspect walk in verse 18, and now in verses 19 though 21 we will see “the product of the circumspect walk.”  Look at those verses:


Speaking to  one another in Psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the  name of our Lord Juesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another in the fear of God.

The person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is a person who will be able to sing the praises of God, no matter what the circumstances of life, according to verse 19.  He or she is a person who will have satisfaction in all kinds of situations, according to verse 20, and he or she will be able to submit to God and to others, no matter what is going on around him.

Now someone says, “That’s what I want in life, the ability to be satisfied and singing God’s praises and submitting to others, no matter what is going on around me.” But how in the world do I do it? . Well, there isn’t a single verse that specifically spells it out, but the key is right here in verse 18. And it is something that is so obvious it is easy to overlook. Have you noticed that this verse is in the passive voice? “BE filled with the Spirit,” it says. To be filled with the Spirit is a matter of submission to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus and God the Father are. and He speaks to us through His Word, the Bible So the key to being filled with the Spirit is obedience to the Word of God. Dr. Charles Ryrie says that the filling of the Spirit is “control by consent.” We agree to do it His way. Peter said in his second letter that we have all things that pertain to life and Godliness through the knowledge of Him.” So in the words of the old saying, “the issue is, “God said it, I believe it that settles it.” (Actually I believe my Father-in-law said it better. He said “God said it, so that settles it, whether I believe it or not.”) As I say to you so often, this is why it is so important to know the Word of God. This is why we should devote whatever time we can studying it. And that study of the Bible is not just so we can exhibit our knowledge, it is so that we can know what God wants us to do. The Bible is filled with true stories that teach us important lessons for life, such as the story in our previous study of Abraham being told to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, and then rescuing the boy from death.

That is what walking is, isn’t it? Taking one step of obedience to God’s word, then another step, then another, step after step after step. When we fail to obey, we confess that as sin and get right up and start submitting again. And as we keep walking in that fellowship with Him we are controlled; we are “filled” with the Holy Spirit. And those are our instructions and directions, directly from God.

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