Be Filled with the Spirit

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Ephesians 5:18


            Many years ago when our son was in Sunday School, one of his teachers gave him an evergreen tree. He planted it in our back yard and throughout the summer he was faithful in watering the tree regularly. It was a dry summer and we did not water the rest of the lawn so the grass around the tree was much more lush than any of the rest of our lawn and the tree grew well. Even the next spring the grass around that tree grew much thicker than anywhere else. The presence of the water made a remarkable difference and was a presence of life in our yard.

            In John 4:14, Jesus told the woman he met at the well, "The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." This tells us that there is something different about people who are filled with Jesus. If water makes a noticeable difference on plants, the presence of the Spirit must make a difference on those indwelt by the Spirit.

            Today is Pentecost and on this day we remember one of the most significant events in the life of the church. On this day we remember that the Holy Spirit came and from that day on has been the source of power and direction for the church. Does the presence of the Spirit among us make the kind of difference water does on plants? What kind of a difference do we expect?

            When the Spirit came on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, the difference was certainly noticeable. In fact it was so noticeable that people thought they were drunk. Neufeld suggests, "…we will miss the energy and enthusiasm that is to pervade the corporate experience of the church if we allow no spillover from the image of intoxication."

            What was the evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the early church? Days later Peter was present when Jesus healed a lame man through Peter's words. Acts 4:8 indicates that Peter, full of the Spirit, spoke with boldness in his defense before the Jewish leaders. Acts 4:31 indicates, "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." After the gospel had gone out to the Gentiles, there was a conflict in the church which needed to be resolved. In Acts 15 there is a description of the discussion they had in trying to resolve the conflict and in the end we read in Acts 15:28 that they were confident enough in their solution that they were able to say, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." Much later after Paul had completed his missionary journeys, he was returning to Jerusalem. On his journey he encountered various prophets who told him that he would be bound in Jerusalem, which prepared him for a difficult time in which he was arrested and prisoned. This is how it was in the early church. Do we see such power, boldness and direction today? Do we have evidence that the presence of the Spirit is making a difference around us so that we can say, "That is the work of God?" If not, why not? Are we missing something God wants for us or is more happening than we are aware of? Are we looking for evidence in the right places and in the right ways?

            In the early days of the Anabaptist movement and in the early days of the Mennonite Brethren experience, some of the people involved in the renewal movement were involved in ecstatic experiences which they attributed to the Holy Spirit. Things did not work out so well and we may suspect that some of the manifestations of the Spirit were not from the Spirit at all, but were manufactured by people. In reaction to that, I wonder, however, if we have become too suspicious? If the disciples on the day of Pentecost were thought to be drunk, surely the staid and lifeless way we sometimes live the Christian life is not what God intends. Are we open to the work of the Spirit within us and in our midst? Matthew Henry says, "…we ought not to be satisfied with a little of the Spirit, but to be aspiring after measures, so as to be filled with the Spirit." Our life as Christians must be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit because that is what Pentecost means.

            How is that to be lived out in our life? In order to gain understanding, let's examine Ephesians 5:18.

I.       The Command to be Filled

A.   The Context

            As we have been studying Ephesians we have discovered with joy all that God has done for us. He has redeemed us, given us a new life, made us His children and given us an inheritance and all of these things have been given to us in Jesus. In Ephesians 4:1 we saw that because of the richness of what God has done, we are called to live in a worthy manner. In Ephesians 5:1 we are called to be imitators of God. In Ephesians 5:15, we are called to be careful how we live, being wise, making the most of our days because the days are evil and understanding what God's will is. A part of the call to live worthy, or to live as imitators of God, is the call in Ephesians 5:18.

B.   The Command

            This verse says, "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit…" This morning, I want to look just at the phrase, "Be filled with the Spirit." In order to understand this phrase well, we need to examine the verb "be filled." In grammatical terms it is a present, passive, imperative second person plural verb. And each of these make a difference.

1.     Present

            Verbs have three tenses – past, present, future. The past tense of a verb speaks about what was done in the past. The future tense of a verb speaks about what will be done in the future. The present tense of a verb speaks about what is happening in the present.

            So when we understand that this verb is in the present it tells us that this is not something that happened in the past. It is not, "you were filled." It is also not something that will happen in the future, "you will be filled." Rather, it is something that must be continuously true in the present. Today and every day, we need to be filled with the Spirit. We can't rest on the fact that we were filled yesterday and we can't hope that someday we will be filled. The present tense tells us that we need to be filled today.

2.     Passive

            Verbs also have primarily two voices, that is an active voice and a passive voice. The active voice indicates what we must do. The passive voice indicates something that is done to us. So when we are talking about being filled with the Spirit, if it was in the active voice, it would be our responsibility. We would need to fill ourselves with the Spirit, but the voice of this verb is not active, but passive.

            The meaning of the Day of Pentecost is that since that day every believer and every church has the Spirit of God living in them. There is no Christian who does not have the Spirit of God in them. There is no church where the Spirit of God is not present.

            In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit did not live in every follower of God. The Holy Spirit came upon certain people to accomplish God's work in the world. In Joel 2:28, however, God promised, I will "pour out my Spirit on all flesh." When Jesus came to earth and was about to begin his ministry, John the Baptist said that he was baptizing with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. As Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, he promised the disciples in Acts 1:8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." In Acts 2 what all these promises were pointing to was fulfilled. Since that time, we know that every person who comes to Christ has the Spirit. In fact, becoming a Christian means having God come into our life and making new. Romans 8:9 assures us of this truth when it says, "But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him."

            The filling of the Spirit, however, is not the same as the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit was present with all Christians after Pentecost and yet, there were times when the Spirit filled the believers in a particularly powerful way. For example, Acts 4:31 says, "When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." Being filled with the Spirit, is something that is done to us. The Spirit who already lives within us, fills us.

3.     Imperative

            When we realize that being filled is something that is done to us because it is in the passive voice, we may think that there is nothing we can do about it. It isn't about what we do, but about what is done to us, so there is nothing about being filled that is our responsibility.

            But to think that way is to miss the fact that the verb "to be filled" is also imperative. Imperative means that we have something to do. It is a command, it is an assignment. We, as people who are indwelt by the Spirit, are also told that it is up to us to be filled with the Spirit. Penner says, "The Spirit-filled life is a command, not an option. It is the normal, rather than an unusual experience of Christian existence."

            That tells us that even though God's Spirit is present with us, we are not always filled with God's Spirit. It tells us that even though God is the one who fills us with His Spirit, there is something that we must do about being filled.

4.     Second Person Plural

            We should also take note that any verb also has a person involved. First person plural is we, second person is you and third person is they. This verb is second person, which means that it is directed not at the other guy, but at each of us. Paul commands each person to be filled with the Spirit. We have something to do about it.

            The fact that it is plural tells us that this is not directed primarily at an individual, but at a multitude of individuals. It is directed at the church. The other day Anemone asked, "How can Jesus live in all of us if we're not all stuck together." Well the reality is that we are all stuck together. We are the church and that is why this command is plural. Although the command to be filled is be applicable to each individual, it is not to be taken individualistically. We as a church are called to be filled with the Spirit as each person does what they can to allow themselves to be filled with the Spirit.

            Neufeld puts it this way, "To be sure, it is the community together that is filled with the Spirit. Being filled with and by the Spirit is not an individualistic experience. Instead, it enables the body of the new human to breathe the very breath of God."

II.    Obeying the Command

            Each part of the verb is important. The implications are that God is present with us by His Spirit. I am so glad that being a Christian and being the church is not something we do without God. God is present in the church and God is present and at work in each of us as individual believers. The life we have is in Christ by the Spirit. The reason we have any hope of change in our hearts is because of the Spirit of God within us. The power to accomplish God's work in the world is available to us in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

            However, the call to be filled is also a command to which we must respond.

            Many of you have been gardening. If you threw a bunch of seeds on the concrete floor in your garage, would anything grow? We can't make seeds grow, but we can create conditions in which seeds will grow. So we put them in soil, not on concrete. We remove weeds so that the plant that grows will not have to compete with the weeds. We water the plants so that they have the nutrients needed to grow.

            In a similar way, we cannot fill ourselves with the Spirit, but we can create those conditions in our life which will give God the space to fill us. So the question is, "What can we do in order to obey the command to be filled with the Spirit?"

A.   Do Not Grieve

            We make space for the Spirit if we obey Ephesians 4:30 which says, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption."

            The context of this verse is a list of sins that are not fitting for a follower of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is grieved, or made sad as Good News Bible translates it, when we have sin in our life and when we allow sin to continue in our life. We all sin, but there is a difference between sinning and grieving our sin; or sinning and dealing with it.

            There must be an intense drive in our lives to get rid of sin. The first step of getting rid of sin in our lives is to confess it. Whenever we have done what we know is against God's will we must acknowledge that wrongdoing. If we fail to do so, we give sin a foothold in our lives and once it has gained a foothold, it will grow.

            The second step of getting rid of sin in our lives is to put it do death by the power of the Spirit. Romans 8:13 says, "for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." If we allow sin to rule in our lives, we are filled with that sin and we cannot be filled with the Spirit. Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit.

B.   Do Not Quench

            We had a nice little fire going and were enjoying roasting marshmallows when one of my friends came along and dumped a whole pail of water on the fire and effectively quenched the fire. That was the end of our enjoyment for a little while.

            The word "quench" means to put out a fire. The fire of the Spirit is within us, but if we quench that fire, we will not be filled with the Spirit. Therefore, I Thessalonians 5:19 tells us, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire."

            The context of this saying is prayer and prophecy. I Thessalonians 5:17 calls us to "Pray without ceasing." I Thessalonians 5:20 tells us "Do not despise the words of the prophets." In other words, if God is active and if God wants to do things within us and among us and we are not open to what God wants to do, we will put out the Spirit's fire. If our attitude is one in which we think that we need to do everything and we do not expect God to work, we put out the Spirit's fire. If God speaks to us and we do not listen to the voice of God, we put out the Spirit's fire. Of course, as I Thessalonians 5:21 says, we are to test everything so that we know that we are listening to the voice of the Spirit and not some other voice. But we need to make sure that we are open to the voice of God, so that we will not quench the Spirit.

C.   Walk by the Spirit

            Furthermore, we will also make conditions for God's filling us by His Spirit if we obey Galatians 5:16 which says, "Live by the Spirit…" What does it mean to live by the Spirit?

1.     A Life of Obedience

            A life lived in the Spirit is a life of obedience. 1 John 3:24 says, "All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us."

            This verse puts it so clearly. We will know that we are abiding in Jesus by the Spirit of God who is living within us. We will abide in Jesus if we obey Him. So a life that is always asking, "What is obedience to Jesus?" and a life which is doing what Jesus says, is a life that is fit for being filled with the Spirit.

2.     A Life of Surrender

            A second aspect of walking in the Spirit is to have a life of surrender. When we are not Christians it is all of self and none of God. As we move towards God, we may come to the place of some of self and some of God. Even as Christians it is possible for us to live in this way. As we grow in faith, we come to the place where it is less of self and more of God and when we are living a life of surrender it is none of self and all of God. When we get to that place, we have obeyed the command to do what we can to create conditions in which the Spirit will fill us. The question which we must always ask is, as C.C. Ryrie puts it, "Who will run my life?"

            We cannot get to a place of regular surrender by guilt or discipline. I am reading an old book called "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. He says that the best way to live a life of surrender is to do everything for the love of God. When we realize that we are loved, we will be able to surrender because we will know that we are held in love and we will act in loving response.

3.     A Life of Dependence

            The walk by the Spirit is also a walk in dependence. We come to God by faith and we must also live by faith. If we do not trust as much of God as He has revealed to us, how can He reveal more? If God is to fill us, we must be people who trust what He is going to do in us and through us. Each new crisis in life gives us an opportunity to express our trust in God. As we walk in such trust, we grow in dependence and when we are dependent on God, we are walking with the Spirit. Walvoord says, walking by the Spirit  is "a moment-by-moment dependence upon the Spirit of God…" When we walk in that way, we are in a position to experience the filling of the Spirit.


            Walvoord writes, that if Christians meet the conditions of yieldedness  "The fullness of the Spirit will inevitably result." Each person who is a Christian has the Spirit living in them. But many times we are not filled with the Spirit. Yet we are commanded to be filled. Are the conditions for the Spirit's filling present in your life?

            When we were in Israel, we saw fields of green surrounded by desert. These fields were irrigated and the lush growth was evidence. What evidences of life will pour out of our lives into the surrounding moral and spiritual desert when we are filled with Spirit? As God filled the people of the early church with His Spirit, they were able to say, with confidence, "Jesus is Lord." This is a work of the Spirit of God. They experienced God's guidance. They were filled with joy. They were made holy. They remained faithful to God in spite of martyrdom. They spoke the word of God boldly. They used the gifts God gave them. They heard from God and understood His voice.

            On Wednesday morning when I was putting up the signs for Drive Though Prayer, a man came by on his bicycle and thanked us for praying. It had been a blessing to him last year. When we are filled with the Spirit, we will be a blessing to many.

            May we do those things that will allow God to fill us with His Spirit so that we can bless those around us and bring glory to Him.

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