Be Filled with the Spirit
R. V. Court, Bristol, England
In considering this injunction in Ephesians 5. 18, we must at once clarify the terms that we are using.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
is not what we are dealing with, although many folk, in using this expression, are really referring to the filling of the Spirit. The baptism of (Greek en) one Spirit, spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12. 13, is an act of incorporation, realized on the day of Pentecost, when all believers were, by the power of the Holy Spirit, constituted the one body with the Lord Jesus Christ as its Head. It is well to note that Paul used the word "all" as he speaks of this baptism, and this is significant when it is recalled that he was writing to the church at Corinth where there was much which called for rebuke. It is clear that the baptism was not the result of spiritual progress, or desire, on their part, but was the Spirit's sovereign work. The expression is not used of individuals, but of all the members of Christ's body. In Corinth, in spite of the poor spiritual condition of many, they had "all (been) baptized into one body".
The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, though the privilege of every child of God as foretold by the Lord Jesus, John 14. 16-17, is something less than being filled with the Spirit. Once the Spirit of God comes to dwell He comes to stay: but this does not mean that He exercises complete control in the believer's life—only that He is there as the heavenly pledge of our redemption, Eph. 1. 13-14.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit confronts us with something in relation to which we have a responsibility. "Be filled" places a responsibility fairly and squarely on our shoulders. The expression used by the apostle indicates a continuing daily exercise for life and service, "keep on being filled with the Spirit". It is interesting to compare the apostle's words in Ephesians 5. 18, "be not drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit", with the comments made by some on the day of Pentecost, when the early believers were first filled with the Holy Spirit. They said, "These men are full of new wine", Acts 2. 13. Peter in his response, v. 15, said, "these are not drunken, as ye suppose". We could emphasize "as ye suppose", as though Peter were saying, "the wonderful change you see in these folk is of such a nature that you can only attribute it to their being under the influence of wine". "Yes", said Peter, "you see a new joy, a new courage; they are changed; but the intoxication' you see is not due to wine but to the influence of the Spirit of God".
A Normal Experience. It is
evident that the apostle, by his exhortation, expected the Ephesian believers to regard "being filled' as their normal experience. Probably the Lord Jesus Himself anticipated this when He said, "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water", John 7. 38.-Overflowing implies a prior filling, and the Lord Jesus said that it was an experience for him "that believeth On me". How many of us have to confess that this is not our normal experience, although it is something we long for?
The Scriptures indicate that this experience of being filled with the Spirit may be, and usually is, something which is repeated. In Acts 2. 4 we read of the initial filling in regard to those present on the day of Pentecost "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost". In Acts 4. 8 we read of Peter's subsequent experience, and he was certainly present when the first filling was known. On this occasion, when challenged with John concerning the authority for their preaching, he responds with such conviction that we are not surprised by the comment, "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them". Was Peter filled a second time for the occasion, or was he living, as intended, in a continuous and ongoing experience resulting from the first filling ? Further down the chapter is another incident illustrating the same thing. Peter and John had been released by the Sanhedrin, and had been charged not to preach in the name of Jesus, v. 18. They returned to their own company and there recounted the happenings of the day, including the threatenings of the rulers. But as they spoke, they were not gripped by a spirit of fear, but by a spirit of joy which enabled them to look beyond the rulers to see God in control of the situation. Those to whom they reported caught the thrill of the moment, and they praised God together. Then, according to verse 31, "when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness". Men who at Pentecost first knew the wonderful experience were marked by it again.
A Question. Let us now ask how this filling with the Spirit takes place in Christian experience. If I am not filled with the Spirit then I am wholly, or partly, filled with something else. For the Spirit to fill me the existing contents must go; there must be an emptying first. Some have argued that the emptying is accomplished by the Spirit Himself in the course of the filling, as, for example, when an "empty" glass is filled with water, the inflowing water expels the air until the glass is completely filled with water and all the air is quite gone. But does this give us a true picture? Is the filling of the Spirit of God His reaction to our being passive and still? If we may think of the glass again, suppose there is in the glass a stone or two. It is evident that the water is not going to displace them. Of necessity, some positive action has to be taken to remove them, which can be likened to our responsibility in dealing with those things which preclude our being filled with the Spirit.
It is, therefore, significant that the context in which the exhortation to "be filled" is found contains positive instructions for us to do something, indeed, to do a number of things. In Ephesians 4. 25 it is, "putting away lying"; v. 26; "let not the sun go down upon your wrath"; v. 28; "let him that stole steal no more"; v. 29; "let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth"; v. 31 ; "let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you with all malice" ; 5. 3 ; "fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness" must not even be named; v. 4; "filthiness . . . foolish talking . . . jesting" are not convenient. In 5. 11, to sum all up, Paul says, "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness". It is following these exhortations to "put away" that we find the apostle saying, "be filled with the Spirit". Clearly, the putting away process is only made possible by the Spirit's aid; but the putting away is with a view to being filled.
The Knowledge of Christ. It is
interesting to note that in Colossians 3, there is a similar urging to put off those things which are of the flesh, and to put on those virtues which speak of Christ. Paul then says in verse 16, "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly". It is helpful to observe that the results of this indwelling of the .Word are similar to those of the filling of the Spirit. In each case there is a richness of spiritual life and joy which manifests itself at home, in the workplace, and in all our dealings with one another. We cannot avoid the conclusion that a growing knowledge of the Word, and a more ready submission to its authority, will lead to our putting away what is wrong, and to a less intermittent state of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Note that the apostle does not speak of some ecstatic experience, rather he directs us to this continuous relinquishing of evil, and, through obedience to the Word of God, to the steady positive growth into the likeness of Christ as the Spirit extends His dominion over our lives.
Will this experience continue? Rest assured, that if it is interrupted at any time, the fault will not be God's but ours. When the Word of Christ is dwelling in us richly and the Holy Spirit has undisputed control, then the works of the flesh will be superseded by a Christlike character. This is so important: Christ will be seen in us. The Spirit-filled believer will not be parading self, and glorying in his own spiritual experiences and gifts, but will be occupied with Christ, and it will be seen that Christ lives in him. Beloved, there is no easy way to this spiritual goal. As Peter exhorts us, it is by gradual, continual growth and development, "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ", 2 Pet. 3. 18.