Be Filled with the Spirit

A. E. Long, Nutley

The present dispensation of the Gospel is the era of the Holy Spirit, the "another Comforter" of whom the Lord spoke shortly before His death. The effectiveness of the preaching of the Gospel depends upon H is power to "convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judge­ment". In those who believe the Gospel, new birth is by the agency of the Spirit; such as are "born anew", are "born of the Spirit". For the Christ­ian, every spiritual blessing is by His mediation :

For every virtue we possess,

And every victory won, And every thought of holiness,

Are His alone.

We are indebted to Paul for three important imperatives concerning the Christian in relation to the Holy Spirit, two negative and one positive.

First, "grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption", Eph. 4. 30. This emphasizes His real personality, for only a person can be grieved by the misconduct of another. It also con­notes His love, since only one who loves another can be grieved by that person's misbehaviour. To "grieve" Him will not invalidate the fact of being "sealed with the Holy Spirit of pro­mise", although as "an earnest of our (promised) inheritance", such as grieve Him will forfeit the anticipated joy it should bring; cf. 1 Pet. 1. 3-8.

Second, "Quench not the Spirit", 1 Thess. 5. 19. "Quench" is always used in connection with fire; cf. Mark 9. 48 ; Eph. 6. 16; Heb. 11. 34. One of the symbols used of the Holy Spirit is that of fire; cf. Matt. 3. 11. At Pente­cost "there appeared unto them (the disciples) tongues parting asunder, like as of fire". The gifted Alexandrian Jew, Apollos, is described as being "fervent in spirit", which Paul also exhorted the Romans to be. In both verses, "fervent" means hot or fervid. Although, as most versions make clear, it may well be that the human spirit is meant and not the Holy Spirit, it could equally well mean the latter, and in any event the Spirit is involved with the human spirit; cf. Rom. 8.16. To quench the Spirit would surely result in quenching the inner fire and a lowering of the spiritual temperature. Converse­ly, Paul exhorted Timothy to "stir up (as into flame) the gift of God, which is in thee". Timothy's gift lay in the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 12. 7, and were He quenched, it would limit the usefulness of the gift.

Third, "Be filled with the Spirit", Eph. 5. 18. Most versions relate this to the Holy Spirit, rather than to the human spirit, although textually either could be meant. Clearly, both are in­volved, since the Holy Spirit operates in the sphere of the "inward man", or redeemed human spirit. The tense indi­cates a process and not a once-for-all experience.

In His Manhood, Jesus was "full of the Holy Spirit". So were the early Christians, at and following Pentecost, Acts 2. 4; 4. 31. Peter was "filled with the Holy Ghost", as were also Stephen and Paul. Were it not for the experience of the early Christians, related in Acts 2 and 4, it might be assumed that to "be filled with the Spirit" was peculiar to outstanding Christians. But Paul addressed his exhortation to anonymous, unremarkable Gentile converts at Ephesus. We should neither suppose that to "be filled with the Spirit" is only for exceptional Christians, nor that it is an exceptional experience. Paul inten­ded it as the norm, for all Christians.

But what does "be filled with the Spirit" imply ? Some think of it only as religious ecstasy, great exaltation of spirit. Paul wrote of his own exper­ience, when he "was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words" and of the danger of being "exalted overmuch" by such revela­tions. Spiritual transport is not to be excluded from being "filled with the Spirit". The Lord said to His disciples, in the context of the world's hatred, "Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy", and Peter wrote to scattered Christians enduring a "fiery trial" of persecution, "ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeak­able". Spurgeon's hymn, with the verse, "Our former transports we re­count, When with Thee in the holy mount", describes an experience which many have known in "the breaking of bread".

We ought not to suppose that only a state of ecstasy is implied in the use of the phrase. Paul drew a contrast— "Be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit", Eph. 5. 18. He contrasted heathen and Christian practices; not fulness of wine but fulness of the Spirit; not the drink­ing songs of heathen feasts, but psalms and hymns; not the music of the lyre, but the melody of the heart; not in praise of Bacchus, the god of wine, but of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul associ­ated "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" with being "filled with the Spirit". In those days there were no hymnbooks, such as we have in abun­dance, although Paul's "faithful say­ings" may well be parts of early Christ­ian hymns or creeds. With our rich inheritance of hymnody, we have an advantage over them. Some of the hymns we sing, such as Bernard of Clairvaux's "Jesus, the very thought of Thee" and "O Jesus, King most wonderful", date back to the 11th century. The revival of the Wesleys in 18th century England was accom­panied by an outburst of song, to which Charles Wesley, with his 7,000 hymns, made an important contribu­tion. That of the 19th century, in which Dwight L. Moody was the chief figure, was greatly helped forward by the singing of Ira D. Sankey. "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" can well be a means through which being "filled with the Spirit" is ex­pressed. Although it is "one to another" it is yet "to the Lord", and the melody is with the heart rather than only with the voice.

Nor is this all. Paul went on to write, "giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father", to which may be added his exhortation to the Thessalonians "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you ward", 1 Thess. 5. 18. Thank­fulness "for" and "in" everything is distinctly God's "will" for the Christ­ian, which the Holy Spirit would en­courage, and is a sign of being "filled". Unthankful ness is a sign of degeneracy, Rom. 1. 21 ; 2 Tim. 3. 2, and thankfulness a mark of spirituality. The Colossian Epistle, especially, stres­ses this Christian grace, 1. 12; 2. 7; 3. 15, 17; 4. 2.

The context of the phrase must be a guide, so being "filled with the Spirit" is also expressed in more "down to earth" ways than singing spiritual songs and giving thanks; namely in spheres which involve self-discipline and in ways which are not transcendental, but experiential, Eph. 5. 21 to 6. 9. Of such is "subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ", which is another way of saying "each counting other better than himself", Phil. 2. 3. Diotrephes was not seen thus to act, as he "loveth to have the preeminence among them". Peter, re­calling the Lord's lowly action in washing the disciples' feet, wrote "all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another", 1 Pet. 5. 5. Like the Lord, who came not to be served, but to serve, Matt. 20. 28, so should we. Paul went on to discuss relationships in the family, as between wives and husbands, as between children and fathers, and as between servants and masters. In each of these he had the pattern of the Lord's ex­ample in view—"Wives, be in subjec­tion unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord", "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church", "Children, obey your parents in the Lord", "fathers . . . bring (your child­ren) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" A.v., "Servants, be obed­ient unto . . . your masters ... as unto Christ", "masters . . . forbearing threatening : knowing that your Master also is in heaven", Eph. 6. 9 a.v.