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BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT – Ephesians 5:18-21

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on July 12, 2017 under AM Bible Study |

AM Bible Study Group; July 12, 2017 from Ephesians 5:6-14

Theme: The conduct of the believer in this world is to be characterized by wisdom.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

The apostle Paul had been giving his fellow believers instructions on how to conduct themselves in a ‘walk’ that is characterized by wisdom; one in which the believer seeks to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). This instruction was part of the larger theme of his appeal to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (4:1). And now, he comes to a very practical appeal in the context of the ‘worthy walk’; and that is, as he puts it in verse 18, to “be filled with the Spirit”.

It’s hard to think of a subject among Christians that is more controversial—and perhaps more misunderstood and misapplied—than this one. It’s sad to see Christians divided from one another in their strong opinions about the Holy Spirit—part of whose ministry it is to unite us together (see Ephesians 4:4). But in spite of the fact that it sometimes results in controversy, it is an essential doctrine; and we need to take the time to understand it in order to live the Christian life as we should.

So; let’s begin by considering …


It helps to consider first what Paul says not to do; because it’s by understanding what not to do, we get a better understanding of what to do instead. And what Paul commands us not to do is this: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation …” (v. 18a).

When someone is drunk with alcohol, we often say that they’re ‘under the influence’. And that’s because they are no longer clear-headed or operating under their own control, but are influenced so some degree—depending on the amount they took in—of the alcoholic beverage. In Paul’s day—and particularly in the culture to which Paul was writing—it was typical for people to give themselves completely over to drunkenness in a ritualistic manner. The Bacchus Festivals that were a part of the worship of the false god Dionysus often involved extreme and prolonged drunkenness; which also resulted typically in the kinds of debase behavior that we read of as forbidden of the believer in Ephesians 5:3-7. Paul warns not to be drunk with wine; because it is that “in which is dissipation” (see Titus 1:6; 1 Peter 4:4). The word that is translated “dissipation” basically means “that which cannot be saved”; and it describes a kind of wastefulness and destructiveness that is utterly inappropriate to the walk of the believer. (See Proverbs 23:29-35 for a powerful description of this kind of waste and destruction!)

By contrast—and particularly, through a contrast that helps us to understand the positive command Paul gives—we are told “but be filled with the Spirit”. Just as someone who is given over to wine is controlled by a substance (and to their hurt), we are commanded to be “filled” with the Holy Spirit. (Could it be that this is God’s prescribed cure for ‘substance’ or any other kind of addiction?—to ceased being controlled by something by being controlled instead by the Holy Spirit?) The Greek word plāroō basically means “to make full”, or “to bring a thing to completion” in a literal sense. But often, it’s used in the figurative sense of a prevailing influence that overwhelms a person completely. A good example is found in Luke 5:26, in which we’re told of people being “filled with fear”; that is, they were overwhelmingly ruled-over by a sense of reverent awe and fear. In Luke 6:11, we’re told that the enemies of our Lord were “filled with rage”; that is, controlled in a prevailing and pervasive way with anger—so much so, in fact, that it they plotted what to do to Jesus. In Luke 2:40, as our Lord grew into adulthood, we’re told that He was “filled with wisdom”. These expressions help us understand that, just as someone who is drunk with wine in a negative way becomes controlled by it, we are to be “filled with the Spirit” in a prevailing and pervasive way, so that He controls and guides and empowers our actions.

Note that these believers are given a command to be filled with the Spirit. It is not a matter of waiting to ‘be filled’ with the Holy Spirit. Rather, it’s a matter of yielding to His influence immediately, continually, and obediently. And note that it’s not a matter of a one-time-only event; but that it is given to us in a form that suggests an ongoing, perpetual activity. We are to continually—habitually—obediently—be filled with the Spirit.

Much of the controversy about this revolves around what the manifestation of this ‘filling’ would be. And again, Paul helps us in this command by telling us …


The manifestation of the filling of the Holy Spirit shown to us by Paul through three basic things—each introduced to us in the original language by a participle: “speaking” (which addresses our words), “giving thanks” (which addresses our attitude), and “submitting” (which addresses our actions).

First, we’re told that we are manifest the filling of the Holy Spirit by “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (v. 19). Paul told us earlier that we are to be careful with our words toward one another, and thus not grieve the Holy Spirit (see 4:29-30). But here, there is a positive ministry to one another in our words. We communicate to one another, and uplift one another, with “psalms” (a word that refers to singing that is accompanied with the plucking of a string), and “hymns” (songs that are sung for the purpose of worship and praise), and “spiritual songs” (as opposed to the songs of this world—which are, sadly, so often a part of ‘drunkenness’). We’re to sing and make melody in our hearts (which perhaps highlights the sincerity of these songs), and we are to do so “to the Lord”. Who would have thought that signing uplifting music—and ministering that music to one another—is what it looks like to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Second, we’re told that we’re to manifest the filling of the Spirit by “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20). Thankfulness is to be an ongoing characteristic of the believer (1 Thessalonians 5:18); and here, we’re shown that expressing such thanks is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Note that our thanks are to be (1) for all things and all circumstances, (2) in the name of the Lord Jesus (that is, as He would ask and with a reverential regard to His will), and (3) unto our God and Father (who is the one who controls all things and all circumstances that come into our lives—and is therefore worthy of our thanks).

Third, we’re to manifest the filling of the Holy Spirit by “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (v. 21). The word “submitting” is one that is of a military nature; and it speaks of falling under rank toward one another. In the verses that follow (5:22-6:8), Paul gives examples in various relationships of life in which this is to occur. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it manifests itself by a willing and humble submission to Him in the various roles in life in which He places us.

* * * * * * * * * *

A comparison of this passage with Colossians 3:16-17 shows us something amazing. There, Paul wrote;

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17-18)

Paul then goes on to speak of mutual submission in the various roles God has placed us in. And so, the results of ‘letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom’ are as the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit—joyful speaking in song, a trusting thankfulness to God in all things, a mutual submission in the reverence of God.

This means that being filled with the Holy Spirit is also a matter of the word of Christ dwell in us richly; and that as we are obedient to the word, we are also being filled with the Holy Spirit. May it be that we are people who continually feed on God’s word and allow it—by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit—to dwell in us richly; so that the Spirit’s influence prevails over our whole being, and so that the very life of Jesus is lived-out in us.

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