Pneumatology Series: The Filling of the Spirit



The Filling of the Spirit



What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit?” In Ephesians 5:18-21, Paul says:


And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.


This is a commonly misunderstood teaching; therefore, we will begin with what “being filled with the Spirit” does not mean.


Common Misunderstandings


1. To be filled with the Spirit is not a crazy, ecstatic experience like falling on the floor, shaking uncontrollably, or barking like a dog.


Scripture says one of the fruits of the Spirit is “self-control” (Gal 5:23) and the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets (1 Cor 14:32). This means when the Spirit of God moves in one’s life, it gives him self-control—not lack of control. The Spirit-filled person is able to control his lust, language, emotions, and body.


In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul says, “So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The implication from Paul’s statement is that the Corinthians were accepting many counterfeits in the church. They probably were so excited about power and charismatic gifts that they accepted everything without question. Paul says, “No, the Spirit of God won’t say Jesus is cursed!” In the same way, many churches today are so excited about the things of the Spirit, they lack discernment.


One of the tricks of the Anti-Christ in the end times will be counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders (2 Thess 2:9). The enemy deceives people with these types of wonders even today. People in churches are barking like dogs, roaring like lions, falling down, shaking, and everything else. John commanded believers to test the spirits to see if they are of God (1 John 4:1). We do this by the spirit’s fruit. One question we must ask is, “Does this ‘spirit’ produce self-control or lack of control?”


2. To be filled with the Spirit is not the same as the baptism in the Spirit.


When a person becomes born again, Christ baptizes him with the Spirit into the body of Christ. First Corinthians 12:13 (ESV) says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” It is a one-time experience where we become part of Christ’s body. Some believe the baptism is a second experience that believers must seek and that it is commonly associated with speaking in tongues. However, again, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, it says that we have all been baptized in the Spirit, and at the end of the chapter, it says that not everybody has the gift of tongues (v. 28-31). Another evidence that we have all been baptized with the Spirit is the fact that Scripture never commands us to seek the baptism. If it was an important experience for all believers to pursue, wouldn’t there be at least one command for us to seek it? But, there isn’t.


Sadly, because the filling of the Spirit is commonly associated with the baptism in the Spirit, in some circles, it has created two tiers of Christians—Spirit-filled and un-Spirit-filled. In some churches, Christians who don’t speak in tongues are looked at as second-class citizens. This does the opposite of what the baptism in the Spirit is meant to do. The baptism makes us one body—not two. This misunderstanding of being baptized with the Spirit divides what God actually unified through Spirit baptism. The baptism in the Spirit is a one-time experience that happens at salvation, and therefore, Scripture doesn’t command us to seek it.


Well then, we must ask, what is the filling of the Spirit?


Whereas, in the baptism in the Spirit, we become part of the body of Christ, in the filling of the Spirit, we offer our body to God. Whereas the baptism in the Spirit is a one-time experience, the filling of the Spirit is a continual experience of believers. For believers, there is one baptism and multiple fillings. This is seen in the Greek tense of the word “fill.” It is a present imperative. It can actually be translated “keep on being filled.” It is also passive—meaning “we do not fill ourselves but permit the Spirit to fill us.”[1]


Warren Wiersbe’s comments on the word “filled” are helpful:


In the Bible, filled means “controlled by.” “They … were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28) means “they were controlled by wrath” and for that reason tried to kill Jesus. “The Jews were filled with envy” (Acts 13:45) means that the Jews were controlled by envy and opposed the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. To be “filled with the Spirit” means to be constantly controlled by the Spirit in our mind, emotions, and will.[2]


The filling of the Spirit brings power into the Christian life to be holy, to witness, and to accomplish all God calls for us to do. It should be the continual endeavor and experience of every believer. Believers should constantly seek this experience in their lives. If they don’t, they will produce little fruit for God’s kingdom.


Becoming Filled


How should believers seek the filling of the Spirit?


1. Believers are filled through yielding to the Spirit’s control.


Again, the word “fill” is passive, meaning that the Holy Spirit fills us. Therefore, in order for the Spirit to control us, we must yield to his will in our lives, by obeying Scripture, the Spirit’s promptings, and not grieving the Spirit through sin. We must offer our bodies as living sacrifices unto God, as Romans 12:1 says. This is where many Christians fail. They continually hold back their best from God—not wanting to fully submit to him for fear of what he might say or where he might lead. As long as believers hold back full obedience to God, they cannot be filled as they should be.


Are you yielding to the Spirit? Or are you holding back full obedience?


2. Believers are filled through dwelling in the Word of God.


Colossians 3:16-18 says,


Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.


It is hard not to notice the similarities with Ephesians 5:18-21. The results of being filled with the Spirit and letting the Word of Christ dwell richly in us are almost synonymous. The results are worship, thanksgiving, and submitting to others.


Since the Spirit is the author of Scripture, to be filled by him means to dwell in the Word of God. The word “dwell” actually means “to feel at home.”[3] Many Christians can’t be filled and empowered by the Spirit because the Word of God is not “at home” in their lives. It is more like a visitor than a resident. They visit the Word of God on occasion. They say, “Maybe, I’ll read the Bible today or maybe I won’t.” Therefore, they don’t have power in their lives, and they struggle with self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit.


If we are going to be filled with the Spirit, we must daily dwell in the Word of God (Psalm 1:2-3). There the Spirit instructs and equips us for all righteousness (2 Tim 3:16-17).


3. Believers are filled through prayer.


In Acts 4:29-31, the church gathered to pray because of the persecution they received for preaching the gospel. The text shows their prayer and the result:


And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously.


When they finished praying the place was shaken, and they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word of God courageously. Instead of fearing the threats of men, they had spiritual power to continue God’s ministry.


How do we get filled and empowered by the Spirit of God? We get filled and empowered by having a thriving prayer life. Our ability to serve God, be holy, and have joy will often be proportionate to our time in prayer. Prayer is one of the ways the Spirit fills us.


As we consider Acts 4, we must also see the importance of corporate prayer. Even Jesus, when confronted with the cross, threw a prayer meeting to get ready for it (Mk 14:34-42). We should do the same when encountering trials and temptations in our lives. It is one of the ways that God fills and empowers us.


4. Believers are filled through worship.


In 2 Kings 3:15 (ESV), Elisha was approached by Jehoshaphat and Ahab who were seeking God’s wisdom about going to war. Elisha responded, “‘But now bring me a musician.’ And when the musician played, the hand of the LORD came upon him.” Elisha was filled by God and empowered as he worshiped. It’s the same for us, God empowers us through worship. In another story, God routed an invading army while Jehoshaphat and his army worshiped (2 Chr 20).


The Bible says God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 23:3 ESV). Wherever there is true worship, God manifests and empowers his people.


5. Believers are filled through faithfully enduring trials.


We get a picture of this with Christ in the wilderness. Matthew 4:1 says he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. But Luke 4:13-14 says this about his leaving: “So when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from him until a more opportune time. Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside.” When Christ left the wilderness after faithfully enduring temptation, the Spirit of God empowered him.


It is no surprise that the believers God used greatly in Scripture, he often first sent into the wilderness—trials—to be filled and empowered. Trials empty us of our self-reliance, so we can fully rely on God’s strength. God said this to Paul about his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”


God uses trials to weaken us so the power of his Spirit may be made perfect in us. With that said, for some, trials turn them away from God. Instead of running to God for his strength and comfort, they run to something else like alcohol, smoking, overeating, a relationship, or some other addiction. They forfeit God’s power and give something or someone else control of their lives.


Are we drawing near God in our trials or something else? Our trials are strategic. It is there that God empowers and equips us for service.


Results of Being Filled


What are the results of being filled by the Spirit according to Ephesians 5:19-21?


In Ephesians 5:19-21, Paul shares results of being filled with the Spirit. We would think them to be a bold witness, miracles, prayer that moves mountains, healing, etc., but they aren’t. Paul says:


speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.


1. A result of being filled is corporate worship.


Paul said speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. MacDonald’s comments are helpful:


While some see all three categories as parts of the Book of Psalms, we understand only psalms to mean the inspired writings of David, Asaph, and others. Hymns are noninspired songs which ascribe worship and praise directly to God. Spiritual songs are any other lyrical compositions dealing with spiritual themes, even though not addressed directly to God.[4]


It must be noted that Paul says, “speak to one another.” Corporate worship is focused on God, but in it, we also speak to and edify one another. We see this commonly in the Psalms. Psalm 95:1-3 says:


Come! Let’s sing for joy to the LORD! Let’s shout out praises to our protector who delivers us! Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving! Let’s shout out to him in celebration! For the LORD is a great God, a great king who is superior to all gods.


This reminds us that when we sing to God, it blesses him, but it is also blesses others. As we raise our voices in worship, we speak to others about the greatness of God, and we edify them. Therefore, when we don’t sing, we rob others of their blessing. Certainly, some are more gifted at singing than others, but Spirit-filled singing has nothing to do with being in tune or sounding good. It is the heart that honors God and edifies others.


2. A result of being filled is individual worship.


Paul said, “making music in your hearts to the Lord.” When filled with the Spirit, we find ourselves continually praising God—humming songs in our heart throughout the day. This is true because the Spirit’s passion is to glorify Christ and God (cf. John 16:14).


3. A result of being filled is thankfulness.


When a person is critical and complaining, they are not filled with the Spirit, but the flesh (cf. Gal 5:19-21, Phil 2:14). When the Spirit fills us, we give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for our lives (1 Thess 5:18).


4. A result of being filled is submission.


Instead of constantly seeking our rights and our glory, like Christ, we lay our rights down to serve and honor others. Philippians 2:3 says, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” This includes submitting to our authorities but also to those under our authority. When Christ washed the feet of his disciples, he essentially submitted to them as a servant. That is why the disciples were so shocked and refused his ministry (John 13:1-17). Like Christ, we must humbly submit to others, even those who submit to us.


Additional, Means of Being Filled


Finally, in considering these results, it is worth noting that some commentators believe they are not just results but means of being filled with the Spirit.[5] Certainly, they are both. When we worship individually and corporately, we are filled with God’s Spirit, even as Elisha was empowered as the musician played worship (2 Kgs 3:15). When we are thankful, we are filled with the Spirit. But when we complain, we “…. quench the Spirit” (1 Thess 5:18-19 NIV). When we submit to one another, God fills us, but when we are selfish, prideful, and in discord, we forfeit his filling.


As believers, we must keep an awareness of the Spirit’s filling for we need it to worship, to be thankful, to submit to God and others, and ultimately to accomplish everything God commands of us.



Reflection


  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?

  2. What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit and why is it important for the Christian life?

  3. What does it mean to be baptized in the Spirit and how is it sometimes confused with being filled with the Spirit?

  4. What are the results and means of being filled with the Spirit?

  5. How is God calling you to pursue daily being filled with the Spirit?

  6. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?




[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 48). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 48). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 139). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1946). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


[5] Evans, Tony (2009-01-01). Free at Last: Experiencing True Freedom Through Your Identity in Christ (Kindle Locations 1817-1819). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.


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