Be Filled By the Spirit
The Distinction Between "Walk by the Spirit" and "Be Filled by the Spirit"
How is this command different (or, is this different) from the command to "walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:16, 25)?
As an explanation of what it means to "walk as wise" (Eph 5:15), this command is (at least) closely related to the command to "walk by the Spirit." Certainly, if one is to "walk as wise"-in terms of "wisdom that is from above" (Jas 3:17)-one must "walk by the Spirit."
Of the command to "be filled by the Spirit," Dr. Jim Hamilton notes, "[With this command, Paul] is calling for a way of life marked by the fruit of the Spirit... Thus for Paul, as for Luke, being 'full of the Spirit' is characteristic of life in the Spirit."[James M. Hamilton Jr., God's Indwelling Presence (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2006), 197 n46.]
So is the command to "be filled by the Spirit" entirely identical to the command to "walk by the Spirit"? I believe that the commands can be distinguished, with some spiritual profit, based on the context in which the command to "be filled by the Spirit" occurs. As Dr. Hamilton also notes, "It is not unlikely that Paul means for the participles that follow to flesh out what it means to be 'filled by the Spirit'"[Ibid.] When we examine these participles ("speaking to one another in psalms... singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord, giving thanks always in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ... submitting to one another in the fear of Christ"), we see an interplay between public and private devotion, but the primary focus seems to be on a holy life within the body of Christ (the church), rather than an unholy life characterized by worldliness. If, as I've argued, the command to "walk by the Spirit" implies all the spiritual disciplines for the Christian life, the command to "be filled by the Spirit" is a more specific subset of this command, emphasizing the spiritual disciplines within the church.
The near context of the command is important as well. In Ephesians 5:18, the Apostle Paul sets up a comparison/contrast between being "filled by the Holy Spirit" and being "drunk with wine." The way in which the Holy Spirit controls the Spirit-filled person is similar to how alcohol controls the drunkard. Yet the mind of the Spirit-filled person, unlike the drunkard's mind, is active and unclouded. The drunkard turns inward-personal sorrows, amusements, or anger are magnified-so we think of a person wallowing in a drunken stupor, we think of a giddy drunk, or an angry drunk. But the Spirit-filled person is concerned with the Lord and with others (notice again how the participles listed above are all outward focused).
Why did the Apostle write, "don't get drunk with wine"? Is getting drunk or stoned with other things acceptable? Is it OK to shoot up heroin or kick back a bottle of absinthe as long as no fermented grapes are involved?
In contrasting being "filled by the Holy Spirit" to being "drunk with wine," the Apostle contrasted the Spirit-filled life with a life that is entangled with the world through: 1. sinful pleasures ("drunk"); 2. excess ("drunk with wine"). The combination of these things, or each individually, are enemies to growth in godliness. The Ephesian Christians were not so spiritually immature that they would have imagined that drinking to get drunk was permissible. Notice that the Apostle assumes that his readers want to avoid "debauchery" or "dissipation." He does not have to command the Ephesians to avoid strong drink or mixed wine: the substances in which the people of the first century would have commonly imbibed if they meant to get sloshed. The prohibition against getting "drunk with wine" would have reminded the Ephesian Christians how easy it is-in our flesh-to simply drift away from the Spirit's control. Thinking about life within the church, the Apostle may have envisioned a situation like that which occurred in the Corinthian congregation, where people were actually getting drunk while taking the Lord's Supper (see 1 Cor 11:20-21). So he commands the Ephesians against drunkenness with wine, he commands the Ephesians to be "filled by the Spirit," then he defines the Spirit-filled life by true Christ-and-others focused relationships within the church, expanded outward to Christ-and-others centered relationships at family and at work. The person who is "filled by the Spirit" is controlled and empowered to serve others for the glory of God in Christ.
How does a Christian obey the command to "be filled by the Spirit"? The answer, in large part, is apparent from the verses immediately following Ephesians 5:18. A Christian is filled by the Spirit as he or she:
1. speaks (and sings!) words of encouragement and instruction to others;
2. sings and makes melody in his or her heart to God;
3. offers prayers to God, which are characterized by thanksgiving;
4. respects proper roles of submission and authority within the church and the broader created order.
In considering the command to "be filled by the Spirit," three parallel passages should inform our thinking. The first in Colossians 3:16. Notice the similarity in Ephesians 5:18-19 and this passage.
"Don't get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord." (Eph 5:18-19)
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom and teaching-admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs-in gratitude singing in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16)
These verses come from two sizable passages that show many parallel features: Ephesians 5:17-6:9 and Colossians 3:16-4:1. For purposes of exploring the meaning of "be filled by the Spirit," the most important feature to note is that in the Colossians parallel "be filled by the Spirit" is replaced by "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." The "word of Christ" is the gospel. The Christian is "filled by the Spirit" as he or she meditates upon the gospel and allows the "message of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:19) to radically impact affections and attitudes toward God and others, as well as motivating actions and admonishment within the church and the broader created order.
The second parallel and third we must note are 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18. Notice that the command "be filled by the Spirit" is immediately prefaced by the command to "understand what the Lord's will is" (Eph 5:17). The First Thessalonians passages illuminate the will of the Lord in similar terms as the Ephesians passage. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, the Apostle declares, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; you are to abstain from sexual immorality." As being "filled by the Spirit" is contrasted with the sinful pleasures and excess of being "drunk with wine" in Ephesians 5:18, "sanctification" is contrasted with the sinful pleasures and excess of "sexual immorality" in 1 Thessalonians 4:3.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle defines "God's will for you in Christ Jesus" in terms of giving "thanks in everything." Similarly, one of the participles that define being "filled by the Spirit" is "giving thanks always in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." Thankfulness is key to the Christian life.
Understanding the command to "be filled by the Spirit" is crucial to understanding the Lord's will for our lives and our relationships.
Labels: Bible study