In our previous study of Ephesians, we examined quite deliberately the opening half of this verse. Though not being drunk with wine is not the main point of the passage, nevertheless, understanding this exhortation is paramount if we will understand the importance of the second half of the verse and all that follows. In essence, what Paul is saying is that, now that we are Christians, we are no longer to waste our lives; rather, we are to now worship with our lives. Let me explain.
Paul begins, what amounts to the final section of this epistle with the command to the Ephesian church that they no longer be characterised by drunkenness. He uses the word “excess” or “dissipation” or “debauchery” or “reckless living” to describe the consequences of being “filled with wine.”
The Greek word means “unsavedness,” which is best defined by the phrase “to waste” (see Luke 15:13). One who is drunk is not “saving” his opportunities. He is squandering his stewardship and wasting his life. In fact, we often use such vocabulary when speaking of drunkenness. We say that someone who is under the influence of alcohol (or some other substance) is “wasted,” a very apt description indeed.
There is no fruitfulness in drunkenness; there is no order to the life of a drunkard. There is nothing healthy that comes from such a lifestyle. Such a lifestyle leads only to a squandering of resources, a squandering of relationships, and a squandering of a reason to live. However, in contrast to a life that is filled (“soaked”) alcohol, the life that is filled (“soaked”) with the Spirit is one that is fruitful rather than wasteful, in all of these same areas.
In fact, this is Paul’s precise point from vv. 19ff.
Negatively, those waste their life are not meaningful members of a local church (vv. 19–21). Those who are married waste their life if they are not fulfilling their God-given roles and responsibilities as wife or husband. Children waste their life if they do not obey and honour their mother and father. Parents waste their life if they do not intentionally raise their children for the Lord. Those who are employed waste their life if they do not honour the Lord in the workplace; and, likewise, those who employ others waste their life if they do not honourably treat their employees. Finally, those waste their life who do not stand and persevere in the midst of a world that is opposed to Christ and His church.
My desire in these studies that we not waste any more of our life. My desire is that, in contrast to the world, we will live supernatural lives that make much of the Lord Jesus Christ. My desire is that we not waste our opportunity to be who we are: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The potential in the church for godly good is enormous. So, let us not waste our lives; let us rather worship with our lives.
What Does it Mean to Be Filled with the Spirit?
We will consider in future studies what results from being filled with the Spirit. But, first, we must define what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
Controlled by the Spirit
First, to be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit. Thayer’s Greek lexicon says of the words “be filled” that “what wholly takes possession of the mind is said to ‘fill it’.” And whatever “takes possession of the mind” will be the influencing factor in our mind. This is why another biblical expression can be used synonymously: “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:14; see Luke 4:1). To be “filled” with sorrow means to be characterised by sorrow; to be “filled” with joy is to be characterised by joy. When someone is “filled” with anger, it is obvious by looking at them. Likewise, to be “filled with the Spirit” is to be characterised by the Spirit, and evidence of being filled will be seen in a person’s life.
Christians are commanded to take control of what controls them; and we are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. We are responsible. Sanctification can therefore be said to be “synergistic.”
Lloyd-Jones summarises it well: “The Christian life is a controlled life, and ordered life; it is the very reverse of the condition of the drunkard who has lost control, and is being controlled by something else … and who is therefore in a state of utter disorder and disarray.”1
This is an important observation. In the same way that God’s Spirit hovered over the face of the chaotic waters in Genesis 1:2 before bringing order to chaos, so the Spirit in our lives produces order from chaos. The Holy Spirit brings cosmos from chaos in association with the light of the world! The light of the gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit are, as we will see, inseparable.
We are to submit control of our minds, wills, affections, emotions, and body parts to the Holy Spirit. I recently heard a man teaching on what he called a “prayer of presentation,” which he prays every day. Every day, he presents his mind, his will, his hands, his feet, etc. to the Lord for His use. That is what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
Living Coram Christos
To means to be consumed with Jesus Christ; it means that the entire panorama of your vision is filled with Christ.
To paraphrase Sproul, to live Coram Christos is to live one’s entire life in the presence of Christ, under the authority of Christ, to the glory of God. This is precisely why the Holy Spirit has come: to show us Christ (John 16:13–14, etc.).
How central is the Lord Jesus Christ to you? How commanding is His presence in your life? How controlling is His person on your person? How does Jesus Christ affect your schedule, your spending, your pursuits, and the way you are entertained? How prominent is the gospel of Christ in your attitudes and actions and affections? When faced with difficult circumstances, do you look to Christ for comfort or is complaining your default? How we answer indicates whether we are filled with the Spirit.
Communion with Christ
To be filled with the Spirit is to be in communion with Christ.
The doctrine of our union with Christ is a sweet and essential doctrine. We are “accepted in the beloved” (1:6). The great exchange is the heart of the truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:12ff; Romans 6:1–4; etc.). This is no mere legal fiction; neither is it a merely theoretical and static reality. No, our union with Christ opens the way for communion with Christ (see Philippians 3:10–14).
Jesus told His disciples (and us) that, when He went away, He would not leave them (and us) comfortless or orphaned. Rather, He would send another in His place, one who is like Him. This is why Paul could say that believers have “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The Holy Spirit is the “staff” of God that keeps the sheep connected to the Shepherd. The Holy Spirit has therefore been tenderly called “the silent Shepherd.”
So, what does it mean for the Christian to be filled with the Spirit? It means that we are in communion with the Spirit. We rejoice in the Lord (5:19), we are thankful to the Lord (5:20), and we are submissive to the Lord and to those who belong to the Lord (5:21).
Having been baptised by and in the Spirit, we are connected to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13) and we are to live like it. Having been “sealed” by and with the Spirit (1:13; 4:30), we are to live like we have inherited Him. In other words, we have been connected and we are therefore commanded to commune as though we are connected. And as we will see in a future study, we do not experience this communion merely individualistically. We commune corporately. We commune, well, communally.
Characterised by Christ
To be filled with the Spirit is to be characterised by Christ. The early chapters of Acts emphasises that the young new covenant church was Spirit-filled (6:3, 5; 7:55), and the result is that they were seen to be Christians (11:24). The word “Christian” means “little Christ.” Because these early saints were filled with the Spirit, they looked like Jesus Christ.
Of course, this is the logical outworking of being controlled by the Spirit and of being in communion with Him. Those who are filled with Spirit will be characterised by who He is. And what does He look like? He looks like Galatians 5:22–23: the fruit of the Spirit. This ninefold bouquet looks like Jesus!
John Stott helpfully comments, “If excessive alcohol dehumanizes, turning a human being into a beast, the fullness of the Spirit makes us more human, for he makes us like Christ.”2 The Spirit-filled person is a Christlike person. And this is observable, as we see by these examples in Acts.
Are you pursuing Christ? Does your life reveal His character? I do not mean perfectly, but I do mean noticeably. Are you increasingly characterised by love? Joy? Peace? Patience? Gentleness? Goodness? Faithfulness? Meekness? Self-Control? The WWJD fad may have been a bit sentimental, doctrinally shallow and populists, but the question remains a good one. If we are filled with the Spirit, and are thereby growing in Christlikeness, we will be noticeably different from the world in our values, attitudes, actions and even affections (1 John 2:15–17).
We would do well to acknowledge the context of this injunction. The overall context is that we who have been supernaturally connected to Christ and the church are to manifest this supernatural life by wisdom rather than folly; light rather than darkness; holiness rather than profanity; sobriety rather than sensuality; and order rather than disorder. The church is to be the church and this requires divine enablement (see 1:15–23; 3:14–21).
Why Must We Be Filled with the Spirit?
It would be worthwhile to consider why we should be filled with the Spirit. There are at least three overriding reasons.
Because of Our Command
First, quite simply, we are Commanded to be filled with the Spirit.
The negative command to not be drunk with wine is immediately followed by a positive imperative: “But be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18). Like all of God’s commands, this is an encouragement. God gives to His people what He commands of them. The Spirit-filled life is the expectation of every Christian. This is our inheritance (1:11–14).
A Communal Command
But note also that this is a communal command. The command is to every member of Christ; it is a command to every church member. Therefore, not only should we expect to be filled with the Spirit, but we should expect every other member of the church to be filled with the Spirit.
This produces hope. In the most trying of situations, we can expect the supernatural in the each other. I recently spoke to a pastor who has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Because of the position of the tumour, it is inoperable. He is in his mid-forties, with a wife and three children, and has been given little medical hope. When I spoke to him, he told me that, having undergone a brief round of chemotherapy, he will be refusing any further chemo treatment—because he wants to keep preaching. The brief round of chemo that he had rendered him unable to preach, but he is committed to his ministry. He is praying for a miracle—and we are praying with him—but, regardless, he is committed to facing what time he has left in this life with hope.
An understanding of the communal nature of this command also produces an expectation of holiness. Since being filled with the Spirit produces Christlikeness, the church that understands its communal responsibility to be filled with the Spirit will realise that obedience will produce holiness in the community at large. Each member will grow in holiness, and so the church will grow together into Christ.
The communal expectation will produce an expectation of power and boldness and conquest. The early disciples in Acts were filled with the Spirit, and power, boldness and gospel conquest were certainly true.
This communal expectation will also produce an expectation of harmony in the church. Indeed, this is what the immediately following verses suggest: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (vv. 19–21). Marriages and families will grow in harmony. Employers and employees within the church will do so too.
A Continual Command
The tense of the verb translated “be filled” is present active. This means that the command is one to be obeyed with an ongoing commitment. Apparently, and as experience proves, we are leaky vessels.
Having our minds transformed and our lives conformed to Christlikeness is not easy. We need to continually be controlled by the Spirit. Our communion with the Lord, as we well know, is often broken and so the commandment takes this into account.
Thankfully, our union with Christ will never be broken. The connection is secured. But due to the world, flesh and devil, we need to fight the good fight of faith. We must work continually at keeping in step with the Spirit. We do well to begin every day with this awareness.
A Crucial Commandment
The Spirit of God came to earth to glorify the Son (John 16:7, 13–15). This means the Holy Spirit will drive the believer back to Christ and His gospel. This is exemplified in Paul’s words, “I will glory in the cross” (Galatians 6:14).
When we are filled with the Spirit then the gospel will be front and centre in our lives. Again, evidence of this is replete in the record of Acts. When conflict arose, it did not stop the early Christians from preaching Christ. In fact, opposition seems to have emboldened their preaching (Acts 2:4; 4:8–12, 4:31; 9:17–20; 13:9–12, 48–52). They were filled with the Holy Spirit and the cross of Christ empowered them to take up their own cross. This is counter-cultural—supernatural—living!
Because of Our Commission/Calling
Bryan Chapell writes, “The apostle is encouraging and urging God’s people to be filled with the Spirit of him who fills everything with the purpose of renewing and redeeming the universe for his glory.”3 We are called to be a Christ-centred, compelling community. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfil this commission.
The Priority of the Church
This epistle is all about God’s glorious purpose for His church. In chapters 1–3, the key word is “sit.” The believer is seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (2:6). We are in Christ and we need to know and to appreciate this doctrine in experience.
It is as though Paul wants us to “sit” and listen and learn who we as Christians are and therefore what the church is. As we sit and soak up these truths, we come to realise the amazing purpose of the church, as spelled out in 3:10–11. The church is placed in this world in order to make known the manifold wisdom of God. That is, God has positioned the church in the world to display the gospel of God’s “unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:8). The church is to be the church thereby bringing glory to God (Matthew 5:16, etc.). The church is to behave like the church that she is. We are to be who we are! This leads to the next theme.
The Practice of the Church
In chapters 4–5, Paul emphasises the walk of the church. He emphasises that we are to walk worthy of our name: Christ’s church. This walk is to be characterised by light and by wisdom, in contrast to our old way of life, which was characterised by darkness and folly. Further, our old way of life was one of disorder, for autonomous living always leads to chaos. But now that we are part and parcel of Christ’s church, our lives are to be ordered. And perhaps there is no better way to make this point than to contrast disorderly drunkenness (old walk) with orderly sobriety (new walk).
As drunkenness and debauchery were the order of the day before they became Christians, so now sobriety and holiness were to characterise them. In other words, they were to so “walk” that all could see the difference that Jesus makes! And this difference, as we will see, is evident in all walks of life.
Ephesians gives the church some tall orders (see 3:8–11; 4:1; 5:1–2; etc.). How can we ever accomplish these things? A supernatural ability is needed. And to the degree that we are committed to living such a life, we will commit to the command to be filled with the Spirit.
Because of Our Condition
I feel the need to add this. Though we are saved, we are still sinners. And therefore we are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. If, therefore, we will fulfil our calling, we need the dynamic that the Holy Spirit provides.
The church is a supernaturally dynamic community. But we often forget this. This is why the command of v. 18 is so important. And this is why we will spend much time “sitting” and learning—so that we will “walk” and practice the truths in which we must also “stand” and persevere (see 6:10ff).
There is nothing more important for us today than to live a life that is characterised by being filled with the Spirit. We need these studies. We need to sit and to learn and to get up and to walk in such a way that we do not waste our lives.
In a very real sense, this is tantamount to pleading to God for mercy. As we come to appreciate the immensity of our calling, and as we come to appreciate our sinfulness and our moral weakness, we will cast ourselves upon the Lord for the power of His Spirit.
As we experience the revelations of God’s love (e.g. 3:14ff) we will be driven to plead for more of the Spirit’s control; we will be driven to surrender more and more to the Spirit’s control as we desire more and more communion with Christ.
Oh that each and every church member would take this commission seriously. Oh that we would all stop wasting our lives!
Kent Hughes observes, “Drunkenness immerses one in the flow of evil days and makes life a series of missed opportunities. This is a tragic waste!”4
We may not be wasting our lives with substance abuse, but perhaps we are wasting it by being filled with that which squanders stewardship of what the Lord has given to us: time, talents, treasures. How are we spending our family time? Our leisure time? Our opportunities with colleagues? (Do they know clearly that we are a Christian? Are we so living around them that they see a life that is humanly unexplainable?)
How Are We Filled with the Spirit?
What must we do to be filled with the Spirit? What conditions are required? What do we need?
We Need the Bible
As you compare Ephesians 5:18–6:9 with Colossians 3:16–4:1, you realise that the two texts are sisters. Both speak of godly homes, marriages and employment. Ephesians puts this lifestyle down to being filled with the Spirit; Colossians puts it down to letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly. If the results are the same, we can conclude that the source is the same. In other words, to be filled with the Spirit is the same as letting Christ’s word dwell in us richly. We are filled with the Spirit by immersing ourselves in God’s Word.
If we will be filled with the Spirit then we must be filled with the Scriptures. If we will be controlled by the Spirit then we must be consumed with the Bible. It must dwell richly in us. The Spirit wrote the Word and so he guides us by his Word.
The Bible reveals God in Christ. The Spirit-filled life is about knowing and showing Christ. We therefore must be in His Word. How else do we know what He looks like? How else will we know how He lived? How He responded? What He taught?
We often hear people saying that God “spoke” to them. Sadly, what follows is often a hodge-podge of truth and error, Bible and opinion. The fact is, God has spoken to each of us—in His Word. Learn it and live it. Spend time in the Word daily. Gather with the church to study the Word. Read biblically sound books and other literature.
We Need to Believe
Specifically, we need to believe the Bible. We can live a Spirit-controlled, Spirit-characterised life. We can fulfil our commission. We can change. We need to believe what the Bible says.
Disorder can be transformed to order. Sinful addictions can be replaced with holy affections. Failure as a spouse can be reversed and you can be a “successful” (godly) spouse. Folly can be replaced with wisdom.
But belief is more than mental assent. Biblical belief is coupled with obedient behaviour. So, obey and put off, and then put on having already put in (4:22–24). You can never be filled with the Spirit until you first belong to the Saviour. The supernatural life requires the initial supernatural conception (James 1:18).
We Need the Body
We might equally say, we need to belong. The Spirit-controlled church is the spiritually-compelling church. As we will see in our next study, being filled with the Spirit is inseparable from being a functioning member of the Body of Christ. We see this in vv. 19–21.
But for our purposes here, I want to emphasise that, just as the commandment to be filled with the Spirit is communal, so is the experience of this filling. We are not filled in isolation. Rather, this filling is very much connected to participation with the local church.
If it is true that we need the Bible and we need belief in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit (and it is), then we need to ask ourselves, just where will this knowledge and this confidence best grow? Of course, the answer is, in connection and in conjunction with the body of believers. We call this the church.
The Holy Spirit never behaves contrary or in contradiction to His revelation. And since He gathers believers together, the church must be important to Him. Is it important to you?
If you want to live the Spirit-filled life, then gather where you can be filled. Gather with the saints. Gather to learn God’s Word. Gather to worship God. Gather to pray for God’s help. Gather to seek the help of one another. Gather for the most important kind of “body building.” Gather to help others.
Christian, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. Now, just do it. Trust God to command what He wills and to give what He commands. And enjoy what he supplies.
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home & Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18–6:9 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1975), 15. ↩
- John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 205. ↩
- Bryan Chapell, Ephesians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2009), 261. ↩
- R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), ??. ↩