In Ephesians 5:18, the command to be Spirit-filled follows the command: “Do not get drunk on wine.”
The two commands are placed in contrast in a way that invites a comparison between what the one forbids and the other requires.
The first command is given in a verb tense (aorist) requiring that we never do what it forbids: “Do not ever get drunk on wine.”
The second command is in a verb tense (present) requiring continual action: “Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit!” This supports the idea that being Spirit-filled should be descriptive of a person’s life.
An epitaph was written over the life of Barnabas identifying him as “…a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:24). This epitaph of being “full of the Holy Spirit” is treated as a measurable and visible description of his character. We see the same thing in Acts 6:4 where the Church is told to “pick out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”
We must guard against the tendency to understand the spirit-filled life as merely a subjective emotional reality. Being Spirit-filled is measurable in one’s character and life choices. We should be able to observe evidence that testifies to the Spirit-filled character of an individual or a community of believers.
The personal presence and power of the Holy Spirit is central to a life that pleases God and the source for true Christian community.
Since each one is given as a command – each one becomes a matter of choice and obedience.
- Becoming drunk is a choice
- Being filled with the Spirit is also a choice.
But what does it mean to be filled?
Two observations help us understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit:
- The meaning of the word “filled.” It is used of wind filling a sail, of being filled with emotions like joy or grief, of a body being filled with leprosy and of a person being full of deceit (Acts 13:10). The idea of permeation or domination is envisioned. It could be framed this way, “allow the dominating influence of the Holy Spirit to permeate every part of your life.”
- The contrast with getting drunk: The person who decides to get drunk chooses to allow the alcohol to be the controlling factor in every function of his life (speech, vision, bodily coordination and even the mind are affected when one is drunk).
In contrast, the Spirit-filled person chooses to allow the Spirit of God to be the controlling influence in all parts of life (speech, vision, body, mind).
“A person, and in this case, a community, whose life is so totally given over to the Spirit that the life and deeds of the Spirit are as obvious in their case as the effects of too much wine are obvious in the other” (John Stott).
The commands of Ephesians 5:18 are followed by four supporting participles –
- giving thanks
These descriptions are usually read as commands but they are actually participles. As such, each one should be viewed as an expected outcomes of obedience to the main command to be filled with the Spirit (in this sense, they are participles with imperatival force i.e. the force of command).
We could summarize the four descriptions of a Spirit filled person as follows:
- Full of joy: 1st, 2nd participle
- Grateful: 3rd participle
- Humble/submissive: 4th participle
To put matters differently, a spirit filled person is not:
- Grouchy or grumpy
- Ungrateful or discontent
- Rebellious or arrogant
Central to living a life that is pleasing to God is the personal presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
- Personal: (Ephesians 4:29-32);
- Presence: (in community: I Corinthians 3:16; as individuals: I Corinthians 6:18-20);
- Power: (Ephesians 3:14-19).
All of this is presented in a context of choices and related to the issue of control (cf. the battle for control in Galatians 5:16-17).
Audio link: “Be filled with the Spirit – What does it mean?“