Ephesians 5:18-21 - Being filled by the Spirit

In Ephesians 5:18, Paul commands: "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." The word translated "be filled" means 'to cause something to become full', and the form in the Greek suggests the emphasis is on the condition or state of fullness. This verse is often taken as a command to be filled with the Spirit, as opposed to being filled with wine (ie. drunk). However, the translation "with the Spirit" is not supported by the Greek grammar (or the context for that matter). Rather, the Greek grammar and context imply that the Spirit is the MEANS by which we are filled. A better translation would be: "...be filled BY the Spirit". Now this raises the question, what are we to be filled with? Ephesians 5:18 does not explicitly say, so what we are meant to be filled with must have been already understood. In Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul prays that the Ephesians would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in their inner being so that they "may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God". Therefore it seems highly likely that the content of filling is the fullness of God. But what does it mean to be "filled by the Spirit"? Some suggest it means control: both drunk people and spiritual people are controlled - drunk people by alcohol and spiritual people by the Spirit. The problem is that a control which allows a Christian to stop the Spirit controlling (and be filled/controlled again) can hardly be called control! Neither are Spirit-filled Christians in some kind of drunken stupor, especially in light of the fact that self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23). Rather, these verses describe a comparison of two states of "being under the influence." A Christian may be described as full of the Spirit if they consistently allow themselves to be influenced by the Holy Spirit as opposed to being influenced by the attitudes and beliefs of others. Being filled with the Spirit is a result of being fully devoted to the will and work of God in human life. Willmington aptly states: "A Christian that is filled with the Spirit does not have more of the Spirit, but rather, the Spirit has more of that Christian." Next week I will look at the results of being filled by the Spirit.

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