Lesson 23: The Admonition for Spirit-Filling - Page 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Ephesians)
by John Lowe
17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
The Christian—as we have just noted (15)—is a person who thinks. That has already been implied in the idea of walking in wisdom. But how is it that by thinking we come to understand the will of God? Paul’s own answer is revealed in his comments to Timothy: “Think over what I say which was, of course, inspired Scripture, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Illumination of the mind ordinarily comes by employing it in meditating on the divine wisdom revealed to us in Scripture and its application to all of life.
Paul says, Christians will seek to find “what the will of the Lord is,” and, having found it, will do it. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and come to the third petition, we should say: “Thy will be done—and done by me!” In this connection it is illuminating to notice how Paul’s friend, the Gospel-writer Luke, describes our Lord’s growth in wisdom into His teenage years (Luke 2:41-52).
From verse 17 we know that the unwise do not seek to know God’s will—but we who have wisdom and understanding are to seek His will and follow in His steps. In John 17 He declared that He came here to follow the bidding of the Father and to do the Father’s will. He said, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Just before He gave up his life on the cross He said, “It is finished!” we should at all times seek God’s will in everything.
Believer, never do anything or go anywhere if you are not sure in your mind that it is right. Anything that is doubtful is sinful—because the Holy Spirit would not put a question mark in your mind if it were right. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”—and certainly faith knows no doubt. If there is a question mark around the places you go, the things you do, the songs you sing, the company you keep, the language you use, you may rest assured it is not God’s will for you to do those things. Submit your will to God, and let Him have His way through the leadership of the Holy Spirit in your life.
18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
There are two important statements made in this verse; there is a negative and a positive: the negative is “BE NOT DRUNK WITH WINE.” Dear reader, do you believe it is a sin to be drunk with wine? Would you get drunk on wine? What would you think of a minister or a professed Christian who gets drunk on wine? Would you say they are living right———???
One of the most obvious signs of being filled with alcohol is an inability to walk properly and in a straight line—a loss of control. We call it being drunk. Paul also describes it as debauchery—a giving way to uncontrolled passions which the sober person keeps in place. He may have in mind here aspects of pagan worship with which the Ephesians would have been all too familiar prior to their conversion. Then, as now, men drank too heavily. Indeed, in the cult of Dionysus the devotees used to seek communion with their god through intoxication. No doubt the drinkers made the same excuses as their successors make: the desire to escape from their troubles or to find sociality. Is mere “prohibition” the cure? The true remedy, Paul suggests, is the wholesome inspiration of Christian fellowship.
Sometimes a new Christian will experience radical immediate deliverance from a habit of the old lifestyle and never look back. But in other areas the fight and the struggle continue. But while we are once-and-for-all delivered from the dominion of sin, in many areas we may go through particularly severe “withdrawal symptoms” from the ongoing presence of sin and the lingering influence of the addictions of our past life. A war may be decided by a critical single battle, yet troops find themselves facing “mopping up operations.” These vary in intensity, but wounds inflicted in them are no less painful. That is how it is in the Christian life. To all of us Paul has the same advice: Do not give way!
But this would never be Paul’s last word on the matter. He teaches sanctification by displacement and replacement—not drunk with wine (which leads to debauchery) but rather filled with the Spirit.
The apostle stated the negative statement first; “Be not drunk with wine”―and then he said something positive; “BUT BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT.” If it is wrong to be drunk with wine, it is also wrong not to be filled with the Spirit. Do not get drunk on wine—but be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Let me point out that verse 18 is not a suggestion. The Holy Spirit did not say, “If it is convenient, be filled with the Spirit,” or “If you think it best, be filled with the Spirit,” or, “If your circumstances permit, be filled with the Spirit.”
My friend, this does not say, “Be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” The believer is already baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). This is altogether another truth. As I have stated several times before, it is altogether possible to be born of the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, baptized into the body of Christ by the Spirit, and still not been filled with the Spirit. This is not a second work of grace . . . It is a full surrender of soul, mind and body—the body which is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Paul said to the Romans, “I beseech you to present your bodies a living sacrifice, which is your reasonable service.” It is reasonable to yield soul, spirit and body. It is reasonable to be filled with the Holy Spirit; and it is not right—it is sinful—not to be filled.
To be filled with the Spirit, we must be emptied of all the things named in the preceding verses of chapters four and five . . . the things of the flesh, the things of the natural man. If we are to be a spiritual man, full grown to maturity, filled with the Spirit, we must first be emptied. You cannot fill a container with water until it is first empty of everything else. If there are three grains of sand in a glass, you cannot fill that glass with water—it will be water and sand until the sand is removed. A believer cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit until that believer permits the Lord Jesus to empty his heart of everything of the world, the flesh, and the devil. When the heart is emptied, then the Holy Spirit can and will fill that individual. The thought is that of the Spirit so surrounding and possessing one’s being that he is controlled and impelled by the Spirit. This experience should not be looked upon as exceptional, or as the prerogative of only a select few. It is considered by Paul the normal state of every believer. Careful study of the Acts, where the idea of the fullness of the Spirit is especially prominent, leads to the conclusion that the being filled with the Spirit was repeated from time to time and that the supreme condition was full surrender to Christ.
But how can this be? How can we be filled with the spirit?
It is tempting here to fall back on our own experiences, or to turn to the stories told by others explaining “how to” be filled with the Spirit. But we are not cut adrift to find our own interpretation. For Paul’s very similar teaching in Colossians 3:16-17 points us in the direction of his own understanding of what this involves.
The letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians were written at the same time, carried by the same person (Tychicus) and have many similarities and parallels (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7).
Paul’s statements in Ephesians 5:15, 18b-21 and in Colossians 3:16-17, stand in very close parallel to each other. They described a similar series of effects in the Christian’s life but attribute them to different causes. The consequences of being filled with the Spirit (5:18) and the results of letting the Word of Christ indwell richly (Colossians 3:16) run parallel to each other. The same fruit is produced by the influence of the Word of Christ as by the Spirit of Christ! Being filled with the Spirit and letting the word of Christ dwell . . . richly obviously amount to two ways of looking at the same thing.
The way in which we obey the command to be filled with the Spirit is by responding to the Word of Christ—making room for its influence, giving our minds to its truth, our hearts to its teaching, and our wills to its obedience. To be under the influence of the Word is to place ourselves under the Lordship of the Spirit.
There is a comparison to be made here to these two very different men:
1. The man who is drunk cannot walk straight. His speech becomes slurred; he seems off key and out of tune and cannot remember the words; he becomes irritable when people try to help or reprimand; he will not have anyone else control his life—but he cannot control it himself.
2. The man or woman who is filled with the Spirit shows contrary graces: walking in wisdom; singing with melody in the heart, devoted to the Lordship of Christ, concerned for the needs of others, and thankful rather than irritable.