|Filled with the Spirit|
STUDY SEVEN: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT?
© Rosemary Bardsley 2009
There are two distinct biblical concepts referred to as being ‘filled with the Spirit’. One speaks about an on-going condition of life which is commanded; the other about specific, often temporary, empowerment, which is never commanded.
A. The ‘fullness’ of the Spirit
The Bible never uses the term ‘the fullness of the Spirit’ [see section # 3 below]. However, the New Testament refers several times to the life lived under the control and direction of the Spirit of God as being ‘full of the Holy Spirit’, or ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’.
Thus, for example,
In each of these references either the adjective pleres [full] or the verb pleroo [fill] is used. Whenever a verbal form is used it has a continuous tense. Thus all of these references indicate a continuity of the condition of being full of the Spirit. This being full of the Spirit simply cannot and does not happen instantaneously – by the very nature of the words used it indicates and requires an on-going, sustained influence of the Spirit in the human life.
A.1 What does being full of the Spirit look like?
This ‘fullness’ of the Spirit is evident in a life lived submissive to the Spirit of God as he teaches us from the Word of God, revealing Christ to us, and gradually transforming us more and more into the image of God.
In these verses we read of
Each of these is talking about the same spiritual reality as the terms ‘full of the Spirit’ and ‘filled with the Spirit’ – an on-going positive response [= obedience] to the teaching and instruction of the indwelling Spirit of God.
A.2 Ephesians 5:18-21
In Ephesians 5:18-21 Paul’s command to be filled [the verb pleroo] with the Spirit is in the present continuous tense. It certainly does not refer to a one-off experience of the Spirit towards which Christians have to strive; nor does it refer to a one-off, once-for-all-time filling with the Spirit beyond which the Christian lives on a superior spiritual level. Rather it refers to an on-going spiritual condition in which the Holy Spirit directs and dominates the Christian’s life, including the Christian’s beliefs, perceptions and attitudes as well as actions. The Holy Spirit is the active person here; the believer is the passive sphere/location of the Holy Spirit’s active work. [The verb is in the passive voice.] The command is not about what we have to do or initiate, but about how we are to respond to the Holy Spirit’s teaching and instruction. Our responsibility is to let the Holy Spirit do his transforming work by believing and obedient response to his teaching and instruction.
Paul explains what this ‘be filled with the Spirit’ will look like. In the Greek text there is only one command: ‘be filled with the Spirit’ . This one command is followed [in the Greek text] by a series of present participles which are descriptive of the Spirit-taught, Spirit-filled, Spirit-directed, Spirit-controlled life:
Note that the first four of these are directly dependent on our believing God’s truth that the Spirit teaches us. The last expresses our obedience to the Spirit’s moral instruction.
It is interesting that in Colossians 3:15-17 a very similar list of life-expressions accompany Paul’s command ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’. Again we see the essential synergy between the Word and the Spirit. This also instructs us that, whatever else we do with the command ‘be filled with the Spirit’ in Ephesians 5:18, we must at least do this: that we understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer that results in this fullness of the Spirit is intimately connected to his instructing us in the Word of God. The more he teaches us and the more he fills out our understanding, the more our lives will express the results identified in Ephesians 5:19-21 and Colossians 3:16-17.
It is also interesting and instructive that the instructions relating to husbands, wives, children, parents, masters and slaves follow immediately in both of these chapters. Submission is required of each party in each of these two-way relationships as part of what it means to be ‘filled with the Spirit’ in the nitty-gritty of human lives and their interpersonal relationships.
B. Special empowerment by the Spirit to communicate God’s truth boldly
The other Greek verb translated as ‘filled’ is pletho. In reference to the Holy Spirit it is used only in Luke’s writing - three times in his Gospel and five times in Acts.
With the exception of the future tense used in reference to John the Baptist, this being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ is in the Aorist tense, indicating a pin-point occurrence, not a continuous quality or condition of life. In each case the result or impact of being filled with the Spirit is the bold and effective proclamation of God’s truth. This being filled with the Spirit is God enabling and empowering a person, usually to proclaim his truth boldly or to speak as his person when under pressure.
This filling of the Spirit which enabled bold speech as the occasion demanded was not usually continuous nor was it unrepeatable. Thus we find in Acts 4:8 we find that Peter was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ [Aorist Tense – a decisive pin-point event at this particular point of time]; yet he was one of those who had also been ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ [also Aorist Tense] in Acts 2. Similarly this repeated filling is highly likely for at least some of those who were ‘filled with the Spirit’ in Acts 4:31.
There are a small number of references where this empowerment by the Spirit is mentioned without the phrase ‘filled with the Spirit’:
Tabulated summary of this empowerment type of being filled with the Spirit:
It is therefore necessary to clearly distinguish between this empowerment by the Spirit, which is also called being ‘filled with the Spirit’ [pletho], which is never commanded, and which does not happen to every believer, and the on-going condition of a life lived in submission to the Spirit which is called being ‘filled with the Spirit’ or being ‘full of the Spirit’ [pleroo, pleres], which is commanded for all believers.
This empowerment by the Spirit of God appears to bear great similarity to the empowerment of believing people in the Old Testament era to do the work of God and/or to speak the word of God in a given situation or occasion, or in a specific calling.
C. The term ‘the fullness of the Spirit’
The term ‘the fullness of the Spirit’ does not occur in the Bible. It is potentially a very misleading term.
We would do well to drop the term ‘the fullness of the Spirit’.
4. Where does ‘being slain in the Spirit’ fit in?
There is not a single word about being ‘slain in (or by) the Spirit’ in either the Old or New Testament. There is nothing by way of example or experience of this phenomenon happening to anyone. It simply is not there. It cannot be validated by any legitimate interpretation of any biblical text. To identify this contemporary phenomenon either with the baptism of the Spirit, or receiving the Spirit, or the gift of the Spirit, or with being filled with the Spirit is totally out of order from a biblical perspective.
As indicated in the study on the Holy Spirit in the Pre-Pentecost era, the only incident that bears any possible similarity is the incident involving King Saul in 1Samuel 19, but even this is very unlike the contemporary experiences termed ‘slain in the Spirit’.
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