Sunday, August 21, 2022

Filled in Spirit

In writing this and other articles I have to keep mind I have only learned in part to practice what I preach. However, I will not keep back from others what I know is good for us all to obey. I feel safer when encouraging rather than exhorting, but we are told to do both.


I have used only capital letters, but not just for emphasis; the original Greek manuscripts did not have the upper/lower case distinction many other languages do.

So, where the word “Holy” does not precede the word spirit or the text does not add “of God”, those who translate into English must decide on the basis of the context whether to use an upper case “S” or lower case “s”. Sometimes they can do so with ease: “His Spirit witnesses with our spirit” is an example. When they prefer to leave the readers to decide, many Bibles indicate this in the margin.

In the above quote, some capable brethren opt for a small “s”. C.F. Hogg, co-author and colleague of W.E. Vine, was one*. Let us give that some thought.

Periodic or Continually?

I have taken the liberty of inserting the word “continually” because scholars inform us the tense of the verb calls for ongoing conduct. This contrasts with incidents recorded in Acts in which being filled with the Holy Spirit was said to be true at specific times of groups (e.g. Pentecost) or individuals (Stephen, Paul, Peter, etc.). And it was the intervention of a sovereign Lord rather than the determination of his servant(s) that brought this about; often as a fulfillment of Luke 21:12-15.

I submit that the obligation laid on the Ephesians (and on us) is not patterned by those early periodic fillings with the Holy Spirit. I am not saying no one today could be the subject of such power; only that those miraculous first century fillings may not be what was in the apostle’s mind as he urged his readers to be continually “filled in spirit” in Ephesians 5:18.

Are we to think of being “filled in spirit” or “with the Spirit” as we live for the Lord in school, home, farm, office or in years of retirement? I think I hear someone say, “Both.” Most will agree, at least in theory. But I have found benefit in thinking about each possible reading of the text. In this article we are asking what is involved if we understand it as saying, “Be constantly filled in spirit”? What would it mean to obey such a charge? Unlike the Holy Spirit’s filling, which was divine assistance, often in answer to some crisis or need, we have been given the responsibility of seeing that being “filled in spirit” is true of us in obeying the instruction given in the surrounding verses.

Life and Mind

Like the word “soul”, the word “spirit” speaks of a person’s inner life, that which gives direction and strength to his actions. As a child, Jesus not only grew strong physically but also in spirit. He warned two angry disciples when they did not realize “what spirit they were of”; i.e., what was motivating them. We are to take heed to our spirit.

The local church needs to be in one spirit and of one mind. In contrast, a discouraged person is lacking in spirit, dispirited, half-hearted. We must never let that happen, especially in obeying the instructions given in the context of this charge. They were addressed to all in the church, to be taken seriously by each person regardless of age or sex, whatever their gifts, talents or opportunities might be, small or great. The charge is mirrored in Colossians 3:23, “And whatever you do, do it from the heart, as to the Lord and not to men.”

The Practical Outcome

When I see a chance to serve or am asked to join with others to serve, I will be happy to be a part of it, even though such a chore might have been beneath my notice in the past. I will see it through, will not let my hands hang down. If I am filled in spirit, there will be no room for an “if and when it suits me” kind of response.

Such commitment is not unreasonable but should not be unreasoning either. I cannot respond to every cry for help; there are priorities. Once I establish what those are for me (they may be different for others), I may have to respond negatively with a courteous, “I do not believe I am to do that at this time.” Being “filled in spirit” will not make me a slave to the will of men; I am not to be driven. All service is to be “unto the Lord” even though it will often involve being directed by others.

Those who are filled in spirit in carrying out his will in the commonplace chores of today, are the ones most likely to prove his will for any of life’s tomorrows.

In short: “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God” (Jim Elliot).

— Colin Anderson, “Are You Filled in Spirit?”, April 2016

* “The Christian is to ‘be filled in spirit’, so literally (see R.V. Margin) there is no article [the]. This is a unique expression; it does not occur again in the New Testament ... in my judgment, the capital S is misleading” (200 Bible Questions Explained, C.F. Hogg, page 110).

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