What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?

Among the gospel writers only Luke recorded that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. The word he chose was one that communicates abounding, abundant, complete and perfect. The tendency may be to think of this as a unique relationship that the Holy Spirit had with Jesus because of their previous relationship within the Godhead. But Luke used the same terminology in the book of Acts to describe the church’s first martyr, Steven.

God wants us to know that being “full of the Holy Spirit” is something that can happen to those who are fully human. This filling was both true of Jesus and Stephen, and it can be true of us too. To be full of the Holy Spirit is to be under his control. Jesus entered the wilderness under the control of the Spirit (Luke 4:1).

Paul gives an even clearer understanding of the Spirit controlled life in his letter to the Ephesians.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18 – NLT).

When someone has had too much to drink, we say that they are no longer “in control.” By becoming intoxicated they have chosen to relinquish their control to another substance. This is the meaning behind the word filled. Paul warns the believers not to be “under the control” of the alcohol, but rather be “under the control of the Holy Spirit.”

He carefully formed the word “be filled” to reveal four essential elements about our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Each of these is hidden in the Greek grammar. Among other things, the Greek language communicates the meaning of its verbs through mood, form, voice, and tense.

(1) This isn’t optional.

Be filled is in the imperative mood. The imperative mood is one of command. When our mom gave a command we knew it wasn’t optional.  God wanted us to know that being filled with the Spirit is not optional and so he chose the mood of command.

(2) This is for all of us.

Be filled is in the plural form. Being filled with the Spirit is not simply for a few – the spiritually elite or hyper-religious. It is a command given for each of us. No one is excluded from this command, and so God chose the “all-inclusive” plural form.

(3) This happens to us, not by us.

Be filled is in the passive voice. The active voice is the doer of the action, but the passive voice is the receiver of the action. Imagine I am holding a pitcher filled with water, and you are holding an empty glass. If you wish for your glass to be filled then as I begin pouring the water from the pitcher you don’t fill your glass you simply move your glass so that I can fill it. This isn’t simply true of pitchers and glasses. We need to put our open hearts in close proximity to where the Holy Spirit is active.

(4) This is a repeated event.

Be filled is in the present tense. Some have properly translated it “be being filled.” The present tense reveals a daily, moment by moment repeated event. I remember an old preacher who once said he needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day, because he leaked! That’s a good reminder for all of us.

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