Filled with the Spirit - 2
Last week we looked briefly at the idea of being “filled with” something (Satan, wrath, wisdom, wonder, etc.) and more specifically being filled with the Holy Spirit. We noted that to be filled with something is metaphorical for being influenced by something (or someone) to a great degree or to abound in a certain quality.
While our minds may reflexively turn to the miraculous when encountering the phrase “filled with the Spirit,” such is not a necessary conclusion. Interestingly, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” but refused to work a miracle to obtain food (Lk 4:1; Mt 4:2-4).
An even clearer example is that of the seven servants chosen to distribute money to the indigent widows in Jerusalem. The congregation was to “seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Ac 6:3). At this point in history only the apostles had been working miracles (Ac 2:43; 3:7-10; 4:33; 5:12, 15-16). The criteria of “full of the Holy Spirit” precedes the impartation of miraculous gifts to others which actually commences with this same group (Ac 6:6; cf. 8:17-19). It also had to be something visible or identifiable, since the congregation had to make a determination on this basis.
The most reasonable explanation is that someone filled with the Spirit bore the “fruit of the Spirit” in their life later mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. What was needed by these men in their work was not miraculous ability but good judgment and a sense of fairness that would neutralize the charge of discrimination in the daily distribution. Thus what was examined in these men was their character: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness …”, etc.
On the other hand, this same terminology does in some contexts imply miraculous intervention by the Holy Spirit. When John the Baptist was circumcised, Zacharias was freed from his muteness and “was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying …” (Lk 1:64ff).
In Acts 4:8-12, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them …”. This fulfills Jesus’ promise that when the apostles are brought before magistrates, “do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Mt 10:19-20).
Further, when Elymas the sorcerer opposed Paul on Cyprus, he, “filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time’” (Ac 13:9-11).
Christians are admonished by Paul to “not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Eph 5:18-21). This is an “absolute not/but” comparison so often found in the NT; never be drunk with wine but always let the influence of the Spirit fill you and guide you so that the result is not wastefulness but praise, encouragement and thanksgiving.
The opposite of being filled with the Spirit, allowing His influence to lead and shape us, is the charge Stephen levels against the Sanhedrin just before his murder: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Ac 7:51). And how was that resistance manifested? Stephen continues: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it” (7:52-53). This makes it clear that the Holy Spirit had endeavored to lead the Israelites, but their obstinacy would not yield to His guidance. And how was He leading and instructing them? Through the Law of Moses and the supplemental revelations of the prophets. And now, Stephen says, their descendants have copied them in spades by killing the very subject of the prophecies: Jesus, the Just One.
I would submit that this general principle of “filling” and “leading” of the Spirit is not substantially different in the age of Christ. By what medium does the Spirit bring His influence to bear upon people so that they may be saved and transformed into the people God wishes them to be? Simply, it is the revealed will of God. What is different in the new covenant is that gospel revelation is deeper, richer and clearer than what the Spirit had previously unfolded to Israel. In the gospel we have the fullness of God’s plans and purposes expressed, and these truths are capable of informing, motivating, comforting and healing us from sin-sickness so that we may “have life, and … have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
Thus “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
“His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet 1:3-4).
Some denigrate the Spirit’s revelation as insufficient to bring us to maturity and to heaven. They seek a more emotional, mysterious connection with the Spirit that goes beyond Scripture. We will explore this idea more in the next article.