‘Be filled with the Spirit’, Pentecost, May 30th 2020
Acts 2:1-21, John 7:37-39,
‘All of them were filled with the Spirit’. The Day had come that Jesus promised before his ascension. He had said ‘I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,’ (Luke 24:49). The promise of the Father, the promise of Jesus had come.
In the past weeks, we have been considering who this gift of the Holy Spirit, who he is and what he does and seek to do within us and through us and around us.
What is our role? In Ephesians 5 Paul says: 15 Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
In his teaching about discipleship, Paul says our role towards the Spirit, is to ‘be filled with the Spirit’. There are our choices, our attitudes in our Christian walk and how we live wisely. But we do not do this alone or are we intended to do this alone – in our discipleship Paul says also, ‘be filled’. It is in fact, the key to making our discipleship work, he shares the key to all he has taught.
Be filled, he teaches. The first thing that is seen – in the Greek – is ‘a present imperative’ – so the phrase ‘be filled’ is not about a one time action, but about a regular pattern of life. 2 forms of command – aorist and present. Aorist is a single command. Present is continuous. So when Jesus commanded the servants to fill the jars at the wedding at cana, the command – was aorist – since the jars could only be filled once. Paul says ‘be filled’ using a present imperative – we are to go on being filled. Another example of the present imperative – is in Matthew 7: ‘ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.’ This translation makes it sound – you ask once and that is it. In fact, the Greek is ‘ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking. What Jesus is saying our prayer livrs are to reflect is the same idea when Paul says – be filled – be filled and keep on being filled. So the fullness of the Spirit is not a one off experience or one we never lose – but a ‘privilege’ part of God’s provision for us – to be renewed continusly by continual believeing it is for you and obedient appropriation.
What is in mind by the word filled. I found it helpful to look at how it is used elsewhere. Pleroo. It is used a lot for the fulfillment of scripture – that the scripture is now completed, by Jesus doing that, or that event happening.
Matthew 13:48 – in the parable of the net – the net is laid into the sea, it caught all kind of fish, when it was full, the fishermen pulled it up. Pleroo. A full net.
At the start of Holy Week, Jesus in Bethany, there is a meal, Martha, Mary, Lazarus and the 12 disciples are there. Mary takes pure nard, expensive perfume, she poured it on his feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Filled… same word Paul uses…
Years later, Barnabas and Paul have brought a financial offering to Jerusalem from Antioch. Acts 12:25 ‘When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned…’ Completed, done, their mission which they chose to accept, was completed – totally done.
Prophecies completed, House filled, Mission done, net full. Clearly we see it – when Paul says ‘be filled’ he has in mind, a life full of the Spirit, a life filled, filled to the top. A Messianic Jewish writer says: the word filled, speaks of wind as it fills a sail, a perfect picture – as the word for wind and spirit in Hebrew is the same word – Ruach – a boat must go where the sail captures the wind.
What does Acts add to teaching about the Spirit? Happens more than once clearly. Pentecost we hear. ‘’All of them were filled with the Spirit’. How did Peter see that experience – he says: ‘Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father, the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.’ (2:33). The language he uses, is like that of a heavy tropical rainstorm – the Spirit has flooded their very beings. So that is it, isn’t it? Yet then we read of Acts 4 – weeks later. Peter and John – persecution has began – they are threatened – they return to the believers and share and they pray together. After the prayer ‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.’ Yet they have been filled on Pentecost – but now filled again. Clearly not a one off event, something that happens more than once.
Secondly, when people were filled, at times there were manifestations. This took place at Pentecost. When Peter preaches to Cornelius and his family and servants, something remarkable happened – for as you know preachers do not stop unless something really dramatic happens – ‘While Peter was saying these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.’ Peter and those with him saw it. It was visible. In this case, there was heartfelt praise to God and the gift of tongues. Peter’s conclusion – ‘can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water, they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ Manifestation could be seen by others. But at other times not. So external manifestations do not need to follow being filled with the Spirit. When Saul is converted. A persecutor whose heart was turned and changed so dramatically. Saul is in Damascus. A disciple – Ananias – receives a vision – and after arguing or debating with Jesus a little – he goes. He goes to where Saul is ‘Ananias went round to his hoiuse, placed his hands on Saul and said, ‘The Lord Jesus has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit’. Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. Ananias was sent to Saul. Jesus command was for him to be prayed for healing. Ananias also prays for him to be filled – as it was a regular thing, as if it is something the believer needs from the start or what believers do for each other. Saul – is healed – but no external manifestation.
‘Be filled with the Spirit’. A person may experience absolutely nothing. Yet that does not mean the Spirit is not working or present. The silence does not mean his absence. I am helped by the story of Revd Sandy Millar. Sandy was the vicar of the Church where Alpha took on the form it has now. When Sandy was a young minister, he heard about the filling of the Spirit. He said, he kneeled down in his office at the church and asked God to fill him with the Spirit. He said. At the time, and afterwards he felt nothing. He went back home. Next morning as he walked to work, he noticed his heart was full of praise and and joy to the Lord as he sang hymns spontaneously on the way. He had been filled but there were no signs until later.
Some people do experience powerful, physical manifestations of the Spirit, but others don’t and it’s no better to have experienced those things than not to have.
Third. The importance of the Spirit for discipleship. Later in Ephesus, Paul comes across Acts 19:1–6: ‘Paul found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” ’ There are some people like that. Maybe they’ve been baptised, maybe they’ve been confirmed, maybe they’ve been churchgoers, but they say, ‘We’ve never even really heard about the Holy Spirit.’ “……When Paul placed his hands on them – like Ananias had placed his hands on him – the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues, and prophesied.’ They were filled.
Years later Paul writes to the Ephesians. He has told them – they have been sealed with the Spirit – which took place when they believed. He warns them not to grieve the Spirit by how they speak and live – isn’t that painful, as we sin, we may or may not have a conscious but there is one inside us who grieve. Same word used to describe the sadness when Jesus revealed that one of the disciples would betray him. Despite the Spirit living in the believer, he says ‘be filled.’ Sealed by the Spirit, challenged not to grieve the Spirit, exhorted to allow the Spirit to have fullest control that we are conscious of, to open ourselves continually to the one – to God the Spirit – who can enable us to truly walk wisely and to understand Christ’s will.
So two commands. Do not get drunk. Be Spirit filled. Paul tells the Christians – us – part of Christian duty, is to seek the Spirit’s fullness. Then, the way the Greek is phrased, four results flow from this. They affect our up to God, in towards others, outward to those who do not believe.
Fellowship –true fellowship, building one another, in this case via songs and hymns and spiritual songs. Songs and hymns not only exalt the Lord, but many build us up. Psalms – likely the words in the OT, hymns – words about God’s majesty and greatness. Spiritual songs – spontaneous words, phrases, new songs that bubble up as we sing.
Worship –‘Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.’ There is a new love and appreciation for worship. So to be filled, Paul suggests, enables you to enter more fully into the worship of the Lord. The songs are not coming from our lips – lip service – they are coming from deep within, where the Spirit dwells. Heartfelt praise.
Thanksgiving and Gratitude – Sprit reveals more and more what God has done for us so we are filled with thankfulness. For all that God gives us – salvation, hope, his very presence within us.
Relationship – submit to one another. It affects our relationship with others, our marriages, our parenting, our work, as employee or employer. Christ like – for we have the Spirit of Christ within – gentle, humble, servant like.
The Christians need to be filled for their corporate worship. To be full of the Spirit to maintain right relationships in the home and workplace. They need to be filled for their relationships, to serve one another with the love and approach of Christ. These words: are to individuals, you and me. Yet it has to do with a community. To be so full – he describes it elsewhere as ‘filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’. That not just our personal worship, but our corporate worship – together – and in our homes and in our relationships – give full evidence of the Spirit’s presence. What a testimony! To be filled. We give it evidence by our behavior and worship that gives full evidence of God’s empowering presence.
His aim: be filled, so live in the fullness of the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, that the life and deeds of the Spirit are so obvious, as is someone who has had too much alcholol.
Be filled. How.
Be filled. It is a command – imperative. Paul does not suggest it has to be a first experience. In fact it assumes – you have been filled –or are – keep going. A command. It is not a suggestion. We don’t have the liberty to avoid this responsibility Paul says, anymore, than we can avoid the commands about walking wisely or being greedy or impure. Paul is clear ‘To be filled with the Spirit, is obligatory and not optional.’ So the Lord seeks to fill.
He writes it in a plural form. It is addressed to the whole Christian community. None are to get drunk. All of us are to be filled. So this isn’t about the elite being filled, or the special ones, or priests or bishops or apostles, or even about being mature enough. It is available for all the people of God. Wonderful.
The Gk is a passive voice. It can be translated – let the Holy Spirit fill you. No technique or special words. No formula to recite. Not manufactured. But you choose. We turn from what grieves him we are open to him, to God, we desire nothing to hinder him from filling us, to surrender to the Holy Spirit…
Simply. We have been sealed with the Spirit once for all. He abides with us forever. We need to be filled with the Spirit and to go on being filled every day every moment of the day. John Stott: ‘Here then is a message both for those who feel defeated and those who are complacent – a message for Christians at opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum and all inbetween. To the defeated Paul would say: Be filled with the Spirit, and he will give you a new love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness and self control.’ To the complacent. Paul would say: ‘go on being filled with the Spirit. Thank God for what he has given you so far. But do not say you have arrived. For there is much more, yet to come.’’ (Stott, Ephesians).
When we consider Paul’s command, we think of Acts we read of people described as ‘full of the Spirit’. Now this is important. Acts 6. The Church through the Spirit empowered witness of the church, has grown so much that now the leadership cannot cope with the church structures. They were pioneering. Now time to hand things on – for the feeding of the widows. So they ask the church for 7 men to take on this role. The description is key – ‘choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.’ Wisdom = needs skill clearly. Reminds us of Joseph – wisdom to handle a food programme. But known to be full of the Spirit. Their lives were – when people say, that is Philip, he’s full of the Spirit. It is a lifestyle, a life shaped full, sails being blown. Again, Stephen is described – they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. And he is not the only one. One of my favourite biblical characters – Barnabas. He is sent to Antioch and he is described – great preacher, evangelist, in fact, young, education, …. No, he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith…’ His life was this. Not a moment was this. For me, I feel this is a key part of Pentecost, it is not seeking some one off experience, or we have this moment in the year. Rather, be filled – the aim – your life, people will say ‘Grant, Jolanda, Callum, Thirza, he she is full of the Spirit’ – it is who they are… That is what Paul is getting at.
A boat must go wherever its sail captures the wind – instead of a one time action, the filling of the Spirit must be a continuous daily event. Those of us who trust in Jesus must continuously seek to walk in the power that already resides within ins – as someone said, ‘we don’t need more of the Spirit, the Spirit needs more of us’.
So how do we do this?
A story. Corrie ten Boom tells this. A lady planned a house meeting, although her brother did not believe it would be successful. The next day, she proudly told him her room had been filled with women. The next report she reported that her room had been fuller still, and the third week, even fuller. ‘Impossible’ her brother said, ‘When a room is full, it cannot be fuller still.’ ‘Yes’, she said with a smile, ‘but every week, I took out more of my furniture!’. We can be filled, and be still filled more. Perhaps some furniture needs to be moved out of your heart .
So the how. When I reflected upon this, I think Rev 3, Jesus knocking at the door is helpful. You know the passage. ‘Here I am, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him’. This is often used for evangelism. A beautiful image. Yet the words are to a church – to Christians who listen to this letter. It is to invite Jesus – by his Spirit, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ – to come afresh into their lives, to come more fully. To perhaps no longer be in the garden or conservatory – in fact outside any room you keep him out of – to invite him in. It is to ask the Lord. Daily.
”Lord can you fill me with your Spirit, can you fill me as a net is full, as a sail is full, can you come afresh into my life… Jesus when teaching on prayer connected asking and the Spirit – he says ‘If you are evil and you know how to give good gifts to your children, how more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’. Remember. The Holy Spirit is not some power. He is a person of the Trinity. He is not – switch on or off – to invite him, to surrender, to ask him…
He will come for we are to be filled with the Spirit.
The song to come and the intercessions I later lead, will be a way to ask him afresh, to ‘be filled’ – but let this not be just today, it is for every day…
To end in a prayer Corrie ten Boom suggests:
‘Lord, show me if you need more room in my heart for your Holy Spirit. It is a joy to remove that which could stand in the way.’