To understand fully Spirit-filling, we must see the contrast between two things in Ephesians 5:18. First, Be not drunk with wine in wherein is excess.
Second, Be filled with the Spirit. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t use methuskō here to say, “Be drunk with the Spirit.” To be filled with the Spirit is not to lose control and be mindless, as is taught by some groups. Paul’s uses the marvelous word pleroo (filled), which speaks of filling a container. It means “to influence fully, to control.” As one Greek authority adds, “To fill up, to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally, to flood, to diffuse throughout.” It’s used, for example, in Matthew 13:48 to refer to a full fishing net. The chief idea then is that we are to be permeated with, and therefore controlled by, the Spirit.
Now, all this is fine in theory, but what does it mean in practice? Preachers often say that “filling” means “control,” but what exactly does that mean? One Bible teacher puts it very well when he says that it’s not a matter of our getting more of the Spirit, but of the Spirit getting all of us. It means that we are influenced by Him and nothing else. The put it succinctly: To be filled with the Spirit is to have our thoughts, desires, values, motives, goals, priorities, and all else set on spiritual things and spiritual growth. When that statement is true of a Christian’s life, all other things will fall neatly into place.
It’s interesting that since some people in the New Testament are referred to as being full of the Holy Spirit, such as the “deacons” of Acts 6:3, there must have been something about them that was recognizable as evidence of Spirit filling. In other words, if people could see that they were spirit-filled, then obviously there were signs that indicated it. What, then, did they see? Can there be any doubt that it was Christ-likeness of character? That is the very essence of Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” When these are present in our lives, people will be able to see the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They don’t have to see some emotional outburst or ecstatic experience, rather they will see Christ-like behavior.
Further, the tense of the Greek verb is all-important. One of the most prominent misconceptions about Spirit-filling is that it involves some “crisis experience,” some “dramatic event,” some so-called “second blessing,” and is something we only get because we “agonize over it in prayer” for a long period of time. But these ideas could not be further from the Truth; the language of Scripture says none of that. On the contrary, we need not struggle for it, rather simply claim it. The verb here is in the present tense, which clearly indicates a continuing action. In other words, Spirit-filling is designed to be a continuing reality. A literal translation of the Greek here is, “Be being filled.” We are to be in the state of constantly being filled with the Spirit. Again, we need not struggle for it, rather simply claim it.
The beloved pastor and commentator Harry Ironside made an observation about Spirit-filling that we do well to ponder. In the sister book to Ephesians, we read, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16). We should notice here the effect of the Word of God dwelling richly in the soul. When we then turn back to Ephesians, we notice that we get the exact same results in Colossians when the Word of God dwells in us as we get in Ephesians when we are filled with the Spirit. What’s the correlation? Ironside writes: “It should be clear that Word-filled Christian is the Spirit-filled Christian. As the Word of Christ dwells in us richly, controls all our ways, as we walk in obedience to the Word, the Spirit of God fills, dominates, controls to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is Spirit-filling. When the Word of God permeates us, the Spirit of God controls us. Once again, we see that the Word of God is everything, the key to living the Christian life.