What does it mean for a church to be filled with the Spirit?
In previous posts, we have looked at the comparison Paul makes and the command he gives, and now third, to understand filled with the Spirit, we want to look at the characteristics he describes.
In verses 19-21 back in Ephesians 5, Paul gives several manifestations of the Spirit of God’s work.
First, Paul says when the Spirit fills us, verse 19, we’re going to “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” In other words, we are going to encourage one another with biblical truth. When people are controlled by earthly pleasures, it changes their conversations, doesn’t it? And so what happens is they spend a great deal of time talking about that kind of stuff. Have you ever hung out with a group of unbelievers? What are the kinds of things that they love talking about? It’s usually stuff that has to do with now. But the point is here, when the church is drinking deeply of Christ and are filled with the Spirit, things become different when you’re around these believers. The Spirit will transform the kind of things that we speak about to one another and sing about to one another. Specifically Paul says we’re going to address one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs which are all three terms that pretty much have to do with praising God for who he is and what he’s done.
I suppose you could try to identify the difference between a psalm and a hymn and a spiritual song but really, these are all just ways of praising God for who he is and what he’s done. Paul is saying this is something you can look for if we’re interested in whether the Spirit is filling us. Are we a group of people who are constantly encouraging one another to look at God and to be amazed by his character?
The word for “addressing one another,” it’s a Greek word that means basically almost like humming to yourself, humming to someone else. It’s almost like there’s a buzz if you listen to a church that is filled, if you come into a community that’s filled with the Spirit and they fellowship with one another, there’s almost like a humming, a buzz and you know what that humming sound is? It’s praises and hymns and spiritual songs. You come into a community that’s filled with the Spirit, these are people as they interact with one another that are constantly trying to help each other see how great God is and there’s a movement of the Spirit of God in that place because the people are centered not on themselves but on God.
Secondly Paul says, we’re going to sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts. This means we are going to find deep down delight in God. I think one of the things I like most if you look down at that phrase “singing and making melody to the Lord,” is that he says “with our hearts.” In our hearts. He’s not saying that when we get together as Christians we all stand here and the way we sing as Christians is with our mouths closed, we only sing in our hearts. That would be a strange worship time, wouldn’t it? But that’s not what he means when he says we sing in our hearts. Instead, he’s talking about singing that comes from the bottom of your heart. We all know how easy it is to just come and mouth the words of a song and you get excited after a while just because it’s the song. That’s not what Paul is talking about here. What he’s talking about is when your heart is so filled up with joy in God that it’s like you’re singing on the inside and it’s just bubbling out on the outside. For me, that’s the best place to sing, in the heart, because when I sing with my mouth people usually hope I’m quiet but you can sing as loud as you want in your heart. Really, I think what Paul us getting at is that when the Spirit of God is filling us, we’re not just jumping up and down on the outside but there’s a deep profound delight in God that resides on the inside.
Third, when the Spirit of God is at work we address one another, we encourage one another with biblical truth, we have a deep down delight in God, third, Paul says, we’re going to give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, we’re going to overflow with gratitude to God. You can underline in that verse “always” and “for everything.” There is hardly anything that characterizes a person who’s about himself more than complaining. A person who is about himself, he can complain always and in everything. Selfish, proud people can make a meadow into a manure pile. A meadow of flowers and they can find the manure in a meadow. Selfish people can complain and be discontent about whatever situation you put them in, that’s why, listen, the answer to your discontentment if you’re discontent is not a better circumstance. I guarantee you. People are amazing at being discontent with the best of circumstances. We need to be as filled with the Spirit so that we learn to give thanks always and in everything.
The crazy thing I’ve found about people who are controlled by a desire for their own pleasure is that they’re still unhappy all the time. You meet a person who is controlled by a desire for his own pleasure and you usually are meeting a person who is profoundly discontent and that’s because when you’re proud, you think you deserve everything and so you complain and when you’re selfish, you want everything exactly your way so you complain. Well, when the Spirit of God is at work, you see yourself for who you are and you see what you really deserve and you begin to understand that everything you receive is amazing and so you’re constantly thankful and you become thankful about everything because you know God is for you in that moment and his hand is at work in everything for your good and for his glory. It’s interesting too that Paul says the Spirit enables us as believers to give thanks in a very specific way. The Trinity is at work in this verse: it’s the Spirit who causes us to give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a lot of theology and doctrine in that statement; that’s Trinitarian thanksgiving.
Fourth, Paul tells us when the Spirit fills us as a church, we’re going to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. That’s verse 21 which we’re going to talk about a lot over the next several weeks because Paul goes into big time detail about this. Actually, from verse 21 down to chapter 6:9, he’s talking about this aspect of being filled with the Spirit which tells us it’s pretty important. But for now, just be sort of amazed by the way the Spirit of God works. When you’re controlled by earthly pleasures like alcohol, what usually happens in your relationships with other people? It’s usually people trying to outdo one another. Have you ever met materialistic people? Greedy people? “My BMW is bigger than your BMW. My Mercedes is bigger than your Mercedes. My suit is nicer than your suit.” People constantly trying to be on top of each other, be higher than one another. But what happens when the Spirit focuses our attention on Christ? We’re afraid of Christ so he said do this out of reverence for Christ. We see that he is the authority. We see that he is Lord. We are brought on our faces before Christ and suddenly we’re not nearly as concerned about our own glory or importance anymore. It’s Christ that matters and when it’s Christ that matters most to you, that changes the way you relate to other people. When the Spirit is controlling you, you’re going to happily go low in your relationships with others for the glory of God. That’s basically what it means to submit, it’s to put yourself under the authority of someone else and later in Ephesians, Paul is going to work out what that looks like in our family relationships.
There is a lot of talk about the Spirit these days and that’s good. Is the Spirit at work? Sometimes when people say, “Is the Spirit of God at work?” they mean these crazy, almost miraculous shocking works of power so they want to see it. I can sympathize with that. We all want to see the Spirit of God work powerfully in our midst but what I want you to hear now is that what Paul is describing here in these verses about the Spirit filling and controlling our community is powerful. It is powerful. I mean, again, imagine a group of people in a room with instruments making loud crazy chaotic noise and a conductor comes into that room and he goes to work with that community of people and as he works with that community of people, the noise becomes less and less chaotic and as you listen to these people play those instruments, suddenly the noise goes from chaos to beauty and what you’re hearing instead of that chaos is you’re hearing a beautiful symphony and that’s power. It’s a different kind of power but it’s power.
That’s what God wants for our lives and for this church and that’s what I want. I want us to be a church that is filled with the Spirit, where people begin looking at our lives, the way we live and it’s like they’re hearing beautiful music come from this church, where they see people who are making Christ the center and as a result, it’s changing their conversations with one another and they’re meeting people who are worshiping God and not just that fake, you know, talking with deep voices about God. But there’s a reality to their love for God and it’s not just like people who repeat “Jesus’ name, in the blood, in the blood, in the blood.” It’s almost like magic but it’s people who are really in awe of God. Then they see these people who are thankful always and for everything, they’re just bubbling over with thanks to God. There’s a deep, deep gratitude that they can’t understand and then they see these people who are happy to go low in their relationships with others, to serve others, to submit to them. They hear this beautiful music and Christ will be glorified and exalted.
Are we a church that is filled with the Spirit? Is the Spirit of God at work? Have we and are we turning from being controlled by our appetite for earthly pleasure? Are we a church that is dominated by a desire to see Christ glorified? Have our conversations been changed? Are we a church that sings deeply from the heart? Are we a church that is thankful? Are we a group of people who are humble and glad to go low because we fear Christ?