Pastor Chris Tweitmann
(SLIDE #1) Given the choice, most of us prefer full to empty.
When we get in our car, a full gas tank is preferably to running on empty.
(SLIDE #2) No one likes the stress of needing to get somewhere
while seeing the gas gauge sitting on “E” or perhaps even reaching beyond it.
(SLIDE #3) We prefer our stomachs to be full rather than empty too.
One of life’s more embarrassing moments is when our stomachs gurgle and growl
to let everyone else around us know we are feeling the pangs of hunger.
(SLIDE #4) For some of us, the extroverts among us at least,
a full house, one that is filled with the company of others,
at least one other person, is more desired than a house that sits empty.
(SLIDE #5) Given the choice, most of us prefer full to empty.
We are at the crossroads of a series (SLIDE #6)
designed to deepen our understanding of the person of the Holy Spirit.
Thus far, we have considered the three, primary works of the Holy Spirit (SLIDE #7)
– giving life, transforming life, and extending life to others.
Today we will explore the most frequent way the Bible speaks of
engaging this vital relationship in our walk with Christ: being filled with the Spirit.
(SLIDE #8) In the book of Acts, we see repeated occasions when people like
Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and others were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The writers of the various letters of the NT likewise call for us to be Spirit-filled.
But what does this actually mean? Why does this matter in our walk with Christ?
How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? What does this practically look like?
These are the questions we will be answering today.
We begin to do so by listening carefully to the words of Paul
as he writes to Christians residing in Ephesus.
Up until now, Paul has unfolded the story of God’s cosmic work of salvation,
singularly revealed in Christ’s work of redemption through the Cross & the Resurrection.
For Paul, by the grace of God, we are both inheritors and participants
in this divine restoration project, particularly through the person of the Holy Spirit.
From here, Paul details the trajectory of our growth and maturity in this life in Christ
through a series of concrete examples of how we are to think, speak, & act differently by following Jesus in a way of living that stands apart from how
this broken world typically operates.
And now, as we are about to read, Paul stresses the key to all of this –
living this life we have been given in Christ – is being filled with the Holy Spirit. (SLIDES #9 – #10)
To understand what Paul means when he calls for us to be filled with the Spirit,
let’s unpack this Greek verb we translate into English as “be filled.” (SLIDE #11)
To begin with, “be filled” is present in tense, specifically expressing continual, ongoing action.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit, in other words, is
not a one-time event, a once-and-for-all experience, and that’s that.
Paul calls for us to be continually filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
To be clear, if you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit already dwells within you.
Typically, when we receive something mechanical or electronic
that operates on battery power, (SLIDE #12) there is a visible notice printed
on the outside of the box that states, “Batteries Not Included.”
While the Holy Spirit is so much more than a spiritual battery, (SLIDE #13)
the Spirit as our source of power for living, for being transformed,
and for sharing this life in Christ with others is “included”
when we receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
We can rest easy knowing and trusting the person of the Holy Spirit, enters our lives
at the point of salvation and Jesus promised He would never leave us.
The moment we receive Christ, the Holy Spirit not only comes to indwell us,
but the Spirit also imparts to us new life in Christ and establishes us
as a part of the family of God, the Body of Christ, the Church. (SLIDE #14)
However, being filled with the Spirit is different from than the indwelling of the Spirit.
It’s not like we get one shot of God’s Spirit
and then have to work off of that power on a diminishing basis. (SLIDE #15)
Sort of like filling your Hydro Flask water bottle before you go on a long hike
and needing to carefully ration your water, knowing that when you drink it dry
that’s all the water you’ll get. No, the filling of the Spirit is a continual thing.
In the Book of Acts, even though Peter had been filled
with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and preached an amazing sermon, (SLIDE #16)
Peter was later filled again with the Spirit as he defended himself before the Sanhedrin.
Sometime after that, Peter was once again filled with the Holy Spirit
after the group of Christians, he was meeting with had prayed for him.
(SLIDE #17) Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a one-time experience
but an experience that can occur over and over again in a Christian’s life.
Perhaps we are wondering how a person (SLIDE #18)
who is full of the Holy Spirit can become more full – fuller.
If a gas tank is full, no more gas can be put into it.
Once a cell phone is fully charged, it cannot be charged further.
Both of these analogies do not apply because
we are talking NOT about the filling of an object but of a person. (SLIDE #19)
As people, God has created us with the potential for growth.
Therefore, as we grow in our relationship with the Lord, we are able to
contain more and more of the Holy Spirit’s fullness and power.
(SLIDE #20) A better analogy would been a balloon.
A balloon can be “full” of air even though it has very little air in it.
When more air is blown in, the balloon expands, and it becomes “more full.”
In the same way, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit
and still be able to receive much more of the Holy Spirit as well.
Let’s remember we are not speaking of an impersonal force or energy boost.
The Holy Spirit is a person – the person of God.
(SLIDE #21) We can have the Spirit but not be filled with the Spirit.
To put this another way, to be in relationship with someone
is not the same thing as engaging that relationship on a regular basis
– conversing with that person, spending time with him or her,
relying on that person in one’s day-to-day life.
To be filled by the person of the Spirit is to seek and to rely upon that relationship
as a regular source of strength, wisdom, and guidance. (SLIDE #22)
“Be filled” is imperative in mood, meaning it commands action on the part of the listener.
For the follower of Jesus, being filled with the Spirit is
not just a luxury for the privileged few or some optional add-on
or accessory to the basic model of the Christian life.
Being filled with the Spirit is something to be continually practiced by all believers.
(SLIDE #23) This is underscored by the fact the phrase “be filled” is plural in number.
The pronoun “you” that’s implicit in the verb is the second person plural.
In our modern parlance, say from where I was born, NY, it would be “yous guys.”
Out in Missouri, where I once worked, it would be “you’uns.”
Further down south, where I have family, it would be “y’all or all y’all.”
Paul leaves no one out here. The filling of the Spirit is for all Christians.
It’s not just for pastors or preachers or Sunday School teachers
or missionaries or Christians who are in places of leadership.
The filling of the Spirit is for all followers of Jesus,
and that includes you – yous guys, you’uns, all y’all.
But just in case, we are tempted to hear Paul’s command (SLIDE #24)
as something that stands or falls primarily on us – what we have to make happen,
we need to recognize this phrase “be filled” is expressed in the passive voice.
This means the filling of the Spirit is God’s action in us
rather than an action we manufacture on our own.
In other words, we can’t create the filling of the Spirit by doing good things for God.
We can’t make it happen by changing up our prayer posture.
We can’t make it happen in others by laying hands on them,
anointing them with oil or praying for them.
All we can do is be a willing vessel, ready and open to receive the filling of the Spirit.
Please do not misunderstand.
We can and we should ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us.
We can and should pray to the Lord claiming the fullness of the Spirit
as an expression of our faith in God’s command and promise.
There are things we can do to be ready and to open us to be filled by the Spirit.
However, even our asking, our readiness, our openness doesn’t make it happen.
It’s not about having the right word or the magic formula to conjure up
a filling of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not like a rabbit a magician pulls out of a hat.
Only God can fill us with His Spirit by His sovereign choice and good pleasure.
Understanding what Paul means by “be filled with the Spirit,” (SLIDE #25)
we can now address the question of why this matters in our walk with Christ.
We’ll answer this question by way of making an observation. (SLIDE #26)
Did you every catch Jesus’ ministry – all the miracles, all the signs and wonders,
all the authoritative teaching, revelatory parables,
and other amazing, uncanny insights into people and their lives that Jesus offers,
all happen AFTER Jesus is baptized by the Holy Spirit?
All four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John point to the inauguration of
Jesus’ ministry as taking place with His baptism – being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Have we ever noticed every major facet of the life of Jesus is a Spirit-filled event?
Immediately after his baptism, we are told
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit
into the wilderness where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2)
Jesus was led into the wilderness for testing,
and he overcame those temptations because he was filled with the Spirit.
After this, Jesus’ entire ministry throughout Galilee was driven by the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus visits His hometown and is asked to be the guest preacher
in the local synagogue, Jesus specifically frames all the work
He has done and will continue to do through the prophetic words of the Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim good news…”
From Galilee to Jerusalem, all the way to the Cross and then, the Resurrection
Jesus is filled, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This is exactly how Peter describes it, the Spirit-filled life of Jesus, (SLIDE #27)
as Peter brings Cornelius, the Gentile, to Christ:
“You know… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power,
and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under
the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:37-38)
Jesus, though fully God, emptied Himself of his divinity,
when He became fully human for us.
Because Jesus was fully human,
Jesus needed to be empowered from day one with and by the Holy Spirit.
It was through the filling of the Holy Spirit
Jesus overcame the limitations of our humanity
– the limits of knowledge, of temptation, of being bound in the reach of his healing
by physical space, and even the limits of mortality itself. (SLIDE #28)
If Jesus needed to be filled from day one and onward by the Holy Spirit,
then you and I need to be filled by the Holy Spirit in the very same way. (SLIDE #29)
Blaise Pascal, French child prodigy, who grew up to be a mathematician, physicist, inventor, and theologian, in offering a defense of the Christian faith, spoke of how
all humanity, each human person apart from the Lord has “a God-shaped hole.”
This hole is the relational gap is borne of our break-up with God – our rejection and rebellion against God. It is the disconnect of our human spirit from the Spirit of God.
That disconnect is the persistent longing in the human heart.
That disconnect is the gnawing, inescapable sense
that something is missing in our lives which we all try in a multitude of ways to fill.
At its core, our broken human nature recognizes
we stand in need of something that will take us out of ourselves, beyond ourselves.
In one sense, the addict is right is singularly wanting to be “filled” with something.
The problem is, everything else apart we try to fill that God-shaped hole with,
apart from the Holy Spirit, corrupts and destroys us.
Hence, the Bible’s relentless warnings against idolatry.
Idols, false gods, the spirits of the age, do not satisfy that longing.
Rather than fill us up, they bleed us dry. They take life rather than give life.
The Holy Spirit is different.
The Holy Spirit gives life, enhances and transforms our lives, shares life through us.
Paul highlights here what still remains humanity’s drug of choice (SLIDE #30)
in our attempt to fill that God-shaped hole – alcohol.
Alcohol is a depressant – it deadens parts of the rational brain.
In fact, alcohol’s effect is actually to make us myopic
– to narrow our focus of attention only to the most obvious information or cues
in our immediate environment.
Alcohol takes away our ability to see the “big picture”
– to think and act in terms of long- term consequences.
The happiness we may feel when we are drunk comes from
a denial of, from being less aware of, reality.
And it frequently leads to consequences we can’t remember
or if we do, we wish we could forget.
To be “filled with the Spirit,” however, enlarges our perspective, (SLIDE #31)
making us more aware of reality – the reality of God’s mercy towards and love for us.
Facing the reality of the truth of God’s grace leads us not into consequences
borne of fear and shame but rather acts of joyful fearlessness and abiding hope
that we can’t ever forget, that become memorable touchstones in our journey of faith.
Drunken and Spirit-filled people have one thing in common.
They are both controlled people.
Their lives and their behavior are radically changed by that which fills them.
But this is exactly why some of us in this room,
do not partake of alcohol or other substances or maybe even the Spirit,
because “We don’t like to not be in control.”
Here’s the thing. We are all controlled by something. (SLIDE #32)
We are controlled by whatever fills our lives.
If a person is filled with anger or bitterness, then anger or bitterness controls his or her life.
If a person is filled with envy or greed, then envy or greed dominates his or her life.
If a person is filled with pride or arrogance,
then pride or arrogance influences all he or she does.
Jesus makes it clear; we are all “under the influence” of SOMETHING.
What we need to be to become who we were meant to be
is to be under the influence of SOMEONE – to be filled by the Holy Spirit.
This leads us to our final question of how can we be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Simply put, we need just two things: emptiness and openness. (SLIDE #33)
We need to empty ourselves of everything that crowds out
the presence of the Holy Spirit in us – all the noise and distraction of other influences vying for dominance in our lives. Whatever rivals or competes for the Spirit’s attention.
What that is probably will be different for each of us.
However, one thing we all have in common when it comes to
crowding out the Holy Spirit is unconfessed sin – relationships and places in our lives where are we living not according to “Thy will be done” but “My will be done.”
In order to inhale the filling of the Holy Spirit, we have to be willing to exhale the CO2
– the waste, what is impure, what is not of the Lord, in our lives.
Emptying ourselves is interconnected with opening ourselves to the filling of the Holy Spirit.
While confession is good for the soul, a thirst for God leads to repentance
– turning away from what seeks to crowd out Christ in our lives and making room, making time, giving our attention to all that the Spirit seeks to pour into us.
In other words, being filled by the Spirit is
to allow the Spirit to have controlling interest in our lives.
To be clear, this controlling interest is control by consent. (SLIDE #34)
Just as in any other healthy relationship,
the Lord doesn’t force His Spirit upon us against our will.
Our openness – our desire, our receptivity, our continual choice
to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit is necessary.
We open ourselves up to being filled through being in the Word of God.
To be willing to receive more of the Spirit is to plumb the depths,
heights, width, and length of God’s love as witnessed through the Gospel.
Becoming open to the filling of the Spirit comes through our worship
together as the Church, through consistent prayer, celebrating the sacrament,
and seeking Jesus out in the world.
In contrast, our lack of openness to the filling of the Spirit is
frequently reflected through the lack of space, time, and attention we give
to all of these elements of our relationship with God. (SLIDE #35)
Imagine trying to fill up a jar that is already full of something else.
You can’t fill what is already full.
Or imagine an empty jar with the lid screwed on tight. You can’t fill that jar either.
Some Christians are so full of themselves, they have no room for the Holy Spirit to fill them.
Some Christians have so tightly closed their heart to the influence of the Holy Spirit, they won’t allow themselves to be filled.
You can’t fill a jar that’s already full, and you can’t fill a jar that is not open.
To be filled by the Holy Spirit, we need two things—emptiness and openness.
Many of us worry or fear that we have to have some kind of emotional experience
or that something dramatic must happen in order to be filled with the Spirit.
In my experience, there does not HAVE to be
an outward manifestation of being filled up by the Spirit. (SLIDE #36)
The Holy Spirit is not given to us that we might have a great, emotional experience,
but rather that we might be a fruitful witness for Christ.
To put this even more bluntly, to be filled by the Spirit
does not lead to private projects or mystical experiences, but to the Body of Christ’s
common work of worship & service – of mutual building up & extending life to others.
Whenever someone claims to be filled with the Holy Spirit
but spends most of the time talking about themselves
or are just using Jesus as a means to talk about themselves,
that person is not full of the Spirit, he or she is full of themselves.
When you are truly filled by the Spirit, you’re not focused on yourself.
You’re not even focused on the person of the Holy Spirit!
When we are truly filled by the Spirit, we are focused on,
we are talking about, we are following the work of Christ.
Jesus, Himself said this is distinctive mark of the work of the Holy Spirit in & through us.
In my experience, while the filling of the Spirit can have a physical manifestation,
it is more of an inner conviction and abiding confidence of the presence of the Lord working in me to bring courage, clarity, & peace
in the midst of life’s opportunities & challenges.
The filling of the Spirit takes the revelation of God in His word and in Christ & so consumes me that the love of Christ overflows out of me into every relationship I have. (SLIDE #37)
Everything Paul outlines from here and onward into chapter 6,
outlines the outcome of the filling of the Holy Spirit in this very way.
Paul describes how being filled with the Spirit affects our relationships with each other, if we are married, with our spouse, if we are parents, with are children,
and if we are employed, with our co-workers.
Being filled by the Spirit enables us to live wisely
– to live a life composed out of songs of praise and lament
that we can sing not alone but in community together.
All of us together making music out of lives offered in thanksgiving to God,
again, this is not what we need to do in order to get the Spirit to fill us,
this is what naturally flows as a result of the Spirit’s work in and through us.
Living in the Spirit will affect every relationship we have.
In my experience of being filled with the Spirit, I’ve found myself enabled to perceive,
to speak or to act in ways that frankly are beyond me
– my capacity, my instincts, my skill set – in ways I’d never have come up with on my own.
In the aftermath of such experiences, I will often remark to myself, “Did I say that?” “How did I know that?” “What caused me to respond in that way?”
The answer for me always is the same: the Holy Spirit.
We have the choice each day of our lives to be empty and open
to the filling of the Spirit or to fill up, crowd out, and to have our lives
controlled by all kinds of other stuff, life-taking rather life-giving influences.
Again, it’s not about filling your tank;
it’s about connecting with the one and only relationship that can give us life,
that can transform our lives, that can make us conduits of the life of Christ to others.
(SLIDE #38) Picture one of those elevated trains we find in large cities like Chicago.
Those trains run on three rails—two for the wheels and one for the electricity.
The electricity is always there, but the train doesn’t move
unless there is contact with the third rail.
Touch that rail and the train moves; pull away from that rail and it stops.
That third rail is like the person of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit’s presence is always with us, the Spirit’s power is always available.
We don’t ever have to worry about a power shortage or a brown out.
But sometimes we live out of contact with the Spirit’s presence and power.
And when that happens, our lives simply stop working the way God intended.
(SLIDE #39) Being filled with the Spirit is at the very core of
what it means to live a full, abundant, and flourishing Christian life.
The shy and the reticent find boldness and conviction.
The weak and the stumbling find strength and focus.
The fearful and the persecuted find courage and faith.
The searching and the lost find direction and purpose.
The downtrodden and defeated find new life and hope.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean I have more of the Spirit,
it means the Spirit has more of me. Well, how about it then?
How much does the Spirit have of you? Amen.