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April 10, 2010
Under the Influence – Part 2
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Ephesians 5:15-21

Purchase the CD of this sermon.


In this series of sermons, Philip De Courcy warns the church not to settle for two-thirds of God. Christians often fail to grasp that through faith in Christ, they were not only given the gift of eternal life, but they were also given the giver of eternal life—the Holy Spirit—as a further gift. That puts the Christian at a great advantage because the Holy Spirit lives to bring God, vast as He is, within the narrow circumference of our lives.

More From This Series


Let’s take our Bibles and turn back to Ephesians chapter five. Take another stab at this passage and we’re coming back to look at the subject under the influence or the filling of the Holy Spirit. Let’s read together Ephesians five, verse 15. “See then that you walk circumspectly not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of God is or the will of the Lord is. And do 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.”

The last time we were together, we reminded ourselves that the Christian life is not difficult, it’s impossible. But thankfully, God has not left us to our own devices. The Lord Jesus has ascended. The Spirit of God has descended and he has described for us by Christ as the comforter, the Paraclete, the one who has been sent to come alongside us so that he might strengthen us to the end, that we might live for Christ and look like Christ.

I learned something as early on in my Christian life that has helped me and it is this; that the Christian life is not a matter of imitation but incarnation. You need to think about that. The Christian life is not a matter of imitation but incarnation. God has come to live in me so that I might live for him. That’s the secret of the Christian life. It reminds me of the story of the father and the son who were working a farm to dig up an old stubborn tree trunk and the father left the son to finish the job. And when he come back he found that the son was unable to finish the job and he asked him, “Have you done all that you can?”

And the son said, “Yes, Dad.” And the father said, “No, you haven’t.” And the son said, “Yes, I have.” He says, “No, you haven’t done all that you can. You haven’t asked me for help.” And I think one of the striking things about the Christian life is this, that which God asks us to do for him, he is willing to do for us. The Christian life is not a matter of imitation. It’s a matter of incarnation, God living in us so that we might live the life of God to his glory. That’s why it’s so crucial. That’s why it’s so critical that you and I be spirit filled, that we indeed on a day-to-day basis find the strength that God is all too willing to supply through the indwelling spirit of God so that you and I might accomplish all the things that God has indeed given us to do.

We can do all things through Christ and the spirit of Christ who strengthens us. Now as we come back into the text, there are four things about it I want to see. We’ll cover the third this morning and we’ll cover the fourth tomorrow morning. We’ve already seen what we may call its regulation. As we look at the spirit filled life, we want to notice its regulation. The spirit-filled life is normative for all Christians. We saw last time from the grammar of the text that this is the imperative mood. It’s a command. It’s in the present tense. It’s that which should be ongoing in our life’s experience. It’s in the plural. It’s something that’s commanded of all Christians at all times.

And so we reminded ourselves that the spirit filled life is not a high watermark in a Christian’s experience. It’s normative. It is the Christian life. It’s not something we work towards. It’s something we work from. It allows us to do that which we have been asked to do because Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing.” Without the filling of the spirit our life is a big fat zero in terms of effectiveness and earnestness.

We saw that this is important and imperative because it’s a matter of obedience. It’s a matter of opportunity and it’s a matter of obligation. Now, we went on from seeing its regulation to considering its realization. What does it mean to be filled by the spirit? We came to see that it means to be controlled by the spirit, to come under the sweet and sweeping influence of the third person of the Holy Trinity on a daily basis. We saw that in the contrast between a man who’s drunk with wine and a man who’s inebriated, spiritually speaking.

We saw in the text there’s a comparison and we saw in the text there’s a contrast. Just as a man comes under the influence of alcohol, a Christian must come under the influence of the spirit. That’s the comparison. And the contrast is that one leads to disorder, the other leads to order. One leads to a lack of control, the other leads to self-control, and you and I living under the yoke of Jesus Christ. And so we came to see that the meaning of being filled is to come under the influence of the spirit’s presence and par. We also saw that in the word itself, the verb play row carries the idea of something that’s controlled. The verb is used in the gospels of the disciples being filled with sorrow at the news that Jesus was leaving. They were gripped by a sadness and a sorrow.

It’s used elsewhere of somebody being in the grip of a fever and you and I talk about having a cold and being full of it. We feel its influences from the crown of our head to the soles of our feet. That’s what’s involved in its realization. Now, before I leave that thought, that’s kind of where we left off last time. Given that this commandment is couched in the present tense in the Greek text, you and I would be remiss if we didn’t underline the fact that becoming filled or coming under the influence of the spirit is an encounter and an experience that’s not an all or nothing event.

Greek scholars remind us that Paul in this letter is commanding us to be being filled. We are to be filled and having been filled, we’re to be filled again. And having been filled again, we’re to be yet filled again, filled on Monday, filled on Tuesday, filled on Wednesday. And so for the record, I believe in a second blessing, but I believe also in a third blessing, a fourth blessing, et cetera. There’s nothing static. There’s nothing sufficient about this encounter with God’s spirit.

What I’m saying here is this track with me, I’m to be filled with the spirit. That’s a given. It’s a command and it’s commanded of me all the time. I’m to be filled with the spirit, but my experience of that will vary. I will encounter him and I will experience him to greater and lesser degrees. So there’s a sense at which at any point in my Christian life, I can be filled with the spirit, but I must hold out the expectation that I can be more fully filled by the spirit.

You see, the measure of the filling of the spirit of God, I believe varies from Christian to Christian. This is not static. This is not conclusive. Having been filled does not negate the fact that I can be filled more fully. I can be filled and yet more filled. And I explain that in a moment because I think that depends on my maturity. I think that depends on the degree of my obedience to the spirit. I think that depends upon my knowledge of his operations as I come to understand the word of God more fully. And I think it’s contingent upon whether I deeply desire to be filled with the spirit.

For example, in the church of Jerusalem where thousands were spirit filled, Philip and Steven along with five others are selected. We read in Acts chapter six, verse one through six that the church was to pick seven men full of the Holy Spirit. That would be redundant in a sense because that’s expected of all Christians. That’s a given. So it seems to be saying pick out seven men, especially full of the spirit. Maybe another way to argue my point would be we’re told to what drink of the spirit aren’t we?

He’s likened to living water. In John chapter seven, Paul talks about the baptism of the spirit, which in many ways you could say is the initial filling of the spirit at the moment of conversion. But we’re told that we have been all made to what, drink of the same spirit. In Acts chapter 10, verse 45, Pentecost is described as God pouring out the spirit. So get that image in your mind and think about this. Some days we drink more than on other days. Even on the days we drink less, we may drink til we’re fully satisfied, but that does not mean we’re as full as we could be because that all depends on how rapidly thirsty we are.

So in a day where I’m not particularly thirsty, I can drink til I’m satisfied and in that sense I’m filled. But in other days, maybe a day at the beach or a day of sweaty work, I want to drink more. And while I’m satisfied as at other times it’s a different kind of satisfaction. It’s deeper, it’s more full and I think that is the case with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes as Christians we settle for less of the sweet and sweeping operations of the Holy Spirit in our lives than we should.

Spurgeon said this, “We have none of us participated in his operations as we might have done. We have sipped where we might have drunk, we have drunk where we might have bathed. We have bathed up to the ankles where we might find rivers to swim in.” I love that. Be filled, come under the control of the Holy Spirit. But I think there will be varying degrees of filling and fullness. My experience of the fullness of the Holy Spirit as a six-month Christian should be different six years in and 16 years beyond that because I have a greater capacity in my maturity and in my desires and in my growth to know him and to be known by him.

In fact, it was at a series of Bible readings at Newtownbreda, a Baptist church in Belfast as a young Christian, I came to see this through the ministry of a South African Baptist expositor by the name of Roger Voke. And then that meeting where he spoke on the filling of the Holy Spirit, he drew the analogy of the balloon and he tried to help us see the difference between a limp balloon and a fully inflated balloon. In one sense, the limp balloon not fully inflated is nevertheless what? Full. It’s filled with air but it has a capacity to be more full.

And I never forgot that image and I think it’s a good image. You and I at six months in Christ can be full of the Holy Spirit, but six years into our walk with Christ, we should be more full. We should be an inflated balloon and an inflating balloon. And I think you and I need to bear that in mind, less we settle for less than that which God has saved us for. You get its regulation. Do you get its realization? Let’s move on this morning and this is where we’ll camp, let’s look at its reception.

Under this thought we want to consider what facilitates, what fosters and what furthers this encounter with and this experience of the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way, in a much simplified form, how might you and I be filled with the spirit? I hope by now that you have bought into this hook, line and sinker that you need to be filled by the spirit. It’s commanded if you’re going to maximize your opportunities to serve Jesus Christ and fulfill your obligations as a husband to your wife or as a child to your parent or as an employee to your employer. Remember we went on to see that in the rest of Ephesians five and six, you need to be filled by the spirit daily, increasingly. So high.

We’ve answered the why question, we’ve answered the what question, but what about how question? Now here’s what’s interesting. Look at the text. Do you see any conditions in Ephesians five, 15 through 21 about the filling of the Holy Spirit? Does Paul set down the conditions of being filled? I don’t see it. In fact, there’s an absence of conditions. He just states be filled with the spirit. Plus the Greek is in the passive voice, which means that the person being spoken to will be acted upon. They’re not being called to fill themselves, they’re being called to allow themselves to be filled.

And in first reading, it seems unbelievable given the centrality and the crucial nature of this filling that Paul would leave us in the dark as to how you’re filled and one must assume it doesn’t automatically happen. Certainly the baptism happens automatically and in a sense the baptism is the initial filling and infilling of the Holy Spirit, but you and I have to remain filled. And yet Paul here doesn’t tell us how and there is no one passage I can go to right now that would kneel the issue for us.

The experience is often described. Go to the Book of Acts and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, but we don’t have the conditions laid out for us that would help us understand how. There is relative silence, but there are hints. Many places in the Bible, especially in the New Testament as to how you and I may be filled with the spirit. This is the principle of interpretation that theologians call the analogy of faith, which encourages us always to see one verse in the light of other verses.

Remember the Bible is a literary unit, 66 books, but one author, multiple writers and pen men from different cultures, different countries spanning thousands of years, but there is a harmony to the Bible. That’s one of the marks of its inherency and it’s inspiration. It’s a literary unit and therefore you must never isolate a text. That’s what false teachers do. That’s what Peter tells us to look out for, those that twist the scriptures to their own destruction. They’ll take a text out of its context. We’re not to do that. We’re to take a text in its context, the immediate verses, the immediate chapter, the surrounding chapters and the book itself. And then if it’s a wisdom book, we compare with other wisdom books. If it’s an epistle, we compare with other epistles. If it’s a gospel, we look at the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who often look at the same event from different angles.

This is the analogy of faith, and so you and I would need to look at either this text in its context or other texts in their context on the filling or the work of the Holy Spirit. And that’s what I want to do for a moment and I’ve come up with five things very quickly, five things that will help you and I receive the in filling and over spilling work of the Holy Spirit. The first is this, write down these five words. The first is seek. Seek. The key to being filled with the spirit is to look to Jesus. You’ll never find the spirit without first finding Christ.

The Bible does not encourage us to trust the Holy Spirit. The Bible does not encourage us to pray to the Holy Spirit. We’re to trust in Christ by the Holy Spirit. We’re to pray to Christ through the Holy Spirit and therefore you and I want to grasp this. The more I seek Christ, the more I’ll find the blessed work of the Holy Spirit in my life. The more I’m filled with the thoughts of Christ, the more I love Jesus Christ in an abandoned way, the more I will be filled with the spirit. And I’m sure of that because the spirit has come to show me the things of Jesus Christ.

John chapter 16 and verse 14 tells us that. The spirit hasn’t come to speak of himself. The Spirit hasn’t come to draw attention to himself. As the old writers say, he’s the floodlight on Jesus Christ. And therefore, if I’m going to find him in all his fullness, I’ve got to love Jesus Christ more fully. Those two things go together. The Spirit of God is at home where and when Christ is glorified. If you don’t glorify Jesus Christ, you will not know the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, what did Jesus say in John chapter seven, verse 37 through 39. Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying, “If any amount is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the spirit said from his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” But this he spoke of the spirit whom those who believed in him were to receive, for the spirit was not yet given. Jesus said, “You want to receive the spirit by infilling and filling and over spilling? Believe on me.” The words come and drink are synonymous with belief. What does it mean to come and drink? It means to come and believe in the one who will send you the spirit who’s like a spring of life.

Stanley Toussaint of Dallas Seminary says this, I found this very helpful. This may be illustrated by an automobile with a powerful engine. The driver may start the engine and rev it up until the tachometer is red lined. Yet that automobile will move only when it’s in gear. The Holy Spirit is like that engine. All of his potent resources become influential only when a Christian shifts into gear by trusting and savoring Jesus Christ. It’s a great quote.

First, seek. Second, study. This is the second thought, study. Study the Bible, read the Bible and then let the Bible read you. Be not only a hearer but a doer of that word because the Bible is crystal clear on the correlation between obedience to the word of God and the fullness of the spirit of God. Keep the verse that we have just read in mind here. Ephesians five, verse 18 and 19, “And do not be drunk with wine and which is dissipation, but be filled with the spirit, speaking to one another in Psalms, the spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

Now take your Bible and go forward to Colossians chapter three. In Colossians chapter three in verse 16, what do we read? “Let the word of Christ dwell in you ritually in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

If you compare those two scriptures, right, the analogy of faith, let the Bible interpret itself. Let one verse inform you concerning another verse. It’s interesting that the same results result from either letting the word of Christ dwell in you or being filled with the Holy Spirit, and it seemed to me that there’s a correlation there. What does it mean to be filled with the spirit of God? In some sense it’s got to mean being filled with the word, obeying it, living it, but then that shouldn’t surprise us, should it? Because who’s the author of the Bible? The Holy Spirit.

Peter tells us that the writers of old were moved along by the Spirit. Since the Spirit is the author of the Bible, you and I cannot willingly or wantonly ignore the holy scriptures and find ourselves on familiar terms with the Holy Spirit. Just impossible. We must take an interest in that which interests him. The Holy Spirit works according to the scriptures, not apart from them. It’s clear therefore that the teaching of the Bible is that when the word of God dwells in us, the spirit of God swells within us. That’s how you’re filled with the spirit by doing his will, which is revealing his word.

Third word, surrender. Surrender. First word, seek. Second word, study. Third word, surrender. As noted earlier, the verb in our text here in Ephesians 5:18 is in the passive voice in the Greek grammar. Therefore, the text could be rendered like this. Let the Holy Spirit fill you, be being filled with the spirit and let the Holy Spirit fill you. It would seem then that embedded in the command itself is a condition. At first reading there seems to be no condition, but at least here’s a condition. Let the Holy Spirit fill you.

You and I are passive in that ultimate sense in that we don’t fill ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we’re passive in a let go and let God, an ethereal, mystical lay back on your back and something happens to you. No, I think it’s an active conscious understanding that the spirit of God has come to take control of my life and you consciously hand him the keys to every room, basement included. That’s the point here. You and I must yield right of way to the spirit without reserve and without regret. You cannot steer a parked vehicle and the Holy Spirit cannot lead us until we start moving in the direction of fulfilling his will and desiring his desires.

So at the beginning of every day, our bed ought to be an altar and our body ought to be a sacrifice. Try and have that image in your mind tomorrow morning. There you are all snuggled up onto the blankets and you realize another day has dawned, oh dear, but you need to see that bed as an altar, your body as a sacrifice and say, oh God, take me today. Use me today. Let me speak a word in your name. Let me do a deed in your honor. That’s the way a day must begin for the Christian. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices. We must consciously every morning decide to let God make the decisions.

That’s easier said than done, but that’s what needs to happen if you and I are going to be filled. You can’t be influenced by the Holy Spirit if you’re doing your own thing. If you don’t want to be influenced, told what to do, sent, commissioned, that’s impossible. Fundamentally, we must allow the Holy Spirit to do in us that for which he was given. You need to think that through. We need to get out of the driver’s seat and get into the passenger seat and make sure we don’t become a backseat driver in terms of God’s word and God’s will. Let him take the wheel.

There’s a song about that I think, right? Now, let me be realistic. It can’t be a perfect surrender, but it can be an honest one and if it’s an honest one, you’ll find God working in your life. And yet, let me say this by way of qualification, even at the point of surrender, we need to be careful because we can often surrender to God out of an act of self glory. What do I mean? We can end up seeking the Holy Spirit not for the chief end of glorifying God, but for our own end. Classic example, who? Acts chapter eight, Simon the saucer. He saw this beautiful work of the Holy Spirit and he said, “I’d like a piece of that. How much does it cost?”

Peter says, “You’ve got it all wrong. It’s not about what it’s going to do for you. It’s a gift given by God so that he may be glorified in each of our lives as we surrender to the direction of the Holy Spirit.” Death to self is one of the unalterable conditions of reception of the spirit’s fullness or as I like to put it, the pope of self. As Martin Luther described us, the pope of self must be defrocked in each of our lives so that we might be clothed with the spirit’s power and the spirit’s presence.

Charles Stanley is actually quite helpful here in his book on the Holy Spirit. He reminds us that one of the cardinal rules of a lifeguard’s role is almost to wait. As they go to rescue someone, they have to wait until their arms stop flailing about and they almost come to the point where they’re about to go under. They’ve actually surrendered. They’ve given up. Because you try and rescue a man or a woman that’s drowning but is not yet given up the fight and they can pull you down with them. And so, one of the rules of life guarding is that you have to wait until the person is fully surrendered, won’t be working against you and then you can help them. I think it’s the same in your life and in my life. We will not fully know the gracious and glorious work of the Holy Spirit until we have given up on ourselves.

God can’t fill us until we’re empty of ourselves. Fourth word, separate. Just as a vessel must be clean before it can or should be filled, so the life of a Christian needs to be cleansed of any and all defilement. What does it say in second Timothy, 2:21? That we need to be vessels fit for the master’s use. I can assure you, you come to our house for a spot of tea, my wife will not set in front of you a dirty dish. You’ll get a clean piece of china with a nice hot cup of tea in it. That’s the way it ought to be. And God wants to use you and me like a vessel, but we’ve got to be clean so we might be filled and used.

Let me say this and get to the last point. The Holy Spirit is not just a title, it is who he is. He is the Holy Spirit and if you want to be filled by the Spirit, you need to be holy. You and I need to be done with conscious sin. We need to confess that before God of which we’re aware is not pleasing to him and does not conform to his will. We need to stop grieving the spirit. Listen to Ephesians four and verse 30, “And not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away.” If you’re a bitter man, an angry man, a man who has a loose tongue, you cannot be filled with the spirit of God because you’re grieving him. You will see not an expansion of his work but a restriction of his work in your life.

It’s not that he will leave you because you’re sealed with the spirit until the day of redemption, but you will know the fullness of his work. Fifth word and we’re done. Serve. Serve. Paradoxically, the way to be filled is to be emptied. Remember what we said earlier in the first study about the spirit filled Christian being the spirit spilled Christian? The Holy Spirit continually fills the life that is continually poured out in Christian service. You see that in Paul. We won’t turn to it in the letter to the Philippines.

Earlier on he talks about how he wants to be like a drink offering poured on the sacrifice of the Philippines faith. He says, “Look, my death is simply a pouring out upon your own sacrifice.” The drink offering was not required. It was like the icing on the cake and the Levitical offerings, and so you gave your sacrifice and that of an extravagant love for God. You poured a drink off in on top, some wine. And Paul says, “Hey, you’re the sacrifice. I’m just the drink. I love to be poured out on top of you. Whatever I can do, I’d like to depart and be with Christ, but if staying in the flesh is a benefit to you, that’s good for me.”

And then later on in the same letter, what does he says, “I can do all things through Christ who keeps pouring his strength into me as the verb.” That’s the secret. When we pour out, God pours in. You want to be filled by the Holy Spirit, paradoxically empty yourself in exhausting service for the kingdom. The Spirit has come to do something through us. He has been poured out so that we might be poured out. Therefore, the way to be filled is to be emptied. We must not only give him an inlet into our lives, but an outlet from our lives.

Listen to these words by Richard Bewes who took the pulpit after John Stott at All Souls Church in London. Paradoxically, the way to be filled is to be emptied. You can prove this yourself. This is his test to you and I this morning. You can take on a challenging piece of service as a Christian and you will make the amazing discovery that in the performance of your task you are being filled and fulfilled. When it’s all over, as likely as not, you will feel better than you did before. This is related to the feeling of the spirit. Try it out. It’s true.

The more you give yourself away, the more you’ll find God in your life because the spiritual life of some is as the Dead Sea, while the spiritual life of others is as the Galilee Sea. If you look at a map of Israel, interesting thing is both those seas are supplied by the River Jordan, but the Dead Sea is dead. No life in it, no fish. There’s no fishing boats on the Dead Sea, but if you go to Galilee, it’s teaming with life and fishermen are all over that sea. What’s the difference? Because the River Jordan flows into the Dead Sea, but not out of the Dead Sea, but it flows into the Sea of Galilee and out of the Sea of Galilee, and that’s the secret of the Christian life.

The living water of the Holy Spirit wants to flow into us and flow out of us, and as we empty ourselves in service, we’ll find God constantly filling us with the refreshing, reinvigorating presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Try it out. Lazy Christians know nothing of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Tired, spent, though many of us may be, it’s in that very zone that we find the joy, the blessing of the refreshing reinvigorating ministry of the Holy Spirit.

We’re at the tail end of a week. By tomorrow, we’ll find ourselves on the doorstep of a new week on the Lord’s day. Are you holding keys that belong in God’s hands? Are you willing afresh to yield yourself to the influence of the spirit of God? Are you willing to give him that body that was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ? Are you willing to give yourself to a diligent study and a consistent sitting under the word preach so that you might not only hear it, but then do it and find the spirit of God filling you in the doing of it?

Are you serving in the body of Christ? We need to let the Spirit of God do in us that which he was given for. One of the things was to equip the body with gifted people. Have you found your place in this church? Are you serving the Lord faithfully and fruitfully in the joy of the Spirit and in the fullness of the Spirit? Oh God, we have been reminded this morning that the Christian life is not difficult, it’s impossible. But you don’t expect us to live it ourselves. Christ in you is the hope of our glory.

Lord, help us to realize that the Christian life is not a matter of imitation, but it’s a matter of incarnation. God working in us so that God might do his work through us. Lord, forgive us for being the boy in the story. We’re exhausted. We feel that we’re not accomplishing all that our Father has asked of us. Yet Lord, there’s one more thing we haven’t asked for and that’s your help to do that which you’ve asked us to do. Help us therefore to seek the filling and the fullness of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. Lord, indeed we are buckets with holes in them that need to be constantly filled because they’re constantly leaking and these things we ask and pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.