Be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
In July, 1997 my wife and I had the privilege of taking tea with Lord and Lady Catherwood in Cambridge, England. Lady Catherwood is the daughter of my favourite preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who so ably preached the doctrines of grace, beginning in Aberavon, Wales in 1927 and concluding shortly before his death on March 1, 1981.1 I was able to ask Lady Catherwood a series of questions about her father and his ministry. One of my questions had to do with the revival they experienced at the little Presbyterian Church in Aberavon.2 She said that she was only five years old when it began but she distinctly remembers the presence of God. She said it was glorious and she has never forgotten it. During this ministry a witch wandered into the church one Sunday evening, on her way to a séance. She listened to the sermon and continued to return, eventually being soundly converted out of witchcraft to faith in Christ. When Lloyd-Jones asked her about attending for the first time, she said that she sensed a clean spirit was present.
The church of Jesus in the west today reminds me of a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant, having a beautiful building, an experienced and gifted leadership and staff, the latest in information systems, and the best research and development of any competitor. There is only one thing missing – electricity. A plant without electricity is going nowhere. The church has her buildings, theologically trained professional ministers, staff, and a plethora of programmes, but we lack power. We lack Holy Ghost power. What would happen if everyone in your church was drunk, as it were, with the Holy Spirit?
Paul is giving the Ephesians two commands in this passage – one is negative: do not get drunk with wine for that is unsavableness (literally the Greek word means this), and the other is positive: be being filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul follows this present tense, imperative with five present tense participles which describe the nature of being filled – speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord, giving thanks to the Father through Christ, and being subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Consider one who is drunk with wine. He thinks, speaks, acts, feels, walks differently. Why? Because he is under the influence of alcohol. Similarly one filled or dominated by the Holy Spirit thinks, speaks, acts, feels, and walks like God. To be more specific, he does what the Holy Spirit does. See John 14:16; 16:26, Titus 3:5. The Holy Spirit exalts Christ, bringing regeneration to people, convicting them of sin, comforting them, causing them to grow in grace, to become more like Jesus. So, one filled with the Spirit, when teaching, preaching, evangelizing, counselling, discipling, showing mercy sees his work take. It is effectual. These are not merely people who listen and are partially helped in their marriages, who make professions of faith but persist in their sin, who seemingly never overcome their drug or sexual addictions. When the Spirit regenerates then transformation occurs.
Peter was a man given to the sin of pride, presumption, and cowardice prior to Pentecost, but then, in fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy, the Spirit came upon those who had been praying for ten days and Peter began to preach with unction and boldness, seeing 5000 converted on that day. He never looked back. The outpouring of the Spirit in Acts is normative for the church. We ought to see the same sort of thing happen today. Why don’t we? Because we are not filled with the Spirit.
What results from the filling of the Spirit? The first thing is gospel holiness in the form of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). Simply put – does your life consistently and progressively show itself in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Second, observing what we see in Acts, since it is normative, a group of people in one church being filled with the Spirit means that mighty prayer is going on somewhere. It is prayer which grieves over personal sin, where confession and repentance are occurring, where people are energized to pray for long periods of time without interruption. See Nehemiah 1, Daniel 10, Acts 2. It results in mighty preaching. By that I mean that the preacher proclaims unapologetically the Word of God, that people are struck by the solemnity of it, that God has his way with the people, that the people are rivetted on the sermon, not thinking about what their team is doing later that day. They know God is speaking directly to them. It results in mighty conversions, not mere professions of faith where we have to run after people to get them into a follow-up programme; but it yields transformation, a clean break with darkness, a careful walk in the light. It results in mighty assemblies. Yes, even in Presbyterian Churches there is emotion, awe, weeping, confessing, conversions, reconciliation between spouses, children with their parents, friends with friends. It results in mighty acts of compassion, where people put away their prejudices against people different than they, and reach out to help them in specific, concrete ways. It results in mighty community, where believers genuinely love one another, forgive one another, deal kindly with one another, share what they have with one another. It results in mighty generosity where people let go of their money and time, giving it freely, joyously for the sake of the kingdom and the good of people.
Are you seeing this in your church? We at CCPC, by the grace of God, are experiencing a taste of it, and it is glorious. It is all of God. I must say, however, that it is only a taste. It is limited. It is not comprehensive. We still have a majority of people who seemingly show up, engage in corporate worship, listen to a sermon, take communion and go home. But there are some with whom God is dealing directly, powerfully, gloriously, effectually.
What if everyone in CCPC was filled with the Spirit? What if everyone in your church was filled with the Spirit, was dominated and controlled by the one who exalts Jesus, who convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgement, who comforts, who instructs, who empowers for holiness? What does this practically look like in your life, whatever your work and family situation? You pray, walk humbly, are quick to confess your sins. You will find an unusual boldness and efficacy in your speech. You will find great joy and expectancy. You simply expect God to save, sanctify, reconcile people.
- The story of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ life is told in the 2-volume biography by Iain H. Murray, published by the Trust:
Volume 1 – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939
Volume 2 – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981
- A fascinating account of ‘the Doctor’s’ years in Aberavon is given by his wife, Bethan, in Memories of Sandfields, recently reprinted.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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