Ephesians 5:18

We all want to know more about the Holy Spirit. We know the Holy Spirit is real because the Bible says so. We know that He is working in the world today. We know that He dwells in every believer. We know that He alone can give us the power we need. We would like to know how to receive His power for daily living.

Acts 19 records the story of Paul’s first visit to Ephesus, where He met some disciples of John the Baptist. When Paul asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed, they replied with total honesty, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (verse 2). Many contemporary Christians could say virtually the same thing.


I’m not going to talk about most of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. I want to focus on one very important question: How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit? I believe this is one of the most important principles of the spiritual life. Learn this and you will discover a source of supernatural power that can help you every single day.

We all need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Some questions immediately come to mind. What is the filling of the Spirit? What difference does it make? How does it happen? But preeminent above all others is this question: Am I filled with the Spirit? We desperately need the Holy Spirit today.


Ephesians 5:18 can be read in several different translations: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (NIV). The New Living Translation gives a slightly different wording: “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.” Finally, we have this paraphrase by Eugene Peterson: “Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him” (The Message). I especially like the phrase: “Drink the Spirit of God.” That’s very picturesque, isn’t it?

So that we might have the teaching clearly in front of us, let’s think about five observations from the text.

A. Note the contrast between wine and the Spirit. This is the most basic point of the verse. There is a direct parallel between being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit. What precisely is the point of comparison between wine and the Holy Spirit? The issue is influence or control.

A person under the influence of wine experiences altered behavior. He may say or do things he would not ordinarily say or do. If the person drinks enough wine, his mental processes will be affected and his decision-making ability will be radically altered—almost always with a negative result.

Likewise, the filling of the Holy Spirit produces a change in behavior but with positive results. In the book of Acts, once-timid disciples became on-fire evangelists for Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 5:15-21, Paul mentions a number of benefits related to the filling of the Spirit:

Wisdom for living in this evil age (verses 15, 16).

• Understanding of God’s will (verse 17).

• A joyful heart filled with singing to the Lord (verse 19).

• A heart filled with thanksgiving (verse 20).

• An attitude of mutual submission (verse 21).

True submission is vitally important because it contrasts with our desire to be in control of every situation. When we submit from the heart, we are saying, “I don’t have to have my way all the time.” Only a heart touched by the Holy Spirit can maintain such an attitude in every relationship.

B. This is a command. In the Greek language, this verb is an imperative. This means that the filling of the Spirit isn’t an optional part of the Christian life; every Christian is to be filled with the Spirit all the time. If you aren’t, you are out of God’s will.

C. It is in the present tense. This insight is particularly helpful because the Greek present tense conveys the idea of continual action. It’s not a one-time event. We need to be filled again and again. We could legitimately translate this verse in this way: “Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit” or “Be constantly controlled by the Spirit.” The filling of the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the normal way of life for the Christian.

D. It is in the passive voice. This is a nuance many people miss. In Greek, as in English, this can be either active or passive. He doesn’t say, “Fill yourself with the Spirit” but rather “Be filled with the Spirit.”

E. It is a plural command. This command is plural, as if Paul were saying, “Let each and every one of you be filled with the Spirit.” On one hand, that means the command is for every Christian. God intends—and desires—that all His children be filled with the Holy Spirit. I am to be filled with the Spirit—but I am not to be filled alone. When the Holy Spirit fills us one by one, our corporate life will be transformed.


Let’s wrap up this message by pointing out two issues related to the filling of the Holy Spirit.

A. The issue of control. Here’s my definition of the filling of the Spirit. It’s what happens when the Holy Spirit has the controlling interest in your life. Go back to the contrast between wine and the Spirit. Drunken and Spirit-filled people have one thing in common: they are both controlled people.

• If a man is filled with anger, anger controls his life.

• If a man is filled with greed, greed dominates his life.

• If a man is filled with love, love influences all he does.

When the Holy Spirit fills you, He will have the controlling interest in your life. It is “control by consent.”

B. The issue of cooperation. I believe that every Christian is filled with the Spirit from the moment of the new birth. This means that the central issue is one of cooperation. Am I going to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and let Him lead me? Many of us struggle with this point. We fight with the Lord because we want to do things our way.


God is ready, willing, and able to fill you right now. But some Christians are so full of themselves that they have no room for the Holy Spirit. You can’t fill a jar that’s already full, and you can’t fill a jar that is not open.

Let me end by putting this matter in a larger perspective. The Holy Spirit is never given merely for our own personal enjoyment. God sends His Spirit to enable us to live for Christ in the world. Our nation will be better when our churches are better. Our churches will be better when we are better people. We will be better people when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

If we live another day without the Holy Spirit’s control in our lives, we have only ourselves to blame. God has made Himself fully available to us. Have we made ourselves fully available to Him?