Monday, March 3, 2014

Church use of biblical expressions, part 2

In my first post on the church's use of biblical expressions, I noted that the church often uses expressions differently than how they are used in the Bible. I said that this is fine except when we think we are using an expression the way that the Bible does when we are not. If I had my way, we would use them exactly as the Bible uses them to avoid confusion.

For this second post, I have chosen the term "filled with the Holy Spirit" or just "filled with the Spirit."
While I have not heard this term much in my present church, I used to hear it often among Pentecostals and even some others. They do not necessarily use the term to mean the same thing. Some, not all, Pentecostals will use it to talk about how they felt at a particular time when they sensed a strong presence of the Spirit in a meeting.

Others have used the expression, "Spirit-filled", to describe Christians who live a godly life and who have a close walk with the Lord. Now you might think that that is what the Bible, especially the New Testament, says about Christians who are filled with the Spirit, but this is not the case. And I will certainly not make the argument that we do not need to live a godly life or that the Spirit does not have a key role to play in that. He surely does.

But there is a difference in the Bible between "walking in the Spirit" and being "filled with the Spirit". The term "walking in (or by) the Spirit" means that we are being led by and influenced by the the Holy Spirit to live a godly and holy life. "I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh ... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:16,22-23). We certainly need to do this, but you will notice that this passage says nothing about being filled with the Spirit.

What does it mean then to be "filled with the Spirit"? Let's look at what the New Testament says about this:

"He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born." - Luke 1:15 - referring to the birth of John the Baptist.

"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit." Ephesians 5:18 - notice a similar contrast here and in Luke between being drunk on wine and being filled with the Spirit.

"His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied" Luke 1:67

"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." Acts 2:4

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." Acts 4:31 The church was praying after the apostles were threatened.

"But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?" Acts 13:8-10

This is just about every instance where the term "filled with the Spirit" was used. A similar expression is "full of the Holy Spirit."

"Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." Acts 7:55 - Luke tells of the martyrdom of Stephen after he had given his great speech to those who subsequently stoned him.

The most common element among these passages regarding being filled with the Spirit is one of divinely-inspired speech. That might be prophecy, tongues or even bold witness, but speech seems to be involved. (One could nitpick by noting that John could not have spoken in his mother's womb, but he did, of course, have a great prophetic ministry.) Now one does not have to be very mature to speak in tongues (read Corinthians) or to prophecy (a donkey did it once) or even testify boldly in Jesus' name. However, we must realize that God wants us to be both grow in grace by walking in the Spirit and be filled with the Spirit as well. We are not to choose one at the expense of the other.

God wants us to mature and grow and lead a godly life, but He also wants us to be "filled with the Spirit", speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the edification and blessing of the church.

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