Pastor Craig Carter
In our current sermon series, we’re looking at some English words consisting of four letters that help us live as God intends us to live. But they are not the type we normally associate with the phrase, “four-letter words.”
Instead, they are Sacred 4-Letter Words that enable us to be holy as God is holy.
Last week we observed that our #1 enemy in living the Christian life is SELF. It is “the disease of me” that has infected every member of the human race from Adam and Eve onward. Jesus applied the cure when He is issued this invitation to His would-be disciples.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV)
Jesus’ closest allies, namely the Twelve, took His words to heart, and as best they could, they denied self, died to self, and devoted themselves to Christ.
But the remedy wasn’t immediately apparent. Throughout the remainder of the gospels, we see His disciples dominated by self.
They were petty, vied for position, and wanted the limelight. They looked at everything from a human viewpoint and repeatedly misunderstood Scripture.
In Jesus’ time of need, they denied Him and looked out for #1 (self).
But following Christ’s death and resurrection, something changed … dramatically. In the Book of Acts, they are no longer focused on self and their own self-interests. Instead they are fixed on their Savior and devoted to the cause of Christ
Their pettiness among themselves gives way to purposeful, sacrificial living. Rather than denying Jesus, they are now willing to die for Him (and some do). Their misunderstanding of Scripture is replaced by an incredible mastery of God’s Word.
So what happened and brought about this dramatic change in their lives?
Just prior to His ascension into heaven, Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of their Heavenly Father, namely the arrival of the Holy Spirit. And that’s exactly what they did. They gathered in prayer until the Day of Pentecost when they heard a sound from heaven like a mighty windstorm, saw flames of fire appear, and began to speak in other languages.
It was all a result of the fact that “everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4a NLT). Literally, “they were filled to the full with the Holy Spirit.”
So whereas the disciples were previously filled with self, they were now full of the Spirit of the living God … and what a difference it made!
God’s original purpose in creation was for the Holy Spirit to dwell in every person’s life. But sin, spelled SELF, evicted the Spirit of God from the human heart. Now, in the new creation, made possible by Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to fill every believer’s life with the power and presence of God.
So Paul prays this prayer that I treasure as one of Scripture’s best:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith … that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-17a, 19b NIV)
It is by being filled with the Spirit of God that we become FULL of God. Since it’s the Holy Spirit at work, we then become holy as God is holy.
So, by faith in Christ, we say to the Lord, “Fill ‘er up!” Then, rather than being “full of it” (as most of us are), we become “full of Him.”
For those of my generation, we remember pulling into a gas station and saying to the attendant, “Fill ‘er up!” (it was even called a filling, or fillin’, station). So we normally think of being filled in terms of quantity – a tank filled with gas, a glass filled with water, or a balloon filled with helium.
But being filled can also refer to control, especially when humans are involved. A heart filled with envy is controlled by it. A mind filled with lust is dominated by impure thoughts. A person full of love is benevolent and generous towards others while one full of anger is consumed by it and acts in rage.
When the Bible talks about being filled with the Holy Spirit, it’s referring to giving full control to God and the work of His Spirit.
It’s why later in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Ephesians 5:18 NLT)
Have you ever wondered why Paul makes this connection between wine and the Holy Spirit?
A valid contrast requires a point of comparison. You can compare “apples to oranges,” but not “apples to orangutans.”
So what is the association between being filled with wine and being filled with the Holy Spirit? Both cause recipients to be under the control, or influence, of an outside power.
Liquor causes a temporary, negative, destructive effect. The Holy Spirit brings a permanent, positive, constructive benefit.
And the verb form Paul uses is instructive. It is the imperative mood, the command form: “You must be filled!” It is the present tense, which denotes continuing action in the Greek. “You must be filled on a regular, on-going basis” (because Christians leak!)
So if you and I are going to achieve our God-given destiny we must be FULL of the Holy Spirit. That is, we must allow the Spirit of God to fill our lives and control our behavior.
What does that look like?
Let’s go back to the occasion when the first followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Do you remember how onlookers reacted to what they saw taking place among Christ’s disciples?
Others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!” (Acts 2:13 NLT)
To which Peter responded, “These people are not drunk … No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.’” (Acts 2:15-17 NLT)
In other words, Peter said, “You’re partly right. These folks are under the influence, only not of alcohol, but of the Holy Spirit because God is doing the pouring!”
Isn’t it interesting that being drunk and being filled with the Holy Spirit are connected, just as Paul later suggested in his letter to the Ephesians? What does that mean for you and me as we seek to become FULL?
When we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we become spiritually intoxicated and under God’s control. And that brings at least some commonality with folks who are under the influence of alcohol. Using the example of the first believers which confirms what many of us have observed (but hopefully not experienced J) as drunken behavior, let’s see what we might expect to happen.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit and become full of God, there is…
When people have been drinking, you usually know it. There may be loud music, boisterous conversation, dancing, and a “party” atmosphere.
While not mentioned in this passage explicitly, many other times in the Book of Acts persons responded to the Spirit’s presence with praise and thanksgiving.
Paul makes the connection in the passage I mentioned from Ephesians. After saying, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” he continues, “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.” (Ephesians 5:18b-19 NLT)
Based on the witness of Scripture and my own experience, I would find it hard to believe the disciples didn’t break out into songs of joy on the Day of Pentecost. Their exuberance was mistaken for drunken behavior.
Are you aware that in the early days of our denomination we were referred to as “singing, shoutin’ Methodists”?
As a matter of fact, many in John Wesley’s day (the founder of our denominatio) leveled criticism against the people called Methodists for being overly emotional in their style of worship. They were accused of engaging in behavior deemed inappropriate for “dignified” Christian persons.
Maybe they were simply “under the influence” of the Holy Spirit. Are Methodists today still subjected to such accusations? It’s more likely that we are mistaken for being dead rather than drunk!
I’m certainly not talking about a contrived type of emotionalism. But what I am saying is if we are filled with what the New Testament calls “the new wine” of God’s Holy Spirit, there ought to be some sort of outward evidence of that fact.
As I already mentioned, you know when someone is filled with envy, lust, love, or anger. We need to remember the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself. And Jesus said He came to give us life and to give it to the full.
If drunken people experience a sort of temporary euphoria, surely Spirit-filled believers should know a type of excitement that the rest of the world knows nothing about – all the time, but especially when we get together in worship.
Do you know why many people in our day and age want nothing to do with the church? Do you know why unbelievers say they don’t attend worship? The #1 reason people give for not coming to church is this: “It’s boring.” Do you know why they say that? Because it is!
Friends, we might be accused of all sorts of things, but there is absolutely no reason why we should ever be called boring! We worship the God that created the heavens and the earth. We follow the One who gives us abundant and eternal life. We are filled, to the full and overflowing, with the Spirit of the living God.
If that doesn’t excite you and me, nothing ever will!
It is worth noting why people under the influence of alcohol are exuberant. After all, liquor is a type of depressant. But it depresses everything, including a person’s inhibitions. Perhaps this is a good indicator of the extent to which we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
What is the level of our inhibitions (especially in the context of worship)? How concerned are we about what others may think? How willing are we to abandon ourselves and our reputation in order to follow the Spirit’s leading?
One of the effects of being full of the Spirit is that it brings exuberance, excitement and enthusiasm like that described by the psalmist who says…
“Shout with joy to the Lord…Worship the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:1 NLT)
“I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands in prayer.” (Psalm 63:4 NLT)
“Praise [the Lord’s] name with dancing…” (Psalm 149:3a NLT)
2) Love and Unity
The only thing worse than being around a bunch of overly loud drunks is being around a bunch of overly loving drunks. Liquor oftentimes has a unifying effect of people. It brings together people of different generations, races and socio-economic backgrounds.
My wife Lee and I once attended several playoff and World Series games. Our seats were next to two brothers. The first couple of games, they barely spoke to each other, much less to us. But at the final game, after consuming a large quantity of alcohol, they were telling each other, “Man, I love you,” and hugging us.
Also, drinking buddies tend to rally together and come to one another’s aid. You don’t want to fight a drunk because you’ll probably have to take on his whole crew.
Even before the descent of the Holy Spirit, we’re told that the believers were “all together.”
But in the days that followed, they exhibited a newfound sense of love and unity. Operative phrases were “in one accord,” “of one heart and mind,” “in common.”
Once again, the passage in Ephesians supports this notion: “Fit in with” each other, because of your common reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21 JBP)
If this or any church is going to be a unified Body of believers, it won’t happen because we all act alike or always think alike or share common opinions about everything. Love and unity will result from us being under the influence of the same Spirit. And it will be evident to everyone that we are all full of it, er, full of Him.
The song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by our Love”? puts it this way: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord…”
I’ve never been around many silent drunks (except ones who have passed out). In fact, we even have a phrase to describe their verbose behavior – “Don’t pay any attention to them, it’s the liquor talking.”
Notice what happened when the Holy Spirit arrived on the Day of Pentecost: “[They] began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability … about the wonderful things God has done!” (Acts 2:4, 11 NLT)
What Jesus had predicted would happen had now come to pass. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere…” (Acts 1:8 NLT)
What do witnesses do? They talk. And boy, did the apostles talk!
There are many facets to Christian living. I believe the hardest part for most of us is carrying out our God-given mandate to “go and tell” others about what we have discovered in Christ.
We’re far-removed from Peter and the first Christians who were ordered not to witness by the ruling authorities and yet responded, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20 MNT)
What is the reason for the difference in attitude andbehavior between them and us?
Our typical response is, “Help! We cannot speak about…”
Perhaps they were “under the influence” … and we’re not. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31 NIV)
I want to close by returning to the verb form of “fill” that Paul uses in Ephesians 5:18. Remember: imperative mood makes it a command and present tense shows it is continuing action. There is one more facet: passive voice suggests that somebody is being acted upon.
“Be filled!” “Be continually filled!” “Let yourself be continually filled!”
God poured out His Spirit on all people on the Day of Pentecost and still is doing so.
The question is: “Will we allow Him to fill us up until we are full, to overflowing?”
“Will we place ourselves under the influence of the Holy Spirit?”
I must admit that prospect is a bit scary because it means transferring control. The effect of the Holy Spirit on our lives is that He takes control. In Acts 2:4 CEV we read: “The Holy Spirit took control of everyone…”
What do you think might happen if the Holy Spirit took control of you, me, and the entire Lynn Haven United Methodist Church?
I have a feeling folks around us wouldn’t know what to think because we’d probably become more exuberant, more loving and united, and a quite a bit more talkative. And that’s what will happen if and when we allow God’s Spirit to fill us to the FULL.
To be filled, we first have to be empty. Is anything blocking the flow of God’s Spirit into your life? I’m talking about sin, spelled SELF. If so, repent of it, confess it, and receive God’s forgiveness. Then ask God to fill you, not just with a trickle, but with a torrent of the Holy Spirit.
Using today’s analogy: don’t just take a sip of God’s Spirit, chug it!