Christians make the most audacious claims. We say that God is our Friend, that He is our Father, and that He sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us forever. Is the Spirit of God dwelling within you? What is the difference between having the Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit?
The Book of Acts records the Holy Spirit coming upon the Church at Pentecost (chapter 2), but then records another incident in chapter 4 where they pray in response to a particular situation and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. What is going on? Evidently there can be various degrees of being filled with the Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit comes (in regeneration), He never leaves; but then He begins to “clean house” and fills us with power for acts of service.
In this passage, we are given two commands. The first is, “Do not be drunk with wine.” Drunkenness is a sin. Don’t go there. It leads to debauchery, which conveys a sense of recklessness and carelessness, no thought for consequences or tomorrow. The ancients used drugs as a mystical, spiritual experience. Some believed that the body is bad and in crippling the mind with alcohol, one could set the spirit free. Others simply chased the experience in order to numb the pain of living in a broken world.
Christians are not to give themselves over to the control of any substance that would make us act the fool. We do not serve God by crippling the mind and losing control of ourselves. We are commanded, rather, to be filled with the Spirit, under whose influence we do not lose self-control but rather gain it so that we may serve God intelligently and with power.
So how can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? We can’t control the Holy Spirit, but we can prepare for Him to fill us by placing ourselves under His control. We can’t control the wind, but we can be in the boat in the water with the sails up, ready to receive it. We should be in the place where the ordinary means of grace are given, where the presence and power of God are ordinarily experienced.
Paul gives five ways that we may ordinarily place ourselves under the influence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life and community: (1.) speaking in hymns, (2.) singing, (3.) making music, (4.) thanksgiving, (5.) submitting. Three out of five of these ordinary means have to do with spiritual music. We do not come together in worship primarily to sit in a pew and listen to a sermon. One of the most important things we do in worship is to sing and make music! We sing to glorify God, to edify our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we speak to God in Song. There is medicine from God in hymns and spiritual songs because we hear the truth of God being sung into our ears. When we are going through hard times, there is great value in remembering all that God has done for us in Christ and turning to thank to God in Jesus’ name. This gratitude overflows in song.
The final way that Paul lists for us to place ourselves under the control of the Holy Spirit is to submit to each other. We are to submit officially to God’s delegated authority, but also to anyone who speaks the truth to us. Sometimes this comes from people who are under our authority, from an enemy, or even from our own children. Lack of submission expresses itself in arrogance and intolerance, in the attitude, “Who are you to speak to me that way?” Lack of submission clogs the arteries through which the Holy Spirit flows; so, submit to truth wherever you find it.