Spirit-Filling In Ephesians 5:18 -- By: William W. Combs

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 019:1 (NA 2014)
Article: Spirit-Filling In Ephesians 5:18
Author: William W. Combs

Spirit-Filling In Ephesians 5:18

William W. Combs1

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation,
but be filled with the Spirit
(Eph 5:18)2

When Paul tells the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18, he uses a verb (πληροῦσθε) in the imperative mood that is universally understood to be an exhortation3 or command.4 The difference between the two is sometimes negligible, as one suspects would be the case when an apostle addresses believers.5 An exhortation or request from an apostle would generally seem to have the force of a command for believers under his authority. Thus we can rightfully consider it a requirement for Paul’s readers, as well as us today. Unfortunately, contrary to what some might believe, exactly what Paul means by being “filled with the Spirit” is difficult to ascertain, as is demonstrated by the

numerous, varied interpretations of the apostle’s language. This may be at least partly due, as Hollis notes, to the fact that “the exact phrase πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι occurs nowhere else in Greek literature, except for quotations of Eph 5:18 in the church fathers.”6 But before delving into the meaning of the text itself, I will review the contemporary and historical emphasis (or lack thereof) that this text has enjoyed.

Contemporary Emphasis

This command to be filled with the Sprit is commonly seen as an essential element, if not the primary element, in the believer’s sanctification. In critiquing Anthony Hoekema’s chapter on sanctification in Five Views on Sanctification, John Walvoord says: “Hoekema strangely omits any reference to or discussion of either the filling of the Spirit or the baptism of the Spirit. In the Augustinian-dispensational perspective, the filling of the Spirit is the secret of sanctification.”7 In another place Walvoord says: “From the standpoint of practical value to the individual Christian, no field of doctrine relating to the Holy Spirit is more vital than the subject of the filling of the Spirit.”8 Great em...

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