“That He would grant you…to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you…know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14–19

I often get the idea of fullness confused with being crammed full. Being reputed to be an “expert” packer, I delight in being on hand to assist people when they move. Give me an empty truck, stuff to load up, and a few extra hands and we are in business. It is always my intent to make everything fit and that no space goes unused no matter how trivial. Whether moving, packing for vacation, boxing up a package, or eating my fill, I enjoy the challenge. My problem is that I associate being filled with being stuffed to the gills and that is not often the idea of biblical fullness.

The biblical idea is richer. For instance, Ephesians 5:17-19 reads, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns….” The false teaching that a believer must seek a second work of grace by being filled with the Holy Spirit (evidenced by some sort of manifestation of the Spirit) arises from the view that filling is to be crammed full, something like a taking over of every available spiritual space, a requisition, or seizing complete possession of the person.

Several things work against such an interpretation. First, the illustration of alcoholic drunkenness. Being drunk is the opposite of wisdom which exercises self-control (verse 17). Opening yourself up to drunkenness invites “dissipation.” The Greek word is asotia, a compound word meaning wasteful, prodigality, excess, and riot (“saved” plus the negating prefix, essentially meaning “not saved”). Such are the unredeemed ways of the world, the way of the fool (Ephesians 5:15f). A Spirit-filled believer is wise, purposely exercising self-control (part of the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22f) and knowingly filling his days with Spirit led decisions—thus redeeming the time allotted to him on earth.

Second, the following context lists various behaviors of a believer filled with the Holy Spirit. The behaviors are anything but drunk, dissolute, wasteful and selfish. The Spirit-led believer fills his conversations with Scriptural themes and praise (verses 19f), exercises godly deference in his dealings (verse 21), behaves with godly submission and obedience in his marriage (verses 22ff) and in all his relationships (verses 6:1ff). As you can plainly see, the richness of being “filled with the Spirit” is diminished severely if we even remotely see filling as being crammed and overloaded with an occupying force. The biblical idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit is depending upon Him for the strength to exercise self-control so that God’s wisdom is thoughtfully, joyfully, and fully obeyed such that God is visible through your actions to all who care to see. (Obedient living is wise living.)

Third, I believe that Paul’s meaning of being filled with the Spirit has already been explained in his prayer we quoted from Ephesians 3:14–19. Once again the word “filled” is used, bringing out its richness.

The Greek word is pleroma, denoting fullness, that of which a thing is full. The verb form is pleroo, meaning to make full, to fill to the full, to fulfill, to complete and to supply. Notice that Ephesians 1:22f has already set the pace for Paul’s meaning of completion, “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” The thread of thought continues in 4:10, “He who descended is also the One who ascended far above the heavens, that He might fill all things.” Fulfillment of Scriptures is in view but also His bringing to completion His work in the church and the maturing of His saints. Ephesians 4:13 says, “Til we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The Father’s plan concerning you, undertaken by His Son, is brought to fullness by the Holy Spirit. (Wise living is obedient living.)

Just as Paul illustrates how the filling of the Holy Spirit looks in the practical norms found in 5:19 to the end of the book, now he describes how the filling of the Holy Spirit works within every believer in 3:14ff. The mechanics of Spirit filling are the subject of Paul’s prayer. First, in order to even have the presence of the Holy Spirit, one must be born again (verse 15). You must be in the Father’s family through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ and rebirth by His Spirit placing you into the body of Christ. Second, the Holy Spirit must empower you, strengthening with might the inner man (verse 16). Though the outward man perishes, the inward man will grow, strengthen, be energized by, and be empowered to obey God by the efforts of the Holy Spirit so that Christ lives within. Third, He illumines the heart of believers through the Word of God enabling spiritual comprehension which further augments your obedience through knowing God.

These are the spiritual mechanics (wisdom) which energize the outward Spirit-led behaviors (obedience), leading to the fullness of God in you. This is how He brings to completion His work regarding you (Philippians 1:11). Trust and obey.