Lesson Focus:  The Holy Spirit fills believers and empowers them in their service and prayers.

Be Filled with the Spirit:  Ephesians 5:17-18.

[17]  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [18]  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,  [ESV]

[17-18]  The general exhortation of 5:15, which urges the Christian readers to be very careful how they live, is further explained by the contrast in 5:17: they are admonished not to be foolish but to understand what the Lord’s will is. The foolish person is the fool who is careless, lacks understanding, and despises wisdom. He refuses to acknowledge dependence on God, and acts foolishly and presumptuously. This person lacks discernment in practical living. Believers are to be very careful how they live, and therefore they should not return to the senseless ways of the past. In sharp contrast and as a corrective to being foolish, they are urged to understand the Lord’s will. The will of God turns up in important contexts of Ephesians. In the first half of the letter it is used broadly of God’s saving plan, various facets of which are described in different contexts. Significantly, in the latter half of Ephesians the two references to the divine will [5:17; 6:6] appear in exhortatory contexts where the stress falls upon believers’ responsibility to work out that will day by day. Concerning the use of the Lord’s will in 5:17, several important features are to be noted. First, believers are exhorted to understand the divine will. Paul is not suggesting that the readers have no insight into this will. Rather he is admonishing them to appropriate it more fully for themselves. God has revealed to them the mystery of His will in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let them lay hold of it and understand its implications for their day-to-day living. Paul does not have in mind simply an intellectual understanding of the Lord’s will. The cognitive dimension is clearly included, but the believers’ understanding of God’s gracious saving plan is to lead to right conduct. In fact, living in a godly and blameless fashion is an essential element of the will of God since this was the goal of the readers’ election in Christ [1:4,5]. Second, Paul speaks of the Lord’s will rather than God’s, which is the customary expression. The difference may not be particularly significant. However, there is a Christological focus within the preceding paragraph [5:8-14], and a flow of thought that begins with the mention of believers now becoming light in the Lord [8] moves to their finding out what pleases the Lord [10] and climaxes with a statement about Christ shining upon them [14]. Christ-centered instruction, with its focus on the truth of the gospel, enables them to discern in specific situations what pleases the Lord [10]. Let them now reflect upon what the will of the Lord Jesus Christ entails and act upon it. Verse 18 contains another contrast provided by the twofold exhortation, which begins with the prohibition against getting drunk and concludes with the positive admonition be filled with the Spirit. This admonition sets the direction for the rest of the passage. Paul’s primary concern is to urge his readers to live by the Spirit continually. This exhortation brings to a conclusion the long series of exhortations that began in 4:17, and leads into the commands that deal with Christian relationships generally [19-21] and those within the Christian household more specifically [5:22-6:9]. From 4:17 on Paul has drawn a sharp contrast between behavior which characterizes the unbelieving world and that of God’s people. The rejection of drunkenness in verse 18 is a continuation of this same antithesis, for drunkenness is depicted as epitomizing the ways of darkness. Drunkenness lay at the center of the destructive and unacceptable lifestyle that belonged to the readers’ past, and was not consistent with membership in the new people of God. The prohibition, do not get drunk with wine, is offset by its positive counterpart, be filled with the Spirit, which is Paul’s special concern. This admonition receives the emphasis, and the results of this infilling are amplified in the verses which follow. The readers have already been told that they have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and that they must not grieve Him [1:13; 4:30]. Now they are bidden to be filled by the Spirit, and this is consonant with their living as children of light [8] and walking wisely [15]. The preposition Paul uses can be translated as either by or with. By would indicate that the Spirit is doing the filling without indicating what the believer is to be filled with. With emphasizes that the Spirit is the content of the fullness. It could be that Paul had both of these ideas in mind. In 3:19 Paul prayed that his readers may be filled with all the fullness of God. In 5:18 Paul may mean that this fullness of God is accomplished by the believer being filled with the Spirit. Although there is a strong emphasis on God’s activity in bringing His people to fullness, this transforming work is not done apart from their personal involvement. Believers, both individually and corporately, are to be wholly and utterly involved in this process of infilling. Although believers do not fill themselves, they are to be receptive to the Spirit’s transforming work, making believers into the likeness (of fullness) of God and Christ.

Be Filled to Serve:  Ephesians 5:19-21.

[19]  addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, [20]  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, [21]  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.  [ESV]

[19-21]  The apostle now lists the four beneficial results of being filled with the Spirit. (1) Fellowship: addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. The mention of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs indicates that the context of this fellowship is public worship. (2) Worship: singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart. Here the singing is not to one another but to the Lord. Without doubt Spirit-filled Christians have a song of joy in their hearts, and Spirit-filled public worship is a joyful celebration of God’s mighty acts. (3) Gratitude: giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The call to thanksgiving is not uncommon in Paul’s letters. The grumbling spirit is not compatible with the Holy Spirit. Grumbling was one of the besetting sins of the people of Israel; they were always murmuring against the Lord and against Moses. But the Spirit-filled believer is full not of complaining, but of thanksgiving. Although the text reads that we are to give thinks always and for everything, we must not press these words literally. For we cannot thank God for absolutely everything, including blatant evil. Of course God’s children learn not to argue with Him in their suffering, but to trust Him, and indeed to thank Him for His loving providence by which He can turn even evil to good purposes. But that is praising God for being God; it is not praising Him for evil. To do this would be to react insensitively to people’s pain (when Scripture tells us to weep with those who weep) and to condone and even encourage evil (when Scripture tells us to hate it and to resist the devil). God abominates evil, and we cannot praise or thank Him for what He abominates. So then the everything for which we are to give thanks to God must be qualified by its context, namely to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our thanksgiving is to be for everything which is consistent with the loving Fatherhood of God and the self-revelation He has given us in Jesus Christ. Once again the doctrine of the Trinity informs and directs our devotion. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we give thanks to God our Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (4) Submission: submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Sometimes a person who claims to be filled with the Spirit becomes aggressive, self-assertive and brash. But the Holy Spirit is a humble Spirit, and those who are truly filled with Him always display the meekness and gentleness of Christ. It is one of their most evident characteristics that they submit to one another. They also submit to Christ, for their mutual submissiveness is out of reverence for Christ. Those who are truly subject to Jesus Christ do not find it difficult to submit to each other as well. Such are the wholesome results of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. They all concern our relationships. If we are filled with the Spirit, we shall be harmoniously related both to God (worshipping Him with joy and thanksgiving) and to each other (speaking and submitting to one another). In brief, Spirit-filled believers love God and love each other, which is hardly surprising since the first fruit of the Spirit is love.

Be Filled to Pray:  Ephesians 6:18; Romans 8:26-27.

[6:18]  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

[8:26]  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27]  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  [ESV]

[6:18]  Finally, Paul adds prayer [18-20] because it is to pervade all our spiritual warfare. Equipping ourselves with God’s armor is not a mechanical operation; it is itself an expression of our dependence on God, in other words of prayer. Moreover, it is prayer in the Spirit, prompted and guided by Him, just as God’s word is the sword of the Spirit which He Himself employs. Thus Scripture and prayer belong together as the two chief weapons which the Spirit puts into our hands. Prevailing Christian prayer is wonderfully comprehensive. It has four universals, indicated by the fourfold use of the word all. We are to pray at all times (both regularly and constantly), with all prayer and supplication (for it takes many and varied forms), with all perseverance (because we need like good soldiers to keep alert, and neither give up nor fall asleep), making supplication for all the saints (since the preoccupation of this whole letter must be reflected in our prayers). Perhaps the most important is the command to stay awake and therefore alert [18]. It goes back to the teaching of Jesus Himself. He emphasized the need for watchfulness in view of the unexpectedness both of His return and of the onset of temptation. Watch and pray Jesus urged [Mark 14:38]. It is by prayer that we wait on the Lord and renew our strength. Without prayer we are much too feeble and flabby to stand against the might of the forces of evil.


[Rom. 8:26-27]  Likewise the hope of believers is also strengthened by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The verb helps is probably intensive, indicating not merely that the Spirit joins in helping but also that the Spirit Himself and alone renders the assistance believers need. The text says the Sprit helps believers in our weakness. In verse 26 the weakness of believers is defined in terms of their ignorance as to what is the proper content of prayer, and the Spirit’s help is defined in terms of His intercession for believers. Paul is not describing, then, the Spirit’s help for us in a general way but it is weakness in prayer that Paul zeroes in on, and the Spirit’s help in prayer is the answer to our weakness. Believers do not grasp fully what is appropriate in prayer. Not knowing how to pray as we ought is further explained by the phrase, according to the will of God, in verse 27. The weakness of believers in prayer, therefore, is that they do not have an adequate grasp of what God’s will is when they pray. Because of our finiteness and fallibility we cannot perceive fully what God would desire. The counterpart to our weakness is the Spirit’s assistance in both 8:26 and 27 with the use of the verb intercedes. Believers are weak in that they do not know what to pray for, since the totality of God’s will is hidden from them. The Spirit fills this lack by interceding for the saints. Indeed, verse 27 indicates that He intercedes for them according to God’s will, that is, He articulates the will of God in His intercession. Believers are weak in that they are unable to enunciate fully the will of God in their prayers. The Spirit compensates for their deficiency. The main burden of these two verses, then, is that the Spirit counterbalances the handicap of believers in prayer by interceding for them in accordance with God’s will. Moreover, the Holy Spirit’s intercession is said to be with groanings too deep for words. These groanings are not audible. They are the inexpressible longings that arise in every believer’s heart to do and know the will of God. That the groanings arise in the hearts of believers is suggested by verse 27, which says that God searches hearts which is most naturally understood to refer to the hearts of believers. God searches the hearts of believers and finds unutterable longings to conform their lives to the will of God. The Holy Spirit takes these groanings and presents them before God in an articulate form. Even though believers cannot specify their requests to God adequately since they do not know His will sufficiently, the Holy Spirit translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will. God discerns the groanings in the hearts of believers and finds in them the mind of the Spirit. The point is that since the Spirit intercedes in accord with God’s will, His prayers are always answered. The prayer of believers is not always answered affirmatively since we do not always know what God’s will is. Thus Paul prayed to have the thorn in the flesh removed three times and God revealed to him that this was not His will [2 Cor. 12:7-10]. By contrast, the Spirit’s prayers are always answered with a yes, precisely because He always prays in accordance with God’s will. The main point of the paragraph therefore emerges. Believers should take tremendous encouragement that the will of God is being fulfilled in their lives despite their weakness and inability to know what to pray for. God’s will is not being frustrated because of the weakness of believers. It is being fulfilled because the Spirit is interceding for us and invariably receiving affirmative answers to His pleas. The deepest longings (groanings) of our heart are to accomplish the will of God. The Spirit, Paul teaches, is carrying out these desires via His intercessory ministry.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Paul mean by understanding the Lord’s will? How can we know if we are correctly understanding the Lord’s will?

2.         What is Paul’s primary concern in 5:18? Note the parallelism between 5:17 and 18: foolish … drunk with wine; understand the Lord’s will … be filled with the Spirit. Meditate on the relationship between understanding the Lord’s will and being filled with the Spirit.

3.         What are the four beneficial results of being filled with the Spirit [see 5:19-21]? To what degree do you see these results in your own life; in the corporate life of your church?

4.         What does Paul mean by praying … in the Spirit [6:18]? How does Paul’s use of the four ‘all’s’ help us to understand his meaning?

5.         What is the main point of Romans 8:26-27? Note the connection between Romans 8:26-27 and Ephesians 6:17-18 as both are concerned with God’s will for us and both emphasize the necessary role of the Holy Spirit.


Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, ECNT, Baker.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.

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