Acts (Part 08) - Filled with the Spirit
The difference in Peter between his cowering in Caiaphas’ courtyard during Jesus’ trial and speaking out boldly to Annas and Caiaphas during his own trial was that in the latter instance he was filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:8). But what exactly does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Luke uses the expression several times both in his Gospel and in Acts, but it is Paul who seems to come closest in offering us a definition. This definition of sorts is found in Ephesians 5. An understanding of Paul’s focus and intent in the letter is necessary first to understand the context in which Paul offers the definition.
Ephesians can be somewhat neatly divided into two parts. The first part (roughly chapters 1-3) concentrates on the unity of the covenant people of God. Paul is especially concerned that the Ephesians understand that they as Gentiles were “once far off” but now “brought near” to Christ, making both Jews and Gentiles one (2:13-15). The second part (chapters 4-6) speaks of how we are to live recognizing our position in Christ—this unity of the body of believers. It is a focus on community—our relationships with each other.
Chapter 4 starts with an exhortation to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1). The calling that Paul speaks of relates to the focus of the first three chapters—the calling together in one body, one church, one covenant people (1:15-23). But Paul continues to emphasize this unity through the first half of chapter 4 (“one boy and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6)).
In 4:17 Paul begins his concentration on community, albeit it in a negative sense. He warns not to walk, as do the Gentiles, “in the futility of their minds.” This futility, he explains, relates to their selfish, God-alienated lives. Rather, he argues, God’s one covenant people should “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32). This is the turn to Paul’s emphasis on community living. It is an emphasis on love.
The first verse of chapter 5, then, supplies the directive. Paul says to imitate God in love. In John 15:13 Christ tells us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” In other words, love is best seen as a completely selfless activity providing benefit for others. How different from the world’s take on love, which wants to satisfy self first. (Remember Whitney Houston’s song, “Greatest Love of All”? The last two lines of the chorus are “Learning to love yourself—It is the greatest love of all.”) Paul says to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us. This is the charge in relationship with one another in the body of Christ—to give of ourselves for the benefit of each other.
The next verse (5:3) may startle us a bit. Are we in the same conversation? From this community aspect of love, Paul seems to jump to a list of regulations regarding sex. He says we shouldn’t even name sexual immorality and impurity and covetousness (5:3). We shouldn’t take part in filthiness or foolish talk or crude jesting (presumably about sex) (5:4). This sex stuff is darkness and we are of light (5:8-11). It is shameful (5:12). Why does Paul start talking about sexual immorality? How does that relate to his subject of a relationship of love in the covenant community?
The answer is in not only recognizing what love is but also the example of love that God has given. Let’s move back to Genesis for a moment to review the creation ideal. The first account of creation in Genesis 1 emphasizes being made in God’s image.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This imaging may be seen in several areas.
Apprehension – receptivity to information without passing judgment on its validity
Conceptual Intelligence (truth)
Conscious Morality (goodness)
Perceptive Aesthetic (beauty)
Assent – agreement to apprehended truth
Appreciation – comprehension of truth
Approbation – approval/commendation of apprehended, assented to, and appreciated truth
The fall resulted from Adam and Eve’s movement of faith from God to themselves. This destroyed them spiritually, losing spiritual wisdom from their image. It also did significant violence to relational love. But notice in these image elements that they all can be realized individually except for relational love. It is for this reason that the Genesis 1 account emphasizes the imaging in relation to both man and woman together.
The Genesis 2 creation account picks up where the first left off, elaborating on this relational love aspect. God brings the animals to Adam to name. The point here is not just to call them something. The purpose for the exercise is to understand the nature of the beasts. The name is in essence a description of the characteristics of the animal. And God had Adam do this so that in examining all these creatures, he would realize that none was like him. None carried the same imagining elements that he had. None was a helper suitable for him. Once he learned this lesson, God put him to sleep and fashioned Eve from his rib. Upon waking and talking with her, Adam realized that this one was like him in imaging God. Bursting with the thrill of this satisfaction, he cried out, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (2:23). In other words, her name—that which describes her and characterizes her—relates to Man because the characteristic God-imaging elements are the same.
Notice then that immediately God provides a principle. Verse 24 states: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother.” Adam and Eve had no human parents—that is one clue telling us this statement is principle rather than merely descriptive of Adam and Eve’s relationship. The principle, then, lets us know that God has designed the husband-wife marriage relationship as the ultimate of human relationships. The principle goes on to say that the husband will hold fast to his wife and “they shall become one flesh.” Becoming one flesh is speaking of sexual activity. But it is not sex apart from any other aspect of their relationship; it is the fulfilling climax of the entwining of mind, spirit, and body. Describing the activity of sex as becoming one links it to the relational love among the Trinity. The three Persons yet one God relationship is imaged by the husband-wife relationship, especially in this act of intimate union.
Since this is the pinnacle of human relationship and an element of God’s imaging, sexual activity outside this relationship violates the image of God in us concerning relational love. That is why Paul sets love as the most significant aspect of our community in Christ in contrast to sexual immorality. Any sex outside a male-female marriage relationship (e.g., sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality) is against the picture—the imaging of God that he has designed.
Paul’s contrast of relational love with sexual immorality highlights the basic conflict between selflessness and selfishness. And this is his point in not walking as the Gentiles in the futility of their minds (selfishness) but rather imitating God in love—the giving of yourself for the benefit of others (selflessness).
In Ephesians 5:15-21, Paul goes on to tell us to be intentional in our love. Verses 18 through 21 comprise one sentence. And it is this sentence, then, that defines for us the expression “filled with the Spirit.” Paul begins by saying we should not be drunk with wine. This is not a list of regulations for drinking. Paul is saying that being drunk effectively does the same thing as sexual immorality—it turns an outward look inward. We lose the care and concern (love) for others in drunkenness, switching to a concentration on self. This is why Paul warns against it. And this is why Paul contrasts that kind of attitude in a drunken state to being filled with the Spirit. He immediately describes what being filled with the Spirit entails. It is seen in how we address or have relationship with others. Paul presents three aspects of how we address others.
First, he says to address others in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (5:19). Obviously Paul does not mean that we should not talk but only sing to each other. Notice the song is directed to God. Psalms and hymns to God are filled with praise and joy. It is that aspect of singing—the praise and joy to God—that should infiltrate our relationships with others of the covenant community.
Next Paul says to address others by “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20). Again, the thanksgiving is directed to God. But it is part of our address to each other. So then not only is our praise and joy to God involved in our relationships, but also thanksgiving should be characteristic of it.
Finally, Paul says to address others in humility—“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Notice again, that it is reverence for Christ that is in view. Reverence for Christ is the realization that he is over all; he is our sole authority. Our submission to each other is an act of humility that reflects our submission (reverence for) Christ.
So now we see what being filled with the Spirit is all about—an attitude of praise, joy, thanksgiving, and humility to our Lord that is so pervasive that it floods out in our activity—especially in our relationship within the body of Christ.
Back in Acts 4, we now understand the boldness with which Peter speaks. He is filled with joy, praise, thanksgiving, and submission to Christ. His eyes are not on himself. He does not cower before the murderous gaze of the high priest. This is no false drumming up of self-confidence or a conscious act of bravery. It is relationship with his God that we see standing and proclaiming. And the Sanhedrin does not understand it. Verse 13 tells us that they understood Peter and John to be uneducated men. But it is not the apostles’ logic and argument that baffles. The priests are astonished that uneducated men—that class which normally cowers before them in fear of their authority—could speak with such boldness.
The Sanhedrin can issue no punishment. The lame man now healed stands before them. He was lame for 40 years (4:22). His muscles had atrophied beyond use. Yet he stands and walks and leaps. They cannot deny the miracle. All the people see it as an act of God. So they resort to the only thing they know. They threaten Peter and John, telling them not to speak of Jesus anymore. And then they release them.
Peter and John report everything to the community of believers. Immediately they pray, and their prayer is not one of worried request for boldness. The prayer shows confidence in a sovereign God. They recount the persecution of Christ by the rulers who thought they were the authorities but who ended up merely performing God’s predestined plan. And so, these believers pray that just so in this situation—in the face of the threats of these rulers—that God would so coordinate events to allow them to continue speaking boldly as witnesses of the resurrection.
Verses 32 through 37 end the chapter by setting the scene for the account of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5. The believers of Jerusalem considered their possessions in common. They would sell houses or land in order to provide funds for others who had need. This was not a communist state of affairs. They were not obligated to do so (as we learn from Peter in the next chapter). They did it out of love for each other—a principle taught in Matthew 25 and throughout the NT. But in verse 33, Luke inserts a comment saying that the testimony proclaimed resulted in great grace to them all. This grace or favor was most likely the favor of the people of Jerusalem. Here was a community of people who cared in love for each other, sacrificing for each other, and whose leaders were healing the sick. The high regard for the community of believers could be the reason why Ananias and Sapphira sought to be a part of them. Certainly in chapter 5 we see their secretive attitude in lying about their gift as a means for gaining favor in the eyes of those around them.
Ananias and Sapphira show a striking contrast to Peter of the previous chapter. Peter was filled with the Spirit. Ananias had Satan fill his heart (5:3). We will discuss more of this incident next time.