Not all students of the Bible will agree as to what is meant with the Scriptural injunction “be ye filled with the Spirit.” There is a false mysticism which makes being filled with the Spirit the shibboleth of what constitutes a Christian; it is the special criterion of what is to be considered the earmark of true spirituality. This is true of all the Holiness Groups; we find it in Pentecostal Churches and their affiliates; as the outgrowth of John Wesley’s teaching concerning the “second benefit.” This latter refers to such an influx of the Holy Spirit that the believer now instantaneously becomes sanctified, even as he was thus justified once and for all by faith. And then the infallible evidence of such attained sanctity must be that one is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks with tongues. And in such speaking with tongues we have the rock-bottom assurance and guarantee that one is redeemed and surely saved. 

In view of this rather perverted understanding of what is meant with, “be ye filled with the Spirit,” we do well to carefully study what Paul means here in the text; we must know the mind of the Spirit here. We may begin by pointing out that in the Greek text for “Be ye filled” is a present, imperative, passive verb. The present tense indicates that the being filled is never fully finished; constantly the believers need to be filled with a new supply of the Spirit. Next, we should notice that the passive voice indicates that as far as the being filled is concerned this is not the act and initiative of man, but of God himself. The filling with the Spirit is God’s work; it is His divine energy. He works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. This is quite in line with the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 4:23 “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Also here the “renewal” is the act of God; man is wholly passive as far as the renewal is concerned. This renewal affects the entire inner man: mind, heart and soul. It is not only a renewal of the soul, the feelings, the aspirations; it refers also to the renewal of the mind (nous), yea, the renewal of the spirit of the mind. “What is to be renewed is not merely the outward habits, a mode of life; not merely transient tempers or dispositions but the interior principle of life, which lies back of all of this” (Hodge, Commentary on Ephesians). 

And still there is one thing more about this verb in the Greek text, translated “filled with the Spirit,” to notice. We must notice the imperative mood here employed. It tells the believer to do something. When he has been gifted with the Spirit of Christ, and lives in the Spirit, he must also walk in the Spirit. (Gal. 5:25) Rigidly and exactly we must walk in the Spirit within the entire compass of our life, according to every commandment. It is evident that the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit points in this latter direction. There is such a spiritual reality as to “yield ourselves to the Spirit.” This is the putting on of the new man due to being “renewed in the spirit of the mind.” Thus the Canons of Dordt teach “Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active (I underscore). Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of the grace received.” (III, IV, 12 b) 

To be filled with the Spirit, therefore, refers to being controlled by and placing ourselves under the control of the Holy Spirit. Thus we read that Jesus was filled with the Spirit . . . and was led of the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1) We read that Stephen was a man, “full of the Holy Ghost,” and that the church chose “Stephen, a man full of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 6:3, 5) It is also affirmed of Barnabas that he was a man, “full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” (Acts 11:24) In the present instance here in Ephesians 5:18b it seems that Paul is referring to that operation of the Spirit whereby we are inwardly sanctified and uplifted, and through whom we ourselves ought to be inspired and urged on to a higher purpose, joyful courage, more profound insight and spiritual uplifting of the soul. It is quite evident from the numerous instances in Scripture which speak of the being “full of the Holy Ghost” that we must not think of this in a physical sense like water filling a pail; neither must we think as if the Spirit would only fill us with a certain type of excitable enthusiasm, often under the artificial stimulus of mass psychology. This is not so superficial and artificial as all that; it is the profound fruit of the Spirit working sanctification in our hearts, so that we love God, His law and precepts from the heart; it is that we do not only begin to live according to some of God’s commandments, but according to all of them! This is evident from the strong contrast drawn here by Paul in this text: be not drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit. 


From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. God places the fruit of the Spirit upon our lips. It is the continual sacrifice of thanksgiving. It is the perpetual sacrifice to God. God takes coals of fire from the altar and purifies the lips of Isaiah. (Isaiah 6) And when this happens we have an exalted and uplifting speech. This is not the song of the drunkard; it is the song of the Spirit-filled saint. 

Paul is not inventive when he connects the “speaking” in Psalms and hymn and “spiritual songs” with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Fact is, that the text is such in the Greek that the “speaking to yourselves” is presented as being continuous action, contemporaneous with the being filled with the Spirit.The speaking is the fruit of the Spirit constantly. And this fruit must be constantly upon the lips of the congregation. And these spirit-filled saints must “speak” in psalms and hymns and spiritual odes. Why? Because a Spirit-filled saint must speak language which is God-breathed; he will need to sing only that which is itself given by the Spirit in the Scriptures. These psalms and spiritual odes are themselves given by inspiration of God. There is not an iota of man in them; they could never have risen in the heart of man. They are given by revelation and inspiration of God. This calls for thorough instruction in the meaning of the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. They must be studied in the light of their historical situation and their prophetical meaning, as they all point to the necessity of the Christ to suffer in order to enter into his glory! They speak of the suffering of Christ (Ps. 22) and of the Pentecostal glory in the great congregation. (Ps. 22) They sing of the resurrection of Christ; (Ps. 16) and they sing of his ascension to heaven; (Ps. 47 and Ps. 68) and they jubilate concerning Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God; (Ps. 110 and Ps. 2) and they speak of Christ’s return to judge the quick and the dead! (Ex. 15:20, 21, the Psalm of Miriam). 

No, the apostle Paul does not speak here of a distinction of the Old Testament psalm and the New Testament hymns and songs; Paul is looking at the Old Testament psalms from various viewpoints. It is rather climactic that he says last of all “spiritual songs.” That is what all the psalms are. One must be filled with the Spirit of Christ to truly sing the psalms, the songs of Zion. 

How must we speak in these spiritual songs? 

Certainly not by a few artificial and loud babbling in a make believe gift of tongues. God forbid! Here is speech that edifies that is enjoined by the apostle in the church of Ephesus. 

Does not Paul speak here concerning teaching? It is first of all a matter of doctrine, which is the important thing in the singing in the church. How well the enemy of the truth knows this! Is this not the tactic of all the Arminians? Is this not that practice of the Pentecostal enthusiasm with its emphasis on singing. Yes, it is singing, but it is singing which inculcates and prolongs erroneous and heretical teaching. Do not the revolutionary groups in the political world use singing as a means for their propaganda; is the same not true of the modem-day attempt in the church world to insinuate false doctrine to the church with its siren songs which are un Biblical in their content, lacking the prophetic word which shines more and more unto the perfect day? Our speaking, in contrast, must be that of teaching; it must be the sound doctrine; it must be a return to the law and the prophets; else there is no dawn to us. 

This teaching must be a definite “instruction,” a putting in mind of the things of the Scriptures and of the Christian faith. The speaking must not be simply an unfolding of the mystery of godliness, but it must be a compelling to the obedience of Christ. And this must be done in “all wisdom.” What a wisdom of heaven it requires to teach in the church of God. It is only by means of the Holy Spirit that we can thus speak, teach and instruct. Such teaching is necessary in every Protestant Reformed Church, in our seminary, our schools, whether they be the primary grades or whether in the high school. Let our churches and schools instruct also in the meaning of the psalms. Such is also the call of the hour here in Jamaica on the mission field! 

Only thus, when we are thoroughly instructed in the meaning of the Scriptures shall we be filled with the Spirit and our tongues be placed under the guidance of the Spirit. Only thus will the fruit of the Spirit be upon our lips. 


There is a close relationship between speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, teaching and exhorting with Psalms and spiritual Songs, and the giving of thanks to God, the Father. The latter is perhaps the acme of the former. Giving thanks really means that we are full of the thoughts of God. A little study of the term “thanks” when compared with the Dutch “danken” which in turn we compare with the German “gedanken” which mean: thoughts. We have but to compare this with the old English “thunk” which means “think” in past tense. We see, do we not, that the idea of thankfulness means: to be brimful of thoughts for and of God in Christ. It is a very full sacrifice which will thus result. God will be the end of all our thoughts. Him we will worship with our praises and thanksgiving. It will be particularly as “Father” that we will worship him. Does not the apostle begin this letter with “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places”? (Eph. 1:3)