"Be Filled with the Holy Spirit"
Almost any Christian can relate the story of Pentecost: “a strong driving wind” [Acts 2:2a] filling the house and “tongues as of fire” [Acts 2:3a] descending on them. These are powerful images. But, few recall that Luke began his Acts of the Apostles with the statement: “While meeting with His disciples, Jesus enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak’” [Acts 1:4]
Luke also ended his Gospel with Jesus’ ascension into heaven. And, moments before His departure, Jesus said to His disciples, “I am sending the promise of the Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" [Luke 24:49]. So, Luke ended his Gospel and began his follow-on work, Acts of the Apostles, with the very same message: Jesus did not want His followers to head out into the world until they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit?”
Why was their being filled with the Holy Spirit so important to Jesus? What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit?” As we approach Pentecost this year, especially this year, it would be good for us to reflect on these questions. We hear so much about the Holy Spirit, but few of us seem to have much of a connection with the Holy Spirit. So, let’s look to the Gospel accounts of what Jesus had to say as we seek answers to our questions about the Holy Spirit.
Luke, in both his Gospel and in Acts, used the Greek phrase, epangelian tou Patros,
which means “the promise of the Father,” in referring to the Holy Spirit. To see what
“the promise of the Father” meant, we look back to the period of the Babylonian Captivity (605-539 BC) and the ministry of the prophet Ezekiel. At that time, the people of God had basically lost all hope, thinking that God had abandoned them to the power of the Babylonians.
“I will dwell among them,” says the Lord.
But Ezekiel wrote that God had conveyed a promise to His people thus: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. I will multiply them and put my sanctuary among them forever. I will dwell among them; I will be their God, and they will be my people” [Ezekiel 37:26-27].
God would come and dwell among His people - which He did, in the person of Jesus Christ. But, at the time of the Ascension, Jesus was leaving them and returning to the Father. So, how would God continue to dwell among His people? By coming as the Holy Spirit, God would not be constrained by a physical body; He would be with every person on earth, at once. By referring to the Holy Spirit as epangelian tou Patros, Luke was stressing that “the promise of the Father” was vital to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.
John, the evangelist, wrote his Gospel quite a few years after Luke. And, John provided us a very good insight into what it means to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” – God dwelling among us. From the reading from John’s Gospel for Sunday, May 17, 2020, at verse 14:16, in referring to the Holy Spirit, John used the Greek word, paráklētos, which literally means “one called to be at your side” or more generally “friend” (in the Middle Eastern meaning of the term, “friend”).
The concept of “friend” that prevailed during the first century Middle East was quite different from what we know today.
The concept of “friend” that prevailed during the first century Middle East was quite different from what we know today. A “friend,” in our culture, is one with whom we share experiences, one with whom we speak about our joys and concerns, yet we retain much of our own privacy and independence. To us, the life of one “friend” only affects the life of the other to the extent that they willingly give up privacy and independence between them. So, friendship in Western culture is shaped largely by reasoned choices and in varying degrees.
But, in the Middle Eastern culture that prevailed at the time Jesus was speaking, and John was writing, one’s close relationships were, first and foremost, with one’s extended family. Most of their neighbors were what we would call “acquaintances.” And, everyone else was seen as a potential enemy.
In the first century Middle East, your “friend” was one who was closer to you than even your immediate family … attentive to your spiritual wellbeing.
However, in their culture, friendship involved a covenantal relationship [cf. Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5]. In a friendship, they shared a mutual concern for each other’s spiritual welfare, and they pursued holiness principally through shared studying of the Torah. And, to decline a request from a “friend” would break the friendship. So, friendship in their culture was shaped largely by a spirit of surrender. In the first century Middle East, your “friend” was one who was closer to you than even your immediate family. A “friend” was so close that they became “part of who you are,” attentive to your spiritual well being in life.
It was always very clear who was held in the esteemed position of “friend” by always greeting them with a shared verse from the Torah. In first century Israel, such a friendship was known by the Aramaic word, chavruta. A chavruta was entered into solemnly and was sealed by the two “friends” consuming morsels of salt together. (1)
The evangelist, John, is the only biblical writer who used the word, paráklētos, and then only in reference to the Holy Spirit. (2) A number of recent English translations of John’s Gospel have rendered paráklētos as “advocate” or “counselor.” That’s very Western cultural thinking, and it gave rise to the English word, paraclete. But when we consider what paráklētos meant when John was writing his Gospel, the Holy Spirit as paráklētos (friend, in the Middle Eastern sense), gives us a better sense of the personal closeness we can have with God dwelling among us. This is the sense John wanted his listeners, and us, to understand. To be “filled with the Holy Spirit,” the paráklētos, was a matter of surrendering oneself in true friendship with God.
Understanding the Holy Spirit as God with us, part of who we are, as we confront the world, surrendering to His friendship can bring us to a whole new level of experiencing God.
Understanding the Holy Spirit as God with us, part of who we are, as we confront the world, surrendering to His friendship can bring us to a whole new level of experiencing God. When we have surrendered to His friendship, the Holy Spirit reveals God’s will to our minds and hearts, without words, but in prompting with gentleness, mercy and sincerity [cf James 3:17]. The Holy Spirit shares with us the wisdom of God through the circumstances in our life. He leads us to a deeper knowledge of truth; and gives us encouragement to undergo any trials and persecutions we may face because of our faith. That is how we are “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
‘Till next time.
Dcn Bob Evans
May 28, 2020
1 J.L. McKenzie, “Salt” in Dictionary of the Bible, 1995.
2 Strong’s Concordance, 2014, #3875
Acts 1:4; 2:2a; 2:3a; Luke 24:49; Ezekiel 37:26-27; John 14:16; Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5; James 3:17