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There is much confusion about the role of the Holy Spirit and His activities in believers. One of the most confused truths about Him is His work to fill believers.  In Ephesians 5:18, Paul commands Christ’s followers to be filled by the Spirit; the question is, “how are we filled by the Holy Spirit?”  We can gain understanding by examining and comparing Ephesians 5 with Colossians 3.

While Ephesians 5 does not explain how the believer is filled, the parallel passage in Colossians 3 does. In comparing these passages, the parallelisms between them are notable:  both books were written by Paul from prison in Rome; both books were likely written to be circular letters—sent and read to neighboring churches; both books have similar structure, having theology in first half with application in second half; and structure of Ephesians 5:18-20 closely patterns Colossians 3:16-17.  Some of the similarities are highlighted below:

“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…” (Eph. 5:18–20; NASB)

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Col. 3:16–17; NASB)

Everything about these passages is parallel:

                        Ephesians                                                      Colossians

                        Speaking                                                         Teaching/admonishing

                        Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs                       Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs

                        Singing…with your heart                               Singing…in your hearts

                        To the Lord                                                     To God           

                        Always giving thanks                                     Singing with thankfulness

                        In the name of our Lord Jesus                        In the name of the Lord Jesus

                        To God, even the Father                                 To God the Father

Everything about these passages is parallel except the initial imperative command. The results of the command are the same and the implications of the command in various strata of our lives are the same. What is different is the imperative — instead of “be filled by the Spirit” in Ephesians, Colossians exhorts, “Let the Word of Christ richly dwell.” What does Paul mean for us to know?

Paul is instructing his readers that the believer is to be filled by the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit fills the believer with Scripture. Scripture is the tool of the Spirit of God to control and direct the believer. In other words, to be controlled by and under the influence of the Holy Spirit is to be controlled by and under the influence of God’s Word.  There is no filling by the Spirit without being filled by the Word of God.  To be controlled and directed by the Spirit is to be controlled and directed by the Word.

What Filling by the Spirit and Word Does

The implication is obvious:  if we want to be wise and controlled by the Holy Spirit, we will do everything we can to ingest the Word of God as much as we can. Because of that, the degree to which we are controlled by the Holy Spirit will be revealed primarily by how much we love and take in the Word of God. The Bible is not “one more thing” in our lives. It is central in our lives because it is the only means by which we come to know Christ.

We also see in these passages the great benefit of taking in the Word (and being filled with the Word, v. 16b-17).

It will give you wisdom and knowledge to teach. And who needs to be taught? Everyone. People are ignorant, rebellious, and lazy (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and Scripture (alone) is adequate to help people in those circumstances!

It will give you wisdom to admonish, counsel, and disciple your counselee or friend. We have what we need to help others not because we are adequate, but because we have the Spirit and the Spirit’s Word. Only the Spirit can change anyone. And when we use this Word effectively (starting in our own lives), people will be changed.

It will give you wisdom to worship (psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). We (and our counselees) sin and struggle when we worship the wrong things. This Word will keep us worshipping (desiring and following) the only worthwhile God in existence.

It will give you wisdom to be thankful. Have you noticed how many sins are because we are ungrateful for what God has given us (e.g., James 4:1ff)? We complain about weather and governments and finances and food selections and sexual intimacy (or lack of) because we are ungrateful. Reading the Word and singing songs of the Word stimulates gratitude, which also stimulates us to stay out of sin and under the control of the Spirit.

It will keep you living for God’s glory (v. 17). Only one thing in life matters: Living for God’s glory. That’s our goal for every counselee—helping them live for God’s glory in their particular circumstances. Immersing them in the Scriptures every week and every day will keep the goal of God’s glory in front of them.

Implications for Biblical Counselors

Counselors need to be filled by the Spirit’s Word in the same way counselees should be filled. Use as many means as you can to take Scripture into your life so that Scripture (and the Spirit) can take over your life:

  • Read the Word (1 Timothy 4:13)
  • Consider the Word (2 Timothy 2:7)
  • Search the Word (Acts 17:11)
  • Study the Word (2 Timothy 2:15)
  • Meditate on the Word (Psalm 1:2; Joshua 1:8)
  • Memorize the Word (Psalm 119:11)
  • Listen to the Word from other teachers (Philippians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Galatians 6:6)

Take in the Scriptures for the transformation of your own heart. You will be tempted to always be looking for texts to teach your counselees. That’s okay. Just make sure you practice the principle yourself before you attempt to teach it to others (Ezra 7:10). One of the worst things we can do as counselors is dispense wisdom and spiritual medicine that we are unwilling to take ourselves. Oh, brothers and sisters, let us counsel ourselves and train our own hearts to delight in God’s Word before we counsel others.  We will only be effective counselors when we are filled and controlled by the Spirit.  And we will only be filled and controlled by the Spirit when we are filled and controlled by the Spirit’s Word.