Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil…”
This incident happened on the initial leg of Paul’s first missionary journey in Cyprus. Apparently, it is on this journey that Saul changes his name to Paul, which historians surmise he did to be more accessible to the Greeks. And it is here that he and Barnabas encounter a sorcerer named Elymas who opposed them when they sought to speak to the proconsul that Elymas had been serving up until then.
But what is of greater interest to me is this phrase about Paul being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” As far as I can tell, this particular phrase, or ones similar to it, are only mentioned a dozen times in the New Testament. And yet, this is a phrase that many contemporary Christians (particularly Charismatics and Pentecostals) bandy about as a frequent experience marked with outward expressions like tongues, laughing, shaking, and the like. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying these expressions of the Spirit are not authentic, I’m just not sure they represent being “filled” as in filled to overflowing.
I think that true fullness would, by its very nature, pour out on others. Most of the “filled” examples in scripture are followed with a time of emptying by speaking and prophesying, literally speaking for God. Anything else is probably less than full. I just think we have diminished the impact of what it means to experience the Holy Spirit in this way.
I have used the phrase myself. But now, I think I have been merely touched by Holy Spirit. Whatever experience I had was just a breath of the Spirit compared to being filled. There is so much more. If a person is actually filled to overflowing, something happens… something changes. Power is exercised and by its very nature, it is according to the direction of God for the sake of another. Someone else is changed, not so much the person who is filled.
I am ashamed to say but I believe I have sought these “infillings” for myself and not for others at all. Oh, it sounds so pious, to seek the Holy Spirit and to go deeper into the things of God. But really, isn’t the whole point of my faith supposed to be to touch others?
So many traditional church folks are afraid of the “postmodern” movement because it is so inclusive and yet, there is one thing the emergents and postmoderns have over a lot of the other Christians… they “get” the “relationship” message. They are loving and serving others as a natural outpouring of their faith and their walk “in the way of Jesus.” They are living with and serving the poor and the unlovely. They are not trying to get more filled… they are trying to empty. They are pouring themselves out for others.
Clearly, I am still holding on too tightly to what I have. I am afraid to empty myself because I don’t really trust God to keep me filled. Forgive me.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.