Writing a century and a half ago, the saintly Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, wrote: “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.”1
Writing almost two millennia ago, a praying apostle was on his knees interceding for a group of followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s intense, comprehensive prayer burden for these weak believers was: that they would receive a powerful inner strengthening of the Spirit; that this strengthening would result in Christ Himself making their hearts His home; that such a definitive strengthening would establish these believers in divine love so much so, that they would have a comprehension of divine love unlike what they had ever experienced before—a quality of love which is found alone in the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Prayer for Fullness
Paul continues to pray: “that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”2 Here once again the apostle employs the Greek aorist tense: “that you might be filled up.”
In commenting on Paul’s use here of this tense, Moule says it indicates “a crisis and new attainment.” Moreover, he says, “The idea is of a vessel connected with an abundant source external to itself, and which will be filled, up to its capacity, if the connection is complete. The vessel is the Church, and also the saint. It may be only partially filled; it may be fullevery capacity of the individual, every part of life and circumstances, every member of the community.”3
With what measure does Paul desire that these individual believers and the entire Ephesian Church might be filled? None other than “the fullness of God.”
What are we to make of this? What does Paul mean by the “fullness of God?” Can a believer actually be full of God?
What Paul does not mean by this expression is that any one Christian or a local congregation of believers is capable of experiencing the infinite immensity and total essence of God’s being and personhood. In his prayer of dedication for Israel’s new temple, King Solomon prayed: “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!”4
The late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones noted the failure of the King James’ translators to accurately render this phrase. He wrote, “Unfortunately the Authorized Version is somewhat misleading, for it introduces the word ‘with’—’that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.’ Then this longtime pastor and Bible scholar noted why this rendition is unfortunate: “It tends to give the impression that it is possible for us human beings to be filled with all the fullness which is God. The Apostle is not saying that. . . . A better translation, as is generally agreed, would be, not ‘that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God,’ but that ye might be filled to or with respect to all the fullness of God.’5 In keeping with a more accurate translation of this passage, the translators of the New American Standard Bible have rendered it: “that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
Lloyd-Jones illustrates the truth of this. Drawing upon Jesus’ analogy of the vine and branches in John 15, he remarks,
“The fullness of God . . . can reside in me in exactly the same way as the fullness of the life of the vine is in every individual branch and twig. The fullness of the vine, the essence, the life, that element in the sap that makes the vine the vine, is in the branches also. All the fullness of the vine is in the branches because of the organic connection, the vital union of its parts.”6
When we think of the “fullness of God” filling His fully surrendered, consecrated people, we should think in a qualitative sense and not in a quantitative sense. Lloyd-Jones agrees and then says, “If Christ is in me, then ‘all the fullness of the Godhead’ is in me in the sense that that quality of life is in me.” Then this expositor wisely notes: “The amount varies considerably in the same man from time to time; it varies from one Christian to another, yet we all can receive of the fullness.”7
In thinking about this fullness, many years after the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the apostle John wrote, “For of His [Christ’s] fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”8
The Full Christian
What are some of the practical implications of believers being “filled up to all the fullness of God?”
Who can read the history of the early church, following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, without noting how these God-focused individuals were living life daily under the Spirit’s control. These God-thirsty men and women were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and thereafter were filled again and again. The fact is, the church eventually made it a qualification that in order for a person to become even a deacon, much less an elder, he must be a person who lived in the Spirit’s fullness.9
Living as we do in an age that is a cesspool of iniquity and moral fuzziness, God is calling His people and leaders to fullness. Such fullness will displace every hint of moral carelessness and spiritual mediocrity.
Paul writes in his Ephesian letter what a full Christian looks like. Though he doesn’t always use such language, it is clear from the entire context of the letter that all of the ethical exhortations can only be experienced by those who are walking in the Spirit,”filled up to all the fullness of God.”
What does Paul say a full Christian will look like?
• The full Christian has been given, and is increasingly given, eyes of the heart that have been enlightened to the vast resources he has in Christ Jesus.10
• The full Christian will constantly seek to live a live of humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance toward his brothers and sisters in Christ. He will make every effort to preserve the unity of the spirit in the Body of Christ.11
• The full Christian lays aside everything that characterized his former life of sin. He is continually renewed in the spirit of his mind. He has put on the new self, which is dominated by righteousness and holiness.12
• The full Christian doesn’t lie; he doesn’t explode in anger as a result of his ego being offended or his patience being tested. He doesn’t steal, neither do sexual innuendos stain his lips.
• The full Christian is not embittered toward God, others, or life in general. He has no desire to inflict pain or distress on another. He does not raise his voice in anger whenever he suffers personal injustices. He never slanders those who have wronged him.
• The full Christian is kind because his heart has been made tender by a forgiving God. Therefore, he can freely forgive others who have failed to show love toward him, because he is ever-mindful of the great debts his heavenly Father has forgiven him.13
And throughout this letter we could continue. Read it for yourself, dear friend, and ask God if you are constantly drawing from His fullness.
I heard evangelist John Wesley White share many years ago how there had been times during the course of his Christian journey when he had run, as it were, on empty. I grieve when I think of this; for I, too, have on occasions done the same.
Nonetheless, we are in keeping with the Scriptures when we say God desires all of His children to walk in the Spirit’s fullness—daily, moment-by-moment. This is my aspiration; this is my desire. Only one thing can keep you and me from this—sin. We must allow the gracious Spirit of Christ to keep our hearts clean if we are to live full lives.
Keeper of the Springs
Many years ago, so the legend goes, a little town began to grow at the base of a mountain. To ensure that all the springs that supplied its water were kept clean, the city fathers hired a ranger. With painstaking dedication he daily patrolled the hills situated above the community, cleaning up every spring and pool he found, removing silt, leaves, and mud, so that the water ran down clean, cold, and pure.
One day, however, a dramatic change occurred when a group of foolish, stingy businessmen took over the administration of the city council. Scanning the budget for any possible waste, they concluded that the salary of the keeper of the springs was a waste. They fired him.
It wasn’t long before the citizens were overcome with sickness and death. An investigation ensued. The problem? The springs had become polluted.
The open secret to living in the Spirit’s fullness is to daily surrender to the Spirit’s cleansing. God only fills who He first cleanses. Do we want to walk in the Spirit’s fullness? Let us invite the “Keeper of the Springs” to keep our hearts pure.
– Soli Deo Gloria –
All Bible references are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
1. Quoted by D. A. Carson in A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p. 16.
2. Ephesians 3:19b.
3. H. C. G. Moule, Studies in Ephesians, p. 100.
4. 2 Kings 8:27.
5. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, pp. 280-281.
6. Lloyd-Jones, p. 286.
7. Lloyd-Jones pp. 286-287.
8. John 1:16.
9. See Acts 6:3.
10. See Ephesians 1:17-19.
11. See Ephesians 4:2-3.
12. See Ephesians 4:22-24.
13. See Ephesians 4:25-32.
Taken from . . .
Breath of God: Experiencing Life in the Spirit
Ralph I. Tilley
(May be copied for noncommercial purposes;
not to exceed 500 copies.)