The Challenge of the 70’s
William McRae, formerly of Toronto but now serving the Lord at Dallas, Texas, gave three forceful messages at the Youth Convention held at Peterborough, Ontario, near the close of 1970. All present felt the impact of their challenge. We publish these in hope that our readers may likewise be impressed.
In our previous message on “Unconditional Surrender,” we spoke of facing the Challenge of the ‘70’s by dedicating our lives to the Lord. This morning our subject is “Power Unlimited” or “Meeting the Challenge of the ‘70’s in the Power of a Spirit-filled life.”
For ages, water has flowed over the Falls of Niagara, estimated to vary between one hundred and seventy-six thousand and two hundred and twenty thousand cubic feet per second. This water power, when harnessed, equals four million horsepower. Yet, until a very short time ago, these magnificent falls have only had a scenic value. Now, about one-tenth of the available power is operated, and, in the form of electricity, is transmitted to cities and villages over wide areas and applied to industrial projects.
But what about neglected spiritual power? The risen Lord instructed His disciples to tarry at Jerusalem until they “be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They did tarry, the Holy Spirit did come, they were empowered and thousands were converted that day.
That same Person with all His power has taken up residence within every child of God. It would be inaccurate to speak of the neglect of His Person. With some justification the twentieth century has been called the Age of the Holy Spirit. In it we have seen the rise of the Pentecostal movement. As a reaction to dead liberalism there has been a great emphasis upon the Holy Spirit and personal experience in the old-time denominations. As a result, greater attention has been given to the third person of the holy Trinity by conservatives who now are studying the Bible to see what it teaches on pneumatology. Even the World Council of Churches is greatly interested in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
But it may be highly accurate to speak of the neglect of the Power of the Holy Spirit. The degree to which we are appropriating and experiencing His power may be measured by the productiveness of our personal Bible study; the effectiveness of our witness in the world; the reality of the Lord in our life; the vitality of our prayer life; the conquest of the works of the flesh; the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in our temperament.
The tremendous power of atomic energy has been lying dormant for milleniums, yet, it is only in recent years that we have discovered that this power existed and have been able to marshal it for human use. In the same way there lies dormant in many Christian lives a tremendous, vast, spiritual potential. Apparently it was so with the Ephesians. Paul writes to them:
“Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
You will observe, first of all, that this is a specific command from the Lord for every Christian.
I. It is a Specific Command from the Lord
This is an imperative mood and is as much a command as the new commandment to “love one another” (John 13:34), or the command to “grieve not the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), or to “quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). It is not a fringe benefit, it is a basic fundamental of the Christian life. It is not a luxury; it is an assential. It is not part of the extraordinary, super spiritual Christian life; it is part of the normal Christian life. It is not for a few; it is for all. It is not the chrome trim of the Christian life; it is the chassis.
Chas. Finney said: “He who neglects to obey the command to be filled with the Spirit, is as guilty of breaking the command of God, as he who steals, or curses or commits adultery. His guilt is as great as the authority of God is great who commands us to be filled. His guilt is equivalent to all the good he might do if he were filled with the Spirit.”
This is an imperative of the present tense. It could have been an aorist tense which would have said “Be filled here and now, at this moment,” as one would tell a child to “Be quiet” for a moment while he answers the phone. But this present imperative says “Be constantly filled” with the same force as the “Be quiet” used by parents who live in an apartment with thin walls! This command is to be characterized by being filled with the Spirit as men of Acts 6 were “full of the Holy Spirit.”
But notice also that this imperative of verse 18 is a particular aspect of the Lord’s will. Our text begins with “And,” a word which connects it closely to verse 17.
“Wherefore, be ye not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk … but be filled with the Spirit.”
Gramarians use this as an illustration of going from a general to a particular command. We use it every day when we say, “Be a good girl and clean your room.” This moves from a general to a particular command. “Be filled with the Spirit,” then, is a specific aspect of the Lord’s will for every believer. It must be said that we are not in the will of God unless we are filled by the Spirit.
And yet this which is a command is a great privelege. Quoting Captain Wallis, the Keswick Calendar comments upon our text by saying, “Yes, it is a command as well as a privilege. This is not some special blessing which God has reserved for certain of His children only. He has no favorites, I am so thankful that there is no such thing as a spiritual aristocracy, a number of believers for whom God reserves this peculiar blessing of fulness of life. Rather this is God’s norm for every one of His children.”
(Although it is a great privilege, yet it is a specific command from the Lord. But look closely. What is the exact nature of this command?)
II. It is a Command to be Controlled by the Spirit
This is clear from the metaphorical use of “filled” and from the analogy with drunkenness.
Jesus spoke at Nazareth, “and all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28), that is they were controlled or influenced by the emotion of wrath. Again, when “the disciples were filled with joy” (Acts 13:52), they were controlled or influenced by the emotion. (See also John 16:6; Acts 19:28). When Satan filled the heart of Ananias (Acts 5:3), he took possession of it, or controlled it, or influenced it. The metaphorical use of “filled” in Ephesians 5:18 certainly suggests His controlling influence.
A group of clergymen were discussing whether or not they ought to invite D. L. Moody to their city. The success of the famed evangelist was brought to their attention. One unimpressed minister commented, “Does Mr Moody have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” Another man quietly replied, “No, but the Holy Spirit seems to have a monopoly on Mr. Moody.” That’s the filling of the Holy Spirit!
This is also clear from the analogy employed by Paul. Our text is the third occurance where the filling of the Holy Spirit is associated with drunkenness (Luke 1:15; and Acts 2:4,13,15). There is a very striking comparison between being intoxicated and being Spirit-filled. Both are under the influence of an external force; both have a strength outside themselves; both conditions are achieved by submission to that force, both conditions are temporary unless they are constantly reinforced and are identified by unmistakable demonstrations of unnatural behaviour. In both conditions one loses control of self. Self-control with all of the works of the flesh is lost to the control of the Spirit with His fruit. In a sense, then, a person is brought under the control of the Spirit by His filling.
(Paul leaves us in no doubt as to the importance of this command to be controlled by the Spirit when he presents the results.)
III. It Empowers an Abundant Christian Life
A careful study of Ephesians 4:1-6:9 will show not only that Paul is presenting here the conduct of the child of God that is worthy of His calling (Chs. 1-3) but also that Ephesians 5:18 is at the very centre of Paul’s argument and foundational to it. He is saying the power for such conduct in our personal life, in the world, church and home is in the Spirit-filled life.
A. He gives victory in our Personal Life
Our text is the conclusion and climax of 4:1-5:18. The theme of these verses has been the conduct of believers among unbelieving Gentiles. We are to put off the old man with his lying, stealing, corrupt communication, bitterness, malice, wrath, anger, clamor, fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness and foolish talking. But how? We are to put on the new man with his truthfulness, honesty, pleasing conversation, tender heartedness, forgiveness, goodness and righteousness. But, how?
All such conduct is present in a life filled by the Holy Spirit. There is unlimited power available to every Christian for spiritual victory over sin. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13). “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not (by no means) fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). A young person filled with the Holy Spirit is experiencing the full potential of the Spirit’s unlimited power to give victory over sin in his personal life.
B. He gives Vision in our Witnessing
Our text is not only the conclusion and climax of the entire section, it completes the verses immediately preceding. The general condition for “Redeeming the time” (5:16) is understanding what the will of the Lord is (5:17). The specific condition is being filled with the Spirit.
Here the contrast with drunkenness becomes clear. As it deadens one’s faculties so that it is impossible to recognize and exploit opportunities, so the filling of the Holy Spirit sharpens one’s faculties for perceiving the opportunities that need to be redeemed in these evil days. The student filled with the Holy Spirit knows of His unlimited power enabling him to “buy up” every opportunity on the campus and use it to promote the Gospel.
C. He gives Vitality in our Church Life
The contrast with drunkenness continues. The intoxicated man has a vitality as the word “excess” suggests. The translations of this word (“riot” Titus 1:6; 1 Peter 4:4 and “riotous living” Luke 15:7) convey the debauchery and dissolution that was part of the “vitality” of a drunkard at a social party. In contrast to such debased conduct, Paul speaks of the vitality of the Spirit-filled man in the meeting of the church when he says,
“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:19-21).
What a breath of fresh air this person would be at a meeting of the church! He has an overflowing heart and an humble spirit because he is empowered by the Spirit. And yet there is more!
D. He Gives Volition in our Home Life
Noting that a spirit of submission is one of the evidences of the Spirit-filled life, the Scriptures proceed to enumerate three specific areas in which this is seen in our home-life: the wife’s enablement to be subject to her husband (5:22), the child’s enablement to be obedient to his parents (6:1), the servant’s enablement to be obedient to his master (6:5), is found in a Spirit-filled Life. A harmonious Christian home is through the power of the Spirit!
Here is an abundant Christian life radiating forth in four major directions from the central focus point —Ephesians 5:18. This command is the one text that ties together all the pieces of Ephesians 4-6. It contains the secret of being in our conduct what we are by calling.
The most crucial question that remains unanswered is HOW? Although many formulae have been advanced, yet, there is no Scripture with an explicit answer.
It is not by praying for it! Luke 11:13 says “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” This is pre-pentecost and no longer applies since He has come to reside in each Christian.
It is not by tarrying for it (Luke 24:49). He has come! This promise was realized at Pentecost.
It is not by emptying self of all sin — putting out the trash of Ephesians 4-5. This is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. This is done through the filling of the Holy Spirit.
IV. It is by Means of Submission
You will note that this present imperative is also a passive. It is “Be filled.” This implies His availability and willingness to control us and requires only our consent. It is control by consent. Our consent to be controlled is expressed by our submission to the Lordship of Christ in every known area of our life. Just as there are two sides of a coin and you cannot have one side without the other, so also there are two sides in our spiritual life and you cannot have one without the other. You cannot be controlled by the Spirit without the Lordship of Christ. If He indeed is Lord in every area, then the Spirit is in full control of our life.
The real issue then is not for me to get more of the Spirit, but for the Lord to get more of me. The degree to which Christ is Lord is the degree to which the Spirit is in control. The degree to which He is in control determines the degree to which His unlimited supernatural power is marshalled into our life to bring victory, vision, vitality and volition. This is the power needed to meet the Challenge of the ‘70’s.
Dr. F. B. Meyer came to a crucial, transitional time in his ministry. He sat dejectedly in his study. “My ministry is unfruitful, and I lack spiritual power,” he said to himself. Suddenly Christ seemed to stand beside him. “Let Me have the keys to your life,” Christ said. The experience was so realistic that he reached into his pocket and took out a bunch of keys! “Are all the keys here?” “Yes, Lord, all except the key to one small room in my life.” “If you cannot trust Me in all the rooms of your life, I cannot accept any of the keys.” Dr. Meyer was so overwhelmed with the feeling that Christ was moving out of his life because he was excluding Him from one interest in his life that he cried out, “Come back, Lord, and take the keys to all the rooms of my life!”
It is this kind of submission that brings the unlimited power of a Spirit-filled life.