Thursday, September 6, 2012

More or Less: Less of Me, More of You. (Acts 13)

This week we continued our study in Acts 13 – picking up with verse 13. 

… I love and cherish the opportunity to share the lessons that God through His Holy Spirit is teaching me, but just now I feel the urge to remind you that you should never allow a blog, book, or Bible teacher to stand between you and God’s Word!  Rather Scripture itself must form the bond between you and each of these learning tools.  Please take advantage of every opportunity you have to open the Bible yourself!

… Where were we?  Yes, Acts 13:13 – just months into Paul‘s 1st missionary journey.  By the way, Sunday’s lesson took us through the end of Acts 13.  I say this now knowing that I will not be able to address everything covered in Sunday’s lesson.  Reading through the chapter before Sunday (or the next blog post) will help keep us together.

The first thing I hope you notice in reading the remainder of Acts 13 is the change in the way Luke (author of Acts) refers to this missionary team.  The dynamic duo that was repeatedly and consistently referred to as “Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:1-2, 7) is now “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13).  After the departure of John Mark (whom we know as the writer of the Gospel of Mark), the duo will be referred to primarily as “Paul and Barnabas” (with a few exceptions).

So why is this significant?  I believe that it goes back to Acts 13:9:  “But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit, …” (Amp).  I mentioned in Sunday’s class that, in preparing for a lesson (at church or in my math classes at school), I try to anticipate questions and misunderstandings class members may have with the material.  At the same time, I love it when a question is posed that causes me to step back and dig deeper myself.  Jason’s comment to my last blog post did just that.

If you didn’t read the comment, Jason basically said that a similar issue has been discussed in his Pathways Sunday school class regarding the Holy Spirit:  Is there a difference between having the Holy Spirit and being filled by Him?  So off I went, concordance in hand searching every Scripture I could find on the role of the Holy Spirit in the early church.  I’ll give you the short version.  (You’re welcome.)  The most frequently used verbs regarding new believers and the Holy Spirit were “received” and “filled.”  Received was translated from the Greek word lambano, meaning to take/get hold of, indicating to me that the person accepted the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Filled came from the word pletho which means to be full.  So what’s the difference between getting hold of the Holy Spirit and being full of Him?  

I actually found clarification in coming across (by providence, not coincidence) one of Jesus’ parables – one that has puzzled me for a while.  Luke 13:20-21 (also in Matthew 13:33):  “…To what shall I liken the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of wheat flour or meal until it was all leavened.”  We, as humans, are made up of three parts – body, soul, and spirit.  What if we think about the three measures of flour as ourselves and the yeast, Christ referenced, as the Holy Spirit?  We receive the Holy Spirit through our belief in and claiming of Christ as our Savior, but the process of permeating our whole being has just begun.

I brought this up with a friend this week – a friend who just happens to be preparing for a speaking engagement by re-reading a book written by Billy Graham in the 1970s – The Holy Spirit.  She had actually marked a passage that she wanted to share with me – not knowing beforehand what I hoped to discuss with her.  Again, I love God’s providence!!
            “We are already the temple of God, indwelt by the Holy
            Spirit, but He wants to fill us.  However, He can fill only 
            those who wish to be emptied of self and yielded to Him.  
            Therefore, this active surrender must continue day by 
            day, concerning little things as well as big ones.”

In another place, he (Graham) says, “It’s not getting more of the Holy Spirit that results in our being ‘filled.’  It’s how much of ourselves we allow the Holy Spirit to have.”

Luke tells us that the apostle Paul was baptized when God sent Ananias to him (Acts 9:18).  Paul tells us in Ephesians that there is one baptism (Eph 4:5) and that is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  When Paul accepted Christ as his Savior, he, too, was indwelt by the Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead … the same Holy Spirit Who lives inside you and me.  When we meet up with Paul in Acts 13:9, the Spirits’ permeation of his whole being – body, soul, and spirit – is complete.  Thinking back to Billy Graham’s first quote, Paul had emptied himself of Saul.  From here on out, Paul fully submits himself to the Sprits’ control.  We see it in his name change.  We see it in the rise of his authority within the band of missionaries (i.e. Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark).  We see it in the divinely-inspired words God speaks through him and the miracles that God performs by his hand.

Lord, I [state your name] don’t know where I am in the process of being fully and completely permeated by Your Holy Spirit, but I’m so thankful that You do.  I ask, in Jesus’ name, that you keep working the dough that is my body until I am emptied of myself and fully yielded to You.  I thank You that You are faithful to continue the good work You have begun in me through Christ until it is brought to full completion (Phil 1:6).  Amen.


  1. So you are saying that we "lambano" or take hold of the Holy Spirit at conversion but that we become "pletho" or filled with the Spirit over time as God works out the pockets of resistance in our hearts?

    Or perhaps we become "pletho" when God's plan and our hearts are in alignment. Like In Luke Chapter 1 where Zechariah was struck mute because of his doubt, but when he bowed to God's will and named his son John (of the Baptist fame) he could instantly speak and was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and gave a prophecy.

  2. Basically yes ... Something else I realized I didn't include in the post was that being filled by the Holy Spirit is actually a continuous filling (even the "continuous" part sometimes gets lost in the translation). The analogy that Billy Graham used (quoting someone else, but I can't remember who) is that of a kitchen sink. The following is a paraphrase from memory ... with my thoughts mixed in:

    Think of yourself like a kitchen sink. When we accept Christ, our faucet is turned on (forever). (It was there all along if you think about it ... ready and waiting to be used). The sink begins to fill up with water. God's will is not for us to be satisfied when the water gets just so high, but for us to be filled to overflowing. In 1 Thess 5 (vs 19 I think), Paul tells the Thessalonians not to "quench the Holy Spirit," i.e. not to extinguish the Spirit. Paul expressly stating this says to me that, even if the faucet keeps flowing, we can pull the plug on our sinks (either intentionally or unintentionally ... like when you fill it up to wash dishes and come back to find only suds left in the bottom). In aligning ourselves (in conduct, conversation, and character) with God, we keep our sink plugged, but when make choices that are opposed to God's will, we leak.