Filled By or Filled With?

by | Oct 28, 2021 | Devotional, Greek

There’s a chapter in J. Oswald Sanders’ classic book Spiritual Leadership originally called “The Indispensable Requirement,” but later revised to “Above All Else.” According to Sanders, “Spiritual leadership requires Spirit-filled people” (77).  He views it as imperative for any spiritual leader. And he’s not wrong. In fact, the Apostle Paul uses an imperative—a command—when he directs Christians to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). But did you know there is some disagreement among interpreters over whether Paul is saying to be filled with the Spirit or by the Spirit? I didn’t.

Most English Bible versions and some commentators opt for with, but many other commentators make a strong case for by. The latter group appeals to the inner workings of Greek grammar to argue that this verse commands us to be filled by the Spirit—the Spirit being the means of our filling. Taking into account also how Paul uses the word “to fill” and “fullness,” you would not be on bad footing to agree with Greek grammarian Dan Wallace who says, “Believers are to be filled by Christ by means of the Spirit with the content of the fullness of God” (375). God’s fullness as it appears in Ephesians 3:19 refers to His presence and moral excellence. Those in favor of with and those in favor of by both have good arguments. 

Either way, the Bible as a whole reveals the Triune God indwells the Christian. God indwells every believer (1 John 4:15). Other passages speak of the Holy Spirit indwelling us (John 14:17; 1 Cor. 6:19–20). And the Book of Ephesians also speaks of Christ dwelling inside of us—in our hearts (Eph. 3:17). God is with us, and He wants to control us. 

If there is something Christians need, it’s to be full of the Spirit and God’s fullness. As Sanders concludes his chapter:

The filling of the Spirit is an essential for spiritual leadership. And each believer has as much of the Spirit’s presence as he or she will ever need. Our task is to remain yielded to Him (80).  


Photo by Mahdi Dastmard on Unsplash. This is an edited version of a post I originally wrote for Positive Action Bible Curriculum. You can view that post here.


Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall