Be brought to completion by the Spirit (part one)

Posted: Thu. Sep, 22 2016

A word, a verse, and a concept

The next thing we are going to look at is the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit to believers.

We have seen the one-time ministries of the Holy Spirit, such as Regeneration and the Baptism by the Spirit into Christ.

Now it’s time to look at the work that the Spirit is doing for the church every day.

And we will begin that subject this week by considering a word, a verse, and a concept from the book of Ephesians.

The word is the Greek verb pleroo.

The verse is Ephesians 5:18.

And the concept is the concept of fullness or completion.


The word:  pleroo

Now the Greek word pleroo appears, as you might expect, in Ephesians 5:18.

EPH 5:18
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, NASU

The Greek word for “be filled” is the second person plural, present, passive imperative of the Greek verb pleroo.

That’s interesting, because normally we think of imperatives as things that are commanded to be accomplished by the “you” implied in the sentence.  But that would be active or middle voice, and here we have the passive voice.  The sense of a passive voice command is along the lines of “let this action be done to or for you”.  And when it is in the present tense it means “let this action continue to be done for, to, or in you.”

Also notice that it is the second person plural.  That makes sense when you realize that the entire letter of Ephesians is about the body of Christ with its many members.


According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), the word pleroo has the following meanings:

  1.  To make full

  2. To complete a period of time

  3. To bring to completion that which was already begun; finish

  4. To bring to a designed end, fulfill

  5. To bring to completion an activity in which one has been involved from the beginning

  6. Or simply, complete

So let’s plug these meanings into Ephesians 5:18 to see how well they fit the context of the verse.

EPH 5:18
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be made full  with (or by - stay tuned)  the Spirit,

But be brought to completion by the Spirit

Be brought to your designed end by the Spirit

And what is our designed end?  Well stay tuned for the full answer, but we know for sure that our designed end is to be transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ the Son of God!  We have been predestined to reach this end by God the Father!  See ROM 8:28-30.

Allow an activity which we (members of the Body of Christ  and the Spirit)  have been involved in from the beginning to be brought to completion by the Spirit

By the way, I cannot resist interjecting a passage from Philippians right here:

Php 1:3-6
3  I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Be completed by the Spirit

So that’s pleroo.    And I hope you can see how the main  lexical meanings of this word fits very well with the context of  Ephesians 5:18.

Further, as we shall see, this meaning of being brought to completion makes perfect sense in light of the big picture about what the Spirit is working to accomplish with us and in us as members of the Body of Christ.


Is it with the Spirit or by the Spirit?

But in Ephesians 5:18 we need to examine two more Greek words in order to get the meaning right.

The other two are translated “with” and “the Spirit” in the NASB and King James.

 The Greek prepositional phrase is en pneumati  . Here, pneumati is in the dative case.

Now, “with the Spirit”  implies that the Spirit is the content and we are being filled with the Spirit.

It is very unlikely that this is the meaning of this phrase however.

The reasons are quite technical, so let me borrow the explanation  from the footnote to this verse in the NET Bible:

Many have taken en pneumati as indicating content, ie, one is to be filled with the Spirit.  However, there are no other examples in biblical Greek in which en + the dative after pleroo indicates content.   When content is indicated, en + the genitive is typically used.  

With pneumati appearing in the dative here, it indicates agency or means, and should be translated “by” or “by means of”.

In other words, the Spirit cannot be the content of a filling  in Ephesians 5:18.

Instead, the Spirit is the agent performing the pleroo , or the means by which pleroo is being performed.  And we have now seen that pleroo means to bring to completion.   The Spirit is bringing us to completion.  We are being brought to completion by means of the Spirit.

en pneumati  is best translated “by the Spirit”.


Testing out our working translation of Ephesians 5:18

So here is our working  translation of Ephesians 5:18:

And do not get drunk with wine, which is dissipation, but be completed (brought to completion, made full, brought to a designed end) by the Spirit.


Ok.  Now we have our working translation.  Now it’s time to test it out.

When we’re done with that, we will be able to state what the overarching ministry of the Spirit is to believers after we are born again.  

Overarching, because the Spirit is doing many things (like teaching, pouring God’s love into our hearts, interceding for us) but these many things all add up to this overarching work on our behalf.  In other words, the big picture, the overall goal - the wide sweep.

So we are going to take a look at other verses in the New Testament that contain the Greek verb pleroo.  How well does our translation of pleroo in Ephesians 5:18 stand up to how it is translated in the rest of the New Testament?

And we will also  examine what Ephesians 5:18 says in light of what the rest of the New Testament says about the ministry of the Holy Spirit to believers in Christ.

In other words, we are going to check out the neighborhood. And the community.

Where will we go?

The local neighborhood is the entire book of Ephesians.

And the local community consists of  the letters of the New Testament, especially the letters of Paul, and especially especially what are known as the “prison” epistles - which for our purposes will be Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians.  Philemon is the fourth prison epistle, but our word pleroo does not appear in that letter.

And the overall region  is the entire New Testament.

How is pleroo used in each neighborhood?  And what about this concept of being brought to completion, of growth to fullness?


Checking out the local neighborhood: the book of Ephesians

This week we will look at the local neighborhood: the book of Ephesians.

The verb pleroo appears 4 times in the book of Ephesians.    The concept of fullness is all over the book of Ephesians. We will examine both the word and concept now.

In Ephesians,  pleroo first appears  in Ephesians 1:23.

EPH 1:22-23
22 And He (God the Father) put all things in subjection under His  (Christ’s) feet, and gave Him (Christ)  as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

What a marvelous truth this is!

There is no more mind-blowing statement anywhere about the extent of the fullness that God has designed us as His Son’s body to have.

This verse needs to be kept in mind whenever we attempt to grasp what is said to us in Ephesians 5:18.

Be completed by the Spirit to attain all the fullness that God has designed for us.

God has established the church to be the fullness of Christ.

Our impact will register both on earth and in the heavenly places.


The growth of the body

And the church is called to grow into this fullness.

EPH 2:19-22
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,  21  in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

And notice that here the Spirit is the agent of this growth.

We find more description of the church growing into fullness in chapter 4.

EPH 4:11-16
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as  evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.


The fullness of God

The next time we come across pleroo is in Ephesians 3:19:

EPH 3:14-19
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Both here and in Ephesians 1 the word pleroo is found within a prayer that Paul is praying on behalf of the church.

This means that he is speaking about a future end or goal that he earnestly desires for the church to be brought to.

Here in Ephesians 3, we again have an extraordinary statement about the fullness that we, as the body of Christ,  have been designed to achieve.

Here it is all the fullness of God!


When we put  Ephesians 5:18 together with Ephesians 1:23 and 3:19, we get a jolt.  The fullness that we are being brought into is the very fullness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

If that doesn’t take your breath away, you’re just not paying attention!!

For the sake of completion, there is one more verse in Ephesians that contains our verb pleroo:

EPH 4:9-10
9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He [Christ]  might fill all things.)

This is a further elaboration of what we saw in Ephesians 1:23 about the fullness of Christ that we are to be brought into. Namely, that it reaches everywhere:  under the earth, on the earth, and all the heavens.


All kinds of fullness

Yet we cannot leave the book of Ephesians without taking in more of what it has to say about fullness and growth.

And so there is no better place to end up today than at the beginning, chapter 1.

Right off the bat in this letter we get a completely full and rich statement about what God has done for the church which is Christ’s body.

EPH 1:1-10
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5  He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6  to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is,  the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.

The things highlighted here speak for themselves.

We have fullness of extent (every spiritual blessing, all wisdom, all things).

We have fullness of time (starting before the foundation of the world, the fullness of these times of the church).

And we have fullness of space (the heavens and the earth).

And that concludes our time in the book of Ephesians this week.

Next time, we will broaden our horizons by looking at what the rest of the letters teach us about pleroo , and the concept of growth, fullness, and being brought to completion.


Until the next time, we’re all ….

In His grip,

Pastor John

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