People long to know joy. They want to find meaning, purpose, and enjoyment in life. Because of this people look for that joy in many places.
Some look for joy by amassing possessions, by pursuing power, by gaining education, or by indulging pleasures. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says he tried all these things and concluded, “Everything is meaningless”. When it was all said and done, he said there is only one thing that satisfies: “To honor God and obey His commandments.”
It is with that clear understanding that Paul takes us to the next item in his list of things which are characteristic of the child of God. Again he points out the error to correct, the trait to pursue, and the results that will take place. Our text says
Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, (NLT)
Paul does not say “Don’t ever drink wine”, he tells us not to do this in excess so that we become drunk. The abuse (or idolatry) of alcohol is not unique to our day. It has always been a problem. The Bible warns that leaders in the church must not be given to drunkenness. The reason for this, says Paul is that it leads to debauchery or wild and unrestrained (or we could say “out of control”) behavior.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones (who was a physician before he became a Pastor) writes,
Drink is not a stimulant, it is a depressant. It depresses first and foremost the highest centers in the brain. They are the very first to be influenced and affected by drink. They control everything that gives a man self-control, wisdom, understanding, discrimination, judgment, balance, the power to assess everything; in other words everything that makes a man behave at his very best and highest is what this part of the brain controls. (Life in the Spirit p. 15)
As a person drinks they lose more and more of their “sense”. If you have lived for any length of time you have seen someone in this state and know this is true. A person becomes verbally abusive, they do things they would not (and should not) do if they were sober. The person who is drunk may believe they are having a “good time” but the spectacle they make is quite embarrassing.
In times of drunkenness bad decisions are made. People get behind the wheel of a car in the belief they are unimpaired, engage in intimate (often with a stranger) behaviors, and can become verbally or physically abusive. Because their reasoning ability is compromised they make bad choices. Sometimes they have life-changing consequences! As our text says, “it will ruin your life.”
This loss of inhibition is a wide open door for Satan to lead us into destructive behaviors. The loss of wisdom and self-control that results from overindulgence of alcohol undermines our walk with Christ.
Be Filled with the Spirit
Paul doesn’t simply complain about people drinking too much. He also gives us an alternative: be filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. Instead of being controlled by alcohol, we should seek to be controlled or energized by the Holy Spirit. We should want to be “taken over” if you will by the full power and presence of God. The result of such filling is renewal, obedience, boldness and a testimony that is powerful.
Every believer is given the Holy Spirit when they truly become a follower of Christ. I believe this what the Bible means by being baptized in or by the Spirit or being “sealed” with the Spirit. These phrases describe our initial entry into the new life that comes through Christ. These experiences may involve the Holy Spirit but Paul is talking about something different.
As you read through the Book of Acts you see that the disciples were often filled with the Spirit in order to proclaim the Word of God with extraordinary boldness. These are times when you sense an uncommon control by the Spirit that allows you to speak with freedom, boldness, and a clarity that is uncommon. I know I have been surprised by insights that come out of my own mouth or suddenly “pop into” my mind.
However, I don’t think this is what Paul is talking about either. Paul here is urging us to live under the control of the Holy Spirit as a regular course of our life. It is the antithesis to being controlled by a substance (such as alcohol or drugs). When someone is drunk we say they are “under the influence” of alcohol. Paul says we should instead by “under the influence” of the Spirit.
The word for “be filled” in the Greek denotes that this is an ongoing process. We could translate it “keep on being filled”. It is not a one-time experience but something we must seek every day.
J. Vernon McGee likens it to filling your car up with gas. When you head out on vacation you don’t fill up your car and then forget about it. You have to stop and refill the car again and again. Or think of a glass of water. After you have refreshed yourself with a drink you will need to fill the glass again.
Every day (and often throughout the day) we must pray, “Lord, please open me up to receive the filling of your Spirit so that I might be controlled and led by your Spirit. We recognize that we are most fully alive when we are most energized by Him. We are most effective as His disciples when we are most surrendered to His power and leading. This is what we should hunger for.
God is not reluctant but eager to fill us with His Spirit. However, for this to happen we must surrender to Him. We must give ourselves to the Spirit just like some give themselves to alcohol. To be filled with God’s Spirit we have to “open the faucet” to allow the Spirit to flow into our lives.
Paul commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It is something that we have some control over. In other words, we don’t have to wait for this to happen to us, it is something which we can facilitate. So what do we do?
First, we must stop grieving the Spirit. We must stop allowing lusts and passions to control us. In other words we must pursue all these things that Paul has been teaching us in the verses leading up to this. We must pursue truth, control anger, seek forgiveness, and speak words that build up rather than destroy.
We had a faucet once that was shooting water in a strange direction. The water flow was weak. I checked out options of what might be wrong and finally took off the screen on the faucet and discovered that it was filled with sediment. Once I cleaned out the sediment the water flowed freely. We must do the same kind of thing in our spiritual lives.
Hundreds of times (or more) a day we make a choice whether we will trust God or the culture around us. We decide whether we will copy the pattern of the people around us that we admire (and from whom we want approval or acceptance) or seek to copy the pattern of Christ. We choose between popular opinion and the Word of God. Every time we choose to turn from the ways of God we are grieving or quenching the Spirit. When we choose to follow His ways we are allowing the Spirit to fill us. Simply put we cannot be filled with the Spirit and engage in sinful or rebellious behavior at the same time. Sometimes people say, “God seems far away”. Often that is because we have pushed Him far away.
Second, we must be conscious of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Think about how differently you behave if you are aware that your children are watching what you do. Or think about how you change your behavior if someone is staying at your home. When we have had visitors in our home I am very conscious of that fact. I try to be extra quiet when I get up in the morning, I think more carefully about setting out items for breakfast. We plan our schedule for the day based on the needs and plans of our guests. When we are aware of the presence of others we act differently.
When we are aware of the presence of the Spirit we respond differently. We realize that we are taking God’s Spirit wherever we go. He hears everything we say . . . and think! It should be our desire to live in a way that honors the Holy Spirit living in us. This consciousness will help us as we make decisions.
Third, resolve to respond to His promptings. There are times when you just sense that you should do something. There will be times when you feel a prompting to pray. When this happens, stop and pray. You feel you should read the Bible (it is astounding how many times you will be reading along and something “jumps out” that is just the right word for just the right time). You may feel led to call or visit someone, to give someone money, to ask someone a certain question, or you may be led to pursue a particular opportunity. At the time it may seem silly. Determine to be a person who is willing to follow where He leads. Sometimes it may seem you were mistaken. However, the more you seek to follow that leading, the better you will be at telling the difference between the leading of the Spirit and the wacky thoughts that sometimes pop into our minds. The better we are at recognizing His promptings the more likely we will find His leading for the future. When we ignore the promptings we can become numb to them.
When we respond to God’s Spirit wonderful things happen.
- We will know a supernatural peace when all around us are falling apart
- We will find the right words to say in a tense situation
- We will have a new clarity in our thoughts
- We will be tuned in to the heart of another unlike any other time
- We will have a boldness to stand for the truth of the gospel or to do what needs to be done.
- We will know an uncommon intimacy with God and freedom in prayer
The point is that we need to seek this filling. God will not often pour out His Spirit on an unwilling person. We must intentionally seek God’s Spirit. Not only must we ask . . . we must also be willing to respond.
Manifestations of the Spirit’s Fullness
You can tell when someone has had too much to drink. Their face is flushed, their eyes may be reddened, and they may begin to slur words. They may be unsteady and start to wobble. They may have trouble paying attention, be uncoordinated, and be rude, giddy or engage in inappropriate behavior. They may get sick and some will fall asleep.
When it comes to being filled with the Spirit Paul says there are evidences of that that filling. In Galatians 5:22 we are familiar with these words known as the fruit of the Spirit,
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5:22 NLT)
These traits should be seen in everyone who is a follower of Christ. When we pursue the fullness of the Spirit of God we will experience these traits in greater measure. In our text Paul adds,
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Eph. 5:19-20]
Most students of God’s Word see three evidences of the filling of the Spirit in verses 19 and 20. First, there is a love of Corporate Worship. Paul says we will speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. This does not mean we will be quoting song lyrics to each other on the street corner (though that would be more edifying than most of our conversations). The picture here is that the Spirit will drive us together to worship the Lord.
Our times of worship are not obligations that are placed on us by the tradition of men. Worship is part of the Spirit’s plan for our growth and spiritual wellness. Starting in the book of Exodus God laid out specific plans for weekly worship in the nation of Israel. It is part of God’s vision for His people. Just as God gave us a day of rest, so He instituted the command for weekly worship. When we skip either of these things we are resisting the work of God’s Spirit. This is part of the design and rhythm of life. When we pass on weekly worship we are turning away from the Lord.
Our worship is also valuable because we need each other. God has designed us to be inter-dependent. He draws us together because in that togetherness we can learn from each other, pray for each other, and encourage each other in the path of discipleship. Corporate (or group) worship is something God established to help us in a practical way.
The second evidence of the fullness of God’s Spirit is a new melody in our heart. James Montgomery Boice wrote,
Paul is probably contrasting the edifying joyous worship of the Christian community, which has praise of God as its aim, with the destructive, noisy revelries of the pagan world, when people are drinking.
It is not music itself that is an evidence of God’s Spirit; it is music which lifts our hearts in praise to the Lord. Music is powerful. Think about how a tune that you hear in an elevator or on the radio can stick in your head. Sometimes it is embarrassing! Music is powerful, it communicates on a deep level. Paul is telling us that those who are filled with the Spirit will have a new song in their heart.
I appreciate the fact that it Paul says Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We can debate what each of these things mean but the bottom line is this: there are a variety of musical styles that can lift the heart to the Lord. It may be a Gregorian Chant, or a choir anthem of Mozart or Bach. It may be hymns from the hymnal that link generations, a brand new song from a contemporary Christian artist, or the sweet harmonies of Southern gospel. They are all tools of the Spirit when they direct our attention to the Lord. The style of music is not important it is the way God uses music to draw us to Himself.
Third, the Holy Spirit will lead us to thanksgiving. The gratitude spoken of here is a gratitude that springs from an appreciation for the salvation that is ours due to God’s grace. It is that overwhelming gratitude of one who has been pardoned minutes before their execution. It is the gratitude of the one who has survived a deadly fire or tornado.
As we experience the sweet and wonderful filling of God’s Spirit, we become more acutely grateful for the position that is ours in Christ. It leads us to both humble and joyful gratitude. It is similar to that gratitude you feel when you first hold your newborn in your arms. There is a feeling of joy at the new life filled with the awareness of our deep unworthiness to be entrusted with such a precious gift. This joyful gratitude changes the direction and outlook of our lives.
For now it is important that we underline the point of these words with a couple of applications. First, we are not left to follow Christ in our own strength. At times we can read the instruction we find in the Bible and feel completely overwhelmed. In our own strength we fall far short of the Lord’s design for our lives.
The Good News is that God has not left us alone. He has provided us with the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us. Unfortunately, this is a resource that is left largely untapped. It is untapped because we are distracted by other things.
Like the rest of the world, we tend to turn to drink or other amusements to find happiness. You hear people say, “How are we going to have any fun if there isn’t going to be any alcohol?” The irony is this: the way of the world produces deadness. It makes us progressively more unfeeling. The Spirit makes us more and more alive! I hope that like me, you are led to cry out more fully for God’s Spirit to fill us and empower us.
Second, the Christian walk is to be one of Joy not Drudgery. Sadly, this will be a surprise to many. They think of serving Christ as a burden to carry or a sacrifice to make. There are sacrifices but they do not lead to drudgery, they lead to the joy we are looking for.
Don’t get me wrong, a life of joy is not the same things as a life of ease. The Bible everywhere tells us there will be conflict. Trials are a part of life. They are used by God to make us grab more tightly to Him. However, even in the times of greatest heartache we discover like Paul that “when we are weakest we discover His strength more completely.”
So two roads stand before us: the way indulgence and the way of the Spirit. We can be controlled by wine, riches, power, or any number of other indulgences or we can pursue the increasing control and involvement of God’s Spirit. One will lead to a hangover, the other will result in a depth of life that the world will crave but never understand.
©Copyright by Rev. Bruce Goettsche March 3, 2013
 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: An expositional commentary (189). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.