Being Filled With the *Right* Spirit

A consideration of Ephesians 5:18

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Most Bible scholars group 4:25—5:2 together and ignore the abrupt chapter break between chapters 4 and 5.  If we were to take a “bird’s eye view” of chapter 4 and part of chapter 5, the overriding theme could be “Living as the Beloved,” and an outline might look something like this (Willard Taylor):

  1. Walking worthy of our calling, 4:1
  2. Walking in a manner different from the Gentiles, 4:17
  3. Walking in love, 5:2
  4. Walking in light, 5:8
  5. Walking in wisdom, 5:17

Mixed Metaphors

In chapter 4, the Church is described as “the new man,” but with chapter 5 the metaphor changes and the Church becomes “the bride.”  The emphasis of chapter 5 is on the future; the Church will be the bride, it is not the bride today.  Indeed, today the Church is supposed to be “the new man” living in the world of sin; today the Church is espoused or engaged to Christ but has not yet been joined to Him.  The Church will become the bride of Christ after the rapture and the “wedding” will take place in Heaven.

For this present time, however, as “the new man,” the Church should be living as the future bride of Christ.  The Church’s position in Christ is that of an engaged virgin.  This is what Paul was saying when he wrote 2 Corinthians 11:2—

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

The Church, engaged to Christ now, will be presented to Him “as a pure virgin” one day.  Just like a woman who is engaged to a man doesn’t continue to see old boyfriends or seek out new ones; she lives as committed to her fiancé as though she was already married to him, so the Church, though the wedding is yet to take place, should be living as though she is already married to Christ.

The question becomes:  how do we, the Church of Jesus Christ, re-created as “the new man” and engaged to Christ, live like that?  How do we live like “a pure virgin?” in a world of sin?  Paul gives the answer to us, through the Ephesians.  We are to:

1.  Walk in the light, 5:1—7

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them.

If we would live like we’re already the bride of Christ, then the very first thing we must seek to do is to be “imitators of God.”  The Greek word is mimetai, from which we get our English word “mimic,” and that gives us a good idea of how we ought to be living.  This is a staggering thought:  Paul would not tell us to “be” or “become” mimics of God unless it were possible, and a key ingredient in God’s character is love.  In keeping with His character, God acts lovingly toward men.  Paul explores this thought in Romans 5:8—

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Our lives as Christians should be a mirror reflection of that kind of love; the kind of love that is demonstrated, not merely talked about.  The love of God is first and foremost practical; it is seen on full display in how He treats both His children and sinful man.  The love that Christians should possess should likewise be practical and on full display.

The kind of love Paul is describing in this group of verses is agape love, a pure and selfless and self-giving love that looks out for the well-being of others.  Agape is God’s love, and God gives that love to His children and He enables them to show it to others.

Showing agape love is as simple as demonstrating the opposite of worldly love, which is really a perversion of agape love.  Paul lists some basic things to be avoided if agape love is to be manifested in our lives:

  • Not even a hint of sexual immorality should be seen in our lives.  The Greek word used here is porneia, from which comes our word “pornography.”  It was tolerated in the pagan societies of Paul’s day as it is in ours, and though it is all around us, we are to have nothing to do with it.
  • Not a hint of any kind of impurity should be seen in our lives.  Impurity characterizes our society today, with its impure images, words, melodies, and attitudes. 
  • Not a hint of greed should be seen in our lives.  The Greek is a powerful word, pleonexia, and means an overriding desire for more and more.  It is a self-centered way of living that takes in the previous two points and goes even further.
  • Not a hint of obscenity, foolish talk, or course joking should be seen in our lives.  These three words are significant because they occur only here in the New Testament.  Previously, Paul warned against “unwholesome talk” in 4:29 because it has the potential to harm those who hear it.  Now he goes even further by suggesting that wrong speech is unseeming for the Christian because it takes the place of wholesome speech, like praise for God.  “Obscenity” is closely linked to the notion of “filthy language” and “foolish talk” comes from the Greek morologia, reminiscent of our word “moronic,” and suggests “stupid” or “silly chatter.”  “Course joking” comes from the Greek eutrapelia, and means literally, “clever repartee.”  That in and of itself is not a bad thing, but when combined with the other two words, is suggests speech that is laced with double entendre.  This kind of talk is below the supposed stature of the believer, and for him to engage in it is lower his standard of behavior and bring disrepute on Christ, the one to whom he is engaged.

There are those in the Church in Paul’s day and today who say that living up to that kind of standard is impossible and may even infringe on our freedom in Christ.  To the Ephesians, and to us, Paul says in verse 7—

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

2.  Walking in the light, 5:8—14

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,

rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

Here, Paul reminds his readers of their former lives before they knew  Christ.  These people were not just living in darkness, they were darkness! But now that the light of Christ has come, and they too are the light.  This is another one of those staggering statements that our minds need a moment to absorb.  Believers are “the light.”  Believers are light by virtue of their association with Jesus Christ, who is the “light of the world.”  At our conversion, we become like Christ, lights in a dark world.

John Calvin once said, “Apart for Christ, Satan occupies everything.”  This being the case, Christians have an obligation to live as though they are “at home in the light” (Barclay).   How are we to live like this?  Once again, Paul has a list, beginning with three qualities every believer should manifest:

  • Goodness.  Coming from the Greek agathosyne, it means to possess a generous spirit while living a life of moral excellence.
  • Righteousness.  This means literally, “giving everyone their due” (Skevington Wood).  We might say it means putting the needs of others ahead of our own and making sure others are looked after in a fair and balanced way.
  • Truth.  From the Greek word aletheia, this means being not only honest but genuine.  “Truth” is not only to be reflected in our words, but our actions as well.  There can be no ambiguity in any area of the believer’s life.

Furthermore, Paul goes on to admonish the Ephesians, and us, not to have anything to do with “the fruitless deeds of darkness.”  Instead, we are to “expose them.”  Notice a couple of salient points here.  First, it is the dark deeds that are to be avoided, not those committing them.  Christ was not afraid to go where the sinners where, and neither should His followers, but in going to where the sinners are, we are admonished not to get involved in their dark deeds.  Indeed, our presence around them will serve to expose their dark deeds just as turning on the light in dark room exposes the things in that room.  Our quality of being light will expose their quality of darkness.  That is some power possessed by the believer!   Exposing dark deeds does not necessarily mean shouting about them, but that the Christian life, properly lived, would bring light, exposing them.  It is, as E. F. Scott remarked, a “silent process.”

Verse 12 is a marvelous piece of advice for we who tend to talk too much.

For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.

What does Paul mean?  Simply this:  The works of darkness must be exposed or “reproved” because they are sinful; so sinful they shouldn’t even be spoken of.  They are done in private and they should be exposed in private.  Some sins may be so abominable that to even talk about them would be to promote them.  The danger is that to continually discuss dark deeds, even if it is “preaching against them,” is that they will make some believers curious.  What has been done in the dark should stay in the dark, once it has been exposed.

3.  Walking in wisdom, 5:15—21

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

As believers, we are to be “careful” how we live.  We are to live “wisely.”  The opposite is how Paul phrased it:  we not to live as the “unwise.”  Unwise people live in ignorance of the ways of God; they live in darkness, unable to see and perceive and discern things properly; they can’t tell the difference between right and wrong.   The idea behind “wise” is to walk upright and confident, like those who possess knowledge and light and who are committed to the truth of God.  We live like the “wise” in five ways:

  • We make the most of every opportunity.  This means that we don’t let the frivolous things of this world steal the time we have away from us.  What lies behind Paul’s thought is our service to God.  Christians should not wait for an opportunity to serve God, they should “buy it up” regardless of the cost.
  • We are to understand the will of God.  Not only are Christians to grasp the will of God, if we understand verse 17 properly, not understanding God’s will makes the Christian “foolish!”  The word behind “foolish” is aphron, suggesting “stupid imprudence” and “senseless folly” in action (Skevington Wood).   Understanding what the will of God is is more than just an intellectual ascent to it, it is living according to it.  It means not depending on your own acumen or on the advice of others.  It means testing every thought and idea against God’s will, not the other way around.
  • We are to be filled with the Spirit.  Paul is actually paraphrasing Proverbs 23:30 and warning against the overindulgence of wine.  The abuse of alcohol was far too common in New Testament times.  People used alcohol for all kinds of reasons:  to forget their pain and to achieve happiness, for example.  There are times for joy and happiness, and there are times to be filled hope and anticipation and excitement.  But these times are not to be brought on by alcohol or celebrated by getting drunk.  Far from admonishing against alcohol, Paul is warning against its abuse, not its use.  Getting drunk is not the answer to life’s problems; it is what people living in the darkness do because they don’t know any better.  The joy or uplift that comes from alcohol is not real or lasting.  It’s as phony as everything else the world provides.  It is the devil’s imitation of the real joy that comes from only from God.  The “new man” and the promised bride of Christ has no need for the world has to offer.

The solution to the sinfulness of drunkenness is simply seeking a higher, more last source of joy and happiness.  Instead of getting drunk, the believer is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The ancient Greeks often used wine for another purpose:  to commune with the gods and to receive special knowledge from them.  This is the world in which Paul lived and these were the ideas he was fighting.  Abusing wine gets a person nothing worth anything, says Paul, it leads only to actions that are out of character for the Christian.  It will not ease your pain, it will not make you happy and it will not give you any wisdom.  On the other hand, if you want true and lasting happiness, if you want your burdens lifted in a meaningful way, and if you want to commune with the living God, forget the wine and be filled with His Spirit!

Of primary importance is Paul’s use of the word plerousthe, the Greek word for “to be filled.”  It is written in the imperative, which makes it clear that this command is for all Christians, not just those of the Pentecostal persuasion.  It is also written in the present tense, which means being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual experience, not a once-for-all-time experience.  We could paraphrase Paul by saying, “keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.”  The verb is also a passive one, which means being filled with the Holy Spirit is not an experience one runs after or makes up or gins up.   Being continually filled with the Holy Spirit should be the normative experience for all Christians; our lives should be lived expecting God to fill us again and again with His Spirit.  There is no indication in verse 15 that there is a “filling with the Spirit” subsequent to conversion.

  • We are to express the joy of the Spirit.  This is the result of being filled with the Spirit.  It will determine our whole demeanor; it will effect how treat our fellow believers.  Speaking to each other in “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” does not necessarily mean Christians should go around singing at each other all the time;  it means that rather than engaging in foolish and unproductive talk, instead of telling dirty jokes and the like, Christians should be ready to encourage each other in a godly way.  We should so familiar with the Word of God that it just rolls off the end of our tongues when it is needed.   Part of expressing the joy of the Spirit is living in an attitude of thanksgiving (verse 20) to Jesus Christ for all He has done for us.
  • We are to submit to one another.  Finally, we get to Paul’s great concern for unity in the Church.  When its members are living according Paul’s dictates, the Church will see true unity.  Realizing that each member of the Body of Christ has had the common experience of having been transported from darkness to light, each member has had the common experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and each member has had the common experience of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness, submission to each other should come naturally.  Our shared experiences in Christ form the basis for this mutual submission.  This is not a cowardly, spineless kind of submission, however.  It is realizing the importance of each member of the Body of Christ.  In the world of darkness, people are abused, forgotten, hurt, and taken advantage of.  In the Church, this should never happen.

True and lasting joy comes from a right relationship with:

  • The world, our former home, and its current occupants;
  • God the father, the One who creates “the new man” in each of us;
  • Jesus Christ, bridegroom of His Church;
  • The Holy Spirit, who fills each of us and makes it possible for us to live up our calling;
  • Each other in the Body of Christ.
(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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