Ephesians 5:18

There are occupational hazards in being a Pastor.  Let me mention two of them. One of them is that while people expect you to be pious, you can come across as a little too pious at times — like the lady who came to a pastor at the end of a service, and was very effusive in her gratitude.  She said, “That was the most wonderful sermon I’ve ever heard. That was absolutely fantastic!  It was so powerful, it has changed my life!”

Well, what does a pastor say to something like that? This one decided that he had to be very humble about it, so he said, “Oh, thank you madam, but it was not me, it was the Lord!”  And she said, “Oh, it wasn’t that good!”  So that’s one of the things you have to avoid.

The other thing you have to avoid is assuming that people remember anything that you said.  One of the worst things a pastor can do is talk to somebody who has been in the service, and say, “You probably remember four weeks ago, I was talking about such and such a thing.” It is just plain embarrassing for everybody.  The only reason the pastor remembers is that he just checked his notes.

Now, I’m not going to make that mistake.  I’m not going to make the mistake of saying, “You remember that in August, I did a series of five messages under the general heading “Family Business”.  This was a series of messages dealing with relationships, based on Ephesians, Ephesians 5 and Ephesians 6.  I’m not going to make the mistake of assuming you remember that, so I’m just going to tell you.

What we did in that particular series was look at some of the very practical teachings which the Apostle Paul gave the people in Ephesus, and accordingly to us as well, concerning marriage and family.  We noticed some very powerful things, and I’ve come back now, just for this one week, just to have a little check up and see how you are doing.

For instance, one of the things we noticed it said was that in the context of mutual submission — which the Christians do as unto the Lord — that wives in that particular culture, needed to be very careful, because they were given a lot of new liberties and needed to make absolutely certain that they were submitting to their husbands, as to the Lord.  Well, I was just wondering how that was working, wives?

Then to balance it out he said, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it.”  How is it going, men?  What difference does it make?

And then, kids, it was all about how we need to respect and honor our parents, obey our parents, that sort of thing.  The balance, of course, was to parents: don’t drive your kids nuts, but make sure that you’re bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Well, how is it going?

You probably noticed that when I asked the first question, there was a nervous ripple of laughter around the place. Then as I carried on in that same vein, it got quieter and quieter. Some of you are now thinking: I do believe he’s serious, I do believe he’s really asking us what difference did it make?

Well, isn’t that why we listen to the Word of God — so that we might take it to heart, put it into operation and see transformation taking place in our lives? Obviously, that is the case, and I’m sure many of us have been taking the Word of God seriously.

But I suspect that in taking it seriously, some have found it a bit of a struggle. If we honestly look at the way we tried to obey these instructions in Scripture, we found it was more difficult than we imagined. So let’s deal with the practical issue of how Paul’s instructions are realistically possible in our lives.

The key verse is Ephesians 5:18. This is what the verse says: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. (Debauchery means all kinds of inappropriate and unacceptable behavior.  We know what happens when people get drunk.) Instead be filled with the Spirit.”

The first question I want to try to answer for you if this: What does the Bible actually say in this passage about the practical means of living in obedience to what the Bible instructs? The operative word in this particular verse is the verb to be ‘filled’. Dependent on this verb, be filled, are four other words that follow immediately afterwards and they are called ‘participles’.  The four are: singing, speaking, thanking and submitting. The Apostle Paul doesn’t  suddenly, right of the blue, say, “Okay, you should be speaking this way, singing this way, thanking this way, submitting this way.” Instead he says that as a result of being ‘filled with the Spirit’ this is the natural repercussion. It will affect your singing, your speaking, your thanking, and your submitting.

Then he focuses on the fourth of those participles, saying, “Now let me talk to you about ‘submitting’ and show you how submission is something that doesn’t come naturally, any more than the kind of thanksgiving or the speaking or the singing that I’m talking about, doesn’t come naturally.” Paul says that this submitting, which is the result of being filled with the Spirit, will work its way out into the relationship of wives to husbands, husbands to wives, children to parents, and parents to children.

What he is saying, in effect, is this: healthy relationships, as taught in Scripture, are dependent upon us living in the fullness of the Spirit.” That’s the key!   Therefore, if realistically, we are to see these instructions work out in our lives, we are going to have a working knowledge of what it means to be living in the fullness of the Spirit.

I’ve already mentioned to you that the key word here is the verb, “be filled.”  You are aware that this letter to the Ephesians was originally written in Greek, not in English, and the Greek is a wonderfully rich language.  Fortunately, we have lots of Greek scholars available to us, who give us very keen insights into it. This one word translated “be filled” has four dimensions to it, that are clearly seen in the construction of this Greek word.  Let me tell you what these four things are, because they are very important.

The first thing is this:  This verb is in the imperative mood.  That means it is a command not a suggestion!  Now that is crucial.  We understand the command “Do not get drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery.”  That’s pretty straightforward.  Put it in very simple terms: If you’re planning on getting out of this service as quick as you can, in order to go and get drunk, don’t do it!  Any questions?

But equally if you’re planning on getting out of this service the minute it’s over not in the fullness of the Spirit, don’t do it!  In fact, because the two are put together here, we could even say, in the apostle’s mind, it would be as unthinkable for us to go out of the meeting, not filled with the Spirit, as it would be for us to go out and promptly get drunk. That’s the strength of this verb being in the imperative mood.  It is not a suggestion, it is a command!  Now what do you do with the commands of God?  If you’re a healthy believer, you take them seriously.

The second thing we know is this verb is in the present tense.  Being in the present tense, means that this fullness of the Spirit is not a one-time climatic event that launches you into the spiritual stratosphere. Instead it is a continuous, continual experience. It is something that goes on and on. It is not one grand experience; it is a continuous succession of experiences. It is really saying, “Be continually filled with the Spirit.”

The third thing we notice is that it is in the passive voice.  Verbs can be active or passive.  If they are active, they are what you do; if they are passive, it is what is being done to you.  This verb is in the passive voice.  What does it mean?  It means we have a responsibility continually to make sure that something is being done to us: that we are continually being filled with the Spirit. That’s not a suggestion, it’s an order.

The fourth thing is that this verb is in a plural form, which means it was addressed to everybody Paul was addressing when he wrote this letter to the Ephesians.  Who was he addressing? Wives, husbands, children, parents — it’s in the plural form so it is relevant to everybody.  Because we assume that this passage of Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and is eternally true and relevant, it is true for us.

So put all that together, and this verb is saying, “Allow yourselves continually to be being filled with the Holy Spirit.”  That’s not a suggestion, it’s an order!  That’s the key!  So we put all that together and we come to one conclusion: that the Spirit’s fullness is the key to healthy relationships, and it is normative for all Christians, whether husbands or wives or children or parents.  It is not for a spiritual ‘elite’.  It is not for the piously inclined.  This is a fundamental principle, a fundamental instruction that is normative for all believers.  If we want to live healthy relationships, according to biblical standards, it is done in the fullness of the Spirit.

Now the question we have to ask is:  What does this thing mean, this idea of being filled with the Spirit?  Well, we’ve already pointed out to you the rather unusual juxtaposition in this verse:  “Do not be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.”  Why would Paul put these two very different ideas together?  It would seem to me the only reason would be by way of contrast, and by way of analogy.  Analogies are similes; they are examples that we use.  When there is something we don’t understand, we put it alongside something that has similarities that we do understand.  So Paul assumes that the Ephesians know what it’s like to be drunk, and what happens when you’re drunk.

I have to confess to you I have never been drunk, so it would be very difficult for me to use this analogy.  I have never been drunk, but I lived part of my life in very close contact with drunks!  I served in the Royal Marine Commandos, and in the Royal Marine Commandos there are many people who spend a lot of their time drunk.  In fact, you might say that you either need to be stupid or drunk to be in the Marine Commandos. Maybe I need to retract that?  I was stupid, I was young and foolish!  Anyway, it was wonderful theological training, and wonderful preparation for the pastorate.

My friends would say, “Lofty, are you coming ashore with us?”  Lofty, because I was over six feet.  I would say, “What are you going to do?”  “Gonna have a couple of drinks!”  I knew their mathematics were suspect!  I’d say, “No thanks!”  They’d say, “Come on, be a man!”  I’d say, “No, thank you!  I’ll be whatever the alternative is this evening.”

So off they would go to be men, and early the next morning they would come back barely recognizable as men. Some of them came back behaving like children, some in a terrible state, some of them literally crawling on their hands and knees, trying to find the door. So I would put them in the shower, clean them up, lift them into their beds, and tie them in, so they wouldn’t fall off the top bunk onto the concrete floor — not that they would feel it.  Generally, I’d nursemaid them.

So you see, I know a lot about being drunk.  In the middle of the night, I would hear a plaintive cry: “Lofty, come quickly!”  So I’d untie them in the dark, help them down, take them to the window, and as they leaned out of the window, I’d put my arm consolingly around them, and I would whisper in their ear, “Why don’t you be a man? Give it up!”  And they would say, “Oh, I will, oh Lofty, I promise you, I will.  I’ll never touch another drop.” And they wouldn’t — until the next night!

So, what did I observe in this drunken behavior? They had a certain input of alcohol.  The input of alcohol would vary dramatically from person to person.  For some it was relatively little, for others, it took enormous amounts, but eventually, if they were going to lapse into a state of drunkenness, they would be captivated by alcohol.  It would get into their minds and it would alter their thinking.  Once it had captivated their minds, then they would become motivated by it.  Not only their thinking but their desires would change. Once they’d been captivated and motivated by it, then their actions would change, and they would do the most ridiculous things, sometimes the most dangerous things, sometimes the most objectionable things.  Why?  Because now they had been captivated, motivated and activated by alcohol. We all understand that.

The Apostle Paul says, “Why would you put yourself in a position like that? What you need to do is make sure that you are being continually captivated, motivated and activated by the Holy Spirit.” Doesn’t that make sense?  Paul says that is the key to being able to live out these relationships in the way that we’re called to do it.

If that is how it works, then how does it apply as far as I’m concerned?  How do I make sure that I am being continually captivated and motivated and activated by the Spirit?  Well, Ephesians 4:18 has to be understood in its context. Before you get to Ephesians 5:18, you’ve got to reckon with four-and-a-half chapters of Ephesians. Does Paul mention the Holy Spirit in four-and-a-half chapters of Ephesians?  And the answer is: Yes, he does. Let’s quickly look at it, and see what we can learn. Because this instruction didn’t come out of the blue without warning. It is predicated on what he has already said.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.”

That is a typically Pauline sentence, it goes on and on and on. So take it one piece at a time.  He is talking to people who have now been accepted in Christ.  When he talks about being in Christ, that is a code term which he uses for a Christian. Paul talks about being in Christ!  Then he said, “You also are accepted in Christ, included in Christ when you heard the Word of Truth, the gospel of your salvation.”  So here are the people he’s talking to.  Some of them are Jewish people, who as yet have not heard that Jesus of Nazareth was shown to be the Messiah by the resurrection for the dead. They didn’t know that.  In addition to those Jewish people, there were also pagan people — people from all over the places where Paul had been traveling, and he describes them as without God, without Christ, and without hope.

To all these people the Apostle Paul has come with that he calls the Gospel of Salvation.  Gospel simply means ‘good news’.  Salvation is all about God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  We cannot make ourselves fit for Heaven; we cannot make ourselves right with God; we cannot live life on earth as we ought to live it.  We can’t do it!  We are not wired up adequately to do it!  We are ‘fallen’ creatures, but God has taken the initiative to move into our lives, and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  He has moved to save us from a situation from which we cannot save ourselves, and He does it through Jesus!  That’s the Gospel of Salvation.

When you hear the Gospel of Salvation, there are two responses: one is to say, “That’s a lot of nonsense!” And the other is to say, “That is true!” So immediately, there’s a huge division.  You hear the Gospel of Salvation, some people will say, “It is a Word of Truth.”  Notice, what Paul says, “You were included in Christ when you heard the Word of Truth, the gospel of your salvation. But then he says, “Having believed!”

Step number one: Hear the Gospel. Step number tw Come to the conviction it is a Word of Truth. Step number three: You believe “into” the Gospel. Now this means more than just giving a mental assent, an academic nod; more than saying,””Sure, I believe that’s true.”  To believe into means to trust in, or to commit to.  You can go to an airport and somebody will say, “That’s an airplane, if you get in the airplane, it will miraculously take you to where it’s going on the other side of the world. You might say, “Wow!  That absolutely true!”   Some people say, “That’s nonsense,” and walk away.  Other people say, “That’s true,” and sit down and watch it; they don’t move an inch.  Then they’ll say to you, “Now, you need to get on the plane, sit down, fasten your seatbelt.”  You believe into it!  You commit yourself to that which you are convinced is true.

Step, number one:  HEAR THE GOSPEL. 

Step, number two: COME TO THE CONVICTION, IT’S THE WORD OF TRUTH. 

Step, number three:  COMMIT YOURSELF TO WHAT YOU ARE CONVINCED IS TRUE. 

Step, number four: GOD THEN DOES SOMETHING!

What does He do?  He puts a seal on you, a stamp of ownership upon you, and at the same time as He puts that seal or stamp of ownership on you, He also gives you a guarantee that what He has begun, He will continue and complete in eternity.  What is the seal? What is His guarantee?  The answer is: the Promised Holy Spirit.

So Paul saying to these Ephesian believers, “You are In Christ, and you can know that you’re in Christ! Because you heard the Gospel, you believed it was the Word of Truth;  you committed yourself to what you believed;  God sent His Spirit into your life;  Sending His Spirit into your life, He put his seal of ownership upon you; and gave you His guarantee that He will continue and complete in Eternity what He has started!”

What this means in very simply terms is this: a Christian is a person who has received the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, He is not a Christian.”  Before Paul ever says to these people, “Allow yourself to be continually filled with the Spirit; what he actually says to them is this:  “I can say this to you; because you heard the Gospel; you are convinced it’s true; you’ve committed yourself to what the gospel teaches; and God has sent His Spirit into your life, and He is at work in you!”

Now move on quickly to  Chapter Two of Ephesians, where the final verse says, “In Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”   Have you ever noticed that?  You are a building in which God lives by His Spirit.

We’ve asked the question, “Who is the Holy Spirit?”  And we’ve answered it: He is God’s gift to us, who becomes the seal and the guarantee He is what or who God promised.  The prophets promised, Jesus promised Him.

Now we ask the question: “Where is the Holy Spirit?” I’ll tell you where He is: He’s dwelling in the hearts of the redeemed, like you and like me! Then the question is: Well, why is He who He is and where He is?  Glad you asked that!  Let’s turn to Ephesians 3:16:  “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”

Why is the Holy Spirit who He is and where He is?  Answer: In order that God might strengthen you with might by His Spirit in your innermost being.  What kind of strength? Look at the end of the chapter.  “Now unto him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to him be glory. . .”  What is it saying?  That when I hear the Gospel, believe it to be true, commit myself to what I am convinced is true, God sends His Spirit into my life.  When God sends His Spirit into my life, God by His Spirit takes up residence in me.  When God by His Spirit takes us residence in me, it is in order to empower me to be what I cannot be in myself.

What is the Apostle Paul saying?  He is saying, “You need to be captivated by an understanding of who the Holy Spirit is.”  Captivated by an understanding of where He is.  Captivated by an understanding of why He is, who He is, where He is, in the light of the fact that He is the empowering for all the demands that God places upon you. Allow yourself to be continually captivated by Him — by who He is, by where He is, by why He is, where He is.  You say, “This sounds great, but you don’t know my kids, and you don’t know my husband, and you don’t know the circumstances under which I live.”  That’s true, I don’t!  But I do know this: that many people become very disillusioned when you teach them this, and then they go away because you don’t teach them one more thing.

That one more thing is found in Ephesians 4.  Look at what it says in Ephesians 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed,” clearly tying into Chapter one.  “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed.”  Then notice what He goes on to say:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, malice.”  A little earlier on, he says, get rid of unwholesome talk in your lives.  Ephesians 5:3-4, He says, “Get rid of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, impurity, immorality.”

You say, “What in the world has all of this got to do with it?” It’s got everything to do with it. Because when the Holy Spirit came into your life, your old, sinful propensities were not eradicated. What you are as a fallen human being did not cease to exist.  In fact, the Bible basically says that when the Holy Spirit came into your life, you became a battlefield. The Spirit fights against something that resists it, and that something that resists it is that old, fallen self.  That old, fallen self will show itself in rage, and bitterness, and malice, and sexual impurity, and greed — in other words, the flesh.

What it means to be captivated by the Holy Spirit on an on-going basis is this:  To be aware of who the Holy Spirit is, and where He is, and why He is, who He is and where He is. Be equally aware of the fact that there is, militating in you, something that will grieve the Holy Spirit. You have the privilege and responsibility of tipping the scales, which way at a given moment you’re going to go.

So, in your marriage when there’s an opportunity for you to lose your temper, there’s an opportunity to misbehave, when there’s an opportunity to do all manner of things, that would wreck the marriage, ruin the relationship, but more importantly, grieve the Holy Spirit, at that moment in the power of the Holy Spirit, you yield yourself to Him, and you say, “No” in the power of the Spirit to that which is contrary to Him.  You don’t do it once, and then you’re okay!  You do it continually. For we are commanded on an on-going basis to continually insure that we are being captivated and motivated and activated by the Holy Spirit. That’s the key to healthy relationships.

Let’s pray together: “Lord, sometimes our aspirations are not particularly noble, and sometimes we settle for mediocrity and simply make excuses. But clearly this is not what You have in mind for us, because You set the bar considerably higher.  You set the bar for us, and then, say, ‘I will empower you to do it!’ Help us begin to draw on your resources, and translate them into obedience, so that we will see progressively our thinking, and our desiring, and our acting changed. It’s called transformation, and our relationships will be changed, and people in our sphere of influence, will be blessed, and You will be honored, and that’s why we are here.  So take your Word home to our hearts, dear Lord, and make it make sense — that is, mix it with faith, render obedience to it, that we might be profited by investing an hour here this day. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.”

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Stuart Briscoe is Minister at Large for Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He is a Contributing Editor of Preaching.

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