Sermon Notes

Ephesians 5:15-21 April 2, 2000
Walking Wisely: Filled with the Spirit

A prosperous executive whose work required frequent travel decided to buy his own plane. He took flying lessons and was soon quite comfortable with his more convenient transportation. After a few years he decided to purchase a pontoon plane so he could fly back and forth from his beautiful summer home on the lake. On his first flight in his new plane, he started to head for the airport landing strip, just as he had always done, forgetting that his plane lacked wheels. Luckily, his wife was with him. When she saw what he was doing, she chirped, "Pull up, George, pull up! You can't land on a runway. You have pontoons, not wheels!"

Flushed and humbled, the businessman quickly hit the throttle and veered off toward the lake. Landing safely in the still blue water, he shook his head, saying, "I don't know where my mind was. I just wasn't thinking. That's one of the dumbest things I've ever done."

Then he opened the door and stepped out into the lake.

It is important that we always watch our step. That is Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:15 when he says: "be very careful how you live..." or better translated "walk like an acrobat!" The trouble is for most of us our walking is quite wobbly, we totter from one fad to another, we slip into a ditch of sin, or find ourselves hopelessly lost down a back road having listened to the confusing directions of everyone else but while neglecting to study the map God gave us. Turn to Ephesians 5:15-21 as we consider this new section of Paul’s letter where we are given instructions for walking wisely.

15. Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise,

16. making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

17. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.

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

19. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

20. always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

21. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The reason for such careful contemplation for how we live is seen in the command that we be wise. What does wisdom look like? It is making most of every opportunity, it is understanding the Lord’s will. Last week we began our look at this passage and considered verses 15-17 and 21. This morning we’ll look at 18-21. The passage is a call for control in our life, living in such a way that we not get side-tracked. For this reason we are to redeem the time, making the most of those God-given opportunities, understanding God’s providential arranging of our lives. For that reason we must seize the day.

There was an article with the eye catching headline: "If You Are 35, You Have 500 Days To Live." The article went on to contend that when you subtract the time you spend sleeping, working, tending to personal matters, eating, traveling, doing chores, attending to personal hygiene, and add in the miscellaneous time stealers, in the next 36 years you will have only 500 days to spend as you wish. Think about how you spend your time. When all of the necessary things are done, how much time is left? No wonder the Psalmist advised, "So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom." Time is limited. Time is important. To walk in wisdom means that we value time. The importance of time has been summarized poetically:

Just a tiny little minute

Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me. Can't refuse it.

Didn't seek it, didn't choose it,

I must suffer if I loose it,

Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute,

But eternity is in it.

In order to make the most of time, in order to walk wisely, control is very important, discipline is essential. But when it comes to the issue of control we are often confused.

We like to think control is knowledge. Someone estimated that if all accumulated knowledge from the beginning of recorded history to 1845 were represented by one inch, what he learned from 1845 until 1945 would amount to three inches and what he learned from 1945 until 1975 would represent the height of the Washington Monument! Since then it has probably doubled. Few, however, would argue that the incredible leap in scientific, technological, and other such knowledge has been paralleled by a corresponding leap in the common sense, not to mention spiritual and moral wisdom. 2 Timothy 3:7 says it best: "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

We like to think control is financial freedom. Control is something I can manipulate to ensure a comfortable lifestyle. But even before you switch investments from the new economy back to the old, NASDAQ drops faster than the value of last month’s dot-com business. Walking wisely demands good stewardship, but we will have missed the boat if we think it really is all about the economy.

We like to think control is an orderly home. Some see the world spinning out of control and think it’s time the man the lifeboats, so families insulate themselves against the perceived onslaught of culture by ordering their homes. Mistakenly thinking that controlled children are equated with godly children, some parents try to create control in that one small sphere of their life. But that is not what is the final goal. Again, not a bad thing to have. Paul will address that later. But that is the result, not the means. Where does the power come to walk wisely?

Walking wisely is Spirit controlled

What does this mean?

It can be frightening when the Presbyterians start talking about being filled with the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, this term has been highjacked by those who have not examined the context. To be filled with the Spirit, as we will see, does not mean to become a Christian zombie, walking and talking but inhabited by an alien force, making you do things contrary to your will.

When Paul refers to the Spirit here he means the third Person of the triune God. This is not some strange apparition, but the living God indwelling our lives. The Spirit is a Person with whom we have a relationship, who seals us until we are redeemed at the end of the ages. It is this Spirit who was active in creation at the beginning of time and in our re-creation as we were convicted of sin, drawn to Christ, regenerated so that now He leads and guides us.

We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. This is not a once and done thing; the verb here is a present imperative – we are to constantly, continually be filled with the Spirit.

While the filling commanded here is supernatural since it is all of God’s grace, it is not flashy or showy. It has nothing to do with miraculous gifts and speaking in unknown tongues. Being filled with the Spirit is to be under the control of the Spirit. The word for "filled" here is used of the wind filling the sails of a ship. It is used of the aroma of perfume when Mary anointed Jesus’s feet. It is a picture of that which controls, as when we say someone is filled with anger or filled with joy. This command gives the basic description of what the Christian life is to look like.

What this does not mean?

Before we look at what it means to be under the control of the Spirit, Paul begins with the negative, what is it not? This seems a bit odd at first to draw a comparison, but there are good reasons. Just as we may refer to alcohol today as "spirits" the ancients took the correlation a lot more seriously.

In the ancient world wine was the drink of choice, but what one ate and drank was often seen in light of their religious presuppositions. Greek religion taught that to commune with the gods one had to enter an altered state and wine served this purpose rather well. The Greeks worshipped Bacchus, the Romans' Dionysus as the god of wine, but also the god who was able to give their worshippers a special sense of the divine. Getting drunk then was seen to be a religious exercise. In fact it is thought the word in Greek for drunk, mequw, is derived from the preposition meta (after) and quo (sacrifice). After the sacrifice, the party began. This may explain the problem in Corinth where people would get drunk while at the Lord’s Table. It was a part of their culture, achieving ecstasy through drink. The Apostles’ odd behavior and mode of speech in Acts 2 when they were speaking out in the Temple was quickly attributed to imbibing too much fruit of the vine.

Paul is reminding the believers that their old way of getting touch with the gods is not to the mode in the Church. Being filled with spirits is not the same as being filled with the Spirit. Why they shouldn’t is explained further as they are told that drunkenness leads to debauchery.

The loss of control which takes place when a person gives up self control in the use of alcohol often results in further sins. Drunkenness is seldom a sin that goes alone. With such loss of self control all restraints of modesty and shame are loosened. The word debauchery here is often associated with wild orgies, but the term in its plainest sense simply means: "can not save" and so it came to mean that which is incurable and self destruction.

We see this today as it has been estimated that alcohol abuse costs this country 100 billion dollars annually. It is associated with most crimes as it is involved in: 70% of all murders, 41% of assaults, 50% of rapes, 60% of sex crimes against children, 56% of fights and assaults in homes, 37% of suicides, 55% of all arrests.

Alcohol is a safety hazard; it is involved in: 66% of fatal accidents, 53% of fire deaths, 36% of pedestrian accidents, 22% of home accidents, 45% of drownings, more admissions to mental hospitals than any other cause, 50% of all traffic accidents (killing 25,000 and seriously injuring 1,000,000 annually) and is the #1 killer of people 25 and under (the #3 killer in America for all ages).

We must be clear that Scriptures forbid drunkenness

Proverbs speak against the fool who wastes his life in search of another drink. In Proverbs 23:29-35 we have a great description of the insanity of such loss of control. In 20:1 it is the fool who is led astray by wine and beer. The New Testament likewise uses the drunk as the picture of the reprobate. In 1 Peter 4:3 drunkenness is part of the list of activities of their past. Paul says the same in 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, that this lifestyle is incompatible with professing faith. For this reason drunkenness is not a characteristic of the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10).

Does this mean that it is wrong for a Christian to drink any alcohol?

Over the past 150 years, growing out of the Second Great Awakening’s emphasis on morality in the place of theology, prohibition and temperance movements sought to eradicate demon rum. In the face of horrid conditions on the frontier where desperate people drank their lives away, many Christians, having rejected the notion of regeneration as the means to social change and adopted a merely external mode of correcting the problems. But the great experiment seen in the 18th Amendment which lasted from 1919 to 1933 failed, for it did not take into account what God says. As Colossians 2:20-23 reminds us, there are rules this world devises which have the appearance of wisdom but they lack the power to change lives.

While Proverbs condemns the drunkard whose lack of self control is a sign of his foolishness, 3:10 tells us that the presence of God’s blessing will be seen in many ways, including vats brimming over with new wine. The personification of wisdom in Proverbs 9 sets a fine table, complete with wine. Psalm 104:14-15 tells us that it is God who gives us all good things, including wine that gladdens the heart of man. God’s creation is to be enjoyed and so we must not bind the conscience by setting that portion of God’s creation off limits.

Is being filled with the Spirit religious drunkenness?

Some will draw parallels between drunkenness and doing crazy things while blaming the Holy Spirit for their absurdity. But that is not what this text says; rather the opposite. When one is drunk they are under the influence of alcohol and when one is filled with the Spirit, they are under the Spirit’s influence. But the comparison ends here; the rest is contrast. Being filled with the Spirit is not a kind of spiritual intoxication in which we lose self-control, for "self-control" is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23; 2 Timothy 1:7).

The filling of the Spirit is not the loss of control; it is not an emotional high absent of any use of the mind. The rest of our passage this morning as well as the rest of Paul’s letter describes what this filling of the Spirit looks like.

Walking wisely is Spirit controlled - What does this look like?

In the place of the drunken ditties of Dionysus and bawdy ballads of Bacchus, the Christian responds to life not in escape through drugs, but in mutual praise of God’s grace. The mind is fully engaged as well as the heart. So how does this filling of the Spirit manifest itself?

Speaking to others – what shall we sing

Once again the community orientation of the Christian life is seen as the filling of the Spirit results in speaking to others. Unlike the Bacchanalian feasts where the voices of the gods spoke to each individual, here the filling of the Spirit results in encouraging one another with truth.

The Church has always celebrated God’s grace in song. The incarnation was announced through song to the shepherds and the song to the Lamb will ring at the marriage feast at the end of time. We are a singing people. This truth is attested very early.

The Roman governor Pliny, in his famous letter to the Emperor Trajan in AD 112, tells how the Christians in his province had the custom of meeting on a fixed day before dawn and "reciting a hymn antiphonally to Christ as God." Tertuilian, writing from North Africa toward the end of the same century, describes a Christian feast at which "each is invited to sing to God in the presence of others from what he knows of the holy scripture or from his own heart."

Paul lists here a variety of forms which commentators have wrestled as to their meaning. They appear to be categories of music.

Psalms may refer to the davidic psalms or specifically to music accompanied by instruments. Hymns in ancient Greece were a festive lyric sung in praise of a god or hero, so perhaps the hymn may be like that of Zacharias or Simeon in Luke’s Gospel. Spiritual songs could be a more general form which dealt with historical or doctrinal truths. Unfortunately, we don’t know specifically to what these terms refer. But what we do know is that there appears to be a variety of music used in worship.

Speaking from the heart – how shall we sing

Not only are we to speak to each other, what we say must come from within. Again, notice how being filled with the Spirit does not mean that our minds are shut off as we are transported to another realm. The very center of our beings is to be engaged in worshipping our God.

Both our lips as well as our heart are to be focused in worship. But too often we profane God’s grace by allowing the mind to drift far from what we are saying. I found it interesting how one commentator writing several hundred years ago warned people then not to offend God by being carried off from the sense of the words by the sounds that are put to them. When we sing, don’t do it mechanically, shutting off either your mind or your heart.

Being Spirit filled, coming under the control of the Spirit, is not measured as many think today. Being filled with the Spirit is not measured in skill or enthusiasm. It is not seen in solemnity or pageantry. Spirit filled is not a matter of the presence of organ or drum.

We obey the command to be filled with the Spirit when we communicate to one another the majesty and greatness of our God. When we remind each other of God’s grace and mercy, of His justice and righteousness – then we have worshipped. The "spirituality" of worship is not how we feel as we sing, but whether or not others are edified and God is glorified. The emphasis is not on us, on our feelings, or on our fulfillment, but on God.

Speaking to the Lord – to whom shall we sing

This is the ultimate question in our worship. We are to make music to the Lord, we are to be giving thanks to God the Father for everything. God is the audience of our worship, not the seeker, not even each other. Our worship team leads us; it does not entertain us. Our music is our expression of God’s grace, not a way to attain a personal, individual spiritual high.

This is how we judge our music. It is not whether or not I personally enjoy it. Not whether it is what I sang growing up. There is not a set formula given so that we must never consider again how to give our best to God, but only repeat the best given to God by others in the past.

Scripture gives us the great hymn book, the Psalter, from which we derive many of our songs. That book forms the basis of much of what we sing week by week. We began our worship preparation with a new version of that psalm in "Come Let Us Bow." We responded to the call to worship with an older version of Psalm 95 from the Scottish Psalter in "O Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord."

Some songs describe the work of God’s grace, others are a response to His saving love. Some are sung from the vantage point of the corporate body, others are sung with the first person pronoun, as many of David’s songs are written. But even those take into account the unity we have as the body of Christ, much like the Apostles’ Creed which we confess together is written in the singular.

What is the best rule to use when you enter here each Lord’s Day morning?

Look at verse 21 again and apply it to music. Each week, each of us submits to the other as we sing an old hymn, even though we may like the latest chorus. Each of submits to the other as we seek to learn new songs whose timing and versification may be hard and unfamiliar. There must never be any worship wars at Cornerstone because we must always be willing to submit to one another, serve their needs rather than our own. The question should always be how can I sing to help the person next to me, in front of me, behind me?

This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Rather mundane stuff, huh? But it is so important.

The command to be filled is seen in our how we respond to each other. Are we willing to serve as Christ served? Are we set aside our desires, laying down our wishes for those around us? Being filled with the Spirit is not flashy, but it supernatural. It is the hard, day to day dying to selfish desires and living out the Gospel.

How can we do it? Fortunately God has given us the means by which we can be filled, the way in which we can honor God with our lives. By faith we may receive Christ’s body and blood in the simple form of bread and wine. You and I can’t manufacture this kind of life. It comes as we see our sinfulness, see our refusal to serve, to submit, to be thankful for all God has done and seeing our sin, we see Christ in our place. If you’ve struggled with thankfulness, with worshipping God because you are weak...God has nourishment for you.

Sermon Notes