Meditations on Ephesians 5:18-21

The First Exercise: Speaking to One Another

 

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

Climbing on Mt. Rainier, Washington

Mom’s are great singers – at least mine was. Who isn’t touched by the image of a mother rocking a baby in her arms and softly singing to soothe that tiny spirit. One way we can be filled with the Holy Spirit is by “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” (v. 19).

“Addressing” seems a strange way of wording Paul’s encouragement (English Standard Version, Revised Standard Version). Some of the other English translations say “speaking to one another” or “speak” (King James Version, New King James, New American Standard Version, New International version) while the New Revised Standard Version says “as you sing.” I like the International Standard translation that says “recite to one another” (also the New Century Version) but they all emphasize the first spiritual exercise is as we encourage others, we are encouraged.

It’s hard to be happy when we are heart-broken and some people seem to be broken hearted all the time. It is very true that if you want to be happy, make someone else happy. When we turn the focus away from ourselves, we can begin to relax.

Now notice Paul’s exhortation “addressing one another.” Happiness – being Spirit filled—is a chain reaction. I comfort you and you comfort me and we comfort each other and the feelings grow. I remember listening to a youth minister describing a picture of heaven and hell. He asked us to imagine a table spread with wonderful, wonderful food and all the people sitting around this marvelous meal. However, there was one interesting condition. They all had three foot forks tied to their hands. Can you imagine the frustration of starving in front of all that food? No matter how hard the people tried to eat, they couldn’t get that fork full of food in their mouths! Now that is hell! But now we go to the next room. The situation is identical: a long table of food and people with three foot forks tied to their hands but this room is ringing with laughter and joy as they all feed one another! That’s heaven!

So today, if you want to be filled with the Spirit, share a song with someone. It will do you both good!

Meditations on Ephesians 5:18-21

Spiritual Exercises

Mountain Climbing on Mt. Rainier, Washington, USA

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

Many English translations of Paul’s words try to break his long sentence into smaller and smaller parts. Some of them actually divide it into two paragraphs! If grammar left you cold in school, please excuse this meditation but sometimes grammar is a means of grace.

Let me explain. The heart of a sentence is the verb – the action word. In this case, Paul tells the Ephesian Christians, “Be filled with the Spirit.” That is the key. That is what the apostle is concerned about communicating. Naturally we want to know “how?” How can we be filled with the Spirit? That’s where the words ending in “-ing” come in. (Grammarians call these words “participles.” H.V.P. Nunn calls them “verbal adjectives sharing the characteristics both of verbs and adjectives.”) They explain “how” we can fill ourselves with God’s Holy Spirit. In a very real sense they represent spiritual exercises for Christians. Here they are from our text:

  • “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”
  • “singing”
  • “and making melody to the Lord with your heart”
  • “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
  • “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Just as a physical fitness trainer designs a program of exercises to help our bodies become strong, so the Apostle Paul is providing us with a series of exercises to feed our souls.

Meditations on Ephesians 5:18-21

Approaching El Pico de Orizaba (18,885′ high), Mexico

Don’t Settle for Substitutes

 

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

So if unbridled joy is a part of the Christian life, it seems natural to ask, “How? How are we filled with that kind of spirit?” Perhaps we need a physical stimulation? It would seem the Greeks in Ephesus who worshiped Dionysius (the so-called “god” of wine) did so by becoming drunk. The United Bible Societies’ translators’ handbook explains:

It is impossible to determine why this particular warning was necessary; it appears that verses 18–20 have to do with group worship, and so the drunkenness could be of a religious nature, that is, drinking wine in worship to gain communion with God, as was the practice among certain religious groups of that time.[1]

Many religious groups use some kind of physical stimulation in worship. Native Americans used peyote. The worshipers of Dionysius in Greece (and perhaps Ephesus) used wine.

I want to be happy! We all want to be happy. Sometimes we need to be distracted from reality. If I turn to television, I can loose myself in someone else’s troubles. If I surf the Internet, there is no telling what I might find. In a video game, I can have super powers. Books, food – even people – can all provide relief from reality. There are darker distractions too: drugs and alcohol. Perhaps you’ve tried them. Perhaps you are wrestling with them now.

The apostle warns, “do not get drunk with wine.” Notice, he doesn’t say, “Don’t enjoy a glass of wine with your meal,” but wine, like so many things, can become a distraction from reality. William Hendriksen observes:

Exhilaration is wrong, however, when the method of inducing it is wrong. Thus it is improper to seek excitement from the excessive use of wine. It is the abuse of wine that is forbidden, not the use (I Tim. 5:23). That such abuse was a real danger in the early church, as it certainly is also today, appears from such restrictions as the following: “The overseer therefore must be above reproach … not (one who lingers) beside (his) wine” (I Tim. 3:3; cf. Titus 1:7); “Deacons similarly (must be) dignified, not … addicted to much wine” (I Tim. 3:8); and “Urge aged women similarly (to be) reverent in demeanor … not enslaved to much wine” (Titus 2:3).

Intoxication is not the effective remedy for the cares and worries of this life. The so-called “uplift” it provides is not real. It is the devil’s poor substitute for the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” which God provides. Satan is ever substituting the bad for the good. Has he not been called “the ape of God”? Getting drunk on wine is “associated with unrestrained living” or “dissolute behavior,” “recklessness” (Titus 1:6; I Peter 4:4). It marks the person who, if he so continues, cannot be saved.[2]

Being filled with the Spirit requires some effort. There are no shortcuts to genuine spirituality. Accept no substitutes!



[1] Bratcher, R. G., & Nida, E. A. (1993). A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. UBS Handbook Series (134–135). New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 7: Exposition of Ephesians. New Testament Commentary (238–239). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Meditations on Ephesians 5:18-21

Unbridled Joy

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

It was an early Sunday morning when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in Jerusalem. A peaceful dawn was suddenly shattered by the sound of a howling wind filling the streets. The roar must have been deafening. People rushed out of their homes to see what they heard but they were left bewildered. They expected to see rooftops being blown off and trees being ripped up by their roots. Imagine their surprise when not a breath of wind was stirring. The leaves on the trees drooped peacefully but what was that noise?

As the people gathered, the apostles poured out of the upper room and into the streets praising God. What was going on? Someone, seeing the apostles’ giddy expressions, suspected: “They’re drunk!” (Acts 2:13)

The Apostle Peter laughing with them explained, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It is only 9:00 in the morning!” and then he began preaching the first gospel sermon.

In worship, have you ever been so happy people accused you of being drunk? It has probably been a while (if ever). Normally, Christians, by the scowls on their judgmental faces, seem to deny there is ever a time for joy but it hasn’t always been that way. Listen to the Bible:

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

let them ever sing for joy,

and spread your protection over them,

that those who love your name may exult in you (Psalm 51:11)

 

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,

and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)

Let those who delight in my righteousness

shout for joy and be glad

and say evermore,

“Great is the Lord,

who delights in the welfare of his servant!”

Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness

and of your praise all the day long (Psalm 35:27, 28).

 

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, (1 Peter 1:8).

 

I want that joy! The Ephesians did too but Paul explains, the Christian joy doesn’t come from a bottle. It is a joy rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit. “Be filled with the Spirit!”

Meditations on Ephesians 5:19-21

Hiking in the Collegiate Peaks, Colorado

Be Filled with the Spirit

 

Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the first disciples, Peter declared,

Acts 2:38  “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

So if the Ephesians already had the gift of the Holy Spirit since they had repented and been baptized, how can Paul tell them to “Be filled with the Spirit”? (And of course the same admonition applies to us.)

As with any good Bible study, we should begin by looking carefully at the words behind our English translation. In this case the words “be filled” correctly translates one Greek word plêrousthe (πληροῦσθε) however, Greek verbs are a little different from English verbs. Here the words “be filled” are passive which could be translated “allow yourself to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” In other words, we can get in the way! We can become so focused on ourselves – we might say “so full of ourselves” – we don’t have room for the Holy Spirit!

We received the gift of the Spirit when we became Christians but many people keep the gift of the Holy Spirit in the closet of their hearts. We focus on things rather than God. It might be work or it could be a grand cause. It might be another person, or sports, or relationships, or collections – anything we are passionate about – but the point is our focus is on something other than the Holy Spirit. God is not the center of our life and so Paul declares “be filled with the Spirit!” In the next meditations, we’ll begin exploring how to do just that.

 

Spiritual Virtues: Discernment

Santa Teresa’s Bow

We are forced to make decisions every day. Have you tried to choose a bag of potato chips lately? There is a whole isle at the grocery store devoted to snack chips. Do I want pita chips, tortilla chips, potato chips, corn chips, rice cakes? Do I want dipping size, ruffles, kettle fried, baked or something else? Do I want salt, sea salt, kosher salt, salt substitute or no salt? Sometimes there are just too many choices!

Most of our decisions aren’t life shattering. The world won’t end if I bring home the wrong can of soda pop but there are choices that carry dire consequences. The most important choices seem to revolve around relationships. Should I trust him? Will you be my friend? I love you.

So how do we make decisions? We need the gift of “discernment.” That’s an essential spiritual quality. In the days of the New Testament, there was even a miraculous gift of discernment. The Holy Spirit gave people insight (1 Corinthians 12:10) and the Apostle Paul prays for his friends in Philippi, “that you may be able to discern what is best,” (Philippians 1:10) and tells their neighbors, the Thessalonians, to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22).

Recently Jan and I helped rescue a young man who had been blown out to sea in a rented kayak. He was found eleven miles off shore without water, food or even a hat. “I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life,” he confessed and as he continued, renting that kayak was just one of them.

“Perry, we all make mistakes. That’s just life, but what matters is where we go from here,” I answered. David sinned with Bathsheba and there were consequences. Peter denied he knew Jesus. Paul persecuted Christians. Moses was a murderer. What matters is how we use those experiences to grow. We learn how to make decisions. That’s discernment: the ability to choose between good and evil. Little children don’t know the difference between what is morally right and wrong (see Deuteronomy. 1:39; Jonah 4:11) and the Hebrew writer explained, “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil,” (Hebrews 5:14).

In other words, Christians are called to go through life with both eyes wide open. We are to make judgments all the time about most everything. Is money good or evil? (The answer is “Yes.”) Will this friendship make me a better person or will I be dragged down to places I don’t want to go? If I say “no” to this opportunity, what am I saying “Yes!” to?

Of course, how we make those judgments is critical. Are we constantly looking for “what’s wrong with this?” or are we looking for what’s good? Are we asking, “How can I grow from this experience?” The former attitude is all too common – even among Christians and it’s been my experience that a critical attitude results in an unhappy heart while those who are constantly seeking the good in life will find it.

Finally, there is a huge difference between judging people (always wrong) and judging results. Jesus told us:

7         “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, (Matthew 7:1-5).

As Marshall Keeble explained, “I’m not a judge, I’m just a fruit inspector.”

Holy Bug Zappers

My Grandmother use to say, “Where there’s light, there’s bugs.” By that she reminded me that if you start a good work, there would always be someone to criticize what you’re doing. So don’t get discouraged if people are complaining.

That’s great in theory but I’d also like to get a hold of the person who first said, “Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never hurt me.” He was wrong. Words wound.

My Grandfather, John D. McKeel

Let me tell you a story about my grandfather, “Papa.” Papa and Meemaw lived in Oklahoma City. They had a giant backyard (long but skinny) with a couple of great cherry trees to play in and lots of horned toads for grandsons to catch. We loved playing in the backyard but one-day Papa’s neighbor brought home a dozen beehives. He thought it would be great to raise them in his backyard. The bees might have been great for the cherry trees but they weren’t great for barbeques or little boys.

Papa went and talked nicely with his neighbor who could have cared less. He was a greasy-haired young man who always had a cigarette dangling from his mouth who only owned torn t-shirts. He laughed and slammed his door.

Papa checked with the city and yes, you couldn’t raise cattle in the backyard but there was no ordinance pertaining to bee keeping. As strange as it sounds Papa’s neighbor was fully within his rights to keep the hives back there.

Time stretched on and things only got worse. The gruff neighbor didn’t even share his honey! And then Papa got an idea. He went to the hardware store and bought several electric bug zappers and lined them up on the fence that divided their yards. I can still remember the little grin that use to cross Papa’s face every time we heard a “crack!” “Pop!” or “Sizzle.”

The church isn’t full of perfect people. In fact we have a few that call for more grace than you might expect. There aren’t any “Holy Bug Zappers” so that tells me God expects us to act otherwise. Here are a few rules I’ve found helpful when I’m called on to show a little extra patience with people.

When dealing with problem people, don’t become a problem yourself. (See the Golden Rule for a further explanation.)

  1. When you are being drawn into a conflict, draw closer to God!
  2. Even though that person may express himself in an annoying way, listen to what he has to say. He might just be right!
  3. The object is not to “squash the bug,” or run them away. The goal is always “transformation.” (See Romans 12:1, 2.)
  4. God doesn’t call on us to only love the nice people. We are to love people – stingers and all!