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!