Text: Ephesians 5:15-21 – (15) Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, (16) making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (17) Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (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 all 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.
Introduction: In the latter part of the nineteenth century, D. L. Moody planned an evangelistic campaign in England. An elderly pastor who had been asked to help with the crusade protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated and inexperienced. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” A younger, wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.” Wouldn’t it be something if that’s what people said about us, that we’re constantly operating in the power of the Holy Spirit? This is the fourth message in the preaching series, Seven Habits of a Healthy and Holy Christian. So far we’ve talked about powerful prayerfor revival and awakening, a life of faithwhere we trust the Lord with everything in our lives and meditation on the Word of Godso that we can stand in times of testing and live increasingly fruitful Christian lives.
This morning I want to look at a very familiar passage written by the Apostle Paul that helps us understand howdependent we are on the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life and whathappens in the believer who is constantly filled with the Spirit. In Ephesians 5:15-21Paul is describing the means by which we, as Christians, are to live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received. That’s what he’s been talking about since Ephesians 4:1and it’s why he begins in verse fifteenwith … look carefully then how you walk. It’s as if he’s saying, “Hey … if you want to live a life worthy of your calling then make sure you live in such a way that you please the Lord.” Then he offers three contrasts(a contrast is a way of showing the differencebetween two things by holding them up to each other) to help us understand more about our walk with Christ.
- Verses 15-16 … (do not walk) as unwise but as wise, making the most use of the time, because the days are evil. Psalm 14:1says, “The fool says in his heart that there is no God.” As a result, he does nothing to prepare for the arrival of His kingdom. This is what five foolish virgins were guilty of in Matthew 25:2-13. Despite the fact that they knew the bridegroom would return, they did not prepare for it. On the other hand is wise person who has a right attitude about time. Despite the fact that the world is under the control of the prince of the power of the air, the wise person takes advantage of every moment in time to live in a manner pleasing to God.
- Verse 17 … do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.The fool is careless and lacks understanding. This describes every one of us beforewe met Christ. But now Paul urges believers to be careful about how we live and not to return to the foolishness of the past. Instead, he exhorts us to understand the Lord’s will … that God is conforming His people into the likeness of Christ with the result that we willbe pure and blameless on the final day.
- Verse 18 … do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit. This is the third contrast. Did you know that whena person drinks too much alcohol, his body will first try to eliminate what it can by increasing our output of urine and through our breath? Whatever is left will go to our brains where it will inhibit normal human behaviors. It slows down our high-order cognitive abilities such as decision-making and processing. Then it will exaggerate our emotions and fragment our memories. Eventually our motor skills and coordination will be affected so that we can’t do simple things like walk in a straight line. If we drink too much it will actually hinder our basic functions such as breathing and movement … leading to death if there is no medical intervention. Paul warns that this kind of thing is wasteful and foolish because of what alcohol does to the person who abuses it. He contrasts these people with those who are filled with the Spirit. Just as alcohol can influence a person to all sorts of immature and sinful behaviors, so the Holy Spirit can impact us so that the outcome of our lives is healthiness and holiness. Let’s break it down by considering three observations, three issues and two applications related to Paul’s command to be filled with the Spirit.
Three Observations about the command to be filled with the Spirit. This is not an option for believers as if Paul is merely suggesting that we submit to the Holy Spirit. It is a command. The idea is that if we aren’t filled, we are outside of God’s will. Here are three more thoughts …
- It’s in the Present Tense. This is important because it has the idea of continual action. It is something that we are to keep on doing. In other words, the filling of the Spirit is not a one-time event. Let me illustrate it for you: Suppose I decided to eat healthy as a New Year’s resolution. So, on January 1st, I got out of bed and made a couple of scrambled eggs, a piece of bacon and a slice of avocado for breakfast. But then for lunch I emptied a bag of pretzels, ate three sandwiches and a box of Hostess Twinkies while Laurie, my wife, looked on incredulously! When she expressed doubt about my choice to eat healthy, I explained that I’ve already fulfilled my resolution at breakfast. You can guess that Laurie would see it very differently because she knows that healthy eating isn’t something I do only once, but it is my ambition for every meal moving forward. This means no more chips for a late-night snack or all I can eat buffets. Listen…if I only altered my diet for one meal, it would be very obvious that I wasn’t really serious about eating health. Why? Because it demands a change in my lifestyle, and not merely my menu for breakfast.That’s the idea here. The Amplified Biblesays it this way: …ever be filled and stimulated with the Holy Spirit. God’s plan is that we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit, not just every now and then.
- It’s in the Passive Voice. An active command might sound something like this: “Hey … go get the mail and bring it in to me.” It’s active in the sense that the subject is required to take action. A passive command is not focused on something we do, but on something that is done to us. We receive the action. That’s what Paul is saying here. “Be filled with the Spirit.” The idea is that this is the work of God that He accomplishes in us. Don’t be confused, however, because it still requires our submissiveness … our desire to be filled. Thus, the command in the passive voice.
- It’s a Plural Command. It’s as if Paul is saying that every one of usis to be filled with the Spirit. This is not just for some people in the body of Christ, but for every believer. This filling is what transforms a church from a social club to a vibrant, living organism where we learn to worship, grow and outreach together. It’s what makes the church an attractive place for hurting people to gather and seek the Lord together. Illustration:A report from Pew Researchconcluded that younger generations tend to have more positive views than their elders of a number of institutions that play a big part in American society. But that doesn’t hold true for two institutions—the news media and churches. For instance, in 2010, 73 percent of Millennials (those born after 1980) agreed that churches have a positive impact on the country. As of 2015, only 55 percent of Millennials said that churches are having a positive impact. That’s a steep 18 percent drop in only five years. Views among older generations have changed little over this same time period.What does this mean for us? I suspect it is telling in that the thirty-five and under age group is growing increasingly distrusting of the church. They don’t see how we’re making a difference and so they have become more disenfranchised as a result. I wonder what they would say if the majority of believers in our country were Spirit-filled so that the church was authentically living out our convictions and reaching out to unbelievers in the love of Christ? Perhaps they would see us in a new light. (Three observations: present tense, passive voice, plural command)
Three Issues related to the command to be filled with the Spirit.
- The Issue of Control. When a person is filled with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit exerts controlling interest over his life. Thinking again of the contrast between drunkenness and Spirit-filled people. When alcohol is consumed at harmful levels, it has control over those who abuse it. They frequently do things that they later regret. Both of my grandfathers were alcoholics. One was a mean drunk, the other just lacked any kind of judgment. He once ran over himself with his own truck! The Spirit-filled person submits the controlling interest in his life to the Holy Spirit. One pastor describes it as “control by consent.” That’s a good phrase. It involves our surrender to the Holy Spirit so that He has more of us(just like Moody).
- The Issue of Cooperation. At the moment of new birth, every believer is Spirit-filled. That’s why those who are born again are so excited about their new faith in Christ. They share an exuberance, a fresh new sense of joy that rubs off on the rest of us. It’s great to be around people who have met the Lord for the first time and can’t seem to get enough of Him. Somewhere along the way, however, Christians may elect to assume controlling interest over their lives for themselves. They get in the driver’s seat, so to speak, and attempt to live independently of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, these believers lose their passion for Christ and desire to live for Him. And here’s the thing: God will allow it … He will say, “Okay, go ahead. Live to please your flesh, but it won’t getter better for you … only worse.”At these points in our lives, those of us who are wise, who understand the will of the Lord, stop rebelling, confess our sin and surrender again to the leading of the Spirit in us. That’s how we can manage to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. But those who walk in the flesh will never please God(Romans 8:8).
- The Issue of Contact. Many people think of the Holy Spirit as a substance that fills us.So, when we run out of the Spirit we just ask Him to fill us again. But that’s not the best way to think of it. Instead, I’d ask you to consider an elevated train that runs in Chicago. It has three rails, two of which are tracks for the train to run on. The third is for the purpose of providing electricity to the train so that it can move. If somehow the train loses contact with that third rail, it will not move. People can board it. The conductor can push the lever that normally starts the engines, but if it is not connected to the power source, nothing is going to happen. It has to have electricity to run. The third rail for us is the Holy Spirit. He’s the One who provides the power to walk in the footsteps of Christ – who, by the way, did everything in the power of the Holy Spirit when He walked the earth. If we are ever disconnected from the Holy Spirit, we are powerless to follow Christ. (Three observations: Present tense, passive voice, plural command – Three issues: The issue of control, cooperation and contact)
Two Applications regarding the command to be filled with the Spirit.
- Before you can be filled you have to be emptied.Before you can be filled with the Spirit, you must empty yourself of anything that is taking His place in your lives. I’m referring to the idols that occupy that central place in our hearts and that keep us from surrendering to Christ. I cannot tell you what those idols are for you, but I can say that for me they probably involve my pride, my love of food, my expectation to live a conflict free life. The Holy Spirit will not fill me until I have emptied myself of these, and anything else that gets in the way, first. This kind of soul work requires contrition, confession and cleansing. L. Moodyonce said, “I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.”
- Before you can be filled you have to be open. Once we’ve removed our idols, we can experience a fresh filling as the Holy Spirit takes His rightful place in us. But be warned … no one who has closed his heart to the work of the Holy Spirit can expect to be filled with the Spirit. We most be willing to yield to His guidance, leadership and direction in our daily lives. As we wrap this up note that Paul recognizes three results that come to those who are filled with the Spirit.
- Then we will minister through our music(to one another and to the Lord). When God the Holy Spirit fills us, we build each other up in the faith and we worship the object of our faith … the Lord Jesus Christ. We accomplish the former by addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. You may be surprised to learn that worship has a horizontal element to it. God gives it to us so that we can bless, exhort and instruct one another. By the way that’s a good reason why we should not forsake opportunities for us to assemble together (Hebrews 10:25). We really need to encourage each other if we’re to remain faithful to the Lord. There is also a vertical elementto worship that is found in the latter part of verse nineteen(singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart). We are to praise and worship Christ together through our music. This is not to say that every song must have Jesus’ name in it to be biblical, but when our worship excludes Christ, it is most likely not Spirit-filled.
- Then we will give thanks to our God(always and for everything in the name of Christ). Paul gives us some instructions about how we’re to give thanksgiving to God. First, it is to be regular(always); it is also to be for everything(because we know that God works everything for our good– Romans 8:28); and it is to be directed toward God the Father in the name of Christ. As our mediator, Christ has represented God to us and us to God. We come to the Father in the name of the Son who has made it all possible.
- Then we will submit to our authorities(out of reverence for Christ). There are two ways to take this verse. One is that we are called to mutually submit to one another and then some examples follow to help us see how to do this. The other is to see that God is not calling us to mutual submission, but to the principle of submission with examples to follow. That’s how I take it. Otherwise it makes little sense to say that parents should submit to their children or slave owners (in our case employers) to their slaves (employees). God has ordained a structure in society that includes the right and responsibility of authority. Our submission to them is evidence that we’re filled with the Spirit.
Conclusion: All of this is possible as we yield our lives to the Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, will we find the power to live a life worthy of our calling. A. J. Gordon, one of the founders of Gordon Conwell Divinity School, told of taking a walk one day and gazing across a field at a house. There beside it was what looked like a man pumping furiously at an old hand pump. As Gordon watched, the man continued to pump at a tremendous rate; he seemed absolutely tireless, laboring on and on, up and down, without ever slowing in the slightest, much less stopping. Truly it was a remarkable feat of endurance, so Gordon started to walk toward the fellow. As he got closer, however, he could see it was not a man at the pump, but a wooden figure painted to look like a man. The arm that was pumping so rapidly was hinged at the elbow and the hand was wired to the pump handle. He quickly figured out that the water was pouring forth, but not because the figure was pumping it. You see, it was an artesian well, which means that the water pressure beneath the ground was so great that it was just waiting to come out. When a person inserted a well casing into the ground and created a way for the water to escape, that’s exactly what it did. The powerful pressure forced the water upward and outward. It turns out that what A. J. Gordonsaw was not the figure of a man pumping water, but the water pumping the figure of a man!So, what’s my point?Listen … when you see a Christian who is walking as a wise man (verse fifteen), who understands the will of the Lord (verse seventeen), who is producing real fruit,recognize it is the Holy Spirit, like the water pouring forth from an artesian well, that is actually doing the work. While the man may seem to be laboring tirelessly, he cannot claim any credit for the results. He’s knows what God wants all of us to know … as long as we’re connected to the Holy Spirit, He does the work.