Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:18f “. . .be filled with the Spirit;”
Having forbidden drunkenness, Paul was not satisfied to give only the negative command. He would agree with A.C. Welch, “You’ve got to fill a man with something.” The Apostle’s intent was not to take away joy and pleasure from our lives, and thereby leave us a lifeless, listless shell.
Paul wanted us to replace counterfeit methods of producing gladness with the source of true joy. The devil has nothing to offer anyone but that the Lord Jesus Christ has something infinitely better to offer in its place.
The Christian has a way, better than drinking alcohol, of being lifted above the depression and monotony of life, and of creating a better sense of self. Paul offers a “counter-enthusiasm, purer but not less strong” (Gore). Being Spirit-filled produces a holy exhilaration, of which drunkenness is but a horrible parody. Every delight people unwisely and vainly seek in drunkenness can be truly found in the Spirit’s fullness.
Comparing being filled with wine and being “filled with the Spirit” was not original to Paul. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (AC 2:4). Some onlookers said these Spirit-filled Christians were “full of new wine” (AC 2:13). The correspondence between the two states is that in both one is controlled by something other than his or her natural self. In both cases, an outside force is obviously influencing the individual. Drunkenness involves being totally influenced by alcohol, being “filled with the Spirit” means being totally influenced by the Spirit.
Being “filled with the Spirit” is a state wherein one is completely under the control of the Holy Spirit and empowered to do His will. This is a condition which God desires for every believer to enjoy all the time.
It is a grievous error to think the command “be filled with the Spirit” is a call for us to undergo some mystical or exceptional experience. The Spirit’s filling is not something given for a moment and then allowed to recede. Being “filled with the Spirit” is a state we are to be in at all times.
We are all baptized in the Holy Spirit at conversion. He indwells us then. Being “filled with the Spirit” is the Bible’s way of describing how this Spirit baptism is to work itself out in our lives henceforth. We are baptized in the Spirit at conversion that we might be filled with Him from then on.
With Spirit baptism, God saves us; with Spirit filling, God enables us to serve. When we pick up a fountain pen, we expect it to be filled with ink and ready for use. The same is true of a believer’s usefulness before God. At any given moment, we should be Spirit-filled, completely controlled by Him, in order that God might be able to use us for His honor and glory.
Being “filled with the Spirit” is meant to be the norm for Christians. Do not relegate it to being an emotional event which is the prerogative of “super saints.” If being “filled with the Spirit” were some strange, ecstatic experience, it would spawn an elitist mentality, producing “have’s and have not’s,” bluebirds and buzzards. As a result, some would begin to think the Spirit’s filling is not for them. No believer ever has a right to think or say such a thing. No one is exempt from the command, “Be filled with the Spirit.” This is not optional. Every believer is expected to demonstrate day by day, moment by moment, complete submission to God’s control.
This being the case, we need a way to know for sure whether or not we are allowing ourselves to be filled with the Spirit. If the proof is not in an experience of some type, then how can we be certain we are Spirit-filled?
Many years ago, Cliff Palmer pointed me to the answer, which is found in comparing our text with its parallel passage, Colossians 3:16. Our text commands, “Be filled with the Spirit.” Colossians 3:16 dictates, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” These two directives yield the same results: music (EP 5:19; CL 3:16), thankfulness (EP 5:20; CL 3:17), family harmony (EP 5:21ff; CL 3:18ff). As a mathematician, I remind you, things equal to the same thing are equal to one another. If being “filled with the Spirit” is equal in result to letting “the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” then a Spirit-filled Christian is one who is Bible-filled. In other words, the evidence and ongoing means of evaluating whether or not one is Spirit-filled is to examine one’s life in light of Scripture. To the extent we live the Word, we are Spirit-filled. To the extent our lives contradict the Word, something is lacking in our yieldedness to the Holy Spirit.
We do not need a remarkable sign to prove that the Spirit fully possesses us. Rather, take the Word and let it infuse every part of our being.
Eph. 5:19a “Speaking to yourselves. . .”
Paul now calls our attention to certain traits which will be evident in a Spirit-filled life. The first consequence Paul mentions is not something remarkable and exceptional, but rather something ordinary and common, singing. Being “filled with the Spirit” produces an inside joy which manifests itself in verbalized “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”
Singing is the soul’s celebration, spiritual recreation. A Spirit-filled Christian is never in absolute misery or despair, and always has a song on his lips. The authorities used chains to bind the feet of Paul and Silas, but were unable to bind their tongues. At midnight they sang (AC 16:25).
This jubilant expression in song is not meant to be kept to one’s self. “Speaking to yourselves” literally means speaking one to another. When “filled with the Spirit,” one will want to share it, to communicate with others what one is sensing and enjoying within. Spirit-filled people overflow in joyful song in their assemblies and meetings together.
From the first, believers have sung at their gatherings (1 C 14:26). Christians are a singing people, and according to New Testament guidelines, the main purpose of our singing is to express our joy. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). We naturally give expression to our gladness in song.
A major reason for doing this is to bless others. Through our joyful music, we breathe into one another a spirit of confidence, courage, hope, and strength. This brings us face to face with one of the most pressing issues confronting us with regard to corporate worship. A popular phrase used often in our day is that when we assemble to worship we have “an audience of One.” This statement is dangerous when made without qualification. It needs to be clarified. In a way it is true, and we will deal with this aspect in the latter part of our text. Paul’s emphasis in this first part of verse 19 is that public worship communicates blessing and help “to yourselves,” to each other. Thus, in public worship we have “an audience of many.”
A vital purpose of our public singing is “teaching and admonishing one another” (CL 3:16). Another reason for “the assembling of ourselves together” is that we may be “encouraging one another” (HB 10:25). Preaching, a major portion of our corporate worship, is to provide “edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 C 14:3). We come together for mutual aid, help, and support. If we forget this, we may find ourselves being so heavenly minded that we are of little earthly good.
When God’s people gather, and express themselves rightly in preaching, teaching, admonishing, exhorting, encouraging, consoling, and joyous song, the result is a fellowship as warm as can be found in any band of drinking revellers. People who drink alcohol claim it makes them more sociable, more affable. They say drinkers loosen up, resulting in a better sense of camaraderie. This improved conviviality and conversation is epitomized in the popular custom of having a “cocktail hour,” where business and social acquaintances drink alcohol in order to loosen their tongues.
Using alcohol to increase socialization is the underlying premise of our culture’s extremely popular taverns, pubs, and singles bars. The old television series “Cheers” depicted a Boston bar where friendships were made and people developed a sense of belonging. The show’s theme song said, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” An article I read about the show explained how the tavern depicted on the series could have never survived in our country. The “Cheers” bar was spacious, well-lit, and quiet. To survive, bars have to be crowded, dark, and loud. Crowded conditions enhance the chances of physical contact by enabling people to touch each other “accidentally.” Darkness hides flaws and encourages intimacy. Loudness gives people an excuse, in order to converse, to get extremely close to each other. In other words, bars and taverns are popular because they create artificial environments where otherwise inhibited people hope to find real happiness.
To find what the deepest psyche of a person truly craves, one must seek not a place centered around alcohol, but rather a Spirit-filled church. The latter provides intimacy, significant touching through handshakes and hugs. Gladness flows from the joyous music of Spirit-filled worship. As an extra bonus, we can turn the lights on because we have nothing to hide.
Apart from this joy, we have a condition described by Dr. Criswell. If one joins the average local Baptist church, and then visits the bar down the street, he will likely want to move his membership to the tavern. There is to be joy and gladness among us in corporate worship, an electricity that communicates the fact we celebrate a resurrection. Sadly, some churches have Sunday services with a Friday order of worship. Their style of worship more closely resembles a funeral than a celebration of a resurrection.
Do not misunderstand. We are not to be wild and crazy. In the context of public worship, Paul admonishes, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 C 14:40). Also, there is definitely a place for the serious and somber at times, but our dominant tune should be sheer celebration.