READ : Ephesians 5:18
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Ephesians 5:18-21 rsv
Over six years ago, he heard the very first broadcast Words of HOPE ever beamed into his native Albania. Bledi Hodobashi was a high school student in the world’s most tightly closed communist nation. His first reaction to what he heard on the radio then was, “Religion! I don’t need religion. My life is music.” But he kept listening. He heard the name of Jesus Christ for the first time. Something about the gospel message kept drawing him back. He began to realize that, as he put it, “Music didn’t fill me up.”
No, and neither do many other things we depend on to take away our emptiness and make us genuinely happy. And yet we keep on searching. It seems that we have always had this kind of yearning in our lives. From the dawn of recorded history, people have tried to rise above their cares and find fullness of life through the use of intoxicants. The shortcuts to fullness and ecstasy offered by alcohol and drugs have always had a special appeal. We’re inclined, as someone put it, to look for “paradise in a single swoop,” something to fill us up right now.
Whenever a substance was discovered that would produce this kind of euphoria, some peak experience, people have given it religious meaning. Peyote was divine to the Aztecs, cocoa to the Incas, soma to the Vedas, ambrosia to the Greeks. Many cultures still venerate wine. And not many years ago, in the counterculture of the U.S.A., drugs like LSD were celebrated as opening the way to profound religious experience.
What’s behind this desire? Some say it’s only a form of escape, a flight from troubles and responsibilities. That element is surely involved but there must be more. People want to be lifted above the depression and monotony of ordinary life. They long to shed their inhibitions and hangups. They dream of heightening their powers, expanding consciousness. They want to transcend the commonplace and experience fullness of life. All of us have deep down inside us this “taste for the infinite.”
Yet the apostle says, in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 18: “Do not get drunk with wine.” Why would a Christian leader say that? He explains partially what he means when he adds, “For that is debauchery.” This word has two basic meanings. One points to the wild actions of a drunken man, his unrestrained yielding to impulse. The other conveys the idea of wastefulness. Paul is saying, “Don’t get drunk because then you may act in foolish and shameful ways.” Actually, instead of enhancing your powers, you may waste them. You won’t find a cure for your emptiness there.
That kind of language, that sort of advice, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We’re accustomed to hearing things like that in the name of religion. The tragedy is that sometimes we don’t hear anything else. Religious leaders say to us, “Don’t be intemperate. Don’t abuse these substances. It’s bad for you and bad for society.” That’s all true, of course, and needs to be said, but it hardly provides a full answer. It doesn’t speak to the yearnings that lead people toward intoxicants in the first place. It can leave the impression that religion is meant to curb our longings, to restrain our seeking spirits, to spoil our fun. And as long as that narrow, negative view of Christian faith prevails, the gospel won’t grip our minds or satisfy our hearts.
But, thank God, these warnings against substitutes are not the heart of our message. The Christian faith is a gospel, a word about hope and fulfillment. Along with the negative command, “Don’t get drunk with wine,” comes a joyous alternative, another way to find our aching emptiness filled. Here it is: “Be filled with the Spirit.” That’s the good news. In the life God has provided for His people, there’s an experience somehow akin to intoxication, yet vastly different. The message is that your life and mine can be filled, not with the effects of alcohol or some other drug, but with God’s own Spirit, the Spirit of the living God.
That phrase, for anyone familiar with the Bible, reminds us of the day, the event called Pentecost. It was 50 days after Jesus had been raised from the dead. His disciples had met Him on several occasions. They had seen the scars in His hands. They had heard His words of encouragement and challenge. They’d worshiped and walked with Him, eaten with Him, and only ten days before had seen Him taken up from the earth. His last words to them had been these: “Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
The disciples obeyed His word. They waited and prayed in Jerusalem. Then, on the day of Pentecost, a great feast day among the Jews, something extraordinary happened. The rush and roar of a great wind filled the place where the disciples were gathered and a flame of fire seemed to hover about each startled worshiper. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to tell with varied tongues the mighty works God had done.
Suddenly, they knew that this was a fulfillment both of ancient prophecy and of the risen Lord’s promise. They preached boldly among the crowds that the new age had now dawned, that God had raised Jesus from the dead and made Him Lord and that all who would repent and believe in Him could enter God’s new order. They could receive the spirit of the coming age. They could be filled with the fullness of God.
Remember how the crowd reacted? They thought these Galileans were drunk. “[These men] are filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13), they mocked. But Peter said, “No, they’re not drunk, as you suppose. Why, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning” (see v. 15). No. This that you now hear and behold is the work of God. There was enthusiasm, yes; unrestrained joy, no doubt about it. These people were carried away, yet the source of it all was not chemical but spiritual. They were filled with the Spirit of the living God. All the old emptiness was gone.
Since then, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit has been freely granted to all who turn from their sins and trust in the risen Jesus as Savior. When we believe, we receive. The Spirit comes to dwell in the heart of every Christian.
But though the Spirit takes up His abode in us when we first believe, Christians know many subsequent experiences of His working in them. Notice in the fourth chapter of the book of Acts how the same disciples who had been empowered on the day of Pentecost were filled afresh with the Spirit when they began to face persecution. Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that they need to be “continually being filled” with the Spirit.
What is it like to be filled in this way? What kind of experience is being described? Should we look for supreme ecstasy, the most tremendous “high” we’ve ever had? Well, not exactly. Christians in the course of their life in Christ, their experience with the Spirit living in them, have many rich and unforgettable experiences. They find a satisfaction deeper by far than they’ve known before. But the filling of the Spirit is not merely a mystical experience. Listen to the practical effects which the apostle says will follow it.
The first: a heart full of song and praise. Christians, says Paul, will address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all [their hearts].” The Spirit leads believers to communicate with each other, to share their faith, and especially to lift their hearts toward God in song. Whenever God renews His church by the power of the Spirit, there’s a new outburst of singing. Then come psalms that express every deep feeling of the heart. Hymns appear that praise God for who He is. Songs of joy well up from redeemed hearts. And we all share our songs with each other. We lift them together before God’s throne. Has that been your experience? Do you want to worship and sing with the people of God? That’s one of the marks of the Spirit’s filling.
Here’s a second one: Spirit-filled Christians have thankful hearts. They are “always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” Christian experience is not a kind of trance that makes you oblivious to everything around you. It doesn’t set aside your mind in favor of some supposedly higher consciousness. The Spirit makes us very much aware of what’s happening in the world and especially of the mercy of God shining through all of life. To be filled with the Spirit is to remember God’s benefits, to be continually, in all experiences of life, offering thanks.
The Spirit, remember, assures us of God’s love. Christians become confident through the Spirit that behind every frowning providence, God hides a smiling face. And so, whatever comes, we can be grateful. We know that God is working in it for our good and that nothing can ever shut us out from His love. Have you a thankful heart today, a heart that keeps praising God through Jesus His Son? Then the Spirit is having His way with you.
Here’s one more characteristic of Spirit-filled believers: The hearts of such Christians are full of servant-love. They are, as Paul says, “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Dwell on that for a moment. Some kinds of intense experience tend to shut us off from other people. We may be physically near to them but yet worlds away in our own thoughts. But the filling of the Holy Spirit always leads toward real community. The Spirit has come to make us one body in Christ. Whenever He fills us, we’re drawn together. We see each other through new eyes. Out of a common desire to please our risen Lord, we honor one another. We learn from each other. The winds of the Spirit blow away our pride of position, our vanity and posturing. Each becomes willing to serve each other, to be corrected or exhorted by any, regardless of age, sex, class or position. The Spirit moves us to outdo each other in showing honor. Does this make contact with something in your experience? Is that the way you are beginning to relate to your fellow Christians? That’s one of the sure signs that the Holy Spirit is filling your life.
I know I’m speaking to people today who have sensed a kind of emptiness in life. All of us feel that at times and search for something to satisfy it. You want to rise above the humdrum, the weary routine of life. You long for something more, for new dimensions in your experience. You may have searched for that in many places, perhaps in alcohol, or the drug scene, or in the pursuit of pleasure. Maybe the quest has taken you down strange paths, through disappointing experiences.
But, friends, you don’t need to look any further. Jesus Christ has come to save us from our inner emptiness. He does it by the wonderful gift of the Spirit. That abundant life for which you’ve been seeking, without knowing what to call it, is available to you today in Jesus Christ. If you will trust Him, surrender to His lordship, you can begin to drink the living water of His Spirit. More and more, you can find genuine joy. And it won’t be a copout. It won’t be a flight from relationships. It won’t be shameful or wasteful. You’ll be closer to God and to people than you’ve ever been before. Will you trust the Savior? That emptiness in your life, as someone put it, is a God-shaped blank. Nothing else really fits. Nothing else truly fills you. When Bledi Hodobashi believed, he discovered that Jesus could do what music couldn’t. Christ could “fill him up.”
And for all of us listening who are believers, let’s learn from this word of the apostle that we can be filled with the Spirit. Not just once, but always – ever and anew. Learn from this charge of the apostle, “Be filled with the Spirit,” that we’re expected to live this way. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s filling. Jesus promised that the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who keep on asking Him. So, praying with that confidence, expect it to be your experience. And as you do, begin to aim afresh at those qualities of life which the Spirit encourages – a singing heart, a thankful heart, a serving heart. That’s the fullness for which you were meant. That’s the fountain of life. That can satisfy, in every heart, our “taste for the infinite.”