The Lord's Day Morning

July 23, 2006

Ephesians 5:18-21

“The New Walk (5): More Reasons Why — Filled With the Spirit”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Please open your Bibles to Ephesians chapter five, as we continue through Paul's letter to Ephesus and to us. We've said since Ephesians 4:17 that it has been Paul's concern to exhort us to live distinctively as Christians in this world; not to be like the world, but rather to be in the world and not of it; to be distinct in our desires and our behavior and our living from the world.

And in Ephesians 4 and in the first part of Ephesians 5, Paul gave a series of concrete examples of ways in which we were to be different from the world. We were to be different from the world in our truth-telling; we were to be different from the world in the way we handled anger; we were to be different from the world in our kindness; we were to be different from the world in a variety of things in which he gave concrete, specific direction in areas of life that were going to set apart Christians from non-Christians–those who have been renewed by the Lord Jesus Christ, changed by the Holy Spirit, saved unto God our Father–how they were different from those who are in this world and of this world.

Now beginning in Ephesians 5:5 and running all the way down to verse 21, the last verse of the passage we're going to read today, Paul has turned from those specific areas in which we are to be different from the world to giving us a series of four motivations or incentives, or reasons, or arguments, or encouragements to be different from the world. Paul is very practical, and God our Father loves us very much and He knows that there are a lot of temptations. Some of those temptations come from our own hearts, some come from the world, some come from Satan himself; and so, God in His Scripture arms us with arguments to use with ourselves against those temptations, and among those arguments that he arms us with are these various incentives or motivations that Paul has been giving us since Ephesians 5:5.

You remember he started out by saying that one thing that we always needed to remind ourselves when we are tempted is that there is the judgment seat of Christ, and that all is going to be brought before the searching eyes and just judgment of God, and so Paul teaches us there not to use grace as an argument against responsibility, but to recognize that grace so changes us that we desire God to be vindicated on the Last Day, that we desire to see His just judgment visited, and we no longer fear standing before that great assize because we are confident in the Lord Jesus Christ. But we're also transformed by the work of God's grace in us.

He also in that passage points to the dramatic transformation that has occurred when God changed us from darkness to light, when He caused us to be united to Christ and to become new creatures in Him. And you remember the Apostle Paul argued that one motivation, one incentive to godliness, to holiness in this life, is to remember that God has changed us from what we once were. We heard about that in song and in the prayer this morning. We remember what we were and we remember what we are now by God's grace, and we live in consistency with what God has made us to be, not with what we once were.

Then last week we saw Paul appeal to wisdom. We were part of the foolish world, but by God's grace He saved us in Jesus Christ, who is true wisdom, and He gave us wisdom, having united us to Jesus Christ. And so the Apostle Paul says live as wise people. God has made you wise, so live wisely.

And then he spoke about the different characteristics of a wise person: A wise person cares about how he lives; a wise person takes very seriously the preciousness of time and seeks to use it for gospel purposes.

And then today he comes to something of a culminating point, because he points us to the Holy Spirit. And the argument is simple, you understand. He says ‘Look, Christian. You are filled by the Holy Spirit.’

Now, if you don't understand that that's a motivation to holiness, there's not much that I can explain to you. Paul's argument is very clear. You’re filled with the Holy Spirit, Christian; every one of you is filled with the Holy Spirit. You ought to seek to go on being filled by the Holy Spirit, and if you are being filled by the Holy Spirit, you’re going to want to pursue holiness. You’re going to be on a quest for godliness. And so the Apostle Paul points us today to the Holy Spirit as the ultimate incentive, and indeed, dynamic, of living the Christian life.

Now, one last thing: As you look as verses 18-21, you will notice that there are two imperatives, two commands. One is negative, one is positive, followed by five participles [that's an i-n-g word]. Those participles that follow two command imperatives are speaking, singing, making music [or making melody], giving thanks, and being submitted [or subjecting ourselves] to one another; and those two commands and those five participles are going to shape the outline of Paul's argument. (Notice that he starts with don't do something, and then he moves to do this particular thing, which reminds us again that though Christianity is certainly more than do's and don'ts, it always entails harkening obediently and joyfully to God's commands to do some things and not to do others, by the strength of the grace of the Holy Spirit.)

Now before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask His help and blessing.

Our Lord and our God, this is Your word, and we ask that You would speak to us by Your word, that we would hear by Your Spirit the truth of Your word, and that we would understand it and embrace it, believing it, trusting you, and living the truth. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is God's word:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

There is no factor more important in our quest to be like Christ, in our quest to be more and more reflecting the image of our loving heavenly Father, in our quest to be godly, in our quest to be different from the world, in our quest to be in the world but not of it–there is no factor more important in that quest than the filling of the Holy Spirit, and that is the focus of what the Apostle Paul has to say to us today.

But before he gets to that focal point, a point which he is going to flesh out with those participles, those i-n-g words in verses 19, 20, and 21, he has a negative command to give to the Ephesian Christians and to you and me, and his command is: “Do not get drunk with wine.”

I. Don't get drunk.

He gives a definite, a clear and unmistakable charge to the Ephesian Christians and to you and me that we are to manifest in our use of alcohol Christian moderation and temperance. He gives a direct, unmistakable command that we are not to get drunk. He doesn't call here for abstinence, a total abstinence (elsewhere he will actually counsel Timothy on one occasion to use wine as opposed to perhaps the contaminated drinking water that would have been the case in his particular area), but he is very emphatic in demanding that we do not abuse alcohol, that we do not get drunk.

And his reason for this is stated: “…for this is dissipation.” It is something which manifests that we are mastered by something or someone else rather than God in the gospel, and the Apostle Paul does not want any Christian to be mastered by someone or something else other than the loving, saving, triune God and His gospel. And so he says to these Christians, “Do not be drunk with wine.” It's one way that they are to stand out from the world around them. We know that Ephesus was a place where, as a part of the cult of Dionysus, that there was great abuse of alcohol connected with the orgies, but the context in that sense is irrelevant: this is a standing directive for Christians in all ages, that they are not to be drunk with wine. We are not to give away our self-mastery to be mastered by alcohol.

And I want to pause right now and speak for just a few moments directly to our young people about this. This is a matter for all of us, young and old, but it's especially a matter of concern for Christian young people because the fact of the matter is not only is it God's household rule that we are not to abuse alcohol, that we are not to use it improperly, that we are not to be inebriated, but it's a matter of the law of the state, the law of the government, that those under a certain age are not to use it at all, and so the use of alcohol by Christian young people presents a variety of important issues.

And I want to say, as I've looked back over my life and as I've looked back to my own student years in high school and college and in graduate years, I notice six things about many of the young people who were utilizing (sometimes illegally) alcohol, and others who were abusing alcohol and doing so illegally. And the first thing is this: I noticed in them very often a desire to ‘fit in’ with the worldly…a desire to ‘fit in’ with the worldly; that in the use of the alcohol (whether it was legal or not) was often with it a desire to fit in with a particular group that did not share the wholesome goals and aspirations that the Apostle Paul has been speaking about for four chapters, and with a particular kind of life that was actually out of accord with what the Apostle Paul has been describing here in Ephesians 4 and 5. And, young people, if that's been the case with you or with your friends, understand that warning bells should be going on right now…that if you have been illegally using alcohol or abusing it in any way, it may well mark in you a desire to fit in with the worldly, where the Apostle Paul has been saying to Christians, no, you be in the world, care about them, love them, do good by all those who are in the world, but don't try to be like them. Don't try to emulate them. Don't try and court their favor. Don't seek their ultimate approbations. Seek the approbation of God, of Christ; follow after Him, live in His way, do good to your friends who are not believers. Seek their best interests, but don't live the way they live.

A second thing that I have seen in the use of alcohol by young people (some, again, illegally using it, some abusing it even though they may be legally partaking of it) is that it is often used to cope with insecurity.

Some of my friends, who were frankly socially far more advanced than I–they were very adept, they were from nice families–I found they could not be secure in a social setting unless they were slightly inebriated. It always disturbed me that they seemed to think that they had to be inebriated before they could have a good time. Now, these were people that…very frankly I wanted them to be sober! Because when they were sober they were sharp, and they were smart, and they were funny, and I wanted to hear what they had to say. And very frankly, when they were inebriated, I didn't want to hear what they had to say! But I recognized that they were insecure.

And young people, if that's a motivation for you right now in illegally using alcohol or in abusing it, then I want to ask you a question: Where is our security found? Is our security found in a substance that causes us to lost control enough of ourselves that we don't think about ourselves, or is our security found in the Lord Jesus Christ? In the loving bonds of His family, so that we don't have to worry what people are thinking about us every moment of the day, but we only seek to do the will of our loving heavenly Father who cares for us, who has called us His own children?

A third thing that I saw amongst young friends who were either illegally using alcohol or abusing it was that they were indulging in a very dangerous habit. You know, very often young people think of alcohol as something that gives them a high, but all of you who are health professionals–doctors and nurses–you know that alcohol is not a stimulant, it's a depressant; and it's a depressant that can unleash some things that are far more powerful than some people are to cope with it. And those young people, some of them, did not realize that they were practicing to have a struggle with alcohol for the rest of their lives in the way they used or abused alcohol. Again, to Christian young people, I want to encourage you and urge you to understand the danger of this.

Fourthly, I saw and see in some of my young friends who have illegally used alcohol or are abusing it, the following of a bad example. Sometimes they were actually simply emulating how their parents acted, or their grandparents, or some significant family member or friend, and they were following after that example in their own behavior. But again, to my Christian friends here today–young people, students in college and in high school–the example of bad examples is not the example that we're to seek to follow.

One of the things that struck me most when I first read the biography of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, the General in the Confederate Army that we call “Stonewall,” was the fact that Jackson, having been reared not by his father (who had died early on), but by an uncle who was a pretty shady character, had decided at the age of ten that he was not going to grow up to be like his uncle. He knew enough of the Bible and knew enough of right and wrong to know that the way that his uncle was acting was not a way for him to act, and he determined that he was not going to live that way. So if you've had a bad example in this area, let me encourage you to follow Christ's example and the teaching of the word, and not the bad examples you have seen.

Fifthly, I have often seen in the case of young people illegally using alcohol or abusing it, a knuckling under to peer pressure. There were some of my friends, I think, who did not think they could have a good time unless they could get me to drink. They would spend hours of a party trying to get me to drink with them! It was as if they could think of nothing else!

Now, you understand, my parents had never read me the riot act about this, but it was just something that I didn't do. And I wasn't trying to draw attention–I wasn't one to walk into a party and have a flashing neon light going saying “I'm not going to be doing what the rest of you are doing.” I just wanted to go in my little corner and stay out of everybody's way, and relate to people and let them do whatever they were doing. I wasn't going to have picket signs and a bullhorn shouting out to them across the room, but they wanted me to do what they were doing. Perhaps as young person you've experienced this, as well…people that want you to live a particular way.

Well, again, the Apostle Paul in this passage is calling us to accede only to that gentle, loving peer pressure that comes from those who are children of light, not to give in to the peer pressure of the sons of this age, of the children of darkness, those who don't know the Lord Jesus Christ.

And then, sixth and finally, I have noticed as I watched friends and colleagues, contemporaries, students as they imbibed, breaking the law. Now we may not think of it that way, but this is actually a violation of the law most of the time that it takes place–not just in the abuse of alcohol, but in the use of alcohol.

Do you know that there are still some counties in Mississippi where according to statute law you can't even drive through the county in the possession of alcohol? Well, whether we agree with the statute or not, Christians are to obey the civil magistrate. The Apostle Paul in Romans 13 calls us to be those who have respect for authority, and especially for governmental authority, because it's meant for our well-being. And it's not a good thing, my dear Christian young friends, for us to develop a cavalier attitude towards the authority that God has put over us for our good by abusing that authority in the use of something which has been forbidden to us by law.

So I want to appeal to you, young people, in this area: Let us be an example. There are eyes watching you. I want you to understand that. Whether you’re here as a student in town or whether you’re at a university somewhere close by, there are people that notice what you do, for good or for ill, and your witness is either one that is positive or it is one that is negative. And so the Apostle Paul is commanding us as Christians here to be moderate, to manifest self-mastery with regard to alcohol. That means for those of us who are not of age, complete abstinence; that's part of our self-mastery. And for those of us who are of age, to be in control…moderate, temperate in our usage.

II. Be filled with the Spirit.

Secondly, Paul moves on to his major command in this passage. It's at the end of verse 18: “Be filled with the Spirit.”

Now, in contrast to this previous command in which he demands that we be temperate or moderate, that we limit and control the way we relate to wine, here he actually issues a call for what we might call Christian intemperance. The Apostle Paul is in effect saying you can never get enough of the filling of the Spirit. He's just said you've got to be careful how you deal with alcohol, but you do not ever want to put a limit on the filling of the Spirit. It's something that you should continually desire. It's something that you should continually long for. It's something that should be continually operating in your life. There should be a constant thirst for that kind of filling.

Now you may be asking, “What is this filling of the Holy Spirit?” The first thing I need to say about this, of course, is Paul is not talking about an experience that only some Christians have. In this passage he is directing all that he has to say to every Christian, so it's not that there are Christians and then there are Spirit-filled Christians, as if there are two distinct categories and never the twain shall meet. But the Apostle Paul is saying to all Christians here that it ought to be their desire that the Holy Spirit fill them continually. This is not just a one-time thing that the Apostle Paul is asking us for. He's not saying achieve this one-time experience of being filled with the Spirit. No, his language is that he wants us always to be filled with the Spirit, and always desire to be filled with the Spirit.

Now you rightly ask me, “Well, what does that mean?” That's a great question. I don't have time to say everything that probably needs to be said about that today, but I can tell you two things very specifically out of the Book of Ephesians. Turn with me back to Ephesians 1 and look at verses 13 and 14. When the Apostle Paul in that passage is talking about the sealing work of the Holy Spirit, tells us what the Holy Spirit does in our life, notice what he says in verse 14:

“He was given…” [this Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of promise, who sealed us]…

“He was given as a pledge of our inheritance with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.”

He was given as God's pledge to you to assure you that God was going to be faithful to fulfill His promise to redeem you to the very end, and so what the Apostle Paul is saying is (in that passage), the Holy Spirit does–what? He works to assure you of salvation.

Now turn over to Ephesians 3, and in that beautiful prayer in verses 14-19, notice that he says–what happens when we are strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit in the inner man, in our inmost being–verse 16? Well, look at verse 17. This is what happens:

“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

And what else? Verse 19:

“That you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

And so, in that passage the Apostle Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit not only has an assuring work to do in you [Ephesians 1], He has a maturing work to do in you. He forms Christ in you. He makes your heart a suitable dwelling place for the Lord Jesus Christ, and He does–what? Fills you up to all the fullness of God. What does that mean? It means that He matures you to make you more and more resemble the image of your heavenly Father. And so the filling of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit's work in us, is designed to assure us of God's promises and of our salvation and to mature us in the faith. And so the believer is to desire to have this ongoing filling of the Holy Spirit so that we will be assured and matured, so that our character would be formed, so that we would look like our heavenly Father, so that our lives would be suitable dwelling places for Jesus Christ. And Paul says it's to be our desire, our thirst, to see that ongoing filling–that ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Now, again you ask me another question: “Well, what does that look like?” And the Apostle Paul is waiting for you.

Remember those five participles? Well, let me break those down into four specific points that the Apostle Paul makes about a person who is being filled with the Holy Spirit, and notice the first one and the fourth one have to do with our relationship with one another as fellow believers. The second one and the third one have to do with our relationship with God.

The first one you see there in verse 19: “…Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs.” Speaking to one another is the first mark of a Christian who is being matured by the filling of the Holy Spirit: “…Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs.”

In other words, these Christians are addressing one another in a way that encourages their mutual edification. Even in their conversation with one another, their desire is to edify, to build up, to encourage. It's addressing and exhorting and encouraging one another–in this case, he says, with scriptural songs, or songs that are scriptural and spiritual–so that we're moved to adoration and confession and thanksgiving, and petition and intercession.

One of our elders is particularly good at doing this. Any time I get a note from him, he almost always begins it by quoting a long passage of Scripture before he then moves on to a word of encouragement. And even sometimes when I'm talking with him, he’ll start the conversation off by quoting Scripture, and then we’ll move into the substance of what it is that we're going to talk about. And very often as he leads us in prayer he will quote Scripture first, verbatim, and then move into lifting up the specific praises or petitions to God. It's a good and encouraging example.

But as I was talking to one of the mothers of the congregation this morning as we walked into the church, I was reminded of another manifestation of this speaking with one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. She was talking about the importance of parents encouraging their children to read the Bible, and to ask them what they’re reading, and what they’re learning from the Bible, so that their conversation is filled from time to time by talking about the things of the Lord, naturally; that we would desire to have that as a normal part of our interaction with one another in human relationships, whether parent and child, or friend and friend.

Well, the Apostle Paul says the person who's being Spirit-filled has a conversation which is filled with the truth of God's word in a way that encourages or edifies our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. That's one mark of a Christian who is being matured by the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, look again at verse 19. He goes on to say, “…Singing and making melody with your heart [or, making music with your heart] to the Lord.” Here Paul says that the Christian who is being matured by God's Holy Spirit, who is being filled by God's Holy Spirit, is one who sings and makes melody to God; that is, there is a whole-souled, God-centered devotion that is expressed in his or her singing. That person loves to gather with the saints and not simply with the lips sing praises to God, but from the very depth of his or her soul to lift up his whole self to God in praise and in petition, to address our gracious heavenly Father with praise from the depths of our hearts.

You know, my Dad could not carry a tune in a bucket. If you had poured that tune in the bucket, he would have lost it before he got to church! I promise you! And it was one of the great blessings of my life to grow up as a young man standing next to him during the congregational singing, hearing him trying to sing the hymns though he did not ever match a note! Now, he didn't sing so loud as to be obnoxious, you understand me. But he tried to sing praises with the congregation. I will always be thankful for my Dad doing that, though he wasn't good at it.

You see, Paul's not talking about liking to sing here; I know that some of you don't like to sing, and I know that some of you aren't maybe as good as others are at singing. But the Apostle Paul is saying that the Christian who is being matured by the work of the Holy Spirit wants to give the whole of himself from the depths of his being in song to God in devotion. He's focused on singing the praises of God; she's focused on singing the praises of God. There's nothing that brings more delight than to gather with His people and give Him praise.

Young people, again, those of you who are off at college or going off to college, you know one of the great tests of where you are in your spiritual walk will be what do you do on Sunday when you’re away from Mom and Dad; when it's your choice whether you’re going to go and sing praises to the living God with God's people in church on the Lord's Day, to hear His word proclaimed. Is that a place you really want to be? That tells you a lot about where you are in relation to the maturing work of the Holy Spirit, because those who know God and those who are being matured by the Holy Spirit love to be praising the living God with His people.

Fourthly, notice again something that's focused on God: “…Thanking God our Father for everything, in Jesus' name.” In other words, the Christian who's being matured, being filled by the Holy Spirit, is always giving thanks to the Father. This is a person characterized by gratitude. It's not only a person who uses their conversation to edify and exhort and encourage fellow believers, it's not only a person who loves to express their devotion to God in their singing with the saints, but it's a person who is characterized by gratitude–a Father-focused, Christ-enabled gratitude.

You know, we live in a world where a lot of bad things happen, and a lot of people very frankly become bitter and unthankful because of those bad things that have happened. But it is a characteristic of those who are being matured by the Holy Spirit that they retain a thankful, grateful heart in the midst of everything. It doesn't mean that there aren't struggles with that from time to time. But you know, at every funeral here at First Presbyterian Church, somewhere in that funeral we will quote the words of a man that lived maybe 4,000 years ago, and they go like this:

“The Lord has given; the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

That was Job's expression of praise and thanksgiving and blessing to the Almighty God though everything and everyone precious to him had been taken from him, and that is a standing example to the Christian of a heart that maintains a gratitude and thankfulness to God in the midst of any circumstance. And the Apostle Paul says ‘You want to spot a Christian being matured by the Holy Spirit? Well, let me show you a person who's grateful, who's thankful, no matter what's going on. In everything, in Jesus Christ, that person is able to give thanks to God.’

And then, fourth and finally, look at verse 21: “…Be subject to one another….be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” The fourth quality that the Apostle Paul sees in a person being matured by the Holy Spirit is that person is self-denying, Christ-revering, in their serving of one another for mutual edification.

In other words, the Christian has realized that this life is not about being served, this life is about serving. This life is not about other people doing things for you, this life is about doing things for others. This life is not about the blessings that we can get from somebody else, but the blessing that we can be to someone else, just as Jesus would say, “I did not come to be served, but to serve,” so also His disciples–those who have been saved by Him, those who love Him–want to serve others, and it permeates their attitude about everything; and so, they become people who are self-denying in their service in a way that their mutual submission to one another serves to edify them because of their reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ.

That's one of the hardest lessons in life to learn, because we are by nature selfish, we're in-turned. And one of the marks of a person who has been matured by the Holy Spirit is more and more they care about the well-being of others and they are ready to invest their energy and resources in order to serve the well-being of others, so that they become a community of people who are givers, not takers; who are servers, not imperious, entitled ‘lords’, but those who serve.

John Calvin has a beautiful word that he says about this:

“God has so bound us to each other that no man ought to avoid subjection, and where love reigns there is a mutual servitude. I do not except even kings and governors, for they rule that they may serve; therefore, it is very right that we should exhort all to be subject to one another. But, as nothing is more contrary to the human spirit than to submit to others, He recalls to us the fear of Christ so that we may not refuse the yoke, and that we may not be ashamed of serving our neighbors.”

In other words, the Apostle Paul says just remember how Christ served you. Now don't be ashamed to serve your neighbors; He served you. Remember what you were like, and He served you. Now you serve one another in that way.

And the Apostle Paul has armed us now with arguments to use with ourselves as we seek to be different from the world: We’re going to remember the Judgment Day to come; we're going to live in light of what God has made us by His grace, and not what we used to be; we're going to live wisely because we've been made wise by the grace of Christ; and we are going to be matured by the Holy Spirit and live in consistency with the One who indwells us; and He is holy, so we're going to walk in holiness.

May God make this a reality in our lives. If it is a reality in our lives as a congregation, there is no estimating the impact of witness that that could have upon our community. May God make it so.

Let's pray.

Our Lord God, these are glorious words, but they’re very easy to say, very easy to talk about…even at a certain level very easy to desire, but they’re very difficult to actually do, to embrace. So, by Your Spirit help us not just be a congregation that admires and talks about these things, but a congregation who lives them out for Your glory and our good. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.