“Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). That’s a bit of an odd command, isn’t it? On the one hand, it is odd because it’s hard to understand how Paul can command us to manage the level of God we have within us! But on the other hand, it’s not odd at all because in the words that follow we see that Paul is essentially calling us to a life of worship: “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 your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:18-21).
Worship is born in the heart of a worshiper when they encounter something of the magnitude and beauty and glory of God. The result is awe and humility are struck in the heart. Awe because God is unspeakably great and humility because we are incalculably small in light of his glory. Awe is most often expressed through singing or otherwise praising God; humility is most often expressed through obedience or humble submission to God. Therefore, it is right to say that worship is about the entirety of our lives before the Lord, and it’s right to put the word “worship” as a banner over Ephesians 5:18-21.
The Roles of the Holy Spirit in Worship
So, then, what roles does the Spirit play in our lives of worship? I see four. First, the Holy Spirit guarantees the conditions for worship by sealing or marking us for God. I get this from Ephesians 1:13-14. “In him [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” By sealing or marking us, the Holy Spirit forever ensures the relationship between God the Father and his beloved children in Christ, and by ensuring this relationship in Christ he creates the appropriate conditions for worship.
Second, the Holy Spirit creates the possibility of worship by escorting us into the presence of God. I get this from Ephesians 2:18. “For through him [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The Holy Spirit escorts us into the presence of the Father based on the accomplished work of the Son. And this escorting creates the possibility of worship because the essence of worship is awe and humility both of which are born as we encounter the glory and being of God.
Third, the Holy Spirit fashions the context of worship by knitting us together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I get this from Ephesians 2:22. “In him [Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” God’s vision of worship is not an individualistic vision, rather it is a body-wide vision. His vision is to redeem some in Christ from every tribe and tongue and nation that they might be knit together into one body, that they might be fashioned into a dwelling place for God. And God is realizing this vision, he is knitting together the Body of Christ, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit empowers worship by enabling us to behold God and comprehend God and be filled with all the fullness of God, striking awe and humility in our hearts, putting praise on our lips, and submission in our lives. I get this from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Drunkenness and Worship
With these roles in mind, let’s turn our attention Ephesians 5:18 where Paul writes, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that, is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” Paul doesn’t want us to get drunk; he doesn’t think getting drunk is a good thing. Now, what’s right about the idea of getting drunk—not the reality of it but the idea of it—is that we do need something outside ourselves to help us deal with life. We were not created with the capacity to deal with this life on our own. We were created to be dependent beings. And therefore when a person gives him or herself to drinking, he or she is simply responding to an innate impulse that was designed by God.
But the problem with going to wine or beer or strong drink to fulfill this impulse is that alcohol is precisely the wrong kind of thing we need to deal with life. Alcohol clouds our vision, it impairs our judgment, and worst of all it breeds a destructive self-centeredness in us which is nothing less than idolatry. It breeds a kind of attitude in us that says, “My needs are God and I will meet the needs of my God.” But in Christ, we’ve become children of light and we’re not to worship any other God, even if that God is ourselves.
This is why Paul says that drunkenness is debauchery. “Debauchery” means to abandon oneself to reckless, immoral behavior. Therefore, drunkenness is an enemy of praise because it puts all the focus on me when praise arises from a heart that is focused on God. Drunkenness is an enemy to thanksgiving because alcohol is a depressant and it literally suppresses our ability to see the many mercies of God for which we ought to be thankful. Drunkenness is an enemy to submission because, as I’ve already said, it breeds self-centered living and self-centered people don’t submit to God.
Drunkenness is an enemy of worship—it’s an enemy—and Paul is trying to inflame our hearts with passion for worship, so he simply says, “Don’t get drunk,” and then he provides us with the alternative, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Good enough, but how do we do that? Paul answers in four ways.
First, if you want to be filled with the Spirit, choose to speak to one another in language of Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. And why would you want to do that? Because the language of each of these is the language of the Bible. Psalms are literally the Bible. Hymns, if they’re any good, arise out of the truth of the Bible. Spiritual songs, which refer to the spontaneous songs of the heart, also ought to rise out of our meditations on the Bible. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs are simply the emotional expressions of the truths of God’s Word, and thus it’s right that we speak to one another in that language. So if you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, fill your hearts and minds with the things of God to the extent that your speech overflows with these same things.
Second, if you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, sing and make melody to the Lord with your heart. Addressing one another in the language of Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is the overflow; making melody to the Lord in our hearts is the fountain. Addressing one another in that language is the public expression; making melody to the Lord with our hearts is the private delight.
Everyone sings about the things they love. This is why even drunks sing bar songs. This is why the old saying goes “wine, women, and song,” rather than just “wine and women.” We all sing about what we love, no matter who we are, and how it both warms and beckons the heart of God to hear us sing about him in the secret places of our hearts. So if you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, beckon his presence by singing his praise in the secret places of your heart.
Third, if you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Invite the presence of God into your life by choosing thanksgiving over grumbling in all circumstances of life. When you succeed, thank God for his mercy and give him all the credit. When you fail or suffer, thank God for his mercy, lean on him with all your heart, and give him all the glory. If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, then be humble and grateful in the secret places of your heart and give him thanks always and for everything with your lips.
Finally, if you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. It’s all well and good to say that we submit to God, but if we don’t demonstrate this by submitting to one another our claims are empty and we’re found to be hypocrites in the sight of God. But on the other hand, if we display the fact that we’re submitted to God by submitting to those around us, then we’re found to be truth-tellers and we’re pleasing and attractive to him. So if you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit then beckon him with authenticity and demonstrate your submission to him by submitting to one another with glad and sincere hearts.
If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, then you’re going to have to labor to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You’re going to have to make choices every moment of every day that are pleasing to God and that beckon God into your heart. And this is not a matter of having to strive to please God with our behavior, it’s a matter of common sense. When your children obey you, you are more prone to bless them; when they disobey you, you are more prone to discipline them. So, dear Friends, let us be filled with the Holy Spirit by passionately pursuing him in these four ways.
Charles Handren is pastor for Adult Ministries at Cross of Glory Baptist Church and an author residing with his wife Kimberly in Wayzata MN. His wife Kimberly (1991) is a Spanish and English as a Second Language teacher, and his daughter, Rachel (1994), owns and operates a dance studio in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Charles enjoys reading, cycling, hiking, and traveling. He holds degrees from California Baptist University (Riverside, California) and the American Baptist Seminary of the West (Berkeley, California), and is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.