And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. Ephesians 5:18-21
We began a new section in Ephesians last week, and we came across the command that Christians are to see to it that we walk carefully. The command is almost militaristic in its urgency. It is immediately followed by three “not… but” clauses which come almost like the rat tat tat of a military snare drum – repeated in succession … not as fools but as wise (5:15); do not be unwise, but understand the will of God (5:17); and do not be drunk with wine, …but be filled with the Spirit (5:18). It is this third striking double exhortation of verse 18 that we will consider this week.
We tend to think of conversion as a once-and-for-all event, but the New Testament teaches us that while salvation has a once-and-for-all beginning, it is in reality a life-long transforming process involving continuing repentance and faith. So Paul’s command for us to “be filled with the Spirit,” is a present tense passive imperative. This means that while it is a command that we are to obey, it is an ongoing command; further the passive voice tells us that this is not something we do for ourselves. The command is rightfully understood as: Keep on being filled with the Spirit.
Verses 18-21 form one long sentence with five participles modifying the command to be filled with the Spirit. This exhortation is connected with and builds upon the earlier references in the epistle to the work of the Spirit in the lives of believers (see Eph 1:3, 13, 14, 17; 2:18, 22; 3:16; 4:30). What is involved in being filled with the Spirit is explained in the five clauses introduced by the participles, “speaking” (v. 19), “singing” (v. 19); “making melody” (v. 19) “giving thanks” (v. 20), and “submitting” (v. 21). These five participles are not commands, but the overflow or outworking of the work of the Spirit as He fills the Christian. In other words, a Spirit-filled Christian can be identified by the marks of singing, thanksgiving, and mutual submission in the context of the church.
If you want to see something that will edify your soul, read the parallel text in Colossians 3:16-17. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns writing “Ephesians 5:18b-21” on the top of one column and “Colossians 3:16-17” on the top of the second column. Beginning with “be filled with the spirit” write down the text of Ephesians 5:18b one line at a time in column one. Do the same thing for Colossians in column 2, beginning your list with “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” What do you notice in your list? What are the similarities and differences? What does this tell you about being filled with the Spirit?