|Series Theme: Meditations in Ephesians|
Meditation No. 43
Meditation Title: Wine & Spirit
Eph 5:18-20 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So often we lose the impact of what Paul is saying in these verses because we focus on the wine-debauchery-Spirit part at the beginning, whereas the thrust of the verses is upon us having a thankful outlook on life. This he is surely suggesting, is to be the nature of the Christian life experience – it is to be a joyful experience that is full of praise and thanksgiving and joy.
His starting point is a negative warning: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” which harps back to our old lifestyle before we came to Christ. In that respect this is an extension of the lists of things not to be seen in the Christian's lifestyle, yet he is using it as an illustration and contrast to what he does want to point us towards. An excess of wine leads to a reducing of inhibitions, a releasing of the tongue and exuberant outward behaviour. Now that is exactly the same sort of behaviour that accompanies being filled with the Holy Spirit. The classic example, of course, is the day of Pentecost when the Spirit first came upon the believers together and they were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4) and their tongues were released. However their behaviour was so free that some of the onlookers, “made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine.” (Acts 2:13 ) which prompted Peter to reply, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: `In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Acts 2:15-17).
Sometimes in the Christian world, we have been so concerned to avoid any appearance of impropriety that we have been afraid to face the truth that indeed the filling of the Spirit brings a freedom which is accompanied by joy, and which can be misinterpreted by onlookers! Paul contrasts being drunk when he puts the positive instruction before them: “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” This comes in the present tense and so speaks of an ongoing repeatable experience but please don't be afraid to note that it is an experience that marks out people. When God's Spirit turns up in power and in filling, people are changed even more than at their initial conversion, and this is supposed to be an ongoing Christian experience, this being filled and empowered and released by the Spirit.
I think a personal testimony is in order here. In my younger days as a Christian, I did experience this filling with the Spirit and experienced great joy and freedom. It was not something I sought, but something that was just given on one occasion when I was seeking the Lord. It was unexpected and inexplicable and I floated a few inches off the ground it seemed (not literally!). Unfortunately in months following I came under the influence of those who would be more serious and sober and I actually came to question the experience. This questioning carried on for a year during which time I can only say that I become more and more spiritually dry. (It's the only way I can describe it.) Then on one particular day, the Lord in His grace allowed me, at three different times in the day, to encounter three different Christians who were clearly filled with the Spirit and full of His joy. After the first one, I went away muttering about ‘frothy Christians' and after the second one I grumbled about so many shallow Christians. After the third one I came to my senses and acknowledged that they had something that I once had but no longer had. I sought the Lord and sought His forgiveness for my foolishness and was immediately filled afresh with the joy and freedom of the Lord. We normally disparage these things out of fear or insecurity. Knowing the Lord, Paul is saying in today's verses, is to be a bubbly, effervescent, joy-filled freedom. Remember Jesus likened it to new wine (Mt 9:17).
Thus Paul continues, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Please note he's not saying do this all the time, every minute of your life but when you come together. Use music, he is saying, because music is an expression of a freed heart. Have you noticed that when you are happy and free you sing? Perhaps many of us don't sing (outside of church services) because we haven't got much to sing about or, being Christians, we've forgotten how much we have got to sing about. Part of this, the motivation if you like, is thankfulness. When I was filled with the Holy Spirit I became immensely thankful. On the day of Pentecost, the onlookers heard them, “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11) That's what we do when we are thankful; we declare the wonders of God in our own way.
Perhaps what this should leave us doing is reflecting on the nature of our own personal Christian experience. Is our experience simply one of ‘religion' which is cold and somber? Surely the real article helps us see the wonder of God, the wonder of what He has done for us in and through His Son, Jesus, and that wonder should almost overwhelm us with joy when we see the reality of it. If the world has quenched or quashed that reality, we need to be filled with His Spirit, to realise and experience afresh (or for the first time) the shear exuberant wonder of His glorious presence. May it be so!