THIS IS WHY WE SING!
TO BUILD ONE ANOTHER UP THROUGH THE SPIRIT!
Don’t get drunk! That’s quite a blunt command to come up in the course of reading the New Testament (Eph. 5:18). Paul is addressing the lifestyle of believers, their habitual conduct, and he warns them about a number of things. μεθύσκεσθε, be drunk, is in the present tense suggesting an imperfective aspect, meaning that Paul seems to have in mind a state of perpetual drunkenness or repeated, ongoing and habitual bouts of being drunk. Here Paul wants his readers to not engage in what was common among unbelieving Gentiles in the Roman world, that is being drunk, or drunkenness as a way of life. It is not hard to figure out why when you read the rest of the Bible. Drunkenness or being drunk at times leads to all kinds of problems, rash conduct with massively deleterious consequences and to the destruction of the one who is drunk or others around them. This might be a warning to our own culture today in America, where drunkenness is considered trivial by some, and where habitual bouts of drunkenness become a way of life. So let’s make no mistake, the Bible makes the case that drunkenness, or becoming drunk through the excess consumption of alcohol or the use of drugs is sinful and destructive. God commands his people to avoid it.
Paul commands it’s negation here, with the second person, plural imperative, “Do not get drunk with/by wine!” (καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ) (Eph. 5:18a) The reason he give is that through drunkenness there is dissipation (ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία) (Eph. 5:18b). Paul makes the connection between getting drunk and recklessness, failure to exercise good judgment, sinful behavior arising from the numbing of moral judgment and discretion, and wild, extravagant, crude or self-indulgent behavior, which all answer to the desires of the flesh rather than godliness (cf. Gal. 5:16, 19-20) (cf. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 148). Drunkenness is destructive of not only the body, but of the mind, good judgment, circumspection and the good moral character of the individual. Over time it leads to a person’s complete destruction and demise. This is the biblical view of the matter. That it is as we have stated in the eyes of God, and that it brings about his condemnation and divine judgment, is clear from the Bible. Although we may not like it, we cannot not quarrel with the fact that this is how the Bible portrays God’s thinking in the the issue.
This exhortation may lead us to ask what on earth not getting drunk has to do with being filled with the Spirit, so that Paul juxtaposes the two in his exhortation here concerning the proper lifestyle of the believer (Eph. 5:18). The use of alcohol as a coping mechanism, to enhance recreational excitement, to create a sense of euphoric joy, or as a mood enhancer is not new, and has been going on since sin first showed up. Noah, apparently found himself drunk in his tent as a result of the over consumption of alcohol, possibly overindulging in connection with celebrating his first harvest after the flood (Gen. 8:20-23). It did not lead to anything good, and resulted in the ridicule of his youngest son, Ham, and a curse being pronounced on him and his posterity. But for Noah’s drunken state the whole thing could have been avoided! This appears to have been recreational overuse through a lack of self control. Maybe Noah was relishing the release from the ark or lamenting the relative human scarcity at that point. We don’t know. What we do know is that the psychology of alcohol use as well as abuse of prescription or illegal drugs is complex, and is often the result of the need for meaning, joy and excitement, or arises from of stress, struggles and human discontentment.
Believers are not immune to the mental, emotional pressures and physical problems that all humanity faces in a broken world. Neither should we expect to be. However, coping mechanisms are different for the two groups, those who trust in God and those who do not. Prayer is often highlighted as part of the coping mechanism for believers. But here Paul proposes something that “answers” to a typical coping mechanism among those who are not believers, the excessive use of alcohol to become drunk.
When Paul juxtaposes the Spirit for believers to drunkenness for unbelievers, he is not suggesting that there is a one for one correlation between drunkenness and being filled with the Spirit, as some enthusiastic charismatic or Pentecostals have suggested. Paul is not suggesting anything like as trivial a claim that we can get “drunk in the Spirit” in the same way that we might get drunk with wine, much less that being filled with the Spirit brings about a similar mental or physiological state, or that it answers to the same sort of escapism. This would be a gross and horrible suggestion, and undermine all the exhortations in scripture warning about the dangers of drunkenness.
However, what Paul is suggesting is that God has provided believers with exactly the right coping mechanism for their daily lives that will provide them with the support they need to live well as believers. Furthermore, Paul is not suggesting that believers “use” the Spirit in the same way thy might imbibe a glass of wine at the end of the day to calm their nerves or to relax them after a hard days work! Rather, using the second, person, passive imperative (πληροῦσθε), he urges them, the imperative having a strong instructive force, to be filled with the Spirit. πληρόω means to fill something or someone with some sort of content, and is used in a number of ways to refer to a vessel or container being full of something (cf. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 827-830). The range of meaning in this word is from being full to being complete, bringing something to completion, the full expiration of a period of time or fulfilling an expectation. Context must tell us which of the various meanings is intended in each instance. Here Paul refers to being filled with the Spirit, where the believer is the container and the Spirit is the content. This is a common metaphor in both the Old and New Testaments for having an experience of fellowship and connection to God that it is tantamount to having God live in the life and personality of the believer like he once inhabited the temple through his glory. For this reason Paul calls our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the church corporately is the temple of God, where an aggregate number of believers in the congregation who belong to God and in whom his Spirit dwells as a fellowship become the temple where God (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:2). This is an entirely different mode of living than adopting a lifestyle of habitual drunkenness.
While Paul uses a loose connection between the two to make his point, he does not mean that there is a one to one correspondence between them. To be filled with the Spirit is to live in a certain ongoing relationship with God, where by we are morally and spiritually shaped by the influence of the Holy Spirit and by our ongoing fellowship with God. The present tense suggests that Paul has in mind an imperfective aspect to the command, where they are to see to it through faith and surrender to God that they engage in maintaining a perpetual state of being full of the Spirit and/or repeated, regular in-fillings with the Spirit, after the order of what we read in the Old Testament and in Acts of the early church.
What is interesting is that what comes next in connection to the result of being filled with the Spirit has a loosely corresponding allusion to what often accompanies drunkenness, the need to sing, and become “joyous.” Paul is using the parallels loosely in order to make his point that through the Spirit they must engage the joyful singing of songs to God, and to find their joy in him. It certainly will not turn out to be transitory like drinking wine. The support that they are looking for that lifts their spirits, supports them in their struggles and provides encouragement to fortify their perseverance can be much more meaningfully found in being filled with the Spirit, than it could ever be found in wine. The euphoria of a drunken state is certainly temporary, but the power of the Spirit has a much more profound and effectual effect on their lives and progress, as well as being of infinitely more lasting value with respect to what God is seeking to accomplish in their lives. Nevertheless, the constant infilling of the Spirit is to produce rejoicing expressed by singing of songs to God for the purpose of praise and worship, of course, but is also to be directed to one another by way of encouragement and edification, in order to build one another up in courage and faith (Eph. 5:19). It seems that Paul sees the singing and encouraging of one another with songs to God as a direct consequence and outflow of being filled with the Spirit, where the participle, λαλοῦντες, acts as an adverbial modifier to filled, expressing result, maybe. Being filled with the Spirit produces Psalms hymns, songs inspired by the Spirit, singing and thanksgiving to God (Eph. 5:18b-20). There are three such adverbial participles, which flow out of being filled with the Spirit, give thanks always (εὐχαριστοῦντες πάντοτε), sing and give praise (ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες) in your hearts to the Lord (τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν τῷ κυρίῳ) (Eph. 5:19b).
Note that the singing of songs while obviously having God as the object of worship and even the subject of their content, is to be to one another (cf. Eph. 5:19 NIV). The reflexive pronoun, ἑαυτοῖς, has not so much in mind focus of singing the songs for the sake of the inward benefit to our own spirits and mind, but rather the plural has in mind the corporate aspect of singing for the benefit of others among with whom one is worshiping, and with whom one is participating in the activity of celebrating the worthiness and blessings of God’s grace (cf. Wood, A. S. (1981). Ephesians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 73). In other words, worshipping together is encouraging, edifying, supportive of growth and maturity in the Lord; it is healing, and recuperative where there has been suffering of damage done. Somehow worshipping God together as a group is enriching in a spiritual sense, and also in an emotional and psychological sense as well. In Romans, Paul speaks of his intense desire to visit the the believers in the church there in order to impart some gift of strength to them (Rom. 1:11). But he goes on to acknowledge that by worshipping with them and enjoying fellowship with them in Rome, they would impart some benefit to him, so that he would be enriched in Christ through the church there (Rom. 1:12). He says that he anticipates that he and they would be mutually (συμπαρακληθῆναι) encouraged, that is edified and blessed by the experience of their fellowship with one another in the context of worshipping, praying and teaching together.
Paul mentions three instruments of worship, psalms, hymns and songs (Eph. 5:19). It would be a mistake to divide these into hard and fast categories of worship instruments as though there is hard separation between them that should be observed. Neither should we read back into Ephesians modern debates over hymns and worship songs, traditional or contemporary worship. For example, it is certain that what Paul meant by hymn here is not the same as what we mean by the term today, a song with many verses, and possibly a chorus, bearing something of a traditional style that was once very popular and in widespread use in the western church after the Reformation. Prior to that the church was accustomed to antiphonal singing, text driven hymns and were resistant to enthusiasm and passion in worship, because it was considered fleshly. The “modern” hymn with which we are familiar was a departure from that early style, where one of the key features was the introduction of wording and music that called forth passion and emotion in praise and worship. (It is said that not everyone was happy with this, and Isaac Watts’ (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and 750 other very well known hymns) father was critical of this new form of worship, and called it unfit and undignified.) For Paul, the hymn was a song of praise, the kind he and Silas sang in the Philippian jail (Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1027). Such songs were probably spontaneously written and used in the church, much like our songs are today. Some of the creeds and poetic expressions found in Paul may have been hymns, of which some believe Philippians 2:6-11 is an example. Psalms would cover both praise songs or more specifically psalms from the Old Testament (Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1096). This seems to blend a sense of the spontaneous and contemporary worship of the church with more traditional worship, coming mainly from a Jewish background and scriptures. And Paul goes on to mention spiritual songs (ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς), or more precisely songs that have to do with the Spirit (Eph. 5:19). These are praise songs too, but may emphasize the more spontaneous nature of the content, and might possibly reflect the kind of singing in/with the Spirit that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 14 (1 Cor. 14:15); although Paul advises caution and self-control in the corporate worship setting. Sometimes the Lord impresses a song on a someone which can be introduced to the church as the spontaneous outflow of praise or their corporate experience in the fellowship. Nevertheless, we cannot help but see in this instruction of Paul a sense that the act of praising God together with freely sung and even spontaneously offered praise is designed to bring an enriching experience that blesses the church and edifies the saints.
There is yet another dimension to this singing that makes it powerful and enriching to those who engage in it with one another. They are to sing and psalm the Lord (meaning focus on Jesus) with their hearts (ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν τῷ κυρίῳ) (Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Eph 5:20). Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature). Here the nouns are turned into verbs (participles) and become an action by which we praise and exalt the Lord. So the activity that brings praise to God and exalts the Lord also enriches, blesses, strengthens, and edifies the saints. But the key to the best effects in worship, in order to experience its benefits and truly honor God, is that it must come from the heart (τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν) and it must be rendered with a thankful attitude to God for everything (εὐχαριστοῦντες πάντοτε ὑπὲρ πάντων (Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Eph 5:20). Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature). It must also be rendered to God the Father through or in the name of our Lord Jesus (ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρί (Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Eph 5:20). Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature). There is a sense in which Paul seeks to pull in God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ through an activity inspired and animated by the Spirit. The fellowship of the saints then in worship takes on this dimension of becoming a full interactive experience with God in his entire being, where his is exalted with passion and enthusiastic praise, while his people are edified and enriched in his presence by the experience of participating with one another.