On October 3rd, 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Day proclamation. Seventy four years later, Abraham Lincoln issued his own proclamation, calling for an annual day of prayer and thanksgiving.
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, famous for his declaration “God is dead”, wrote about two fundamental ways of looking at life. One view, the Greek or Dionysian view was epitomized by the god of wine, revelry and madness. Nietzsche described this view as a fundamental “Yes” to life. The other view, the Christian view was the opposite in Nietzsche’s mind. The Christian view was a negation, a fundamental “No” to life. In his philosophy, Christianity was the great enemy of human happiness and fulfilment.
Was he right?
We all want happiness. We all want fullness of life. This morning we are going to let Christianity speak for itself on this question. Let’s turn to Ephesians 5:18-21.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Today I want to talk to you about the necessity of being filled with the Spirit, the meaning of the phrase and 3 practical steps to being filled.
It’s absolutely necessary to live the Christian life.
Adrian Rogers described that necessity like this:
“Imagine that a man had bought a new car. He invites his friends over to see the flawless paint job, to sit in the soft seats. But everywhere he goes, he has to push it, which can be extremely exhausting. So rather than being a good thing, his car is really more of a burden.
But then one day, someone introduces him to the ignition. He discovers that if you put the car in “drive,” it can surge forth in power. “Why didn’t somebody tell me about this before?” he asks. “Nobody could be that dumb,” you say—unless that person is a Christian who does not understand the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
Many Christians don’t understand that when they got saved, God implanted an engine into their salvation. I don’t mean any disrespect by calling the Holy Spirit an engine, but He is the dynamism, the power of our Christian life.
Some people are like the man and his car. Rather than salvation carrying them, they’re the ones always pushing it, grinding out their Christian experience because they haven’t yet discovered the wonderful Spirit-filled life.
The Spirit will turn your drudgery into dynamism. Rather than making Christianity a burden, He will make it an empowering blessing to you.”
Charles Swindoll said that verse 18 is the single most important verse in the Bible for the Christian. It is an urgent imperative, not a suggestion.
The command to be filled with the Spirit is the greatest command in the Bible. If we don’t do this we can’t do anything else.
The difficulty and frustration some people experience in living the Christian life is rooted in this problem, they are attempting to obey all of the commands in the New Testament without first starting with this all important one.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is essential to living the Christian life. But it’s more than that.
It’s necessary to your happiness and fulfilment.
Look at the contrast Paul makes in verse 18. Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.
The word translated debauchery, is asotia. A means not, sotia refers to salvation. The word literally means not saved. It is waste that is irretrievable.
My father’s life is a tragic example of this waste. My dad was brilliant. In elementary school he skipped two grades. When he went to college he followed in the steps of his parents and sought fulness in alcohol. He partied his way out of college and eventually took a job in a manufacturing plant. Throughout his life he said “yes” to alcohol and it cost him everything. He died as he lived, drunk.
Notice the Christian alternative. Do not get drunk with wine, but be sober and disciplined. It doesn’t say that, does it? Do no get drunk with wine, but be filled! Be filled with the Spirit.
Andrew Wilson observes the similarities between the two:
“Both experiences prompt people to rejoice, sing and make music.”
“Both experiences take us out of ourselves.”
“Both can be described as being under the influence.”
There is a fulness available to those looking for life.
In some ways it is similar to intoxication with wine. There is a release, there is freedom from inhibition. When the first Christians received the Spirit at Pentecost, some of the crowd that gathered “made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (Acts 2:13)
The problem with my Dad was not that he wanted to be filled.
A writer named Jaroslav Pelikan described the goodness of the desire for fulness:
“It is right to want to be “filled” with something, and the drunkard quite properly recognizes that human nature stands in need of some power that will take it out of itself (as alcohol and drugs do). But this need also includes the requirement that such fullness will in the process not corrupt and destroy it (as alcohol also does), but fulfill it by loosening the tongue and making it sing—but “to the Lord.”
The Christian message is not a negation. It is an invitation. It is an invitation to bring your emptiness, bring the thirst in your soul to the one thing that can stimulate your desires, take you outside of yourself and give you a sense of fulness without losing yourself. Come and be filled with the Spirit.
What does it mean?
The phrase is used throughout the New Testament. When the believers in the upper room were baptized with the Holy Spirit, this was the result:
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
The early deacons and apostles of the church were described by this particular quality – they were men filled with the Spirit. Those who were filled with the Spirit prophesied, witnessed boldly, saw visions, broke out in spontaneous worship and exhibited supernatural gifts.
In commenting on Acts 13:52, “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”, John Piper makes this observation-
“The fundamental meaning of being filled with the Spirit is being filled with joy that comes from God and overflows in song.”
There are 4 features of the grammar in the command in verse 18 that are important to note.
- The verb is stated in command form. It requires a response of the will.
- The verb is stated in plural form. “Y’all be filled with the Spirit.”
- The verb is state in passive form, “let the Spirit fill you”
- The verb is stated in the present tense, “be being filled with the Spirit”
It’s continuous, it’s a community practice, it’s an act of the will and it is passive. The passive form of the verb presents a challenge.
Andrew Wilson describes that challenge like this: It would be one thing for me to say, “call your mother”. But it would sound strange to say “be called by your mother.”
It sounds strange, but it is simple. It’s a matter of reception. If you were to obey the command to be called you would make sure your phone was available, you would take it off of silence and you would prepare yourself to be interrupted by the call. You would tap the green button when she called.
Last week I gave you an image of faith – trusting God is like raising the sails of a ship. That image is very helpful for Ephesians 5:18.
The word translated filled in the Greek is pleroo. We hear the word filled and we imagining taking a cup to the sink and filling it with water. The word has a broader sense than that. Pleroo was used in the Greek to describe a sail filled with wind.
If you were raised in the Greek language, this might be the first direction your mind goes. The word Spirit in the Greek is pneuma which can be translated as spirit, breath or wind.
“Sailing, in that sense, is the art of attentive responsiveness to an external power. You rely entirely on the external power to get you anywhere—sailors never imagine themselves to be powering the boat by their own strength—but you also have to respond attentively to whatever the wind is doing, which comes through cultivating awareness, skill, and good habits.”
– Andrew Wilson
The key to being filled with the Spirit is faith demonstrated by an “attentive responsiveness to an external power.”
Acts 6:5 – Stephen was described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”
Acts 11:24 – Barnabas was described as “a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,”
You can think of this faith as the raising of sails in order to catch and be filled with the wind of the Spirit. In Ephesians 5, Paul gives us 3 sails to raise.
1. The Sail of Song
in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord with your heart . . .
“The first consequence of the Spirit-filled life that Paul mentioned was not mountain-moving faith, an ecstatic spiritual experience, dynamic speaking ability, or any other such thing. It was simply a heart that sings. . . . The Spirit-filled life produces music. Whether he has a good voice or cannot carry a tune, the Spirit-filled Christian is a singing Christian. Nothing is more indicative of a fulfilled life, a contented soul, and a happy heart than the expression of song.”
– John Macarthur
Music is central to the Spirit filled life.
Music draws out expression and meaning that words alone cannot convey.
“I am convinced that congregations learn more theology (good and bad) from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear. Many sermons are doctrinally sound and contain a fair amount of biblical information, but they lack the necessary emotional content that gets ahold of the listener’s heart. Music however, reaches the mind and the heart at the same time. It ahs power to touch and move the emotions, and for that reason can become a wonderful tool in the hands of the Spirit or a terrible weapon in the hands of the Adversary.”
“I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the devil and makes people happy, they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. . . Experience proves that next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart. . . My heart bubbles up and overflows in response to music, which has so often refreshed and delivered me from dire plagues.”
– Martin Luther
“Singing channels our spiritual energy in a way that nothing else can. Singing evokes an intensity of mind and spirit. It opens doors to ideas, feelings, and affections that otherwise might have remained forever imprisoned in the depths of one’s heart. Singing gives focus and clarity to what words alone often only make fuzzy. It lifts our hearts to new heights of contemplation. It stirs our hope to unprecedented levels of expectancy and delight. Singing sensitizes. It softens the soul to hear God’s voice and quickens the will to obey”
– Sam Storms
Notice in verse 19, Paul lists three types of song. What do they mean?
Some scholars see them as synonyms.
Others see them as distinctive types.
Psalms was a Jewish term which originally meant to “pluck the string”, it was used in a technical sense to refer to the collection of 150 songs in the Old Testament. Paul may have in mind the OT Psalms.
Hymns was used in a broader religious sense to describe songs “commonly used of poetic ascriptions of praise to the various gods and goddesses throughout antiquity.”
Spiritual songs – the word Spiritual modified the words songs either to distinguish between secular songs or to refer to songs spontaneously inspired by the Holy Spirit. (Psalm 149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!)
Revival movements of the Spirit in history are almost always accompanied by fresh expressions of music. One of the first results of the Reformation was the revival of congregational singing. Martin Luther played the Lute and wrote hymns, like A mighty Fortress is our God. Charles Wesley during the Methodist revival wrote extensively, songs like Oh For a Thousand Tongues to Sing and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. During the Jesus People revival in the last century, the Vineyard churches began experimenting with new forms of music and revolutionized contemporary praise music.
Why is song the first expression of a community filled and awakened by the Holy Spirit?
Because God is a singing God. Turn with me to Zephaniah 3:17 –
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
“The Lord your God is with you all the time. He is a powerful and mighty warrior who saves you. When He thinks of you He exults in festive pleasure and with great delight. At other times He becomes quiet as He reflects on His deep affection for you. He celebrates who you are with joyful singing.”
“God’s presence comforts me. His power reassures me. But His passion overwhelms me. You may not be comfortable with me saying that God is passionate for His people, but there’s simply no way to avoid the force of this text: God exults, delights, rejoices, and sings as the expression of his love.”
– Sam Storms
Those filled with the Spirit of the Singing God become a Singing People. Marked by “Merriment, elation, hoopla, unbridled glee, raucous mirth.” (Storms)
Now notice that there are two audiences in verse 19. Speak to one another with . . . and sing and make music in your heart to Jesus. There is a horizontal and a vertical dimension. Listening to others singing spiritual songs lifts the sails of my soul. And opening my own mouth to sing raises my sails and opens my spirit to the Holy Spirit’s power.
2. The Sail of Thanksgiving
always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .
The second sail is the sail of Thanksgiving.
Notice that this is not a general response of gratitude to the universe, but a relational act.
It is giving thanks to God, your abba, Father for the good you have in and through your relationship with Him. There is a deeply personal aspect of thanksgiving.
Paul gives us two parameters for our Thanksgiving: always and for everything.
Always – Paul is talking about habit. He wants you to thank God whether you feel like or not. The more you choose to find and express gratitude when you don’t feel like, the more you will feel like it. The Spirit-filled life is a habit. Through focused effort, in time, habits become subconscious.
For everything –Is this too much to ask? It this too harsh from Paul? Should I thank God for literally everything? I don’t know if Paul intended us to give thanks for every single detail in our lives. We can go too far in taking him literally. What Paul is calling us to do is to recognize that everything works together for God for those who are called according to God’s purposes. In every circumstance, no matter how dark, the light of God’s sovereign wisdom and grace has entry through a believing heart.
3. The Sail of Submission
The final application in this passage is submission. The word is hupostasso, to place under. It is a voluntary action of arranging yourself behind or under another person.
The person who places themselves under Christ will never place themselves above another person. The Spirit filled Christian does not position himself for first place, she does not position herself for glory. The Spirit filled Christian voluntarily places themselves in the back.
We do this out of reverence for Christ. Reverence is a feeling of deep respect or awe. In Webster’s it is defined as a profound, adoring, awed respect.
The heart that is filled with the comfort and joy of the Holy Spirit has all that it needs and is happy to put others first.
“2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Doesn’t the world need to see more of this kind of Christianity?
There is no better time than the holiday season to practice this submission. How about we go through our holiday season, prepared to be the servant of all? Ready to submit out of reverence for Christ?
Jesus himself too the path of submission.
“5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
As we take Communion together this morning we remember the submission of Christ.
“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown