October 17, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
When I was a teenager, I began to hear about Christians who were “Spirit-filled.” Southern California, one of the birthplaces of Pentecostalism in the early 20th century, was, in the 1970s, a seedbed for spiritual renewal in the mainline churches. This so-called “Charismatic Movement” borrowed from classic Pentecostalism a theological understanding of the Christian life that emphasized the filling of the Holy Spirit. Several things were expected to happen when one was “baptized” or filled with the Spirit, including: speaking in tongues, powerful feelings of joy, exuberant worship with hands raised, a new love for God, and a fervent desire to share all of this with others. Among many of my friends, these experiences, especially speaking in tongues, were primary evidence that one was Spirit-filled.
In Ephesians 5:18-21, Paul describes what happens when we’re filled with the Spirit. The description overlaps with in some ways with what my Charismatic friends believed, though it offers some surprising alternatives as well.
English translations of this passage make it hard to see what’s happening in the original language. In the NIV, for example, we find three distinct imperatives with associated participles: “Be filled with the Spirit: speaking. Sing and make music: giving thanks. Submit.” But the original Greek contains one imperative and five related participles: Be filled with the Spirit: speaking, singing, making music, giving thanks, submitting.
The precise relationship between the imperative “Be filled” and the participles is not completely clear. In Greek, these participles could reveal the cause of filling: “Be filled with the Spirit by speaking, singing, etc.” Or they could show the result of the filling, “Be filled with the Spirit, which will lead to speaking, singing, etc.” The participles could also identify what scholars call attendant circumstances, activities that are not necessarily causes or results: “Be filled with the Spirit, which will be generally associated with speaking, singing, etc.”
Commentators differ on how best to make sense of the participles in this passage. I wrestled with various options when writing my commentary on Ephesians. In the end, here’s what I wrote: “Given the fact that the filling of the Spirit is something God does in freedom, it seems best to regard the participles as results or aspects of filling rather than the causes. But of course the filling of the Spirit often comes when Christians are speaking to each other, singing to the Lord, and so forth. Thus we should not limit too strictly the relationship between the participles and the imperative ‘be filled’” (p. 185).
So in some cases speaking, singing, and the like will open us to the filling of the Spirit. In other cases speaking, singing, and the like will be results of the Spirit’s filling. But no matter the order, if we are filled with the Spirit then our lives will be marked by speaking, singing, making music, giving thanks, and submitting.
As I noted in yesterday’s devotion, it is significant that these evidences of the Spirit are mainly experienced in the context of Christian community. Speaking to one another and submitting are things we must do in relationship to others. Singing, making music, and giving thanks can be done with others or in solitude, though the context here underscores the shared experience of all five participles. One thing is clear: If we are filled with the Spirit, then we will share with our fellow Christians in speaking, singing, making music, giving thanks, and submitting.
Ephesians 5:18-21 offers a different perspective on what happens when we’re filled with the Spirit. It also gives us a way to examine ourselves and our Christian community, so that we might know if we are being filled with the Spirit. We’ll dig more deeply into this in the coming days. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
Something to Think About:
Do you speak to others in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?
Do others speak to you in this way?
Do you sing and make music from your heart to the Lord?
Are you and your fellow believers always giving thanks to God?
Are you submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ?
Something to Do:
As you consider the questions above, choose to do something today as an expression of the Spirit’s presence in you.
Gracious God, I thank you for the fact that you can and do fill me with your Spirit. I pray that you would do so, again and again. As this happens, may I speak to others with the music of worship. May I sing and make music to you. May I give thanks always. May I submit to my fellow believers out of reverence for Christ. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me! Amen.