Here is the video from Sunday’s sermon. Below is the full transcript as well if you prefer to read the message. Message begins at 4:20
Ephesians 5:18-20 (ESV)
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
I love the Discovery Channel show, Mythbusters. If you’ve never seen it, they take popular myths, urban legends, and movie scenes and test to see if they can happen in reality. For those of you who have seen the show, you know it’s really an excuse to create the biggest explosion possible. So, as matter of introduction today, we are going to do a quick bit of myth busting in these short verses. First, “do not get drunk with wine…” Now, some people like to use this verse to claim that Christians should avoid alcohol consumption. I am not going to make the case either way for that today, but I would like to clear the myth that this verse is calling Christians to abstain from alcohol. If you look back at the passage we studied last week, you discover that Paul is outlining a lifestyle that follows after the example of Christ. Giving up control of your body to a foreign substance can lead you away from the path of godliness, so yes, follow Paul’s command and do not get drunk. The second myth is that “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” gives a prescription for what songs to sing in church. Now, I looked up all these words in the Greek, and read a bunch of different commentaries, and no one has a definitive answer as to what these words are specifically referring to. So, we can just understand it Paul encouraging us to sing the gamut of church songs, in whatever type or style you want, just sing to the Lord!
Why bust these myths?
Well, if you get stuck on either one of these two myths, you miss the incredible gospel truths contained in this passage, and the real point Paul is trying to make!
Now that that’s done, let’s dig in.
First, if you will remember last week’s message, Kevin discussed Paul’s admonition to be imitators of God and to walk in love. Paul spends the first part of this chapter really just giving a list of things that we are to avoid; the things that come from walking in darkness. In verse 16, Paul tells us to make the best use of our time, and in verse 17, he instructs us away from foolishness and towards the will of God. So, verse 18, when we are told not to get drunk (and I would add that we are not to give our bodies over to any kind of mind-altering substance), it really is just the final item on a long list he began many verses ago. However, just as we saw last week that Paul gave us instruction not just to remove things from our lives, but to replace them, here we see him telling us to instead be filled with the Holy Spirit.
But, what does that mean?
Let me begin by saying that Paul’s main point in this section is for the church to act as Christ would act, and I would contend that being filled with the Holy Spirit is exactly what Christ would do. The Trinity itself is quite a mystery, and I would not say that I have any grasp on the complexities contained there, but I found something very interesting in the writing of Luke. In fact, it’s not just interesting, it’s awesome. In his gospel, he mentions no less than 6 times that Jesus Himself was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit! I always pictured Jesus working on His own power while here on earth, with some conversation with the Father, but in Luke 4:1, we see Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and that He was led by the Spirit. Now, this isn’t even the best part. Luke writes again in Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In other words, He is saying, “You know that power that’s been working in me all this time, that incredible miracle-performing, life-transforming power? Yeah, I’m leaving Him with you.” The Good News, the Gospel of Jesus does not just end with the Cross, or even the Resurrection, but in fact the story continues even today as the Spirit that empowered Jesus Himself dwells within and fills each person who surrenders their life to Christ! The fact that we can understand Scripture and hear God’s voice there, we are convicted of sin, we have prayers answered and miracles and incredible life transformation is because Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is still telling His story today, through us, through the church!
Now, we know that at the point of salvation, when you admit your sin and give your life over to Christ, the old spirit of darkness is gone and then the Spirit of God Himself comes to dwell within us. So, why would Paul tell us to be filled if the Spirit already dwells within? Well, for that, we look at the Greek. The verb used here is in what’s called the present passive imperative tense. Got that? Yeah, me neither. So, I looked it up. Basically, Paul is saying that we are to allow the Spirit of God to constantly take control over our lives, as opposed to allowing something like wine to take control over our faculties. I do not think the Spirit leaves us at any time, but this is more of an additional thought from 4:30 when Paul tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, here he says the opposite. Instead of doing things that would grieve the Holy Spirit, do things that allow Him to show His fruit in you. The fruit of course, we see in Galatians – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Unlike spiritual gifts such as teaching, hospitality, shepherding, administration and the like that are for building up the church, EVERY believer gets EVERY fruit. So, I don’t want to hear someone say, “well, I have kindness, but God hasn’t give me the fruit of self-control!” When Paul writes about the “fruit” he groups them all in with the single word “fruit” not “fruits” implying that when the Spirit comes on you, all those things are now a part of your new self! How else are we filled with the Holy Spirit? Well, how do you get filled with wine? Drink a lot of it! We are filled with the Spirit when we drink deeply the Word of God, meditate, and pray, fellowship with believers and worship Him.
So, Paul is saying, live in the light, walk in love and be filled with the Spirit, just like Christ already set the example for you to do!
But, here in 5:19 we see that being filled with the Spirit not only gives us noticeable fruit, but it also leads to singing! I believe that our Spirit-filled singing is because God actually causes us to sing. Now, bear with me for a minute, this is going to get a bit crazy.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have an awesome and intimate relationship that we certainly will never grasp this side of eternity. God is infinitely loving, infinitely gracious, and infinitely joyful (to name a few). We know that God is fully satisfied in and of Himself. He does not need anyone or anything in creation to be fulfilled or to increase His joy. However, He created universe to display His glory in countless ways, most notably, the glory found in the death and resurrection of Jesus and His incredible display of love for all creation. We also see throughout Scripture that God is all about the promotion of His glory. Not in an arrogant human way, but in a perfect and just way. One of the interesting characteristics of the Trinity is the fact that each member gives glory to the others. Jesus constantly gave glory to God, God proclaimed His love and acceptance of Jesus when He was baptized, and the Spirit descended on Christ in glory at the same moment, as an example.
Since we know that God is ultimately for God, it only makes sense that His Spirit, now dwelling in us, would cause us to be ultimately for God as well. When a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, that person cannot help but sing God’s praises, His glory, His gospel, and His love, because that person is now infected with the presence of God Himself. This means that the act of Christian singing is not a natural, human response, but instead, a supernatural event caused by the presence of the Spirit in us.
Now, do we have to always sing in order to praise God? Of course not. We have to praise God, because it is a command, and that praise must be expressed, and that praise can only truly come through the power of the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think this always results in singing, at least not outwardly. But, when we read scriptures, especially the Psalms, we discover 50 commands to sing. Yes, that’s what I said, commands. Even here in Ephesians, it’s clear Paul is giving us a command. Ronald Allen says this, “When a non-singer becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a singer. Not all are blessed with a finely tuned ear and a well modulated voice; so the sound may not be superb-it may even be out-of-tune and off-key. Remember: worship is a state of heart; musical sound is a state of art. Let’s not confuse them.” I think his point is clear, we are to sing, but that singing starts in our hearts. God is not looking for someone who has a beautiful voice or sings the loudest or strongest, He’s looking for each Christian to sing with all his or her heart. Paul even says in verse 19, we are to make melody to the Lord with our heart.
However, there is a reason we use songs, right? Throughout all the Scriptures and all Christian history, we see that God’s people sang to Him. Why? Why would God deem it appropriate to use music to have us express our adoration for Him and our testimony toward one another? First, I think it is because of the power inherent in music itself. There is something great and transcendent in poetry and melody. Something that words alone cannot seem to capture. Melody, style, instrumentation, and sound bring a text to life in a way mere speaking cannot. John Piper says that “music and singing are necessary to Christian faith and worship for the simple reason that the realities of God and Christ, creation and salvation, heaven and hell are so great that when they are known truly a felt [deeply], they demand more than discussion and analysis and description; they demand poetry and song and music.” By singing to and about God, we are saying that thinking and talking are not enough! There must be deep feeling and singing!
We also know that we tend to retain things on a deeper level when we sing, right? My son loves the PBS show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. It’s kind of a continuation of the Mr. Rogers show I loved when I was growing up. Each episode, they take one concept for a child’s typical growth and development such as eating new foods, going to the bathroom, or visiting the doctor, and show how Daniel and his friends experience these things. Each one of these things is emphasized with song. When we give my son something new to eat, he now sings, “You gotta try new foods ‘cause they might taste good” or sits on the toilet singing, “When you have to go potty, STOP and go right away. Flush and wash, and be on your way.” Simple? Yes. But it works.
Many of you were around this time last year when we welcomed worship leader Charlie Hall into our church. He talked to me about a concept they have at their church called “gospeling yourself.” I think, beyond the praising of God, Paul is telling us to do just that here. You see, when we put simple (or even complex) ideas into song, just like Daniel Tiger, we are going to remember them. When, in verse 19, Paul says we are to address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, he wants us to use the gamut of Christian poetry to remind ourselves and one another about the great truths of God, or the Gospel.
But, David, you say, I know the gospel, and I tell my friends that don’t know Jesus.
To you I say, “Great! But do you tell yourself the gospel over and over again and see how it is a constant part of your life?”
In its simplest form, the gospel begins when we realize that we are bigger sinners than we thought. Not in a beating-yourself up way, but in a humbling, deep, understanding way. We will call this moving down the slope of repentance. You see, it is not just enough to know we are sinners, but we have to come to the conclusion that what we have done is wrong and ask God to forgive us. Thankfully, God does not leave us there, because the second half of the gospel is that Jesus is a bigger Savior than we could ever realize. We will call this moving up the slope of faith. We have faith that God is bigger than our sin, and humble ourselves before Him, and Christ, in His power, lifts us up to new life in Him! Now, when God looks at you, He sees His Son! He sees infinite perfection through the blood of Jesus in you! If you don’t know this truth in your life, let me tell you that it really is that simple, it really is that profound, and it is more freeing and wonderful than you could ever imagine.
For those of us who know and embrace this truth, where we tend to get stuck, is that we think the story ends on the day of salvation. We “pray a prayer” and “Jesus comes into our hearts” the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, and that’s it. When we talk about the gospel being “news for everyday living” we really mean everyday. This is not a one-time ordeal! The power of God can daily impact your life and your circumstances. The problem is, we tend to take our salvation for granted and just go on living our lives like God isn’t even there. So, let me tell you. There is not one joy, one hardship, one relationship, one test, one anything that is out of the reach of the gospel. We come together on Sundays to sing together, to fellowship, and to read God’s word because of the Gospel. We come to remind ourselves that we are not alone and that the power of God infiltrates every moment of every day. God’s story in your life did not end when you became a Christian, that is the moment it truly began!
The last thing I will mention about singing is that singing reflects the nature of God. Author and speaker Bob Kauflin recently wrote about this very subject. “The Father sings over his redeemed people (Zephaniah 3:17). Jesus sings with us in the midst of the congregation (Hebrews 2:12). One of the fruits of being filled with the Spirit is singing (Ephesians 5:18-19, we just mentioned that). We worship a triune God who sings, and he wants us to be like him.” Of course, this makes complete sense with our current train of thought: Spirit of God dwells in us, causes us to be more like Christ, causes us to pursue holiness, causes us to sing which leads to more Christlikeness!
The next command Paul gives us is in verse 20, but it’s more of a “how.” We are to sing songs, making melody in our hearts to God, how? Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why do we give thanks? First of all, it’s a command too. More importantly, a thankful heart prepares us to enter the presence of God. Psalm 100 says we are to enter His gates with thanksgiving. As ministers of God, filled with His Spirit, we have our eternities to be thankful for, but more importantly, we have Christ Himself!
Now, when are we to be thankful? Yes. Always.
And what are we to be thankful for? Yes. Everything.
Easy to say, hard to practice, right? It’s true, there’s something about being thankful that is just difficult for many of us, isn’t there? I think that, just like singing, it is the Spirit of God that truly empowers us to be thankful. How else can we be thankful for everything? How can I be thankful for my new promotion, instead of just being smug knowing I earned it? The Spirit of God. How can I be thankful that Jordan got the lead role in the high school musical instead of me, and I’m now expendable cast member number 3? The Spirit of God. How can I be thankful that after years and years of praying, God has decided to keep my physical afflictions in my body? The Spirit of God. You get it. It’s supernatural. We don’t have the ability to bring glory to God or spread His gospel apart from His Spirit dwelling within us and our constant filling with the Spirit through drinking deeply all that is God through Scripture, prayer, fellowship, worship, and so on. We do all this in the name of Jesus, trusting that He is our mediator between us and God.
As a recap:
Paul commands us to not give our bodies over to intoxication, but instead be filled with the Holy Spirit of God which gives us the fruit of the Spirit, and empowers us to follow the commands of singing, reminding one another of the truth of the Gospel, and giving thanks to God.
As the praise team comes up to lead us in singing, inviting the Holy Spirit of God to show us His presence in this room, I have one final encouragement for us as a church when it comes to singing. For this, I turn again to Bob Kauflin.
The singing in your church may be dreadful. Your voice might sound like a cross between a beached whale and an alley cat in heat. Singing might make you feel uncomfortable. Those who lead the singing in your church might do it poorly. And if there’s anything we can do to change the situation, we should.
But our confidence and comfort in singing comes from this: Jesus, our great high priest, makes all our offerings acceptable to God through his perfect life of obedience and his perfect sacrifice of atonement. The Father loves our singing not only because it’s sincere, but because when offered through faith, it sounds just like his beloved Son.
And besides. One day we’ll all have better voices and our songs will far surpass anything we’ve sung here. It’s then we’ll realize that eternity won’t be long enough to contain the songs worthy of the Lamb who was slain.