Posts Tagged ‘sobriety’

Our passage this morning is Ephesians 5:15-20. And the title is “What are you full of?”

Let me say first of all that there are lots of things we could look at in chapter 5. Before our verses there’s great teaching on:

  • Imitating God in our love and grace toward one another
  • Sexual purity and integrity
  • Righteous speech
  • And walking in God’s light in the midst of a dark world

And the verses after ours deal with the relationships of wives and husbands under the heading of the words of v. 12, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

But I want us to dig into vs. 15-20 and see what God has to say to us in these verses. 

15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

I want us to start in the middle of our passage, in v. 18, and then we will go to the verses before it, and then the verses after it. Let’s begin with v. 18’s admonition –

“Do not get drunk with wine”

 With these words Paul forbids the abuse of alcohol. Now he says “wine,” but, of course, the point is drunkenness – which would include any kind of substance or drug abuse; anything that gets us high or intoxicated.

We get a hint at why Paul teaches this in the next phrase of the verse, “for that is debauchery.” This isn’t a word that we use much anymore, so let’s see what else we can come up with.

The Greek word (ασωτια) has as its root idea – ‘wastefulness.’ And a good definition of it is senseless or reckless behavior. It’s associated with drunkenness, as in our verse, and also with sexual immorality (1 Peter 4). It can also be translated as ‘wild living.’

And that makes sense, because once you’re drunk or high and lose control, who knows what you’ll do, or for that matter what will be done to you?

I would put it like this, drugs and alcohol are sin magnifiers. They amplify whatever sinful desires you have and take away whatever restraint you might normally have – so that you act recklessly. From a Christian point of view the bottom line is that it’s impossible to love God and love your neighbor while you’re drunk. In other words it’s impossible to be a Christian. And it’s even hard to love and take care of yourself.

A portrait of drunkenness as senseless and reckless is found in Proverbs 23:29-35:

29Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? 30It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. 31Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. 32For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper. 33You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. 34You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. 35And you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’” (NLT)

This passage speaks to how drunkenness causes harm to the person who is drunk. It also notes the element of addiction at the end. After all the harm, the question is, “When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?” But more broadly it presents a picture of a life that’s truly getting wasted.

Next we move to vs. 15-17. And I want to suggest that we are to read them in light of verse 18 and what Paul says about not getting drunk. And specifically that the language of “wise” and “foolish” in these verses is connected to the critique of drunkenness as foolish in Scripture. So –

There’s a contrast in vs 15-17 between wise-sober living and foolish-drunken living

The foolishness of drunkenness is talked about, for instance in Proverbs 20:1. This verse says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (or “will not become wise.”)

And so when Paul says in v. 15, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,” this language of “wise” and “unwise” is a reference back to passages like Proverbs 20:1.

And when in v. 16 he says, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” Paul is saying,  life is short. Don’t waste the precious gift of life with drugs and alcohol.

And in v. 17 when he says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is,” he’s saying, drunkenness keeps us from acting with wisdom or from growing in wisdom.

Paul’s making a contrast in vs. 15-17 between living foolishly by giving ourselves to drunkenness and living wisely by being sober so that we can walk according to God’s will.

Next, I want to show you that –

There’s a contrast in vs 19-20 between drunken speech and righteous speech

That is, just as vs. 15-17 before v. 18 are connected to its admonition against drunkenness, so vs.19-20 are also connected.

This becomes apparent when we realize that Paul is actually quoting a scripture in v. 18. And it comes from Proverbs 23:31, from the passage we’ve already read, the portrait of drunkenness as reckless.

Now, you probably didn’t notice this and that’s because Paul’s quoting the Greek version of the Old Testament which says something a little different than the Hebrew version, which is behind our Bibles. The Greek version of Proverbs 23:31 says in part, “Do not get drunk from wine”

And in Proverbs 23:33 it talks about drunken speech when it says “you will say crazy things” when you’re drunk. The Greek Old Testament says “your mouth will speak perversely.”

 In contrast to this Proverbs 23:31 says, “rather converse with righteous people, and converse in public places.” (NETS). So the Proverbs 23 passage is contrasting drunken speech and righteous speech.

And by quoting from this passage, Paul is connecting back to all this context. And he’s saying, yes, don’t get drunk and say crazy things like Proverbs talks about. Rather say righteous things to fellow believers and to God.

This is why he moves in v. 18 from talking about drunkenness to suddenly talking about “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks . . .” (v. 19-20).

Paul is developing what Proverbs 23:31 says about righteous speech. And he’s saying, when you’re drunk you talk one way. When you’re filled with the Spirit you talk a different way – there’s joyful singing and thanksgiving to God.

Now drunken speech is brought on by the alcohol, but righteous speech comes from the Holy Spirit. And this leads us to one last point:

The final and foundational contrast in these verses is between being filled with alcohol and being filled with the Spirit

The NIRV version of the Bible catches the sense of this verse well, “18Don’t fill yourself up with wine. Getting drunk will lead to wild living. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul’s saying, you can be filled with “spirits” or with the Spirit; with alcohol or with the presence of God.

It’s interesting that the Spirit is spoken of in Scripture in ways that are comparable to drinking.

  • The Spirit is poured out, according to Joel 2:28.
  • We can drink the Spirit, as 1 Corinthians 12:13 says.
  • And as our verse indicates we can be filled with the Spirit, just like we can be filled with alcohol. And remember when the disciples were filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, some thought they were drunk! (Act 2)

Now notice, from this passage as a whole, that what you’re filled with is what overflows into the rest of your life.

  • When we’re filled with alcohol we’re influenced by it to say wrong things and act foolishly. We behave recklessly and end up wasting our lives.
  • But when we’re filled with the Spirit of God we’re empowered by the Spirit to speak right things and to live wisely according to God’s will.

So let me end by asking –

What are you full of?

We can be full of lots of different things, not just alcohol. We can be full of the stuff farmers spread on their fields in the Springtime. We can be full of ourselves. We can be full of bitterness or anger or lust or envy – you name it.

But God calls us to be full of the Spirit so that the gifts, power and fruit of the Spirit overflow our lives transforming us and those around us into an ever greater Christ-likeness.

God calls us; God invites us to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

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