A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 5:18-21. 4). The fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Paul has already told his readers that they have been ‘sealed’ with the Holy Spirit, and that they must not ‘grieve’ the Holy Spirit (1:13; 4:30). Now he bids them *be filled with the Spirit*. There is no greater secret of holiness than the infilling of him whose very nature and name are ‘holy’.
Grammatically speaking, this paragraph consists of two imperatives (the commands not to get drunk but to be Spirit-filled), followed by four present participles (speaking, singing, thanking and submitting). Theologically speaking, it first presents us with our Christian duty (to avoid drunkenness but seek the Spirit’s fullness) and then describes four consequences of this spiritual condition, in terms of our relationships. ‘Being filled with the Spirit’ is a topic much discussed and debated today; it is important for us to study Paul’s teaching carefully.
The apostle begins by drawing a certain comparison between drunkenness and the Holy Spirit’s fullness: *Do not get drunk with wine*, he says,…*but be filled with the Spirit*. And indeed there is a superficial similarity between the two conditions. A person who is drunk, we say, is ‘under the influence’ of alcohol; and certainly a Spirit-filled Christian is under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit. But there the comparison ends and the contrast begins. Of course in the heathen cult of Dionysus intoxication was regarded as a means to inspiration. But it is a serious mistake to suppose that to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ is a kind of spiritual inebriation in which we lose control of ourselves. On the contrary, a ‘self-control’ (*enkrateia*) is the final quality named as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5:22-23. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit we do not lose control; we gain it. It is true that on the day of Pentecost some said the Spirit-filled disciples were drunk; ‘They are filled with new wine.’ These were a minority, however, described by Luke as ‘others’; the majority had no such thought in their minds, but were amazed to hear God’s mighty works being announced in their own languages. It seems that the minority were not even sincere in attributing drunkenness to the Spirit-filled Christians. Luke says they were making fun of them, so that the work of the Holy Spirit was ‘mockingly misinterpreted’.
The first chapter of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Ephesians 5:18-6:9, *Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work*, is entitled ‘The Stimulus of the Spirit’. Writing as both a physician and a pastor, he helpfully compares and contrasts the two states of drunkenness and the Spirit’s fullness. He says: ‘Wine – alcohol – …pharmacologically speaking is not a stimulant – it is a depressant. Take up any book on pharmacology and look up ‘alcohol’, and you will find, always, that it is classified among the depressants. It is not a stimulant’. Further, ‘it depresses first and foremost the highest centres of all in the brain … They control everything that gives a man self-control, wisdom, understanding, discrimination, judgment, balance, the power to assess everything; in other words everything that makes a man behave at his very best and highest’. What the Holy Spirit does, however, is the exact opposite. ‘If it were possible to put the Holy Spirit into a textbook of pharmacology, I would put him under the stimulants, for that is where he belongs. He really does stimulate…He stimulates our every faculty…the mind and the intellect…the heart…and the will…’
Consider now how Paul paints the contrast. The result of drunkenness, he writes, is debauchery (*asotia*). People who are drunk give way to wild, dissolute and uncontrolled actions. They behave like animals, indeed worse than animals. The results of being filled with the Spirit are totally different. If excessive alcohol dehumanizes, turning a human being into a beast, the fullness of the Spirit makes us more human, for he makes us like Christ.
The apostle now lists the four beneficial results of being filled with the Spirit.