Cooperating with God’s Purpose as Per Ephesians – 11

Living by the Spirit in the Body.

Ephesians 5:18-21

Another important avenue to uniting the world in Christ as God desires is described in 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.

Being continually filled with the Spirit and cooperating with his desires for how we act in the body is another key to unity.

Instead of getting drunk with wine, we are called to “be filled with the Spirit.” The people to whom Paul wrote these words already had the Holy Spirit living inside of them individually (Ephesians 1:13; 3:16; 4:30) and among them collectively (2:22). Still, he urges them to be filled with the Spirit. The sense of the verb “filled” is “keep on being filled” with the Spirit. Even though Christians already have the Spirit, we are to keep on being filled with him. This is another one of those passive verbs in the imperative mode. The passive (be filled) expresses something done to us (by God) and the imperative (command) indicates that we are to comply with it. We are to continually seek and be open to God filling us evermore full with his Spirit.

It is important that we do this because by the power of the Spirit working within us God is able to do way more than we ask or imagine (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21 with 3:16). A pertinent example of this is that, even if we can’t imagine a united church, this is something God can bring about by the power of his Spirit. Our part is to cooperate with his desires (cf. Galatians 5:25).

Paul follows his exhortation to be filled with the Spirit by three ways the Spirit manifests himself in the context of the body (Ephesians 5:19-21).  The ways Scripture says the Spirit affects the body here are different from what is usually emphasized in churches today. The practices mentioned are familiar to us, but we may not be accustomed to viewing them as fruit that emerges from being filled with the Spirit.

First, the Spirit will lead us to sing! Our natural selves may tend toward complaining and criticizing, but the Spirit moves us to songs of praise. This will not be the mindless, half-hearted singing we do with the radio sometimes, nor the mindless, half-hearted singing we do at church sometimes. Instead, the Spirit will move us to engage our hearts as we sing to the Lord (v. 20; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:15). We will also address one another in song. This two-pronged focus in singing is found in Colossians 3:16 as well.

The “horizontal” aspect to singing (i.e. to one another) is important to unity. Singing is not merely about me and God. It includes you as well. Singing can certainly be done when we are alone, but it is also intended to be done with and toward the body of believers.

Instead of judging, feuding or competing with you, I am supposed to be singing to you and with you. Regardless of the focus of the lyrics at any given moment, whole church singing is an expression of who we are—we are “one body” praising and worshiping the “one Lord” and the “one God and Father of us all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

This makes the “worship wars” all the more tragic. Not only are God’s people to avoid fighting period, we certainly should not be fighting about something that is intended to express and enhance our unity.

Second, being continually filled and following the desires of the Spirit will lead us to be constantly thankful (Ephesians 5:20). Though we can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), we may not be thankful for literally everything in life, as the language of Ephesians 5:20 could be construed. There are certainly some evil things we cannot be thankful for. But we can be thankful for everything that can be connected to “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20).

Each individual believer should express thanksgiving, and this is certainly something we need to do when we are alone. Since thanksgiving is a fruit of the Spirit, however, it should also characterize the gatherings of the people among whom the Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:22). Worship assemblies characterized by many believers giving thanks fits the context of Ephesians, with its emphasis on the whole body, and also fits the corporate Psalms of Thanksgiving in the Old Testament (for example Psalm 107). Again, instead of glaring at you, judging you, or mentally enumerating all the reasons I’m better than you, I’m supposed to be focused on expressing thanksgiving to God together with you.  

Third, being continually filled and following the desires of the Spirit will lead us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is clearly a body-related matter. This particular fruit of the Spirit serves as a transition into a more detailed section on submission that follows (in 5:22-6:9), but it is also a part of the section on how being filled with the Spirit affects the collective body (5:18-21).

Most of us concur with the principle of submitting to God, although we may struggle with it in practice. When it comes to submitting to other human beings, however, we have a very difficult time. We have seen way too many abuses in relationships where someone in authority took advantage of those who were in submission to him. I want to state clearly that the teaching concerning submission does not give a person in authority the right to abuse or harm someone else in any way (Mark 10:42-45; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10). Jesus, to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given, simply did not do that. We may also struggle with submission because we have seen so much personal corruption among those in authority.

We sometimes believe these abuses and faults justify a lack of submission on our part. It is difficult for us to recognize that, in spite of all these abuses, our refusal to submit is also an expression of our own flesh and sin. Despising authority is one of two kinds of unrighteousness that Peter mentions that God will especially punish (2 Peter 2:9-10). On the positive side, submission is a Christian trait, not far removed from self-denial and sacrifice that Jesus preached and practiced. Numerous passages urge us to be submissive to various authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 16:16; 2 Corinthians 9:13 (clearer in ESV); Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 1:11; 3:4; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 2:13; 3:1, 5; 5:5).

As mentioned, Paul will go on to describe the need for submission in various particular kinds of relationships (Ephesians 5:22-6:9), but all of these are based on a mutual submission of all the parts of the body to each other. It is the Spirit of God that produces this unique Christian quality (5:18-21). We do not submit to others as a ploy or pretense; we do it out of reverence for Christ. Clearly, authentic attitudes and behaviors of mutual submission will promote unity in the church (Philippians 2:3-8).

So, the Spirit lives in each of us and dwells among all of us. He prompts us to sing to and with one another, express thanksgiving together, and mutually submit to one another. These practices express and enhance our unity. To cooperate with these desires is to live by the Spirit. To resist them is to grieve the Spirit and make him sad (Ephesians 4:30).  

Those who either don’t sing, don’t sing with their hearts, or view singing as a private matter between them and God, may or may not have the Spirit of God inside them, but they are definitely grieving the Spirit about his desire for a body of believers gathered to sing with and to each other.

Those who gather with the church in judgment, criticism, or superiority may or may not have the Spirit living in them, but they are definitely grieving the Spirit about his desire to dwell among a people who are gratefully giving thanks together.

Those who insist on and push for their own way in the church and refuse to be submissive to their brothers and sisters may or may not have the Holy Spirit living inside them, but they are certainly grieving him about his desire for the people he has united to be mutually submissive to one another.  

Let’s keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) by going along with his desire for us to sing together, give thanks together, and submit to one another. This is another key to preserving the unity of the Spirit.

Published by Marvin Bryant

After serving as a minister for churches for forty years, Marvin founded the Empowering Subjects to equip subjects of the King to change the world like Jesus did.

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