Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a colloquial expression used often in the South when preachers get a little too personal with their hearers. They say something like, “Preacher, you went from preaching to meddling today!”
I suspect this may be the case with my reflection here, but we shall see. It might have been easier to talk about walking in wisdom and managing time and the like, but I sense the Lord wants me to touch down on verse 18.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit . . .
Oh my. What shall we say about alcohol? American history tells quite the alcohol story, from the old West to the temperance movement, with the Eighteenth and later the Twenty-First Amendments to the Constitution, prohibiting and then permitting the consumption of alcohol. As the twentieth century progressed, alcohol passed out of the shadows of hidden vice and into a place celebrated by some and condemned by others. As the twenty-first century unfolds, alcohol increasingly occupies a central place in our culture. As big wine dominates our grocery stores, bourbon and scotch create boutique industries, and craft beer carves out a lifestyle brand, today alcohol claims a space somewhere between hobby and sport.
What shall we say about this? How about, “It is what it is”? We can lament it, fight it, try to beat it, and blight it. Or we can join it, blend in, and throw caution to the wind. (Sometimes I’ll trade in alliteration for a cheap rhyme scheme.)
I’ve got a better idea. Let’s stick to the text. Permit me a few observations.
Paul does not tell the Ephesian Christians they should not drink alcohol. He assumes they do. He warns them to stay away from drunkenness.
Years ago, this text gave me an epiphany about alcohol. Paul’s contrast between being filled with the Holy Spirit and drunkenness helped me understand why alcohol might be referred to as “spirits.” When people drink alcohol, it has the effect of a spirit acting on and influencing their spirit. Drunkenness comes from being “filled” with alcohol. In this way, drunkenness grieves the Holy Spirit by displacing him.
Biblically speaking, drunkenness is debauchery, foolishness, a waste of time, and never the will of God. Let me be clear. If you regularly drink alcohol and you regularly get drunk, you have a drinking problem. Far worse than a drinking problem, you have a Holy Spirit problem. Not only are you not being filled with the Holy Spirit, you are quenching the work of the Spirit and grieving the person of the Spirit, who is God Almighty.
Now, let’s talk about drunkenness. It is easy to assume drunkenness is that guy who got out of hand in college. It’s that girl who couldn’t handle her alcohol. If we are using those kinds of examples to evaluate ourselves it’s a sign we are in denial. Drunkenness, not to be equated with rowdy behavior, is the crossing of a subtle line. Early on our spirit recognizes the line, but each time we cross it we become more desensitized to where it is. The place across the line becomes a new kind of comfort zone for us—call it functional drunkenness. (Note the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit as “the comforter.”) This is the point at which alcohol becomes a problem, even a peril to our soul. I don’t mean that in the sense that drunks will go to hell. Hell will actually come to you with all its deception, chaos, and lies.
Do you have a drinking problem? Ask yourself this question. Do I need the “spirit” of alcohol to be who I have become? Do I need the “spirit” of alcohol to deal with my life? Do I need the “spirit” of alcohol to enjoy people and activities, to be fun, or to be interesting? If alcohol were completely taken away, would my outlook on life seem depressed? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have a drinking problem. If you want to test it further, try giving up alcohol (or any substitute substance) for the next six months—completely.
What now? Stop drinking? Go to AA? Those are good ideas, but what does the text say? But be filled with the Spirit. This is the paramount concern.
Human beings, created in the image of God, are made to be inhabited by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit as the animating center and core of our existence we will turn to anything and everything under the sun to fill the void. The scenario we call addiction is an “unholy spirit” problem.
For all the good AA and its progeny have done for so many addicts, it has had the unfortunate effect of convincing those of us who don’t identify ourselves as addicts that we don’t belong there. I’ve become convinced over the years that AA (in its essence) is a lot closer to the New Testament Church than much of what we call church today. It’s why we put so much stock in banding. It’s all about showing up, being real, and leaning in’that we might cultivate a holy addiction to the Holy Spirit.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who shows us what it looks like to live in complete and total dependence on the Holy Spirit. Thank you for this counsel of Scripture on being filled with the Holy Spirit. Search my heart, mind, spirit, and body for any ways or even tendencies I have to depend on an unholy spirit. Ferret it out and give me the grace to let it go. I want to run in the path of your commands. In Jesus’ name, amen.
What do you make of this contrast between drunkenness and being filled with the Holy Spirit?
How do you think about alcohol and drinking? How has your view changed over time?
Have you come to realize your own addiction to the Holy Spirit? How does this way of thinking about it help you?
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