Spirit Lives Lead to Spirit Led Worship
This is my third in a series of thoughts on the Holy Spirit and the disciple from Paul's letter we call "Ephesians." The previous two are:
Holy Spirit & the Disciple Part 1
Holy Spirit & the Disciple Part 2
I am currently engaged in intense study of Ephesians for a series of lessons I am calling Christian Community 101 to begin on June 3rd if all goes according to plan. This post continues those ruminations on passages related to the Holy Spirit in Ephesians. I hope to share my study of Eph. 5.18-21. The translations are my own.
"Do not get drunk on wine ...
But be filled with/by/in the Spirit,
SPEAKING to one another
with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,
SINGING and MAKING MUSIC with your hearts to the Lord.
GIVING thanks to God
for all things
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
SUBMITTING yourselves to one another
out of reverence for Christ."
Ephesians 5.18-21 though often broken up in our English translations is rather a long single sentence in the Greek text. The sentence is part of the larger paragraph beginning with v.15.
Context of the Passage
In the context of our passage Paul has developed his argument in the letter (see the previous posts for this). In the preceding sections/paragraphs (4.17-24; 4.25-5.2; 5.3-14) Paul has used the metaphor of "walking" (4.17; 5,2 8) to contrast the lifestyle of those who reside "in Christ" and those who do not. That is those who make up the "one new man/humanity." The context is thus one of ethics and the daily conduct of the saint before the fallen pagan world. The verb occurs at the beginning of the present paragraph in v.15 "Be very careful, then how you live/walk ..." spelling out the ethical implications of being awakened from the sleep and having Christ shine on us (5.14). This stands sort of like a heading to the paragraph and is explained by a series of three antithesis of "not ... but".
The three contrasts in the paragraph of 5.15-21:
1) "Not as unwise but as wise (v.15b)
2) "Not as foolish but understand (v.17)
3) "Not drunk with wine but filled with/by the Spirit" (v.18)
Some Insight from Historical Context
Our text is the third contrast of two Spirits; that of Bacchus and the Spirit of the Lord. This contrast amplifies what it means for the Christian to live carefully and wisely by being filled with the Holy Spirit.
What I want to call attention to is that there are two imperatives in our text: "do not get drunk" and "be filled with/by the Spirit." In the pagan enviroment of these early Christians Bacchus/Dionysus was a potent and deadly force. Dionysus was the Greek god of grapes and wine. Euripides, famous for his Bacchae (see a good English translation in Greek Tagedies, vol 3, David Greene and Richard Lattimore, editors, University of Chicago Press).
The Dionysiac Mysteries were relatively "young" in the ancient world (apparently they was not old in Homer's day). The general features of these mysteries were orgiastic and ecstatic celebrations. Weakened by fasting, the devotees in wild ecstatic dance worked themselves into delirium. In this state they ate the raw flesh, with the blood in it, of animals that had been seized. Throughout the Eastern Empire traveling guilds depicted this in dramtic form. Some cities had a "Villa Item" or "House of Mysteries" like the famous one in Pompeii. The House of Mystery in Pompeii has paintings preserved depicting flagellation followed by ecstatic dance (for more on the Dionysiac Mysteries see Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, pp. 205-210 and Euripides, The Bacchae). For more specific background on Eph. 5.18 see the article by C. Rogers, "The Dionysian Background of Ephesians 5.18," Bibliotheca Sacra 136 (1979): 249-257.
Dionysus was a popular god among the masses, as were his mysteries. Free flowing wine was often associated with pagan worship so Paul is justly concerned about it here in Ephesians. Indeed, some scholars see here a real problem among the Roman Asian churches just as there had been a problem with drunkenness in the Corinthian congregation (1 Cor. 11.17-22).
Reading the Text
Paul commands the readers of this letter not to get filled (drunk) with the spirit of wine (Baccuhus). Its behavior is antithetical to one who belongs to Christ.
Paul does, however, want Christians to be filled (drunk?) with a Spirit. Indeed, he even commands it. "Be filled with/by the Spirit." It is even possible to render these two antithetical commands as "Never be drunk ... Always be filled with the Spirit" (cf. Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence, p. 720). Paul comes back to what is basically the root of all authentic Christian behavior; that is behavior that is the result of being Spirit people. People filled with (drunk?) with the Holy Spirit. People who live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit. It seems to me that this is what Paul said earlier in Galatians 5.16. "I mean this: Live by the Spirit, and then you will not indulge your physical cravings" (Goodspeed's New Testament: An American Translation).
The actual expression of the imperative is unusual. Paul says not "be full of the Spirit" as though one were full of teh Spirit of God in the same manner another is filled with Bacchae. Rather, he says be filled "by the Spirit with emphasis on being filled to the full through the Spirit's presence. It seems to me that Paul is purposefully using this language recalling the language in his prayer in 3.14-21. There Paul prays that we be empowered by the Spirit so that as Christ dwells in them, by the Spirit, they become the "fullness of God." Christians then are to be full of God's Spirit who mediates the presence of the Father and the Son (cf 2.22).
What follows next are a series of five participles that modify the imperative "be filled by the Spirit." These are a type of adjectival particple called "dependent participles of result." A participle of result is "used to indicate the actual outcome or result of the action of teh main verb (cf. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, p. 637).
For my purposes what the participle of result means is they demonstrate what it means to be filled by/with the Spirit. I indicated the participles at the beginning of my post in the translation of the text. Once again they are "speaking," "singing," "making music/melody," "giving thanks," and "submitting." It is commonly heard in some pulpits that we are commanded to sing in this text but that is not the case. We are commanded to be filled with/by the Spirit. Singing, in this text, is simply one of the results of being filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
Rather than drunken pagan songs, Christians show their wisdom by being filled with the Spirit and singing (Holy) Spirit songs. Christians show their understanding of the will of God by being filled with the Spirit thus making melodies to the Lord. Christians filled with the Spirit are full of thanksgiving for the grace that has been poured out upon them. And perhaps most difficult of all is Christians filled with the Spirit submit to each other our of reverance for the One who made it all possible ... Christ.
A few Church Fathers, like John Chrysostom, compared Christians to a flute. The Holy Spirit is said to "play" a Christian like a muscian would the flute. The "breath" (i.e. spirit) flows through the Christian producing a certain melody and harmony just as the "breath" (i.e. spirit) of the musician flows through the flute. What an insightful understanding of the text.
Paul says that when Christians are "never full" of Bacchae, but "always full" of the Spirit certain patterns of behavior come to the fore like a fine tuned instrument. The result of being filled with the Spirit is:
1) We are constantly encouraging one another with our Spirit songs
2) We are constantly giving praise to the Lord
3) We are constantly giving thanksgiving
4) We are always in submission to one another to bring "harmony" in the family of God.
This last point is of particular relevance to the letter of Ephesians. It will be recalled from our earlier study that Paul is at pains to show that Gentiles are equal heirs to the promises of God to Israel. There remained some kind of hostility between these ethnic groups. But Paul says that one who is filled with/by the Spirit "submits to the other ..." even those we don't like ... out of reverence for Jesus the Christ. This kind of behavior comes only from the Spirit.
No where in this text is it hinted at that that these processes are the result of the "word" (as some are wont to suggest). Paul says they are the result of the filling of the Holy Spirit in the life of disciples.
In short I summarize this passage under the heading "Spirit Lives Lead to Spirit Led Worship."