Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19-20.
Far from being a polemic against wine, these verses are a polemic against the Bacchanalian festivals, common in the pagan culture of the day, where alcohol was deliberately drunk to the point where self-control was lost and the spirit of Dionysus supposedly entered and controlled the drinkers, uniting them with one another and with him. There is no suggestion that the Christians in Ephesus got involved in such festivals but, knowing the Ephesians would be familiar with the goings-on at them, Paul uses them to make a point about Christian living. “You should drink long and hard,” he is saying, “like the pagans, but of the Holy Spirit. Surrender control to him. Let him unite you to himself and to one another. And just as the worshippers of Dionysus do not take long to start singing their drunken songs, so should you let your inebriation with the Spirit overflow in song too.” In The Message, Eugene Peterson catches this comparison that lies just under the surface of Paul’s words: “Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ.”
It is important to note that Paul is not calling here for spiritual binge drinking (of the kind we love to engage in at Summer Conferences) but for sustained, habitual and continuing infilling with the Spirit. That is the force of the tense he uses for the verb pleroo. And I have to ask myself how I am to fulfil that calling. How do I “keep on being filled with the Spirit”? The answer surely lies in John 7.37 where Jesus says: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink”. John actually comments in verse 39 that Jesus was talking about “the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive”. A drunk who sits at his table with an empty glass in front of him will soon sober up. If he wants to stay drunk he must keep going to the bar. So must I keep going to Jesus and holding out the empty glass of my life and asking him, “Same again, please”. The promise in John 3.34 is that he “gives the Spirit without limit”.
Lord Jesus, increase my thirst for your Spirit … and my capacity to receive him. Amen.