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, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:18-21, ESV.
In our passage today, Paul continues his instructions on how to walk worthy (4:1), in contrast to the Gentiles (4:17), in love (5:2), in the light (5:8), and in wisdom (5:15). As he does he contrasts drunkenness with being “filled with the Spirit.”
This contrast is extremely helpful in gaining a Christian understanding of drunkenness. When someone is filled with the Spirit, the Spirit controls them and there is a good outcome. When they are filled with intoxicating drink, something else controls them and it brings about an opposite outcome. On one hand, the Spirit brings Christ into clear view and leads the saint to praise and thank God in joyful song and to humble himself in acts of love toward his brothers and sisters in Christ. Alcohol, on the other hand, brings the person low and drives them to act in rebellion against God. The church would do well to set aside breathalyzer results and drink counts as her measure for drunkenness. Whether you experience a mild buzz or get falling-down drunk, choosing to turn to alcohol for its effects is to choose the wrong kind of filling.
We often turn to these verses to extol the beauty of singing in the church. Given the disastrous effects that alcohol consumption can have on individuals and families in the church, maybe it is time we read the whole passage in its either/or context and stop trying to convince ourselves that the consumption of alcohol is of any value or, in any way, compatible with the filling of the Spirit.
My prayer for you today is that you know the joy of the better filling--the filling of the Spirit of God which causes you to break out in God-praising song and show humble love to the brethren today.