Summary: Ephesians 5:18 teaches the difference between the old life and the new life.
We are currently in a sermon series in Ephesians 5:1-21 that I am calling, “Be Imitators of God.”
In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:1a, “Therefore be imitators of God.” That is Paul’s overall command for this section of Scripture. He then gave three ways in which Christians imitate God. Christians imitate God by walking in love, by walking in light, and by walking in wisdom. In verse 18, Paul teaches that Christians are to imitate God by being filled with the Spirit. He contrasts the filling of the Spirit with drunkenness.
Let’s read about not getting drunk with wine in Ephesians 5:18:
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…. (Ephesians 5:18)
Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes in his excellent commentary on Ephesians, from which I am drawing heavily today, that when Paul writes about living the Christian life “he always does so in a doctrinal manner.” As he continues his discussion on imitating God, he does so in a very important way. He writes, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Now, it may seem to us that Paul is dealing with the issue of drunkenness. But that is not in fact Paul’s objective. To be sure, he does write, “And do not get drunk with wine,” but Paul is not dealing with the issue of intoxication. If we were to deal only with drunkenness, we would miss the whole point of Paul’s argument. And, we would also be in danger of legalism.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is making a very clear distinction between the new life and the old life. For example, so far in chapter 5 Paul has been exhorting Christians to walk in love and not in their previous way of sin, to walk in light and not in darkness, and to walk as wise and not as unwise. In fact, Paul really begins this distinction between the new life and the old life back in Ephesians 4:17.
So, as he gets to Ephesians 5:18 Paul is again making a distinction between the new life and the old life. He is emphasizing that Christians are to imitate God by being filled with the Spirit (that is the new life), and they must not get drunk with wine (that is the old life). But, why introduce this element of drunkenness?
Lloyd-Jones notes “that there was nothing which was more characteristic of the old life which these people had been living, and which their contemporaries were still living, than drunkenness and debauchery. The ancient world at the time when our Lord came into it was characterized by this very thing.” Paul’s point is that drunkenness is characteristic of the old life. But now that the Ephesians have become Christians they are to live the new life.
Ephesians 5:18 teaches us the difference between the old life and the new life.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. The Characteristic of the Old Life (5:18a)
2. The Characteristic of the New Life (5:18b)
I. The Characteristic of the Old Life (5:18a)
First, let’s look at the characteristic of the old life.
Paul writes in verse 18a, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” Paul is writing about a lifestyle that characterized non-Christians. He is talking about the old life. Non-Christians not only drank wine and got drunk, but their drinking led to debauchery. Paul is not simply calling attention to the amount of wine that is being consumed, but that those who become drunk with wine are in a condition of debauchery. That is a very interesting word that Paul used. The word “debauchery” (asotia) means “having no hope of safety; extravagant squandering, dissoluteness, prodigality.”
Precisely the same word is used in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (cf. Luke 15:11–32). A man had two sons. The younger son wanted his inheritance, which his father gave to him. The younger son then journeyed into a far country, and “there he squandered his property in reckless living.” The word that is translated as “reckless” (asotos) is exactly the same word (in adverbial form) as “debauchery” (asotia). So, we could read Paul’s comment in verse 18 as follows, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is ‘reckless.’ ” One who is drunk with wine is in a condition of debauchery, recklessness, extravagant squandering, dissoluteness, prodigality.
But what is even more interesting is the root meaning of the word for “debauchery.” The word for “debauchery,” as well as for “reckless,” has a negative prefix, but its essential meaning is “to save.” “To save” is the opposite of “extravagant squandering.” A person who saves is careful with what he has; he looks after his possessions. But, if you add a negative prefix you have the opposite. You have a person who squanders, is reckless, is debauched, and in the end has nothing at all. So, instead of saving, it is a process of destruction.