Summary: 1) The Prohibition (Ephesians 5:18a), 2) The Product (Ephesians 5:18b), 3) The Principle (Ephesians 5:18c) to avoid intoxication as a believer in Christ.

Ephesians 5:18a [18] And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, (but be filled with the Spirit), (ESV)

If you have been following what has been deemed essential and non-essential by government officials during this COVID season, there has been some surprising designations. Corporate worship was deemed non-essential, while alcohol sales, deemed essential. With uncertainties, added pressures and home isolation, alcohol and drug abuse has skyrocketed. While the people who can provide assistance, counsel and help for dealing with these challenges, have been deemed non-essential.

Ephesus had a great problem with alcohol abuse. Ephesus was a center for the cult of Dionysus (Greek, “Bacchus”), the god of wine. Celebrations in honor of Dionysus emphasized fertility, sex, and intoxication. Intoxication, (the cult members believed) would allow Dionysus to control the body of the worshiper. Thus, the worshiper would do the will of the deity. Paul was saying in Ephesians 5:18, “Don’t be filled with the spirit of Dionysus through wine (Hughes, R. B., & Laney, J. C. (2001). Tyndale concise Bible commentary (p. 595). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)

Before Paul commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” which we will look at lord willing next week, considering the characteristics of the Spirit–filled life (vv. 18b–21), Paul first gave a contrasting and negative command, And do not get drunk with wine. This is a PRESENT PASSIVE IMPERATIVE with the NEGATIVE PARTICLE which usually means to stop an act in process (Utley, R. J. (1997). Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound: Letters from Prison (Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, then later, Philippians) (Vol. Volume 8, p. 128). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)

In light of the apostle’s preceding contrasts between light and darkness (vv. 8–14) and between wisdom and foolishness (vv. 15–17), his point here is that getting drunk is a mark of darkness and foolishness and that being filled with the Spirit is the source of a believer’s being able to walk in light and wisdom. The problem with drinking in order to be happy is not the motive but the means. It brings only artificial happiness at best and is counterproductive to spiritual sensitivity. It is a temporary escape that often leads to even worse problems than the ones that prompted the drinking in the first place. Intoxication is never a healthy remedy for the cares of life, but it has few equals in its ability to multiply them. Intoxication is not the effective remedy for the cares and worries of this life. The so-called “uplift” it provides is not real. It is the devil’s poor substitute for the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” which God provides. Satan is ever substituting the bad for the good (Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, p. 239). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.).

In Ephesians 5:18, Paul was therefore not simply making a moral but also a theological contrast. He was not only speaking of the moral and social evils of drunkenness, but of the spiritually perverted use of drunkenness as a means of worship. Christians are not to seek religious fulfillment through such pagan means as getting drunk with wine, but are to find their spiritual fulfillment and enjoyment by being “filled with the Spirit.” The believer has no need for the artificial, counterfeit, degrading, destructive, and idolatrous ways of the world. A Believer has God’s own Spirit indwelling them, the Spirit whose great desire is to give believers the fullest benefits and enjoyment of their high position as children of God. From this concept, we can see: 1) The Prohibition (Ephesians 5:18a), 2) The Product (Ephesians 5:18b), 3) The Principle (Ephesians 5:18c) to avoid intoxication as a believer in Christ.

A Believer in Christ should be filled with the Spirit and therefore avoid:

1) The Prohibition (Ephesians 5:18a)

Ephesians 5:18a [18] And do not get drunk (with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit), (ESV)

To keep our faith from being merely about human doing and thinking, the apostle says, “Do not get drunk with wine.” This command is a synecdoche (a part for the whole), referring to emptying our lives of excess wine but also—in contrast to the filling of the Spirit—emptying ourselves of anything in this world that would hold us under its influence. Such influence, whether by wine or other intoxicants, leads to reckless living that would darken the very life of light the apostle has been advocating (Chapell, B. (2009). Ephesians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (p. 262). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.).

Specifically, here drunkenness is the clouding or disruption by alcohol of any part of a person’s mind so that it affects their faculties. A person is drunk to the extent that alcohol has restricted or modified any part of their thinking or acting. Drunkenness has many degrees, but it begins when it starts to interrupt the normal functions of the body and mind. Scripture shows drunkenness in its full ugliness and tragedy, as always associated with immorality, dissolution, unrestrained behavior, wild, reckless behavior, and every other form of corrupt living. It is one of the sinful deeds of the flesh that are in opposition to the righteous fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:19–23). Drunkenness is first of all a sin. It develops attendant disease as it ravages the mind and body, but it is basically a sin, a manifestation of depravity. It must therefore be confessed and dealt with as sin. We see a common theme from the stories of Noah, Ahab (1 Kings 20:16–34), Belshazzar (Dan. 5), to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:27–30), both the Old and New Testaments unequivocally condemn drunkenness. Every picture of drunkenness in the Bible is a picture of sin and disaster. The danger of drunkenness (Gal 5:21) lies not only in itself but in what it may induce.( Wood, A. S. (1981). Ephesians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 72). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)

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