Living as light in any culture entails having an acute understanding of spiritual wisdom.

The next few verses continue the application of our worthy, obedient, loving walk. Christians who are Light not only make wise choices but also embrace divine influence. This has a negative side and a positive – we are to avoid negative influences and instead be governed by the Spirit. The verbs of these commands are in the present active tense, which tell us they are to be continuous actions.

“Do Not…” (verse 18)

First, Light avoids being under the influence of anything other than the Spirit. Paul warns us against the negative influence of alcohol in verse 18. Drunkenness is inevitably linked with “dissipation,” which refers to the immorality we are commanded to avoid in verse 3. We know through modern science that even a little bit of alcohol begins influencing us immediately. God tells us to say “no” to that, and “yes” to the Spirit. There is no middle ground.

What It Means To Be Under Any Influence:
  1. A choice is made. That choice can be taking the first drink, or allowing the Holy Spirit to control you. Our choice will have either negative or positive affects on us and others around us.

  2. Influence comes by degrees and affects the whole person.

  3. Continued influence requires continual choices. To stay in the Spirit, we must regularly confess, read the Word, and pray.

  4. The longer influence is maintained, the more its effects progress. If you are controlled by alcohol or any other negative substance, your life will deteriorate. If you are controlled by the Spirit, you will continue to mature in Christ-likeness, which is the goal of every believer after salvation.

“Be Filled with the Spirit” (verse 18)

Instead of being governed by alcohol, God’s people are to be filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit is different from the acts of God the Spirit that we experience at salvation. The Spirit baptizes us and places us into oneness with Christ, is given to us as a deposit, and indwells, seals, convicts, and comforts us. These things happen with no effort (and sometimes no knowledge) of our own, but solely by the work of God. Being filled with the Spirit is us working together with God to become more like Jesus. Hence we can be commanded to pursue it.

This is a key aspect of growing in sanctification. The Word of God is the agent by which we become governed by the Spirit. As we mature in obedience to this command, we will know and enjoy the Spirit’s influence and not want to leave that environment. We will become more aware of temptation and acute in our discernment, so it becomes easier to just say “no.”

How the Spirit’s Filling is Lost

The filling of the Spirit can be quickly lost when we try to do the right thing the wrong way. Any obedience to God’s Word must be done in the fruit of the Spirit, with love, joy, patience, etc. We also risk losing the Spirit’s filling when we come out of a season of good Bible study or growth and think we can rest on our laurels.

A Christian can also miss out on the filling of the Spirit as a result of misunderstanding certain doctrines. The filling of the Spirit is rarely enjoyed when it is confused with the baptism of the Spirit, as explained above. We do have to work to grow, and we will never arrive until we see Jesus face-to-face. A misunderstanding of forgiveness after salvation will result in crippling unbiblical guilt. Improper resting on the doctrine of eternal security will give one license to coast instead of pursuing spiritual growth.

The Celebration of the Spirit-filled Life (verses 19-20)

Five participles tell us how a Spirit-filled life is displayed in worship. Three of these words – speaking, singing, and making melody – refer to music in a worshipping context. The last 2 – giving thanks and being subject – describe the attitude of a Spirit-filled worshipper. We know these are corporate commands because Paul tells us to speak “to one another.”

Spirit-filled Christians will develop a lifestyle of enjoying the worship environment of God’s people. They will perpetually experience more joy in worship because that is the fruit of the Spirit.

The Character of Our Celebration

Christian worship is designed with God as our primary audience. “Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” take different forms but are all alike in content. The Holy Spirit gives source to their words, based in sound doctrine and the character of our triune God. They are objective, not emotive, and the sound mirrors our God’s holy character just as the words do. The foreignness of our worship should make non-Christians realize that our God is holy and different.

When we gather corporately, we first enjoy the Spirit, then enjoy each other. Our aim in worship should be the edification of the whole body. Our attitude is first one of thankfulness. Paul tells us to be thankful “always … for all things” (vs. 20). That means we give thanks for the good and bad in our lives. This is certainly something we will grow in as we learn to trust the Lord’s sovereignty and desire to do so more and more.

We also come to corporate worship with a well-ordered attitude. To “be subject” means to be arranged under. God has ordered authority in every dimension of life. All of us in the church are equal in the righteousness of God, but everyone has something to learn from another. Our attitude is always humble and willing to learn. Living under God-ordained authority is always easier when we are Spirit-governed. We submit ourselves “in the fear of Christ,” because He will be our Judge at the end of time.

Application Points

  • Are you choosing to be under any negative influences? They may not seem to govern your life, but even a little negative influence affects your whole self and must be removed. How can you begin saying “no” to that and “yes” to the Spirit, one day at a time?

  • Do you choose to walk in the Spirit every day? We make a daily choice whose influence to live under. How can you improve your habits of confession, reading the Word, and prayer to renew that choice daily?

  • How is your attitude when you come to corporate worship? Are you thankful and humble? Start practicing a thankful attitude at home, and let it overflow into church with joy!

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore:
  • 2 John 1:6 – A worthy, loving walk is an obedient walk.
  • Proverbs 23:29-35 – the Old Testament parallel to Eph. 5:18.
  • Philippians 3:12, 20-21; 1 John 3:2 – We won’t be like Jesus until we see Him.
  • Colossians 3:16 – Parallel to Eph. 5:19.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – God’s will is for us to be thankful.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10, James 5:9 – Jesus as our Judge.
A Hymn to Encourage: “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart”

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art,
and make me love thee as I ought to love.

Has thou not bid me love thee, God and King?
All, all thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see thy cross; there teach my heart to cling.
O let me seek thee, and O let me find.

Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh;
teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love thee as thine angels love,
one holy passion filling all my frame;
the kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
my heart an altar, and thy love the flame.