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Living under the influence

The church is not man made, it is God given!  There is a church of God because of the grace of God.  It is His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).

And where does the Spirit fit into all of this?  The body without the Spirit is dead!  This community of grace known as church is a Spirit-created community (John 3:3-5; Titus 3:3-5).  Its members are said to be full of the Spirit (Acts 6), led by the Spirit (Romans 8), or in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5).  We read about fruit from the Spirit (Galatians 5), help from the Spirit (Romans 8), or simply that the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4).  The church is started and sustained by God’s Spirit of grace!   

And what is the Spirit’s purpose and thrust?  It is to bring glory to Christ (John 16:14).  Paul prayed that the church would be strengthened with the Spirit and as a result, Christ would live in their hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:16-17).  The more we yield to the Spirit’s influence, the more real Christ becomes to us and to others. 

This is the context for Paul's words in Ephesians 5.  He begins  by urging the church to imitate God by living a life of love (5:1-2).  He has some strong words for the “fruitless deeds of darkness” (v. 3-7,11).  They are to “wake up” and “live as children of light” (v. 14,8).  He then calls on them to live wisely (v. 15), which involves making the most of every opportunity and understanding the Lord’s will (v. 16-17).  They are not to be under the influence of wine, but the Spirit (v. 18). 

And what is involved in living under the influence of the Spirit?  The drinker is intoxicated with alcohol and it leads to immoral behavior that is destructive and demeaning.  The Christian opens himself up to the influence of the Spirit and it leads to things that are Christ exalting.  Paul mentions three of these things.

1)  Singing - They are to speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  They were to sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord.  When the Lord lives in your heart, it will find its way out your mouth!  And what comes out of your mouth will bring glory to Him (4:29). 

If Paul had the pagan gatherings to Dionysus in mind when he said, "Don't get drunk on wine," (the celebrants intoxicated themselves in the belief that led to communion with the god), then it's possible he has the Christian assembly in mind when he speaks of being filled with the Spirit and singing to each other.  He seems to be saying that living under the influence of the Spirit means that we will create spiritual contexts.  When we come together, we're going to do something more than talk to each other about the weather, the game, school, or the sale.  We'll celebrate God! (see James 5:13 for the same kind of thing).  In doing so, we are creating a spiritual context. 

We see this kind of thing throughout the Scripture.  A chance meeting at a well becomes a discussion about living water.  A stroll through Athens leads to a message about the unknown God.  A jail cell becomes a place to sing praise to God. 

But it doesn’t have to be big things like these; it can be the smaller things (that lead to the big things).  It could be something as small as giving thanks to God before a meal, reminding yourself and others of God’s presence when they’re all  complaining about the circumstances, or posting a passage of Scripture on your refrigerator.  In all of these things, we are allowing the Spirit to create outposts in our lives that exalt Jesus. 

2)  Thanksgiving.  We always give thanks for everything.  What does this mean?  Does always mean there is never an exception?  Does everything mean literally everything?  Are we to give thanks when people reject Christ, when children are returned to polygamist parents, or when gay marriage is approved by our government?  Should we give thanks for these things? 

Of course not!!! 

What does Paul mean then?  I think he means that even when things aren’t good, God still is.  And because He is good, He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).  And how exactly does this work out in regard to some of the things mentioned above?  I wish I knew!  But I do know this - God worked things out in regard to the greatest tragedy of all times - the crucifixion of His Son.  If He could bring such good out of this that we not celebrate it, I trust that He can and will do the same for everything else.

In the end, this giving of thanks becomes another way that we create a spiritual context.  In situations that appear bleak and empty, we give thanks to God for the power of hope.  We do this “in the name of Christ” – once again centering things in Him.

3)  Submitting to one another.  The final thing that Paul identifies as a result of the Spirit’s influence is our submission to one another.  The body of Christ is not composed of independent lords, but interdependent parts.  If we don't practice submission, then the body doesn't work (4:16).

This goes hard against the grain of our culture’s emphasis on independence and autonomy.  Submission is viewed as weakness.  If that’s true, then Jesus was the weakest person who ever lived because He submitted Himself all the way to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:5ff).  Paul makes it clear, if we revere Christ, we will adopt His example of submission.

The Spirit of God brought creation out of chaos (Genesis 1).  As we live under the Spirit's influence, we allow Him to create outposts that exalt Jesus.
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