Not once, but always
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I want to thank the youth particularly from the Youth Band today. I grew up in this congregation and when I was your age we didn’t have the opportunity to play in a band. I want to thank you that you have taken this opportunity and encourage us to do so more often as a congregation.
What Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5 actually goes to the very heart of what it is to be a worshipping community. He says in that passage “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit”. You can hear that through a certain lens and you can hear it like most of the world will hear it as a sort of moralistic command.
Sometimes when I drive on the streets to preach somewhere else on a Sunday morning or if I am visiting with the family and we are going past churches – I see people going in and out of all sorts of different churches of different denominations and I think what do people think who have no connection with the church, no connection with the gospel and I think that they think what I used to think and that is – There is a whole group of people going in to do religious things to have ceremonies, to make themselves feel good about life and to try and get a little bit of a sense of peace but seem to be utterly disconnected from life.
One of the reasons that I left the Barossa Valley to go to University and in my own mind I had left God behind and all things associated with the church was because I didn’t sense any connectedness between what happened in this building on a Sunday morning and the rest of my life. It was like that was one world and this was a completely different world and I could never see where and how those worlds joined up.
Well, God has a way of tracking you down and getting hold of you and suddenly 50 years later, suddenly, here I am preaching in the church that I grew up in which I think in my own mind is an astounding miracle.
Before we go any further I want to ask you to participate with me in something that is a bit imaginative. You can close your eyes if you want.
Imagine that you are home, and just go for a journey around your home, in through one door and what you see. Imagine you are walking through the corridors, poking your head in the rooms, what you see and who is there – and what the sounds are and what the noises might be and the smells might be – depends which room you poke your nose in of course. And then ask yourself this question. In which room do you think you would find the Holy Spirit?
You might think like I did when I was growing up “I don’t think I would find him in the house”. I would have been wrong.
Just continuing in the imaginative thinking can you just imagine yourself as a house. You might be a multi-storied house inside yourself and you might have a room at the top where there are some beautiful picture windows and it’s all light and beautiful views and everything is clear. And then as you come down through the house, there’s an area where there is all the activity and food preparation happens. I wonder if in your internal house there is a place that you don’t visit very often. Perhaps an old cellar. Perhaps somewhere that is filled with very dank smells and cobwebs – and redback spiders! And things that you would not like to look at very much.
Ask again that question – If you were a house (and you’ve imagined your own internal house). In which room would you find the Holy Spirit? Where would he be? What would he be up to?
Keep these things in the back of your mind and we will come back to this.
When Paul writes letters like the letter to the Ephesians we can sometimes read those as though they have two bits. The first bit we can sometimes think about as “this is all the marvellous things that God has done”. Like He sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world, he has died on the cross, he has been raised. He has done all of these marvellous things through his own favour towards us which we call grace. And it is an astounding description of God’s activity on our behalf.
Sometimes we can move through the middle section of the book and we get to this sort of chapter where it says things like
“Do not go on being drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit”
We can interpret that now as a shift that says – This part over here is the good bit about what God has done and now this part over here is where it gets really serious because this is what we have to do now. It’s sort of like a balancing equation. All that God has done now deserves to be matched by the stuff that we do.
In fact what these books tell us, particularly these short little letters, is not so much a description of what we do in response to God – but who we are.
The first part describes who God is ad what he has done and that moves us to a position where we are now something that we were not before. Some of the contrast are for example, “We are children of our heavenly father who call him Abba Father”. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom when we were strangers and aliens before.
Often it is this – you are now people of the Spirit where you were not people of the Spirit before.
Where Paul says be on being filled with the Spirit which is the way his readers would have understood this present continuous action always going on. He is saying actually “Live in the light of who you really are”.
As my late wife once said to me “you cannot be who you are unless you know who you are”. The more you know who you are in Christ, the more you can rise to that maturity. So if you think of yourself as someone who is not this new creation that is in Christ, then you will never be that, you will never live up to that, you’ll never live in that. You cannot be who you are unless you know who you are.
As a little story – Here is Stephen Radke. His estranged Father is an American tech billionaire who has left him 2.7 billion dollars in apple shares. Stephen never knows that so he never inherits. To which Ondre, Stephen’s wife says “that’s a tragedy!”
God doesn’t want us to settle for second best. He has brought Christ to us and us to Christ to bring us a completely new life and a new inheritance, a new destiny and he doesn’t want us to live short of our inheritance. He doesn’t want us to live as paupers when in fact when we are his royal priesthood in the earth. He wants us to live in the fullness of what he has done. This text beyond being filled with the Holy Spirit, or with the Spirit is actually living in, filling out, embracing and opening ourselves up to our inheritance. That is what it is about.
It is not a command that has no connection with real life – a sort of pietistic, religious, fluffy headed woolly, clap-trappy thing – it’s actually stepping into what you have been created to be.
Now, there is a bit of a background to this because in the ancient world they had events called symposiums. You might be familiar with a symposium if you have any interest in academic study. People have a symposium on something very important and they all put on their academic gear and go to the symposium.
In those days, a symposium was actually a drinking event. You would have this lovely big estate and your servants and everyone. You would say that you are going to have a symposium and then you would invite all your mates over. It was always blokes to begin with and a bit later some girls could come. Then you would start drinking and eating and the servants would bring out more wine and food and then you would talk and someone would give a disquisition on something important. Then you would drink some more. It sounds a little like some of the things that would happen around here sometimes.
Then the next minute you would know that you have had someone who has been waxing eloquent on how rotten the Government is and how bad their response to COVID is. What is all this rubbish about having to wear masks? Who is going to have their vaccine and it goes on. Then you have someone else who goes on about what they’ve got – the new boat and the money they have got. … you know how it goes.
Here is a description of a Symposium (from 375BC):
For sensible men I prepare only three kraters (big vat of wine):
one for health (which they drink first),
the second for love and pleasure,
and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home.
The fourth krater belongs to bad behaviour;
the fifth is for shouting;
the sixth is for rudeness and insults;
the seventh is for fights;
the eighth is for breaking the furniture;
the ninth is for depression;
the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.
Ring any bells? Perhaps you can’t remember if it does.
Now Paul is saying to these people. Because of your background and your history – part of the Greco Roman world you probably all know and have been to symposiums. And you know what happens in them. But he said that You’ve got now a new experience where something still happens in someone’s house but it is not a symposium.
Now we are so used to church it is very hard to get out head out of church and 2000 years of church. But if you could imagine living in Ephesus all those years ago, What would you see?
Well, you wouldn’t see a building like this anywhere because there were none.
There were no churches like this. There was no infrastructure around like halls, manses and carparks. There was no Priests or Pastors in the way that we have them. There was no Seminaries or training institutions. All of the things that we now take as church didn’t exist. But the church was still there.
So, what was the church?
They would meet in a home but it was not a symposium. And they would have a meal and they would have a wine or two because they would take the cup because Jesus commanded them “Take this cup in remembrance of me”. They would have what we have now ritualized into the Lord’s Supper. That would just be part of a meal. There would be bread on the table and they would pick up a piece of bread and they would break it and say this is in remembrance of him. It was all around the meal and the wine that was on the table.
But, the thing that was so different was that in that room (and these rooms were very small meeting areas) the houses weren’t particularly big apart from the wealthy ones. There were people who would never, ever in their lifetime be seen dead together. There were slaves and free people around the same table. There were citizens and non-citizens, there were Jews and Gentiles. Men and Women. All in part of this one fellowship. And instead of becoming tottery and disconnected and speaking rubbish because they have got up to the fifth Krater of wine, they would actually encourage one another and look out for one another. And speak Psalms and hymns to one another and they would love one another. And that thing which we call the church had never existed in that way before anywhere in history. Because people had gone across social, racial, political divides that up until then had kept people not just separated but actually at war with one another. And when Paul sees that, or any of the other new Testament writers, they say that “Only the Holy Spirit can do that!” Only the Holy Spirit can produce love like that.
So, when he is saying keep on being filled with the Spirit, he is saying “keep on in what you are doing and don’t go back to the symposium life which ends up breaking the furniture and disintegrating relationships and re-establishing the old hostilities. Continue on moving into this place where the Spirit is opening up a completely new realm for you of life and relationships. It’s growing into your inheritance. That’s what God has for you. To grow into your inheritance in the Holy Spirit.
Coming back to what was said at the beginning – about the houses and stuff. The difference is that if you are drinking or using some other substance it is just a direct bio-chemical, pharmacological reaction. Alcohol depresses your brain which is why you can’t walk so well without wobbling and your speech becomes a little bit silly. You think you are saying the most wise things in the world and you are absolutely an idiot.
But the Holy Spirit is not like that. He’s a person and what does it mean to be filled with a person? What does it mean to be on being filled with the person who is the Holy Spirit. Now when you are filled with a person, let’s say in marriage. Everything that that person is impacts everything that you are and particularly when you are first married that is a bit of a new thing. I never realized how selfish I was until I got married. And then my wife and I never realized how selfish we were until we had our first child. Because everyone in that relationship – you are bonded together like that. It impacts the other. You are in a space now where you are not your own person. Your will influences another’s will, another’s will influences yours. Their desires and your desires become melded. I that place you experience their joy. But also in that place they experience your pain and one of the deepest elements of any relational life is that you weep with those who weep. You don’t just rejoice with those who rejoice.
The Holy Spirit here in this picture is like the person who brings us into a relationship where he is constantly opening himself more to us and he is constantly drawing us more into himself. And by virtue of that he is opening us up to himself.
Now in which room of the house was the Holy Spirit? … and the answer is “He’s in every nook and cranny”. He’s in every room in your house, your internal house. And there may be a place in your internal house which is full of cobwebs and spiders and things that you don’t want to face. It’s a filing cabinet of dark secrets that you want to keep shut. It’s a place that has pain in it and you don’t want to face it. Somewhere in that house there will be sort of like a grave-marker that is too emotionally sensitive for you to get close to. And when the Holy Spirit leads you into that place, sometimes through deep pain because you are experiencing his pain. Sometimes through circumstances beyond your control he leads you in to that place and you think, “What am I going to find here?”. In this filing cabinet or in this dark corner or in this place where there is a memorial marker and the pain is so great I can’t face it. The Holy Spirit takes you hand in hand personally and he leads you to that place and he opens it up and he says “I’ve already been here”. It’s clean. All your filing cabinets – empty. I’ve already cleansed it. All of your griefs and sorrows I have already carried. All of the pain that you feel about this emotional event, this loss, this thing that you can barely speak about – I’ve already entered. And I want you to come with me into this place because the fullness of your inheritance is not from running away from it, it’s from actually looking at it and seeing that I am already here.
Do you know why, most people that I have ever worked with as a Pastor who are alcoholics have become alcoholics. The most common story I have heard is “I drink to forget the pain”. But when the Holy Spirit comes in his fullness to bring us to a place where he is actually facing the brokenness of who we are and the brokenness of the families we have grown up with and the brokenness of the relationships that have happened to us. He takes us to that place for out of that pain we learn joy. You can’t blot it out no matter how much you drink.
Many years ago I was working with one of our students who was a recovering alcoholic and he lost his way and I ended up visiting him in a hospital where he was critically ill on drips. And he said to me “Noel, what they say is right – one drink is a drink is a drink too many and a thousand is never enough.” Because, when I try and run away from the pain of what he was facing a thousand drinks will not blot it out.
The Holy Spirit on the other hand, is the one who loves you for all that he is worth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the son who has died for you. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of the Father who has embraced you and given his son and the Holy Spirit takes you as fire to cleanse, as water to wash, as wind to blow things clean – he takes you to all those places where you are most frightened to go and he says “There, you will already find me”. You don’t have to bring me to that place, I am already there. I have already been there, I have already entered it, I have already cleansed it. And by being on, being filled, by opening yourself to this new relationship in the spirit we are hearing his word and obeying his voice. He is constantly expanding and growing you into a mature spiritual person in the Lord. Which is what our destiny is.
I hope today that you can hear that. Not as a moralistic piece of pious, religious rubbish but it is actually the inheritance for which you have been created. So be on being filled with the Spirit – Not once, but always.
In Jesus name.