Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Scientists have for a long time been trying to understand alcohol?s effects on the brain. Recently they?ve determined that alcohol affects a certain GABA receptor in our brain cells, one with a delta subunit. Turns out that GABA is the primary neurotransmitter responsible for inhibition. When alcohol enters the brain it essentially turns off this inhibitor, and that?s why people say and do things they wouldn?t otherwise. The brain?s natural defense mechanisms against stupidity have been disabled.
Paul uses the analogy of getting drunk in this section of Ephesians. But as we?ll see, I believe some Christians make a serious mistake when trying to link the anti-inhibitory characteristics of alcohol with the infilling of the Spirit. While we don?t think right when alcohol is in our system in overabundance; when the Spirit is acting on our brains we think more clearly than ever.
In our study through Paul?s letter we?ve seen the Apostle encourage us to ?walk worthy of the calling you have received?. Our goal is to live our lives (?walk?) in a way that reflects the character of Jesus in everything we do, think, and say. He?s talked about the way we talk to each other (4:25-31), how we act to each other (4:28, 32) and even how we think (4:18-24).
In fact, it all starts with our thinking patterns. Paul said that we ?are being renewed in the spirit of your minds? (4:23), putting off the old ways of thinking, and putting on the ways of thinking like Jesus.
Now we come to Ephesians 5:15, which begins one big thought all the way through 6:9. The whole thing can be summed up in verse 15:
Don?t be an accidental Christian, Paul says. As wonderful as salvation is?and it is supremely wonderful?you are not finished once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior; in fact, your journey has just begun. You?re forgiven and cleansed and pleasing to God through what Jesus has done, but two things happen: God changes us from the inside, and uses us as ambassadors and soldiers to further His kingdom on the outside.
We?ll get to the soldier part in Chapter 6. You represent Jesus to this age. You have been conscripted into God?s army, joining a battle where the battle is over the hearts and souls of humans and facing an enemy who does not fight fair. The other thing to remember is that the war is more important than you. It?s bigger than you.
So Paul wants us to ?pay careful attention? to ?how? we live our lives. The Greek word akribos means: ?diligently, precisely, and accurately?. We need to have an accurate self-reflection, not to condemn ourselves, but to know areas where we need work?areas where we don?t really reflect God?s character very well.
He says do this as ?wise? not ?unwise.? The two Greek words are Sophos and asophos. Sophos means to have skill at something, to be an expert at something. Asophos means ?without skill?. We need to be experts at accurate self-reflection, repentance, seeking God?s cleansing and seeing Him change our character. Why? Look at the next verse:
Our time here is limited. God wants us to make the most of the time we have to be the most effective for Him. Paul doesn?t want us to be pulled about by fleshly desires because that?s not being effective for the kingdom. Paul says ?make the most?. The word comes from commercial language and means an intensive buying activity, snapping up all available merchandise. Have you ever seen an incredible sale on something you need a lot of? You get all the store will allow. So we need to make the most of every opportunity to reflect God?s character or self-sacrificing, other-centered affection and purity. Why is this important? Because ?the days are evil.? This basically means that this age (?the days? we live in) is controlled by the evil one?the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2).
Satan will stop at nothing to stop you from stealing people from his kingdom and bringing them into the kingdom of light through the example of who you are in Jesus. Soldiers in battle don?t win victories by accident. It takes careful planning, execution, courage, and fortitude. It is no different with us and the gospel.
?Don?t be foolish? Paul says (aphron). It means to be without having your brain in gear. Think straight. ?Understand? here means ?to get it straight in your mind.? What are we getting straight? The will of God. The idea here is that God?s will is for us to be saved by grace and transformed by the Spirit, then bring the gospel to as many as possible. This isn?t just an intellectual exercise but something we struggle with each day in our daily lives.
Don?t give into anger, don?t speak words that destroy, don?t rip others off but work hard to have something to give to someone in need, speak in a way that you have something to give of benefit to another. Don?t fall back into sexual immorality in your actions or words.
We?re talking here about influence. What influences your character? Is it the spirit of this age or the Spirit of God in the age to come?
How do you think straight? Let?s look at the next verse:
We sometimes take this verse out of context, as if Paul is just listing off a bunch of do?s and don?ts. What he says is true: getting drunk leads to reckless actions because alcohol acting on the brain reduces our cognitive control mechanisms, making us more likely to say or do something our sober minds would not allow us to engage in.
But look at it in context: he wants us to use reason to figure out the most appropriate way of acting in any situation so that God?s kingdom is furthered, considering that there is an enemy out there who is very crafty and who will stop at nothing to keep you from being effective for God?s kingdom.
So Paul is saying: don?t let your thinking be clouded by being filled with the values, thoughts, and actions of this age which is controlled by the Devil. Instead, let God?s Holy Spirit so influence your thinking that you will automatically act in ways that reflect His character instead of the character of this age.
Now I will stop here for a moment and say that well-meaning Christians have TOTALLY gotten this verse wrong. Somehow they have made being beside yourself and unable to control your words and actions like when you are drunk with alcohol analogous to being filled with the Spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, under the influence of the Spirit you will think more clearly than ever?and strategically about how you can represent God in a dark age.
Paul wants us to be continually under the influence. That?s the idea of the Greek. With alcohol the affects wear off. With the Spirit, it should never go away. I call it LUI instead of DUI ? Living Under the Influence of the Spirit.
In the next three verses Paul lays out what this looks like (and, by the way, 18-21 is just one long sentence):
19 ? 21
Life under the influence of the Spirit is characterized by three things: singing, thanksgiving, and mutual submission.
The Greek word for ?speak? here means ?to utter a sound.? The forms that sound takes are in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The inference here is that we should be continually encouraging one another in what Jesus has done for us. We do this by corporately singing songs to the Lord. Here at Calvary Chapel Newberg we call it ?musical prayers to God.? Nearly all of our songs could be sung as prayers and praises directly to the Lord. I think that?s what Paul has in mind when he says: ?singing and making music from your heart to the Lord.? Though Paul uses three words here, they are essentially interchangeable and together mean the full range of songs that we Christians sing to our Lord in worship and praise.
Do you have praise that comes from your heart, that deep place within you, that you lift up to our Savior? If not, I would highly encourage you to start.
Secondly, Christians should be continually amazed at what God has done for us in Jesus. We have real hope, real forgiveness, real joy and satisfaction?unavailable by any other means. This thanksgiving is also expressed in our worship. We give thanks to the Father in the name of Jesus because that?s how we get access to the Father?through what Jesus has done.
When Paul says ?giving thanks always? the idea is continually or regularly. Part of Living Under the Influence of the Spirit is a constant sort of stream of praise, whether in a corporate setting, or just by yourself.
The final thought of ?mutual submission? is hotly debated by scholars. Some believe that it means that everyone in the body of Christ is equal and we should submit to one another equally. As Paul said: Galatians 3:28 ?There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus? and Galatians 6:2 ?Carry one another?s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ? and Phil. 2:3 ?Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.? (ESV).
Others feel it refers to submission to one of higher authority?something we?ll see detailed when it comes to rules that govern the Christian household in the remainder of this chapter.
Though good Christians disagree, I tend to think it is the former. Paul has been laying out a pattern of thinking, speaking, and acting in a way that is in concert with the self-sacrificing love of God (5:2, for instance). Our act of submitting to one another, even when it hurts, reflects that character in a practical way into the battlefield and is like salvos launched against an enemy who is filling minds with attitudes of ?me first, last, and always.?
And notice how this mutual submission occurs: in the ?fear of Christ.? It isn?t just respect for Jesus, but the recognition that everything we do will be evaluated by the Lord to see if it was done in Him or in ourselves. It?s not a judgment as in condemnation, but more like an audit. Paul talks more about this in 1 Corinthians 3.
So to sum up this section: Don?t let the values of this age permeate your thinking patterns, but let the clarity of thinking like Jesus so fill your mind that will 1) constantly fill your head that you represent Jesus in this age and 2) constantly fill your mouth with praise and thanksgiving to God and 3) live out that clear thinking and praise by focusing the love of God outward, finding ways to benefit others, rather than just yourself.
You have this opportunity to ?walk worthy? in life?s most important relationships: in marriage, in parent-child relationships, and at work. We?ll see how that plays out over the next few weeks.