Ephesians 5.15-20: Be filled with the Spirit

When I was a curate I once began a sermon on this passage by asking the congregation a question. The question was: ‘When were you last drunk?’ I’m not sure all of them were amused as it was early on in my time there and they hadn’t quite got used to my sense of humour!


But there’s a strange set of images here that are placed side by side. 5.18 says: ‘Do not get drunk on wine. Instead be filled with the (Holy) Spirit’. St Paul could quite easily have said, ‘don’t get angry with each other but instead be filled with the Spirit’. Or, ‘stop being jealous of others but instead be filled with the Spirit’. But no, he says ‘don’t get drunk but instead be filled with the Spirit. There’s obviously something significant about putting together the image of being under the influence of alcohol with being under the influence of God – which after all is what we are talking about. Because the Holy Spirit is the third person or facet of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Perhaps St Paul is making a sort of light hearted comment here? If the Ephesian church members were going to be ‘under the influence’ then far better that they were ‘under the influence’ of the Holy Spirit than ‘under the influence’ of drink!


I think it’s quite clear that he’s trying to make a point. So perhaps the first question we need to ask today is ‘Who or what is the Holy Spirit?’ The word for ‘spirit’ in the original language of the bible, also means ‘wind’ or ‘breath’. One way of thinking about the Holy Spirit is to see him as God’s breath. God’s life force. When God breathes he breathes out the Holy Spirit. To be empowered and enlivened by the breath of God is what we need and hopefully want. We don’t want to be intoxicated with alcohol but instead we want to be intoxicated with God. If we’re going to be ‘under the influence’ let’s be ‘under the influence’ of God rather than drink!


But there’s something else quite interesting that we need to note. When the apostles were first filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (you can read about that in Acts 2) – you will remember the story I’m sure – they were all sitting together in that room, scared and anxious about the future. Jesus had ascended back into heaven and they were on their own but Jesus had promised that someone else would come and be alongside them. And then the Holy Spirit came upon them in a quite amazing way with some very strange effects. The onlookers however, made fun of them saying ‘they have had too much wine!’ Clearly being filled with the Holy Spirit had a noticeable effect on them. Possibly they were displaying a great sense of joy. But Peter on behalf of the apostles said, ‘No we are not drunk because it’s only nine o’clock in the morning (or the sun’s not yet over the yardarm we might say today) and he went on to explain looking back to Old Testament prophecies what had happened. They had all been filled with the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised.


But the important thing is that they were transformed by the Spirit’s presence within them. Their fear was replaced with boldness, their anxiety was replaced by trust and their doubt was replaced with faith. They went on to lay the foundations of the church which has lasted 2000 years to this day. Over those years, thousands maybe even millions have been added to the church – each one added in by the Holy Spirit.


Being part of the kingdom of God is described as being like new wine. It’s actually a common image in the bible. The life of Christian discipleship is at times challenging and painful. But it’s also exciting. It’s joyful. It’s fulfilling. It’s like new wine.


To open up our lives to God the Holy Spirit is to open ourselves up to an amazing array of positive influences – there’s nothing negative about it. It’s to open ourselves up to unconditional love. A love that always wants the very best for us whether or not we remain faithful to him. It’s to open ourselves up to a friend who is happy to accept us as we are and to help us work through those faults and failings that we know about so well. It’s to open ourselves up to a deep sense of inner peace. It’s to open ourselves up to an ongoing sense of joy despite the problems and issues that come our way. There’s no need to fear or be anxious about the Holy Spirit. His influence can only be good – because he’s God. That’s the kind of influence I would like to be under.


Today is a great occasion because we are going to baptise two new members of the family of God. There are a lot of meanings and themes associated with baptism but one is quite clear. Baptism marks belonging. It’s a sign of membership. Later on this morning I will be signing Rebecca and Matthew with the sign of the cross. That’s as important a part of the baptism service as the water but often gets overlooked. The cross is an invisible badge of membership of the church. And that membership is sealed, stamped, marked by the Holy Spirit. From that moment on, we hope and pray that with the help of their parents and godparents and the family of God here at St Paul’s they will be guided by the Holy Spirit.


And that’s what we hope and pray for ourselves too. That today we will remember our own baptism and the fact that we have been joined to the family of God and that membership has been sealed by the Holy Spirit – given the stamp of God’s approval. We pray that we will be daily filled with the Holy Spirit and be under his influence.