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"Relationships: A Matter of Spiritual Warfare"
Pt. 5

In our previous considerations of this subject we have suggested that inordinate speculation about spiritual warfare has resulted in ignorance concerning what’s truly at stake in this battle, relationships. Looking at the theme of unity in Ephesians we have discovered that the struggle concerning relationships is traceable to Eden where Satan disrupted the harmony of God’s creation. However, God immediately promised redemption, which includes a restoration of genuine unity. Nevertheless, Satan continues his agenda of fostering division and strife throughout the terrestrial order. Ephesians describes God’s purpose in terms of the creation of a new humanity that is not unified by externals but by a new identity in Christ. As members of God’s family, Christians are called to unity. Ephesians encourages us to be diligent in maintaining the unity that Christ’s redemptive work has accomplished and the Spirit has applied. Paul addresses this struggle with various admonitions concerning communication, fellowship, and behavior that can either alienate or unify the body of Christ. In this context, grieving the Spirit is disrupting the harmonious communal life of God’s people. In this issue, we consider the proper preparation for unity and maintaining God’s divine order for relationships.

Preparation for Unity

As Paul continues his instruction in Ephesians, he addresses that which is required for the realization of this divinely ordained unity. What prepares us for fulfilling this godly purpose? Where will we find the power to attain such unity? Is it possible for us to maintain harmony on our own? If the people of God experience this unity, it will not be as a result of self-reliant determination or innate strength. This is the work of the Spirit. To this the Apostle now turns.

Eph 5:18-21 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; 19 Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Many have found this passage perplexing. At first blush it may seem as though Paul has shifted gears. After admonishing the church concerning relationships and instructing them in behavior that appropriately reflects the revealed will of God, the Apostle begins to speak of things such as wine and fullness and singing. But this is not some unrelated digression. In fact, it meticulously follows the development of the Apostle’s overall train of thought. He is still speaking of behavior befitting the Christian, especially with regard to others. The two commands, “be not drunk” and “be filled,” are plural. Paul is addressing the church corporately. Likewise, the activity described is relational. Christians are speaking to one another. Proper behavior and relationships remain Paul’s central focus as he addresses the issue of influence.

The Filling of the Spirit

Though space will not permit a detailed treatment of this admonition, a few things should be said. Wine is one way in which the spirit of this age exerts influence over people. When a person drinks excessively, he finds himself out of control. Under the influence of intoxication, one’s behavior is characterized by aimlessness and recklessness. It also has the capacity to destroy relationships. This is not the kind of life Christians are called to live. Instead, we are to be filled with the Spirit.

Over against intoxication, the word “filled” also refers to influence. For instance, to be filled with anger is to be controlled by it. To be filled with compassion is to be moved to merciful action. In like manner, the “filling” in our passage refers to being governed by the Spirit. So, while wine enslaves a person and produces aimlessness, being filled with the Spirit empowers one to live deliberately and according to God’s revealed purpose.

In the Greek text, this command is in the present tense, which denotes continuous action. In other words, the filling in this passage is an ongoing process rather than a once-for-all occurrence. And since it is a command, it is not automatic. This harkens back to 4:3 where we are called upon to actively cooperate with the Spirit’s work in maintaining the unity that He brings. As Paul’s contrast makes clear, we can either be controlled by the Holy Spirit or by some spirit of this age.

Too often, this issue of being filled with the Spirit is interpreted apart from its context. In the verses that follow we find that the immediate outworking of the Spirit’s work is set in the framework of corporate worship. First of all, the command is plural. It is directed to the whole church. Paul is not addressing a Christian’s individual experience. The entire body, collectively, is commanded to be filled with the Spirit. Secondly, the benefits of living in obedience to this command are to be realized within the community of faith. Notice what will happen when the church is “filled with the Spirit.” They will speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. This is the language of corporate worship, not private devotion. These are expressions of praise, prompted by the Holy Spirit and conveyed in community. They exalt God, reveal His purpose and declare His glory. When the church is filled with the Spirit, her attention will be centered upon her great God and Savior. It is this God-ward focus that brings true unity. As long as the individual members of the church are focused upon themselves, discord will abound. The Spirit does not promote the self-indulgent individualism so popular in our day. Such a mindset can only lead to division and strife. The Spirit draws our attention, first and foremost, to God. When this occurs, we will begin to prefer our brethren above ourselves (cf. Rom 12:10; Phil 2:3). This is the mindset that fosters unity among God’s people.


The context of the command to be filled with the Spirit clearly points to a corporate reality. While the Spirit’s work is surely a personal and individual benefit of His indwelling presence, the outworking of His control in our lives will be evident in our relationships.

Next month we will explore the relational dimension of the Spirit’s control and the divine purpose of unity to which His work is aimed.

- Stan McGehee Jr