Bible Bite – Ephesians 5:18-21 and being filled with the Spirit

Bible Bites TeethNow the other night as my wife and I were reading Acts, she asked me the question about the filling of the Spirit, so we talked about that a bit.  We talked about Acts 2 and then flipped over to Ephesians 5, and made some observations.  Here’s the text we read in Ephesians:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-21

Now I’ve already written on the Baptism of the Spirit, and if you’ve been in Christian circles for any length of time you’ve already been taught that Ephesians 5:18-21 teaches that being “filled with the Spirit” means basically “being under the control of the Spirit”, in contradistinction to “getting more of the Spirit” (a teaching made popular in charismatic circles where people essentially get a greater quantity of the Holy Spirit…usually by attending a worship event, conference or some sort of meeting/rally/revival).  The contrast in the passage is fairly clear and difficult to miss:

v. 18a – Being drunk —> debauchery


V. 18b Being Spirit filled —>

(a) addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (v. 19)
(b) singing and making melody to the Lord (v. 19)
(c) giving thanks (v. 20)
(d) submitting to one another (v. 21)

Not too difficult. Christians have the same quantity of Holy Spirit in their hearts (namely, all that one can have), but Christians have differing levels of submission to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Fairly common teaching in most half decent churches.

But, when my wife and I were talking I all of a sudden recognized something.  Paul lists 4 characteristics of being under the control of the Spirit, and Paul then spends the rest of chapters 5 and 6 only explaining 1 component on that list in 5 different manifestations:

5:22-24 – Wives to Husbands
5:25-33 – Husbands to Christ
6:1-4 – Children to Parents
6:5-9 – Slaves to Masters
6:10-20 -All Christians to God

What component is that?  Submission.  Paul doesn’t spend 2 chapters unpacking “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”.  Paul doesn’t spend 2 chapters unpacking “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”.  Paul doesn’t spend 2 chapters unpacking “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Paul spends 2 chapters unpacking submission, and I’d suggest that reflects Paul’s concept of “what shows spirituality”.

I’d suggest that Paul’s concept of “what shows spirituality” is fairly opposite that of many, if not most Christians.

– How many times have you heard someone come out of a worship service and describe how amazing it was, or how the Spirit was “so there”?

– How many times have you heard someone talk about how they had an amazing time of personal worship and devotion like it was better than anything else?

– How many times have you heard someone talk about how someone that prays a lot is the “most Christian person ever”?

Paul doesn’t consider any of those the “high bar” of spirituality.  Paul considers submission to one’s role/authority the high bar of spirituality and the most important manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.

The Christian who is a lousy/lazy employee that is rebellious against his boss and brings dishonor to his employer but tries to show off his “spirituality” by talking about his church/personal devotional life/theology/the gospel all the time is simply confused about what true spirituality looks like.  The Christian woman who prays for everyone, encourages everyone and always has a bible verse to share but has constant yelling matches with her husband or demeans him before others in public settings is simply confused about what true spirituality looks like.  The children who know how to behave in church and answer Bible trivia questions but dishonor their parents are simply confused about what true spirituality looks like.

You feeling as convicted as me?

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Be Filled not Fooled!” Unger


19 thoughts on “Bible Bite – Ephesians 5:18-21 and being filled with the Spirit

  1. So a slave who is rebellious to his master is not being ‘spiritual’ because he’s not ‘submissive enough’……?

    This is what I like to call the “Convervative Cranial Collapse”.

    You seem to have missed a rather troubling part of that passage, and glossed over the fact that you’re conflating submission to your boss with submission of a slave to a master.

    But I just live in the US south. We don’t know anything about that.
    *double facepalm*

    • “Convervative Cranial Collapse”? I like that! Can I steal that and give credit?

      Well, here’s the text in Ephesians:

      “Bondservants,obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.” – Eph. 6:5-8

      That’s the position of God on the issue. It is pretty clear.

      A Spirit-filled slave should obey their masters with fear and trembling, from the heart, as if that master were Christ.

      Let me know if I’m missing something.

      (Also, feel free to simply ignore the text of the Bible on the basis of a surface level misunderstanding of it when filtered through 21st century philosophy/politics/values, etc. I call that the “liberal lobotomy”.)

      Secondly, I don’t use the term “spiritual” in a generic sense. It’s short hand for “acting in the way that the Holy Spirit would have you act”. Perhaps I wasn’t clear on that.

      Finally, I am conflating submission to your boss with submission of a slave to a master? Well, no. I’m not conflating per say, but rather extracting the universal principle of the text (those under authority should subject themselves to that authority as unto Christ) and applying it to our modern context of employer-employee relationships.

      I’d suggest that you’re conflating the slavery of the American South with the slavery in the time of Christ (not that any Americans ever myopically think that everyone in history had American values and problems…). But I’m just a Bible scholar…we don’t know anything about the ancient near east.

  2. Oh, I see now. So the slavemasters in Christ’s time were good slavemasters while the slavemasters in the US south were the real bad guys. That makes sense. Have slaves, own human beings, all that, just be nice to them.

    So it’s not owning people as chattel that’s immoral, it’s just treating the people you own as chattel poorly that really gets God’s goat. When Moses said to Pharoah, “Let my people go!”, he was upset about the generally poor working conditions. If the slavemasters had a dental care provision or maybe a weekend or two off for the human beings and their children they owned, it’d be totally cool for them to own a person.

    *the near impossible TRIPLE facepalm*

    I’m not conflating slavery in Christ’s time with American slavery. I’m just extracting out the universal principle of the text. That’s allowed. Conflation bad. Extracting universal principles good: for example, your ‘boss’ or your ‘marriage’ in Christ’s time is the same as it is now! That’s a universal principle.


    • What? Where in the world did I suggest that the slave masters in Christ’s time were good? I never suggested anything of the sort, but the moral nature of slavery isn’t decided by the moral conduct of the slave masters anyway.

      1. Slavery in and of itself isn’t a moral evil. Depending on your culture, that might be something a little too radical for you to swallow.

      God never overturned slavery in the OT but rather regulated it. The same goes for the NT with both Jesus and the apostles. Paul regularly called himself a “slave of Christ”, which would be strange language if slavery, in and of itself, was sinful.

      Much of the slavery in the Old Testament was indentured servitude, where people who fell on hard times sold themselves into slavery when there was no other option. Slavery was an institution that, at it’s worst, was absolutely horrible but at it’s best, saved a lot of lives.

      I mean, you talk about Egypt and Israel. Right after Israel was freed from Egypt, God gave them rules for owning and managing slaves in the law. Sure seems hypocritical of God, if slavery is a moral evil. Paul also told Onesimus to return to Philemon and submit to him. Paul could have easily commanded Philemon to let Onesimus go, but he didn’t. Again, strange words if slavery is a moral evil.

      2. You also said:

      “for example, your ‘boss’ or your ‘marriage’ in Christ’s time is the same as it is now! That’s a universal principle.”

      No, that’s not a universal principle. I never said that was. You’re sure quick to twist my words or attribute something to me I haven’t said.

      3. The main 21st century ideas I’m referring to would be:

      a. Slavery as practiced in the American South is the definitive manifestation of slavery for all history.

      I would also suspect that there are many other ideas about the nature of morality, but I don’t know what philosophical path you take to hold a moral standard above God and his word.

      Do you believe the Biblical testimony to the inspiration of scripture? I guess that’s a good enough place to start unpacking that issue.

      4. Just a matter of protocol. You can’t do a triple or quadruple *facepalm*. You only have two palms. I appreciate the over-the-top expression of disgust, but let’s not go off into the territory of claiming that you have 4 arms.

      • Great. That’s wonderfully clear. God isn’t against slavery. He just wants to regulate it.

        On that note, I’m hoping to start owning some slaves and was hoping you could give me some advice so that I’m doing it ‘the right and Biblical way’, and free from all those 21st century ideas like “All slavery was wrong.” A few quick questions to get me started:

        1. Where do I get my slaves from in a Biblical way? Historically, people have used ethnic minorities. But I’m in the South where the majority of people are black and the whites are the minority. Can I own white people? More importantly, is it okay if I take them by force like the Israelites did to their combatants’ wives and children?

        2. What’s a Biblical way to treat my slaves? How much food do I have to give them at a bare minimum to be properly ‘regulated’ according to God’s laws?

        3. Slavery evidently helped “save a few lives” of the poor when they fell on hard times. In this time of economic recession, I was thinking about rounding up some homeless people and making them my slaves, but obviously being sure they were ‘submissive’ enough to ensure they were also very ‘spiritual’. Do I have to force them to Christianity, or can they keep whatever religion they want? I know they’re my property, but it seems crass to own them and make them toe the line religiously.

        Thanks for your advice! I’m looking forward to my first batch of “God regulated slaves” any day now!!!

  3. By the way, which “21st century philosophy/politics/values” are you referring to? Like, the ones about not owning human beings as property?

    If so, sign me up for some more of those.

    • Moses, I’ll just keep repeating myself since you keep missing the obvious point:

      ***Slavery as practiced in the American South is not the definitive manifestation of slavery for all times and places.***

      You seem unable to escape the hang-over you have from your myopic and self-obsessed definition of “slavery” from your own tiny slice of culture and history. Get your eyes off your own navel, stop mocking, and start thinking beyond your zip code.

      Slavery is illegal in the United States, so you cannot do it in the US. It IS legal in many other countries (many of those countries are where adoption is illegal but slavery isn’t).

      Feel free to go over seas, purchase slaves, and treat them lovingly and with care like Christ does to his slaves (like me). Feel free to be a loving master to them: rescue them from hopeless lives of poverty (living in a dump or forced childhood prostitution or something), feed them, bind their wounds, educate them, teach them marketable skills, proclaim Christ to them, and then allow them to purchase their freedom if and when they desire for whatever price is fair and reasonable. Then see if they want to attain their freedom or remain under your care, protection and provision. Allow them to do whatever they choose, and if they choose to leave then send them off with your blessing and sufficient money to make a new and good living for themselves.

      Then ask them if they think that slavery is inherently morally evil.

      I wonder what they would say?

      • Wonderful! You’ve given me a delightful roadmap to ethically owning slaves.

        Move to a foreign country, purchase some poor people, feed them (and get them to do work for me without pay…. OBVIOUSLY!), and then allow them later (after all that delightful free work) to purchase their freedom (though letting them eventually purchase their freedom is a particular form of slave ownership only in certain cultures, isn’t it!? Hmmm. Lyndon, not all slavery works like that!! Shouldn’t I be able to have my slaves for their entire natural life? Stop your myopic and self-obsessioned visions of slave ownership where I have to let them purchase their freedom!). Badda bing, badda boom, I’m a nice ethical slavemaster.

        I suppose I’m begging the point here, but the thrust of my argument is not that the mistreatment of slaves is the principle moral wrong (though it obviously is deeply deeply wrong); my point is that owning human beings as property is in itself morally wrong. No matter how many wounds I bind (couldn’t I do that without owning them?), how many times I proclaim Christ to them (couldn’t I do that without owning them?), no matter how much food I give them (couldn’t I do that without owning them?), the very act of owning someone as property is immoral.

      • Uh, it sure seems that you’re not really interested in discussing anything. You seem like you just are baiting me to say something like “slavery isn’t wrong” so that you can get your “AHA!” in.

        You just cannot get past the manifestation of slavery that you have in your mind. You’re in some sort of temporal coma where you’re somewhere in the American south in the 18th century and cannot escape.

        If I was in modern Thailand (or some middle eastern country) and purchased some kids (boys or girls) out of the sex trade (and purchasing them is the ONLY way to get them out), then the minute I purchased them, they’d be my slaves and I’d be a slave owner. If I lived in that country, the minute I freed them they’d be kidnapped and forced back into the sex trade, so I’d have to keep them under my protection until they were legal adults (or old enough to protect themselves).

        I’d do my absolute utmost treat them like adopted children, but as far as the law was concerned, they’d be my slaves. I’d pay them for their labors, love them, train them, and do everything I could to bring them to the Lord.

        No beatings and no abuse.

        You are free to purchase slaves in a land like Thailand. You’re free to not pay them, and keep them for life. I have no idea who the person is with the gun to your head forcing you to act wickedly.

        Your point that “owning human beings as property is in itself morally wrong” is simply wrong.

        There’s nowhere in the Bible where a person would get that.

        1. There’s a whole lot of talk in the Bible where Christians are called slaves of Christ:

        Peter calls himself a slave of God/Christ (Acts 4:29; 2 Peter 1:1)

        Paul calls himself a slaves of Christ/God (Rom 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1)

        Paul calls Timothy a slave of Christ (Phil. 1:1)

        Paul calls Epaphras a slave of Christ (Col. 4:12)

        James calls himself a slave of Christ (James 1:1)

        Jude calls himself a slave of Christ (Jude 1:1)

        Paul calls all Christians slaves of Christ (Eph. 6:6).

        If slavery is inherently wrong, and Christ is a slave owner, then Christ is a sinner.

        2. None of the apostles ever told masters to free their slaves or spoke of slavery as inherently evil. In Ephesians 6:9 God says through Paul:

        “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”

        If slavery is inherently wrong, it’s VERY strange that Paul doesn’t say something like “Let your slaves GO! It’s wrong to own another person like a piece of property!”

        Paul also wrote a letter to Philemon and NEVER told him to let Onesimus go. Paul rather told Onesimus to return to Philemon and submit to him.

        • Hi everyone, Moses T., the slavery spoken of in Biblical times was entirely different than the slavery of the American South. It was an entirely different system than the Southern American Plantation Owner system, still shocks people how bad it was for slaves, stolen from their lands. The Slavery mentioned in the Bible…it depends a lot on who is being spoken too, in Paul’s case, he was committing himself to slavery to Christ with the meaning of 100 per cent dedication to Christ. +++

      • Having passed this around to a few friends, they all say the same thing: “Wow, only a white person would write that.”

        That’s fine. There’s a long, undistinguished history of tin-eared white folks who seem to think the Bible can be used to help ‘regulate slavery’ and who seem to confuse a metaphor about our relationship with Christ with a social reality for human beings. Some of them are even Americans. But some people don’t have the luxury of white privilege that allows them to distantly muse on what ‘regulated’ slavery might be; some folks only have to take a fairly short trip down their genealogy to discover an ancestor in chains and a tin-eared white person claiming they were doing slavery the ‘Biblical way’. That’s wonderful that you’ve found a tidy formula and some gentle talking points about saving children that help think about what an ethical form of slavery might be for you or might be in a place like Thailand; you have that luxury. The rest of us worry that over and over again it seems to be the tin-eared white folks who always claim they’re doing slavery the ‘Biblical way’ while the rest of us get the arse end of history.

        But you have that luxury. Enjoy it.

        • Dear Moses T, I also just recalled the “Tuskegee Institute” experiment. I noticed you happened to use what is to me a British term in your post. I’m fairly certain Mennonknight would know of the “Tuskegee Institute” done in the ’40’s: men all black were subjected to syphilis and then some were treated and some were not: even in the 1940’s America, Black Americans were not seen as ”equal”. It’s a very complex issue and I’m not certain the Country will ever totally recover. By contrast, my own father was an on-site participant in the Nevada nuclear bomb testing and later contracted seven forms of nuclear cancer. I myself am disabled. I do believe when He gave us Free Will is when all injustice by humans began, Moses T, and also question even the sincerity Lincoln’s intentions: was it to break slavery for the slaves, or to break slavery for the economy? And then…when a friend explained to me about the high-colour thing, where lighter skin elevated you in the Black Community, I was floored. That even within the Black Community there could be a sort of caste system occurring. And, of course, the lighter the skin, the more likely the white blood. She even had to explain to me what a certain word meant in context and why it was alright for the Black Community could say it but not the white community. I’m going to confess a secret to you: one day when I was over, her mom was simmering pigs ears and greens on the back of the stove. And the first thought went through my mind was “Why this many years later you want to eat the white mans trash?” I have a black doctor when I refer people to him I don’t see the need to mention he’s black. Why should I? Who goes around saying ”here’s the name of a good white doctor?” God Bless you and yours +++

      • Well, if you have to simply ignore my arguments from scripture and revert to wining an argument by “dismissal via racism”, you don’t have a case; you have a blind traditionalism. You can believe whatever you want. I’ll stick with scripture.

        I’ve provided a fair amount of biblical considerations that you’ve simply ignored and plucked away on the only string you’ve got on your banjo; owning people HAS TO BE wrong at all times and in all manifestations because of the horrible treatment of black slaves in the American south, and if the Bible disagrees with you, ignore all arguments and scripture (and simply repeat this proclamation).

        Good luck with that.

        I’m sure somewhere Jesus is applauding your unassailable commitment to your ideals.

        • I can’t help leaving one or a few more points, only a small amount of white Americans will even discuss slavery or the truth of the Civil War. It’s a hard thing to comprehend the evilness that can occur due to the Free Will given to mankind when Adam and Eve were commanded to leave The Garden of Eden. There’s a legacy left through generations because of the slave trade in America. There’s deep wounds in many whose ancestors endured slavery. None of it, from beginning to end, was fair, not even now is it truly fair and equal. This has begun bothering me severely: Dear God In Your Son Christs’ Name, Please provide to Moses everything he needs to manage the topic of white American slavery. Please direct him with conviction. I come boldly to You, Most High One, asking for You to help Moses determine what to do with his extensive knowledge of this time in history and please Bless him as in Jeremiah 29:11 and give him double for his trouble as slavery is in the core of the American psyche even to this day. Thank you, Send, Amen. +++

    • One other point:

      Why is it that you assume that slavery as practiced by the worst examples of wicked men (with beatings, starvation, murder, etc.) is how slavery SHOULD be practiced?

      That says a whole lot more about you than it does about slavery.

  4. As an American born in the South, I can really ”get” where Moses is coming from and very surprisingly recently Cheerios cereal ran a simple commercial depicting an interracial marriage and the company plus the public was shocked with the amount of complaints that came in, Cheerios pulled the ad for awhile, then made the decision to continue airing the commercial.
    Slavery, in America, was often violent in nature and Moses, I surmise, is indeed familiar with the sordid history: no books allowed. back-breaking work. the worst left-overs of the animals to eat. Floggings that flayed the skin, leaving forever scars, often for simple offenses. I have studied this Era of American history and it is rare the slave-owner or his “Foreman” were very benevolent, they were afraid if they were, there would be a rebellion.
    Being a “House Servant” was an honor and to top it off often the “House Servants” thought themselves better than other slaves. So, within the system itself was a caste system. We have at least one United States President, President Thomas Jefferson, whose wife passed away. She had a half-sister from her father raping a slave woman. Her name was Sally Hemmings. It is said Sally was a twin in appearance to Jefferson’s white wife. It was later definitively proven through DNA testing a vast amount of descendents of President Jefferson and Sally Hemmings do exist. She was treated, by accounts, better than ”regular” slaves and yet it is also on record she asked for her formal freedom upon his death and this does not indicate she was an entirely willing participant. Interestingly, upon his death, Sally was given a sum of money and her freedom to begin a new life.

    Now, we move back to Biblical times. In the excellent Bible course I took, the teacher took great pains to point out to always look at the who, what and why of the Bible portions being studied.

    So, at the point-in-time the statements were made regarding slavery, it was actually a necessary way for the otherwise homeless to survive. The Bible is speaking of a time in history where such great needs were abounding people would volunteer for slavery. It was not to be the sort of slavery Moses T recognized from the U.S. South. At that time, an owner had responsibilities to their slaves in ways without force. It was a way of life and often the slaves were adopted into the families and also left inheritances.

    I share your thoughts, Moses T, and I admire your name, in the slave days, it was pure abuse and not Biblical nor sanctioned. I believe the evidence exists for this in the facts of the War itself. It was a harmful event when Lincoln was assassinated before he could finish rebuilding the society.

    Moses T will know what I mean by the names Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, one tired woman on a bus refused to go to the back any longer. And that began the Civil Rights Movement, fraught with drama, death and danger.

    I hope I have helped in some small way, Moses T, and am so very sorry for the history of slavery in our Nation. I won’t run from the results. And I respect your thoughts. Yet, I assure you, due to Free Will, God Himself did not approve of slavery and the soil is to this day filled with blood from the fight to end it. In Christs’ Love, Bless you, Moses T. I’m white. I am truly sorry for the past. Because you know well as I in some areas the attitudes live on in the Deep South. Dear God In Your Son Lord Jesus Christ’s Name, Please Bless Moses T as You so Dearly state in Jeremiah 29:11 and help this man who is right to question the American status of slavery. A very complex subject. Thank You, Send. Amen. +++

  5. Hi Moses T, Just read your post and see what you mean: American Southern Slavery versus Biblical Slavery. There’s a huge difference. In Biblical times, most slaves were homeless and would actually apply to a household. Yet, there were different standards in Biblical times than in the Deep South. I’m getting a sense you might be right about me being a tin-eared white, I’m kinda feeling like you’re saying ”to me, you’re not getting the restriction of slavery, you’re not comprehending the loss of freedom, no matter how you look at it” and to you Slavery is Slavery no matter the circumstances. The Southern Slaves were subjected to: incest, beatings, living in shacks, being shackled while working, beatings, trash for food, not allowed to read, not allowed to use their own names, unless the Plantation Owner had a drop of kindness were not seen by doctors and left to themselves to cope with illnesses and about the only thing I believe they were allowed was: singing. That’s not how Slavery was in Biblical times.
    Maybe I’m tin-eared but when I listen to Baby Huey, the words reach me, so does the feeling. The same for Sam Cooke and Brooke Benton and Dinah Washington and Sammy Davis Jr. and the list goes on and on. I don’t know if the Country is ever going to entirely recover from slavery, there’s too many areas still in the South where I’ve heard the ”attitude” is very similar. Have you ever read or seen information about the great fighter who broke, literally, every rule? His Name: Jack Johnson. As for my family…well it all began when my Great-Grandfather was in the IRA, an iconic terrorist group in Ireland. He was being hunted, too. Because of British enslavement.
    Take Care, God Bless so sorry to hear your own relatives were slaves and chained. +++

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