by Mike Ratliff
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; 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 to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. Ephesians 5:15-21 (NKJV)
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit“. At first glance that may read or sound like Paul is saying, “instead of getting drunk, do these religious things,” which he lists in vv19-21. However, as we know, the proper way to interpret Sacred Scripture is by keeping what we are studying in context foremost. Here, the context tells us that the Apostle Paul is making a contrast that the Ephesians would have understood perfectly. Let’s go deeper.
Here is the Greek for v18, “καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν Πνεύματι”. Here is my translation, “And be not drunk with wine, which is dissipation, but be filled with the spirit.” That’s pretty straightforward. The words translated in the NKJV as “do not be drunk” and by me as “be not drunk” are μὴ μεθύσκεσθε. The word μὴ or mē is used here to make this a negative command to not do something. The word translated here as “be drunk” is μεθύσκεσθε which is the present tense, imperative mood, passive voice form of μεθύσκω or methuskō, which literally means to soak something to make it more elastic. This term came to mean becoming drunk to the point of being controlled by alcohol. The present, imperative passive form, in this context, would be talking about a way of life. Since Paul was telling the Ephesians not to do this then this is a command to not pattern ones life according to this.
Paul’s contrast here was referring to a form of drunkeness he called ἀσωτία or asōtia. While μεθύσκω does refer to becoming drunk to the point of being controlled by alcohol, ἀσωτία is referring to a result, which the NKJV and I translated here as “dissipation.” What is this? The root of ἀσωτία is, of course, σωτία, which is derived from the the word σώζω or sōzō, which means “to save, deliver, make, whole, preserve safe from danger, loss, [and] destruction.” Since the alpha-negative is added to the beginning of σωτία to make ἀσωτία what we have here is the exact opposite. Therefore whatever is ἀσωτία has the properties of “no safety or deliverance, having no preservation from danger, loss, and destruction.” Do you see that Paul was referring to something much deeper than simply drinking too much wine?
The Ephesians would have understood because in the ancient Greek culture they worshiped the god Dionysus via frenzied orgies that were associated with intoxication. The use of phallic symbols, the tearing of wild animals to pieces, the eating of raw flesh, and savage dancing were also practiced. Why did they do this? They were supposed to induce some ecstatic communion with deities. In 1 Corinthians 10:19,20 Paul referred to this as the “cup of demons. In our time, in the visible church, there is a growing apostasy called Contemplative Prayer and Spiritual Formation that, instead of drunken orgies and such, utilize forms of transcendental meditation to achieve this higher level of spiritual ecstasy.
So, what is the contrast? What is Paul commanding Christians to do instead of this? He says, “πληροῦσθε ἐν Πνεύματι” or “be filled with the spirit.” Let us never forget that true communion with God is never induced outside of the means of Grace, which is by the Holy Spirit. All believers have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) and are baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation (1 Corinthians 12:13). The command, πληροῦσθε or plērousthe is the present imperative form of πληρόω or plēroō. It means to fill as a net with fish or a sail with the wind, but the present imperative form tells us that this is a command to pattern our lives to being filled with the spirit which leads to self control along with the other fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-23).
I do not think we are too far off to point to those who want to “go beyond” what the Bible teaches to “go higher” as being guilty of ἀσωτία because they are placing themselves under the control of wickedness. They are essentially losing control, but those who are filled with the spirit are actually practicing self control. While the natural man may look at that and see what I just said as a paradox, we do not because to be filled with the spirit is to be in the perfect place, the place where we are where we know what the will of God is and we are in it. On the other hand, those who are seeking what is “outside of the box” will find out very quickly that ἀσωτία will only lead them to an ever slipperier slope where there can be no escape.
So what should our response be to these truths? We must examine ourselves prayerfully. Are we being filled with the Spirit or are we being filled by what the world is all about or what our enemy is all about? Only a fool would assume that every person who claims to be a “Christian Leader” really is. I pray every day for wisdom and discernment and I suggest that you should as well. God answers these prayers and when we are filled with the Spirit, that is, we are where God wants us, doing what God wants us to do, then we will know what the will of the Lord is and when a false “Christian Leader” presents his or her bad fruit we will recognize it immediately and, if we are obedient, we will not only confront them, we will expose them to the brethren.
Will this make us popular within the Visible Church? No! In fact, the exact opposite will be true, but our Lord told us that if we are obedient to Him then those who love the world will hate us just like they hate Him. This is the flip side of being that obedient spirit-filled, spirit-led Christian. Are you ready?
Soli Deo Gloria!