The prepared text for today’s sermon at First Baptist Church in Niagara Falls, New York, is below. When available, the video of the service will be on this post as well. The Lectionary epistle reading stopped short of this whole passage and the reading for next Sunday picks up at Ephesians 6:10. Thus I’m including all of Ephesians 5:15-6:9 in the message. Thus we might notice some things that are routinely overlooked — including the whole concept of the Spirit-filled home. I performed a wedding yesterday and much of the premarital counseling that I do reflects on Ephesians 5–so there is certainly more to say than I’m going to say today but that would take several more sermons. I’m not sure what is going on with the font sizes.
Today’s epistle reading invites us to compare and contrast someone who is Spirit-filled and someone who is drunk with wine and thus to compare and contrast the Spirit-filled home and a home where the father gives himself over to immoral and reckless behavior. There is such a natural comparison that the Spirit-filled Christians on Pentecost were first thought by many onlookers to be “filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13). Indeed, both alcohol and the Spirit of God can lower your inhibitions so that you will sing out. Wine represents joy, which is why it was used in the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper. But we know that too much of a good thing like wine will make one look like a fool. Fathers who get drunk provoke their children to anger. They set a terrible example for their children in the way of wisdom. The joy that they once got from drinking wine quickly gives way to debauchery. Thus Paul says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery” (Eph 5:18). In other words, if you get drunk then you have abandoned yourself to immoral and reckless behavior. This is presented primarily to introduce the contrast: “but be filled with the Spirit.” Indeed, our passage begins with three stark contrasts: (1) walking as unwise with walking wise (Eph 5:15); (2) being foolish with understanding the will of the Lord (Eph 5:17); and (3) being drunk with being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). Notice too the progression from walking as unwise, to being foolish, to being drunk; and from walking wise, to understanding the will of the Lord, to being filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us to be filled with the Spirit and then he continues to unpack what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit and to have a Spirit-filled home. That’s why I’m going to read the verses from Ephesians again and then continue with his description of various relationships in a Spirit-filled home. But notice what Paul does not say. He does not say that the sign of a Spirit-filled home is speaking in tongues or other forms of special prophecy. Nor is the sign of a Spirit-filled home whether or not you put up religious trinkets from Hobby Lobby or a Christian bookstore or seasonal religious décor like Christmas lights, a Christmas tree, or even a nativity scene. Hear then how Paul does describe the Spirit-filled home:
First of all, Paul describes the Spirit-filled home as musical.
The imperative to be filled with the Spirit controls three musical participles: (1) “addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” and (2) “singing and (3) making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph 5:19). Music is powerful. But Paul does not conclude from this truth that we should treat it with reservations. Instead, Paul says we should sing and make melody wholeheartedly. When we sing in church we are often either being instructed or we are praying. Likewise at home, you can use music to teach one another or to address one another and you can use music to pray to God. Singing is one of the main ways that we learn how to talk again – how we learn to replace speaking gossip with speaking gospel. If you want to learn a new language, oftentimes the easiest way is through song. This is no less true for the language of grace, the language of words that build each other up in love. Moreover, one of the best devotional books you can use at home aside from the Bible itself is a hymnal. Indeed, the family that sings together will grow in grace together. Now one of the things that I have witnessed in many places is how many people, from every generation, do not sing in worship. To be sure, it is easier to sing along with the household of God if you are also singing in your own household. After all, one of the main reasons for not singing is a concern for how poorly you might sound or a fear of not singing it right, especially if you do not know it well. Nevertheless, one of the great things about being filled with the Spirit is how He lowers your inhibitions to sing. If you trust in Jesus Christ, you have the Spirit. So the more filled with the Spirit you are the more you will sing out and learn new songs by singing them – the best way to learn a new song is to try singing it. We should always be willing to sing a new song because there should be no end to the writing of songs in light of the greatest event of redemptive history – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the giving of the Spirit. (Paul used three different participles to say that the Spirit-filled Christian is musical to highlight all of these different angles. But let’s turn to way this looks like in our Spirit-filled home relationships:)
The Spirit-filled home addresses one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It is no accident that again Paul uses three words for songs. They probably refer to different musical styles. But the precise meaning of each term or how the meanings of these terms overlap need not detain us. Paul envisions a Spirit-filled home as one where the people are singing lots of Christian music. As I understand it, one of the leaders at a national gathering of Presbyterians a few years ago asked for a show of hands of those willing to lay down their lives for their grandchildren. And the hands went flying up. Then they asked something like, “Who among you would be willing to sing new songs in worship for your grandchildren?” And the hands that went up were far and in between. But music is one of the ways that we bear with one another (that is, put up with one another) in love. A new generation learns the old favorites in order to bear with their elders in love. Their elders learn the new songs in order to bear with the younger generation in love. Usually more elders like the contemporary music than are willing to admit it and usually more youth like the old hymns than are willing to admit it but no matter what the style of the music being filled with the Spirit includes singing it out with lowered inhibitions. Singing songs popular among the youth is one way that you can die to yourself—you can lay down your life for your grandchildren. Paul can tell children to obey their parents in the Lord and that they will experience blessing (cf. Eph 6:3) because those children have the Spirit. Thus one way that younger generations can show respect to their elders out of the reverence they have for Christ is to put up with the old hymns and sing them with all their heart. But then Paul reminds fathers not to provoke their children to anger. This is mutual submission. Submitting to one another in Christ. The father is not seeking his own personal agenda or personal preferences, but the Lord’s discipline and instruction. So again, we all need to be willing to die to our own musical preferences as we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ and to allow our voices to be resurrected to sing new songs in light of the salvation we have in Christ. (Clearly, the Spirit-filled home is musical.)
Second, Paul describes the Spirit-filled home as thankful.
“Giving thanks” (Eph 5:20) is the next participle controlled by that imperative to be filled with the Spirit. So the second mark of a Spirit-filled home is thanksgiving. I am not talking about the American or Canadian holidays but “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20). Again we see the importance of words in the school of Christ. As we are learning to talk and sing again our conversation should be full of thanksgiving to God in the name of Jesus. The more filled with the Spirit you are the more you will be full of thanksgiving to God and offer prayers of thanksgiving spoken and sung in the name of Jesus Christ. We are learning how to talk again. Take, for example, those family trips to the grocery store. Christians, of all people, should be thankful when they walk up and down the aisles because we know why there is food on the shelves. And when we eat, we give thanks, we say grace, we speak words of grace that build one another up and give thanks to God for our food and for one another. I mean none of these things I am saying today to be understood legalistically – as if you are horrible if you do not say grace sometimes. I am simply saying that the Spirit-filled household will begin speaking words taught by Scripture to one another and to God because of their salvation in Christ Jesus and one of the ways that will show up is when they say grace.
Now when Paul says “giving thanks always and for everything” this includes thanksgiving for all of your circumstances including your place in the household. I won’t say much today about the master-slave relationship mentioned in the passage other than to suggest that you can apply these situations to your employer-employee relationships to some extent. But at the time the household often included slaves. And Paul would say that those who are slaves should be thankful to God always and for everything. So this must be true for children too. You may think you feel like slaves sometimes, but you should be thankful for your parents in the Lord. And parents should be thankful for your children. And wives for your husbands and husbands for your wives. In the household of God, we should be thankful for each other in the Lord. We should be thankful for our elders and for our children in the faith. This means we have to unlearn grumbling – we have to unlearn complaining because our circumstances and our present station in life is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (So the Spirit-filled home is musical and thankful.)
And third, Paul describes the Spirit-filled home as humble.
While we are thinking about singing and speaking words of grace and gratitude let me tell you a story about humility. Paul Smith, 27 years old, just married two weeks before to Heather who was 25, received his first call to a church in Idaho. Heather says, “My husband and I have one of those storybook romances.” She was just blown away by how God had brought her together with Paul. Listen to the way Heather tells it: “I was sitting in the front row of the sanctuary. Paul was preaching. It was our fourth week there. In the middle of the sermon, he started talking about the importance of where we get our theology…then he decided to make a joke. Paul looked directly at me sitting alone in the front row and said loudly to the congregation, ‘Some people get their theology from people like Oprah and Rosie O’Donnell.’ He smiled. The congregation laughed. I turned beet red.” She explains further that she is well-read in theology and takes it seriously and by no means does she take theology from Oprah or Rosie. When Paul got home from church that Sunday the first thing he did was to go and offer a full and heartfelt apology to Heather. The next Sunday she was pleasantly surprised when he confessed his sin to the congregation publicly. Part of the confession was, “As your pastor, I must model the way a husband is to love and honor his wife. I did not do that.”1
The imperative to be filled with the Spirit controls one last participle: “submitting” (Eph 5:21). Thus Paul is saying that to be filled with the Spirit looks like “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). It is the last point, which we have been addressing all along, where the apostle Paul spends most of his time in this passage describing the Spirit-filled home – the Spirit-filled home is a home where everyone submits to one another out of reverence for Christ (5:21). In fact, despite how many Bibles break up the text into paragraphs, Paul literally says, “Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (5:22). In other words, the verb is missing. The translators supply the verb from the previous verse because everyone is to submit to one another in the Spirit-filled home. The wife submits to her husband as to the Lord – she respects him out of the reverence she has for Christ. And the husband, who gets most of the attention in the passage by the way, submits to his wife by loving her as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. In other words, he willingly puts himself under his wife as her loving servant who acts in her best interests and not his own preferences. What the apostle Paul said in this passage confronted his society just as much as it does ours. In his day, women in general were not afforded respect and wives could be treated very poorly. But the apostle Paul explained that the Spirit-filled home is very different. Women and men are equals in Christianity (Gal 3:28) and a wife’s first calling is to follow Christ and not her husband (1 Cor 7:15). He even said that wives have authority over their husbands’ bodies (1 Cor 7:4), which was a radical idea. But at the same time, Paul taught that Christianity does not subvert the structure of society. Where the Spirit is, there is order. After all, the most fundamental building block of society is the family where the husband is the head of the household by God’s own design. Now in modern times there are two extremes. Either the husband lords it over his wife in an abusive way or wives demand the obedience of their husbands. Paul’s words confront both just as they confronted the pastor who made that joke at his wife’s expense. And Paul’s words certainly did not subvert the structure of the parent-child relationship – it would be chaos and not Spirit-filled order for the children to rule over their parents. The children are called to submit to the authority of their parents by obeying their parents in the Lord. Children do not obey their parents, all the way, without delay, and without question (that is, without talking back) because they are trying to please their parents but because they are striving to please Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. And parents willingly put themselves under their children to serve them and their best interests. That is, the parents bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But the point in all of this is to say that the Spirit-filled household is one where each person is humbly submitting to one another as to the Lord. The roles of each member of the family are important, it changes the way that submission looks like if you are the parent or the child, for example, but in any case each learns to submit to the rest. We submit to one another as to Christ who came to be our servant. (So the Spirit-filled home is musical, thankful, and humble. You know a Spirit-filled home when you hear them singing and speaking to one another and giving thanks to God and see them submitting to one another in humility. The contrast of this with the home of a drunkard could not be starker. Thanks be to God for there but by the grace of God go all.)