by Bill Hines
In ministry to addicts I have observed a tendency to make a mistake that I made as a young Believer. We think that because someone is no longer addicted to something they are doing well. When this is our attitude we settle for too little and we may end up doing the person great harm. We all, as biblical counselors, want people to find freedom over their addictions and it seems nice to praise them for no longer being addicted and we certainly should encourage them for their hard work. It’s not nice, however, if we are “nice” at the expense of lifechanging truth that has them truly pleasing God. We must not settle for too little too soon.
A couple of years ago I told a friend that if he wanted to just get sober there were probably several hundred programs in the Ft. Worth/Dallas area that could help him achieve that goal. I went on to say that if his desire was to get free of his drugs in order to please God and follow Christ that’s where I could help. We have all known the people that for years focus on staying sober but often their personal lives are simply a sober version of their old unredeemed self.
I am convinced by Scripture that God wants us sober but for far more important reasons than being free of addictions. I am certainly pleased when any person’s sobriety helps society, but I also understand that in terms of the addict’s relationship with God that he or she must become a follower of Christ in order to please God.
As a new Christian at age 15 I needed a reason to avoid alcohol. What did the Bible say about it? I was led to Ephesians 5:18 by my older brother. I focused on “Don’t get drunk” and I remained sober. But I didn’t take in the rest of the passage until later. As we examine the rest of the passage it will become apparent that God is calling us to a lifestyle that only a true Christ-follower can live.
Look at our passage in context before we make summary observations:
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:17-21 NASB).
As we look at the parts in summary, we see what it is that God wants of His followers (some comments are based on the Amplified Version thanks to biblegateway.com).
15-17. As Believers we are to walk through life carefully living life with honor, purpose, and courage while shunning those who tolerate and enable evil. As wise people we are to live in wisdom as those who live as sensible, intelligent, discerning people. Further we are to realize that our time on earth is relatively short. We are not to live as those who only have this life to be fulfilled or make our mark. Therefore, we should make the very most of our time on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence because the days are filled with evil.
It is after the statement of how we are to live in wisdom that Paul mentions drunkenness as an example of an unwise activity that would prevent us from living a life of wisdom under the Lordship of Christ. Paul could have used any sin but as we will see, drunkenness lends itself not only to explaining being under the control of a substance, but it also incorporates the doctrine of demons and the spiritual battle involved.
5:18 – do not get drunk with wine for that is dissipation [or wickedness – corruption] but be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Concerning this passage of Scripture, John MacArthur states: “Although Scripture consistently condemns all drunkenness (see notes on Proverbs 23:29–35; Proverbs 31:4, 5; Isaiah 5:11, 12; Isaiah 28:7, 8; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1Peter 4:3), the context suggests that here Paul is speaking especially about the drunken orgies commonly associated with many pagan worship ceremonies of that day. They were supposed to induce some ecstatic communion with the deities. Paul refers to such as the “cup of demons” (see note on 1Corinthians 10:19, 20). Instead, be filled with the Spirit … True communion with God is not induced by drunkenness, but by the Holy Spirit.”
As is pointed out walking in drunkenness is to be motivated by and participating in the evil associated with darkness. Being under the control of alcohol invites the demonic to gain control. Our resistance is down, our sensibility is muted, and we give into demonically influenced debauchery.
So, is it enough to simply be sober? No. The context won’t let us stop there. The command is not only to not be drunk but rather to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be under His influence rather than being filled with wine and its influence. We are not to be under the influence of the powers of darkness we, as followers of Christ, are to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.
Next week, in Part Two 2, I will look at the Lord’s instruction regarding what to put on in the place of drunkenness.
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 NIV, The MacArthur Study Bible, eBook (Signature) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Click here for: Don’t Just Settle for Sobriety – Part 2
Bill Hines is the president of Covenant Ministries, a biblical counseling, education and Christian discipleship ministry in Ft. Worth, Texas. He is the author of Leaving Yesterday Behind and Curing the Heart: A Model for Biblical Counseling (with Dr. Howard Eyrich). He co-authored The Pursuit of Perfection with Dr. Mark Shaw. He edited Paul the Counselor: Counseling and Disciple-making Modeled by the Apostle Paul and is a contributing author of three of the chapters.
Covenant Ministries, Inc.
P.O. Box 121235
Fort Worth, TX 76121-1235