Filled with the Spirit

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Week 4, 2003
This week we continue our study with Ephesians 5:18:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit

If Paul were writing this today he would almost certainly add to the admonition “not to be drunk with wine” or “stoned on drugs.” Neither of these are acceptable behavior for a son or daughter of the King. They are not only counterfeits to being filled with the Spirit, but are wide open doors for evil spirits to gain entry to our lives.

The primary effects of intoxication are the loss of judgment and flawed understanding (see Isaiah 28:7, Hosea 4:11). As we read in Proverbs 23:29-33, those who “linger long over wine” will have “woe, sorrow, contentions, complaining,” and “wounds without cause.” He added that it “...goes down smoothly,” but “…bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind will utter perverse things.” The other results of the abuse of alcohol that is stated by Scripture is that it leads to:

  1. Poverty (see Proverbs 23:21),
  2. A mal-administration of justice (see Proverbs 31:5, Isaiah 5:23),
  3. Provokes anger, contentions, and brawling (see Proverbs 20:1, 23:29),
  4. Produces a life of dissipation (see Ephesians 5:18),
  5. It is allied with gambling, licentiousness, and indecency (see Joel 3:3, Genesis 9:21)
  6. Deadens the spiritual sensibilities, produces a callous indifference to God, and destroys all serious thought (see Isaiah 5:12).

So why would any believer who is committed to a fruitful, productive, and godly life, ever touch wine? The first argument usually made is that the Lord Jesus, Himself drank wine, and even promises that we will drink it in the kingdom (see Matthew 26:29, Isaiah 25:6). If the effects of wine were so evil as we saw in all of the previous Scriptures, why would the Lord, Himself, drink it or even have it in the kingdom?

Some have tried to reconcile this seeming conflict by saying that Jesus did not really drink wine, but grape juice. Any person who is committed to truth and sound, biblical, doctrine will have to acknowledge that this is not the case. Such reasoning has cost those who hold to it their credibility with anyone who thinks or searches the Scriptures for themselves. Regardless of how much we do not understand something, or do not agree with it, we must never bend either the Scriptures or sound reasoning to establish a true doctrine. Why would His enemies have called Jesus a “drunkard and a wine bibber” if He was only drinking grape juice? The truth is He did drink real wine, His first miracle was to make very good wine, and real wine is going to be served in the kingdom.

Nowhere does Scripture condemn the drinking of wine, but it is excessive drinking and being intoxicated by it that are condemned. There are Scriptures that commend the production of wine, and drinking it in certain circumstances (see Proverbs 3:10, I Timothy 5:23).

Over the last few years a number of interesting studies have been published on alcoholism and wine drinking. One study found the people group that had the highest rate of alcoholism were members of a denomination that forbid the drinking of any form of alcohol. The group that had the lowest percentage of alcoholism was the Jewish people who have no such prohibitions. My point in addressing this is that doctrines and traditions of men that go beyond the clear biblical guidelines will never result in righteousness, but will in fact excite sin as Paul warned about in Romans and I Corinthians. Those who hold to such teachings that go beyond the clear biblical mandate become modern Pharisees who look good on the outside but are full of death on the inside.

Another major study found that the drinking of very modest amounts of wine each day could substantially reduce one’s cholesterol levels. I know of one well-known man of God whose doctor prescribed a glass of red wine for him each day and it did reduce his cholesterol in just a few weeks by a very substantial margin. I have heard many others say the same thing. It is also remarkable that the French, who tend to eat some of the richest foods, have a remarkably low amount of heart disease. Every study done on these points shows that this is the reason they drink wine with their meals. In contrast to this, the so-called “Bible belt” has been called “the stroke belt” because the drinking of wine has been so condemned.

Am I trying to justify the drinking of wine? Yes, because it is clear in the Scriptures that the Lord does. Even so, I can also understand how anyone who has seen the destruction of people and their families by alcohol would tend to be so against it. Trying to justify our position to the point of bending the Scriptures and sound reasoning still does not make this right or true.

It is also both wise and biblical, that anyone who has been an alcoholic or is to any degree lacking self-control in the matter, should stay far away from wine or any other form of alcohol even if they have high cholesterol—there are other ways to reduce it. It is also not right for a believer who has the liberty to drink wine in moderation to exercise that liberty around those who have problems with alcohol, as the Scriptures also make clear (see Romans 14:21).

Our verse for this week does not forbid us to drink wine, but rather not to be drunk with it. The reason is so we can be filled with the Spirit. Anyone who has experienced being filled with the Spirit would never want to do anything that would dull his or her sensitivity to Him. This is not just about feeling good—it is about walking in the light and in the truth. Any form of intoxication is subjecting ourselves to delusion, deception, and other evil influences.

Though the Scriptures make it very clear that Jesus did drink real wine, we can also be sure that He at no time ever drank it to be intoxicated, or to be stimulated mentally or physically. As the Lord said in Matthew 11:18-19: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." Someone will condemn you for taking either side of this argument. As for me, there are things that are clearly forbidden in Scripture that I have determined to be resolute in standing against, but for all other things I have resolved to guard the liberty that has been given to us under the New Covenant. It is also true that moderation can be a greater witness than abstinence. Liberty under the grace of self-control is a far better testimony than legalism. Being filled with the Spirit is even greater.

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