The dad of one of my best friends growing up had a significant drinking problem. I can’t remember a church prayer gathering when his problem and his salvation weren’t a request. But for as often as I prayed for this man, I don’t remember spending much time around him. So I was pretty caught off guard when I finally did interact with him for the first time. I remember thinking, this guy is actually really nice. He was amiable and pleasant. Because he wasn’t drunk. And that’s when I realized what consuming a lot of alcohol could do to a person. When this pleasant man, who sincerely loved his family, was drunk, he became a mean father and an abusive husband.
The dramatic change that alcohol can bring seems to be the reason Paul uses it to talk about being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Both alcohol and the Spirit come in from the outside and control us. But the filling of the Holy Spirit is unlike any other external power. He, the Spirit, is actually a divine person (along with the Father and the Son) and not just a substance or a power. And the change that He brings to our lives is remarkable.
The first and most apparent change the Spirit brings is in our worship, corporately and within our own hearts. Paul says that when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit we will speak to each other in songs, and we’ll actually sing in our own hearts to God. The Holy Spirit gives us a continuous, joyful song in our hearts towards God.
Now my guess is that some of you might read this and think, “This sounds like fake, plastic Christianity. I have significant trials and deep hurt. The last thing I want to do is whistle a worship song in my heart to God.”
But that’s why this truth is so rich and wonderful. No matter where I am or what I am going through, the filling of the Holy Spirit will affect my worship. The Spirit promises to impart hope in God to my heart, which will lead to a joyful song on my lips.
But it’s not only our worship that changes once we are filled with the Holy Spirit; that would be like saying that only an arm is affected when someone gets drunk. Paul mentions other areas of our lives that will be affected in Ephesians 5–6. Specifically, being filled with the Spirit will lead to us having hearts filled with gratitude (20), and we will also submit to one another in the fear of the Lord (21). The Spirit’s pervasive work affects the relationships of wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters (5:22–6:9). Each of these relationships is transformed by the Spirit.
At one time there was a selfish desire to look after our own good and our own interests, but now we are changed into a people who are taken over by different desires. Husbands lovingly sacrifice for their wives, wives wholeheartedly follow their husband’s loving leadership, and parents and children love and respect each other.
It’s typical to hear people equate the work of the Holy Spirit with an emotional feeling that we get in worship. And I don’t doubt that the Spirit’s work of imparting hope in God to our hearts brings strong emotions. But Scripture shows that merely giving us an emotional high is too small a thing for the Spirit of God. He wants to affect so much more than that. His aim is to make pervasive changes in every aspect of life for His glory and for our good.