Filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5)
Five years ago, Joel Osteen, popular televangelist and pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, wrote one of his best-selling books, Your Best Life Now. Subtitled "Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential," Osteen goes on and on with more of a Dr. Phil-like understanding of "your full potential." His steps understand being filled with yourself rather than being "filled with the Spirit" as Paul encourages us this morning (v18). Instead of relying upon God to show you a full life, Osteen teaches that true worth and worship comes from inside the Christian's heart instead of from God. St. Paul would disagree with Pastor Osteen, saying true fullness comes by "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (v19).
Pastor Osteen would agree that God wants us to live full lives. God says, "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (v6). God doesn't want you to be empty, brothers and sisters. He wants you to truly sing, "Evil world, I leave thee; thou canst not deceive me, thine appeal is vain" (LSB #743.5). God wants you to be filled. He wants you to remember the emptiness of the darkness you once were, but also the fullness of the light you are in Jesus Christ. The fullness that allows you to "depart this life confiding in my Savior ... and bid me to rejoice with those who love Your name" (LSB #696.5-6). The fullness that shows "how vast and deep love's treasure. Through the gift of grace You give me as Your guest in heav'n receive me" (LSB #636.8). This is why we use the historic liturgy handed down from generation to generation, century to century. Certainly it has changed from generation to generation, region to region, ethnicity to ethnicity, but there is still only one focus: the foundation and building up of Christians through the Word of God.
I invite you to look through the liturgy we're using this morning. Its sixteen pages are covered with Scripture references in the margins for every part of the liturgy. Whether it's the back-and-forth confessing of the Word, saying back to God what He has said to us, or the reading and proclamation of His Word, God's Word is the center of the liturgy and the Christian's full life. The fullness of the Scriptures inside and under the liturgy shines forth each and every Sunday as we worship our God. These are not empty words. These words are not rote recitation having lost all meaning. The verse we sung before the Gospel Reading quotes St. Peter's response to Jesus from this morning's Gospel, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). So Paul urges us to gather together "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart" (v19). How are we to worship? Singing. We look through the Bible at the great worship services and see everyone singing. The Psalms were written to be sung. The Old Testament saints, and Jesus Himself, worshipped God the Father by singing the psalms that had been handed down for centuries. Paul writes to the church in Colossae, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (3:16). Wisdom says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight" (Proverbs 9:5-6). Christ tells all who follow after Him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day" (John 6:53-54).
By eating and drinking Christ's flesh and blood, we become filled with the Holy Spirit (John 6:56). St. Ambrose comments on our text with these words: "One drunk with wine sways and stumbles. But one who is filled with the Spirit has solid footing in Christ. This is a fine drunkenness, which produces even greater sobriety of mind" (On the Sacraments, 5.3.17). King David sang in our Psalm, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. ... The LORD redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned" (Psalm 34:19, 22).
All of these promises lead us to sing, "With praise and thanksgiving to God ever-living, the tasks of our ev'ryday life we will face" (LSB #643.2). We live our lives in a world that seeks its own independence, its own autonomy, its own self interests. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we live in this world "submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ" (v21). We're not to seek our own way. We're to be submissive to others. We're to live our lives being "imitators of God" (v1). How do we imitate God? We look at the example He gives to us. Jesus tells you, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45).
Certainly Jesus said this in response to the disciples debating who was the greatest. He sets everything out in simple, plain language. Jesus is Lord. You are servant. If you want to be great, you must be servant of all. Because that's exactly what Jesus did. When Jesus came down from Heaven, He didn't come down in grandiose glory, descending on the clouds and taking up a position of power in an earthly kingdom. He came down as a baby boy born to poor parents, born in a stable. No public fanfare. No glorious appearing. A simple, crying baby just like you and I were.
He grew up not making a spectacle of Himself. In fact, we only have a handful of stories about Jesus before He was thirty years old. His childhood was immaterial for His purpose in coming. He came "to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Paul reminds the Philippians, Jesus "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing" (Philippians 2:6-7). He became servant of all so that all might be servants of each other.
We walk through this world seeking ways to serve those around us. This isn't just as a waitress in a restaurant, bringing food to the table. This is as a farmer, growing and providing food for the community and the world at large. This is as a teacher, revealing God's truth to those entrusted to their care. Spirit-filled Christians seek each and every opportunity to serve their neighbor. Spirit-filled Christians come to worship to see what this submission looks like as we see the Divine Service in action--God coming down and serving us through His Word, filling us with the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the ultimate Submissive.
You look at the Holy Spirit. What do you see? You see Jesus. The Holy Spirit doesn't toot His own horn. He submits to Jesus. Everything the Holy Spirit does delivers Jesus and faith in Him. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, being filled with the "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," you are filled with Jesus. You are filled to serve. You are filled to submit. Submit yourselves to God the Father through the Son and you will have "your best life now." A life filled with His service in our lives. The life that Jesus promised when He said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Amen.