“The Spirit-Filled Church”      Ephesians 5:18-21          November 20, 2011



We’ve been studying Ephesians 5:18-21 for the past two weeks.

   Looking at the question:  What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  


We’ve focused mostly on verse 18—

   Do not be drunk with wine which leads to debauchery,

   instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Today we’re going to look at verses 19-21.


You’ll notice that these verses are about our life together.  They are corporate.

   They use the term “one another.”  They are about the Spirit-filled church.

I’m going to read from the English Standard Version

   because it captures the flow of Paul’s thought.


After he tells us to be filled with the Spirit,

   he gives a list of descriptions, characteristics of a Spirit-filled church.

All end with “ing.”  Speaking, singing, giving thanks, submitting.



INTRO:  I always notice church names, especially distinctive names.

And I have a mental game that I sometimes play. 

   I see how certain church names sound when I throw in “Presbyterian.”

   What kind of strange church mutations appear?


There was a church near our apartment in St. Louis that was one of my favorites.

It was:  The New Jerusalem Temple Church of God Apostolic Faith, Inc.

   No joke!  Inc. was on their sign and their church bus.  Add Presbyterian to that!

   The New Jerusalem Temple Presbyterian Church Apostolic Faith, Inc., PCA.

Another favorite was a storefront church in Chattanooga—

   The Temple of Lift Jesus Up.  That sounds like a lively church.

   But how would you like to attend The Presbyterian Temple of Lift Jesus Up?!


You can just drive along St. Joseph and get some great combinations.

How about the church just down the road?

   First Free Will Presbyterian Church. 

   There’s some serious theological dysfunction in that name. 

   John Calvin would roll over in his grave.


And what about the church just up the road?

   Spirit Life Presbyterian Church.

Why is that one so funny?  Because when you hear the church name Spirit Life,

   you imagine a congregation that is very uninhibited in worship. 

And that doesn’t seem to go with Presbyterian. 


What is a Spirit-filled church? 

   Is it possible to have a Spirit Life Presbyterian Church? 

Many people believe that the presence of spiritual gifts are an indication

   of whether or not a church is Spirit-filled. 

But the Bible says over and over that spiritual gifts and abilities are not themselves

   indicative of whether a church or an individual is filled with the Spirit.


Of all the churches in the New Testament, the Corinthian church the most gifted.

   It was filled with people who spoke in tongues and prophesied.

But the Apostle Paul was very blunt with them.

   “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly, mere infants in Christ.

   You are still worldly . . . acting like mere men.”

He didn’t say, Wow—look at all the spiritual gifts you have, you must be filled.

   Instead he told them—You are worldly.  Not spiritual.  Not filled.

This is not to say that spiritual gifts are unimportant. 

They are very important.  They are given by the Spirit for the good of the church.

   But gifts alone don’t tell you whether a church is Spirit-filled or not.

Let me be more specific:


Here’s a Presbyterian church. 

   And it has all the spiritual gifts that Presbyterians prize. 

   It has expository preaching and doctrinal teaching and careful administration.

   But does that mean it’s a Spirit-filled church?  No.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  The gifts alone don’t prove anything.


Here’s a Pentecostal church.

   And it has all the spiritual gifts that Pentecostals prize.

   It has tongues and interpretations and healings.

   But does that mean it’s a Spirit-filled church?  No.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  The gifts alone don’t prove anything.


Both of those churches could be filled with the Spirit

   or they could both be as dry as dust—worldly, as Paul says.

So what is the mark of a truly Spirit-filled church if it’s not all these

   spiritual gifts we prize?  Here it is: 


A Spirit-filled church is one in which the members

   are rightly responding to God and to each other. 

Paul says:  Be filled with the Holy Spirit.

And then he lists four evidences, four characteristics of the Spirit-filled church:

   speaking, singing, thanksgiving, and submitting. 

These all have to do with the way we respond to each other and to God.

   So let’s look at each and let the Word search us.



MP#1  Speaking

“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”


This is a strange phrase. 

You would expect it to say, Singing to one another, not speaking to one another.

   Because you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. 

   That’s the way a lot of commentaries explain this phrase.

They say that this is actually referring to your singing in the worship service. 

   When you sing in church, you are not just singing to God,

   you are also singing for other people, singing to one another.

   You are encouraging your fellow worshippers with your singing.

A Spirit-filled church is a church full of singing.


There’s certainly an element of truth to that.  It’s encouraging to be in a church

   where there is good singing.  But I’m sure all of you could tell of times when

   you’ve heard bad singing in church. 

Years ago at my dad’s church in Florida a very large man sang

   “To Dream the Impossible Dream” for the offertory.  A very strange choice.

And when he got to the high parts he struggled and pressed his left hand into his

   lower stomach to help his diaphragm and he raised his right hand dramatically. 

   He was wearing a large diamond pinky ring.

He was as sincere as could be and loved the Lord, but I was cringing in my pew. 


John Stott says that this phrase is not about singing at all—

   it’s about speaking, just like it says.  It’s about how we talk to each other.

And Paul’s point is that a Spirit-filled church will be full of conversations

   that have song-like qualities.  Conversations that bring pleasure to those who hear.

Conversations that move people.  Conversations that press the truth home.

   Conversations that both sadden and bring joy—as only music and singing can. 


Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs refer to the content of our speech.

What are Psalms?  They are the divinely inspired song-book of the Bible.

   In a Spirit-filled church, conversations are characterized by Scripture.

   Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as teach and admonish one another.


What are hymns?  Technically, a hymn is a song that praises God and praises Christ

   for who he is and what he has done.  A hymn focuses not on us but on God.

   It raises our eyes from life here on earth to the beauty and perfections of God.


What are spiritual songs?  Songs that speak of our experiences with Christ.

   Who we are in Christ.  Our struggles.  Our victories.  Our forgiveness.

   The experiential side of the Christian life.


In a Spirit-filled church, people really talk to each other. 

   They have meaningful conversations—about the Bible, about the things of God,

   and about the real highs and lows of the Christian life.  Sin, repentance, grace. 

Remember Paul is contrasting the Spirit-filled life with drunkenness.

   What are the characteristics of drunken speech—it’s empty chit-chat, boring,

   depressing, crude, full of sloppy emotions.

But in the Spirit-filled church conversations will be heightened.


Of course you understand I’m not saying this is all we talk about—

   just one deep spiritual conversation after another—we talk about the rest of life.

The Saturday night before my very first Sunday as pastor of Christ Covenant,

   I got a call from my preacher friend Charles Garland.  (15 years ago today.)

Charles said:  Are you ready for tomorrow?  I said:  Yes.

   Do you have your sermon finished?  Yes. 

   Do you know who won the Alabama game?  No.  Who won Auburn?  No.

Then you aren’t ready.  You won’t have anything to talk about with the men.


Certainly we talk about all the ordinary things of life.  We make polite small talk.

   But is that all?  Does your speaking to others in your church ever soar?

   Does it ever go deep?  Does it ever bring sadness and joy? 

Does it ever press home the truth of Scripture? 


This is a mark of a Spirit-filled church that we should all pursue.

   Often it takes deliberate decision. 

To say to yourself—I’m going to raise the level of the conversation. 

   I’m going to go deeper with this person.  I’m going to bring up important things. 


What does a Spirit-filled church look like?

   It’s a church where believers are speaking to one another in

   psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.






MP#2  Singing

“Singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.”

   NIV says “in your heart to the Lord.”


Singing and making melody—but not with your mouth, vocal chords—

   at least not primarily—but with all your heart (or in your heart) to the Lord.

That’s pretty straightforward.  It doesn’t take much explanation.

   I think we all understand that if singing or anything in worship is Spirit-filled

   then it will come from the heart or it will be happening in the heart.

And that it will ultimately be directed to the Lord.

   So a Spirit-filled church is one in which worship flows out of the hearts

   of the worshippers and to the Lord as an offering.


This gives us two important lessons.

The first is that it’s very hard to judge whether or not a church is Spirit-filled

   by the way people worship.  Because you can’t see the heart.

You can see people singing.  You can hear them singing. 

   You might be able to make judgments based on how hard they are singing.

   If they aren’t singing at all and are looking totally bored might be significant.

But you can’t see the heart. 


When Siran Stacy was with us back in October,

   those of you who came know that he preached out of a Pentecostal tradition. 

   He’s an ordained minister in an independent Pentecostal church. 

In his preaching, it was obvious that he expected give and take from congregation.

   He asked questions that sounded like rhetorical questions, but he was actually

   expecting the congregation to shout back an answer—that sort of thing.


After the service was over and I was thanking him for the great message,

   I told him I was sorry for something. 

I told him I was sorry that I didn’t explain beforehand that when you are preaching

   to Presbyterians, the more they are with you, the more they are into your sermon,

   the more concentrating, the quieter they become—and the more they frown. 

He said:  That’s ok, brother.  I picked up on that. 

   The externals of worship tell you lots about culture and temperament and

   theological tradition but don’t tell us much about what is going on inside.


That bring us to the second lesson, and the really important one—

   you have to care about what’s going on in your heart when you worship.

You need to prepare your heart for worship.

   You should come with a heart that is ready to sing. 

Imagine you have tickets to a big game—your favorite team.

   What do you as the day approaches? 

   You get yourself ready for it.  You think about it.  You talk about it.

   You read the newspaper articles about it.  What do the pundits say?


Let’s say it’s a Saturday football game—you get your stuff ready Friday night.

   You think about what you are going to wear—is it cold?  hot?  rainy?

   Maybe you like to wear something with team colors.

   You think about food, maybe tailgating.  Money.  Friends meeting.

You do all of that without much thinking about the reason.

   But if you did think about it you would realize that all that preparation

   gets you ready to enjoy the game to the fullest. 


Shouldn’t you do the same for worship? 

Shouldn’t you do the same for the services and ministries of the church?

   Prepare yourself.  Get ready.  Warm your heart.  Pray about it. 

I have a friend who once told me that he never goes to any meeting of the church

   no matter how big or small without praying a specific prayer; 

   God, help me be humble and to encourage at least one person.  Amen.

He says he prays that because he has a tendency to talk too much about himself.

   He wants to listen and be a blessing to someone in his church.


If it’s Sunday church, think about getting your stuff ready Saturday night.

   Write your offering check.  Get your clothes picked out. 

   Turn off the TV.  Read some devotional material.  Don’t stay up too late.

Does that sound mundane and unspiritual? 

   Remember that be filled with the Spirit is a passive command.

   You cooperate with the Spirit.  Put yourself in a place to be filled. 


If you come with your heart prepared, ready to sing and make melody—

   and if everybody else does the same thing, then the church will be filled

   with the Holy Spirit. 

And when we sing.  Wow.  No matter how it sounds, it will be to the Lord.

   Certainly true not just of worship, all our lives together. 


MP#3  Thanksgiving

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


A Spirit-filled church is characterized by gratitude and contentment

   because it’s a church that understands grace.

Let’s consider this by looking at the negative.

   One of the big themes of the Old Testament is the ingratitude and discontent

   of Israel, especially in the generation that left Egypt.

The Bible comments over and over about their grumbling and complaining.


Even though the Lord had brought them out of slavery, they complained

   about the desert and the water situation and the food.

If only we could go back to Egypt, where we had leeks and cucumbers

   and melons and where there was the water of the Nile and fish.

We would rather be slaves and know where our next meal is coming from

   than to be free and living in this God-forsaken desert.


And when the Lord provided water, they complained because it was bitter.

   When he gave them quail, they got sick of the quail.

   When he gave them manna, they got tired of the manna.

   They complained about Moses.  Complained about God’s discipline.

Eventually the Holy Spirit left that generation.  They died in the desert.


Why does discontentment grieve the Holy Spirit?

Because it shows you don’t understand grace.  Not operating out of grace.

   You really have a religion of works righteousness. 

   You are saying, God owes me.  I deserve it.


Discontentment begins when you look at the ordinary gifts God has picked out

   for you and you say to yourself—this isn’t good enough for me.

Never mind that he has given you forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  

   You are discontent with your house, your clothes, your car, your living standard.

   That discontentment swallows up more and more areas of your life.


What happens when a church is filled with people who are discontent

   with the ordinary things in their lives?  It spills over.

The ordinary means of grace God has appointed no longer satisfy you.

   Worship is boring.  The sermon is boring.  The people are boring.

I don’t like it.  It’s not meeting my needs.  My kids don’t like it.

   Not that there can’t be genuine complaints and criticisms of a particular

   church or minister—of course there can.

But often this is it—a discontentment with other areas of life

   flowing over to the life of the church. 

And when that happens, the Holy Spirit is grieved.  Like he was grieved with Israel. 


But what happens when a church is full of grateful people

   who are content with what they have?  The Holy Spirit fills that church.

I had a humbling experience of this on my India trip.

   I left for the trip with automobile woes.  A major repair on our minivan.

   Some looming mechanical problems with our car.  Put me in a bad mood.

   I was disgruntled and discontent.


I flew by myself to one of the cities where there was a pastoral training seminar. 

A young pastor met me at the airport—and he had the tiniest car I’ve ever ridden in. 

   It had a two cylinder engine.  Every time he shifted gears he bumped my knee.

   The thing was battered and worn.  It rained and windshield wipers barely worked.

All he could talk about was his church, and students who were coming from local

   nursing school, and different families who by providence led there. 

And at one point I asked him about his family and his parents.

   He said:  My father died five years ago.  This was his car. 

   He said it with gratitude and reverence. 


Is his church Spirit-filled?  If the pastor is leading the way in that congregation,

   then without a doubt—it’s a wonderful place.  Gratitude for the grace of God.

   That flows over into contentment for all of life. 


What about you?  It’s Thanksgiving.  Are you content and grateful?

   Listen to me.  Come tonight.  Even if you don’t normally come to church

   fellowship suppers and special worship services.  Come tonight.

Randy Booth is going to give us a short message. 

   Your heart is going to be warmed by expressions of thanksgiving by

   the members of your church. 

A Spirit-filled church is a thankful church.


MP#4  Submitting

“Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”


A Spirit-filled church is one in which the members are rightly responding to God

   and to each other.  We rightly respond to God with singing and thanksgiving.

   We rightly respond to each other by speaking and submitting. 


This matter of mutual submission is something that sets the Christian way of life

   apart from the world perhaps more dramatically than anything else.

It’s a calling to a way of life with each other in the church that people of the

   world not only don’t do, they won’t do, they can’t do.


In a Spirit-filled church, the Holy Spirit takes a bunch of self-centered,

   opinionated, overly sensitive people, crushes selfishness and pride,

   enables them to ask: 

How can I serve you?  How can I put you first?


I mentioned the Corinthian church at the beginning.

That was a church with a lot of spiritual gifts, a lot of talents and resources.

   The worship service would probably have been very exciting.

Then Paul says:  Your gifts are going to pass away—

   let me show you a more excellent way.  That’s 1 Corinthians 13.  Love chapter.

Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It does not envy.  It does not boast.

   It is not proud.  It is not rude.  It is not self-seeking. 

   It is not easily angered.  It keeps no record of wrongs. 


We’re used to hearing that read at wedding and it sounds so sweet and comforting.

   But when the Corinthians read it, it was a bombshell. 

   Paul was saying to the Corinthians—these are the things you aren’t.

You have all sorts of spiritual gifts and abilities.  You are incredibly talented.

   You are gifted speakers and teachers.  You give away lots of money.

   You work very hard—but if you don’t have love, you are nothing.

In other words, you aren’t filled with the Spirit as you should be.

   Your church is full of quarrels, factions, people asserting

   their rights and opinions about how things should be.


So what’s the key?  How do we submit to one another?

   How do we overcome our selfishness and pride and touchiness?

The key is in the last part of the phrase—out of reverence for Christ.

It’s by looking at Jesus Christ and standing in awe of his submission.

   We learn submission to one another by the submission of Christ.

Christ submitted to his Father.  He carried out the Father’s plan for our salvation.

   That involved giving up his heavenly glory. 

   Veiling his majesty by taking on human nature.

   Taking on the form of a servant—as Paul says in Philippians.


Jesus served people.  He served the crowds that came to him day and night.

   Even when he was tired and wanted to pull away, he had compassion.

Instead of saying that he needed his space—he had compassion on them.

   He served his disciples.  He was patient with them.  He washed their feet.

And, of course, on the cross he exhibited the greatest act of submission.

   Not only obeying his Father, but dying for us.  He served us in his death.


You have to look at Christ’s submission, reverence him for it.

   And then deliberately connect that with particular people in your church.

How can I honor this person.  How can I serve him or her?


In one of CS Lewis’s books, he tells of how hard it was for him to go to church

   after he became a Christian.  The difficulty was he was a brilliant, cultured man. He was an Oxford professor. 

   Used to intellectual conversations with his brilliant colleagues.

And then he went to church.  And the sermon didn’t often challenge him.

   And the music wasn’t up to his high standards. 

And he couldn’t get excited about fellowship events with people

   he didn’t have much in common with. 


Then he tells of a time he was in church.  Looked over and saw an older couple.

   The husband was a working man, he was wearing his work boots in church.

   Couldn’t have been more different from people Lewis rubbed shoulders with.

But the sight of those boots changed everything for Lewis.

   They crushed is pride.  I realized that I was not worthy to touch those boots.

   Christ had died for the man who wore those boots.

In that moment, realized why God had given him the church. 

   For this very reason, for submission.  So that he could experience fullness.


What about you?  Who do you need to serve in your church and how?

   Church full of people doing this is a Spirit-filled church.