A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 10/17/99
Today we come to Eph. 5:19, where we begin to unpack the participles (subpoints) that flow from being filled with the Spirit. What does the Spirit-filled life look like? Nothing is said about tongues or ecstatic experiences; though they may be part of it they are not definitive. But we do get the following description.
First, a Spirit-filled life is saturated with Scripture. A fruit that flows from His fullness is speaking to one another in Psalms. A psalm is a religious song designed to be performed with a lyre or harp--not the orchestral harp, but small instruments equivalent to the modern guitar. Greek psallo means to pluck a string. In biblical usage, the psalms referred to would be the Psalter, the OT psalms of David etc. This has always been the church's primary hymnbook whenever it has been healthy, for the psalms not only express the full range of religious experience but do it in exemplary ways, giving us models of Responding to God's Instruction in Scripture (1, 19, 119), Confession and Repentance (32), Crying out to God in distress (3, 7, 10, etc.), Praise and Worship (8, 29, 100), Quiet Confidence (23), etc. As we drink in the psalms and God uses them to form and nourish our inner worlds, we wll find ourselves quoting them perhaps, but even better emulating Mary, who in the Magnificat spontaneously praised God in ways so reminiscent of the Psalter that they could have come from there. She was not quoting but showing that she had imbibed deeply of the spirit of those poems, and also of the Spirit who inspired them.
Secondly, the Spirit-filled life is a life of Praise. Psalms refers to scriptural words of prayer and praise. Hymns are songs of praised addressed to the Deity--the key word is "Thou"--that we compose ourselves, based on what we have learned from the Psalms and other Scriptures. Thus, some psalms are hymns, and some hymns are psalms. But since this is not repetitive, it refers to the church's own words, not the Lord's. "Thou art worthy O Lord to receive glory and honor and blessing and dominion and power forever." That is the keynote of a true hymn.
Third, the Spirit-filled life is a life of testimony. The "spiritual song" is a first-person statement of what the Lord means to us. As the key word of a hymn is "Thou," the key word of a spiritual song is "I" or "me." "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like ME." "How can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour's blood?" Newton and Wesley show that they do not have to be shallow, though many are. For too long American conservative churches have focussed too much on gospel songs to the detriment of psalms and hymns in their worship. They are in the third place, but they do have a place as we give testimony to God's work in our lives.
Fourth, the Spirit-filled life is a life of Joy. We are to speak so to one another while "singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord." The Spirit's work is to make real to us the things about God and Christ that we theoretically believe. We believe that the God of Creation knows us as individuals and loves us anyway, to the point of the Cross; that the God of Grace has redeemed us, forgiven us, and is transforming us; that the God of history wants us to be living stones in the Temple he is building to the eternal glory of His Son. If such things are real to us, mere speaking is not enough. We will be singing and making melody in our hearts even if we do not have the talent (or brashness) to do it outwardly. For our joy is not dependent on outward circumstances but on the reality of these truths which are true independently of how well or ill our lives are going at the moment.
The Spirit-filled life is a thankful life and a submissive life too, but those will come in later weeks. For now, the final question is, how do we get there? For we look at our lives and we see some evidence of the Spirit's presence shown by these things, but not as deeply or as abundantly or as consistently as they should. Because the main way the church has tried to get there is completely backwards. We say, "OK, I am supposed to be joyful, so I had better get busy and manufacture some joy (or thankfulness, or submission)." Work real hard at it. But it is like tying plastic fruit onto the branches of a dead tree, not having it produced like real fruit by the real and natural sap and inner life of the living tree. We thus force it in the strength of the flesh, and so produce an ugly caricature of the real thing. The world sees right through this and therefore believes (quite rightly) that we are just a bunch of phonies.
So what is the real path to the fullness of the Spirit? Deny yourself, take up your Cross daily, and follow Him. In other words, empty yourself of your own wilfullness; drink in the Lord's presence mediated in Scripture, the Sacraments, Worship, Fellowship, and Prayer; yield yourself to the Spirit's work, using these things, moment by moment; (importantly) do not think that even this will work like some mechanical formula; but believe that if you do this in faith, that sooner or later, perhaps in times and ways when you least expect it, you will find yourself overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit--both as described in Gal. 5:22 and here--as if it were living water flowing from your belly. Just as Jesus promised.
Here endeth the lesson.