In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul instructs: “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). He compares the Spirit’s fullness to drunkenness. One who is intoxicated is under the influence of alcohol and that influence impacts and affects one’s thinking and behavior. By way of analogy, the one who is filled with the Spirit comes under the influence of a different Reality, a Divine Reality, and that Reality impacts and influences one’s thinking and behavior.
This command is an active-passive command. Paul exhorts the faith community to be filled with the Spirit, yet the filling of the Spirit is not completely within the community’s control. In John’s Gospel, the Spirit is compared to wind that blows where it will. It’s beyond human coercion and manipulation. Yet, there are things we can do to set our sails in the direction that the wind is blowing and live within the flow of the Spirit’s power.
A River Runs Through It was a book from which a movie of the same title was made. It’s a story about two brothers, sons of a Presbyterian minister. Their father taught them about God and how to fly fish. One of the brothers says of their father, “To him, all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy.”
What a great line: All good things . . . come by grace and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy. However we understand and apply the concept of grace, it does not in any way contradict the need for effort, for human initiative, devotion, and commitment. Grace comes by art and art is gift and ability and effort and discipline all mixed up.
We cannot control the Spirit, but being filled with the Spirit requires something of us. It is our part, our place, our responsibility to be open, ready, and receptive to the Spirit.
In the Psalm paired with the reading from Ephesians 5 in the Lectionary, the Psalmist says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it” (Ps. 34:13–14). To do these things is to fear (respect, trust, obey) the Lord. Here are some ways we make ourselves ready and receptive to the empowerment of the Spirit: We avoid deception. We tell the truth. We practice honesty. We seek peace. We pursue justice. We do what is right and good. By pursuing this course, we place ourselves in the direction the wind of the Spirit is blowing.
We often use language like: “Fall on us, Holy Spirit,” or we petition God to send the Holy Spirit upon us, but these can be misleading images. In actuality, the Spirit is already upon us and within us. We already possess the Spirit, or better, the Spirit possesses us. It’s a matter of our being conscious, being aware, being in tune with the Spirit, and trusting in the Spirit, who we know as the living Christ.
I like to make the distinction between union and communion. We are all God’s children, but we are not all living like God’s children. We are all in union with the Divine Spirit, in whom “we live and move, and have our being” (see Acts 17:28). But we are not all in communion with the Spirit, we are not all conscious and aware of the Spirit’s presence, we are not all tuned in to the Spirit’s voice or consciously moved by the Spirit’s inner power.
Spirit craft requires our participation and cooperation. Unlike a piece of stone in the hands of a master craftsman, unlike a blank canvas stationed before a brilliant artist, we are living stones, living paintings, contributing to our own design and creation. Herein is the beauty, wonder, messiness, and mystery of the redemptive project God and humans are engaged in.