First Love

Ephesians 5.15-20

So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly. Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times. Because of this, don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will. Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. – Eph. 5.15-21

Our text today highlights the joy of living in a Spirit-filled relationship with Jesus and how we are to share that relationship with others. One way Paul inspires us to share is through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. One way we sing joyfully today is through children’s songs. You might remember this one from a VBS. Sing with me, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands… raise your hands… shout amen!” Doesn’t that just bring a little joy in your heart this morning! It makes you want to go, “Whee!”

Well, Jesus wants to put more joy into our lives. He wants to add the “Whee!” of being in love again. Remember when you had a first love? That relationship was so special. But Jesus asks of us to put him above even our first love. He wants to rekindle our relationship with him and add a little “Whee!” to our lives.

Do you remember when you first feel in love with Jesus? What was that like? Do you remember the first time you said “Yes!” to Jesus? Well, as good Methodist we think that first love experience (fresh infilling of the Spirit) can be repeated over and over again. So if you haven’t had a fresh stirring of love for Jesus, the opportunity is here for you today.

Let’s take a look at our text today and see what “being filled with the Spirit” means to Paul. As we look deep into the text verse 16 points to a kairos moment that now is the time to reclaim the meaning of you life (Rienecker and Rogers). In this verse we can catch a glimpse of what Paul is inspiring. Paul points to the reality just beyond the senses and urges the Ephesians to seize the opportunity to buy back their lives with personal watchfulness and self-denial. It is important to note that in verse 17 the Spirit of God gives reasoning power to all the Saints (Rienecker and Rogers). This would be seen as instead of the local diety power.

In verse 18 the drunken person symbolizes one who is still enslaved to worldly values and prevents one from having the self-control necessary to love others. This drunkenness was a common part of the local worship ceremonies of Dionysus (Rienecker and Rogers). This religious experience would cause the patrons to be filled with Dionysus’ spirit, and thus “controlled” by something beyond them selves (Rienecker and Rogers). In verse 18 the verb “be filled” is imperative in mood and expresses action that can only be realized by the exercise of one’s will upon another. It is a command given in time/space that requires a direct response from the hearer. The imperative mood is timeless and implies that the reader/hearer should keep on doing that which has been requested, “keep on being filled.”

Note that across the letter to the Ephesians Paul has used the language of being filled on a number of occasions: Ephesians 1.10 (fullness of time – noun), 1.23 (fullness of Christ – noun), 3.19 (filled with the fullness of God – aorist passive, noun), 4.10, (Jesus fills all things – aorist active), 4.13 (fullness of Christ – noun), and 5.18 (be filled with the Spirit – present imperative).

  • Eph. 1:10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
  • Eph. 1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
  • Eph. 3:19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
  • Eph. 4:10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
  • Eph. 4:13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
  • Eph. 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

As a result of this infilling God is calling his people to sing a new song. In our former ways of living we used to sing the songs of our past life. Now we are invited to be filled with the songs of the Holy Spirit within us. The songs that Paul is referencing at the songs that would have been sung to the town diety. The Greek word translated hymn is actually the sacred song of the local diety. Our text is drawing people out of the occult and into the Spirit-filled life.

For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord… As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her… Marriage (mystical union) is a significant allegory… (5.22, 25, 32)

As for children, obey your parents in the Lord, because it is right…As for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord… (6.1, 4) 

As for slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling and with sincere devotion to Christ… As for masters, treat your slaves in the same way… stop threatening them… (6.5, 9)

The infilling of the Spirit creates joy that spills out into relationships. Paul instructs the church to allow the Spirit-filled life to impact how husbands and wives get along as well as parents and their children and even masters and slaves. The overarching theme is one of submission to one another out of reverence for Christ – and the mystical union we have with Christ because of the infilling of the Spirit.

The mystical union Paul points out to the Ephesians is the opposite experience of their real life culture. In verse 26 Paul points out the bridal bath is a symbol of submission. First love is the key to this passage. It’s all about love. But what kind of love is Paul aiming at? Paul is inviting his reader/hearer to a different understanding of relationships – husband and wife, parent and child, slave and master. Each one has a particular kind of power relationship that is not what Christ and the Church requires. Paul is inviting those in power to a new kind of relationship – not as a soldier leading/submitting but as one who has been tempered with grace to become self-sacrificial, voluntarily yielding to a Jesus’ kind of love. Essentially, Paul is pointing to a reality just beyond the culture – a spiritual reality.

In these passages there are a few important overlays that must be remembered. The Ephesians have a history of their own caught up in the Temple of Artemius, the 7th wonder of the ancient world. God has his own story that has been going on since the beginning of time. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… and he created man and woman. Into this story Christ has come! Christ has created a marriage in heaven to unite what has been separated. The parallel stories of God and humanity can now be joined into a new story. Both stories come together to form a new story. Christ has forged a bridge for the Gentiles to cross over to the new life in the Kingdom of God. Paul is calling out to the people to join God in the heavenly kingdom.

There are two outlying issues: prison and falling away. Paul’s in prison – whether it’s a house arrest or a jail cell is unclear. What is clear is that he is not alone and he is confined to a space. Here in this constrained place he writes to his beloved church family whom he has wept with just prior to this imprisonment (Acts 20.36-38). Here in this place there is someone watching over him – a guard – which may very well impact how he is sharing the Gospel. We have to remember that John will eventually write about the church at Ephesus as having lost her first love. The culture and community of Ephesus was unique in its idolatry. “Great is Artemius,” they would say. The city of Ephesus was the home to one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world – the shrine to the fertility goddess Artemius. There’s little left of the ancient ruins in Ephesus but what we do know is that from biblical accounts this goddess was worshiped across the middle east for 100s of years. Paul founded the church in 61 and John wrote the bad report about Ephesus as late as 95. In that short time span the church had fallen away.

In the city of Ephesus there were many who made their living off of making statues of this goddess. With this as our backdrop we can further explore the text at hand. Relationships were at the core of this cities existence for 100s of years. When Paul was at Ephesus there was a great riot, as he was bringing down the worship of this idolatry and way of life. These folks were open to ritual prostitution. We can only imagine the cultural dynamics surrounding this story as there’s little left of the culture than a column or two in a marshy field – and of course a lot of historical and archeological speculation. What I find interesting as a sidebar is the relationship between the evangelist Apollo and how he might have impacted the conversion of some in Ephesus in light of his name. Apollo was a name given to Artemius’ twin brother. God does have a wonderful way of getting to root issues in a culture for sure – even through a name.

The exorcism by the Sons of Sceva, book/scroll burning, and silver idols riot happened at Ephesus (Acts 19.11-22). The value of the books burned summed 50,000 days wages (that’s 2.9 million at minimum wage). The heart of the economy in Ephesus was the silver idol trade and the magical books/scrolls.

Paul at Ephesus was a season in the church that expanded the Gospel across the region. Paul was functioning as a bishop – identifying leaders then encouraging/training/mentoring each one then sending out leaders to start churches and strengthening the ones already established. In some sense Paul established the first training center at Ephesus.

Throughout the bible, marriage has been a staple illustration of relationships between God and his people. Paul uses this illustration to encourage the relationship between husband and wife to reflect the union between Christ and the Church. In the Old Testament prophets used the illustration of marriage to describe covenant love of God for his people. Jesus even told parables about wedding feasts and the coming Kingdom of God. But this metaphors – illustration point to something real beyond the description.

In Genesis the first union became real an experience (Gen. 2.22-23). For their first meeting God brought Eve to meet Adam and Adam declares that she is “bone of his bone” and “flesh of his flesh.” The first union points to the mystical reality intended to be the relationship between man and woman.

When we look to what a wife of noble character is like, Proverbs 31.10-11 describes her character, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.” There are all sorts of marriages arranged in the bible stories. Family relationships are messy at best. But God does not shy away from this illustration as his Kingdom promise. Song of Solomon highlights this mutual self-giving relationship.

One day we will participate in the wedding feast of the Lamb of God. We can read about that feast in Revelations (19) to be sure but there are other stories of the wedding banquet that are smattered across the New Testament. Matthew’s Gospel speaks of the kingdom of heaven being like a wedding banquet or feast (Mt. 22, 25 Lk 12, 14). Even still Jesus’ first miracle was to bless a wedding with fresh wine from water (John 2).

The whole idea of yielding needs to be defined here. Perhaps a good way to understand the text is to “order your lives in the fear of Christ” (5.21). Paul affirms God’s created order from the beginning of time. God had always planned on a mutual self-giving relationship between men and women.

What was it like when you discovered your first love? How/when did you become a Christian? What led you to become a Christian? How have you experienced God working in your life? How has being a Christian changed your heart and life? Have you lost your first love?


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