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Paul writes near the end of Ephesians:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.—Ephesians 5:15-21 (ESV)

Last night, I heard a sermon that addressed this passage in the context of Thanksgiving. It even served as the benediction. But the bit about not getting drunk, which I italicized above, did not seem to fit in Paul's theme. The pastor did not address it at all.

How does this phrase fit in Paul's larger argument?

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    My pastor mentioned this too. He contrasted getting drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit as things which control our thinking. – Soldarnal Nov 23 '12 at 5:11
  • I believe we should take Paul´s warning seriously, as drunkenness means loss of control and a sober mind which grieves the Holy Spirit. – Neru-J Nov 25 '12 at 18:48
  • @Neruja Joseph: Absolutely. The question, however, is why Paul warned against that particular sin rather than some other. – Jon Ericson Nov 25 '12 at 23:45
  • The same contrast was seen at Pentecost, where the filling of the Spirit was compared to the filling of wine. Wine instigates us to act contrary to our moral nature, while the filing of the Spirit of God instigates us to act contrary to our immoral nature. Both extremes engender dependent behaviors. Please click here for more background info. – Joseph Jun 9 '14 at 22:07
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I believe the Paul is contrasting the similarity of drunkenness with being 'filled with the Spirit' while at the same time contrasting the differences of drunkenness with being 'filled with the Spirit'. For example, the whole context is expressing a thankful, social, warm, loving atmosphere that comes with a 'filling of the Spirit'. This state of spirit has many similarities with being 'tipsy' on wine. It is this 'similarity of experience' and joyful countenance on the face of those filled with the Spirit that made some observers of Pentecost to say:

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:13-16, NIV)

Yet there is something about being drunk on wine that is very much opposed to a thankful pleasant and socially warm holy frame of mind. Drunkenness leads to loss of self control and leads to recklessness and lack of wisdom. It abounds with foolishness and ignorance.

Therefore we should not be like a foolish undisciplined waste of a man like a drunkard, but capture all the other satisfying elements of having some wine, by seizing the holy and enjoyable life of the Spirit.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17, NIV)

There is something terribly true in this verse. For as Christians, to attend the worship of God and not enter into the warm, joyful worship of God's manifested grace in the gospel, something it terribly wrong. If this does not melt our heart washing the sins of our hard struggling week away and naturally causing others to suspect something is happening by our brightened countenance and flushed red cheeks, then I can only guess, either we have lost our first love, or some other cause hindered us in our believing approach to the throne of grace.

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Here’s how drunkenness fits into Paul’s theme. First, note that the overall theme starts in 5:1-2:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (ESV)

In 5:15 carefully translates the Greek word ἀκριβῶς, which is also translated accurately in other verses. We get the word acrobat from this word and you can think of how carefully and accurately the acrobat walks a tightrope. Thus, we need to live wisely.

5:16 “making the best use of” translates the word ἐξαγοραζόμενοι. It is also translated redeemed. Note it looks like our word exaggerate, but it has the idea of urgency in needing to rescues something. Time translates the word καιρόν and means opportune time as opposed to clock time. “Because the days are evil” is the reason for the urgency and need to redeem the opportunities.

5:17 Foolish translates the word ἄφρονες, which is the alpha privative in front of the word for mind. Thus, the word means mindless. We are not to be mindless, but seek to understand God’s will.

5:18 Here is where drunkenness fits in. When is a person more mindless than when he is drunk? Drunkenness puts a person in less control of how one lives. Debauchery translates the word ἀσωτία which means:

ἀσωτία, ας f: behavior which shows lack of concern or thought for the consequences of an action—‘senseless deeds, reckless deeds, recklessness.’ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία ‘do not get drunk with wine, for that results in reckless deeds’ Eph 5:18. In some languages ἀσωτία in Eph 5:18 may be rendered as ‘what one does without being able to think about it’ or ‘what one does when the mind is absent.’

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 752). New York: United Bible Societies.

This context seems to indicate that a person filled with the Spirit is in control of how one lives and consciously following God’s will. Note 1 Corinthians 14:32 and Romans 8.

Anyway, drunkenness fits in Paul’s theme because it is a mindless state. Paul is contrasting drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit, but be sure to note that Paul is not saying that being filled with the Spirit is a mindless state like drunkenness where the Christian’s mind is disengaged.

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