It is sometimes said that an addictive personality never loses an addiction. Instead they may substitute one addiction for another. That is why people who try to stop smoking often gain weight; and why some doctors recommend chewing gum when the urge to smoke strikes. Sometimes a serious drug addiction is treated by substituting a (perhaps) less serious drug. The addiction most often mentioned in the Bible is drunkenness, an addiction to alcohol. Paul, the apostle, was not a doctor, although he was often accompanied by one in the person of Luke. Paul recommends a cure for alcohol addiction; and it involves the substitution of one addiction for another.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (Eph 5:18-21)
It is probably important to note that Paul uses two different words for the condition of the reader. He doesn’t say, “Don’t be drunk with wine; be drunk with the Spirit.” He makes a distinction. Being drunk is an excess that turns a possibly good thing into something that is not good. We are to be filled with the Spirit, which will neither be excess or harmful. There is no way to get too much of the Spirit; there is no excess.
There are several types of drunks: belligerent drunks, sleepy drunks, talkative drunks. The excess of bellicosity results in fights, jail, or even death. The sleepy drunk may seem the least harmful, but often loses productive time. Excess of talking can just make people turn away from you; or it may result in saying something you will regret later.
The results of being filled with the Spirit, on the other hand, are all positive: speaking, singing, thanking, submitting. The speaking is not like that of the drunkard; the speech is about God. The parallel passage in the letter to the Colossians (3:16) refers to teaching and admonishing. Admonition is not the current practice of beating others over the head with their sins; rather it is warning with gentleness. How many of our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs say, in essence, “You’re a sinner; you’re going to hell; and I’m happy about that”? Let us hope none.
“Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” (Jas 5:13) Singing and making melody in your heart are natural results of being filled with the Spirit. What more could one be merry about than knowing Christ in you? Than knowing adoption by God? Than knowing we have an eternal home with God? And knowing all those things, we sing.
Thanksgiving is an everyday thing. Gratefulness flows from an awareness of the Spirit within us. That awareness reveals to us God’s love and forgiveness. Because we are forgiven, we forgive; because we forgive, we are relieved of the burden of resentment. Our souls are lighter, so we thank God. Our God would accept our thanks on our own; how much more when we have the authority of His own son backing up our thanks.
Submission is not a word Americans particularly like. We claim to be an independent people who have made ourselves what we are by dint of our own ingenuity. We don’t submit. The American flag dips to nobody. Submission is for wimps. But being filled with the Spirit tells us that this is just pride and braggadocio. Submission to one another is evidence of love. No marriage will last without mutual submission. No church will last without it either. Being filled with the Spirit, we know that we are in submission to God, who is above all. Because of this, we are equal with all other Christians. Nobody is better, or worse. There is no rank in God’s church.
Nobody really enjoys drunkenness. They may feel good for a while, but they either regret it shortly or try to get drunk again to try to regain the good feeling. In like manner, nobody ever regrets being filled with the Spirit. There are no negative side effects, no hangovers, no jail time. It is not drunkenness, but it is satisfaction.