Filled with Thanksgiving and Rendered to Submission
As a community of believers in Jesus, we are working toward three things in 2019, namely, greater unity, a deeper knowledge of Jesus’ will, and a more pronounced maturity. This is what Paul said Jesus wants for his people (Ephesians 4:13). This is what it looks like to be filled up with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Now, there are two reasons why we should want God’s Spirit to fill us: First, It is the will of Christ. He maintains eternal authority, and for that reason we should listen to him. But second, we should want God’s Spirit to fill us because it means we are closer to our deeply loving Creator. It means, he wants to come live in us and among us.
This is really the essence of the Christian faith. In Matthew, Jesus’ name is Emmanuel, which literally means “God with us.” The essence of Christianity is that the God of the universe has drawn near to his creation through Jesus. Now, in Ephesians 5, Paul is essentially saying, “God has drawn near; his Spirit is available to all; let him make his dwelling place within you.” It’s an amazing blessing.
The Christian faith is that, through Jesus, God is never far. The Creator of the world is right here with us, walking with us through trials, strengthening us at weak points. This is why we are so concerned with being filled with the Spirit. We want God near us so we can play a part in his grand mission.
We continued our discussion last week concerning how this will happen. All of the power is in Christ. Our work is primarily that of being oriented in such a way so as to be filled. The Scripture says, “18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The whole of this morning’s message concerns two additional means by which God’s Spirit will dwell within us, namely, being thankful and esteeming others above self.
Be Filled by Thanksgiving
For every direct statement, there is a host of indirect inferences. For example, if I say, “Would you go get me a double quarter-pounder with cheese and no onion; super size the fry,” you may infer, “Daniel is not on a diet,” or even, “If I bring him a salad, he’ll probably be angry.”
Using that same reason, what do you infer when Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit…giving thanks always and for everything?” Especially notice those modifiers “always” and “for everything.”
One thing we may infer by virtue of the word “always” is that we aren’t thankful all the time like we should be. If we were always thankful, he wouldn’t need to say, “Be thankful always.” And further, by virtue of “for everything,” we may infer there are many things in which we would find no reason to be thankful, so Paul not only says to be thankful always, but he says to be thankful for everything!
What this means is, there’s always something to be thankful for, and there’s something to be thankful for in everything. Let me say that again: There’s always something to be thankful for, and there’s something to be thankful for in everything. If we can get our mind there, Paul says, “The Spirit will fill you,” which means he will live in you.
There’s always something to be thankful for, and there’s something to be thankful for in everything. That’s not very believable when we consider the travesties of war, the abortion bill passed in New York last week, cancer, and countless other things. So is this just a nice thought that can stand only in the hypothetical realm of theology, or is this a practical truth? Two examples.
Hurricane Ivan and Dave Vanguilder
On September 11, 2004, Hurricane Ivan whipped through the Cayman Islands, leaving $2.86 billion in damages. Much of the island went without power or water for months; Stagnant water pools brought horrible mosquitos; many bathed for months using only buckets of water; cold canned goods made for much of the meals; clothing was washed by hand and hang dried; roads were blocked with debris; and bodies from seaside graves were washed up on shore.
Is there anything to be thankful for in that mess? In our five years on Grand Cayman, we heard countless testimonies of the event. And you know what kinds of things were said most often? “Thank God there were only two casualties!” One brother recalled how there’s never been a more beautiful night sky. Many would say, “There’s no electricity—so I can’t watch Netflix!” He’s saying, “There’s no electricity, so I’m seeing the heavens in all their glory, and what a sight to behold!” And more than anything else, people spoke of the beauty such an ugly storm brought out in the people. Everyone came together and helped one another. There’s always something to be thankful for, and there’s something to be thankful for in everything.
Another example. Many years ago, my father baptized a man named Dave Vanguilder. Dave had lived a wild life of drugs and sex before becoming a Christian, and after years of being a Christian, he fell away and went back to those old patterns. Some time after he went back into sin, my father received a phone call that Dave had been in a terrible car wreck. Driving down the interstate in a thick fog, he didn’t realize a semi-truck was stopped just in front of him. So he plowed into the back of the truck and was instantly paralyzed. The life he knew was lost at that moment.
Is there anything to be thankful for in that accident? Soon after, Dave made contact with my father and returned to the Lord. Several years after repenting, he died of hepatitis as a faithful Christian. I’m gonna meet Dave in heaven one day because he broke his neck. For that reason, I’m thankful Dave broke his neck. There’s always something to be thankful for, and there’s something to be thankful for in everything.
And Paul’s saying, if you can learn to see life that way, you’re going to create the kind of environment in which God will dwell. God’s Spirit will make his home in a person who sees life like that.
Are you a thankful person? One measure by which you may assess your thankfulness concerns the content of your prayers. Do your prayers consist of requests only? Do you only pray when you have a request? Give thanks to God always and for everything! Give thanks to God even now. And never cease.
Be Filled by Willful Subordination
Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
What’s Paul after here? He calls everyone to “Be filled with the Spirit…submitting to one another.” Is he eliminating the need for certain hierarchies? Well, I don’t think so. Just afterward, he calls wives to “be submissive to your husbands as to Christ” (5:22). He tells children to obey parents (6:1). He tells servants to obey masters (6:5). And in Hebrews 13, it reads, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” So I don’t think Paul’s saying there shouldn’t be leaders any longer.
However, there’s a sense in which everyone should be submissive to everyone—even leaders submitting to those under them. Consider Christ. He defended the truths of the Bible and never submitted a Scripture to be revised or removed, yet he submitted to mankind’s needs every day of his 33 years on earth. He submitted his time for service. He submitted his energy to feed and clothe the hungry and naked. As a king, he submitted his right to forfeit taxes. He submitted his blood. He submitted his body. He submitted his glory in heaven at the Father’s side and became a man.
So even as King of the whole universe, Jesus found infinite ways to submit himself to others. I think the goal here is, come to this place, and see these people as those whom you deeply love. And so far as it’s possible, your aim should be to accommodate their needs—to submit your personal preferences to accommodate theirs.
Church, this stuff is profoundly important for building the kind of unity we’re after in 2019 and the years to come. And when we have this mutual submission or subordination, Paul says “the Spirit of God will fill you.” In other words, when God sees a church full of people who want to honor one another, he has great motive to draw nearer.
Connected to Christ
Now, lastly before closing, I want you to see a connection Paul makes three times in the context of being filled with the Spirit. “Be filled with the Spirit…singing and making melody to the Lord…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.”
Our singing is “to the Lord;” our thanksgivings are “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” our submission is “out of reverence for Christ.” All of this spirit-filledness is inextricably bound to Jesus! And I think it begins with a thankfulness to God in the name of Jesus, who gave up everything that we might have life. When Christ becomes irreplaceably central in our lives, then we begin to sing songs to him, we begin being very thankful, we begin wanting to submit to one another.
If Christ is the center of the universe, he should be the center of yours.
This week’s challenge is twofold: First, let everyone in this room spend some intentional time making a list of thanksgivings. Then thank God for those things. Begin to get in a habit of seeing the things for which you ought be thankful.
Second, try and find a brother or sister with whom you’ve had some kind of falling out, and go to them in humility to see how that relationship might be mended. In a totally unified church, there is no room for cliques or segregation.