For us to get a grip on what God says about the family, we are best served by looking at Ephesians 5. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us a place where all of the pertinent material is pulled together, and it’s a great launching point for us.
And keep in mind, this is not human opinion. All I want to do is show you what the Word of God says and the applicable wisdom that comes from that. This is the last word on the issue. We don’t need experts and psychiatrists and psychologists and analysts and marriage and family people. We can go right to the Word of God. We are not looking for tricks and gimmicks; we are looking for truth that can become part of our lives.
Now, as Paul begins to launch into this subject, he starts with a very key premise:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
That is the key that unlocks all the rest. From that great principle flows the instruction to the wife in verse 22, the instruction to the husband in verse 25, the instruction to the children in 6:1, and the instruction to the parents in 6:2. All that marriage and family teaching flows out of this principle.
In fact, it is the first of several necessary prerequisites for any successful marriage or any successful relationship. And the contrast is quite dramatic and remarkable.
So, why in the world would he contrast drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit? What is the point here? The answer is found in the historical context. Let me give you a little bit of background.
The key element in ancient pagan worship was drunkenness. That’s how they got their inhibitions out. That’s how they dealt with their normal restraint. That’s how they dealt with normal feelings of guilt. That’s how they dulled their senses sufficiently to quiet their conscience. They believed that drunkenness was the door into ecstasy and religious expression. They believed that such drunkenness elevated the worshiper to total communion with the deities.
Verse 18 takes on different meaning in the light of that context. Paul is saying to them, “Do not get drunk with wine. All that does is produce dissipation. All that does is take you down. If you want to commune with God, be filled with the Spirit. Our religion is not brought about in its fullness and its richness and its reality by drunkenness, but rather by the filling of the Spirit. Don’t be filled with alcohol, be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
If you want true religion, if you want true communion with God, if you want true worship to take place, then you must be filled with the Spirit. Not controlled by alcohol, but controlled by the Holy Spirit.
It’s not some kind of mystical experience. It’s not something that comes over you and catapults you into some unconscious behavior. It’s not launching off into some ecstatic speech. It’s not going out of yourself or being beyond control. It’s simply being continually controlled by the Spirit, who does it through the Word. And that means we are obeying the truth.
Whatever we are going to do in terms of our Christian life, whether it’s our marriage or our family, it has to flow out of a life controlled by the Holy Spirit. And that’s why society really has no chance, no hope. They are not regenerate. They don’t know God. They have no more hope of getting it right than the people at the Bacchanalian feasts did. It’s not going to happen.
A right kind of marriage relationship and a right kind of family relationship is built on a redeemed life and powered by the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Word of God.
Now, look at verses 19-20:
Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
Where there is a life devoted to the Word of God and obedience to the Word of God, there is praise. We could conclude that a worshiping life comes from a heart that is filled with joy.
It’s this simple: You give me a person obedient to the Word of God, and I’ll show you a positive, happy, praising person whose heart is making melody to the Lord. And I’ll show you a person who can get along with anybody, because they are lost in wonder, love, and praise.
I’ll tell you what — it’s very hard to argue with somebody who is thankful for everything. You find a person who is filled with the Spirit, and I’ll show you a happy person. I’ll show you a thankful person. A person obeying the Word of God. A person filled with joy and praise and worship.
A person who has nothing but thanks for everything God has done is going to be wonderful to live with. That’s the bottom line.
We aren’t talking about some kind of gimmick to make your marriage work. There is only one way to cultivate a right relationship with anybody, and that’s to be filled with the Spirit of God. When a person is filled with praise and gratitude to God, so that their heart is overflowing with joy, that’s what makes them someone that you can live with — someone who is a blessing to you.
It should be, frankly, almost impossible to start a fight with you, because you are just too blessed. Too full of praise. Too full of thanks. Too full of the overflowing grace of God. Too controlled by the Holy Spirit. You are so filled with love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control that your spouse may just get upset at their inability to cause conflict. It has to start there.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1996, titled “A Plan for Your Family: God’s vs. the World’s, Part 1.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.