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Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery;
but be filled with the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18

Deuteronomy 29:29

In hindsight I would say she had spiritual PTSD. She was traumatized by her images of God. Still struggling from the abuse of both her father and her ex-husband, she was a new Christian wanting to talk about her new faith. She had come to talk with me about a recent sermon I had preached on Ephesians 5:18, specifically, living the Spirit controlled life. “You cannot imagine”, she began, “how the thought of being controlled by someone frightens me. Control was what my father and my ex-husband were all about. They wanted to control me; letting someone else control me, frightens me!”

I shifted nervously in my chair as she unpacked her pain right in front of me. I didn’t know what to say. I had always been told that being filled with the Spirit meant being controlled by the Spirit, and that being controlled by the Spirit was essential to the Christian life. But the pain on that woman’s face told me I had some work to do. I needed to take another look at Ephesians 5:18. I was surprised at what I found.

I discovered that in the 90 times the Greek verb pleroo (“to be filled”) is used in the New Testament, it is never translated, “to be controlled”. It made me wonder from where I got the idea that being filled with the Holy Spirit meant being controlled by the Spirit. Then I got out the standard Greek lexicon of the New Testament (Walter Bauer, Frederick Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature) and saw that “control” was not listed as one of the possible meanings of pleroo. Nor was “control” listed as one of the possible meanings in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, or, The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament.

Rather, the meanings listed for pleroo were: “to make full”, “to bring to completion”, and “to fulfill”. That’s what the Spirit of God does in us! I thought of Paul’s earlier prayer that the Ephesians may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled (pleroo) with all the fullness (pleroma) of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Now that’s a sermon! That we might know Christ’s love and “be made full” and “brought to completion” with the fullness of God!

I saw pain on that woman’s face that day and the trauma of having been controlled by abusive men. But her worst fear was that her Father in heaven might also be controlling and abusive. She said she was afraid to give into God’s love and afraid to trust Him with her life.

In a later conversation with the same woman I began to tell about the Gospel message as one of liberation, of being set free. Jesus preached a sermon in which he quoted the prophet Isaiah applying the words to Himself;

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the release of captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1-2a).

Jesus promises He will lift heavy burdens and give rest. People will find following Him to be free and light (Matthew 11:28-30). As they live into His truth they will experience the truth that will set them free (John 8:31-32).

It is not for nothing that the God of the Bible is called “Savior”, “Liberator” and “Deliverer”! He frees His people from the bondage of Egypt, the captivity of Babylon, and the fierce slavery of sin and death. That’s why the apostle Paul rejoices, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). We can rest assured, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

Do you think of God as controlling or as freeing? Many have projected onto God the pain experienced at the hands of others. But the God revealed in Jesus Christ is not a controller, a manipulator, or an abuser. God uses His omnipotent power not against us, but for us! Look at His cross! We can safely say “Yes!” to God and trust Him with our lives!

If I could go back and “re-preach” that sermon on Ephesians 5:18, I would say: “Don’t get your high from drinking wine, which leads to problems, but get your high from being filled with all the fullness of God and His love for you!” This is essential to Christian living!

Grace and peace,

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