Joyous Communal Growth

By Pr Ho Wei Liang

“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” (Eph. 5:18-21, ESV).

As you would have noticed in the quote from the English Standard Version above, verses 18 to 21 of Ephesians 5 form one long sentence, as it originally was in the Greek language that Paul wrote in. In contrast to other translations, this helps us understand Paul’s meaning properly—mutual submission is not just in the husband-wife (5:22-33), parent-child (6:1-9), and master-slave (6:5-9) relationships, but really applies to the entire church in all their different types of relationships with one another. John Calvin, in his Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, expounded as much regarding verse 21: “God has bound us so strongly to each other, that no man ought to endeavour to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered…all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn” (p. 316-317).

Beyond being built together into the holy temple in which God dwells by his Spirit (2:22), or the one body of Christ in which his one Spirit lives (4:4a), Paul now commands believers to be continually filled by the Spirit. Every Christian already has all of the Spirit, but the command here is for us to let the Spirit have all of our being. A mature believer is one who opens every room of his/her heart to the Spirit; a mature Christian community is one that grows and builds itself up in love through works of service (4:12-16), driven and characterised by the Holy Spirit’s control.

Inwardly, such a community will be one filled with the ecstatic (from the Greek ‘ek-static’, literally “outside of oneself”) joy of union with God, alongside the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23a). Outwardly, Paul describes four characteristics of a mature community: (1) mutual encouragement and edification; (2) joyous worship both communal and individual; (3) thankful and trustful living in all circumstances; (4) and a humble voluntary placing of oneself under the authority of and servanthood to others by each member, without any sense of inferiority or subjugation. 

By the grace and power of God, that which raised Christ from the dead, we shall build just such a community.