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Ephesians 5:18

ESV And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
NIV Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
NASB And do not get drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
CSB And don't get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit:
NLT Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,
KJV And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;

What does Ephesians 5:18 mean?

Whether drunkenness was a particular problem at Ephesus or not, we can't tell from this verse. Paul does feel led to warn against being controlled by alcohol. The word translated "debauchery" doesn't merely refer to alcoholism as some might think. Rather, it is a broad term associated with a wasted, unproductive life. Paul's concern was that those who get drunk are not making the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16) and are making unwise decisions (Ephesians 5:15). Worse, drunkenness makes one's decision-making that much poorer—a self-aggravating condition.

In the common debate over the role of alcohol in a Christian's life, verses such as this are instructive. Paul does not insist that his readers abstain from all alcohol. Had that been his intent, he could have easily said so, and presumably would have. In this circumstance, he simply commands them not to become inebriated. However, his intent is not merely a reference to alcohol. Anything which has the power to control, harm, or hurt a Christian needs to be handled with extreme care.

Paul's positive alternative to being drunk is to "be filled with the Spirit." Just as drinking a great deal can cause a person to be controlled by wine, focusing on the Spirit can cause a person to be filled or controlled by the Spirit. However, this control or filling is not being "out of control" in the sense of some highly charismatic display of emotion. The following verses speak instead of sharing psalms, singing, being thankful, and submitting to one another. Being controlled by the Spirit is living in a manner worthy of God's calling.
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