The Means and result of being Spirit-filled
Ephesians 5:18-21
Action/Result or Action/Means—Understanding the Spirit-filled Life
Published April 2nd, 2019
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Ephesians 5:18-21
And s do not get drunk with wine,
for that is t debauchery,
but u be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in v psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, w giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father x in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
y submitting to one another
out of reverence for Christ.
The central question I am exploring here is the relationship between the action in 18c, and the participles that follow. Obviously, 19–20 could be broken into multiple propositions. I opted against that in this case because I am chiefly concerned with preparing a sermon on marriage, which means I am especially interested in the relationship between 18c and 21a, because of its connection with the following passage on marriage. Most commentaries I have referenced seem to prefer an action/result relationship. Theilman states, "As a result of their growth toward maturity in the realm of the Spirit, his readers will meet together for praise of God" (BECNT). O'Brien states, "Of the five participles that follow the exhortation to be filled by the Spirit, and which describes the result of that infilling..." (PNTC). MacArthur says, "the consequences of the Spirit-filled life are are mentioned throughout the rest of the epistle...." Finally, Hoehner claims, "The following verses mention four resultant characteristics of being filled with the Holy Spirit." An apparently less common position depicts 18c as the main idea and the following participles as the explanation. For instance, in D.A. Carson's, The New Bible Commentary (1994), he states, "V 19 onwards is part of the same sentence as v 18 and spells out what being filled with the Spirit entails: it comes to expression in corporate worship (19a), adoring song (19b), thanksgiving to God (20; cf. 1:3–14; 15–16; 3:20–21) and mutual submission (21)." While I see some merit to the action/result relationship, I am concerned that it removes the imperatival force of the four participles. I do not think that the sense is that as we strive to be filled with the Spirit, we will increasingly find ourselves singing and submitting. Instead, it seems natural to read the participles concerning song and submission as injunctions or commands. We are being called to sing more and submit more in order that we might be more filled (controlled) by the Spirit in every aspect of our lives. At the same time, I actually suspect that there is a reciprocal relationship at play. The more we sing and submit, the more we sow to the Spirit and give Him control over our lives. At the same time, the more He is given control through these actions, the more we find these actions becoming the natural results of His influence in our lives.
Brent Karding
I think Action-Result makes the most sense. Even Carson’s comment that you quoted can be construed this way, with his use of the words “entails” and “comes to expression.” Being filled with the Spirit comes first, and is followed by the Manner phrases of 19-21.

Your concern is valid, I would say, about removing the imperatival force of each participle. However, I wouldn’t say that this is an inherent result of the Ac-Res relationship. You could still stress the participles’ imperatival nature, since they are part of the command itself.

I would also push back against what you said about it not being the case that “as we strive to be filled with the Spirit, we will increasingly find ourselves singing and submitting.” Singing and submitting is somewhat a natural, automatic outflow of being filled with the Spirit. This is admittedly an experiential argument, but there is still a deliberate submission to the Spirit there, as in Gal 4:16 and 22-23.

Your last paragraph makes your argument in the fifth paragraph gentler, and I agree with it. There’s a both-and in play in this text.
Disclaimer: The opinions and conclusions expressed on this page are those of the author and may or may not accord with the positions of Biblearc or Bethlehem College & Seminary.