If I asked you what a Spirit-filled church looks like, what would your answer be? What would you emphasize, and why?
Recently my church studied part of the Apostle Paul’s answer to that question as he wrote to the divided church in Ephesus. Toward the end of his letter (Eph. 5:18–21), Paul tells them that rather than being influenced by alcohol, which leads away from God, they should be filled with the Spirit, who leads the church into surprising, supernatural unity. Unity in the local church is the heartbeat of Ephesians.
Unity in Wartime
We live in a world of war at every level—vertical and horizontal, with God and with one another—at both micro and macro scales. There’s discord and division in the playground, the boardroom, and between nations.
Yet, in and through the gospel, believers are united to Christ and one another. The church gives a glimpse of where history is headed when all things will be united under Christ (Eph. 1:10), who is the inevitable climax of history. Local churches, enjoying life under the lordship of Christ, are a taste of that future certainty (Eph. 1:22). Our unity in the church now matters because it reveals something of the stunning unity in Christ for all God’s people then.
Paul has reminded the Ephesians that they received the Spirit both as individuals (Eph. 1:13–14) and as a temple being built together in the Lord (Eph. 2:21–22). Now he urges them to be filled by the Spirit.
The evidence for this filling isn’t found in magnificent and miraculous acts. Rather, it’s in the mundane moments as the Ephesian church formally gathers and daily communes together. The evidence of the Spirit should also distinguish the church today, even (especially) amid a culture that wallows in discord.
Evidence of the Spirit
In chapter five, Paul outlines four evidences of a Spirit-filled church that provide a helpful framework for evaluating our own churches.
1. Do we speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit?
Paul begins his analysis of a Spirit-filled church in the horizontal, corporate dimension of our faith as we remind one another of truth, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19a). Following Jesus is not a “lone ranger” activity. Both our presence and our words are a huge blessing to others.
- How well do you steward your words?
- How might you create a culture where this kind of encouragement isn’t weird but rather the expectation?
- Are there people you can prioritize who would benefit from this kind of speech from you?
2. Do we sing and make music from our hearts to the Lord?
Paul says a Spirit-filled church sings and makes music to the Lord from the heart (Eph. 5:19b). One of the hardest things for my church during Covid has been the restrictions on corporate singing. We’ve massively missed singing songs of worship in the same place together every week. Notice this is more than simply singing words and sliding into autopilot. This singing is from the heart—the core of our very selves.
- How much of a culture is there of “singing and making music in your heart” in your church?
- Why do you think that is?
3. Are we continuously thankful in Christ?
On this side of Christ’s return, there will always be things that aren’t right—we’re unfinished people living among other unfinished people in imperfect times. It’s easy to let our hearts focus on the imperfections and problems and forget all the good we have. But Paul says we’re to live “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). We have so much to give thanks for—both the beautiful, timeless gospel truths Paul outlines in the first half of Ephesians and all our daily blessings.
- How good are you at remembering to give thanks? Why do you think this is?
- How can you get better at giving thanks, in Christ’s name, to God the Father for everything?
4. Do we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ?
A Spirit-filled church has a culture of submission to one another. What would it look like to be in a church where everyone sought to submit to everyone else? Where no one wanted to push their agenda or stand on their soapbox, but listened to, supported, and submitted to the needs of others? Just imagine a church like that—a church where submission is rife! That would be a church where the unity of the Spirit shines.
- Why do people struggle to submit to one another?
- What is the answer to that?
So then, when we consider what a Spirit-filled church looks like—although it’s often seen in the mundane moments—perhaps it’s more magnificent and miraculous than we first thought. The Spirit-wrought miracle of Christian unity makes Jesus’s church beautifully distinct in a polarized culture. Brothers and sisters, let’s look to Jesus and walk in the unity he won for us.