Near the end his letter to the Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul discussed how Jesus-followers can be “imitators of God as dearly loved children.” Here Paul reminds them that Jesus sacrificed Himself to make them right with God and to save them from His eternal wrath against sinners.
In this salvation, Paul describes the regeneration (or new birth/change in nature) that happens in someone’s heart whenever he or she surrenders to Jesus as Lord and Savior. He says, “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” Our past nature was one that delighted in sinfulness and rebellion against God. Now, God has changed our nature so that we desire to obey Him.
Paul explains how we can be imitators. He warns us generally by saying, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” After this he gets more specific in describing how to be imitators of God. At one point he states:
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” -Ephesians 5:18
Here, Paul gives two imperative commands. The first command is not to get drunk with wine. He describes that it “is dissipation.” The word dissipation here is ἀσωτία (asotia) in the Greek. It literally means “against salvation.” Getting drunk or intoxicated is not consistent with the life of a saint; with the life of one for whom Jesus has died. It is a life without restraint or self-discipline. This kind of living brings no glory to God, which is a major concern to the genuine Christian.
The second imperative that Paul gives is to “be filled with the Spirit.” The idea Paul is getting at is that the life of a Jesus-follower is one that submits to the Holy Spirit, one that hears and obeys the Word which the Holy Spirit inspired: the Bible.
The major concern in this verse is about who is in the driver seat of the life of a Christian. When you give yourself over to intoxication, the Holy Spirit is no longer in control. The substance that you have intoxicated yourself with is in control. It is now the major influencer of your life during the time of intoxication and it inhibits your judgment and ability to submit to the Holy Spirit.
Now, some will say that only wine is mentioned here. But the main task of the Jesus-follower when reading the Bible is to seek authorial intent. That is, we must always be asking, what did this particular writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, intend to communicate. This is the primary goal of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation).
Paul mentions wine here in Ephesians 5:18. So we know that we shouldn’t get drunk with wine. However, we can not stop there if we desire to be faithful interpreters of the Scriptures and sincere Jesus-followers. We must seek to understand Paul’s pattern of meaning and apply it where it fits today. We usually refer to this as the implication(s) of a passage (sometimes called the unconscious meaning of the author). The idea is that Paul had wine in mind when he mentioned this to the Ephesians, but if we were to ask Paul, “What about whiskey, or beer, or vodka? Is it okay to get drunk on these?” Paul would assuredly say something like, “No! If you do this, the Holy Spirit is no longer in control, but these substances have too much influence over you.” (Please see Robert H. Stein’s A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible or any basic hermeneutics book for more on the idea of implications or unconscious meaning).
Now, the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service has warned, “Both independent reviews corroborate the Public Health Service’s findings of health hazards associated with marijuana use: Acute intoxication with marijuana interferes with many aspects of mental functioning and has serious, acute effects on perception and skilled performance, such as driving and other complex tasks involving judgement or fine motor skills.”
With the intoxicating and impairing affect of marijuana as listed above, Paul’s pattern of meaning would extend to not being intoxicated with marijuana because it would inhibit the Christian’s ability to be filled with (or guided by) the Holy Spirit.
If we indeed desire to be imitators of God as dearly loved children who live to honor Jesus’ sacrifice and walk in the light, we will not get intoxicated with marijuana but we will be filled with the Holy Spirit.