Paul does not command us to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and then immediately move on to other subjects. Thankfully, he gives several evidences of the Spirit-filled life that we might recognize the work of the third person of the Trinity. The first of these is the presence of song in our hearts and on our lips. Those who submit to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying presence address others in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord” (v. 19). Here the apostle essentially repeats what he says about the indwelling “word of Christ” in Colossians 3:16. If the Savior dwells in our hearts by His Spirit, His Word also dwells within us by His Spirit, and the Spirit uses this Word to make us holy and fill us with joy that overflows in song.
A second evidence of the Spirit-filled life, as seen in today’s passage, is an attitude of perpetual gratitude for all things directed to God the Father in the person of Jesus Christ. Since we are born into this world as fundamentally ungrateful people (Rom. 1:21), the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation includes changing us from ingrates into profoundly grateful people. In contrast to those in this world who are never content with God’s provision, the true Christian is thankful for everything, even the smallest joys. Believers understand that we deserve nothing but the Lord’s wrath, so we are thankful for all of our blessings.
Finally, Ephesians 5:21 also explains that our submission to one another is evidence of the Spirit-filled life. This mutual submission is not inconsistent with role distinctions within the body of Christ. After all, Paul in Ephesians 5:22–6:9 explains that certain individuals have positions of authority that are not shared by everyone in the church. The apostle’s view of submission here is the submission of service. All of us, no matter our responsibilities, are to put others first and seek to meet their needs before our own. John Calvin comments: “God has bound us so strong to each other that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except even kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn.”
Servanthood is the path to greatness, not the position we hold or the degree of authority that we have been given (Matt. 23:11). Even those who are in authority over people — including husbands, executives, and parents — must submit to those under them in a spirit of service. True leaders are always putting the needs of others before their own, and Christian leaders who do not do so must repent of their sin and serve others well.