Asotia – Just a Little Excess?

And do not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit.

(Ephesians 5:18 KJV). 

When Paul warned the first-century Ephesians against being drunk with wine, he added the phrase “wherein is excess.”  That’s how he described the consequences of drunkenness: excess.

Frankly, that doesn’t sound too frightening.  If you don’t drink carefully, you might go a little past the boundaries of polite behavior.  You might be tempted to drink and drive, or laugh too loudly in a restaurant.  In any case, it reminds me of the tagline on a beer commercial that reminds us to “Drink responsibly.”

In reality, Paul uses a Greek word that describes something much more serious.

The Greek word is asōtia, and it describes something catastrophic, not just a mild transgression.  A more helpful translation might be “debauchery” (NIV) or “dissipation” (NASB).

It occurs in the New Testament only three times, and a related adjective is found Luke 15:13.  Each reference reveals why asōtia is so serious.

Luke 15:13 – It caused the prodigal to squander his inheritance.

And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.

The word asōtia comes from two other Greek words: a, which means “not,” and sōzō, which means “save.”  Put them together, and you get “one who does not save.”  Certainly the prodigal was a perfect example of this concept.  He left home with a bag full of coins, but before long all that silver had slipped through his fingers.  It was gone, and he had nothing to show for it.

We have all heard about the lottery winners who take home a check for a million dollars, only to watch it dissipate in a few months, leaving them back at their old income level.   That’s the reality of a sinful lifestyle.  A person starts with endless possibilities for good, equipped with youthful energy, a supportive family, solid education and a good job.  But falling into a lifestyle of dissipation will waste all those advantages.

Titus 1:6 – It is linked with rebellion and it can block a parent from church leadership.

If any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.

When Paul laid out the qualifications for church leaders, he searched for men who had demonstrated their ability to lead the church by successfully leading their own family.  Sons or daughters who were living in asōtia were a danger signal.

Of course, every child acts childish.  Youthful pranks and poor judgment go with the territory.  But asōtia is coupled here with “rebellion,” the hardened disregard of authority that makes a person impossible to control.  A rebel who plunges into a wild lifestyle is a major problem for his parents.1 Peter 4:4 – It connects naturally to an unrestrained pursuit of pleasure.

And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you.

Heavy drinking and wild parties were a standard feature of Greek and Roman life. When a man became a Christian and stopped carousing, his old drinking buddies were first curious, then offended.  Verse 3 verse describes the lifestyle that went with asōtia: sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.  Today these people would be at the bars and clubs, looking for the next high, and all that goes with it.

Thoughts on Ephesians 5:18

When Paul warns that being drunk with wine leads to asōtia, he reminds us that a little too much wine can lead to consequences far more extreme than you expect.  It’s the first mile of the road that leads to a wasted life.

The second half of the verse presents the alternative:  being filled with the Spirit of God.  This too has consequences much greater and more wonderful than we expect.  Galatians 5:22 reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate source of love, joy and peace.  Everything that we want is found with Him, not at a party!

In addition, the only reliable safeguard against falling into asōtia is a life controlled by the Holy Spirit.  Choosing the Spirit is indispensable, and it is the path to the most abundant life!

© Ezra Project 2018