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Frank Thielman: The theme of wise conduct within the household binds the entire passage together. In light of the evil times in which believers live, Paul seems to say, they should center their households on the worship of God and on loving, heartfelt submission to one another. . .

In 5:15–20 Paul begins the transition to a body of positive, practical advice about how his readers should live within a culture dominated by evil. They cannot simply relax and hope for the best, but instead need to be alert to how they are living, perceptive about the condition of the world around them, and sensitive to the Lord’s will. They should have nothing to do with the drunken debauchery that characterizes the prevailing culture but should live in the realm of the Spirit and grow in their maturity in Christ. As a result, they will gather with other Christians for instructional singing and for thanksgiving to God—the Father who has so richly blessed them through their union with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Clinton Arnold: Paul shifts from the metaphor of light (5:8–14) to the themes of wisdom and the Spirit. He presents these as two complementary and essential features of the Christian life that believers need if they are to conduct their lives in ways that are pleasing to God. Paul’s exhortation in this text gives further expression to his prayer in 1:17 that the Father will provide them with the Spirit, who will impart wisdom to them.

John Stott: Paul’s next little paragraph is based upon two assumptions, first that Christians are sophoi,—wise people, not fools—and secondly that Christian wisdom is practical wisdom, for it teaches us how to behave. His word for to ‘behave’ throughout the letter has been a Hebrew concept, to ‘walk’. Our Christian walk or behaviour, he has written, must no longer be according to the world, the flesh and the devil (Ep 2:1, 2, 3), or like the pagans (Ep 4:17). Instead, it must be ‘worthy’ of God’s call, ‘in love’, and ‘as children of light’ (Ep 4:1; 5:1; 5:8). Now he adds a more general exhortation to us to behave like the wise people he credits us with being: look carefully how you walk, he writes. Everything worth doing requires care. We all take trouble over the things which seem to us to matter—our job, our education, our home and family, our hobbies, our dress and appearance. So as Christians we must take trouble over our Christian life. We must treat it as the serious thing it is. ‘Be most careful then how you conduct yourselves: like sensible men, not like simpletons’ (neb).


A.  (:15) Theme: Walk Wisely

Therefore, be careful how you walk

Klyne Snodgrass: The call to live wisely is not a call for theoretical knowledge. It is a call for moral discernment and a practical skill in making decisions. The emphasis once again is on the mind and on careful attention to keep life on target, the target being that which pleases Christ and fits his purposes.

  1. Negatively

not as unwise men

  1. Positively

but as wise

Harold Hoehner: Since they are God’s children, believers are to walk carefully, not as ones who walk without true insight into God’s plan for their lives; not unwisely, as characterized by the Gentile world (Eph 4:17–19), but in a new lifestyle in conformity to God’s wise plan.

B.  (:16) Sense of Urgency

making the most of your time, because the days are evil

Warren Wiersbe: How foolish to stumble along through life and never seek to know the will of the Lord! Instead of walking “accurately” (which is equivalent to “circumspectly”), they miss the mark, miss the road, and end up suffering on some detour. God wants us to be wise and understand His will for our lives. As we obey His will, we “buy up the opportunities” (redeem the time, Eph 5:16) and do not waste time, energy, money, and talent in that which is apart from His will. Lost opportunities may never be regained; they are gone forever.

Harold Hoehner: The days are evil because they are controlled by the god of this age (2:2) who opposes God and his kingdom and who will try to prevent any opportunities for the declaration of God’s program and purposes. Hence, in this present evil age believers are not to waste opportunities because this would be useless and harmful to God’s kingdom and to those who are a part of it. Paul would have felt this very keenly. Although the evil plots against him caused his imprisonment for the sake of the gospel, nevertheless he used every opportunity to proclaim the gospel while imprisoned (Phil 1:12–14). Though believers are redeemed and are prepared for the days to come, they still live in the present evil days as has been true for believers throughout history (Ps 49:5). It is interesting to notice that he is not recommending that they fear the present evil age or avoid interaction with it. Rather his exhortation is to walk wisely in the evil days by seizing every opportunity. Unrelenting warfare exists between the God of heaven and the god of this age. In essence, believers are commanded not to let the god of this age intimidate them, but to take advantage of every opportunity in this immoral environment to live a life that pleases God (cf. Gal 2:10). How this is done is explained more fully in the following verses.

Grant Osborne: The wise will not fritter away their lives on earthly pursuits but will make “the most of every opportunity” (5:16; literally, “redeeming the time”).  The verb is a commercial metaphor used for purchasing a commodity, and it implies a period of vigorous trading while there is profit to be made.  The same is true in the Christian walk.  As Paul directs us in 2 Timothy 2:15, “work very hard to present yourself to God as one approved.”  Here the intention is that we will use our time wisely, making every opportunity count.

Frank Thielman: Paul believed that his readers lived in a world over which the devil and other evil spiritual powers had considerable influence (2:2; 6:12–13). He also believed that human beings were by nature “children of wrath” and only too willing to devote their thoughts to doing the desires of the flesh (2:3). In a world of such exterior and interior evil forces, it was especially critical to know the Lord’s will and to make wise decisions about what it involved in one’s day-to-day existence.

Clinton Arnold: When Paul says that the days are evil, he reflects a deep conviction shared with much of Judaism that God’s people presently live in an age characterized by an abundance of evil and dominated by powerful supernatural forces (Gal 1:4; Eph 2:2). The present evil era will continue until the Messiah comes and subdues the widespread rebellion against the authority and reign of God. This apocalyptic worldview has its roots in Daniel, became widespread, and was characteristic of Judaism by the first century.

Benjamin Merkle: Paul’s language here reflects his eschatological perspective that we are living in the last days. Scripture sees all reality as represented by two ages: the present age and the coming age. Although the present age is evil (Rom. 8:18; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:2; 6:13), one day the Messiah will return and subdue all his enemies and make all things right. Until then, believers are urged to walk with wisdom and make use of every opportunity.

C.  (:17) In the Will of the Lord

  1. Negatively

So then do not be foolish

  1. Positively

but understand what the will of the Lord is

Harold Hoehner: Believers are to understand by careful consideration of individual circumstances what is the will of the Lord and then to carry out his will. However, since there is agreement in both the OT and NT that the ability for people to understand the things of God is a gift of God, how can God’s will be comprehended? Paul answers this in the next verse. . .

The unwise are governed by the flesh, whereas the wise are governed by the mind as it understands the will of the Lord. Once they comprehend the will of the Lord, then they are to walk according to it. The will of the Lord is discerned by the gift of God’s insight and it is carried out by the power of God’s Spirit.

Wayne Barber: Generically, the will of the Lord is that we be strengthened in the inner man by the Spirit of God (Eph 3:16+), that we obey Him, that we depend completely on Him, that we be surrendered in our attitude towards Him. Specifically because of that fear of God (cp 2Cor 7:1+), God will give us wisdom in the specific areas of our life (Pr 1:7).

John Stott: Nothing is more important in life than to discover and do the will of God. Moreover, in seeking to discover it, it is essential to distinguish between his ‘general’ and his ‘particular’ will. The former is so called because it relates to the generality of His people and is the same for all of us, e.g. to make us like Christ. His particular will, however, extending to the particularities of our life, is different for each of us, e.g. what career we shall follow, whether we should marry, and if so whom. Only after this distinction has been made can we consider how we may find out what the will of the Lord is. His ‘general’ will is found in Scripture; the will of God for the people of God has been revealed in the Word of God. But we shall not find His ‘particular’ will in Scripture. To be sure, we shall find general principles in Scripture to guide us, but detailed decisions have to be made after careful thought and prayer and the seeking of advice from mature and experienced believers.



A.  (:18)  Holy Spirit Filling Means Holy Spirit Control

  1. Negatively

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation

Andrew Lincoln: The shift from the notion of drunkenness to that of being filled with the Spirit is not as abrupt as it may appear at first sight. The former represents folly; the latter is the prerequisite for wisdom. Both involve the self coming under the control of an external power, and the states of alcoholic and of religious intoxication were often compared. . .

Drunkenness leads to disorderly and dissolute behavior, but being filled with the Spirit produces very different results—praise, thanksgiving, and, when the participle of v 21 is also included, mutual submission.

David Thompson: Four observations:

  1. It was real wine that could get you drunk.
  2. Real wine was used at meals.
  3. Real wine was used in church for communion (I Cor. 11:20-21).
  4. This was action these believers needed to stop.

There is an inflexible principle that is seen over and over again in the Bible in both the O.T. and the N.T. and the principle is do not get drunk. Drunkenness is a sin that is no respecter of persons. It will always lead to destruction. This is true for people who are beautiful and not so beautiful; people who are young or old; people who are successful or not successful. Too much wine leads to destruction. Getting drunk with wine is “dissipation” (ασωτια), which means is a wasteful way to live life (Smith, p. 66). Getting drunk with wine is a waste of time and a waste of life. Now Ephesus was a Gentile party city and many of those who came to faith were Gentile party people. Paul says one way to show that you are a child of God is by not getting drunk like most people of the world do.

  1. Positively

but be filled with the Spirit

Harold Hoehner: It is interesting to note that the indwelling, sealing, and baptizing ministries of the Spirit are bestowed on every believer at the time of salvation. There are no injunctions for the believer regarding them because they are an integral part of the gift of salvation. For example, if you are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then you are not a believer (Rom 8:9). On the other hand, “be filled by” and “walk by” the Spirit expressed in the present imperative indicates that this is not an automatic bestowment at the time of salvation but an injunction for every believer to follow continually. The filling by the Spirit is more than the Spirit’s indwelling—it is his activities realized in and through us. Believers are commanded to be filled by the Spirit so that they will understand the will of the Lord and allow God’s control of their lives, thus providing enablement to make the most of every opportunity rather than succumbing to the desires of the flesh. If believers were only filled with wisdom, the influence would be impersonal; however, the filling by the Spirit adds God’s personal presence, influence, and enablement to walk wisely, all of which are beneficial to believers and pleasing to God. With the indwelling each Christian has all of the Spirit, but the command to be filled by the Spirit enables the Spirit to have all of the believer. The wise walk, therefore, is one that is characterized by the Holy Spirit’s control.

Van Parunak: “Be filled with the Spirit”: lit., “Be being full of.” The NT distinguishes two different ministries of the HS.

  • Filled with” (πιμπλημι) refers to a sudden, temporary, repeatable empowerment for a specific ministry, known in the OT as well as the new: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson…”
  • Full of” (πλυροω) refers to maturity, spirituality, and is a distinctive privilege of the NT. This is the verb used in this place. “Let the HS, who lives within you under the terms of the New Covenant, completely occupy and take control of you.” Like the ointment in John 12:3, let its fragrance fill the whole house. Let this, not alcohol, be the source of your joy.

B.  (:19-21) Three Manifestations of Holy Spirit Control

  1. (:19) Spiritual Singing

a.  Intended for Mutual Edification

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs

Klyne Snodgrass: Whether any difference is intended between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is difficult to say.  In all probability no clear demarcation is intended. That people are to sing in their heart is not a request that people sing with feeling or emotion. Rather, “heart” refers to the controlling center of one’s being: “Sing with your whole being” (which certainly includes the emotions). The issue is the integrity with which one sings, not the feeling. Words are not merely sung, they express the reality of the life in the Spirit.

Grant Osborne: Hymns in the early church were used to teach theology to believers.  The lyrics were chosen not for their artistic value but for their truth and depth of content.  That is the emphasis here.  Both preaching and worship played a teaching function in anchoring the people in the truths of God and Christ.

b.  Intended for Sincere Worship

singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord

Andrew Lincoln: The passage links Spirit-led worship with the wisdom required for living in this present evil age. It is precisely the experience of being filled with the Spirit that gives believers understanding of their Lord’s will, and it is the spiritual songs that are a means of promoting the knowledge of that will. In this way the community’s worship can be seen to make a vital contribution to its wise living in the world.

  1. (:20) Christ-Focused Thanksgiving

a.  All Encompassing Scope of Thanksgiving

always giving thanks for all things

Andrew Lincoln: In addition, believers who are filled with the Spirit will give thanks. The writer still has in view primarily thanksgiving in public worship (cf. also 1 Cor 14:16, 17), which, as well as spiritual songs, could well include material like that found in his opening berakah. But the attitude of thanksgiving that is expressed in their worship will also be one that permeates believers’ whole lives. They will give thanks not just sometimes for some things but always for everything (cf. also 1 Thess 5:18). And this time their thanks is directed to the ultimate giver of all good things, to the one who is both God and Father, and offered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ—a formulaic expression with liturgical connections (cf. 1 Cor 5:4; Phil 2:10; 2 Thess 3:6) but one whose significance goes beyond such settings. So the Spirit inspires thanksgiving to God the Father, and everything for which there is cause for thanks is summed up in and mediated through Christ.

b.  Mediator of Thanksgiving

in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

c.  Object of Our Thanksgiving

to God, even the Father

Stephen Fowl: Ephesians began with a powerful expression of praise, which reminded believers that the ultimate purpose of God’s redemption of the world is so that the world can fulfill its proper vocation of praising God. Here toward the end of the epistle, Paul again turns his attention to the praise of God. In this case, praise of God is tied up with the role of the Spirit in the lives of believers. Working in and through believers, the Spirit both reforms and redirects their praise and worship to God. In the light of the overall concern of this passage with “walking wisely,” it becomes clear that the worship of the Christian community in Ephesus is the context where the Ephesian believers will best learn how to “walk wisely.”

  1. (:21) Mutual Submission

a.  Action

and be subject to one another

b.  Attitude

in the fear of Christ

Klyne Snodgrass: Christians are called to live in mutual submission, and without mutual submission they cannot fulfill their destiny. Such submission is a strong and free act of the will based on real love of the other person (cf. 4:2). In the end, submission is nothing more than a decision about the relative worth of another person, a manner of dying and rising with Christ, and a way to respect and love other people. In fact, for Christians, authority and submission are the same thing.

Grant Osborne: A church that is characterized by “the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3) must be dominated by humble Christians who defer to one another’s interests and who “value others above [themselves]” (Phil 2:3-4).

Clinton Arnold: Mutual submission is not just the result of Spirit-filling; it is prerequisite to the reception of grace from the Spirit-endowed members of the body. Thus, it is easy to see from Paul’s perspective that attitudes and behavior reflecting arrogance, harshness, impatience, and intolerance will not only adversely impact the unity of the community, but will also keep believers from effectively ministering to one another. The work of the Spirit is thus effectively hindered.

Klyne Snodgrass: For us the term “fear” is usually negative, and the biblical writers knew this negative use. But by and large they used it in a positive sense, for which there is no satisfactory English equivalent. Words like “reverence” or “respect” are too weak to capture the nuance intended. The positive sense of the fear of Christ points to his power and holiness and to the recognition that he is Lord and coming Judge. Such fear is the ground of both praise and obedience. We ought not forget that the one who is feared is the same one who “loved us and gave himself for us” in 5:2.