15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV
Wake up and live carefully. That’s Paul’s simple but straightforward admonition to his readers. He is alerting them to their need for wariness and wisdom as they attempt to conduct their lives in this world. He has made it clear that their behavior was to be markedly different than that of their unsaved peers. They were to have discarded their former lifestyle of sin and replaced it with the Spirit-empowered capacity to model Christ-likeness and imitate God. Paul has already urged them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2 ESV).
Their lives were to be characterized by love, moral purity, selflessness, and obedience to the will of God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, their lives were to appear as shining lights in the prevailing darkness that engulfed the city of Ephesus. Their very presence would provide a stark contrast to the immoral and godless behavior plaguing the city, exposing sin and providing living proof that the gospel of Jesus Christ was powerful and transformative.
But they would have to remain constantly vigilant and eager to discern the will of their Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:10). That would require wisdom and insight. It would hinge on their willingness to submit their lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Every moment of every day was to be considered an opportunity to walk in lockstep with God. But to live in keeping with God’s will they would need round-the-clock input from the Spirit of God. They were surrounded by evil. Their community was plagued by wickedness and their fellow citizens were enemies of God who had “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). The small band of Christians who made up the church in Ephesus found themselves surrounded and outnumbered but they were far from helpless. But the key to their survival was knowing and obeying the will of God. That’s why Paul told them, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15 ESV).
The wisdom of God was going to be essential to their success. And Paul asserts that failure to understand the will of the Lord is tantamount to foolishness.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:17 ESV
It is almost as if Paul has in mind Proverbs 1, where the author personifies wisdom as a woman crying out for someone to heed her offer of knowledge and counsel. She offers everyone the opportunity to become wise but she can find no takers.
Wisdom shouts in the streets.
She cries out in the public square.
She calls to the crowds along the main street,
to those gathered in front of the city gate:
“How long, you simpletons,
will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
How long will you fools hate knowledge?
Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT
And later in the same Proverb, the author paints a sad picture of the fools showing up too late for the party. Having spurned wisdom’s original offer so they could live according to their own wills, fulfilling their own desires, they find the window of opportunity has closed.
“When they cry for help, I will not answer.
Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me.
For they hated knowledge
and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
choking on their own schemes.
For simpletons turn away from me—to death.
Fools are destroyed by their own complacency.
But all who listen to me will live in peace,
untroubled by fear of harm.” – Proverbs 1:28-33 NLT
For Paul, the key to knowing the will of God is submission to the Spirit of God. Unlike the image painted in the Proverb where wisdom calls out to the people from the street corner, Paul portrays wisdom as having taken up permanent residence in the believer’s life in the form of the Holy Spirit. But Paul reveals a vital point regarding the Spirit’s presence within the life of the believer. Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that, upon His death and resurrection, He would send the Holy Spirit to live within them.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV
According to Jesus, the Spirit’s presence would be complete and permanent. Earlier in his letter, Paul reminded the Ephesians that their salvation had been accompanied by the sealing of the Holy Spirit “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). But later, in chapter four, Paul stated that they could “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). The indwelling presence of the Spirit is guaranteed and permanent in nature. But that doesn’t mean that believers always live in obedience to the Spirit. That’s why Paul warned the Galatian church about the need to live in faithful reliance upon the Spirit’s leading.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. – Galatians 5:16-18 NLT
Like the woman portrayed in the Proverb, the Holy Spirit cries out, offering to believers the wisdom they need to live in keeping with the will of God. Not only that, the Holy Spirit provides all the power necessary to make obedience to the will of God possible. And in order to describe this reliance upon the Spirit, Paul uses the metaphor of intoxication. Oddly enough, he compares obedience to the Spirit with drunkenness.
To be drunk is to be under the control of alcohol. Once consumed, it dictates one’s behavior and virtually eliminates any capacity for self-control. A person who is drunk on wine, says and does things that are contrary to his normal behavior. His actions and attitudes change, usually for the worst. And Paul is suggesting that the filling of the Spirit should produce a kind of altered behavior that reflects the Spirit’s control.
“The baptism of the Spirit means that I belong to Christ’s body. The filling of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Christ.” – Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary
In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul attempted to portray the contrast between being filled with or under the control of the Spirit and living according to our sinful nature.
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT
When the believer ignores the Spirit, he ends up “drunk” on the influence of his own sinful will and the outcome is anything but pretty. But Paul goes on to reveal that the one who submits to or comes under the influence of the Holy Spirit produces a completely different set of outcomes.
…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
And to the Ephesians, Paul portrays this filling of the Spirit in terms of its corporate or communal aspect.
…be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-20 NLT
The filling of the Spirit produces unity, joy, gratitude, and a spirit of worship. His indwelling presence flows out in praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done. The one who gets drunk on wine is ultimately self-consumed. He cares nothing about how his behavior will impact those around him. He is driven by his own desire for self-gratification and personal pleasure. But the one who allows the Spirit to fill and control him is under the influence of God’s will, which is always other-oriented. To imitate God (Ephesians 5:1) is to live a life of selfless, sacrificial love for others. It is to put the needs of others ahead of your own. And this will set up the next section of Paul’s letter, where he provides practical examples of what a Spirit-controlled life should look like. It all begins with submission to the Spirit but it shows up in submission to others. That’s why Paul prefaces what he is about to write with the sobering statement: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.