Connected in Service

The Point:  Serving in the church is not about what I want. 

Serve out of Reverence for Christ:  Ephesians 5:15-21.

[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.  [ESV]

[15-20]  Paul now issues a warning to his readers to walk carefully and wisely, and this warning arises out of what he has said in the previous section. Paul’s readers should not participate in the activities of the sons of disobedience [6,11] and should not be deceived by false teachers claiming otherwise [6]. Paul’s emphasis falls on the special care with which his readers should walk because he is aware of the efforts of some people to deceive believers with the idea that those engaged in sexual immorality and greed will come to no harm [6]. He is aware that his readers are engaged in a battle of the mind in which human cunning [4:14] makes false teaching look attractive. His readers must walk through a mental minefield of ideas that, if they are not careful, will lead them to despair, shame, and the wrath of God [4:19; 5:6,12]. Therefore they should carefully watch their step. Paul describes the care they should exercise in their behavior with two phrases. First, they should walk not as unwise but as wise [15]. So far in the letter the noun wisdom has referred either to God’s wisdom [1:8; 3:10] or to the wisdom that God gives about His purposes for His people and for the universe [1:17]. Here, however, the adjective wise describes the person who is skilled in discerning what is pleasing to the Lord [10]. Paul will repeat this thought in different terms in 5:17. Second, they should also walk carefully by making the best use of the time, because the days are evil [16]. His readers are to buy the present time out of its slavery to evil and to use it instead in ways that are pleasing to the Lord [10]. The business of buying time out of its slavery to evil takes place day by day, moment by moment, in the practical decisions of everyday life. Because the days are evil, Paul says, his readers should not be foolish but understand the Lord’s will. Just as evil times supply the reason for redeeming the time, so they supply the reason for not being foolish but understanding the Lord’s will. This means that redeeming the time and understanding the Lord’s will stand parallel to and define each other. To understand the Lord’s will, and presumably to act on it, is to buy the present time out of its slavery to evil. The concept of understanding the Lord’s will is similar to the idea in 5:10 of discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. Paul probably considers this a matter both of following the guidelines he has supplied in 4:25-5:14 and 5:21-6:20 and of using the renewed mind [4:23] that has come through the Spirit at conversion [1:13] to discern how one should act in various complex ethical situations. 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. The prohibition do not get drunk with wine, together with its contrasting command to be filled with the Spirit, has seemed jarring and off-topic to a number of interpreters. Paul has been speaking in general terms of acting wisely or unwisely, and so a specific admonition to avoid drunkenness seems out of place. What can account for this? And what does the preposition translated with by the ESV mean in this phrase? Does Paul want his readers to be filled with the Spirit, meaning that the Spirit is the content that fills them? Does he want them to be filled ‘by’ the Spirit, in the sense that the Sprit is the means by which their filling takes place? Does he want them to be filled ‘in’ either the human spirit or the Holy Spirit, referring to the sphere in which their filling should take place? Paul probably does not refer to the human spirit here since every other time he uses the phrases in the Spirit in Ephesians, it refers to God’s Spirit [2:22; 3:5; 6:18]. If we seek help in the analogy that Paul seems to imply between the controlling influence of wine and the controlling influence of the Spirit, then with seems to be the most likely reading. Just as the drunken person is full of, and controlled by, wine, so the believer should be full of, and directed by, the Spirit. Paul is focusing on the realm or sphere in which the filling takes place. Drunkenness takes place in the realm of debauchery while the believer’s filling takes place in the realm of the Spirit. Paul next says that as a result of their growth toward maturity in the realm of the Spirit, his readers will meet together for praise of God and instruction. Paul expresses this in a series of participial constructions. The first of these, addressing one another, is dependent on the phrase, be filled with the Spirit in 5:18. One result of being filled in the Spirit is speaking to one another in the form of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. These three terms were used by Greek-speaking Jewish authors of roughly Paul’s time to refer to songs of praise to God, including the songs in the canonical book of Psalms. Since the three terms seem almost interchangeable, and since Ephesians has a tendency to be redundant, it is probably a mistake to distinguish the terms sharply from one another. The adjective spiritual, however, which is attached to the last term, songs, probably does have special reference to the kind of spontaneous, Spirit-inspired singing to which 1 Corinthians 14:15,26 refer. All three kinds of singing are forms of addressing one another within the worshiping community. Hymns in antiquity were sometimes in prose rather than poetic form and involved instruction as well as praise, so the term addressing covers more than the singing of poetic compositions or utterances of praise to God. It also includes the kind of instruction that Paul assumes his readers have received, according to 4:20-21. This musical speech is to be heartfelt and directed to the Lord. The two participles, singing and making melody, are the verbal forms of the nouns, song and psalm. They stand in parallel to addressing and, like it, are subordinate to the main verb be filled in 5:18. They do not describe a separate action from addressing but give more detail about what this addressing involves. It involves singing and making melody with your heart. Heart does not mean our feelings or emotions as many take it to mean today. Rather it refers to our total being consisting of mind, will and emotions. This is the inner human being, where Christ dwells [3:17]. It is the aspect of his readers’ existence that Paul prays the Spirit would strengthen so that they might comprehend the vastness of Christ’s love [3:16-19]. This is also the faculty that Paul prays for God to enlighten, by means of His Spirit, so that they might understand the vastness of the blessings He has given them in Christ [1:17-23]. It is with the heart, then, that songs of praise for Christ’s love and God’s blessing through Christ are directed to the Lord, that is, to Christ. The participle, giving thanks, like the three participles in the previous verse, is also subordinate to be filled in 5:18. Thanks could certainly be given to God through singing, but Paul may intend to shift the thought slightly to encourage corporate prayer. The only other use of the verb, giving thanks, in the letter refers to Paul’s own thanksgiving to God in prayer for his readers [1:16], and normally when people give thanks in the New Testament, they do so to God in prayer for some gift that He has given to them. Paul views giving thanks to God as an obligation of all human beings [Rom. 1:21; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2:13], and thus, not surprisingly, giving thanks to God was part of corporate Christian worship [1 Cor. 14:16-17]. It was an especially prominent part of the repeated observance of the Lord’s Supper [1 Cor. 11:24], which, as early as AD 100, was called the Eucharist. Paul frequently spoke in expansive terms of giving thanks to God, just as he does here: he can say that he always thanks God for the congregations to whom he writes [1 Thess. 1:2; 1 Cor. 1:4; Philemon 4; Col. 1:3] and can urge his readers to be thankful in everything. Here, then, he is probably thinking of thanksgiving prayers offered during corporate worship, and the reference to doing this always and for everything is a typically Pauline way of saying that thanksgiving should be a constant theme. Those who are filled in the realm of the Spirit should generously and frequently express their thanks to God when they gather with others for worship. Thanksgiving is given in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, a phrase that recalls the use of the name of the Lord to bless people in the Old Testament [Deut. 21:5; 2 Sam. 6:18; 1 Chron. 16:2; Psalm 129:8]. Paul, then, has used language to describe Jesus that in the Old Testament is reserved for Yahweh, a move that is typical of the Christology of his other letters. As the rest of the letter makes clear, God is the one who created the universe and who is now restoring it to its original unity in Christ [Eph. 1:10; 2:15; 3:9; 4:6]. He is also the one whose fatherhood extends through His beloved Son Jesus to His chosen people [1:3-5]. Blessings such as these, expressed so fully in the letter’s opening benediction, were probably among the subjects that Paul had in mind when he spoke of those filled in the realm of the Spirit giving corporate thanks to God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Summary. 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.” [Thielman, pp. 355-363]. 

[21]  “Submitting is one of a string of five participles in 5:19-21 that qualify be filled [18]. Those who are filled in the Spirit not only speak, sing, make melody, and give thanks in corporate worship they also submit to one another in the fear of Christ. The verb submitting refers to the ordering of something underneath something else, and when the passive voice of the verb is used of people, it often refers to the voluntary submission of one person to another. Paul’s use of the notion of reciprocity so far in Ephesians leads the letter’s readers to understand the pronoun, one another, in a fully reciprocal sense. The letter has just spoken of bearing with one another [4:2], being members one of another [4:25], and being kind to one another [4:32]. To hear now of submitting to one another does hint that there is a sense in which everyone is involved in serving others. The concluding phrase urges the letter’s readers to submit to one another in the reverence (or fear) that Christ’s position of authority demands. The word translated reverence signifies showing respect to someone who, because of their position of authority or power, deserves obedience or deference. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament reverence is considered an appropriate attitude to have toward God. So here Paul is saying that our reverence for Christ is the motivation for our submitting to one another. Verse 21 is a hinge verse. It concludes the list of responses that should characterize the Spirit-filled living of those in Christ [18-21]. While, at the same time, it introduces a new topic of submission, which is then developed throughout the household table [5:22-6:9].”  [Thielman, pp. 372-375].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In 5:15, Paul issues his third command in chapter 5 concerning our Christian walk. We are to walk in love [5:2], walk as children of light [5:8], and now we are to look carefully then how you walk [5:15]. Here in verses 15-16, Paul adds two phrases to describe further how we are to walk. What are these two phrases? How are we to put Paul’s instructions into practice?

2.         Making the best use of the time and understand what the will of the Lord is connect back to discern what is pleasing to the Lord in 5:10. Why is knowing and correctly applying God’s will so important to our Christian walk? Since we can only discern and know God’s will in His Word, what does this tell us about the necessity of the faithful preaching and teaching of Scripture?

3.         What does Paul mean by the command be filled with the Spirit? Paul then uses five participial constructions to further describe how those who are filled with the Spirit will act. What are these five participles and what do they teach us? (Note here that Paul’s primary focus in these verses is on the corporate life found in the local church).


Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Ephesians, Frank Thielman, BENT, Baker.

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