Chapter 5:1-21: An Illuminated Life.
Be therefore followers of God, as dear children…(v. 1). The word therefore connects these verses to what preceded them. As a young child follows its parent, so we should be followers of God. To follow God it is necessary to have regard to His wonderful character. By this I mean, we follow God because of Who He is, and because we appreciate a little of His multifaceted perfection. We follow because we are attracted, and we follow because we are enabled to follow. We want to walk after our Father and to please Him.
The KJV uses the word followers and not “imitators,” which is the word employed by modern translations. Although “imitators” is a technically correct translation, it is not as full a word as followers, and is, perhaps, theologically open to question. An imitator is not necessarily a follower. God does not want mimics, He wants disciples. The old saying, “imitation is the best form of flattery,’ contains more than a grain of truth to it. But one ought to remember that the great imitator of God is Satan himself. It is Satan who appears as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14, cf. Eph. 5:8). In any case, we are not seeking to flatter God (cf. Psa. 78:36).
We are dear children to God. This is a very real truth that many believers struggle with. It is hard sometimes for us to believe that God always loves us, especially when our lives do not match up with God’s Word or even with our own self-expectations. How many preachers will confess frankly that it is easier to preach consecration to God than to practice it daily! True, but we are still beloved children. We are “accepted in the Beloved.”
Knowing that, despite ourselves, we are beloved of God, produces in the regenerate heart, true affection for the Father, and this affection turns into allegiance. This is what makes it a joy to walk after Him and seek His will. Paul urges his readers to walk (which implies following) in love, as Christ also has loved us…(v. 2). As we follow, we walk, and how can we follow Christ otherwise than in love? The argument is compelling! Love sacrifices for those loved. Love was the primary motive standing behind the Cross. Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice to God for us. God accepted the sacrifice because He was the Sender (Jn. 3:16, 17; Rom. 5:8). The finished work of Christ turned the obnoxious stench of men’s sins into a sweet aroma, placating the justice and wrath of Almighty God (cf. Lev. 1).1
Our numerous sins make manifest the sin nature. We are redeemed from them, but our position within the Body makes it vital that we do not indulge our old nature. Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit found it necessary to warn us about this throughout the whole New Testament. He inspires Paul to write the following admonition: But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints (v. 3). There are three sins highlighted in verse three: they are fornication, which is sexual impurity; sexual relationship between unmarried persons. In Ephesus, (as today) this was “a sin so lightly thought of among the heathen as hardly to be held of them a wrong or shame at all.” (H. C. G. Moule, Ephesian Studies, 247).2 The next sin is all uncleanness. By this, Paul is referring to sexual perversion, also common in the heathen world of those days. Covetousness is included with the other two vices because it connotes an evil desire, in this context connected with sexual lust.
Let it not be once named among you, as is fitting for saints. The world should not be able to point a finger at the Church and accuse it of entertaining such things in its midst. The world is as the world does, and when the church adopts worldly ways of “doing church” the results are not hard to predict. Divorces, adultery, abortions are as much a problem in the churches as they are outside them. This is blasphemous. It is a direct result of hirelings in our pulpits and ‘executives’ on our deacon boards. It is symptomatic of America’s preoccupation with externals – success, presentation, presence, credentials and not with the things of the Spirit. When will we stop living by sight and obey in faith?
What goes for the Church, goes for the Christian. If sins are brought up at all, they should only be discussed in abhorrence. The list continues: neither filthiness (shameful imaginations) nor foolish talking (it is neither good to suffer fools, nor to be one) nor jesting (pranks and tomfoolery do not endear nor approve us to others). In opposition to this list Paul does not give their opposites. Instead, he writes, but rather giving of thanks. At first appearance this might seem to be rather a lame rebuttal. But, in fact, it is very clever, for when one gives thanks to God it is hard to entertain any vice. The lesson here is simply to be God-centered never man-centered. This fifth verse, and others like it, cannot be simply dismissed as a reminder that an unsaved person has no part in the kingdom. We must regard it more seriously, as aimed at the saint. We notice the mention of an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Is it possible that a backslidden Christian will forfeit his inheritance (but not his salvation, cf. 1 Cor. 3:11-15)?3
If verse 5 is not a blunt warning to Christians, then Paul makes no sense in verses 6 and 7. In verse 6 he warns, let no man deceive you with vain words. We must take this to heart. The you in this verse is obviously a reference to believers. God’s wrath abides upon the children of disobedience (cf. 2:2) precisely because they think and live this way. The apostle says that the Christian can also incur God’s displeasure, so much so that he will lose rewards at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 2 Jn. 8). Paul’s words would be vain in themselves if this was not true, and his next admonition, be not therefore partakers with them (v. 7) would be senseless.
For youe were sometimes darkness, but now you are light in the Lord…(v. 8). As previously illustrated in chapter 2:2-3, to be unsaved is to be in darkness.4 An unsaved man is disinclined to come to the light of the Gospel (cf. Jn. 3:19-21) because his heart is blinded to its truth (cf. 4:18). But now, in the Lord (cf. Eph. 1) a person is light—for God is light (1 Jn. 1:5). So then, how are we to walk? Answer: as children of light (1 Thess. 5:4-5; Rom. 13:12). A child of light is one whose life does not contradict his profession of having “passed from darkness to light.” (Jn. 5:24). He produces the fruit of the Spirit (v.9) which is displayed in a witness grounded in goodness…righteousness and truth. These are basic ingredients of Christian character.5
If we keep in the light, then we will be able to prove (1 Thess. 5:21) what is acceptable to the Lord (v. 10). There are many things that are known to be unacceptable to God; these include the unfruitful works of darkness (v. 11). No Christian should be in fellowship with the world. Why should we live below our calling and indulge in trivialities and base desires? The Ephesians are reminded that they are to reprove wickedness. How could they reprove sin if they were fellowshipping in and around it? (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-17). To reprove sin is to expose it to the light of the truth.
Now, verse 12 brings up an interesting question, for it says, it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. The question arises, how could someone reprove and expose sinful practices, and yet not mention them? We believe that the reproof must be in our lives. We must remember that Paul is speaking in the context of 1st century life in Asia Minor. Many abominable sins were committed in secret. These sins could be discussed generically, but they ought never to be a “topic of conversation.” To mention them in any other than a context of ethics and discipline would only be to blight a believer’s testimony. By walking as children of light, we make manifest the works of darkness; for whatever makes manifest is light (v. 13).
It seems in verse 14 that we have the inclusion of a proverbial saying, although some have connected it to Isaiah 60:1-2. A spiritual torpor has descended upon many of the Lord’s people. As fundamentally spiritual creatures, this is unnatural. Christ is in the light, to be in fellowship with Him means to be awake, alert, and watchful in all things.6
See then that you walk circumspectly (carefully, watchfully) not as fools, but as wise (v. 15) redeeming the time, because the days are evil (v. 16). We may assume that to be wise is the same as to walk in the light. Likewise, to walk as fools, is to act or think as if we were unregenerate, and still in darkness. A fool takes no heed to his goings, or to his business. As it is true that, ‘the devil finds work for idle hands,’ no Christian should entertain a barren spirituality. The time7 we have in this life is short. So short that if the saint does not walk circumspectly, he or she will have finished their course with little or nothing to show for it. The days are evil; realizing that fact should focus our minds on the importance of following God.
In this verse, the writer is going back to what he said in verse 10. An unwise person is set to stumble in an evil world. Christians can understand what the will of the Lord is (v. 17). Christ will give us light (cf. v. 14) for the way. There is a lot of confusion about today over this matter of knowing God’s will. Although there are times we must learn to wait upon Him, it is surprising how much we can know of it in most of our daily circumstances. The problem for many children of God who seek counseling for their perplexity in this matter is usually straightforward enough: they are not walking in Christ’s light, and they are not walking in meekness, humility, and love!
And do not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit (v. 18). To be drunk with wine is to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (cf. v. 11). To be filled with the Spirit is to live as light in the Lord (cf. v. 8, 9). This is a command, not an alternative. We can choose either to fill up our empty lives with entertainments and trivialities (signified by being drunk with wine), or we can seek the Spirit’s filling by allowing Him to work in us and through us (cf. Gal. 2:20). With the temptations of the world all around us, how can we ensure that we remain spiritually minded? The apostle addresses this important point in verses 19 and 20. Ways to maintain a spiritual outlook are delineated: we are to speak to ourselves, and sing to ourselves. Psalms refers to the Old Testament Psalter. Hymns and spiritual songs are uninspired songs of praise. “There may, however, be some overlapping in the meaning of these three terms as used by Paul.” (Hendriksen, Ephesians, 240) Whatever their specific meanings, one thing is clear: Christians are to be joyful people, with the praises of God continually on their lips (cf. Heb. 13:5).
Most commentators and modern versions translate verse 19, “speaking to each other,” because the context is corporate. This is certainly true, but Paul’s admonitions are also to every individual in the Ephesian congregation. Thus, “individualism” finds no foothold in the Christian life. It is never just about us. The doctrine of the priesthood of believers makes this clear (1 Pet. 2:5). There are no maverick priests.
Paul, of course, is not giving an exclusive list of spiritual practices here. And he is not down on good music, music that aids one to view God, creation, or, indeed, the marred image of God within mankind, in a spiritual light. What the apostle has in mind is that these things ought to help one’s thoughts to rise heavenward to the Lord. Just singing, “Give me a sight O Saviour, of Thy wondrous love to me,” does not automatically mean that one’s thoughts are towards God. Alternatively, listening to, for example, composers whom God has gifted with great musical talent (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler) does not obviate spiritual thinking.8
Thanksgiving is to be a constant activity of the believer’s heart. We must give thanks unto God always for all things…(v. 20) good or ill (Psa. 34:1; Job 1:21). All our thanksgiving is mediated through and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God (v. 21). This verse concludes the section. It reflects the thoughts contained in chapter 4:2, 3, 32, and chapter 5:2, and is, in fact, the natural outcome of their observance. Every Christian ought to live “…in lowliness of mind,” and we should “…each esteem other(s) better” than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). The fear of God (Acts 9:31, Prov. 1:7) will ensure this is so.
1 The doctrine known as “Propitiation” (1 Jn. 4:10) is a concept that has come under much criticism, even from conservatives (e.g. Westcott, Lenski). For an excellent defence of this vital doctrine, see L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, chapters 3 and 4. Also, R. Law, The Tests of Life, 161-163.
2 Edersheim gives a bleak description of Roman morals in these times in his great Life of Jesus. After speaking of the worship of the Romans, he goes on…”The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. Female dissipation and the general dissoluteness led at last to an almost entire cessation of marriage. Abortion, and the exposure and murder of newly-born children, were common and tolerated; unnatural vices, which even the greatest philosophers practised, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description.” (A. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 179.)
3 It is perhaps worthwhile to note here that only classical Dispensationalism has taken the “Bema” Seat seriously. Such verses as Ephesians 5:5 should be applied to that future works judgment of believers (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10, 11). Other passages which allude to this judgment include Luke 19:11-27; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:10-13; 1 John 2:28, 4:17; Revelation 22:12.
4 “All the days of sinful nature are dark night, in which there is no right discerning of spiritual things. Some light there is of reason, to direct natural and civil actions, but no day-light. Till the sun arise, it is night still, for all the stars, and the moon [do] to help them.” (R. Leighton, Works III, 307.)
5 Several times now we have pointed out the importance of good character. It may be of benefit to the reader to go back to Ephesians 3:17; 4:2, 14-16 and compare them (and any pertinent comments) with this passage and those on 5:17 and 6:14. These references clearly reveal the cruciality of conformity to Christ.
6 A helpful corollary to this verse is Micah 7:8.
7 “Look upon your precious time; time runs, and do you stand still?” (T. Watson, A Plea for the Godly, 308.)
8 It is a simple fact that most artists and composers have led immoral lives. One does not have to appreciate the person in order to get something out of their music. Nevertheless, in this, as in other areas, our Christian liberty is not to be made an excuse for license.