Second Corinthians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                         Date: 11/29/17


Lesson 23: The Admonition for Spirit-Filling (Ephesians 5:15-21)


Ephesians 5:15-21 (KJV)

15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,

16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.

18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;

19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.



(Verses 15-17) This portion of the Ephesian letter constitutes an exhortation to the readers to live like wise men. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (15). It used to be commonplace to speak about “the Christian walk.” It is the theme of this extensive section in Ephesians (4.1ff.).  Paul uses the verb walk several times (4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15).  The idea is not new to Paul, however, Jesus had already spoken of two gates, broad and narrow, from which we have to choose, opening into two paths, likewise broad and narrow, leading either to destruction or to life (Matthew 7:13-14).  But even before our Lord, the great and decisive spiritual choices of God’s covenant with His people had been regularly described as a choice between two paths and two ways of walking.  In fact the Old Testament uses “walk” more frequently in the sense of a lifestyle that it does of physical movement.


The language is appropriate.  We can often tell a great deal about someone from how and where they walk.  The way a person walks is one of the easiest ways to recognize them from a distance—“I would recognize his walk a mile away” we sometimes say.


It should be likewise with Christian believers.  How we conduct ourselves should make us easily recognized as those who belong to Christ.  We walk in love; we walk in the light.  Now, Paul adds two further details: (i) we are to take care how we walk, and (ii) we are to walk wisely.


(Verses 18-21) You will notice that there are two imperatives, two commands. One is negative, one is positive, followed by five participles [that's an i-n-g word]. Those participles that follow two command imperatives are speaking, singing, making music [or making melody], giving thanks, and being submitted[or subjecting ourselves] to one another; and those two commands and those five participles are going to shape the outline of Paul's argument. (Notice that he starts with don't do something, and then he moves to do this particular thing, which reminds us again that though Christianity is certainly more than do's and don'ts, it always entails harkening obediently and joyfully to God's commands to do some things and not to do others, by the strength of the grace of the Holy Spirit.)




15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,


“Circumspectly” suggests looking all around, giving attention to all circumstances, details, and consequences as one might do when passing through a very dangerous place.  It expresses the idea of living in strict conformity to a standard, guarding against anything which would be improper or unbecoming for the Christian.  The thought is further explained by the words “not as fools, but as wise.” It may be translated, “Watch (or, Look) carefully, then, how you walk.” Believers are to walk as people having the character of wise men, not fools.  Believers are wise because we have the Spirit and the wisdom of God . . . “Christ is made unto us wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:29-30).


His words imply that in living the Christian life we need to think about what we are doing, and to look to make sure we are on the right path―the path that begins at “the narrow gate,” and though it is “difficult” to follow, “it is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” There is another path, but it must be avoided at all cost―many go this way because “the gate is wide and path is broad,” but “destruction” awaits all who take this path; all who wander off the narrow path (Matthew 7:14-15). This requires wisdom—wisdom to see the dangers (temptation to sin, the weakness of the flesh, opposition from Satan); and wisdom to know how to respond in a godly and biblically instructed way—holy wisdom which comes from heart-concord with the will of God, and with a watchful use of thought and of every faculty for its intended purpose. Had not Christ Himself told His disciples to “be wise as serpents”?  (Matthew 10:16).  As you walk, make all you can of the events of life, and use them for Him.


In Scripture wisdom is always more than knowledge of factual information.  It is possible to possess learning without wisdom.  But wisdom is savoir-faire, being “savvy” as we usually put it.  It is the ability to process knowledge into the practical ability to apply it to life situations and circumstances.  It involves knowing how to achieve the best outcome in the best way.  Earlier Paul had given an illustration of this in the case of divine wisdom.  God displays it in the way in which He has brought into being and preserved the church (3:10).  He can point principalities and powers to it and say: “Do you see my wisdom at work there?  Be in awe of it and admire it, for I am God only wise.”  The life of godliness, therefore, will reflect God’s wisdom.


16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.


Notice Paul’s qualification here: “the days are evil.” While we have been delivered from “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) we continue to live within its environment and remain exposed to its influences.  It is dominated, indeed obsessed with, the idea of living for the “now” and turning a blind eye to eternity.  Thus even the “workaholic”—who apparently never wastes a minute—actually wastes every minute by living for self, for the short term, and for this world only.  This—“life under the sun”—as the author of Ecclesiastes describes it (Ecclesiastes as 1:3 etc.), is an empty striving after the wind.  We reach out to take hold of what we have accomplished with our time, but since it lasts only for time, it crumbles in our hands.


But can we learn to be making the best use of this precious commodity?  Paul uses the same verb of Christ redeeming us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).  His choice of vocabulary suggests that there is a price to be paid if we are to use time wisely.  It needs to be bought back if we are to use it well in a fallen world.  The concerns that dominate this “present evil age” will exhaust it unless we save hard, purchase well, and use carefully.  But with what -coin can time be purchased for the glory of the Lord?  The price is the self-discipline, which arises from a desire to glorify God in all things.


Paul adds an interesting comment.  Time needs to be guarded because the days are evil.  We, however, are more likely to think that they are harmless.  But there is nothing harmless about an age that seems to regard leisure as an antidote for work, entertainment as an antidote for boredom.  Rather than purchasing treasure we weaken our spiritual immune system as we breathe in the pollutants that ultimately destroy time’s value.


What do you most instinctively think of doing when you have nothing to do?  That is one of the tests.  Are you a time-waster or a time-redeemer?


Perhaps you think Paul was guilty of exaggeration when he sought to motivate you by warning you that the days are evil?  Perhaps that is why he now warns us against being foolish or, more literally, “mindless.”


We are not to waste time . . .  It is a sin to waste time.  The days are evil, we are members of the body of Christ, and we are commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature . . .  to carry the good news of the Gospel to those who are lost.  To waste time is a sin.  We are to grab hold of the opportunities that present themselves and declare the Good News of Jesus Christ daily to those who need to be saved.


17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.


The Christian—as we have just noted (15)—is a person who thinks.  That has already been implied in the idea of walking in wisdom.  But how is it that by thinking we come to understand the will of God?  Paul’s own answer is revealed in his comments to Timothy: “Think over what I say [which was, of course, inspired Scripture], for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7).  Illumination of the mind ordinarily comes by employing it in meditating on the divine wisdom revealed to us in Scripture and its application to all of life.


Paul says, Christians will seek to find “what the will of the Lord is,” and, having found it, will do it.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and come to the third petition, we should say: “Thy will be done—and done by me!” In this connection it is illuminating to notice how Paul’s friend, the Gospel-writer Luke, describes our Lord’s growth in wisdom into His teenage years (Luke 2:41-52).


From verse 17 we know that the unwise do not seek to know God’s will—but we who have wisdom and understanding are to seek His will and follow in His steps.  In John 17 He declared that He came here to follow the bidding of the Father and to do the Father’s will.  He said, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Just before He gave up his life on the cross He said, “It is finished!” we should at all times seek God’s will in everything.


Believer, never do anything or go anywhere if you are not sure in your mind that it is right.  Anything that is doubtful is sinful—because the Holy Spirit would not put a question mark in your mind if it were right.  “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”—and certainly faith knows no doubt.  If there is a question mark around the places you go, the things you do, the songs you sing, the company you keep, the language you use, you may rest assured it is not God’s will for you to do those things.  Submit your will to God, and let Him have His way through the leadership of the Holy Spirit in your life.


  • And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;


There are two important statements made in this verse; there is a negative and a positive: the negative is “BE NOT DRUNK WITH WINE.” Dear reader, do you believe it is a sin to be drunk with wine?  Would you get drunk on wine?  What would you think of a minister or a professed Christian who gets drunk on wine?  Would you say they are living right———???


One of the most obvious signs of being filled with alcohol is an inability to walk properly and in a straight line—a loss of control.  We call it being drunk.  Paul also describes it as debauchery—a giving way to uncontrolled passions which the sober person keeps in place.  He may have in mind here aspects of pagan worship with which the Ephesians would have been all too familiar prior to their conversion.  Then, as now, men drank too heavily.  Indeed, in the cult of Dionysus the devotees used to seek communion with their god through intoxication.  No doubt the drinkers made the same excuses as their successors make: the desire to escape from their troubles or to find sociality.  Is mere “prohibition” the cure?  The true remedy, Paul suggests, is the wholesome inspiration of Christian fellowship.


Sometimes a new Christian will experience radical immediate deliverance from a habit of the old lifestyle and never look back.  But in other areas the fight and the struggle continue.  But while we are once-and-for-all delivered from the dominion of sin, in many areas we may go through particularly severe “withdrawal symptoms” from the ongoing presence of sin and the lingering influence of the addictions of our past life. A war may be decided by a critical single battle, yet troops find themselves facing “mopping up operations.” These vary in intensity, but wounds inflicted in them are no less painful.  That is how it is in the Christian life.  To all of us Paul has the same advice: Do not give way!


But this would never be Paul’s last word on the matter.  He teaches sanctification by displacement and replacement—not drunk with wine (which leads to debauchery) but rather filled with the Spirit.


The apostle stated the negative statement first; “Be not drunk with wine”―and then he said something positive; “BUT BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT.” If it is wrong to be drunk with wine, it is also wrong not to be filled with the Spirit.  Do not get drunk on wine—but be filled with the Holy Spirit.


Let me point out that verse 18 is not a suggestion.  The Holy Spirit did not say, “If it is convenient, be filled with the Spirit,” or “If you think it best, be filled with the Spirit,” or, “If your circumstances permit, be filled with the Spirit.”


My friend, this does not say, “Be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” The believer is already baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).  This is altogether another truth.  As I have stated several times before, it is altogether possible to be born of the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, baptized into the body of Christ by the Spirit, and still not been filled with the Spirit.  This is not a second work of grace . . .  It is a full surrender of soul, mind and body—the body which is the temple of the Holy Ghost.  Paul said to the Romans, “I beseech you to present your bodies a living sacrifice, which is your reasonable service.” It is reasonable to yield soul, spirit and body.  It is reasonable to be filled with the Holy Spirit; and it is not right—it is sinful—not to be filled.


To be filled with the Spirit, we must be emptied of all the things named in the preceding verses of chapters four and five . . .  the things of the flesh, the things of the natural man. If we are to be a spiritual man, full grown to maturity, filled with the Spirit, we must first be emptied.  You cannot fill a container with water until it is first empty of everything else.  If there are three grains of sand in a glass, you cannot fill that glass with water—it will be water and sand until the sand is removed.  A believer cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit until that believer permits the Lord Jesus to empty his heart of everything of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  When the heart is emptied, then the Holy Spirit can and will fill that individual.  The thought is that of the Spirit so surrounding and possessing one’s being that he is controlled and impelled by the Spirit.  This experience should not be looked upon as exceptional, or as the prerogative of only a select few.  It is considered by Paul the normal state of every believer.  Careful study of the Acts, where the idea of the fullness of the Spirit is especially prominent, leads to the conclusion that the being filled with the Spirit was repeated from time to time and that the supreme condition was full surrender to Christ.


But how can this be?  How can we be filled with the spirit?


It is tempting here to fall back on our own experiences, or to turn to the stories told by others explaining “how to” be filled with the Spirit.  But we are not cut adrift to find our own interpretation.  For Paul’s very similar teaching in Colossians 3:16-17 points us in the direction of his own understanding of what this involves.


The letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians were written at the same time, carried by the same person (Tychicus) and have many similarities and parallels (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7).


Paul’s statements in Ephesians 5:15, 18b-21 and in Colossians 3:16-17, stand in very close parallel to each other.  They described a similar series of effects in the Christian’s life but attribute them to different causes.  The consequences of being filled with the Spirit (5:18) and the results of letting the Word of Christ indwell richly (Colossians 3:16) run parallel to each other.  The same fruit is produced by the influence of the Word of Christ as by the Spirit of Christ!  Being filled with the Spirit and letting the word of Christ dwell . . .  richly obviously amount to two ways of looking at the same thing.


The way in which we obey the command to be filled with the Spirit is by responding to the Word of Christ—making room for its influence, giving our minds to its truth, our hearts to its teaching, and our wills to its obedience.  To be under the influence of the Word is to place ourselves under the Lordship of the Spirit.


There is a comparison to be made here to these two very different men:

  1. The man who is drunk cannot walk straight. His speech becomes slurred; he seems off key and out of tune and cannot remember the words; he becomes irritable when people try to help or reprimand; he will not have anyone else control his life—but he cannot control it himself.
  2. The man or woman who is filled with the Spirit shows contrary graces: walking in wisdom; singing with melody in the heart, devoted to the Lordship of Christ, concerned for the needs of others, and thankful rather than irritable.


19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;


Three things in verses 19, 20, and 21 are worth special note.  Here Paul teaches that the melody of our heart as we sing is directed to the Lord; but we direct our words not only to Him but also to our fellow believers—we sing addressing one another.


This implies that our singing in worship has both a vertical and a horizontal component.  It also implies that it is legitimate in the praise of God to address the words we sing to others and even to ourselves.  While too much contemporary praise may be over-saturated with references to ourselves, we should not lose sight of the fact that Paul learned this principle from the praise book of his childhood—the Psalms of David. In them we find a remarkably balanced division between words addressed to God, to others, and to the self. 


Please do not be offended or angry . . .  please take this in the spirit in which I am giving it: a person who is filled with the Spirit does not have to advertise his filling of the Spirit to his fellowman.  He does not go to church and brag and boast concerning his holiness and his purity, his godliness and his spirituality.  The person who is filled with the Spirit sings psalms, songs, and makes melody in the heart TO THE LORD.  The Holy Spirit is in the world to glorify Jesus. . .  He is not in the world to glorify us, nor to glorify us before men.  The person who is possessed by and filled entirely with the Holy Spirit will make melody unto the Lord—not unto man!  A spiritually minded person never advertises his holiness.  His daily living advertises his righteousness of heart.  People know by his daily practices of life.


In addition, Paul’s words assume that we will sing!  There is no dualism here (melody in the heart to the Lord, but no words on the lips!).  Shame on me if I do not sing with heart and soul to the Lord and in order to bless my fellow worshipers with instruction and encouragement!  Too sharp a distinction between the “psalms,” “hymns,” and “songs” should not be drawn.  The language is intended to emphasize rich variety of sacred song, not to give instruction in ancient hymnology.  If any differentiation is made, “psalms” may be taken to refer to Old Testament psalms, while “hymns” and “spiritual songs” both refer to distinctly Christian compositions, the latter possibly being impromptu rhythmic utterances produced under the influence of the Holy Spirit.


“Making melody in your heart to the Lord” indicates that these joyful expressions are not to be merely mechanical productions of lip and finger.  Unless praise springs from the heart it is not acceptable to the Lord.


Paul has given us something else in verses 19 and 20―the evidence of the filling of the spirit. We mentioned the first evidence already; the apostle said that we will speak to ourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  We sing, and make melody in our hearts to the Lord.  This, then, is the first evidence and the second is . . .


20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;


The first evidence was the filling of the Spirit (19) and the second is found here; “GIVING THANKS ALWAYS FOR ALL THINGS.” A Spirit-filled person is a thankful person . . .  always, for all things.  He is thankful to God the Father in the name of Jesus, because it is in Jesus that the filling of the Spirit is possible.  If Jesus had not been willing to do the Father’s will, if He had not left the Father’s bosom and surrendered Himself into the hands of wicked men who nailed Him to the cross, if He had not died, we could not enjoy this precious salvation and the glorious filling of the Holy Spirit. Christian thankfulness should not be confined to Sunday worship; it should be evoked every day by everything the good God gives us; and it should ascend to heaven in the name and for the sake of the Lord who is our only mediator. A Spirit-filled life is a life that makes melody in the heart to the Lord, and gives thanks to God for the Lord Jesus.  A Spirit-filled person will be always thanking God for the Lord Jesus, and for the spiritual joy, peace, blessings, assurance and security that we have through the shed blood and the grace of God in the Lord Jesus.  Are you filled with the Spirit?  Do you know the fullness of the Spirit?  It is your blessing to possess if you are willing to pay the price.  Redemption is free—you cannot pay the price for redemption.  Salvation is free . . . but there is a price to be paid if we enjoy the fullness of the Spirit.  The price is to submit to God to be emptied of self, selfishness, sensual lust, and the world; and when you are emptied you are then ready to be filled.  “BE NOT DRUNK WITH WINE . . . BUT BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT!”


Unfortunately, this is a world marked by deep ingratitude (2 Timothy 3:2).  The churches corporate and enthusiastic thankfulness in everything makes it a light in the world, a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.  Alas if we are unthankful, if our worship is without energy!  Alas if we do not see singing praises as also an opportunity to encourage one another!  The loss is ours.



21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.


In verse 21 we are commanded to submit one to another in the fear of God.  One of the greatest needs in the local church today is for people to fear God, and work in harmony and unity.  One of the terrible sins in the visible church today is the lack of unity.  As in the Corinthian church, every person has a song, every person has a doctrine, every person has a testimony, every person has a sermon—and everybody wants to run things.  God has an abundance of bosses, superintendents, presidents, chairmen of the board; He is looking for common laborers . . . folks who will get down in the dirt and be a humble servant.  We are to submit one to another, and when we are filled with the Spirit we do that.  This command sets mutual subordination as the rule in the Church.  Paul’s concept of subordination is not popular in these days when we never tire of affirming that all men are created equal and when there is much talk of the equality of the sexes.  Yet, even in a worldly society, some must rule and others serve, and in the Church this principle of mutual subordination finds its example in the One who “though he was in the form of God . . . emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7).


To submit here is, literally, “to line up under”—as soldiers might do in placing themselves under their general.  Paul will soon speak of the church’s life as warfare against the powers of darkness.  There is therefore appropriateness in applying this military picture to the Christian life; especially when we remember the exhortation which opened this whole section—to strive to maintain the unity of our fellowship.  Satan is always looking for ways to break it down and so mar the powerful witness to Christ that is present in a united fellowship (John 17:21-22).


Here, as in Philippians 2:1-11, Paul’s remedy for disunity (and even for the potential of it) is humility—counting others as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  That does not mean false modesty or a denial of the gifts the Lord has given us.  It does, however, mean that the person filled with the Spirit will always be asking “How can I serve my fellow believers.”


Our Savior, Lord, and Model were “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1).  He humbled himself and took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7).  Should we be prepared for anything less?


I would heartily agree that there are few examples of a Spirit-filled life today—but thank God, there are some.  God help you and me to permit the Holy Spirit to search our hearts, God help us to be empty of everything that would hinder the cause of Christ, the building up of the body, the bringing in of the unsaved.  GOD HELP US TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT.





From this passage we can gather certain facts about the Christian gatherings in the early days.

  1. The early Church was a singing Church. It’s characteristic was psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; it had a happiness which made men singing.
  2. The early Church was a thankful Church. The instinct was to give thanks for all things and in all places and at all times.  Chrysostom, a great preacher of the Church of a later day, had the curious thought that a Christian could give thanks even for Hell, because Hell was a warning to keep him in the right way.  The early Church was a thankful Church because its members were still dazzled with the wonder that God’s love had stooped to save them; and it was a thankful Church because its members had such a consciousness that they were in the hands of God.
  3. The early Church was a Church where men honored and respected each other. Paul says that the reason for this mutual honor and respect was that they reverenced Christ.  They saw each other not in the light of their professions or social standing but in the light of Christ; and therefore they saw the dignity of every man.



Make a free website with Yola