Walking Carefully in Darkness (Ephesians 5:15-20)


There is perhaps no more fearful a moment for us when we are younger (and our guardians) than that first moment we sit down in the driver’s seat of our car, clip in the seatbelts and look at the L plates in the front window and start to learn to drive; a few lessons later with the test passed, and we are heading out on the road by ourselves for the first time by ourselves and the first words we will probably hear from someone who cares for us is “Drive Carefully!” Probably spoken more like a prayer than anything else; the plea to be careful is something we hear every day for people who care for us, people who want the best for us.

To be careful is to “give a lot of attention to what you are doing so that you do not have an accident, make a mistake or damage something”1 Hence we are careful we things that are important to us: What is the most important thing every single person alive on earth? Life. There is nothing more important to us than the life we live. Thus, if we are wise, we will be careful with how we handle the gift of life given to us. Furthermore, we know people care about us when they encourage us to be careful when doing something. Paul is writing to a people he loves, a people he has given blood, sweat, and tears to over the years and a people to whom he has given the greatest gift – Jesus. Thus, he writes to them and reminds them of the beauty and wonder of the gift they received through faith. They are to be careful in two ways: because of the value of the gift they have received and the disciple’s role in communicating the infinite value of that gift to the world.

Passage (Ephesians 5:15-20 NIV)

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Living Carefully (5:15-16)

The old has gone, and the new has come upon these people, and with it has come something of infinite value because it secures their eternity and transforms who they are by no effort of their own. They have received the Gospel through faith, and they are to live lives in response to that gift because Jesus is more than enough. If the gift has been truly received, then it should be seen in how the disciples live in contrast to the world: they are to be those who look different in every way to the ways of the world around them because while they are in the world, they are not of the world. In their living, they are to display the otherworldliness of the gift they have received. Part of the imagery Paul had used to teach about the effects of the Gospel in the believer’s life was the image of the old self-being set-off and the new being put on. Faithful followers of Jesus set aside the old life and its fruitless deeds of darkness for the new life in the power of the Spirit that lives in response to what Jesus has done and produces fruits in keeping with the Kingdom of God.

The State of Today

Paul here continues to build on the imagery of the old self and the new self as out of love he calls for the church to be careful in how they use the time God has given them: The Ephesians (and all Christians) are to make the most of the time that God has given each because these days are evil. Paul frames this wise living in the context of the evil state of today because while Christ won the Victory, we await its final consummation. Why must we be careful in how we live? Because these days are evil, the enemy of God, the devil is still active in the world against the purposes of God. Thus, the Children of God will be conscious of how their living affects the mission and reputation of God in the world. John Calvin captures the state of the world when he writes:

“The days are evil. Everything around us tends to corrupt and mislead; so that it is difficult for godly persons, who walk among so many thorns, to escape unhurt. Such corruption having infected the age, the devil appears to have obtained tyrannical sway; so that time cannot be dedicated to God without being in some way redeemed”2

Hence the phrase ‘because the days are evil’ shifts the purpose of our daily living from that of self to the greater purpose of the Church and God’s Kingdom; hence our call to live carefully is not about our survival in a dangerous world but our living well so that God is glorified and the beauty of the Gospel is made known among the ugliness of our day.3

Careful use of Time

The word that Paul uses for behaviour throughout his letter presents the imagery of walking or journeying. Hence the call here is to be mindful of how we move forward in the world because of what Jesus has done. Disciples are to walk with Jesus and like him. John Stott highlights that we will be those who recognise the gift of time and seek to make the most of the time God has given us for the Glory of God. Careful disciples are those who know the fleetingness of time and the perilous nature of our days, thus, seek to make the most of every opportunity when it is there because as Stott concludes: “For once it has passed, even the wisest people cannot recover it.”4 Thus, because we are mindful of God and all the gifts he has given us, we want to use each of them well to his Glory, and one of the greatest gifts God has given each of us for his purposes is time. Using our time well was something important to Paul because he would often challenge the faithful to use aright the time that was there to bring Glory to God, strengthen the Church and advance the Kingdom; its why he wrote: “So then, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) to the church in Galatia. So today, let us make sure we are careful with our time to the ends that God has called us.

Living Wisely (5:17-18)

To be careful with our time is to be wise with it, like a businessman weighing up investment to make sure it will pay out a return at the right time, so does the wise disciple think of how they are investing their time. That theme of wisdom continues as Paul calls the Church in Ephesus to be wise in their living. Wisdom is a theme you will find throughout the Bible as God calls those who belong to him to live wisely for Him. What is Wisdom through the lens of the bible:

”The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” – Proverbs 9:10 NIV

For the Christian, becoming wise begins with coming to God, then all our wisdom builds from there. The Disciple is to walk carefully and make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil, and also because the days are evil Disciples are to keep from folly – making the most of every opportunity requires that we assess every opportunity because through Christ we are wise to the reality of the world. Hence Paul builds on verse 16 by the, therefore (NIV) at the beginning of verse 17 and the warning to keep from folly. How can a disciple keep from foolishness on their walk with Jesus by assessing every opportunity to make sure it’s from God? Wisdom comes naturally to us as we walk with God in the power of his Spirit and seek to grow in our relationship with him through the means he has given us: the word, prayer and Christian fellowship. Hence the imagery of wisdom from King David in Psalm One:

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,

2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.

3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” – Psalm 1:1-3 NIV

The Wise man can avoid the danger of wicked, the company of mockers and the way of sinners because he delights in the word of the Lord and meditates (literally dwells and thinks on) the word of God both day and night, hence he is a like a tree with strong roots yielding fruit in all seasons. We are to be like the man in Psalm one as we walk with Jesus, we seek him and transform our minds and living by the dwelling of the Spirit and the conviction of the word of God to be wise to the folly of the world so that we can assess every opportunity and make the most of it for the purposes God has called us to and gifted us for. King David Ponders in Psalm 119:9 “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?“ yet, he does not take long to answer as he badly proclaims: “By living according to your word.” That which applies to the young in Psalm 119 applies to us in life as Calvin summaries “He speaks of youths, but it is the same wisdom which belongs to old men.”5 Let us be wise and choose the things that will please God, what does this look like you might wonder; Paul gives us a picture in verse 18:

“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

In proverbs, the wise one is presented as the person who comes to a piece of knowledge and reverence/fear of the Lord; the counter imagery to the wise is one of the fools who is often presented as lacking self-control and motivation. One of the most devastating images of the fool the proverbs is that of the drunkard, as the wise are warned not to associate with those who drink too much wine because they will become poor.6 Drunkenness is the summary imagery of folly because it will lead to more foolishness than the original act; thus, the wise disciple of Jesus avoids the access of Alcohol and instead delights more than the Joy that comes from the dwelling Holy Spirit. Wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit; hence, to be wise is to delight in the presence of God in our lives and enjoy all that it leads to as contrasted to the world.

“To what does drunkenness lead? To unbounded licentiousness,—to unbridled, indecent merriment. And to what does spiritual joy lead, when it is most strongly excited? To psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. These are truly pleasant and delightful fruits. “7

Living Thankfully (5:19-20)

As disciples of Jesus, we are those who naturally delight in the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives; we are aware of Him, and his dwelling affects us. To walk in Jesus is to walk like Jesus in the power of the Spirit and become wiser in the things of God and warier of the darkness of our days. We see the folly and danger of the world in the image of the Drunkard who in foolishness gives themselves over to debauchery; John Stott points out the contrast, whereas the fool becomes lost in the carnal desire of the flesh, the wise spirit-filled Christian becomes more human because the work of the Holy Spirit in us “makes us like Christ.”8 That working of the Holy Spirit bares gospel fruits of thankfulness and worship in our lives in two (natural) ways: we are thankful for the community of faith in which we belong; we are thankful too God for all he has done. The wise one recognises the gifts of God in their lives regardless of circumstance

We who are in the Spirit replaces the desires of the Flesh with the good desire of the Holy Spirit in our lives, or as one commentator puts it, the passions of the flesh are replaced with the “passions of love.” A love of God expressed in worship, and each other expressed in how we treat those within the Body of Christ; specifically, we “will be mutually encouraging and edifying to one another, while “singing and making melody to the Lord in their hearts (5:19).”9 What Paul presents here is the picture of Christian fellowship in the context of Public worship, wherever we gather together because we are wise to the things of God we love to praise him for what he has done and in our praise encourage one another in the journey of faith. Paul is not offering treaties here on the forms of praise that should be offered in public worship, but about the heart behind the worship – it is in response to what God has done and who God is. Hence Stott notes: the “Spirit-filled Christians have a song of joy in their hearts, and Spirit-filled public worship is a joyful celebration of God’s mighty acts.”10 The wise Christian knows the gift of Grace and because of it delights in worshipping God, then in the natural overflow of worship encourages brothers and sisters in the faith to the same end. Worship is thankfulness to God for all he has done, and Paul calls the church in Ephesus to practice thankfulness as an act of wisdom.

Paul calls the Church to practice thankfulness in the way of Wisdom, we must not be too literal in our understanding of always and everything, yes we trust God when we enter those dark valleys and know that he is working in our lives, and perhaps thank God for his goodness to us in those difficult moments, yet, the thankfulness that we are commanded to practice always and in everything here is specific to the gift of the Gospel that is ours regardless of circumstance: we are not thankful to God for everything that is happening to us (even though he is at work in all things); no we are thankful to God in every circumstance because in our wisdom we recognize that in Jesus we have everything we need and more, hence the words of Stott: “So then the ‘everything’ for which we are to give thanks to God must be qualified by its context, namely in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Our thanksgiving is to be for everything, which is consistent with the loving Fatherhood of God and the self-revelation he has given us in Jesus Christ. Once again, the doctrine of the Trinity informs and directs our devotion. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we give thanks to God our Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”11 Today as we are careful and wise let us worship God, build one another up and give thanks to God for Grace offered through Christ.

Conclusion: Life in the Spirit

We read only six verses, yet they pack so much wisdom and challenge the disciple in their life and walk with Jesus. The question is, are we living carefully for Jesus? Because we must be clear, these words are spoken only to those who know him and love him; thus, if we are not in Christ, we are the greatest fools of all; we are like the learner driver who thinks they do not need a seatbelt. Today, before we consider any of these words like us, consider ourselves before Jesus Christ. Then when He is our saviour, let him become our example as we walk forward the journey of life in the power of the Spirit, carefully assessing our time and opportunities so that they will please God and bring glory to his name. Two things for us to consider practically as we go from here: How are we spending our time in light of the call that God has placed on our lives? By what standard are we assessing new opportunities; because they might advantage us or because we think they are from the Lord?

Then let us be those who practice wisdom by living lives that are intentional about the rhythms of the Kingdom: being a people who delight, dwell, and discern in and from the Word of God; who are intentional about Communal Worship and encouraging the wider Body in their walk and Wisdom; because we know the benefits of community and that we are not called alone. Then root ourselves in what Jesus has done for us as we give thanks for Him in every circumstance because no circumstance is greater than him. This is the picture of the careful life, the wise walk and the one who walks in the power of the Spirit in pursuit of Christ for the Glory of God.

  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/careful
  2. Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (p. 314). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  3. Marshall, P. V. (2009). Pastoral Perspective on Ephesians 5:15–20. In D. L. Bartlett & B. B. Taylor (Eds.), Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B (Vol. 3, p. 350). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
  4. Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 202). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (p. 315). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  6. 20 Don’t associate with those who drink too much wine
    or with those who gorge themselves on meat.
    21 For the drunkard and the glutton will become poor,
    and grogginess will clothe them in rags.
    Christian Standard Bible. (2020). (Pr 23:20–21). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  7. Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (p. 315). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  8. Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 205). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  9. Kok, J. E. (2001). Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B. In R. E. Van Harn (Ed.), The lectionary commentary: theological exegesis for Sunday’s texts, volume two (p. 339). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  10. Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 206). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  11. Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 207). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.”

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