Exposition of Ephesians 5:15-21

In our preaching on the island of Jamaica we are confronted with a somewhat different rejection of errors from those which we must constantly reject in the midst of our churches in the States. I say rather advisedly that this difference is “somewhat”; it is merely a matter of degree. Because of these errors we also must have a somewhat careful selection of texts for our preaching. Without making this preaching a riding of certain pet notions and a one-sided emphasis, it is necessary to pin-point these errors and to refute them with the Word of God.

It occurred to me during the study of Ephesians 5:15-21how very erroneous the notiong is that to be “filled with the Spirit” simply means that one has a new or renewed influx of the power of the Spirit which manifests itself then in emotional outburst, in the preaching and worship-service, with a resounding praise the Lord!!

It is our purpose in these essays to allow the Word of God to speak, to interpret Scripture in the light of Scripture, and not to formulate various premises which we will then prove from the Scriptures. Our method will be inductive, exegetical and not dogmatical! We did not look for any particular points of refutation, but we found them in the very clear and lucid teaching of Scripture, when we compared Ephesians 5:18 withColossians 3:16. Although we will not concentrate solely on these two Scripture passages, we will,nonetheless, quote these two passages here, so that the readers may, at the outset, know the crux of the Biblical teaching on this point of being filled with the Spirit. 

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul admonishes “But be ye filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. . .” 

And now notice what Paul writes in Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing each other, in Psalms, hymns and spiritual odes. . . .” 

We cannot here enter into the exegesis of these passages in this introduction. Nevertheless, we do wish here to point out that very obviously one cannot be “filled with the Spirit” without at the same time being such that the “word of Christ dwells in us richly.” He who does not possess the indwelling word of Christ richly does not have the Spirit richly. Such a one is not filled with the Spirit of Christ, but somehow is intoxicated by some enthusiasm of the flesh, a mere hysteria which is not miles removed from the heathen incantation. In a word that is pure paganism. 

To hold the line in these evil days we must not separate what God in His good-pleasure has bound together: filled with the Spirit of Christ, who causes His Word to dwell richly in our hearts by His Spirit. 

By their fruits ye shall know them, and be able to distinguish the true prophets from the false. Yes, we also know these two by their true or false theology, or lack of theology in the good, Biblical sense of the term! 

Meanwhile we shall not forget that Paul’s vision is broader than the error which we have signaled above. 

Let us listen to him and seek to exegete his writings. 


This warning reads as follows: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, etc.” (Eph. 5:15

This is a note of warning, admonition and correction. It is a warning to take the Christian life seriously, not to quail before the enemy, nor to sell the seriousness of the days short. It calls to a halt: beware. Do not be spiritually asleep. For this warning is introduced by the cogent conjunction “Wherefore.” This warning follows with stringent necessity from the foregoing teaching. The Ephesians were once darkness but now they are light in the Lord Jesus, who is the light of the world. And now they must walk in the light even as he is light! They must not walk as those who are spiritually dead, but they must awaken from their sinful stupor, their spiritual listlessness, their languid spirits, and become alert to the dangers which surround them from without and which deceive from within! Had not Isaiah thus also cried in his day, “Awake and sing ye that dwell in the dust, for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out her dead?” (Isaiah 26:19) There must be a freshness of the morning, the hope of the new day in their lives, a waiting for the hope of the blessed resurrection! Wherefore Isaiah said again “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” 

Such must be the manifestation of the lives of these Ephesians who are created unto good works by Jesus Christ, saved by grace through faith. Were they not elected and foreordained unto good works, to be holy and without blame before God? (Ephesians 1:3-5Eph. 2:10

This warning deals with the walk, the outward manifestation of the inward life of the Spirit. If they live by the Spirit, let them walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25) That is the force of the “wherefore” in the text. This is the precept of the Gospel built upon the fact of the reality of the grace of Christ .through the Spirit. 

Paul speaks in this passage of the “walk” of the saints. In this letter there is a sharp demarcation between the “former walk” and the “walk which is worthy of the calling wherewith we have been called.” (Ephesians 2:2, 3Eph. 4:17, and Ephesians 2:10, 4:1, 5:2) In each case it refers to the total circumference of man’s life. It refers to his relationship to God, to his fellow-man and to all of creation, as this proceeds from the heart, whence are the issues: of life. Now in the total circumference of their life, from the very center of it to the outer periphery, they are to walk as Christians ought to walk. They must be very careful in their walk, their thoughts, words and deeds. It is especially in the words of their mouth and in the meditation of their heart that they must be acceptable in God’s sight. For from the fulness of the heart the mouth overfloweth. They must know time and season in an evil world! 

NOT AS FOOLS BUT AS WISE (Ephesians 5:15b) 

Paul speaks here of “fools” and of “wise” as two classes of people and not simply as two states of mind in the Christian, the flesh and the spirit. Basically, God’s people are not those devoid of heaven’s wisdom. They have received the “wisdom which is from above.” They are therefore not fools. They fear God. The fool says in his heart: there is no God. That saying cannot arise in the reborn heart of the saint! They are wise, these saints of the Most High God. 

Paul now makes an appeal to their new “wisdom” which is the wisdom of the Cross. 

As such they will be “buying out” the time. (exagorazomenoi). This is present middle participle. This means that the wise saints are like a merchant seeking goodly pearls, and that each time, they seek for the pearl of great price. Each day they buy it out for themselves. They buy the truth and sell it not! Yes, they buy even wisdom, and instruction and understanding. (Proverbs 23:23) This is the kingdom of heaven’s glories.

And what do these saints in heaven’s wisdom buy out? They are told to buy out time. No, they cannot buy out all of time. There is so much in time that is not gold, but the mere tinsel of sin, such as, being drunk with wine. That, too, is in time, in the “days” in which we live. These you must not purchase to yourself, saints. We must buy out all and everything which belongs to the “good works in which we are to walk.” God has before prepared for every day a certain amount of good works in which we should walk, in the entire circumference of our life: church, home and school, in the shop and factory, in the day and in the night. These we must buy out to ourselves in heaven’s wisdom! When we attend the church we must use all our talents and every opportunity. When we attend school we must make the most of these studies as a preparation for life. When we are rearing a family we must make the most of bringing up our children “to the utmost of our ability according to the aforesaid doctrines.” Parents must have no regrets when they grow old that they failed to buy out the time. 

THE DAYS ARE EVIL (Ephesians 5:16

No, there are not just some “bad days” as we speak of them in our every day parlance, This we sometimes do. Things have been going contrary to expectation; it has been a rather fatiguing and frustrating experience, and we say “I’ve had a bad day.” Paul has something far more profoundly serious in mind when he says “the days are evil.” When Paul days that the days are evil he is referring to every day that the sun rises in the East. They are all evil, that is, they are inherently days in which we are surrounded by our threefold enemy: Flesh, world and Satan, which do not cease to assault us, tempt us, and seek to affect our eternal ruin in hell. 

It is well to bear this in mind so that we may be aware of the sins that so easily beset us! (Hebrews 12:1) Then will we be in the spiritual state of awareness of the mortal conflict which is ours. 

The days are evil. Be wise with the wisdom wherewith God has graced you; ye were darkness, but now are ye light, in the Lord! Wherefore know your times, know it three-hundred-sixty-five days of each year, and know it every minute of each day. Know that tribulation is the lot of the saints, and that we must enter the kingdom through much tribulation. Know also as wise that we can be of good cheer because Christ said “I have completely up to the present moment overcome the world.” (John 16:33

Hence, we must not be indolent, senseless Christians, without holy insights and penetrating understanding. We must have a guiding rule in the midst of this evil world and these evil days: the will of the Lord. We must know the Word of Christ. We must listen to Him. We must follow the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world. No shiftless, unthinking, trifling, frivolous, lazy Christian can stand in these evil days. We must study the Scriptures, and ask after the will of our Lord who bought us with His blood. Nothing less will do than to have a penetrating understanding of the will of the Lord, as a rule and guide of all our walk!