- The Explore the Bible lesson for Nov. 10 focuses on Ephesians 5:15-21.
It jokingly has been said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing that you don’t put a tomato in fruit salad. Indeed, wisdom is best defined as practical or useful knowledge that allows one to plot the best courses of action in life.
As the Apostle Paul continues his practical application of the theology he espoused earlier in his letter to the Ephesians, it is not surprising that he veers into the topic of walking with wisdom. Ephesians 5:15-21 represent some of the clearest expressions in any of Paul’s letters on what it means to live wisely. This wisdom is expressed in the three ideas of careful/wise living, being filled by the Spirit and in being genuine in our interactions with Christians.
Be Wise (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Paul begins this section of the letter by advocating that believers must be careful in how they live. The instruction has a broader context and instruction than just exercising caution. It also contains a positive encouragement to pursue a life that is deliberate, precise and focused.
This focus is driven by insight into the will of God. As Paul is using it here, the will of God is not some hidden plot that God has planned out for each life, but is the clearly expressed desires of God that believers walk in obedience and trust to him.
Paul encourages his readers to treat time almost as a valuable commodity to be purchased. The wise do not squander valuable commodities, and the believer must not waste his or her life by investing in actions and attitudes that are not in line with God’s desires.
What are some ways that you might redeem or purchase time as Paul intends it here?
Be Filled (Ephesians 5:18)
Paul continues his thought with a contrast centered on the idea of control. He utilizes an activity that is the height of foolish living in that it leads to a total loss of the ability to walk deliberately and with control – drunkenness. It is unlikely that Paul has a specific problem in Ephesus in mind in using this particular sin. Instead, he simply seems to be choosing a practice that is the epitome of lost control in order to accentuate the equally overwhelming, but positive, command to be filled with the Spirit.
The command to be filled with the Spirit is unique to this passage and brings with it some level of need for focus and precision itself. All believers receive the Spirit at conversion. Paul has already said this earlier in 1:13-14.
So, what does this command involve? Simply put, just as someone might be filled with joy and, therefore, views the world and acts in accordance with the reality of joy in their life, a person who is filled with the Spirit will be driven by Spirit. Every thought, every action and every perspective will be in line with God’s desires.The Spirit, then, becomes the controlling influence, the driving force or the defining characteristic. Already Paul has used the image of filling or fullness throughout this letter (cf. 1:23, 3:19, 4:10, and 4:13). He uses it to convey the idea of completion or wholeness.
Here, its use is no different. All Christians are to walk in a manner that reveals the completed work of God and the whole change that he was brought them through.
What might be some other images or synonyms that appropriately convey the idea of being filled? How does this passage relate to the Fruit of the Spirit outlined in the book of Galatians?
Be Genuine (Ephesians 5:19-21)
Being filled with the Spirit often carries with it the idea of a something mysterious, uncontrolled or perhaps even dangerous. It should be pointed out, however, that one of the fruit of the Spirt in Galatians 5:22-23 is self-control. It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul couples it here with walking wisely and then stresses resulting actions that are altogether coherent and helpful. The actions that Paul calls believers to pursue are singing, thankfulness, and submission. Paul advocates making music from the heart. In his culture, this was not an instruction to sing with feeling or emotion, but rather a call to sing from the center of who you are. That is, with genuineness.
Thanksgiving is an outgrowth of knowing God and that his purposes in Christ are always benevolent. Submission is an outward expression of the dying to ourselves that Christ advocated for all his followers. Indeed, such activities can only occur and bring the encouragement and teaching that Paul is hoping for if we are filled with the Spirit.
What are some other activities that we as Christians can only properly fulfill if we are genuine? Why would Paul choose these three actions and attitudes as prime examples of being genuine?
Timothy Pierce, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University.