Walking in Wisdom – Ephesians 5:15–21

Read the Passage: Ephesians 5:15-21

Walk Carefully (5:15–16)

Paul begins his encouragement about walking in wisdom with this exhortation, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15–16). The idea here is that believers are to live their lives with great care, being aware that we live in a fallen but watching world. As Jesus taught His disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). In Scripture, the difference between a wise and a foolish person is not a matter of intellectual ability, but a matter of one’s positional standing in Christ, as well as knowledge of the Word of God. A good working definition of wisdom is as follows: Wisdom is the practical application of God’s Word to daily living. In other words, wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective and then act accordingly.

Paul’s directive to “redeem the time” (Eph. 5:16a) is interesting. The “time” in view here is likely the lifetime of a believer. Paul’s exhortation, then, is that Christians are to make wise decisions in life, for in so doing believers can spiritually flourish in the midst of the fallen world. Indeed, Christians must not forget that the present “days are evil” (Eph. 5:16b). In other words, we must remember that mankind is fallen, and that the creation has been cursed. The world is not as it should be, and the default position of mankind is sinful. Thus, believers must be aware of the sinful context in which they live and strive to bring the Word of God to bear upon every area life. Making wise decisions and cultivating a redeemed mind is essential, for as Jesus taught, “Wisdom is justified by her children” (Matt. 11:19). In other words, every decision will have its own consequences.

Understand God’s Will (5:17)

After reminding his readers that their season of life is short and that they are to make the most of their allotted time on earth as followers of Christ, Paul writes, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). It is interesting that Paul does not instruct believers to seek God’s will; rather, he tells them to understand God’s will. Indeed, it seems Paul is assuming that his readers already have possession of and know God’s will. Many modern Christians believe that God’s will for their lives is hidden and must be revealed via some extra-biblical methodology such as a supernatural sign or a subjective feeling. Yet, in the Bible there are no biblical exhortations to find God’s will; rather, in Scripture man is encouraged to keep God’s Word. Indeed, the biblical pattern is to make wise decisions that reflect one’s walk with Christ and reflect the content of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15).

Manifest Christ-likeness (5:18–21)

After calling for believers to understand what the will of the Lord is (cf. Eph. 5:17), Paul explains what the will of God involves (cf. Eph. 5:18–21). In this passage Paul teaches that the will of God entails being filled with the Spirit (cf. 1 Tim. 5:18), publicly worshiping God (cf. 1 Tim. 5:19), being thankful to God for all things (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20a), and submitting to one another (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20b; 1 Pet. 2:13–15)—a topic that Paul will explore in more detail in the following verses. In summary, then, these facets of the will of God describe the sanctified life of a maturing Christian who is following Jesus, becoming Christ-like, and marinating in the Word of God. Note that in an earlier epistle, in a briefer fashion, Paul had given the identical teaching to the Thessalonian church, as he wrote, “For this is the will of God: your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3).

As further evidence of the importance of studying our Bibles in order to know God’s will, we can compare Eph. 5:18–19 with Col. 3:16. In writing to the church in Colossae, Paul taught, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). In Eph. 5:18–19 we see an identical teaching, as Paul was quoting himself in his later epistle to the Colossian believers. A minor difference, however, is that in writing to the Colossian church Paul substituted his earlier command, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) with the directive, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). It seems, then, that being filled with the Spirit and dwelling on the Word of Christ are synonymous ideas. Indeed, this ought to be not surprising, for one of the main actions of the Holy Spirit is to illuminate the truth of the Word of God (cf. John 16:13; 17:17).

Application Questions:

  1. What is true wisdom? Are most believers’ lives characterized by wise decisions? How does one attain biblical wisdom (cf. Prov. 2:1–5; 4:4–7; Jas. 1:5–6)?
  2. What did Jesus mean when He taught, “Wisdom is justified by her children” (Matt. 11:19)? What does it mean to redeem the time (cf. 1 Pet. 1:17–19)?
  3. Why do many Christians prefer the concept of extra-biblical revelation over the discipline of prayerfully studying their Bibles?
  4. How have you learned and understood God’s will in the past? Does your life match well with the exhortations Paul gives in Eph. 5:15–21?
  5. How does being filled with the Spirit differ from being indwelt by (cf. Rom 8:9), baptized by (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13), or sealed by the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 4:30)?