The first three verses of this section have a close connection with those that have gone before. Since we are now ‘light in the Lord’, 5. 8, and our life is to expose the evil around us as sin against God, we must act in wisdom, assess the wickedness, and appreciate God’s will for us. Only in this way will we have a direct influence on the prevailing system.
Act in wisdom, v. 15
The walk of the believer takes another turn from not walking as Gentiles walk, 4. 17, and walking in love, 5. 2, or walking as light, to walking in wisdom.
To ‘walk circumspectly’ would imply that we are not to be careless in our walk, for the five places where the word is found would indicate that we must be diligent as to how we walk, and have a perfect understanding as to our movements among men for their good. We should not walk as fools, that is, in a mindless, stupid way, with no regard for the consequences that spring from it, but to walk as wise, that is, to walk in a moral way befitting our calling as children of light. This is not merely a mental faculty. Enoch walked in such a way when he walked with God, Gen. 5. 24.
Assess the wickedness, v. 16
The familiar word ’redeeming’, meaning to buy out of the market, is used here of buying up the opportunities that are given to us to have an impact on the world and its ways. Its ways are said to be evil. This was demonstrated at Calvary when the Lord was crucified and the full character of the heart of man was displayed, and his thoughts concerning God were fully expressed. The outcome of that is that we have ‘this present evil world’, Gal. 1. 4, that is, a world system that is guilty of the rejection of the Lord Jesus. Not only is it an evil world because of its most nefarious act, but it has continued in this way every day, making the days evil. Such was Noah as he built the ark and redeemed the time.
Appreciate God’s will, v. 17
In verse 15 we are called not to walk as fools, which carries the thought of a moral rather than a mental action; here the reverse is before us. When Paul writes, ‘Wherefore be ye not unwise’, not stupid, it is in a mental rather than a moral capacity. We must not be unthinking in our life for God. The call is to understand what the will of the Lord is.
We can see in the relationship that there was between David and Saul, how David walked in wisdom and Saul as one who was unwise.
Abstain from wine, v. 18a
Not to imbibe wine to a state of drunkenness must be impressed on the Christian’s mind. We recall how that wine, being a mocker, affected the ministry of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus chapter 10, and God called for its prohibition when on divine service and ministering in the tabernacle, v. 9.
If wine is a mocker, it is also medicinal. The Good Samaritan used it on the wounds of the man who fell among thieves, Luke 10. 34, and Paul encouraged Timothy to ‘use’, not abuse, ‘a little wine’, not a lot, ‘for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities’, 1 Tim. 5. 23.
Here, in Ephesians, wine is a motivator to affect the life, for wine affects our walk, our talk and our thinking. It robs the drinker of all self-control. Sadly, I came from a drunken family and felt the effects of a slum home, a broken home, and brothers encouraged into careless living because of wine. Every child of God should heed the injunction brought before us here. Rather, we should allow the Spirit to control and change us, and certainly not wine.
Abundance of wealth, v. 18b
Why allow such a destructive thing as wine to control the body when we have the Holy Spirit to control us in devotion to God? Once again, we have an injunction in the form of a command, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’. This is a far cry from this so-called charismatic age, where believers are called to seek for, pray for, what is already the blessed portion of every blood-bought, born again believer. At the moment of conversion the Holy Spirit is given to those who believe, and is the means whereby we know God as our Father, Gal. 4. 6. If we do not possess the Spirit of God we are none of His, Rom. 8. 9, indicating that we are not saved. It is sad when gullible Christians are swept aside by false doctrine, with some persecuting themselves because they cannot receive what certain would teach is a second blessing, rather than a primary blessing, given by God and not sought by men.
As we have seen, a Spirit-filled life will transform our attitudes and habits as we live for God, and, with the things of God predominant in the life, they will affect:
1) Our speech, v. 19a
‘Speaking to yourselves’. I take it that we would insert a comma at this point, separating the clause from what follows. The desire of the apostle is that there will be constant communion between believers regarding the truth of God. We should be taken up with divine truth. In his book The History of the Brethren Thomas Neatby relates how that, in the early days, an invitation for tea was an invitation to a Bible reading. Sadly, those days are nearly gone, and very few desire to discuss the word of God.
2) Our singing, v. 19b
How beautiful when the heart is full of Christ and we desire to sing the songs of Zion. Many fill their homes and their cars with equipment to play the songs of the world. As a young Christian I was stopped in my tracks by a believer who was associated with the Baptists. He came into the home where my best friend, who was an excellent pianist, was playing the piano and I was singing the songs of the world. Abruptly, he said, ‘You don’t sing those kinds of songs, do you?’ From that day onwards I determined that only spiritual songs would be on my lips. We are to sing for God’s pleasure, for we are to make melody in our hearts unto the Lord. Yet we are now living in a day when, even though there is a piano in the home, very few want to gather round it and raise their voices in spiritual melodies. Sadly, I find that some are very happy to follow the crowds that are engaged in attending pop concerts.
3) Our supplication, v. 20
The apostle constantly puts into practice what he preaches; we find him constantly giving thanks throughout his writings. Here he encourages the saints to give thanks always and for all things. He writes the same to the young Christians, ‘In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you’, 1 Thess. 5. 18.
If it is easy to raise our thanksgiving for blessings received, it may be more difficult to give thanks for the burdens we bear, but it is in all things that we must give thanks. There is a divine purpose in every experience that we are called to pass through. Paul taught elsewhere that trials are for our future prosperity and profit, ‘For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’, 2 Cor. 4. 17.
4) Our submission, mutual, v. 21
As Peter T. O‘Brien points out, verse 21 is a hinge verse.1v It is the final thought regarding being filled with the Spirit, but then opens the way to develop the various aspects of submission in both family, and servant and master relationships.
The word ‘submission’ means to arrange under and is a military term for soldiers carrying out the officers’ commands. It has nothing to do with authority but rather the need to see ordered conditions that cause harmony and unity. If we fulfilled the word of God and ‘esteemed other better than ourselves’, Phil. 2. 3, it would not be a problem to have a spirit of submission.
It is to be carried out in the fear of God; most manuscript scholars say, ‘in the fear of Christ’. However, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It was this fear that caused Noah to move and build an ark, Heb. 11. 7. It cost the Lord Jesus; though He were a Son ‘he was heard in that he feared’, 5. 7. It is a fear of displeasing God that should cause our submission.
We are now moving into a section that details the need for submission to be seen in all walks of life, if harmony and unity are to be maintained. In verse 22 it is seen to be mutual among the saints; now it is into the marital sphere. All parties have a responsibility before God to fulfil His desires, but in each case Paul appeals to his ministry of verse 22 and addresses first those who are called upon to take the place of submission: wives, children and servants.
The passage has a very clear division. In verses 22-24 we have the submission of the wife, and in verses 25-33 the affection of the husband is brought before us. In the former, it is a submission of love and loyalty, and as far as the husband is concerned, a sacrifice of love and labour. The pattern on which the marriage bond is set moves far above the merely natural and physical; it is based on the spiritual, that is, the relationship between Christ and His church. In this way the marital bond is elevated and brought to very high ground indeed. If the principles of marriage as set forth in the word of God are carried out, there would be no difficulties in any relationship. Harmony and blessing would be evident to all. In this relationship there is no separation and no divorce, but both parties moving for the good of the other.