In this section, Paul continues his description of practical conduct that is consistent with the doctrine previously expounded. The divine example of forgiveness occurs in 4. 32, followed by an exhortation to the Lord’s people to forgive one another similarly. The concept of divine example continues into chapter 5, as seen by the word “therefore”. To be a follower of God here means “imitator”, and the R.V. uses this word consistently. In 1 Corinthians 11. 1, believers had to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ. Other examples appear in 1 Thess. 1. 6; 2. 14; 2 Thess. 3. 7, 9. This is how children grow and learn-imitating their parents. So this imitation of God is to be practised by the Ephesians as “dear children”, namely, “beloved children’. Children grow up by imitating those who love them, so carefulness is needed both in family and spiritual circles.
Verse 2 presents one example of the manifestation of love-namely, the giving of self in service. Once again, we should imitate the example of Christ. Love is not denned in Scripture, but its characteristics are there for all to see. Certainly divine love gives: note the contexts where divine love and divine giving occur together. There is divine love for the world, and giving, John 3. 16. There is divine love for the individual, and giving, Gal. 2. 20. There is divine love for a company, and giving, John 13. 1-3; Rev. 3. 19-21 (the word “grant” means “give”). There is divine love for the church, and giving, Eph. 5. 25. There is the Father’s love for the Son, and giving, John 3. 35. How this fits in with our verse, “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us".
The thought of giving Himself occurs six times: twice in Galatians, 1. 4; 2. 20; twice in Ephesians, 5. 2, 25; twice in the pastoral Epistles, 1 Tim. 2. 6; Titus 2. 14. “An offering and a sacrifice to God” also appears in Hebrews 10. 6; Psalm 40. 6, where four of the Levitical offerings are named. The “sacrifice” refers to the peace offering, implying the enjoyment of communion because of peace and reconciliation effected for believers: the “offering” refers to the meal offering, an expression of the life of Christ under trial and pressure caused by men and Satan. Together with the burnt offering, these three were for “a sweet smelling savour”, referring to the infinite pleasure that God had in the sacrificial work and Person of His Son. Elsewhere, evangelists are “a sweet savour of Christ”, 2 Cor. 2. 15, while financial gifts to saints in need are described by Paul as “an odour of a sweet smell”, Phil. 4. 18.
Having dealt with this oasis in a dark desert, Paul returns to the subject of gross sin in verses 3-5. Some five years earlier, the apostle had known of the existence of fornication in the assembly in Corinth, 1 Cor. 5. Yet saints are set apart from this kind of behaviour, although Paul knew that such conduct was a possibility. These members had to be mortified, Col. 3. 5; being surrounded by such sins, believers had need to be reminded of their privileged position.
Then Paul returns to the subject of the old nature and its demonstration from the mouth: “foolish talking … jesting”. Certainly this is the activity of the natural unsaved man, and it proves very useful in the worldly sphere of entertainment. Words that are foolish and unlearned contrast with those of the Lord’s servants who teach and instruct in meekness, 2 Tim. 2. 23-25; we read a lot about the subject of the tongue in James 3. 2-12. Paul’s prescription for the sanctified occupation of tongue and mind is “giving of thanks” and “giving thanks always”, Eph. 5. 4, 20.
The apostle is very open in denouncing sin in all its forms, v. 5, where we read of more works of the flesh. Today, such sins are often condoned and usually treated as of great value in the entertainment industry; every form of gross sin is suitable for radio and television, yet seldom is a voice raised against it, and even some believers occupy their so-called spare time with such worldly entertainment. In this verse, the desire for excessive money and possessions is idolatry. (Note: “covetous … idolatry” are also placed together in 1 Cor. 5. 11.) No unsaved person can inherit the kingdom of God, either in the present or in the future; Paul had written the same thing in 1 Corinthians 6. 9-10. In Corinth, however, Paul visualized that “any man that is called a brother’ might be engaged in these forms of sinful activity, 5. 11. Such had to be put outside the assembly, though the spirit would be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, v. 5. Since the kingdom of God is now "righteousness, and peace”, Rom. 14. 17, such a man would not be manifesting a life consistent with the kingdom of God.
The saints can be deceived by vain or empty words, leading to sin. We need to be reminded of the proverb, “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not”, Prov. 1. 10; read also verses 11-19. In order not to be deceived and enticed, believers need to know the truth; the work of the ministry takes care of this, so that believers recognize evil men who lie in wait to deceive, Eph. 4. 14. Another example is the group of false elders who speak perverse things, Acts 20. 30. Good words and fair speeches are used in the deception process, Rom. 16. 18. Many deceivers are in the world, and each is similar to antichrist, 2 John 7. Hence we need the Lord’s exhortation, “Take heed that no man deceive you”, Matt. 24. 4. But God knows. His wrath will fall either now or in the future upon such men. The ultimate end of the deceiver and those deceived is found in Revelation 20. 8-10.
Paul writes of “children of disobedience”, Eph. 5. 6; Col. 3. 6. There are other titles found in the N.T., such as cursed children, 2 Pet. 2. 14; children of hell, Matt. 23. 15; children of the wicked one, 13. 38; children of wrath, Eph. 2. 3. Clearly they are the products of Satan himself.
In Ephesians 3. 6, we are “partakers of his promise”, but here we are not to be joint-partakers with the children of disobedience. Some four years earlier, Paul had expanded upon this theme: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers”, 2 Cor. 6. 14-18. The reason for this is that darkness (of the past) stands in contrast with light (of the present). Physically, darkness is the natural state, and light is superimposed, as in the creation, Gen. 1. 3. If the source of light is removed, then darkness returns. This must not happen to a believer-we must “walk as children of light”, being a source of light ourselves, and walking in the light of Christ. The Lord warns His disciples to take heed, so that the light in them does not become darkness, Luke 11. 35, for we are the light of the world now, as He was the light of the world when He was here on earth.
As children of light, we are to prove and to reprove. The act of proving, trying, discerning, examining, assessing involves a spiritual effort to search out the very nature of deeds. We are to prove ourselves, 1 Cor. 11. 28; 2 Cor. 13. 5; to prove our own work, Gal. 6. 4; to prove spirits (the minds of teachers), 1 John 4. 1; the sincerity of love, 2 Cor. 8. 8. We must make a positive assessment, so as to be quite certain as to what is “acceptable unto the Lord”. As an adjective, noun or verb, this word usually refers to divine acceptability, such as our bodies being a living sacrifice, Rom. 12. 1-2; financial gifts, Phil. 4. 18; Enoch’s testimony, Heb. 11. 5; service, 12. 28; good works, 13. 16, 21.
This assessment enables us to shun the unfruitful works of darkness; this enhances the prohibition in verse 7. There must be no common bond with unbelievers whose works are in opposition to the desires of God. By reproving these works, we expose them by our own shining light. In the context, this refers to our own deeds assessed positively by God, though it may also refer to our verbal testimony showering condemnation upon deeds of darkness. But not always, since there are secret deeds of men that cannot even be spoken about by believers. In those cases, our open, separated and consecrated lives are all that can be used by way of reproof. Paul could be bolder than most of us in this respect, and in Romans 1. 19-32 he went to the uttermost to expose the darkest and most secret sins of men. In Ezekiel 8. 5-18, the prophet saw many sins of men that were being carried out in secret (as they thought) in the temple courts in Jerusalem.
In verse 13, the light that reproves consists of the walk, conduct, life and testimony of believers; these features reprove those who are opposed to the truth, for believers are the light of the world. Some men may try to keep away from the reproving light of believers, and indeed from Christ as the true light, “lest his deeds should be reproved”, John 3. 20. Only the light manifests the existence of darkness. If in an environment there were no Christ, no Word of God, no Holy Spirit, no believers as the salt of the earth, then there would be no reproof, and some men would rejoice with no restraint upon them. By contrast, it is dreadful if a Christian lives as does the world, needing reproof himself.
Verse 14 has proved difficult to expositors; it appears to be a gospel cry to the unsaved in darkness-a call combined with the previous reproof. The words “he saith” can better be translated “it saith”, that is, by something that is written, though it is not clear what “it” refers to. Certainly it is not a direct O.T. quotation; it may even be part of a hymn, or perhaps a collection of brief O.T. quotations or paraphrases. For example, “Awake, awake”, Isa. 52. 1; “thy light is come”, 60. 1, are suggested (though strictly these are millennial statements referring to Jerusalem). At least, the description “dead” refers back to Ephesians 2. 1, 5; reproof by the light leads to Christ giving the light of salvation. (In Romans 13. 11, “to awake out of sleep” refers to believers now, being even more diligent as the coming day approaches.)
In the meantime, it is necessary to walk “circumspectly”, that is, accurately, wisely and not unwisely. This word “accurately” appears elsewhere, “search diligently”, Matt. 2. 8; “perfect understanding”, Luke 1. 3; “yourselves know perfectly”, 1 Thess. 5.2. We must therefore examine every aspect of our walk, in the sense that this walk is also examined by God. Is our walk Christlike? Does it declare that we are “light in the Lord"? The same process involves being “wise”, using the ability to weigh up the basic nature of our deeds, since “fools” never give the matter a spiritual thought. Certainly the wisdom of this world is foolishness as assessed by God.
"Redeeming the time” is very important. There is one thing that any government minister of waste cannot achieve, namely the restoration or recycling of time that has been wasted in a man’s life. Believers should grasp all their time for profitable pursuits even daily employment should be “as unto Christ”, Eph. 6. 5. The days of men are evil, so the days of believers should form a contrast. Paul used his time profitably even when a prisoner; he wrote Epistles, and engaged in prayer, preaching and teaching, Acts 28. 31, while the guards wasted their time except when they listened to the apostle’s testimony, Phil. 1. 13. The understanding of the Lord’s will can lead to this profitable timekeeping.
Finally in this section, the manifestation of drink is contrasted with the manifestation of the Spirit; mockers and unbelievers confused the two in Acts 2. 13. The fact that Paul had to write, “be not drunk with wine” shows that he feared danger of drink even amongst the Lord’s people. For drink was and is a popular vice; the O.T. is full of condemnation of such a practice; see Isaiah 28. 7. The whole personality and conduct are then out of adjustment; it is habit-forming, as the purveyors of such liquor know to their deliberately conceived financial advantage. It has been the unsavoury pleasure of many in the world from Noah’s time onwards, Gen. 9. 21. For God causes the grape to produce its juice, but man does the rest with his fermentation processes. No Christian who really believes that the Spirit indwells and fills would ever consume such liquor, for the taste and practice merely copy that of the world. Paul wrote elsewhere, “It is good neither … to drink wine”, Rom. 14. 21. The effect of being Spirit-filled is the exact opposite to being wine-filled; the effects are completely different. One brings forth the fruit of the Spirit unto life, but the other the fruit of the flesh unto death. The Spirit is manifested in conduct, Gal. 5. 22-24, and in service, 1 Cor. 12. 7-11.
One manifestation is the sacrifice of praise, contrasting with the song of the drinkers of strong drink, Psa. 69. 12. There are no clear-cut boundaries between “psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs”; see Col. 3. 16. A psalm would have similar objectives as in the O.T. – the experiences of Christ and the experiences of personal life. Hymns are songs of praise addressed to God, Acts 16. 25. Spiritual songs are distinguished from the natural gutter-type compositions so loved by the world, as in Daniel 5. 4 during Bel-shazzar’s feast. True song may indeed involve the lips, but must be from the heart and directed to the Lord; the unthinking repetition of familiar pieces is to be deprecated, when one sings merely because others are singing. Strictly the song implied here is not for unbelievers, even if we do make them sing gospel hymns.
A final manifestation of the Spirit is “giving thanks always”, as did Paul, 1 Cor. 1. 4; Phil. 1. 3; Col. 1. 3; 4. 2. Here, the act is “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”, while in Colossians 3. 17 (in a similar context), all we do in word or deed must be done in His Name.