We share our opinions and insights at SBC Voices, but we believe that the Voice that matters most is the one that comes from God’s Word. We present these daily expositional devotions, beginning with a tour of Ephesians called, “Walk Worthy,” in hopes of encouraging our readers to remember to Voice above every voice.
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
I am inclined to quote the tired and cliché old-preacher phrase, “When you see a ‘therefore’ you have to know what its there for.” However, as trite as that phrase might be I don’t want it to be glossed over. Paul’s admonition in today’s text is set firmly in the context of a stern warning to avoid darkness and to stay lit (as my teenage sons regularly proffered over the last year). This light/dark terminology is a hallmark of Johannine writings in the New Testament but is also very present in Paul’s work. Paul asks, in another letter, “What fellowship does light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Following the counsel to stay out of darkness we are prescribed some active ingredients that might lead to illuminated walking.
With this admonition as the back drop, Paul encourages his reader to be careful about how they walk this life. The King’s English of this passage is irrevocably etched in the memory bank of my mind. The language of “walking circumspectly” and “redeeming the times” swirl off my tongue and I appreciate, even now, the richness of that imagery. We are to walk “looking around” or “paying careful attention” to what is going on around us because the days are evil. Certainly, this prophetic warning for those first century Christians took on a whole other level of seriousness as the persecutions of Nero and Domitian appeared on the horizon. We must be actively (present participle) redeeming or making the most of the time we have because of this evil that surround us. We need that light of gospel living to illuminate our path in this world. I recently went on a hiking trip to the Grand Canyon and one piece of equipment that I most appreciated was the small head lamp I brought so that, hands free, I could see what was around me at night. This text came to mind. Having a lit path certainly does help with walking in darkness.
Paul then launches into a discourse of things that might help illuminate our path. The first three items are imperatives in Greek calling on the Christ follower (1) not be foolish but to (2) understand God’s will and then to be (3) filled with the Spirit of God. Here we have the call to live with wisdom and contemplation through avoiding foolishness while simultaneously discerning the direction and will of God for our lives. Easier said than done, right? Well Paul doesn’t leave us without direction on how to guard against such foolishness. We are to be filled with the Spirit of God. A couple of things should be said here. First, there is a question of the identification of the pneuma that Paul uses here. However, when understood in this ‘compare and contrast’ context we see that in stead of being filled with the foolish spirit that wine brings about, we are to be filled with the wisdom that comes from drinking in the Spirit of God. This is not some ethereal human spirit but the very Spirit of God. The phrase “in Spirit” is used three other places in this epistle (2:22, 3:5 & 6:18) and each time the Holy Spirit is in view. Second, we must be careful to not see this passage as a mandate to abstain from alcohol (although there are plenty of reasons one might choose to do so). The fact is, there is no imperative to abstain in this text. Rather, this is simple a rhetorical device Paul uses to contrast the foolish with the wise, the unguided with the guided, the dark with the light, drunkenness with clarity of thought. This is offered for the sake of its antithesis rather than for its own sake. In other words, let’s not be foolish in this dark world but be guided by God.
Following those three imperatives are a litany of participles that encourage a lifestyle of worship and an attitude of appreciation that should stem from a life lived in wisdom, guided by God.
As a musician myself, I’ve always been intrigued by the list of participles in verse 19 and when paired with the echoing voice of Paul in Colossians 3:16 this passage is down right exciting to me. One might be inclined to read this verse with a Walt Disney musical in view. It appears we are to sing to one another as Belle and the village residents might sing their dialogue to one another during a stroll through a Saturday morning French market. (I suppose we should be singing something akin to “there must be more than this provincial life.”) But it is not like that. It is a far more substantive and intricately woven lifestyle that Paul speaks of based on a particular worldview. This is the picture of a fellowship of joyful brothers and sisters who regularly quote scripture and hymns in order to encourage and strengthen one another while gathered from out of the dark world in which they daily walk. Even Pliny, in his interaction with Emperor Trajan reports on such antiphonal singing in the body of believers in his writings in the first century. As a side note for my fellow musicians, lets not get too wrapped up in trying to construct a taxonomy of (1) songs (2) hymns & (3) spiritual songs as if this is a regulative principal that is being espoused and enforced here. The distinctions, if Paul even meant any, would likely have to do with his attempt at including all aspects of musical worship rather than articulating certain genre and stylistic issues. This is about an attitude and way of living focused on the glory of God and his praise rather than on the trials of the world by which we might otherwise be distracted. We are to be thankful to God and sing his praise with one another accordingly.
Paul’s final admonitions in this litany of participles include giving thanks to God and being subject to one another. Paul will, in the next few verses, extrapolate subjection to one another in the context of the home and the roles of the members of that home. But here we see this last participle encouraging us to “be regularly submitting” ourselves to one another. That is to prefer others over ourselves. We are to place others and their needs above our own. This biblical theme of others before yourself rings true in every passage it is placed. In these two verses alone we see the whole of the Great Commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart.. and love your neighbor as yourself.
I’m especially thankful for this short passage that encourage me as a fellow believer (and lover of music) to with wisdom, think clearly, encourage my fellow believers in song and to praise and thank God as we submit to one another in christian love and unity. To God be the glory.