The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 5:15-21 (Ephesians 5:15-21)

Walk circumspectly, or strictly.

The apostle goes on to urge a circumspect, wise, and earnest life, closely conformed in all things to the will of God, fashioned according to that idea of wisdom which is set forth in the proverb, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Nothing is of more value than fixed principles for guiding our life. One settled conviction may be of inestimable value; e . g . the conviction that nothing can come to any good in the end which is against the will of God. Whenever greatness is achieved in any sphere of life it is through the force of well-kept rules. Every great author, artist, statesman, has owed his success to certain principles of action to which he has rigidly adhered. It has been remarked that the puritan age was an age of convictions; ours is an age of opinions. But what we need is convictions, and pre-eminently the conviction that the only true, safe, and blessed rule of life is to follow implicitly the will of God. We find here rules for a careful Christian life,


1. Walk circumspectly, or strictly, not carelessly.

2. Walk wisely, taking pains to ascertain that you so walk as to gain the great end.

3. Redeem the time, or buy back the opportunity (see Exposition).

4. Understand; i.e. lay to heart and follow the will of Christ.

5. Avoid intoxication and all wild excitement and unhallowed pleasure.

6. Be filled with the Spirit, and the holy, blessed emotions which he genders.


1. Cultivate Christian song, and make melody in your heart to the Lord.

2. Let thanksgiving have a special place in your exercises.

3. Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord.

As Christians have not only duties, but also joys, belonging to their individual life, so they have both duties and joys belonging to their social life. What is most characteristic of the social duties of Christians is mutual submission; consideration of one another—of what is due by one to another, and still more of the loving service which one may be able to render to the other. What is most characteristic of their social joys is the element of thankfulness in which they flourish; they should ever live as those, who in Christ have received mercies beyond all calculation; and they should make abundant use of song to give expression to such feelings and to deepen them in so doing. This joyous element goes a long way to give brightness to the social life of Christians; they will not miss the more carnal delights on which worldly men set so much store, but will feel that God puts joy in their hearts, more than in the time that their corn and wine increased.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 5:17 (Ephesians 5:17)

The right understanding of duty.

This is necessary to its efficient performance.

I. UNWISDOM . The thought of the apostle turns upon the misapplication or misdirection of our powers. "Be ye not unthinking and senseless." It is a sin against our rational nature, against our high calling, against the Lord, not to use our intellectual faculties with supreme relation to the Lord's will.

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF A TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD 'S WILL . Religion is a question of knowledge as well as feeling. Knowledge supplies the basis of feeling. Though Scripture tells us not to lean to our own understanding, it tells us to love with knowledge and all judgment. The knowledge is needed both to stimulate and to regulate the love. We must know our duties, dangers, temptations, in respect to every condition of life in which we are placed by Divine providence. It is the will of the Lord Jesus Christ which supplies the true standard of action to every Christian. The direction of our life is to be determined by his precepts.—T.C.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 5:17-21 (Ephesians 5:17-21)

Inspiration, spirituous and spiritual.

Following up his exhortations about holy living, Paul now proceeds to the subject of understanding the Lord's will. In doing so he comes across the necessity which human nature feels for excitement of some kind, and, warning the Ephesians against the low excitement of wine, he commends the high excitement of the Spirit, with all its pleasurable manifestations. In other words, he speaks of inspiration, but condemns the spirituous while he commends the spiritual. We have thus suggested—


(Verses 17, 18.) This is apparent from the fact that every one needs some excitement, as it is called, to keep him moving—something to "interrupt our quiet and ordinary state of mind with some more lively feeling, which makes us live more consciously and in a manner quicker than we do in common." We all feel this. Now, this goes to show that we are not self-contained, no matter how much we desire to be so, but need a helping hand from without our personalities. Withhold food, and we perish. Withhold all stimulus from us, and we go of necessity to pieces. The whole question comes to be, therefore, where we shall get our required stimulus.


(Verse 18.) This is an inspiration which comes through sense. Now, all of us need a stimulus through our senses. Food is such a stimulus. A well-digested meal makes life move faster and quicker than fasting would. But the vinous inspiration leads to "riot" (Revised Version), and is inconsistent with that unity of the Church for which the gospel calls. We should abstain from such a dangerous stimulus as this, for its effect has been hostile to unity of spirit. But we might extend the precaution here to all those excitements of a sensual nature which exhaust and retard the spirit. As Robertson says, "Wine is but a specimen of a class of stimulants. All that begins from without belongs to the same class. The stimulus may be afforded by almost any enjoyment of the senses. Drunkenness may come from anything wherein is excess—from over-indulgence in society, in pleasure, in music, and in the delight of listening to oratory, nay, even from the excitement of sermons and religious meetings. The prophet tells us of those who are drunken, and not with wine." Arnold, in the same way, bases upon this passage warnings against excess of bodily exercise, excess of intellectual exercise, excess even in our hours of work, excess, in a word, so far as it militates against Christian sober-mindedness.


(Verses 18, 19.) We may be filled with the Spirit, and no riot result, nothing which will do anything but foster the glorious unity. For, as Arnold shows, the gospel and the inspirations from God "at once excite and soothe," so that the soul is kept in holy equilibrium, and the inspiration has its natural manifestation.

1. There will be harmony in social song . Poetry and music will become tributary to unity of spirit. The Holy Ghost will permeate by his harmonizing presence social praise.

2. The praise offered to the Lord will be heartfelt . It will not be a form of praise, but the very heart going up to heaven.

3. Thanksgiving will be mightily promoted. In the midst of manifold mercies our God in heaven looks for constant thankfulness from us. And, indeed, if we understand his love we shall be prompted to give thanks "always for all things," in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

4. And inspiration will promote mutual subjection in the fear of Christ (so Revised Version). Thus it comes to pass that an inspired people proves a praising and united people. What harmony the society filled with the Spirit realizes! It is heaven begun below. What we need, therefore, is a Pentecost. If the Holy Spirit is pleased to fill us, then shall our discords vanish and our hearts beat in unison. It is by inspiration that the unity of the Church shall be secured.—R.M.E.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 5:15-21 (Ephesians 5:15-21)

Exhortation to exercise wisdom in regard to our manner of walk.

"Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise." The object to which we are to look is this—how we walk; in other words, the conduct of our life. In regard to this we are to be careful. At cross-roads there are sometimes finger-posts put up to indicate where the different roads lead to, that travelers may be at no loss. By looking carefully at these, they may save themselves much trouble and delay. So it becomes every traveler to eternity to know the road that he is taking, whether it is the narrow or the broad. There are finger-posts put up by God (in the Word) by which we may ascertain this and put ourselves right if we have to our grief taken the wrong road. But, seeing many do not make use of these finger-posts (do not look at them at all, or only carelessly, and thus exhibit great folly), the exhortation takes the negative as well as the positive form. "Not as unwise, but as wise." The word translated "carefully" may also be translated "precisely," and suggests this, that we are not only to look to the general correctness of our conduct, but to look to it down to the smallest details. It is only by thus going carefully over it in detail, with no foregone conclusion in our mind, but earnestly seeking God to search us and to discover to us what can be altered for the better, that we may be able to bring it out into some beauty of conception as a whole. There are two things in regard to which we are to exercise wisdom .

I. TIME . "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." The right management of our time is what we are particularly to look to. The exhortation is to redeem the time, that is, the time meted out to us on earth, in which to fulfill the Divine purposes. Literally, as given in the margin, we are to buy up the opportunity. The idea is that every moment has its own duty assigned to it. By doing the duty in the moment, we make a purchase of the opportunity, we turn it into a gain. We keep abreast of time; we avoid subsequent collision of duties. Whereas by not doing the duty in the moment, we contract debt, we fall behind. Instead of being the free owners of our time, we become slavish debtors to it. We are to be like merchants that seize every vantage that is going. Merchants, that travel about from place to place, do not get a vantage at every turn. They must lay their account by an amount of fruitless toil. But as heavenly merchants, we are in this enviable position, that every moment comes laden with golden opportunity. And we are to make our moments as they pass rich in all the gains of a good life.

1. Good planning . If we would redeem the time in its days, then we must anticipate them by wise economical arrangements. We must see them coming, and know how (God willing) we are to fill them up. The light that we have got from past days we are to put into some workable scheme for the days to come. To the excellence of a day-plan it is essential that we rightly proportion between the various duties of life (so that none are left out or do not get their proper place). We are to keep up the right proportion between our severer and our lighter engagements . It behooves every one to have a task, a definite task, a task that taxes his energies. And if he does not have it by necessity of procuring his daily bread, yet should he have it by necessity of steadying himself. But it is not good for the bow to be always bent, and, if we manage well, we shall find time (and find it good for the doing of our task too) to relax ourselves in social enjoyment. We are also to keep up the right proportion between our religious and our secular duties . The latter, as a general arrangement, must take up a large proportion of our time. Six to one is the proportion indicated in the command. But in every well-planned life there will be found ample time for religious duties. Every day is to begin with an acknowledgment of God. It may seem utopian to expect morning devotions of one who has to be at his work at six o'clock. And yet it only requires a little taken off sleep or off the previous evening to secure the necessary time for God. And surely that is not too much to expect of any Christian in the interest of a well-ordered life. Morning devotions alone will not make the day good. Only when these have been conscientiously engaged in there will be felt to be an obligation to make the day's work harmonize with them. The evening may be utilized for self-improvement and ministries to others. And the day is to end, as it began, with God. It is only by such planning (in the name of him who is not the author of confusion), that we can expect to be like merchants accumulating a large fortune.

2. Good planning followed up by decisiveness in execution . There is a reason given for redeeming the time: "Because the days are evil." The very earth has taken a complexion from the degeneracy of the dwellers on it. And so our days are evil, and not such as they would have been under normal conditions.


1. Dissuasive from false excitement . "And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot." It is evident from the language which is here employed that the wine drunk in those times was intoxicating. The apostolic advice must be regarded as even more applicable to drinks of stronger intoxicating qualities, which are manufactured now. It has its application to the intoxicating cup of the world in every form—to the intoxication of novel-reading, to the intoxication of keenness in business, to the intoxication of political excitement. This advice is not inaptly connected with the previous advice as to the right management of time. For it is when time is not properly filled up, when it is insipid, monotonous, or when it is filled up with wrong-doing, that there is the temptation to go after some form or other of earthly excitement. It cannot be said that the use of wine at all is forbidden by this precept. But there is certainly sounded in connection with it the note of alarm. There is put up beside it the red flag of danger. " Be not drunken with wine ." Drunkenness is the feverish desire, the morbid craving, for drink. The man with his noble powers becomes one huge, ever-seeking, never-satisfied appetite. It is a vice into which all classes are in danger of falling. If the idle take to drinking to relieve the tedium of existence, the overwrought take to it to make up exhausted strength. The young take to it from a love of excitement, and the aged and debilitated take to it to get new tone to their system. Men of a coarse nature take to it because they are incapable of higher pleasures, and men of fine sensibility take to it because it is a source of inspiration to the intellect. Men of social tendencies take to it because it helps good fellowship; and the saddest thing is that women take to it in private, because of a peculiarly sensitive frame and inequalities of feeling. It is a vice, then, which must be said to be of a peculiarly fascinating, dangerous nature. And let no one think that he is out of danger. Many of those who have fallen were not like failing at first. They did not take drink at all for a time, and their friends had hope in them that they would prove temperate men. And when (with other social surroundings in some cases) they began to make any use of it, they seemed to be taking it in a perfectly innocent or needful way, until the liking was formed, and they could not do without a certain and an increasing amount of drink. Now, let it be observed on what ground the apostle condemns drunkenness. It is in the line of his thought that we are to exercise wisdom as to our manner of walk. Wherein , he says, is riot . Drunkenness is a madness. There is a form of it to which this description is specially applicable, that which is known as delirium tremens . But even in its ordinary working it has a close resemblance to madness. It takes away from men the guiding power of reason, their self-possession, their self-restraint, and leads them to make such exhibitions of themselves as in their calm moments they would be ashamed of. "Riot," which is the word employed in the Revised translation, is defined by Johnson to be "wild and loose festivity."

"When his headstrong riot hath no curb,

When rage and hot blood are his counselors,

When means and lavish manners meet together."

"So senseless of expense

That he will know neither how to maintain it

Nor cease his flow of riot."

He spends on self-indulgence what, if saved, would not only increase the comfort of his home, but would do much good besides. The drunkard is prodigal of his time , and thus violates the previous precept. The golden opportunity, which he might employ for informing his mind or instructing his children, he wastes in the public-house. The drunkard is prodigal of the stuff of which his frame is made . He wastes his physical powers, takes away his clearness of head, his steadiness of hand, and his general vigor, induces disease and premature death (again violating the previous precept in throwing away years that in the paths of temperance would have been his). The drunkard is prodigal of his worth to his fellows , as the temperate man is preservative in this respect. When the Indian general saw disaster waiting on his country's arms, because, alas! in an emergency his regiments were found besotted with drink, "Call out Havelock's saints!" he exclaimed; " they are never drunk, and Havelock is always ready." The drunkard is prodigal of his better feelings . He deadens his home feelings. He does not value the society of his wife and children; he does not study their happiness; nay, he can see them want in order that he may be gratified. He deadens his spiritual sensibilities. And to his wife the most dreadful thought may be, not that she is set aside or the children neglected, but that for his idol he is casting off his God.

2. Persuasive to true excitement . "But be filled with the Spirit." The apostle does not forbid all excitement; rather for the excitement which he negatives as false would he substitute a true excitement.

(a) Singing . It is known how to take advantage of harmonious sound in encouraging men to go into battle in "the shrill trump, the spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife." It is also known how to use it as an auxiliary in the service of superstition, revelry, and vice. And God, in his infinite wisdom, has seen fit to make use of the same instrumentality. In the old Jewish temple four thousand Levites, an entire fourth division of them, were employed in connection with the service of praise. God has inspired and enabled men to write psalms and hymns for the sanctuary; and he has also enabled men to compose suitable music for them. The singing of musical words, with or without an instrumental accompaniment, has a wonderful power in stirring emotion, in waking sweet and glad memories, and even in exciting the imagination in a certain vagueness and immensity which belongs to the sounds. As in a sea-shell pressed to the ear we are said to hear the sound of the ocean from which it has come, So in the sweet strains of music may we hear a sounding as from the eternal shores.

"Thou, Lord, art the Father of music:

Sweet sounds are a whisper from thee."

In an elevated mood (as here supposed) we naturally give expression to our feelings in song. "Is any cheerful? let him sing praise."

( α ) Singing together . "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." Men, under the excitement of the Spirit, delight to sing spiritual songs (as distinguished from the songs of the drunkard). Under this come the psalms in their grand historic position. And there also come hymns, that is, songs other than the psalms, which are used in praise. We are to speak one to another by means of these. Pliny records of the early Christians that they were wont on a fixed day to meet before daylight (to avoid persecution), and to recite a hymn among themselves by turns to Christ as to God. Luther greatly advanced the cause of the Reformation by his hymns, which were sung at the firesides of the people. How we can thus breathe the spirit of confidence, of courage, of hope, into one another! Having encouraged ourselves in the Rock of our strength, we turn and thus speak to our fellow-worshippers, one to the rest, or one section to another—

"Ye people, place your confidence

In him continually;

Before him pour ye out your heart:

God is our Refuge high."

( β ) Singing with the heart . "Singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." Singing together can only occupy a small proportion of our time. But in our other engagements we may be so full of trust, so free from care, that we sing with the heart. And the song that we sing all day is set to the Name of Christ, to the work of redemption.

"There are in this low stunning tide

Of human care and crime,

With whom the melodies abide Of the everlasting chime;

Who carry music in their heart

Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,

Plying their daily task with busier feet

Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat?"

(b) Thanksgiving . "Giving thanks always for all things, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." This is another beautiful manifestation of spiritual excitement. In our higher moods we naturally turn to God in joyful gratitude. Thanksgiving (to which the drunkard must be a stranger, for he abuses his mercies), like song, is to run like a golden thread through the whole of our life. In the depths of our heart we can be always thankful, though the language of thankfulness cannot be always on our lips. We have to thank God that a joyful thrill of the Spirit can pass through our being, better than of wine. We have to thank God for innumerable mercies.

"New mercies each returning day

Hover around us while we pray;

New perils past, new sins forgiven,

New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven."

We have to thank God even for our afflictions, which are blessings in disguise; for though, in so far as they are evil, we are to be reconciled to them, yet we have to thank God for that which is good in them, viz. the merciful design, the accompanying comfort, the resulting benefit. And as we receive all only through Christ, so we are to give thanks to the Father in the Name of Christ.

(c) Subjection . "Subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ." It seems strange that this should be mentioned as one of the manifestations of spiritual elevation. We can only think of it in this way. As men under the excitement of wine are apt to be self-assertive, heady, so under the excitement of the Spirit we have such a fund of joy in ourselves that we are content to fall into every position of subjection in which God would place us. The particulars of this subjection follow; it here only concerns us to note the peculiar feeling which is associated with it, viz. the fear of Christ. We know that from all the joy of his first visit as a youth to the temple, the joy of his being there about his Father's business, he could go down and be subject to his parents. And we know that, amid all the rapture of the transfiguration, he could yet think of subjection to the Father's will in his decease. As, then, we reverence Christ and fear to offend him, let us (with all that we experience of the higher excitement) be subject one to another.—R.F.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 5:15-21 (Ephesians 5:15-21)

(2) Two worlds of one race.

"See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.' All these verses must be brought in under the same heading as the verses discussed in our preceding article, viz . —Two worlds of one race . These verses continue to indicate the duties pertaining to the world of Christian men. The duties, which we previously discussed, were separation , reprehension , illumination , and resuscitation ; the duties which we have now to notice are Christian consistency , holy excitement , and social worship .

I. CHRISTIAN CONSISTENCY . "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise." The verses teach that walking strictly in harmony with the Christian creed implies:

1. Wisdom . "Not as fools, but as wise." A conduct inconsistent with the Christian creed we profess is exceedingly foolish.

Hypocrisy is in every way unwise .

2. Diligence . "Redeeming the time"—"Buying up opportunities." How is time to be redeemed? Not by regaining any portion of the past. The past is irrecoverably gone. Not by inoperative regrets concerning the wrong of the past. Not by mere sentimental desires that the future may be better. How then?

" Because the days are evil," says Paul. The times in which Paul wrote were corrupt; our times are corrupt. There are several things that make our times evil.

3. Inquiry . "Understanding what the will of the Lord is." God has a will concerning us, and it is our duty to endeavor to understand it, and for this purpose we must inquire into it.

II. HOLY EXCITEMENT . "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit." This verse suggests several thoughts.

1. Man has an instinctive craving for excitement . The words evidently imply this. Paul assumes that his readers must have excitement, in telling them in what they should and in what they should not find it. Excitement is a necessity of our nature. The soul has a deep hunger for it.

2. Man has recourse to improper expedients for excitement . "Be not drunk with wine." Wine stimulates excitement. It quickens the pulse, it heats the blood, it fires the passions. Hence men like it. They use it, not for the sake of intoxication, but excitement. Wine-drinking is only one of many improper expedients for excitement. Drunkenness is here a type of whatever improperly stimulates the senses and enkindles the lusts.

III. SOCIAL WORSHIP . "Speaking to yourselves," etc. These verses (from the nineteenth to the twenty-first) show what is meant by being "filled with the Spirit."

1. High spiritual intercourse with man . "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." Speaking to men the highest things in the highest forms of language—poetry. High feeling always runs into poetry.

2. Devout fellowship with Christ . "Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." The soul pouring out its devotions in sweet melodies in the Divine ear.

3. Thankful recognition of Divine favors . "Giving thanks always for all things unto God."

4. Godly devotion to the common weal . "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." All this is implied in being "filled with the Spirit?' And is there not sufficient excitement here? To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with the Spirit's ideas; and what exciting ideas are his! With the Spirit's purposes; and what inspiring purposes are his! With the Spirit's love; and what an immensity of stirring impulses is in that love!—D.T.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 5:3-21 (Ephesians 5:3-21)


- The Pulpit Commentary

Ephesians 5:17 (Ephesians 5:17)

Wherefore be ye not unwise, hut understanding what is the will of the Lord. The "wherefore" bears on all the preceding argument: because ye are children of light; because light is so valuable and so indispensable; because your whole circumstances demand so much care and earnestness. "Unwise" is equivalent to senseless; "understanding," to both knowing and laying to heart, as in parable of sower: "When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not," i.e. does not consider or ponder it, "then cometh the wicked one," etc. The will of the Lord is the great rule of the Christian life; to know and in the deeper sense understand this, is to walk wisely and to walk surely.

- The Pulpit Commentary