In Ephesians 5:6-17, the apostle Paul says this:
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [sins] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul is continuing a long series of exhortations, in which he is teaching the Ephesian Christians how to imitate God and Christ. In the first paragraph, he warns them against deception, against participation in sin, and then commands them to walk as light-bearers, in order to expose sin, and to convert sinners. In the last paragraph, he introduces them to the general principles that are to guide them as they do these things. In other words, he explains what kind of life will allow them to be light-bearers.
In this paragraph, he gives them three main commands that will allow them to avoid sin, to live righteously, and to shine light on sin and sinners:
- Be Prudent (v. 15)
- Be Productive (v. 16)
- Be Perceptive (v. 17)
First, Paul commands the Ephesians to be prudent:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise . . .” (v. 15)
By using the word “then,” Paul connects this command to what he has just said. And what did he just say? That the glory of God and the salvation of sinners was at stake in how the Ephesians lived their lives. He has just told them that they are to be light-bearers, or bearers of righteousness and truth. He’s now going to tell them what they must do to live in that way.
The first thing he tells them is that they must pay attention to their way of living:
“Look carefully then how you walk . . .”
The King James Version puts the first phrase as “walk circumspectly”. This literally means to “look around” as someone walks. But what does Paul mean by “walk”? The Greek word behind “walk” carries the idea of “walking around”, and when Paul uses it in his letters, he means the general lifestyle of a person. Therefore, he’s telling the Ephesians to pay careful attention to the way they live their daily lives.
Then, Paul specifies the way in which they are to do this, which is “not as unwise but as wise”. Not only are they to pay attention to the way they live, but they are to do it wisely. But what does Paul mean by this?
Paul’s understanding of the concept of wisdom was informed by his belief in the Old Testament Scriptures, which taught that true wisdom was the skill of applying truth to everyday life in order to please God. That is what Paul means by wisdom here. The wise person has the ability to apply his knowledge to everyday situations in a way that pleases God. Thus, when Paul tells the Ephesians to pay attention to their walk as wise people, he’s telling them to use the knowledge they have in making decisions about their everyday behavior that will please their Lord.
After this first command, Paul next commands the Ephesians to be productive:
“. . . making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (v. 16)
Obviously, this logically follows from Paul’s first command to pay attention to one’s way of life. He’s explaining how the Ephesians are to pay attention as wise people.
First, he says that they are to do this by redeeming their time, or by “making the best use of the time”. The more literal translation of the NASB is “making the most of YOUR time” (emphasis mine). This shows us that Paul isn’t speaking of time in general, but of the time that is allotted to each individual, and specifically, to every single moment that a person has to act.
And what does Paul say the Ephesians are to do with these opportunities? To “make the best use” of them. Literally, the Greek word translated “make the best use” means “redeem”. This is a reference to buying something out of a marketplace. In other words, Paul is telling the Ephesians to save every opportunity they’re given from waste by using it carefully and wisely.
Second, Paul says that the reason the Ephesians are to do this is “because the days are evil”. What does he mean by this? Does he mean that the days have evil intent, and do evil? Well, obviously not, but that is close to the meaning.
The Greek word translated “evil” here is ponerai, and it is used to describe things that are harmful to other things. Hence, when Paul says that “the days are evil”, he means that they are harmful, and have the potential to do spiritual damage to people. So, the reason the Ephesians are to redeem their time is because every day is intent on making them use their time in a way that is careless and unwise.
But why are the days evil? Because they are full of evil. The very reason that Paul has to command the Ephesians to be careful how they walk, and to walk wisely by redeeming their time is because they are constantly tempted to be careless in their walk, to be unwise, and to waste their time.
There are three enemies that make the days evil — the world, the flesh, and the devil. Paul began talking about the Ephesians’ battle against the world in chapter four, where he commanded them to walk no longer as the Gentiles walk. Then, he moved to their battle against their flesh when he commanded them to stop their sinful behavior, and to practice righteousness instead. Later in this letter, he’s going to say that they are also in a battle against demons, and need to arm themselves with faith, righteousness, and hope in order to fight that battle. In the passage we’re studying, however, Paul is still speaking of the Ephesians’ fight against the world and their flesh, while focusing on the influence that the world has on the days in which they live.
Paul finishes this passage by commanding the Ephesians to be perceptive:
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (v. 17)
By using the word “therefore”, Paul is basing his commands here again on the fact that the days in which the Ephesians live are harmful. In other words, because the very order of events and conditions in the world are such that they tempt the Ephesians to be careless, unwise, and to waste their time, they need to do the following things.
First, Paul commands the Ephesians to avoid foolishness by simply telling them to not be foolish. But what does he mean by “foolish”? In the Bible, the foolish person is not someone who is ignorant of the facts about things, but is someone who refuses to use the knowledge they have to make the right decisions about specific circumstances. In other words, it’s someone who knowingly makes the wrong decision. The Ephesians had the knowledge they needed, but they needed to use that knowledge in the right way.
And how were they do that? Paul tells them:
“. . . understand what the will of the Lord is.”
The word that’s translated “understand” here literally means “put together”, like “putting two and two together”. In other words, Paul’s telling the Ephesians to figure out — by thinking about it — “what the will of the Lord is”. Notice that this is a command, and not an assertion. The Ephesians had to actually do this, not just have it.
But what are they to understand? “What the will of the Lord is.” What does Paul mean by the Lord’s “will”? Well, since Paul is speaking of the Ephesians’ behavior, this has to mean that which pleases the Lord for the Ephesians to do. And who is “the Lord”? It is literally “the Supreme Authority”, or “the Master” — Jesus Christ.
How were the Ephesians to understand what the will of the Lord was? First, as already mentioned, they were to think about it. However, as Paul implies by commanding them not to be foolish, they were to come to this understanding by being wise, or by using the knowledge they already had to come to the right decisions in their everyday life.
And where had they gotten this knowledge? First, as people made in the image of God, they already had some built-in knowledge of Christ’s will in their consciences. However, they had even more knowledge from the teaching they had received from Paul, as well as from the Scriptures they had at that time, and perhaps even from the prophets that existed at that time. Nevertheless, in the immediate context, Paul is focusing on the Lord’s will that he has just revealed to the Ephesians in this letter.
So what are the aspects of Christ’s will that Paul has revealed to the Ephesians thus far in the letter?
- to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (4:1)
- to tolerate one another in love (4:2)
- to maintain their unity (4:3)
- to speak the truth in love (4:15)
- to no longer walk as Gentiles (4:17)
- to stop sinning and to start practicing righteous acts (4:25-32)
- to imitate God and Christ (5:1-2)
- to be pure in desires and speech (5:3-4)
- to be separated from sinful partnerships (5:7)
- to learn the Lord’s will (5:10)
- to expose sin and sinners (5:11-14)
- to walk carefully
- to be wise
- to redeem their time
So, are you paying careful attention to the way you are living your everyday life?
Are you living wisely?
Are you trying to make the best use of every moment you have because you are living in evil days?
Are you trying not to be foolish?
Are you understanding what the will of the Lord is?
If you are living carelessly, then it may be because you are an unwise person. If you are an unwise person, it may be because the Lord Jesus Christ has never given you a heart of wisdom. The first sign of having a heart of wisdom is that you believe that God sent His eternally divine Son to become a man — Jesus — to punish Him because of our crimes against Him on the cross, to raise Him from the dead, and to make Him the King of the universe; that Jesus died because of all of your sins against God, and that God has forgiven you of all them only because Jesus took your punishment on the cross, and you trust in Jesus alone for that forgiveness. If you are trusting in anything or anyone other than the risen Jesus and His death as the grounds of God’s forgiveness of your sins, then you are one of His enemies, and are on your way to be punished by Him for eternity. If so, please change your mind about God, Jesus, His death and resurrection, and yourself, and trust only in Jesus to save you from the wrath of God. If you trust in Him and His death, God will forgive all of your sins, and give you eternal life.
If you are trusting only in Jesus for salvation, then
- Pay careful attention to the way you live
- live as a wise person
- redeem your time from evil
- don’t be foolish
- understand what the Lord’s will is
Most Scripture references are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
One Scripture reference is taken from the:
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
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