In Ephesians 5:15-21, the apostle Paul says this:

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. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (ESV)

In this passage, Paul is continuing to explain to the Ephesian Christians how they are to be bearers of truth and righteousness in this dark world. In the first two sentences, he commands them to do this by being prudent, productive, and perceptive of the Lord’s will. Then, he adds with the word “and” the last sentence, in which he explains in detail how they are to be prudent, productive, and perceptive of the Lord’s will.

In this last sentence, Paul describes six behaviors that the Ephesians should be practicing:

  1. Self-Control
  2. Spirit-Control
  3. Speaking Chorally
  4. Singing to Christ
  5. Saying thanks for Christ’s sake
  6. Subjection to Christians

Paul begins by commanding the Ephesians to be self-controlled:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery . . .”

Why would Paul have to command the Ephesians to avoid getting drunk with wine? Because, first of all, their background and society promoted drunkenness. The city of Ephesus was known for its paganism, which was the perfect environment to encourage drunkenness. As inhabitants of this city, many, if not most, of the Ephesians had probably indulged in drunkenness before they were saved. Secondly, the main drink of that society was wine, since clean drinking water was hard to come by. Therefore, the Ephesians were forced to drink wine.

Hence, Paul warns them not to get drunk. However, the reason he gives for this is that it is “debauchery”. This means excessive immoral indulgence, or carefree, wild behavior — the exact opposite of the care, wisdom, and understanding that Paul has just commanded them to exercise.

As the only alternative to getting drunk, Paul commands them to be Spirit-controlled, or to “be filled with the Spirit”. What does this mean? Well, since Paul is providing this as the alternative to getting drunk, he’s suggesting that what the Ephesians are to do — rather than being controlled by wine — is to be controlled by God the Holy Spirit.

But the question is — how are they to be controlled by the Spirit? Paul gives the answer in Colossians 3:16:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)

Notice the similarities between the passage we’re studying and this one. In both cases the results of obeying the first command are the same — teaching one another, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and being thankful. Thus, both commands must be saying the same thing in different words.

Therefore, when Paul says to “be filled with the Spirit”, he must mean “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”. But what does that mean, exactly? “The word of Christ” refers to the message from and about Christ. That is, Paul is referring to the entire Word of God, since it is all from and about Christ. When he tells the Colossians to let it “dwell in [them] richly”, he means that they are to let it make its home in them by thinking about it, believing it, and putting it into practice. Since this is what Paul means when he tells the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit, we can understand him to be commanding them to let God’s Word be active within them by thinking about it, believing it, and obeying it. This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

But what does delighting in God’s Word have to do with the Holy Spirit? Well, the Word is also the Holy Spirit’s Word, so when a believer delights in it, he’s delighting in the Holy Spirit, who expresses Himself and works through His Word. Thus, when God’s Word dwells richly in a believer, the Holy Spirit fills, or controls, the believer, and manifests Himself through the believer.

The first behavior that follows from being controlled by the Spirit is speaking chorally:

“. . . addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . .”

Here, Paul says that the first characteristic of a Spirit-controlled Ephesian church is that they talk to one another through the Old Testament songs of praise, through non-biblical songs of praise, and through songs about spiritual things. I believe the order is important. First, Paul says that they are to speak to one another through the Word of God itself — the psalms of the Old Testament. These are songs of praise that were spoken by God Himself through His prophets. Secondly, Paul goes to songs of praise again, but which aren’t the Word of God. Here, he gives approval to the creation of hymns by the church that are based on God’s Word. Finally, he speaks of songs about spiritual things, which aren’t necessarily songs of praise to God, but allow the Ephesians to teach one another the truths of God’s Word through song.

The second behavior that will characterize the Spirit-filled Ephesians is singing to Christ:

“. . . singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart . . .”

What are the Ephesians to sing to the Lord, or Supreme Authority? Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. First, they are to sing them to Him. Second, they are to “make melody” to Him. The Greek of this phrase literally means to “pluck a string”, and refers to playing a stringed instrument. However, the phrase can be used figuratively to simply mean to sing beautifully, or to make melodious music. Finally, Paul tells the Ephesians to sing and make music to the Lord “with your heart”. That is, this isn’t to just be lip-service or unintelligent, but to be intelligent, understanding, and willing praise to the Lord. When Paul uses the word “heart”, he refers to the whole spiritual part of the person, including the mind, emotions, and will.

The third behavior that Paul says will characterize the Spirit-filled Ephesians is saying thanks for Christ’s sake:

“. . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

Sometimes we don’t think about the words we use, so let’s first define what Paul means by “giving thanks”. It means to express appreciation or gratitude for a benefit given to oneself. In this case, Paul says that the Ephesians should give thanks “always and for everything to God the Father”. In other words, the Ephesians are to thank their heavenly Father in every circumstance, and for everything that He puts in their life.

But why are they to always thank God for everything? Because they do so “in the name of [their] Lord Jesus Christ”. What does this mean? It’s like when we use the phrase “in the name of” when commanding someone to do something when we mean “I command you by the authority of” whatever or whoever we’re appealing to. The Ephesians are to thank God “by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ”. To put it another way, they are to recognize that the only reason they can even speak to God as Father, or truly be thankful to Him for anything, is that Jesus Christ is their Lord, or Master. They are to do it for His sake.

Finally, Paul concludes this passage by saying that the last characteristic of a Spirit-filled Ephesian church is submission to Christians:

“. . . submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

The Greek word translated “submitting” could also be translated “being subordinate”, and refers to someone placing oneself under the authority of another. Although Paul is going to go on to explain the outworking of this submission, he lays down a general principle here that Christians are to recognize that their brethren have the authority of Christ behind them when they speak in conformity to the Word of God. That’s why Paul tells the Ephesians that they are to do this “out of reverence for Christ”. It’s not because they revere, or worshipfully respect, their brethren, but because they worshipfully respect Christ. And because they revere Christ, they submit themselves to one another when they speak His Word.

So, are you exercising self-control?

Are you letting the Word of the Spirit dwell richly within you?

Are you speaking to your brethren in Christ in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?

Are you singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord?

Are you constantly giving thanks for everything to God the Father for Christ’s sake?

Are you submitting to your brethren out of reverence for Christ?

If you aren’t doing one of these things, then are you sure that the Holy Spirit lives inside of you? Do you know how to receive the Holy Spirit, and eternal life? You must change your mind and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, His death for our sins, and His resurrection as the only grounds of God’s forgiveness of your sins. You must believe the good news that God sent His eternally divine Son into the world to become a human being, Jesus, to punish Him while on the cross because of our failures to love and obey Him, and to raise Him from the dead as the King of the universe. God is now commanding all of His enemies to change their minds and to trust in the risen Jesus and His death for our sins as the only way to have His forgiveness and mercy, since He is sending Him to judge people like you according to all that you will have done, and to punish them for eternity in the lake of fire and outer darkness, unless they repent and believe. He promises to forgive all of your sins if you will trust in Jesus. Make sure that you’ve done so.

All Scripture quotations taken from:

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.