Ephesians 5:15-21 – A wise and spirit-filled life


Ephesians 5:15 – 21.




There are few, if any, people who would disagree with the statement that the increase in knowledge in this century exceeds all the knowledge of the previous centuries put together. Scientific and technological advances in this century have been astronomical. There are also few, if any, people who would dare to suggest that common-sense wisdom, not to mention moral and spiritual wisdom, have increased the same amount!


There is a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom –

ILLUS.: We have a friend – who you could not possibility know – who is a consultant Psychiatrist and spends her life trying to solve others problems yet she herself has been married and divorced twice with a child from each marriage and has a very strange and confused view of life – academically she is absolutely brilliant yet she lacks wisdom.


The Bible often mentions “fool”, as opposed to wise, however the word “fool” does not mean stupid but rather a fool is someone who lives life with no regard for God.          Psalm 14:1

1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” …(NIV)


This is a spiritual foolishness – it is possible to become more educated and more foolish at the same time. Foolishness comes from trusting in human knowledge to the exclusion of Divine knowledge.


The Bible defines wisdom by linking it to the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (NIV)


The Book of Ecclesiaties is the teacher’s attempt to find meaning and purpose in life and after careful study and experimentation with every aspect of life he concludes that it is all meaningless AND the only meaningful thing is ultimately this:- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (NIV)


In scripture wisdom is not simply clever philosophical debate and opinion – wisdom is linked to conviction, i.e. knowing God, as well as behaviour.



Ephesians 5:15-17

15 Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.(NIV)


When Paul uses the phrase “how you live” he is referring to behaviour / conduct.


In the light of a Christian’s new life in Christ they are to take care as to how they live – we take a great deal of trouble over the things that are important to us. Jobs, homes, hobbies, families, etc. How much more should we be careful about our spiritual well being – NOT that family, home, job, and hobby are unrelated to our spiritual life – we are whole people – BUT the mark of a wise person is someone who takes trouble over their Christian discipleship!


In these verses Paul gives us basically two pointers as to how to life carefully:-


– Careful use of time and opportunity

– Clear understanding of God’s plan and purpose


  1. a) A Careful use of time and opportunity. v15-16.


The KJV translation of v16 was “redeem the time” and the word for redeem does carry the meaning of buying back or in the context buy up might be a better rendering and so the NIV “making the most of …” is a good translation.


In Greek there are two words for time “kronos” – chronological time – and “kairos” – opportunity time. The word in this verse is kairos – opportunity. BUT we must not fall into the trap of thinking that this does not include chronological time.


Time is a gift from God – every minute is a gift from God. There is a great amount of inequality in the world BUT there is one thing that we all have equally and that is time.


When this moment is past it is past and it cannot be recovered – it is gone forever.

We cannot make more time, we can only use the time we have. God knows the beginning and end of our time on earth – we have no control over that BUT we do have a responsibility to maximise the time he has given us.




I have only just a minute,

Only sixty seconds in it,

Forced upon me, can’t refuse it.

Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,

But it’s up to me to use it,

I must suffer if I lose it,

give account if I abuse it.

It is only just a minute,

But eternity is in it.



We need to be aware that Paul is not simply talking about Time Management – In Western society we live by the clock – “Time is money” we are told! Our lives are planned and very busy – sometimes so busy that we have no time for people!


BUT is it not people that the gospel is about – If we are too busy for people then we are too busy!

Are we aware of the people and their needs – so that when opportunity comes to minister to them we are not so task oriented that we miss the opportunity – we miss the moment!


When someone has been bereaved they do not need a 3 point sermon on the theology of death – they need someone to listen to them reminisce about their loved one or to just be there.


If we are going to have opportunity to minister to each other and to shared the gospel with our friends we need to give time – often lots of time. People are not machines that we can turn on and off – If we are not giving time the opportunities are not going to come.


ILLUS.: Two Zulu lady evangelists who worked in a squatter area – most of the time they sat at the water-point and talked to people. The whole community had to come there to get water – what do you think the topic of conversation was – the living water that Jesus gives.


These two ladies saw an opportunity and grasped it with both hands.


Paul reminds his readers that there is another reason why they need to grasp every opportunity – “Because the days are evil” –

It was not easy for the early Christians and not long after this letter was written it became even worse. Christians were burned as torches and thrown to the lions. There was no time to mess around – tomorrow might be too late.


We may not live in such obviously desperate times in England – although some do in other parts of the world – however, that can lull us into a false sense of security. Life is very fragile and we must live every moment so that it count for eternity.


All I am will sing out as a praise song –

every note, every tone is for you;

whether days will be hard or be easy

I will live every moment for you.


A wise Christian values time – “Life is too short for us to do everything we want to do; but it is long enough for us to do everything God wants us to do.”


  1. b) A clear understanding of God’s plans and purposes. v17


The wise are not those who wilfully follow their own desires but rather those who seek to follow God’s will.

Jesus is the perfect example of one who knew and followed the will of His Father.

John 4:34

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (NIV)


In the Garden the night before he was crucified Jesus prayed – Luke 22:42 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (NIV)


Then He taught his disciples to pray “Father … May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


There is nothing that is more important for the Christian than to know and do the will of God. Those who are wise will seek this more than anything else.


NOW — there are some areas where it is quite plain what the will of God is.

I can’t go to God and ask him if I can steal from my employer – or if I can commit adultery – or if I can cheat in an exam — these things are quite clear from the Bible. God has said “Do not steal! Do not commit adultery!”


So in term of what we call the “general” will of God it is quite plain what we can and can’t do.


BUT when it come to the particular will of God I must tell you that I find it one of the most difficult areas to understand. Who should I marry? Should I change jobs? Which Church should I go to? …..


This is a huge subject but let me make a few suggestions that I hope will help.

  • Decisions must be made within the boundaries of God’s general will as revealed in scripture. So who should I marry – clearly not someone who is not a Christian.
  • Every Christian has the Holy Spirit living within them – the Spirit guides us, prompts us, leads us, ….
  • The advice and counsel of mature Christian leaders and friends
  • Common-sense – God has given us brains and we need to use them – I

ILLUS.: Marriage – before Janet and I got married – I was uncertain as to whether or not she was the right girl for me to marry. I sat down and made a list of all the pros and cons – I was studying for the ministry clearly I had to marry someone who was in agreement with the direction of my life – a missionary life!!


There are some things that I really don’t think we need to bother God with – whether we eat ice cream or jelly I don’t think is something that we need to pray earnestly about. I don’t think God really minds which we have. Whether we drive a Ford or a Vauxhall I don’t think is an issue. It could however be a matter of pray and seeking God’s will as to whether or not we have a car at all!!


Knowing God’s specific will for my life is not easy – but as we grow as Christians, as we learn more of God’s word, as we mature and our minds are renewed by the scriptures and the Holy Spirit we begin behave more and more like Jesus.

Romans 12:1-2

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)




Paul now moves from knowing God’s will to being filled with the Spirit. And the two things are , of course, very closely linked.

Ephesians 5:18 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (NIV)


Paul is using drunkenness as an illustration and as with all illustrations this one is also limited. When a person is drunk he is often out of control and will sometimes do things that he latter cannot remember doing.

The Bible always condemns drunkenness – it does not say that you cannot drink alcohol BUT that you must not get drunk.


Paul is not saying that a person filled with the Holy Spirit is out of control on the contrary one of the fruit of the Spirit is indeed self-control.


The point Paul is trying to make is this:- a person who is drunk is under the influence or control of the alcohol. And in a similar way the person who is filled with the Spirit is under the influence or control of the Spirit. And it is here that the comparison ends.


Dr. M. Lloyd-Jones, who was a pastor and a medical doctor, writes under the heading ‘The Stimulus of the Spirit’, “Wine – alcohol – … pharmacologically speaking is not a stimulant – it is a depressant. Take up any book on pharmacology and look-up ‘alcohol’ and you will find, always, that it is classified among depressants. It is not a stimulant. Further it depresses, first and foremost the highest centres of all in the brain. …. They control everything that gives a man self-control, wisdom, understanding, discrimination, judgement, balance, the power to assess everything; in other words everything that makes a man behave at his very best and highest. What the Holy Spirit does, however, is the exact opposite. If it were possible to put the Holy Spirit into a text book of pharmacology, I would put him under the stimulants, for that is where he belongs. He really does stimulate … he stimulate our every faculty … the mind … and the intellect .. the heart .. and the will. [Lloyd-Jones “Life in the Spirit”]


Drunkenness has a dehumanising effect – people will do things when they are drunk that they would never do when they are sober.

The Holy Spirit makes us more human, because he is making us more and more like Jesus.


Before we say anything more about the ‘Filling of the Spirit’ we need to distinguish it from the ‘Baptism of the Spirit’.


We do not have time to deal with it in detail – I believe that every Christian is baptised in the Holy Spirit and that Spirit-baptism takes place at conversion and is not a subsequent experience. [I am not denying that Christians may have subsequent experience of the Spirit BUT I would not call it Spirit-baptism]

On a number of occasions in the Gospels and once in the book of Acts we read that John the Baptist baptised with water but after him one would come [Jesus] who would baptise with the Holy Spirit

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 13 For we were all baptised by [with or in] one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (NIV)


Paul makes it clear in Romans 8:9

9 …….And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. (NIV)


Every Christian has the Holy Spirit in them otherwise they are not Christian – and remember that the Holy Spirit is a person not an it. Thus you can’t get a bit of the HS at conversion and the rest of Him some time later.


However the filling of the Holy Spirit is to do with being under the control and influence of the Spirit. To put it another way – Not that we get more of the HS but that he has more of us – more control – as we grow in Christ and the knowledge of his Word and are sensitive to his prompting in our lives AND OBEY what he teaches us so we are being filled with his Spirit.


There can be and should be time when we are overwhelmed by God’s Spirit – when we feel very close to God – these are very real experience.


[recommend “Baptism and fullness” – John Stott]


Four things to note about this phrase “Be filled with the Spirit”

  • – it is a command this is not an optional extra we can add to our faith if we choose – it is a commanded to be obeyed.
  • – it is for all Christians – It is not for the spiritual elite – [the words are in the 2nd person pl.] you (pl).
  • – it is to be received we can not fill ourselves with the Spirit only God can do that so how then can it be a command if we can’t do it. : there are many things I can’t do but I have to co-operative in order for them to be done to me. Having an operation in hospital.                     We must co-operative with God so that his work in us can be effected.
  • it is ongoing – the tense is present and continuous – it is a day by day ongoing filling –


So we need to look at our lives and ask “How am I doing spiritually?”

Are you growing?          Or are you relying on your past experience?

ILLUS.: The evidence of a good marriage is not the love a husband and wife had in the past – There are thousands of couples who 10 years ago were head-over-heels in love 10 years ago who are now divorced – A good marriage is not based on some future love we may have BUT on present love and devotion to each other.


How is your relationship with Christ now?


The word for “fill” is that same word sailor use to refer to the wind filling the sails. As the wind fills the sails the ship is carried along on the water.


Maybe your life is in the spiritual doldrums because instead of hoisting the sail and allow the Holy Spirit to fill your life you are down in the depths of the ship rowing like crazy and going no where!!


The question is ‘How can I be filled with the Spirit?’

In a parallel passage in Colossians we read this – Colossians 3:16 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (NIV)


This is a parallel passage to Ephesians 5 – and here instead of commanding the Colossians to be filled with the Spirit Paul tell them to Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly – To be filled with the Word [scripture] is to be so saturated by God’s word that we being to think like God – because his words and thoughts have become part of our lives.


Well that doesn’t happen by putting the Bible under your pillow at night – We can easily say “Well God if you want to fill me with your Spirit then here I am!” It takes effort to be a Christian

– it takes time

– discipline

– study of the Bible

– prayer [it is tough I find prayer very difficult because there are always many other things that I should be or would like to be doing]

– fellowship with other believers

– worshipping God together

– being accountable to each other and to God [we are not free to do our own thing – we belong to the body of Christ, the church and we must constantly take into account how our thoughts, actions, way of life impact the rest to the people in the Church – you are not a free agent]


It is these practical things that are evidence of whether or not you are being filled with the Spirit – How is your Christian life from day to day? In the home? In the office? at school/college?


{The sermon outline goes on to deal with v19-21 BUT we will have to come back to that for part 2}


I believe that one of the reasons why Christians feel weak and defeated and feeble is because we are content to live on Spiritual scraps. We have become so used to a secular lifestyle with a thin Christian veneer that we no longer have an appetite for God and for his Word! We want the best of both worlds! BUT you can’t have that!!


ILLUS.: Rwandan Christian man who lost his wife and children in the war “I did not know Jesus was all I needed until Jesus was all I had!”


Being filled with the Spirit is not some highly emotional esoteric experience BUT the unqualified, no-strings-attached commitment to Jesus Christ!

What we need is not more emotional worship – that will be a result of spirit-filled lives – what we need is God’s forgiveness and cleansing and filling….


O Holy Spirit breathe on me

And cleanse away my sin,

Fill me with love within


…Take all my pride from me,

Give me humility


….make me new,

Make Jesus real to me,

Give me his purity…

…Give me your power today,

To live for you always,

O holy Spirit breathe on me.

[Norman Warren]





Ephesians 5:15 – 21




  1. a) Includes a careful use of time & opportunity (v15-16)


  1. b) Includes a clear understanding of God’s plan & purposes (v17)




                  Being filled with the Spirit …

                         is a command

                        ‚ is for all Christians

                        ƒ is to be received

                        „ is ongoing             [v19]


Includes …

       our fellowship

      ‚ our worship

      ƒ our thanksgiving

      „ our submission                       [v20-21]


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