Devotional # 109. Ephesians 5:17-21

Devotional # 109. 11/3/14. Ephesians 5:17-21.

Intro. Last week we talked about sin being exposed by “light” and “walking circumspectly”. As we’ve seen in the last few chapters of Ephesians the theme of unity of the Church is a bridge between personal salvation and helping unbelievers. This week we’ll see 5 principles for what God’s will is. Also note in the last verse we see the set up for next week’s verses with the context of submission. If we properly understand what “submitting to one another in the fear of God” means then our relationships will thrive.

v. 17. Last week in verse 15, Christians were commended to walk “not as fools but as wise” because the days are evil. So Paul builds off of that saying ‘with that in mind’ (“therefore”) “do not be unwise” instead “understand what the will of the Lord is.” There have been hundreds of books and sermons on what the will of God is. Here we have a short list of general things (applicable to every Christian) regarding what God’s will is. Just so we’re clear I will list them:

  1. To be being filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 18)
  2. Exhort each other with spiritual songs, which leads to… (v. 19)
  3. Worshiping the Lord (v. 19)
  4. Being thankful for everything (v. 20)
  5. Submitting to each other in the “fear of God (v. 21)

Does it surprise you that God’s will for your life isn’t to make you happy? It isn’t to make you rich. It isn’t to give you a new car. It isn’t to give you a promotion. If we listen to a lot of televangelists and best-selling authors we would think those things to be true. Don’t get me wrong God wants to bless you but you have to do things His way. Let’s explore why the focus is on God and other people rather than ourselves.

v. 18. The focus of this verse isn’t on not being drunk but is on allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us. That being said, without understanding the command to not be drunk we can’t make the contrast to the Holy Spirit. It is very plain here (and many other places in the Bible) that it is never acceptable for a believer to get drunk on any form of alcohol. I address this because it is a pervasive question in the Christian community. For some reason we want to know how close we can get to the fire without getting burned. The best practice to not getting drunk is to not even drink a drop. However, according to Romans 14 we have freedom in this. As always God is concerned with our heart concerning the situation: do we allow alcohol to run our decisions and do we drink in order to get drunk? Are we discerning? Knowing our parents were alcoholics do we abstain? Prior to becoming a Christian did we act like complete idiots after a shot glass of wine?

But as I said at the beginning Paul’s focus here is on being filled by the Holy Spirit. Interestingly the terminology is actually “be being filled” with the Spirit. What does that mean? It means that a Christian is never permanently filled with the Holy Spirit but instead the Holy Spirit pours Himself into us so that we may pour Him out on others. But then we’re not left empty because we are constantly re-filled. “Be being filled.” Let’s see how part of God’s will is for us to be blessed by “be being filled” with the Spirit, which ends up edifying others and drives unity in the Church.

In a sermon on Romans 15 I gave a couple weeks ago (listen at: I explained Romans 15:13 which says, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The context of Romans 15 is the Christian’s hope of unity with other believers.  The word for “hope” here in Ephesians 5 is pleroo [PLAY-RAW-OH] which means to be fully supplied, filled up, spilling over (Source 1). It’s the same word in Romans and also in Philippians 1:11 (which says, “being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ…”). So if my theology is correct using these 3 verses I think its safe to say “Even though we have freedom in Jesus, we’re never supposed to be filled with alcohol so as to be drunk but instead we’ll be filled with fruits of righteousness from the Holy Spirit, two of these fruits are joy and peace!”

Doesn’t it make sense that instead of being selfish in getting drunk (either trying to numb our pain or living for partying) God would rather we be filled with His Spirit, not because He wants us to be in pain or because He doesn’t want us to have fun, but because we will truly be fulfilled when we allow ourselves to be used for His will? We’ll never find comfort or contentment at the bottom of a bottle but we will have our pain healed and the biggest adventure when we take God at His word that He has plans for us that would blow our minds (Jeremiah 29:11). As I’ve said many times before we find our balance, the cure to depression and anxiety, and contentment in serving others for the kingdom and glorification of Jesus.

v. 19. Principles 2 & 3 from God’s will are found in this verse: Exhort each other with spiritual songs & Worshiping the Lord.

Doesn’t it make sense that Paul would follow up be being “filled with the Spirit” in order to exhort others by instructing us to “speak psalms” and sing “hymns and spiritual songs” to “one another”? I could spend the rest of this Devotional talking about worship music* but again, what is God’s heart in this? Firstly, we’re commanded to “speak psalms” to “one another” because it is the word of God. And God’s word never returns empty and always accomplishes it’s mission (Isaiah 55:11). God’s word is alive and active and cuts through the crap, judging the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). I find it interesting that Stott mentions Psalm 95 as an example of worship not directed towards God “but mutual exhortation” (Source 2, p. 206). The reason I think this is interesting is because I have been studying Psalm 95 this last week as I prepared a sermon on Hebrews 3 (quoting from the Psalm) which has a theme of Jesus’ faithfulness to His people. I’ve included some of my notes on Hebrews 3 at the end of this Devotional if you’re interested.

Second, we’re told to sing “hymns and spiritual songs” to each other because the Lord’s truth is found in correct worship music. Remember how last week we said it was possible that verse 14 was a ‘worship chorus’ from the early church? It would make sense having just quoted a common song sung in church that Paul would discuss worship here. I’ve noticed something at our Wednesday night Bible studies about one of the people who sometimes leads music at our church. He is a very talented musician (able to play many instruments) but every song he’s played in the last month has been literally verbatim verses from the Bible. He can play all the popular Christian music (and sometimes does) but there is something truly amazing to hear a person be used by God to write chords and music for the most sacred words in the world. It’s not about him but it’s all about God. Do you ever get an earworm? There’s nothing better than having Scriptural songs stuck in your head!


*Worship Music: I’m not going to get into what kind of worship music I like or listen to because it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a Christian meditates on what they are singing and why they are singing it. Here in verse 19 we see that it encourages other believers but worship music has always been about WORSHIPPING the Lord! It doesn’t matter the style as long as the lyrics and heart behind the music truly seek to glorify God.

v. 20. The fourth thing given for the will of God is Being thankful for everything. I hope you noticed that it says to be thankful “for all things”, not just the good stuff. The United States is approaching the holiday called Thanksgiving where we remember how the native Americans were gracious in feeding the early Pilgrim settlers. There was much to be thankful for since the settlers would have died without the Native Americans help. I think this especially illustrates the point that a people united can make a difference when helping others. This in turn brings about a thankfulness not just for the people that helped but really to the Lord who provided the resources in the first place. As Christians we are blessed, as David says in Psalm 37:25, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” I also think of Philippians 4:6 which says, “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (ASV). That’s something we forget sometimes. To be thankful has an element of joy!

v. 21. Interestingly the last principle of the will of God given here, which is Submitting to each other in the “fear of God”, is actually the beginning of one of the most critical passages on understanding marriage in the entire Bible! But before we can properly understand marriage we have to understand how all believers are to “submit” to each other. “Submit” has become such a mis-used word in English. In the Greek the word means “to subject one’s self, obey” and had military and non-military meanings. In non-military use it “was ‘a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden’” (Source 3). Matthew Henry brings this into context when he says, “There is a mutual submission that Christians owe one to another… we must be of a yielding and of a submissive spirit, and ready to all the duties of the respective places and stations that God has allotted to us in the world” (Source 4).

What about “the fear of God”? In explaining what “the fear of God” means, Henry says, we should submit “for His sake, and out of conscience towards Him” and only that will “give proof that we truly fear Him. Where there is this mutual condescension and submission, the duties of all relations will be the better performed” (Source 4). In English when we hear the word “fear” we automatically think of cowardice (or guilty fear) such as Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8-13) but the fear of God is something unique. The fear of God is: the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7), to hate evil (Prov. 8:13), and to love (Ps 118:4). In his article “Can We Overcome Fear”, Ross Rhoads states “[t]o fear God is to revere Him, to hold Him in awe, and not to offend Him or sin against Him” (Source 5). So although, like Job, we can be terrified of the power of God (Job 23:13-16) He has not given us a spirit of fear, but power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7).

Conclusion. This is by no means an extensive study on  God’s will for us, it’s simply reading the Word God has given us. To fully begin to understand God’s will is to read and re-read the Bible. The only thing I know completely is that I’ll never know God’s will completely. And that’s best! But He has given me principles to understand His will and He always guides, one step at a time. He makes His will for your life known to you very clearly.


Source 1:

Source 2: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 1979.

Source 3:

Source 4: Matthew Henry,

Source 5:



Some Hebrews 3 notes:

Hebrews 3 Intro. The context of this chapter is faithfulness. Faithfulness that Jesus modeled for us: through the authors points about Moses being faithful in the Lord’s house but Jesus being greater (Heb. 3:2-6), the quote from Psalm 95:7–11 (3:7-11, 15), unbelief being guarded against (3:12), and how rebellion was actually considered to be unfaithfulness (3:16-19).

Hebrews 3:7-11. This is from Psalm 95:7–11. This psalm is a call to worship and obedience. The beginning of the song reminds Israel to be joyful towards God, to praise Him with psalms, to worship Him with thanksgiving. It reminds His people that He is in control of everything, mentioning the “deep places of the earth“, the “height of the hills,” the sea and the dry land. This is the perfect foundation to move into the Lords salvation. Who other than the One who is our “Maker” could provide perfect salvation? And beyond that he is loving! He says He is “our God” and “we are the people of His pasture” and “the sheep of His hand.” He is our Shepherd, He feeds us the best spiritual food from His pasture, He has His hand on us: guiding, correcting, but always loving. It’s interesting that the author of Hebrews wouldn’t use that portion of verse 7 instead he only uses the last sentence. But the last sentence says “today” it is calming urgency. A paradox. The need to take advantage of the time at hand before it’s too late and yet it is available, all that is required is faith. Not a faith that we muster up from ourselves; the author of Hebrew’s entire point here is that Jesus is the only One who remains faithful.

3:7. As the Holy Spirit says. We need the constant reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who is written in the Bible. How interesting to be the author of Hebrews, having the Holy Spirit speak through them and knowing that it was the same Holy Spirit who spoke in Psalm 95 and the rest of the Bible! Of course I must mention, because there are religions who say that the Holy Spirit is not part of the Trinity, how is it that the Holy Spirit could speak here if he was not a Person?

3:8. Rebellion. This word stands out as the antithesis to faith. The entire point of this chapter is how we are to have faith as Jesus had faith. But the rebellious children of Israel didn’t trust that God would lead them safely into the Promised Land.


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