{9}         Righteousness (Eph 5:1-20)



Let no one say that doctrine does not matter! Good conduct arises out of good doctrine. It is only when we have grasped clearly who we are in Christ that the desire will grow within us to live a life that is worthy of our calling and fitting to our character as God’s new society. We must grasp who we are and experience radical change in order to live as children of light in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Here, Paul moves on from models of Christian behaviour to motivation, adding powerful incentives to righteous living.


Question: What is it like for you to know something for sure?



5:1-7                The imitation of God

5:8-14              The children of light

5:15-20            The life of wisdom



5:1       Imitation of God involves effort. We are to be imitators (Gr. mimetai) of God in every way. WWJD – “What would Jesus do?” is a good reminder to be an imitator.

With the next verse, Paul’s moral instructions involve the 3 Persons of Trinity: to copy God, to learn Christ, and not to grieve the Holy Spirit.

5:2       The reason of imitating God is because of Christ’s sacrificial love. In imitating Christ and walking in love, we, like Christ, become a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ro 12:1).

5:3       The words “fornication” (Gr. porneia) and “impurity” (Gr. akatharsia) together cover every kind of sexual sin, in other words, all sexuality outside the God-ordained marriage. “Covetousness” is prohibited in the 10th commandment. It is related to sexuality as the commandment prohibits coveting a neighbour’s wife, pointing to coveting someone else’s body for selfish gratification. Sexual immorality was rife in Ephesus. The temple of Artemis (Diana in Roman mythology) was the location of countless sexual sins because Artemis was the fertility goddess.

These sins are described as “improper” and this reminds us about Paul’s overall command for Christian behaviour: to live a life “worthy” of the calling and avoid “unworthy” acts.

5:4       “Filthiness” means obscenity; “silly talk” and “levity” are probably an allusion to coarse jesting. All these refer to a dirty mind expressing itself in dirty conversation. Instead, we are commanded to say words of thanksgiving. This is a contrast between “self-centred” and “God-centred” conversations which express a contrast between pagan and Christian attitudes to sex.

Many people criticize Christians as too negative towards sex. While this is partially true, the reason why Christians should dislike and avoid vulgarity is not because we have a warped view of sex, and are either ashamed or afraid of it, but because we have a high and holy view of it as being God’s good gift, which we do not want to see cheapened. All God’s gifts, including sex, are subjects for thanksgiving, not joking.

5:5       Paul points out 4 incentives that motivate us to righteous living: [1] certainty of judgment (v.5-7), [2] fruit of light (v.8-14), [3] nature of wisdom (v.15-17), [4] fullness of the Holy Spirit (v.18-20).

[1]   Certainty of judgment: The certainty is emphasized in “be sure of this”. Immoral people may get away with their immorality on earth but they will not escape detection, conviction on Judgment Day and they will receive an eternal sentence.

Since the definite article is not repeated, the kingdom is said to belong to Him who is both God and Christ. It is a righteous kingdom from which all unrighteous people will be excluded. Who are the unrighteous people? Here, they are specified as the fornicators, the impure, and the covetous. There are also others listed in the Bible such as 1Co 6:9-10. However, if any covetousness will exclude us from heaven, then no one will be saved. Yet, for those who fall into sins through weakness, but afterwards repent in shame and humility and ask for forgiveness, they will be forgiven and judged righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice. The verse points to those who have given themselves up to sin without shame or penitence and commit sin as a way of life.

Greed or covetousness is also described as idolatry (same in Col 3:5); it is worshipping money as an idol.

5:6       “Let no one deceive you” is parallel to “be sure of this” in v.5. Paul urges them to acknowledge the truth of divine judgment. He warns them of the empty words of false teachers who would persuade them that there is no judgment. In the 1st century, there was the early phase of Gnosticism which expanded into maturity in the 2nd century. It teaches that bodily sins could be committed without damage to the soul. Today, there are deceivers in the world, and even in the church. They teach that God is too kind to condemn everybody, and that everybody will get to heaven in the end. This is universalism (universal final salvation) but it is a lie.

The Bible says the opposite. “Because of these things” (such as those in v.5), the wrath of God comes on the disobedient, on those who know God’s laws yet wilfilly disobey it. God’s wrath will come on Judgment Day but comes (present tense) even now, even during the sinner’s lifetime.

5:7       “Do not be partners with them” does not mean not associating with them. Otherwise, we would not be able even to bring them the gospel. The Greek word (summetochoi) means participation. The command is not to participate in their sins. If we do, we run the risk of sharing their doom.

On one hand, Paul talks amply about our inheritance (ch.1) and at the same time warns about the danger of forfeiting our inheritance. Moreover, Paul’s teaching is directed to those who professed to be Christians in Ephesus. How can we reconcile these teachings? There are two schools of thought on the permanence of salvation. [a] Salvation can be lost from persistent and open rebellion against God. [b] Salvation, once received, cannot be lost. In the second case, the persistently immoral people were never really saved and their acts simply reveal their true nature.

5:8       [2]        Fruit of light: The additional reason for not participating in immorality is based on the difference between what they were and what they are. In 4:17-18, Paul described their former understanding as being darkened. Here, the verse does NOT say that they were “in” darkness and now “in” light. They were actually “darkness” and now are “light”. These are not adjectives but nouns. Because they had become “light in the Lord”, they must “walk as children of light” or “like people who belong to the light”. The symbolism contrasts “darkness” representing ignorance, error and evil, versus “light” representing truth and righteousness.

5:9       What is “the fruit of light”? Like the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), it is singular but it consists of all goodness, righteous, and truth. The light metaphor speaks vividly of Christian openness and transparency, or living joyfully in the presence of Christ, with nothing to hide or fear.

5:10     They have to actively find out “what pleases the Lord”, that is, God’s will and God’s commandments. “Find out” (Gr. dokimazo) is to test, to discern and to learn.

5:11     The positive ways of acting out (v.9) and finding out (v.10) are balanced by restraint from fruitless deeds of darkness and also exposing them. Exposure of evil deeds is important in a Christian’s discernment.

5:12     Evil deeds are shameful even for sinful people, so they are done in secret.

5:13     Darkness hides the ugly realities of evil; the light makes them visible, without any possibility of concealment or excuse.

The second half of verse appears to be a re-emphasis of the same point in the first half. NIV: “for it is light that makes everything visible.” But RSV and the Chinese version have a different translation: “for anything that becomes visible is light” and are closer to Paul’s words. Phillips’s translation: “it is possible for light to turn the thing it shines upon into light.” Paul may be referring to the evangelistic power of light and truth. When the ugliness of evil is exposed, people may be convicted of their sin and repent and turn to light or become light.

5:14     The conclusion on the fruit of light is a quotation which may either be a summary of an OT verse like Isa 60:1 or an extract from an Easter or baptismal hymn. Our former state is described in terms of sleep, death, and darkness. Conversion is described as waking out of sleep, rising from the death, and being brought out of darkness into the light of Christ.

5:15     [3]        Nature of wisdom: Paul teaches 2 truths: [a] Christians are wise people (Gr. sophoi), not fools; [b] Christian wisdom is practical wisdom, involving behaviour (“walk”), not just talk.

Christian living requires care. Just like our job, our education, our family, we must take trouble over how we live. It is even more important than other things because it has eternal consequence.

5:16     Wise people make the most of their time. The Greek word for “making the most” (exagorazo) can mean “redeem” or “buy back”. The appeal is to ransom the time from its evil bondage. “Time” (Gr. kairos) is properly translated as “opportunity”. Here is a good analogy of opportunity (or chance): It is like a bald old man with long beard but no hair. When it/he approaches, you can easily grab hold of it/him by his beard. Once it/he passes by, you can no longer grab hold of it/him because it/he has no hair so is impossible to get hold of.

Time is a precious commodity. Everyone has the same amount of time and no amount of wealth can buy even one second of extra time. Therefore, wise people use time to the fullest possible advantage. Another reason for making the most of opportunities is that “the days are evil”. This is certainly true for today’s world when secularism (a religion which believes in no God) tries to dominate the world. Christians are constantly in a war between light and darkness and must use every opportunity to serve God.

5:17     Wise people discern the will of God. Note that Jesus’ prayer is “Thy will be done.” Nothing is more important in life than to discover and do the will of God. Those who do not understand God’s will are described as “foolish”.

It is important, however, to distinguish between God’s “general” will and His “particular” will. God’s general will is the same for all Christians, for example, to make us like Christ. We can find His general will from the Bible. Seeking God’s general will requires faithfully studying the Bible. God’s particular will relates to the particularities of our life and is different for each of us, for example, what career we shall follow.

Seeking God’s particular will requires the input from 3 sources: [a] guidance from God: prayer to seek God’s provision of wisdom, and ask the Holy Spirit to cause in us either a peaceful and settled heart (if it is in God’s will) or a disturbed heart (if it is not in God’s will); [b] effort from oneself: careful analysis and reasoning of possible options by oneself before making a choice; [c] concurrence from others: seek advice from mature and experienced Christians.

God’s particular will does not involve every single action and decision in one’s life, for example, to travel from point A to point B, we can make a decision on which route to follow and on what mode of transportation to use. In most cases, there is no one route or one mode that can be described as “in God’s will.” In these cases, it is not necessary to use the process described above to seek God’s will. However, for important decisions in life, such as your career and your marriage, you must carefully and fervently seek God’s will.

5:18     [4]        Fullness of the Holy Spirit: This paragraph consists of 2 commands (not to get drunk, and to be Spirit-filled), followed by 3 present participals (speaking, singing, thanking) which describe the consequences of being Spirit-filled. Previously, Paul told the Ephesians that they have been “sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13) and that they must not “grieve” the Holy Spirit (4:30). Here, Paul commands them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

There is a superficial similarity in the 2 conditions of getting drunk and filled with the Holy Spirit. Both involve being under an internal influence, the former under the influence of alcohol, the latter under the influence of the Holy Spirit. In both case, the influence is manifested in external behaviours which are totally different.

Getting drunk: In the ancient heathen cult of Dionysus, intoxication was regarded as a means to inspiration. Getting drunk is losing control. Alcohol, in pharmacological definition, is classified as a depressant, not a stimulant. It depresses the highest centres in the brain, including self-control, wisdom, understanding, discrimination, judgment, balance, the power to assess; in other words, everything that makes a man bahave at his very best is limited when drunk. The result of drunkenness is debauchery (absence of virtue, sensual indulgence). People who are drunk give way to wild, dissolute, and uncontrolled actions and behave like animals.

Filled with the Holy Spirit: In contrast to the loss of self-control in drunkenness, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23). Instead of having the brain depressed, the Holy Spirit stimulates the mind, the intellect, the heart, the will, resulting in actions described in v.19-20 below. Instead of behaving like animals, a Spirit-filled person behaves like Christ. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is of course not a matter of our getting more of the Holy Spirit; presumably all of us possess the Spirit who cannot be split into parts. It is a matter of the Spirit possessing more of our lives. Each of us is to aspire to giving the Holy Spirit full control of our lives.

Because of the misunderstandings involving the “filling with the Spirit” in some churches, it is important to understand the meaning of this term from the original Greek. [a] It is in the imperative mood. It is an authoritative command. It is obligatory, not optional. [b] It is in the plural form. It is addressed to the whole Christian community. Everyone is to be Spirit-filled. It is not an elitist privilege but is available for every Christian. [c] It is in the passive voice. NEB: “Let the Holy Spirit fill you.” There is no technique to learn and no formula to recite in order to make the filling happen. What is required from us is to surrender to God and be filled by God. In the parallel passage in Col 3:16, the command is “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” To obey the Word and to surrender to the Spirit are virtually identical. [d] It is in the present tense. In Greek, there are 2 kinds of commands: an aorist tense describing a single action, or a present tense describing continuous action. Jesus’ command at Cana “Fill the jars with water” (Jn 2:7) is in aorist tense because the jars were to be filled only once. Similarly, our conversion is completed once for all (aorist tense in 4:24). In this verse, however, the command is in present tense, implying that we are to go on being filled every day.

5:19     3 consequences of being Spirit-filled:

[a]   Speaking: Psalms (implying some musical accompaniment), hymns and spiritual songs are to be spoken “to one another”. While the three are difficult to distinguish, they all involve singing. Note that this is done by more than one person. It refers to events in Christian public worship. In contrast to v.19b about singing to God, the emphasis here is probably mutual exhortation and a reciprocal invitation to praise God, for example, Psalm 95:1: “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord!”

[b]   Singing: Singing and making melody to the Lord is worship. The two verbs probably refer separately to vocal and instrumental music. “With all your heart” can also be translated “in your heart”. The first translation probably refers to the sincerity of praise and the second one probably refers to the inwardness of praise, possible even in silence.

5:20     [c]        Thanking: Christians are to thank God at all times and for all things. Of course, we must not press these words literally. We cannot thank God for evil things, for example, a wife cannot thank God for her husband’s gambling habit. “Everything” must be qualified by its context, namely “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” Our thanks are for everything which is consistent with the loving God.

Here, the general attitude of the believer is one of thanksgiving, not grumbling or complaining to God, even in the midst of suffering. We can at all times thank God for His loving providence by which He can turn even evil to good purposes (Ro 8:28). Furthermore, a thankful person is naturally a humble person, never an arrogant person. He remembers that all good things are blessings from God so that all his abilities and intelligence are not to be boasted.

Once again, the triune God is evident in this verse. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we give thanks to God our Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some Bible scholars put the next verse (5:21) as part of this passage, meaning that submitting to each other is an additional (the 4th) result of a Spirit-filled life. While this is possibly true, the verse belong more properly to the next passage which discusses relationships.



        All the wholesome results of the fullness of the Holy Spirit concern our relationships. If we are filled with the Spirit, we shall be harmoniously related both to God (worshipping Him with joy and thanksgiving) and to each other (speaking and submitting to one another). In brief, Spirit-filled believers love God and love each other, which is hardly surprising since the first fruit of the Spirit is love.



        The light metaphor speaks vividly of Christian openness and transparency, of living joyfully in the presence of Christ, with nothing to hide or fear.



        Recommit yourself to God as a child of light. Tell Him of your desire to live as such in a dark world and to please Him. Ask Him to reveal to you sin and idolatry that separate you from Him.