A Walk of Deliberation: Ephesians 5:15-20

As we come to the end of our series on walking in the book of Ephesians it is appropriate that Paul would urge believers to walk carefully.[1] The adverb “carefully” has the idea of walking deliberately. I can just imagine a young person carelessly trundling along only to hear his mother bark out familiar commands, “Stand straight!” and “Pick up your feet!” She is rather forcefully telling her son how he is to walk.  She is coaching him to walk deliberately rather than haphazardly. There is nothing wrong with guidance and Paul gives some Spirit inspired guidance regarding a careful walk.

Negatives and Positives

We don’t have to go to the Christian bookstore in order to find a book on how to walk carefully.  Paul describes a deliberate Christian walk.  It is a familiar concept. Instead of put off and put on the Apostle tells us to “not” do this “but” do something else. The pattern “not…but” is obvious in verses 15-18.  A careful walk is not unwise walk but wise.[2] It is not foolish but one that understands the will of the Lord.[3] And it is not drunk but filled with the Spirit.

Thus, in order to walk deliberately we must put off and put on. It’s that last one that causes us to shake our head in wonder. How can I be filled with the Spirit? Is the sovereign Spirit who blows wherever He will at my beck and call? Well, He may not be but He is within you and working in you. Thus, we might say that the believer is to be filled or draw down on the resources the Spirit provides.

The Participles

Paul explains by giving us participles. A participle is the part of speech that further explains or defines the action of a verb.  So, the verb “be filled” with the Spirit is explained by the five participles that follow.  What are they? They are addressing (speaking), singing, making (melody), giving (thanks) and submitting.  If you want to know what it means to be Spirit filled this is a good place to start.

Now, without going into every detail allow me to point out some things along the way. First, the idea of singing and making melody with the heart take up three out of the five participles! The idea of addressing one another through Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs has worship in mind. In the parallel text in Colossians 3:16 Paul uses “teach and admonish” instead of speaking. That is to say when we sing we are teaching and admonishing one another.

What is more, we are to use the inspired Scriptures.  According to Andrew Lincoln, the adjective “spiritual” or “inspired by the Spirit” indicates that these are Biblical songs.[4]  Furthermore, the three nouns seem to be a Hellenized Hebraism.  For example, in Hebrew the tar pits of Genesis 14 are really “pit pits” and in Isaiah God is “holy, holy, holy.” So, in the New Testament writers use synonyms rather than the same word to indicate emphasis. For example, in Acts 2 Jesus Christ is a man attested by “signs wonders and miracles.”  The idea is that the Hebraism has been Hellenized.  Thus, the three nouns, as Lincoln says, are used synonymously and interchangeably in the Psalm book.[5]

But in addition to being melodious we are to be thankful people.  We are to give thanks in the midst of every situation because we meet every situation in Christ. Not every situation is pleasant but every situation is for our good.  And finally, we are to be submissive people.  Paul goes on to describe and define each person’s role in the remainder of chapter five and six.  The idea is that our Christianity dictates our behavior in our different roles. As a husband we are to love our wives, wives are to submit to husbands, children are to submit to dad and mom.  The point is clear, if we are drawing down on the Spirit’s presence in our lives we will be address one another by singing and making melody, giving thanks and living faithfully in our role. 

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.


[1]  Ephesians 5:15.

[2]  Ibid.

[3]  Ephesians 5:17.

[4]  Andrew Lincoln, Ephesians (Waco, TX: Word, 1990), 346.

[5] Ibid., “They are the three most common terms in the LXX for religious songs and occur there interchangeably in the titles of the psalms.”  For instance, in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the title of Psalm 76 indicates that it is a hymn a psalm and a song (Εἰς τὸ τέλος ἐν ὕμνοις, ψαλμὸς τῷ Ἀσάφ· ᾠδὴ πρὸς τὸν Ἀσσύριον).