Clean Christians (5:1-7)
The city of Ephesus swarmed with iniquity of the vilest kind. It was therefore of great importance that the early Christians should be warned of the danger of following the ways of those still in their sins. And it is just as necessary today. The human heart is unchanged and with all our veneer of civilization, unmentionable depravity is seen throughout our land. The wickedness of the world is enough to cause every Christian heart to shudder and realize the importance of living very close to the Lord Jesus Christ that we may be kept from these evil things.
Notice that the basis of the apostle’s call to clean living is found in the closing words of Ephesians 4: “as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” God thought enough of us to send His only begotten Son into the world to reconcile us to Himself. He took our place and bore our shame. He endured the judgment due to our sins—because of this, let us walk now in such a way as to express the gratitude of our hearts for this great salvation. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.”
The word rendered, “followers,” really means “imitators.” “Be ye therefore imitators of God.” In what sense are we to imitate God? One thinks of a passage in the Old Testament where God commanded His people, “that they put out of the camp [of Israel] every leper”— that is, everyone who had any kind of an infectious disease. This was done not only for the safety of those who were not yet infected, but also to preserve the holiness commanded by the law: “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” And as in the legal dispensation all physical uncleanness was considered a curse, making the unclean person unfit for the holy presence of God, so today all sin of the flesh and spirit must be eliminated if we would walk in fellowship with the holy One. We are called to imitate Him in holiness of life, imitate Him in purity of thought, and imitate Him in cleanness of speech as His dear children in whom He takes pleasure.
You parents know how there are times when your own children, much as you love them, cause you sorrow and grief if they walk in disobedience and bring dishonor to the family name. So it is with God’s children. The least sin indulged in by His children grieves the Holy Spirit. If we would be His dear children, in the sense of children in whom He can delight, we must be imitators of God and “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” The reference in this verse is to the burnt offering described in Leviticus 1. The offerer came to God with a sacrifice, not merely to atone for sin he had committed, but because his heart was filled with thanksgiving and he wanted to present an expression of his loving adoration. And so there is one aspect of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross that rises far above the mere meeting of our need; it has in view the glorifying of God in this world where He has been so terribly dishonored.
The Lord Jesus said to His disciples on the last night in which He was betrayed as they sat with Him at the table, “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). And He went out to die. Why did He endure that death on the cross? His first object was the glory of the Father. God had been terribly dishonored by the first man and all that had come after him, but here at last was a man who walked in this world in absolute holiness. He said, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30), and to do the will of God He went to that cross. He went there to settle the sin question for us, but above everything else it was to show that at least one Man had been found to whom the glory of God meant more than anything else. The will of God meant more to Christ than any personal desires that He Himself might have had. And so in Gethsemane’s garden we hear Him saying, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” This is the great burnt offering. He offered Himself without spot to God a sacrifice of “sweetsmelling savour.” But we are not left out. He offered Himself for us. And since we have thus been redeemed, we ought to live holy and godly lives.
“But fornication, and all uncleanness [impurity], or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints” (Ephesians 5:3). The sensitive soul is shocked by these terms describing the vilest corruption of which the human heart is capable. They are given that we may realize that all these sins must be judged if we would now walk with Him who has redeemed us to God. The word rendered “covetousness” does not refer here to greed for money, but sensual greed. It is a disgusting greed for sensual gratification, the vilest thing of which the human heart is capable. Is it possible that saints of God need to be warned against these things? Yes, because in every believer there is the same corrupt nature that there is in the man or woman of the world. It is true that the saint has received a divine nature and the Holy Spirit of God has come to dwell in him, but nevertheless, he must always watch against the least stirring of that old nature lest he fall into sin.
Sexual immorality is in the very air around us. Modern literature is full of it, and the worst of it is that people glory in their vileness. But some say, “Well, our modern writers are very frank; they show up sin as it really is.” Yes, they are disgustingly frank in the way they speak of it, and yet they seem to throw a halo around it as though these unclean things are so natural to human beings and no one need be ashamed of them. And the world is fast getting to the place our Lord Jesus Christ predicted it would be just before His second coming. He said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man” (Luke 17:26). The days of Noah were days of great corruption and violence, and we are living in very similar times. All of our boasted civilization has not changed the tendency of the human heart one iota, and the child of God is to guard against every evil tendency. The first approach to sin is always in the mind, and so God warns against indulging in impure thoughts. We are to guard against lust of every description. Can you think of any greed more dreadful or disgusting than that which would lead one to plot the ruin of an innocent young person’s life? It breaks the hearts of parents who have tried to raise their precious children in the right way, when someone entices them away from the path of goodness and purity. Can you think of anything more dreadful than an attempt to break up a happy home by coming between husband and wife, turning one or the other aside from the path of faithfulness? And yet these things abound everywhere. This is the greed about which the apostle warns us. The pathetic fact is that people look with such indifference at these things.
After warning against immorality, the apostle continued, “Let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.” It is even defiling to talk about it, even to pass on the news that other people have fallen into those sins. If as servants of God we have to deal with such things, we find it necessary to get into the presence of God in prayer, for they leave their effect on our hearts and minds.
Notice what we read in verse 4, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” Every word in this verse needs careful consideration. The apostle is not warning us against bright, happy conversation that leads people sometimes to exchange agreeable thoughts and lively clean humor. He is not calling us to be long-faced, unhappy people who do not dare to tell anything that provokes an innocent laugh. In fact, I am rather afraid of people who are so holy that they cannot laugh. A good, hearty laugh is a healthy thing. God meant man to laugh. That is the one thing that distinguishes us from all the other creatures. God rejoices over His people. The apostle is thinking here about that kind of humor which is more subtle and dangerous. Every Christian needs to be on guard against it.
“Neither filthiness,” that is, indecency—do not talk of indecent things. “Nor foolish talking,” which really means crass joking, talking like a fool about unclean things. You know people who think it witty and smart to tell vulgar jokes and use words with double meanings, words that cause an innocent person to blush or enter the mind as a stumblingblock. Foolish talking literally means, “a fool’s talk,” and the man who talks this way demonstrates that he is a fool. The word jesting is really ribaldry, and is another word that implies in a deeper sense joking about things that should never be even talked about. Christians should be clean like their blessed Lord—clean in thought, in word, and in deed.
In place of these things, what should occupy the Christian tongue? “Rather giving of thanks.” There is a beautiful play on words in the Greek language that does not come out in the English. The word translated “jest” and the term “giving of thanks” begin exactly the same. The Greek for the one is eutrapalia, the Greek for the other is eucharistia. The apostle was balancing the one word against the other. Not eutrapalia but eucharistia; that is, not ribaldry but thanksgiving, not vile talk but praising the Lord, not filthy conversation but that which brings glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
On one occasion I was attending a conference of Christians and a number of us were guests at the home of a very devoted believer. As we gathered between meetings one day in the beautiful living room, a lady suddenly said, “Let’s go out and see if our hostess would like some help getting the dinner ready.” After the women left the room, about fifteen men remained together. A man who had just come in remarked, “Since the ladies have left, there is a story I heard today that I would like to tell you.” Before any one else had a chance to speak, a friend of mine said, “Just a minute, brother; there are no ladies here, but the Holy Spirit is here and He is more sensitive than the most fastidious lady. Is your story fit for Him?” The man was big enough to say, “Thank you, Mr. B—, I accept the reproof. I will never tell such a story again.” Remember, the Holy Spirit of God is grieved if believers stoop to any of the things mentioned in this verse.
Next, the apostle warned that if any reject this instruction and live in uncleanness, they simply give evidence that they are not Christians at all. They are children of the devil, merely wearing the uniform of the Christian. “This ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (5). Why does he couple idolaters with these other people? Because this kind of person worships only himself. What does he care if he breaks other people’s hearts? What does he care if he wrecks young lives or breaks up homes? He must satisfy his own base cravings. He worships one god; that god is himself. It is absurd for a man like that to profess to be a Christian.
Those of us who are ministers of Christ have heard the stories of hundreds of broken-hearted young women who have come to us. They have told us of their betrayal, of the breaking down little by little of their higher ideals and the ruin that has come. I feel the greatest punishment that their betrayers could bear would be to have to listen forever to these sad stories and know that they were responsible for them. I have had fathers and mothers come and sit weeping as they have talked of a child who was once the joy of their home, the love of their hearts, and tell how that child had been lured away into sin. Their hearts were broken and they could no longer find the joy in their child they once did. I have said, “If these betrayers of the innocent would only have to sit and listen to stories of this kind year after year, it would be a fitting punishment.” And some of these betrayers profess to be Christians! Sometimes they are in the church. More shame to them, coming under the cover of the church and pretending to be what they are not while continuing in their depraved, sinful way! Christians ought to be clean and pure because they are children of the holy One, the holy God.
“Be not ye therefore partakers with them” (7). While we may pray for them, there is to be no fellowship with them, no condoning of their sinful deeds. They should be made to feel that they are unclean lepers until their sins are confessed and judged, and they have given evidence of being delivered from them. As Christians we are to walk in love, that love which would never cause us to harm anyone else, but always to seek the good of others with Christ as our example. “As Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”
You may say, “But what if some have fallen into such sins; is there no hope?” No hope until the sin is judged; no hope until it is confessed. There is no hope until with sincere desire to be completely delivered from it they turn to Him who is the Holy and the True, and cast themselves in repentance and faith on His atoning work. Then, trusting Christ, they will find that He gives them a new heart and a new life, and makes them lovers of purity and goodness.
The Fruit of the Light (5:8-14)
This section immediately follows the exhortation to personal purity. The clear light of God’s holiness is to be our standard. “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (8). Notice that he does not say, “Ye were sometimes in the dark,” but, “Ye were darkness.” Darkness is ignorance of God, and we were once, in our unconverted days, in ignorance of God and therefore said to be “darkness.” We did not have the Light of life. Every natural man is in that condition. Zophar asked Job the question, “Canst thou by searching find out God?” (Job 11:7) And the answer is in the negative, for all philosophizing or reasoning about divine things ends in confusion because men in their natural state are darkness.
“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him” (1 Corinthians 2:14). They are spiritually discerned. We were once in that condition, and when in that darkened state, we walked in darkness, and practiced things of which we are now ashamed. But having become children of the light, being born of God and made light in the Lord, we are to walk as children of the light.
In the first chapter of John we read of our Lord: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” Did you ever stop to meditate on those words? Divine life was fully revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ, for He was “that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us” (1 John 1:2). John said, “The life was the light of men,” or, as he puts it in another place, “That was the true Light which coming into the world casts light on every man” (John 1:9, literal translation). Even if He uttered not a word, His pure and holy life, always in obedience to the Father, was in itself the condemnation of all sinful men. “The life was the light.” You and I are children of the light, and we possess that same life which our Lord Jesus Christ is. He is the eternal life and He has communicated eternal life to us. That life is now to be shown as light.
A lady said to me some time ago, mentioning a certain servant of Christ, “Did you ever know Mr. so and so?” “Oh, yes,” I said, “I knew him well.” “Well,” she said, “you know, we had him in our home for a month and his very presence there seemed to change everything for us. Why, there was such godliness about him. He was reverent but not sullen. He showed holiness without gloominess. Our children simply loved him, and yet there was such intense godliness that soon the little things that they used to do and say carelessly, dropped away. They did not like to say in his presence what they would when he was not there; when he was looking they did not like to do those things that ordinarily they would do with utter indifference. The effect of his presence in our home was simply wonderful and yet he never reproved anybody by word of mouth for anything they did or said, but he displayed the life, and the life was the light.” We have known the other kind of people also.
I have had the privilege of having in our home all sorts of Christians. Some of them were loved by our children and were always welcomed because of their Christlikeness and devotedness. Others have caused the children to gnash their teeth when they saw them coming up the walk. I can recall one good man who seemed to think it was his business to run our house when he was there. If a child was a little slow to obey or a bit flippant, as children sometimes are, instead of leaving the discipline to his parents, he would exclaim, “That child ought to be spanked!” You can imagine the effect on the children. You can imagine how they loved to hear a man like that preach, how they would want to see him as a visitor in our home! It is not the person who goes around constantly finding fault with other people who accomplishes the best results. He only stirs up the flesh and arouses the hatred of the natural heart to things that are pure and good. But the man who lives Christ, the woman who exhibits life eternal in the home, among friends, in the church, these are the people whose testimonies really count for God. “The life is the light.”
You remember how the apostle Peter emphasized the purity of life when he addressed wives who have unconverted husbands. He said to them in 1 Peter 3:1-4:
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
I wonder if women these days have ever noticed this passage. Peter was speaking of a woman who had been brought to Christ, and her husband was still in paganism or Judaism, as the case may be, and she was deeply concerned over his conversion. What was to be her attitude? Constantly nagging and talking and reproving? Oh no. Her behavior is to be so sweet and Christlike and gracious that as he looks at her he will say, “Well, my wife has something now she did not have before. She used to be so ready to speak up and talk back, and now she is so sweet and gracious. I wonder what it is that she now possesses that is so contrary to what characterized her by nature.”
“If any obey not the word, they may also without the word be won.” In the first clause the word is the Word of God that is meant. In the second instance it means verbal nagging. The verse might be paraphrased thus: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that if any obey not the Word of God they also may without nagging be won by the good behavior of the wives.” And the same principle applies to every one of us. It is not merely something for women to consider. We men are also called on to live the truth we profess, not by constantly finding fault with people, not by criticizing and trying to set everybody and everything right by the words of our mouths, but by manifesting the life of Christ, the purity of Christ, the love of Christ in our lives. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “walk as children of light.”
“For the fruit of the light” (in the King James version it is, “The fruit of the Spirit,” but several other translations read “light”) “is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Here then are the graces that should characterize those who are children of light. It is not enough to profess to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, to submit to Christian baptism, to take communion at the Lord’s table, to be members of some Christian assembly or congregation, but we are required to show the fruit of the light in our lives. Where there is life there is fruit. Where there is only a dead profession you will not find fruit, but where people are truly born of God there will be fruit. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right” (Proverbs 20:11). Children who have made a profession for Christ are responsible to produce the fruit of the light, and if they act in a willful or wayward manner they should immediately go to the Lord and confess it. Their lives should be different from the lives of other children who have not yet accepted Christ. Whether young or old we are to manifest the fruit of the light.
What is this fruit of the light? “For the fruit of the [light] is in all goodness” The word literally means “benevolence, kindly consideration for other people.” If you are really born of God, you possess a new and divine nature, you will follow the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of Him we read, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). “He laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). “We ought.” That is a word that speaks of duty. ‘To lay down our lives for the brethren”—that is the opposite of selfishness. The world says, “Number one first,” but we are called by God to be considerate of others first. Someone has well said that heavenly grammar is different from worldly grammar. In ordinary linguistic form the three persons are, first person, /; second person, you; third person, he or she. But in Christianity it is: first person, he or she; second person, you; and third person, I. In Christianity I come in last; I am not to put myself first. When I am thinking of comforts, I am to think of others first. But how different it is with many of us. We are content if we do a little from time to time to alleviate the suffering of others, whereas we are called to live for Christ daily and to manifest the goodness of the light continually.
And then in the second place, “The fruit of the [light] is in all… righteousness.” Righteousness is simply doing right. What an amazing exemplification of the unrighteousness of the human heart we have seen within the last few years! Trusted officials in banks, big businessmen who were respected and thought to be absolutely reliable, have in many instances proven to be unrighteous men handling other people’s money dishonestly, unfaithful to their trust. What a lot of suicides have followed our bank failures. How fast our penitentiaries are filling up with men who a short while ago were considered dependable. Yet our modern theologians are still dreaming that human nature is not corrupt, and that “every fall is a fall upward.”
A friend of mine riding on the streetcar handed the conductor a gospel tract. When the conductor’s busy time was over, he walked down the aisle of the car to my friend and said, “You handed me this?”
“Why did you give it to me? I have no interest in these things.”
“But that is a gospel message.”
“I don’t need the gospel. It is for sinners, but I don’t believe in sin, and I don’t believe that man is a fallen creature.”
“That is peculiar,” my friend said. “Why have you that machine at the door of the car?”
“Oh, that is to count the money.”
“But why do they need it for men like you in whom there is no sin?”
Theologians can talk about an improved race and a sinless race and deny the fall of man, but businessmen know differently. The rule today is, “Do not trust anyone until he proves that he is not a cheat.” Christian, be careful about attempting to witness for Christ by word of mouth if you are not displaying the fruit of the light in your life. Be sure that behind your testimony there is a righteous life.
Finally, “The fruit of the [light] is in all.. .truth.” Righteousness has to do with your actions towards others. Truth has to do with your own inward sincerity. “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6). Years ago when I was a young Salvation Army officer, on one occasion our colonel came to address us. Quite a group had come in from all over the state for an officers’ council. I have never forgotten through all these years the faithful words of the colonel. He said, “Now remember, friends, people will forgive you if you are not educated; they will forgive you if your culture is not up to the highest standards, if you are not eloquent, if you cannot sing beautifully. But they will never forgive you if they find out that you are not sincere, that you are pretending to be what you are not.” When Christ dwells in us, we will be real, we will be genuine in our dealings with God and with men.
“Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.” In other words, ‘Testing what is acceptable unto the Lord.” We should not be so ready to compromise and say, “I think this is all right; I do not see any harm in that,” and run off to do as we will. Our first thought should be, “I am a Christian and the Holy Spirit of God is living in me. Is this what Christ would have me do? Will this bring glory to my Lord? If I say this, if I do that, if I go here, will I really be honoring my Savior?” In that way we “test what is acceptable unto the Lord.”
Then we are admonished to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (11). As we have already seen, we prove our faith by the lives we live. The Christian cannot expect to be kept from contamination by sin and evil if he continues in fellowship with iniquity. You might as well expect a child to play in the filth and grime of the streets and not get dirty, as to expect a Christian to go on in fellowship with sin and not be affected by it.
This verse together with many others have exercised my own conscience through the years and kept me from a great many associations into which I would otherwise naturally have gone. When years ago I considered joining certain secret societies and lodges, the question at once arose, Are they composed of born-again people? If I do join them, will I be having “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness”? Will I be walking in the path laid down for me by Christ? For the Lord has said, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate,… and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). That Scripture kept me out of many questionable circles. But I have gained immensely, for the time I would have spent in some of those associations I have been permitted to spend with the people of God or over the Word of God. Do not be afraid that you will ever lose by obedience to God’s holy Word. The strength of the Christian is in his separation from the world and his devotion to Christ.
Paul said that we are to reprove the works of darkness. By this he did not mean mere critical fault-finding, as is evident from the words of verse 13: “All things that are reproved are made manifest by the light.” That is what is needed. Just turn on the light and it will show up everything that is contrary to it. In other words, you live the pure, holy, Christlike life, and that in itself will be reproof enough of the sin that is so prevalent in our world today. “All things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” John wrote in his first Epistle, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Light is the very nature of God, and the moment one comes into the presence of God he is exposed as a sinner. But there in the presence of God he sees the precious blood on the mercy seat reassuring him that his sin has been atoned for and put away. Thus he enjoys peace with God as he walks in the light unafraid because he is in Christ.
The danger is that all this may become merely head knowledge. ‘Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (14). It is not possible to find any one Old Testament Scripture that contains these words in their exactness. They are rather a free translation of Isaiah 60:1. There the Spirit of the Lord speaking through the prophet says, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” The apostle takes that word arise to mean, “wake up out of your sleep.” He is calling Christians to wake up, just as when you go into your child’s room in the morning and say, “It is time to wake up!” Many who profess to be Christians are like people sleeping in a cemetery, sleeping among the dead with their heads pillowed on the gravestones! You who are children of the light (this is not a message for the unsaved but for those who are saved and have gone to sleep): “Awake.. .and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.” Show by your life that you are different from the unsaved worldly people around you.
Do you want blessing? Do you want a sense of the light of His face shining on your life? Do not tolerate any hidden wrong; confess it and turn from it. Maybe it is a letter you ought to write, maybe an acknowledgment you ought to make, maybe some money you ought to return. Do you say, “I can’t afford it”? But it is not yours. Put things right and then trust God for the rest. Righteousness first, and other things will follow. “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.”
The Filling with the Holy Spirit (5:15-21)
In these verses we continue considering the walk of the believer: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” This is the seventh verse in which the word walk occurs in this Epistle (KJV). I think it will be profitable to go back and notice the occurrences of this word.
In chapter 2:2 we have the past tense: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world.” In that verse the apostle was speaking of how we used to live when we belonged to the world. But we who are saved are delivered from that and so we read in verse 10 of the same chapter, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” We are not saved by good works, but we are to do good works after we are saved. In chapter 4:1 we read, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” Having been called with a heavenly calling, we are now to walk—behave ourselves—as a heavenly people. Following that, in verse 17 of the same chapter we read, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind.” In our unconverted days we walked in the pride and folly of the human mind in conflict with God, but as believers we are not to do this any more. We are to live humble lives, obedient to the Word of God. Then in chapter 5:2 we are told to, “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” In verse 8 we read, “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” And now we are considering verse 15 where the apostle said, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.”
Our English word circumspectly means “looking all around,” like one who is walking in a very dangerous place. There are pitfalls on this side of the path, quagmires on that side, traps and snares all around. And so the person walking on this path is constantly observing where he should next place his feet. That is a circumspect walk—a walk looking all around. Christian, your path leads you through a world of sin and foolishness, a world where you are exposed to all kinds of temptations and unholy influences. Snares and traps are everywhere set for your unwary feet. Therefore, walk circumspectly, be careful where you put down your feet; be careful as to the company you keep. Be careful as to your behavior in any company, so that you will bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. Walk not as fools, not as simple ones, not as those who are still darkness, but walk as wise men—made wise by the wisdom of God.
“Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” The apostle used this expression in one of his other letters (Colossians 4:5). In each instance it literally means, “Buying up the opportunities.” Just as people go out bargain hunting and finding something on sale say, “That’s a good price for this article. I should buy this article today while it is at this price. That would be much better than waiting until later.” Let the Christian be just as eager and sincere to obtain opportunities to witness for Christ, to serve the Lord, and to be a means of blessing to others with whom he comes in contact. We are to be buying up opportunities to bring glory to our Lord Jesus, realizing that the days are evil and the time for serving Christ is slipping fast away. Opportunities once lost will never be found again, therefore the importance of buying them up while we are able.
“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” It is important to remember that the only way you and I can be delivered from our own natural foolishness, is by being divinely enlightened. We do not understand what the will of the Lord is until we give ourselves to the careful, thoughtful study of His Word. Years ago I often stopped in the middle of a discourse and asked everyone in my audience who had read the Bible through once to raise his hand. The last time I did that I was so ashamed that I made up my mind never to do it again. I had an audience of five hundred people, all of whom professed to be Christians, and when I put that question to them, only two raised their hands, and I was ashamed to have the devil see it. It seems that Christians do not value their Bible very much any more.
I am reminded of something that occurred in Chicago. There was an open religious forum downtown. Clarence Darrow was there to represent the atheists, another person represented Protestantism, another Roman Catholicism, and another, Judaism. The Catholic got up and told why he was a Catholic; the Protestant got up and told why he was a Protestant; the Jew why he was a Jew. Then Clarence Darrow, the atheist, got up to speak, and he said, “Gentlemen, I have been very much interested in one thing. I notice Protestant, Catholic, nor Jew ever referred to the Bible. Evidently they no longer value that so-called holy Book as they used to do.” And then he went on to declare that he was an atheist because he had no use for the book that they never even mentioned. What a pitiable thing that professed Christians should attempt to tell why they were Catholic or Protestant and never once refer to the Bible! Oh, that you and I might be genuine Bible Christians!
A friend of mine used to be called a “walking Bible,” and I thought, What a splendid description! If anybody ever came to him and said, “Mr. so-and-so, what do you think about such and such a thing?” he would say, “Let us see what God says about it,” and out would come his Bible. “Why,” the man would say, “I didn’t know the Bible had an answer for that question.” I never knew this friend to say, “I think,” but always, “God’s Word says so and so.” If you and I would be wise with the wisdom that comes from above, we need to search the Scriptures. I like that little chorus:
In my heart, in my heart,
Send a great revival;
Teach me how to watch and pray
And to read my Bible.
The pitiful thing is that a great number of Christians are so busy with other things that they have very little time to read their Bibles. Although engaged exclusively in Christian service now for 45 years, I do not dare come into the pulpit or begin my day’s work without first going to the Word of God to gather fresh manna. If sometimes I am so hurried in the morning because of being out very late, or an urgent call comes and I rush out thoughtlessly without going to the Book, I find myself thinking, What is the matter with me today? I feel so dried up and half-starved spiritually. lam in no condition to try to minister to other people. Then the answer comes, “Why, you didn’t have your spiritual breakfast this morning. You went off without a morsel from God’s Word,” and I have to say, “Lord, forgive me for thinking that anything is more important than time spent with You.”
If you are not in the habit of reading your Bible methodically, prayerfully, let me plead with you, go into the presence of God and confess to Him the sin of neglecting His Holy Word. He says, “Search the Scriptures,” and if you disobey a command, it is sin. If you have been disobedient, go to Him and confess it and say, “Lord, teach me to say with Your servant, ‘Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food’“ (Job 23:12). Give God the first place in your life, give His Word the place it should have and then you will understand what the will of the Lord is.
The apostle continued, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). You will notice he puts two things in opposition to each other—drunkenness with wine and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Why does he contrast these two conditions? People who have been drinking excessively and become drunk with wine are controlled by a spirit foreign to themselves. When they are under the influence of alcohol, they do and say things that they never would in their normal condition. They make fools of themselves, descending to all kinds of vulgarity and nonsense. Others excuse them, saying, “Oh well, you mustn’t hold it against them; they’re drunk; they are not themselves.” The apostle says that that condition should never be true of a Christian, but on the other hand the Christian should be dominated and controlled by the Holy Spirit of God. In the power of the Holy Spirit one is enabled to say and do what he could not say and do in his merely natural condition. And so the filling of the Holy Spirit ought to be the normal experience of every believer—“Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” The last clause is more accurately translated, “Be habitually filled with the Holy Spirit.”
What is the filling with the Holy Spirit? A great many people think it is some strange, ecstatic, emotional experience that comes to them at a given moment and then later passes away and has to be repeated again. But that is not it. The filling of the Holy Spirit is the normal experience of the Christian life. We read of the disciples that “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). They were controlled by the Holy Spirit of God, and this does not necessarily result in any special emotional breakdown, but rather preserves one in the path of orderliness and common sense. In 2 Timothy 1:7 we read, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” I have been in some places where people talk a great deal about the fullness of the Spirit and I have seen behavior that I never would have thought possible a few years ago outside of an insane asylum—people rolling around the floor and raving like maniacs—and yet calling that experience the fullness of the Spirit. That is not the spirit of a sound mind. The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit does not go off into some wild, fanatical state, but walks thoughtfully and carefully with God, and his testimony has power with men.
In Colossians 3:16 we read, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Notice the effect of the Word of Christ dwelling richly in the soul. As we compare this verse with Ephesians 5:18-19 we see that the results in Colossians when the Word of Christ dwells in you richly are the same as that in Ephesians when you are filled with the Spirit. What then is the inference? There is an old rule in mathematics that “things equal to the same thing are equal to one another.” If to be filled with the Word is equal in result to being filled with the Spirit, then it should be clear that the Word-filled Christian is the Spirit-filled Christian. As we walk in obedience to the Word of Christ, the Spirit of God fills, dominates, and controls us to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, if you would be filled with the Spirit and you know of anything in your private life that is contrary to the Word of God, deal with it all before Him. If there is anything in your outward associations, in your behavior before the world that is contrary to His Word, go into His presence, confess your sins—sins of omission and sins of commission. When everything has been uncovered and faced in His presence, dare to believe His promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Ask for His grace to walk in obedience to His truth. Cry out from the depths of your heart as the Psalmist did, “Order my steps in thy word” (Psalm 119:133), and as you walk on in obedience to the Word of God, you will be filled with the Spirit.
You do not need some remarkable outward demonstration or amazing sign that the Spirit of God has actually taken possession of you. Remember that He dwells in every believer, and as you give Him room, He cleanses out of you everything that would hinder His presence. As you let Him take full possession you are filled with the Spirit. What will be the evidence of it? One evidence will be fullness of joy. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of gladness, the Spirit of joy. Now do not misunderstand me, there is a difference between holy joy and mere natural merriment. For an example we look at the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even though He was the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, as we read the record of His life in the four Gospels we cannot help but be impressed with the fact that we are not reading the life of a sad man but of a glad man. “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father” (Luke 10:21). That joy was characteristic of our Lord. In spite of all the grief and sorrow that He bore He was joyful. But having said that, let me remind you that in these records you do not see depicted what the world calls a jolly man. His was no mere worldly merriment, but a deep-rooted gladness that was based on unbroken communion with the Father, and that is the joy that you and I should possess. The one who is filled with the Spirit will be a glad, joyous believer.
“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” As we meet with one another, greeting each other in a glad, happy way, the praises of the Lord bubble up in our souls. Psalms were the vehicle of expression in the congregation of God in Bible times. The book of Psalms was the hymnbook of the congregation of the Lord, and there are wonderful expressions there that suit every mood of the human heart. While we do not rise to the height of the Christian’s privilege in the book of Psalms, yet we can find something to express every state and condition of our souls as we come into the presence of God. A hymn is an ascription of praise addressed directly to the Deity. “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty! / Early in the morning our songs shall rise to Thee” (Reginald Heber).
The Christian heart naturally goes out to God in hymns of worship and adoration. No more worldly songs for the Christian. The day is gone, or should be, when he can sing the worldly songs. I always think a Christian has dropped from the high level on which he belongs when I hear him singing such songs, because he has something better—spiritual songs that tell of the love of Christ and His redeeming grace. Who would sing the old songs when we have learned the new?
We’ll sing of the Shepherd that died,
That died for the sake of the flock,
His love to the utmost was tried,
But firmly endured as a rock.
Of Him and His love will we sing,
His praises our tongues shall employ,
Till heavenly anthems we bring,
In yonder bright regions of joy.
One reason that the spirituality of the church is at such a low ebb today is because people are so careless about the music that occupies their minds. They are so ready to drop from the high and holy state that should characterize those that are filled with the Spirit of God.
“Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” We cannot all make melody on an instrument, but every believer’s heart is like a harp. As the Spirit of God breathes over the heartstrings, real melody goes up to the ear of God.
“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Spirit-filled believer will be a thankful believer. “Oh but,” you say, “there are some things I cannot give thanks for. There are some things so hard and difficult to bear, things that cut my very soul.” Wait a moment. Have you ever undergone a serious physical operation as a result of which you have been delivered from some condition that was wearing out your very life? When you had to undergo it, it seemed hard, but as you look back on it, do you not give thanks for the surgeon’s knife? Do you not give thanks for the very sufferings you had to endure because of the blessed after-result? Someday, “When we stand with Christ in glory, / Looking o’er life’s finished story,” we will see more clearly why all the hard things were permitted. We will understand how God our Father was seeking to free us from obstacles and burdens by pruning the branches so that they would produce fruit for Himself. In that day we will thank Him for all the sorrow as well as for all the joy. In faith let us do it now.
Nothing can come to me but what His love allows. “All things work together for good,” and so a Spirit-filled believer will be loyal and submissive, not the kind who tosses his head and says, “I am not going to have anybody dominate me; I will do what I think and what I like.” That is the old life of our unconverted days; that is the old nature, not the new.
“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ” as a better translation reads. Christ was God manifested in the flesh. The Spirit-filled believer is characterized by these three things: joyfulness, thankfulness, humility. May God fill each one of us with His Spirit.
The Christian Family (5:22-33)
It is a remarkable thing that in the letter to the Ephesians Paul begins with the highest heights of divine revelation, then in the closing portion he seems to descend to what we might consider very commonplace. He opens his letter with that which thrills our souls—our predestination according to the riches of God’s grace to a place that angels have never known. He writes of our lofty position as accepted in the Beloved, blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Then he applies this wonderful body of truth to the behavior of a Christian family. It is a poor testimony to talk high truth while living on a low level in the home. I am afraid there are those who can repeat very glibly the statements of the first half of the Epistle to the Ephesians and delight in the wonderful privileges of the people of God, but fail wretchedly when it comes to living the practical truth of the last half of this Epistle in their daily lives.
You will notice how closely verse 22 is linked with verse 21: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” This is a principle of Christian living that applies to believers in every relationship of life, and now that the apostle turns to consider the Christian family he shows that it applies there. Did you ever stop to think what a wonderful institution the Christian family is? In reading a letter from a missionary in a heathen land I was struck by a paragraph that read something like this:
How we wish that some Christian people could come and live among us, even if not to engage in missionary work. There are different ways by which one might make his living among this semi-civilized people. For instance, we might have a Christian dentist and his wife, or a Christian worker in leather—a shoemaker or harnessmaker—with his wife and family. It would mean a great deal to us to have a harmonious family join us here, for we can conceive of nothing that could so commend Christianity to our people as just to see a Christian family living according to the New Testament: a Christian husband loving and honoring his wife, a Christian wife living in sweet and beautiful subjection and loyalty in her home, Christian children who really delight in obedience to their parents, parents who love their children and seek to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This would be so utterly different from anything our people have ever known.
In many heathen lands one cannot find families that function according to Biblical principles. It is the knowledge of Christ that produces the Christian home, and how jealously we should guard this blessed and delightful institution.
After admonishing his readers to submit “one to another in the fear of God,” the apostle immediately applies that principle to the relationship of the husband to the wife: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” The words, “submit yourselves” in verse 22 are not found in the best manuscripts. Let us read verses 21-22 as they are in the Greek: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God, wives unto your own husbands.” He is not calling on the wife to take the place of a slave— she often takes that place in pagan lands—but he is calling for mutual loyalty, mutual respect, mutual submission. Pass over the intervening words to verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” That is how the husbands submit themselves to the wives, so it is a mutual thing. That which makes the Christian home what it ought to be is this mutual loyalty, the one to the other—the wife to the husband, the husband to the wife. This is a marvelous principle when you think of it.
For example, we see a young woman who has had her own way to a large extent; she has made her own way through the world. Or she may have come from a home where she has been carefully nurtured and cared for. One day she meets a man and her heart is moved to love him. She says, “I could go to the ends of the world for him. I could keep house for him, care for our children, and submit to him.” Or we see an independent bachelor who has made his own way in the world. He has supported himself and could do what he would with his money and time. But one day he meets a woman and is moved to love her. He says, “I could work to support her even if it means I would have to change my life for her. I want to share my life with her.” That is the Christian ideal. When the Spirit of God dwells in each heart, the relationship becomes a beautiful picture of the mutual relation of Christ and the church
The same experience takes place in the spiritual world. We see a person living his life utterly independent of God. Then one day he is brought face to face with Christ, and his heart says, “For His sake I resign my own way; I give Him control of my life; I trust myself to Him. I am willing for His name’s sake to go and do whatever He would have me do.” Christ on His part laid down His life to purchase the one He loves, and now delights to lavish blessings on this one whom He has made His own. We will never fully understand this relationship until we get to Heaven. He has designed that every Christian home should exemplify this very thing.
Do our homes harmonize with this beautiful picture that the apostle brings before us here? Let us examine each verse somewhat carefully. “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God, Wives…unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Remember, that the apostle was giving these directions to Christian families. This is marriage not only in the flesh but in the Lord. What a sad thing for the Christian ever to contemplate marriage apart from submission to the Lord. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” is an admonition that applies here as well as to many other relationships of life.
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” Our Lord as the head of the church provides and cares for all of its needs. So the Christian husband is not to lord his position over his wife in a harsh and arbitrary way, but to exemplify the gracious care of the Lord Jesus Christ as the savior of the body. And so the Christian husband takes on the responsibility to support his wife and his family. He is ready to work hard that they may be kept in a measure of comfort and ease. Because of this, as the church is submissive to Christ so should the wife be to her own husband.
On the part of the husband we read in verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it.” A young fellow who had recently become married came to me in distress one day and said, “Brother Ironside, I want your help. I am in an awful state. I am drifting into idolatry.”
“What is the trouble?” I asked.
“Well, I am afraid that I am putting my wife on too high a pedestal. I am afraid I love her too much, and I am displeasing the Lord.”
“Are you indeed?” I asked. “Do you love her more than Christ loved the church?”
“I don’t think I do.”
“Well, that is the limit, for we read, ‘Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.’ You cannot love more than that. That is a self-denying love, a love that makes one willing even to lay down his life for another.”
We are reminded of the striking story about the wife of one of Cyrus’s generals who was charged with treachery against the king. She was called before him and after trial condemned to die. Her husband, who did not realize what had taken place, was apprised of it and came hurrying in. When he heard the sentence condemning his wife to death, he threw himself prostrate before the king and said, “O Sire, take my life instead of hers. Let me die in her place!” Cyrus was so touched that he said, “Love like this must not be spoiled by death,” and he gave them back to each other and let the wife go free. As they walked happily away the husband said, “Did you notice how kindly the king looked upon us when he gave you a free pardon?” “I had no eyes for the king,” she said; “I saw only the man who was willing to die for me.” That sacrificial love is the picture that we have in Ephesians. That should characterize the Christian husband—willing to give even his life for the blessing of his dear ones.
The apostle can scarcely speak about marriage without being reminded of the One who has won his own heart, and he must tell us more about Him. This blessed Husband, this glorious Head of the church, this ideal for every Christian husband, gave up His own precious life for the bride of His heart, the church, “that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” Some imagine that this is a reference to baptism, a kind of sacramental washing. But I understand these words to mean that when He has found us in our sins and uncleanness, unfit for association with Him, He applied the water of the Word of His truth to us and we were sanctified by the truth. We were made fit to enter into communion with Him, the holy One. If my hand becomes dirty, I wash it in water and the dirt disappears. So when my conscience, my heart, my life were all defiled, the Lord by the Holy Spirit applied the truth of His Word to me. I was regenerated by the washing of water, and thus made clean in His sight, and so fitted for union and communion with Him.
The full regeneration will be seen in glory when He will present His bride to Himself, a glorious church not having spot caused by sin, or wrinkle caused by age. In Revelation 21:2 we read, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This is the glorious picture of the church as it will be throughout all the ages to come—“not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” There are some of my brethren who in their hyper-dispensational teaching read this chapter and deny that the church is the bride of the Lamb. They tell us that Israel is the bride. But in Ephesians Paul said the Bridegroom is our Lord; the church, His redeemed spouse, and the two are linked together for eternity. He then applied this principle to our lives again, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” The two have become one, and therefore the man who would treat his wife unkindly is as one who would destroy or injure his own flesh. We may also reverse the analogy. We have heard of wives who are so vixenish in their tempers that they cause even good and devoted husbands terrible anguish. Both are one flesh, and need to learn that, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.” For so intimate is our union with Him that “we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”
If some insist that the church is the body but not the bride, the argument that the apostle used contradicts them. The church is both the body and the bride even as a man’s wife is both his body and his bride. And so the apostle quoted from the book of Genesis: “For this cause [because of this union] shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” What a marvelous union it is when two are brought together through divine grace, the Lord having first united their hearts to Himself and then to each other, and so they set up a Christian home.
Is your home such as the apostle is here depicting, where husband and wife walk together in mutual love and submission, and where Christ is honored? If not, it would be well to ask why it is not. Perhaps you would find that the true root of the trouble is in the neglect of family devotions. In 1 Peter 3:7 we read, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” Notice the words, “that your prayers be not hindered.” When a Christian home is the way it should be, prayer like fragrant incense will rise unhindered to God the Father from that family altar. But where the home is not as it should be, where husband and wife are not submissive to God and one another, where there is not that delightful relationship, then prayer immediately is hindered. The family altar is the thermometer that shows what conditions are in the home. What a blessing when husband and wife can happily kneel together and bring their varied problems to the Lord, or together lift their hearts to Him when things are going well. But when there is reserve on the part of either one or the other, you may know there is a storm in the offing, or something has already taken place hindering their fellowship and communion.
If in your home time is not given for the family altar, see to it that not another day goes by until husband and wife read the Word together and kneel together in the presence of God, commending one another and the children to the Lord. You will find it will make a great difference, and day by day anything that would hinder prayer can be judged at the family altar.
In closing this section of Ephesians 5, the apostle said, “This is a great mystery.” He has spoken again and again of mysteries in this Epistle. In chapter 1:9 he said, “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will.” In chapter 3:3-5 he said, “By revelation he made known unto me the mystery…Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” And in this chapter he wrote, “This is a great mystery.” Here he was speaking of the mutual relationship of husband and wife. This relationship exemplifies the very mystery that he has been speaking of in the previous chapters: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” There you have the mystery made clear: Christ as the husband, the church as the wife; Christ as the head, the church as the body. This is the marvelous mystery that was not made known in other ages, but has now been fully revealed in the pages of the New Testament.
Of course we understand that the word mystery as used here never means something hard to comprehend. It is not mystery in the sense of being something mysterious and difficult to understand. It is rather a sacred secret that the human mind never would have figured out without divine revelation. In the Old Testament times nobody thought of this wonderful truth, the mystery of Christ and the church, but it was revealed first to the apostle Paul and then to others of the New Testament company. It is the great truth that you and I are called on to confess and acknowledge in this dispensation of the grace of God.
We are not to be so carried away by the symbolic truth behind the marriage relation that we forget the obvious truth of the relationship between husband and wife. So the apostle drops again from the mystery itself to the commonplace things of life and says, “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” There is to be mutual love, respect, and loyalty. The wife, while respecting her husband, is to serve in her particular capacity to make the Christian home what it ought to be. The husband, while loving his wife, is to take the responsibility of providing for the family as the acknowledged head of that home. Both are to act in the fear of God. It is Christian homes all over the city, all over the nation, that will strengthen the gospel that is preached from the pulpit. People must see the truths of Scripture lived out in life, and realize the power of Christ to bind two hearts together in such a way that they can exhibit the mutual relationship of Christ and the church.