Living in the light. 5:15-21


The exhortation to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received", 4:1, is expounded in detail through to chapter 6 verse 9. Our passage for study is a summary of the argument so far. Living a life worthy of our standing in Christ entails living wisely, understanding the will of the Lord and being filled with the Spirit.

The passage

v15. In this passage Paul encourages his readers to be careful how they live and to this end he gives his first exhortation, one that we can apply to ourselves, namely that we be wise. We are to pay close attention to how we live by thoughtfully dealing with life's difficulties. We are to conduct ourselves wisely - thoughtfully.

v16. The believer is to maximize the opportunities for wise living, especially as "the days are evil." This "evil age", Gal.1:4, is a time invaded by the powers of darkness, but is also a time that is short - its judgement is near, 1Cor.7:29. So, we must make the most of every day.

v17. Living (walking) worthily of our standing in Christ involves aiming at a second quality, namely, understanding the will of Jesus. To shape practical morality in the life of the individual it is essential to be able to "test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will", Rom.12:2. A believer will find this "will of God" in the scriptures. Understanding God's revelation is essential for our "walk".

v18. Or to put it another way, be filled by the Spirit. Drunkenness is a common problem, but the reference here serves only to highlight "filled by the Spirit." Although the phrase often appears as "filled with the Spirit", as if the Spirit is the content of the filling, it is best taken as "filled by the Spirit", in the sense of the Spirit doing the filling. He fills us with "the fullness of God" in that he "leads us into all truth" and shapes within us the character of Christ, characteristics of "power and love and self-control", 2Tim.1:7. Note that this filling is a continuous action, not a one-off event.

v19. Those of the darkness, filled with wine, will sing songs of drunkenness, celebrating the joys of Bacchus; those filled by the Spirit, will sing songs of praise to Christ.

v20. The image of songs of praise leads to a second characteristic of the Spirit's filling, namely, thanksgiving. This thanksgiving is to be offered "always", or better constantly, even regularly, and for "everything", for all things, in all circumstances. As is typical of prayer, the thanksgiving is offered to the Father through Jesus. It is offered "in the name of", that is, under the authority of the person of Jesus. "The name" encapsulates the substance of the person.

v21. This verse is usually included as part of this passage, although it certainly impacts on the following passage as well. A third expression of the Spirit's filling is mutual submission. Out of reverence for Christ, believers put others first.

Be filled by the Spirit

At the beginning of each year we assess the achievements of the past and we dream the dreams of the future. In fact, C.S. Lewis said that this was part of the human problem. We often tend to live in unreality. Our lives are focused on two areas. First, there is all that could have been, but never was. We live with regret, don't we? All those spent and wasted opportunities seem to eat at us. How we wish things could have been different. And second, there is all that we hope will be. The dreams for the future. We live them, relive them, but rarely see them come to anything. All that ever happens is that the years pass quickly, ever more quickly. Jesus addresses our problem with the words: "each day has enough trouble of its own". The moment is what matters, rather than worrying about the past, or the future.

There are different ways we can focus on the present moment, and Paul, in our passage for study, gives us an idea to focus on. He encourages us to "be very careful how you live", or as Paul literally put it, "watch carefully how you walk." We must pay close attention to our behavior. Actually, his exhortation in v15 really repeats what he said in verse 1 of Chrapter 4: "live a life worthy of the calling you have received", or in simple terms, be what you are already in Christ.

Paul identifies three ways of walking worthily:

1. Living wisely, v15, 16. God's Word reminds us that the "days are evil." This age is corrupt, and is corrupting. In this fading moment, being what we are entails being perceptive, eg. "be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, make the most of every opportunity", Col.4:5.

2. Understanding the Lord's will, v17. An essential part of the Christian journey involves an ever increasing understanding of God's eternal truth. Hear sermons, read and study the Bible, with the knowledge that the Spirit of Christ enlightens our minds and opens our hearts. Taking on the mind of Christ shapes what we are in Christ.

3. Being filled by the Spirit v19-21. Being filled with divine characteristics, with graciousness, kindness, forgiveness.... is a work of the Spirit. This infilling prompts praise and thanksgiving in worship, along with a mutual submission to each other's spiritual gifts. Being what we are in Christ entails taking on the character of Christ.

So, as Bill Junkins put it, "behave in a manner in keeping with the life and task to which you have been summoned", 4:1.


1. Discuss the motivations for personal righteousness.

2. If the gaining of wisdom is a ministry of the Spirit, by what means does the Spirit reveal the truth to us?

3. The phrase "Spirit filled worship" is often used today. What is it?

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