Summary: Three negatives negated, and three positives endorsed. Redeeming the time. The Holy Spirit and the word of Christ. An exhortation to praise and thanksgiving.
A WISE USE OF TIME
Despite popular opinion, the Christian “life” or Christian “walk” is not a style of living or a level of morality that we must first attain before we can ever be recognised as true Christians. On the contrary, the Christian “walk” or the Christian “life” represents the moral conduct that arises out of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is against this backdrop alone that Paul says (in essence), ‘Pay close attention to how you order your lives’ (Ephesians 5:15).
The Apostle then negates three negative words, the double negatives thereby serving to stress their positive counterparts.
First, “be not unwise” is balanced by the positive command, “but be wise” (Ephesians 5:15).
In what ways does this Christian wisdom manifest itself? One way is in a right use of time. Paul talks of “buying back the time” because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). This speaks to us of making the most of the ‘now’ of our experience, rather than dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future.
This does not mean that we ignore the lessons of history and experience, nor that we fail to make plans for the future: but it draws us rather into a sense of the urgency of the days in which we are now living (Galatians 6:9-10).
Secondly, “be not senseless” is balanced by “but be understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).
We are in a process of ‘growing in the Lord.’ By now we should have put aside childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11). We are no longer to be children in understanding, but we should ‘man up’ to who we are, where we are, and where we should be in our Christian pilgrimage: ‘in understanding be men’ (1 Corinthians 14:20).
Thirdly, “dissoluteness” (Ephesians 5:18) is sometimes translated as “excess” or “debauchery”. It here connotes an irreversible process of complete disintegration (arising in this case out of drunkenness) which detaches us from ourselves, others, and ultimately God!
The counterbalance to this is “go on being filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). As with many things in the Christian life, this is ongoing: I have been filled, I am being filled, and I will be filled.
How do I nurture this fullness, which is already mine? The clue is found elsewhere, in the equivalent passage: ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom’ (Colossians 3:16).
Elsewhere we learn that ‘the person who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son’ (2 John 1:9).
In like manner, a comparison of these two texts teaches us that the person who is “going on being filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), is one and the same person as the one who ‘nurtures the word of Christ in their heart’ (Colossians 3:16). Reading the word of God, and applying it to our lives, is our part in this otherwise passive imperative.