Summary: You always find what you are looking for; therefore, be careful what you look for.
Two birds fly over our nation’s deserts: One is the hummingbird and the other is the vulture. Vultures find the rotting meat of the desert, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet. Hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. Vultures fill themselves with things dead and gone. Hummingbirds fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. We all do.
That is the essence of Paul’s teaching: In life, there are two kinds of believers. One follows foolishness, the other wisdom. Some fill themselves with old habits: others with the newness of life in Christ. In the desert of this world there are scavengers who are angry and ungrateful, and those who hum grateful hymns of thanksgiving. The irony is that you always find what you are looking for.
In the fifth chapter of Ephesians Paul presents a guide to godly living for the church. In our short passage he reminds his readers that they will always find what they look for. He is brief and to the point. Three things we must do: Be wise, be sober, and be thankful. It’s a short list that, if adhered to—will transform our lives, the lives of our family and friends, and most of all, the church. OYBT Eph 5.
1. To rightly understand our text (5:15-20), we must consider it in its context (4:17-5:21). Paul has been encouraging the believers at Ephesus to behave in ways that reflect the new life they have in Christ. Apparently, some of the believers in Ephesus were claiming and clinging.
2. Let me explain. There were some believers in the church who were claiming Christ as Savior and Lord, while clinging to the behaviors and influences of their life before Christ. They were compromising their new life in Christ by maintaining the lifestyles of their former life. This made it easy for them to assimilate into the pagan culture around them, but it greatly damaged relationships within the church, and, more importantly, their relationship with God.
3. Paul gives quite a laundry list of behaviors that must be changed if individuals and consequently the church are to be spiritually healthy. Mixed with his reprimands are bits of positive reinforcement, such as don’t let the sun go down on your anger (4:26), and speak only that which is helpful for building others up according to their needs (4:29).
4. Midway through his discourse, Paul reminds them to be imitators of God, living lives of love, as Christ loved us. He then continues to speak out against destructive behaviors, calling believers to live as light, the fruit of which consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.
5. Verses 15-21 are a summary of his remarks for the church at Ephesus, and a short-list for godly living that still applies to the church. Be wise, be sober and be thankful.
[Paul teaches that “You always find what you are looking for; so be careful what you look for”.]
II. BE WISE (5:15-17)
1. Live not as unwise, but as wise. “Enlightenment” was a real buzzword in first-century Ephesus. Followers of Stoicism, Gnosticism and other ancient beliefs all claimed that enlightenment was the fuel and source of their spiritual wellbeing.
A. Each belief system had its own twist on spirituality, but the philosophies were generally the same. Salvation, nirvana or whatever understanding of God the pagans came through enlightenment: only those with special wisdom were complete and fulfilled.
B. By contrast, Paul’s ethic is built on the mercies of God (Rom. 12:1), the teachings of Christ (1 Co. 9:21 Gal. 6:2), and the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8), not on one’s own knowledge. It is in God’s name that the saints are admonished to walk wisely.
2. Make the most of every opportunity (lit. redeem the time). Believers are wise as they use the time entrusted to them to do good works (Gal 6:10); the opposite of redeeming time then, is to lose it. 2 Peter 3:9 shows that the time left before the parousia is meant for the spread of the gospel and the repentance and salvation of men (cf. Eph. 6:18-19).
3. Understand what is the Lord’s will. The verb “to understand (comprehend)” includes learning by experience, an ongoing process. Paul is not against intellectuals. Rather, he wants the believers in Ephesus to experience God fully, not in mind alone.
[If you seek wisdom, you will find it. If you seek foolishness you will find it. You always find what you are looking for; so be careful what you look for.]
III. BE SOBER (15:18)
1. Do not be drunk; drunkenness leads to debauchery. The sudden reference to drunkenness is rather odd, suggesting either (1) an acute alcohol problem among in the private lives of the believers, or (2) their attempt to bridge the gap between their cultic practices and those of other beliefs (some believed that “cultic inebriation” brought them closer to the divine world).