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Pleasing God: Walking in Love, Light, and Wisdom

Bible Study of Ephesians
The Reconciliation and Consummation of All Things through Christ

Week Nine: Pleasing God—Walking in Love, Light, and Wisdom (Ephesians 5:1-21)

In this week’s passage, Paul continues to cast a vision for the believer’s new lifestyle and provides further instructions for a “worthy walk” in the Lord (cf. 4:1, 17). Back in 4:23-24, we learned that all believers are undergoing a process of internal transformation—they are being renewed according to God’s likeness. Moreover, the practical outworking of this ongoing, internal renewal is spelled out in the form of specific commands given to the believing community (4:25-32).

Building off of 4:23-24, chapter 5 begins with an exhortation to “imitate” our Father and pattern our lives after His Son (...like Father, like Son). Thus, in order to mimic the Messiah and live like the Living One (cf. Rev. 1:18), we must view the world through the lens of God’s word and submit to divine revelation and authority in every aspect of our lives.

Also, in the same pattern as last week’s passage (4:17-32), we will see even more contrasts between the old vs. the new way of life: (1) true vs. false love; (2) light vs. darkness; and (3) wise vs. foolish living. In summary, Paul will show his readers how to please God by imitating and reflecting His true character in their words and actions. Without exception then, every believer must live with integrity, reject double-mindedness, and learn to please God by “walking the walk” in love, light, and wisdom.

Eph. 5:1-21 can be divided into three main sections based on a threefold use of the transition word, “therefore” (Grk., oun), found in 5:1, 5:7, and 5:15. Here is a brief outline of the main ideas that will be discussed in this passage:

1. Walking in love: Believers grow in Christ’s likeness when they love sacrificially, not selfishly with their words and actions (5:1-6)
2. Walking in light: Believers learn to please God when they don’t join unbelievers in doing evil but, instead, expose dark deeds (5:7-14)
3. Walking in wisdom: Believers understand the Lord’s will when they live wisely and carefully under the control of the Holy Spirit (5:15-21)


Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Paul had just finished instructing believers on how they should relate to one another as members of the same body (4:25-32), and he concluded with a word about God’s kindness, compassion, and forgiveness toward those in Christ (4:32). Now, in 5:1, the apostle continues this same train of thought and adds that believers are to imitate, or copy, the attitudes and actions of their heavenly Father, because they are His beloved children.

So then, how do the children of God imitate their Father in heaven? By “walking in love,” following the example of the Son of God, who lovingly gave up His own life in order to satisfy the wrath of God (5:2; cf. Rom. 5:8-9; 1 Jn. 4:9-10). Paul’s language of a “sweet-smelling aroma,” refers to Christ’s sacrificial death and comes from the Old Testament (see Lev. 1:9, 13; 2:9, 12; 3:5).

In essence, Paul is saying that Christ’s death met the demands of the law and, thereby, the sacrificial offering of the perfect Lamb of God was acceptable to God as the full and final payment for our sins (cf. Isa. 53:10; Heb. 9:12-14; 10:8-18). God is not pleased with sin or death; however, He is pleased by the self-sacrificing love of His Son which made a way for sinners like us to be forgiven and redeemed.

On the subject of sweet-smelling sacrifices, Wiersbe offers keen insight on how Christ fulfills the law’s requirements given in Leviticus chapters 1–5:

“The burnt offering pictures Christ’s complete devotion to God; the meal offering, His perfection of character; and the peace offering, His making peace between sinners and God. Since the sin offering and the trespass offering (Lev. 4–5) picture Christ taking the place of the sinner, they are not considered ‘sweet-savor’ offerings. Certainly nothing is beautiful about sin!” (Wiersbe, 44).

Thus, Christ’s example of sacrificial love is now the standard for God’s beloved children. God’s perfect love stands in direct opposition to the way the world defines love. In fact, Eph. 5:1-6 can be viewed as a contrast between the way God's children love and the way the devil’s children love; see 5:1, "dear children," and 5:6, “the sons of disobedience” (cf. Eph. 2:1-3).

Furthermore, to walk in love and the selfless example of Christ means that God’s children avoid sexually immoral words and actions. According to the disobedient children of the world, "love" is defined by lust and self-indulgence: i.e.,“fornication,”* “uncleanness” [impure, degrading behavior], and any form of idolatry [false love] that has its root in a “covetous”** [greedy] heart (Eph. 5:3-5).

*The word "fornication" is archaic and has fallen out of use (KJV/NKJV); therefore, in today's English, it may be better translated as "sexual immorality" (ESV, NLT, NIV, etc.). The Greek word behind the English translation is porneia, from which we derive the terms, "porn, pornography." Thus, porneia in Scripture refers to any kind of sexually corrupt and immoral activity (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:13; Gal. 5:19; Col. 3:5).

**The Greek word translated "greed/covetousness" is a compound term, pleonexia, derived from "pleon" + "echo" and literally means, "I want more!" (Kuruvilla, 154, footnote 10).

Couched in between verses 3 and 5, which identify the sexually immoral behavior of the disobedient and rebellious, Paul mentions in verse 4 the kinds of corrupt speech that should not be heard among God’s holy people (“the saints” 5:3)—those who are also co-heirs of God’s kingdom (5:6; cf. Eph. 3:6). Instead of using words that are characterized by filthiness, foolishness,* and crude joking,** believers should “give thanks” to God and one another (cf. Eph. 4:29).

*The phrase "foolish talking" (NKJV) in the Greek is morologia, which literally means "stupid words."

**The phrase "coarse jesting" (NKJV) in the Greek is eutrapelia, meaning "provocative, lewd humor." This word stands in contrast with the similar-sounding word eucharistia, "thanksgiving." Wiersbe comments, "The gift of wit is a blessing, but when it is attached to a filthy mind or a base motive, it becomes a curse" (45).

So, one might ask, how is filthy/degrading language and joking about sex related to gratitude and giving thanks? Well, if we go to a related passage in Romans 1:21, 24-25, Paul confirms the link between those who reject God as those who also refuse to honor him and give thanks for His gifts and blessings, “...they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Then the apostle goes on to write, “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”

This last statement about worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator is the essential definition of idolatry [false love]. And as Paul writes in Eph. 5:6, ungrateful, greedy idolaters have no eternal inheritance and, therefore, no place among God’s holy people. The “sons of disobedience” who live like entitled, spoiled children today will not inherit the kingdom of God in the future (5:5); instead, they are under God’s wrath and headed for eternal judgment (cf. Rom. 1:18, 32; Rev. 21:7-8).

And because many idolaters (and prodigal Christians) can be convincing in their arguments, justifying their perverse love with natural reason and logic, Paul adds a warning about not being deceived by “empty words” (5:6). The apostle most likely has new and immature believers in mind (Eph. 4:14), little ones who have not yet had their spiritual senses trained and sharpened to discern what is good and evil (cf. Heb. 5:14).

Be imitators - like father, like son!


Therefore, do not be partakers with them. For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the [light] is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes [them] manifest is light. Therefore He says: ‘Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

Now that Paul has distinguished God’s sacrificial love from the self-gratifying “love” of unbelievers, he transitions to contrast the light and the darkness. In this particular text, believers are “light,” and unbelievers are “darkness.” Believers, who were once a part of the darkness, are now “light in the Lord (5:8). Without a doubt, the Lord Jesus is the sole reason that believers are light and not darkness anymore, because He is the Light inside them (cf. Matt. 5:14-16; Jn. 8:12; 12:36; 1 Thess. 5:4-5).

Since believers are light and not darkness anymore, they have no business being yoked to unbelievers (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18), or, as Paul says in 5:7, “...do not be partakers with them.”* However, on the bright side, believers who are light are to “walk as children of light,” and then they will bear “the fruit of the light,” which is “goodness, righteousness, and truth” (5:8-9; cf. Eph. 4:24; 1 Jn. 1:5-7).

*The word translated "partakers" (Grk., symmetochos) is found in only two places in the New Testament: here in 5:7 and in Eph. 3:6. Thus, the connection is clear—since believers are co-heirs, co-members of the same body, and co-partakers [symmetochos] of the same promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, they have no partnership with the unsaved. Suffice it to say, if you are a believer in Christ, a person under God's wrath is not your friend (Eph. 2:3; 5:6).

At the core of this second “walk” is the instruction in Eph. 5:10, “find[ing] out what is acceptable [or, pleasing] to the Lord.” Previously, in the first “walk,” believers imitate God and grow in Christlikeness when they love sacrificially, and as a result, like Jesus, by their obedience they become pleasant to God (“a sweet-smelling aroma,” 5:2). Likewise, as believers—lights in the Lord—continue to walk in the light, they will eventually discover what is pleasing and acceptable to the Lord (5:10).*

*For more passages on "pleasing God," see Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 5:9; and Col. 1:10.

What specifically does Paul have in mind when he calls for believers to “expose the unfruitful works of darkness?” (Eph. 5:11, 13). Since he says it is even shameful to speak of the dark deeds that are done in secret, the exposure may relate more to a believer’s good fruit borne out of a faithful walk with Christ in the midst of a dark world (cf. Jn. 3:19-21; 15:24; 16:8; 17:23).* Moreover, as John 16:8 reveals, it is not the job of the Christian to convict unbelievers of their sin—that’s the Holy Spirit’s responsibility (see 1 Cor. 5:12-13). However, as believers remain faithful and continue to persevere in a dark world as children of light, then some unbelievers will witness their good works and, as Jesus says in Matt 5:16, “...they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

*The same Greek word, elencho, translated "expose" in Eph. 5:11, 13 is also found in John 3:20; 16:8; and 1 Cor. 14:24. It can also mean "to convict, correct, and bring to light" (BDAG, 315).

Paul concludes this section about walking in the light with what appears to be a quotation from the Old Testament, “...Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” However, there is no single verse or passage that contains all of these elements, so the apostle may be paraphrasing or summarizing several different Scriptures such as Isaiah 9:2; 60:1-2; and possibly Jonah 1:6 (cf. Rom. 13:11-14).

Regardless of where this authoritative statement originated, its purpose is to invite those in darkness to come to the light, whether they are relapsed believers or spiritually dead unbelievers:

“...The awakening, arising, etc., seems to be recalling the process of conversion noted in 2:1, 5-6, 8 (with sleep, death, and darkness as conditions of spiritual death)...[t]he ethical demands of a believer’s lifestyle are clear: they, living in the realm of light, in Christ, live to a different code, follow an exalted standard, and thus influence a dark world” (Kuruvilla, 159).


[Therefore] see then that you walk carefully, not as fools but as wise [people], redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation [recklessness]; but be filled [by] the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.

The third and final “walk” in Ephesians is a wise walk*—it is a deliberate and careful lifestyle that is aligned with the Lord’s good and perfect will for every child of light who lives in a dark and evil age (cf. Gal. 1:4; 2 Tim. 3:1, 13). Conversely, it is foolish and senseless for believers—children of love and light—to waste the remaining time given to them after their initial conversion to Christ.

*All together, the various "walks" (Grk. peripateo) throughout chapters 4–5 are in worthiness/unity (4:1), in holiness (4:17), in love (5:2), in light (5:8), and lastly, in carefulness/wisdom (5:15).

The expression “redeem the time” comes from the Greek word agorazo, which means “to buy from the marketplace [agora].” Thus, the word “redeem” (Grk. exagorazo) in Eph. 5:16 literally means to “buy out/buy back,” and, in contemporary terms, this means believers are to “make the most of” the time, because the last days are here and they are full of evil (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pet. 4:7):

“Wise living also involves the recognition that time is short and that the days are evil (5:16)...’Evil’ and ‘day’ are linked together also in Eph. 6:13, in connection with spiritual warfare against the devil, and the rulers, powers, and world forces of darkness—all evil spiritual entities (6:11-12). Thus the wickedness of the last days is clearly anti-God and demonic in origin (also see Eph. 2:2).” (Kuruvilla, 161).

A fool in this age, therefore, is one who doesn’t know time is short (last days), doesn’t understand God’s will, and doesn’t realize they are enslaved by evil forces of darkness. Furthermore, one of the manifestations of foolish living is drunkenness that results in reckless behavior.* Instead of being controlled by wine (or any mind-altering substance), believers walking in love, light, and wisdom are to be filled by the Holy Spirit who dwells within them (cf. Eph. 1:13-14; 2:22; 3:16; 4:30).**

*The Greek word asotia ("dissipation" in the NKJV) is the negative form of soteria, the oft-used term in Scripture that refers to salvation/rescue/deliverance. Thus, asotia, "recklessness, wastefulness," literally means "without salvation, or preservation." See the two other usages of asotia in Titus 1:6 and 1 Pet. 4:4.

**Wine often provides a temporary sensation of happiness, but, after all, it still remains a cheap imitation of the lasting, supernatural joy of the Spirit (see Lk. 1:14-15; Acts 2:4, 13; Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:22).

The verb “be filled” in 5:18 is passive, meaning someone else is doing the filling; however, it is also an imperative, meaning it is the responsibility of the believer to cooperate with the Spirit in order to continually be filled! Therefore, worshipful submission, as seen in 5:19-21, is the key to wise living under the control of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16, 25).

Hoehner wisely summarizes Paul’s point in 5:18, “Each Christian has all the Spirit, but the command here is that the Spirit have all of him. The wise walk, then, is one that is characterized by the Holy Spirit’s control.” (640).

In 5:19-21, the actions of “speaking,” “singing,” “making,” “giving,” and “submitting” all modify “be filled by the Spirit” in 5:18. Consequently, the command to be filled by the Spirit takes place, not so much in isolation during some private, ecstatic experience, but rather within the context of the believing community—the corporate temple, or dwelling of God (Eph. 2:22; 3:18; 4:15-16). Notice also that these Spirit-filled activities are directed to both God and other believers: “...speaking to one another...singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord...giving thanks always for all things to God the Father...submitting to one another…”

Jesus says in John 4:23-24 that the Father desires people to worship Him in spirit and in truth. In fulfillment of the Father’s wishes, the apostle Paul describes in Eph. 5:15-21 the harmonious interactions of those in the body of Christ: i.e. fully surrendered individuals who consistently maintain a wise, worshipful, and Spirit-controlled lifestyle that delights their Father in heaven (cf. Eph. 5:2, 10, 17).

Lastly, Eph. 5:21 is a hinge verse that connects 5:1-20 to 5:22–6:9. As we will see later (Weeks 10 and 11), the mutual submission of believers toward one another in light of their reverential submission to the Lord Jesus Christ makes for harmonious relationships in marriage (5:22-33), parenting (6:1-4), and the workplace (6:5-9).*

*Hoehner writes, "Spirit-controlled believers are to submit to one another, willingly serving others and being under them rather than dominating them and exalting themselves" (Ibid.). See also Matt. 20:25-28; 1 Pet. 5:6.

Application to the Body of Christ:

Summary of Ephesians 5:1-21:

“The imitation of God and Christ’s selfless love call for abandonment of sexual immorality, and the adoption of a wise and worshipful lifestyle” (Kuruvilla, 165).

Having a personal relationship with God also means sharing in His true nature and character (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4; Heb. 10:16). Those who have been chosen and adopted as God’s children (Eph. 1:3-5) must now imitate their Father. And the best way to follow the Father is to follow His Son (Eph. 5:1-2).

Jesus is the One who teaches us, by example, how to love sacrificially (5:1-6), discern what is holy and pleasing to God (5:7-14), and wisely make the most of the limited time that we have this side of heaven (5:15-21). When we continue to walk in love, light, and wisdom, then our lives will be a beautiful melody in God’s ears.

And so, if our walk in the Lord is going to be successful, then we must continue to submit gratefully to the Holy Spirit and to one another in the body of Christ (5:18-21). That being said, here are few applications based on the three “walks” given in this week’s section:

(1) Walking in love (5:1-6): Mature, seasoned believers can help out the little ones in the faith by teaching and modeling true love to them and correcting the empty arguments of the sexually immoral. We also need to watch our speech, because the ungrateful, idolatrous heart cheapens and degrades God’s blessings and gifts—especially sexual intimacy that is reserved for marriage (i.e. the union of husband and wife, cf. Eph. 5:22-32).

(2) Walking in light (5:7-14): When a child of light obeys God’s command to be holy, especially when there is a need to cut off any unhealthy, co-dependent relationship with a non-believer, then their life will begin to shine as they bear the fruit of light (i.e. goodness, righteousness, and truth). Then, once a believer gains strength and confidence in holy living, their life will become more attractive and inviting to someone in darkness who hears the call of Christ, “Wake up, sleepwalker, rise from the dead and come to the Light!” (cf. Jn. 5:25; 11:43).

(3) Walking in wisdom (5:15-21): The big takeaway in these verses is the command to understand the Lord’s will. We need a constant reminder that “the days are evil” and time is short. Also, the phrase “giving thanks” forms a thematic bookend to 5:1-21 (see 5:4 and 5:20, specifically). Therefore, believers need to grasp the difference between ingratitude and immorality which is at war with gratitude and holy living. Finally, those whose life motto is “eat, drink, for tomorrow we die” are fools (1 Cor. 15:32-33; Lk. 12:19). Conversely, those who make the most of this evil age under the Spirit’s control are wise, and they will inherit the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:5).

And the wise will sing to the Lord forever!

"There's a hope in my heart
Burning bright in the darkness
This I know for sure
That I will look upon Your face
Forever dwell in Your presence
And always sing to You..."

Post A Comment


  1. Thank you for sharing brother. This week was both assuring and challenging. Let us be like our Father in Heaven. We have no fellowship with darkness, but we enter into the darkness wielding the light to rescue those still in darkness. Amen!

  2. Excellent! We all need to let the light shine into the darkness so people can see and be saved. Even much more now as time is so short before the Day of Glory comes. Thanks, Jeff.

  3. Jeff....Most excellent series of articles with special emphasis on this latest one. Imagine the world we live in if it followed this plan. It would be heaven on earth.

    1. Thank you, Stan! Heaven on earth, I can imagine it. Slowly, but surely, it will be so (Eph. 1:10).

  4. This series of articles have been a blessing to my walk with the Lord Jeff! I have learned from each one of them. Thank you so much for your time & dedication in preparing them.

    I don't usually post but I read everything as I am so thirsty for the Lord's return to gather his children! Please know how much you ALL are cherished!


  5. This comment has been removed by the author.


    I am pondering about pre-trib rapture and if it holds water that we are caught up and rescued from the coming tribulation.

    If we are here during the tribulation, then we are either in the Mid and Post category. If we are, there are no instruction for us on what to do, particularly in storing the most basic like food and water. Let us read two references, First is the man who built an extra barn knowing that he is set up in life(Luke 12:16-21) and the Second is the instruction by Jesus not store up earthly treasures because it will spoil (Matthew 6) can you imagine 4 year worth of food gone? There is nothing wrong of securing or saving for the future, particularly wealth, finances and the basics such as food and water. These two passages ended negatively,warning of death and strong rebuke and warning.

    If we are to be sent to tribulation, I will make sure I have my resources intact if that is the case .But because God is going to rescue me because there is no longer condemnation and wrath to be poured on me, I do not need to worry on what I shall drink, eat or wear because the bridegroom is coming, seven years before the tribulation.

    So yeah, be ready. But not getting ready because of fear, rather getting ready because of great anticipation for the glorious appearance of Christ.




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