Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:15–21).
Many modern translations of today’s passage lose the original structure. They start a new section at verse 21 (“Submit to one another…”) instead of having verses 18–21 as one sentence, as they are in the Greek (starting with “Do not get drunk…”). When we understand how the text fits together, according to Klyne Snodgrass in The NIV Application Commentary, we see that Paul is telling his readers five ways to be filled by the Spirit: speak to one another with psalms, sing, make music, give thanks, submit to one another in fear of Christ.
Why does this matter? As Snodgrass says, “Failure to understand the structure has made this section one of the most misappropriated texts in the Bible” (p. 286). The “house codes” that follow about how wives and husbands, children, and parents, slaves and masters should treat each other all fall under the command of mutual submission under Christ. Because we live in holy fear of God, we submit to each other. This entails humility, sacrificial love, and putting others above ourselves.
As we cast away our old selves and put on the new, we may live a life controlled not by wine, but by the Spirit. The careful living that Paul describes entails the filling of the Holy Spirit, that we might be empowered to act in a holy way that is pleasing to God. Through his Spirit we can sing, make music, give thanks – and submit to others.
For reflection: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5–8).