Paul explains that the church has, as a response to God's gracious offer of blessings, certain responsibilities and obligations. God invites all mankind (no distinctions) to receive precious spiritual blessings that He has reserved in heaven. In response to this, those who receive these blessings are obliged to live a certain way. So far, we've seen that one of these obligations is that the church preserve the unity that God has established by making the church part of the Godhead through Christ. Another obligation is to live righteously, and Paul explains that two features of this righteous lifestyle include a loving attitude toward others and a life that is holy and beyond reproach by the world. We will now examine other elements of this righteous lifestyle that Paul began describing in chapter 4:17 and will continue doing so until chapter 6:9 of his letter to the Ephesian church.
Features of a Righteous Lifestyle
The dictionary defines piety as "actions that show devotion or reverence for God." A pious person is a person for whom the things of God, or the activities connected with God, are very important. Of course there is great danger in this area because some use false piety as a cover for sin (i.e. television evangelists who pray, sweat and cry but are only interested in fleecing their followers of their money), or people who fight over every little tradition defending piety when what they really want is to get their own way. In the Bible, the Pharisees were the worst offenders in this area. Their many rules and traditions created the image of piety when in reality their hearts were not truly turned towards God.
It is easy to look pious but not so easy to be truly pious. Paul encourages the Ephesians towards true piety in bringing together the features of Christian piety. In other words, he coaches them on how to sincerely express their devotion to God and His affairs. The way to true Christian piety lay in the following:
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Be careful how you live your life; don't take chances with your soul and the precious blessings that have been freely given to you in Christ. He doesn't mention anything specific that they must do. Prudence is an attitude that weighs the various options in life and their effect upon the blessings that they possess in Christ. Christians know the truth about life and death and the hereafter so their lives are lived in this context. Unlike foolish men who are not aware of this and have nothing to guard except the few material possessions they may have accumulated here on earth. The prudent person, who knows the truth, seeks the will of the Lord for his life, and makes the most of his short time here on earth because he knows the judgment is coming, and this world is evil; so he's careful and prudent. If piety is a concern for Godly things, then the pious person is first and foremost prudent about how he lives making sure that his life is in accord with God's will. This is not religious hypocrisy or a holier than thou attitude, this is a sober realization that God exercises both His mercy and His judgment, and one must live in accordance with this reality.
Be spirit filled
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;
False piety is usually full of religious looking activities that look very spiritual, but as Paul says in Colossians 2:23, "…have no value against fleshly indulgence." In other words, superficial religion has no effect on changing or renewing a person's spirit. True piety, true devotion to the things of God, is seen when one's true devotion is to Christ and the things that Christ has given. The pagans and religious phonies stir up their spirits with alcohol; this is not true spirituality, this does not build up the individual or the body. Actually, this destroys both. Instead of being filled with the stupefying spirit of alcohol and such things, be filled with the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. This is what the will of the Lord is, that those concerned with the things of God be filled with the Holy Spirit and witness that they are.
You can make an even more general application of this idea. You can be filled with (addicted to) a lot of things in life: leisure, money, career, pleasure, power, comfort, drugs, etc. What you are filled with will be evident because that is what you will talk about, worry about and be involved in the most. But if you are prudent, in the short time you have here, you will be filled with the spirit, and that fullness of spirit will be evident because much of your time and effort aside from earning a living and family life will be invested in Bible study. How else can we know the will of the Lord? Those who attend as many studies as they can are not only zealous, they are prudent and wise and know how to invest in the treasures that last forever. The life filled with the spirit will overflow in joyful praise expressed in songs, hymns and psalms. Singing isn't a duty, it is an expression and an overflow of what's inside!
Giving thanks for all things is also evidence, "it was because of lack of thanksgiving that the wise became fools and fell into darkness." Romans 1:21
Many times we are conned into confusing emotionalism or modernism with spirituality. If we feel excited or entertained, if we're impressed with size or lights and performance, we're led to believe that this experience is spiritual. But Paul explains that true spirituality in someone's life will be seen in knowledge and obedience of God's word; joyful praise and sincere gratitude for His kindness. With this criteria every Christian and every congregation can be filled with the Spirit, regardless of size or resources.
Be subject to one another
21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
True piety involves a particular attitude towards other people, and Paul describes the pious person as one who is able to subject himself to others. This word (subject) comes from the same root word used later on in Ephesians 5:22 (wives be subject/submit to your husbands). To be "subject" was a military term which meant to "place oneself under." It literally meant that a soldier would recognize another soldier of a higher rank and accept that person's superior rank and put themselves under that person's command. Paul says this should be everyone's attitude in the church. The question arises, "Well, how does the church function with this attitude since there are clearly roles of higher and lower responsibility and authority (i.e. elders, Hebrews 13:17 "…obey your leaders, submit to them…").
A person can still function in a leadership role and have a submissive attitude. Jesus was Lord of all, and yet He submitted to the Father's will, submitted to the weakness and needs of those He served and submitted to the limitations placed upon Him by His human nature. A mutually submissive attitude for everyone in the church does not eliminate leadership responsibilities or lines of authority, however, this kind of attitude does eliminate pride, rivalry and the desire of the approval of men, all of which are causes of dissention and disputes in the church.
A pious elder will see himself as a shepherd and a protector of the church, not its lord and master. A pious deacon will bear patiently with the weaknesses of his brothers and sisters instead of complaining about their deficiencies. And all will support the leadership of those appointed to that task without grumbling or jealousy knowing that their task is difficult and they need help, not criticism. A truly pious person is one who emulates the character of Jesus and His approach to dealing with people and problems. This approach begins with the willingness to submit to others' needs, weaknesses and positions for the glory of the church. This was the way the church began, Jesus subjecting Himself to a death on the cross. This is how the church continues, each member dies to self and lives for Christ.
We are reviewing the various features of a righteous lifestyle, which is one of the obligations of the church in response to the blessings God has given it. We've looked at three features of that righteous lifestyle that Paul describes: a loving attitude, a lifestyle that is beyond reproach and piety of character (prudence, Spirit filled and submissive). Note that in our day and age, to be tender-hearted and loving; to be beyond reproach in our lifestyle; to be careful, spiritually minded and submissive, this is not exactly the ideal man/woman for the 21st century. Christians have always gone against the grain and it is no different today in our generation.