Ephesians 5 flows quite naturally out of Paul’s previous discussion of unity. Just as there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6), so also are we unified in Christ. If we are in Christ, our head, then we are no longer “children,” or rather “infants,” prone to being led astray or deceived (Ephesians 4:14). Therefore, our former way of life is put off in Christ. We have learned Christ, and therefore we are walking in the way of the Spirit, no longer corrupted.
Yet our mature manhood means that we remain “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). We are not young children needing discipline, but grown sons honoring our Father in heaven. Our childish things have been put away, because our understanding has grown accordingly (1 Corinthians 13:11-12). Being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) is growth and movement. What was once tolerated because of our youth has passed away as we become more and more like Him.
Therefore, we can no longer walk in those things which belong to the darkness. After all, the immoral and the impure have no part in the kingdom of God. Paul is not exaggerating, as if his intention were to frighten us. “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever” (2 Corinthians 6:15)? Ignorance is a cause for mercy only as long as it is genuine. But we are no longer ignorant, because we have grown up “in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Therefore, to walk childishly while knowing better in the ways of darkness is willful disobedience. The spiritual man-child has no place in the kingdom of God.
Paul’s examples of spiritual maturity are also rather specific. Sins such as sexual immorality, depraved in themselves, should not “even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3). Rather, they must be “exposed” or “rebuked” (Ephesians 5:11). To name them is to participate in them, however indirectly. As Jeremiah laments, “The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven” (Jeremiah 7:18). All of these activities, harmless and even good in themselves, participate in idolatry when directed toward that end, and none can claim innocence as a result.
Thus, Paul sets up a contrast in the pericope. We should be wise, not unwise; diligent, not lazy; understanding, not foolish; filled with the Spirit, not filled with wine; singing psalms, hymns, and songs, not uttering the works of darkness. Wisdom flows forth from fearing the Lord. We redeem the time given to us by not frittering it away in useless and unprofitable things. Understanding the will of the Lord comes from our holiness and being conformed to Him. We are intoxicated with the Spirit, so to speak, by seeking to do His will in all things. Finally, because we will be judged by our words (Matthew 12:36), how much more ought we to fill our words with the words of God, singing His praises and calling on His name? Such things must not be dismissed as legalistic or moralizing. After all, we are called out of darkness and into light. We are no longer dead, but alive in God. We are no longer infants, but rather sons of God. We are a new creation and being renewed day by day, so that our desires are no longer darkened, but enlightened and seeking after the will of God.