Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 1, 2009

Sermon on Ephesians 5:15-20


  1. Not foolishly with sin
  2. But wisely with the Spirit

Text: Ephesians 5:15-20


The Wisconsin State Fair took place while my family was on vacation visiting our parents in Wisconsin earlier this month.  As you may be aware, the Wisconsin State Fair has a reputation for offering lots of fat- and calorie-laden food.  Cream puffs and fried cheese curds are among the food items you can fill your stomach with at the state fair.  This year there was a new item on the menu that will add five pounds to your weight as soon as I mention it: chocolate covered bacon!  (Apparently that’s not just a Wisconsin State Fair item; my wife came across chocolate covered bacon for sale at Lunardi’s).  I’m not exactly the healthiest person on the planet, but that just seems like it crosses the line.  Maybe the obligatory cream puff should be a part of one’s Wisconsin State Fair experience, but too much of the fair’s menu might not be a good thing for you to fill your stomach with.

We know that it is important to fill up our bodies with the proper kind of nourishment.  And it will probably come as no surprise that the same can be said for our souls.  Over the last few Sundays, our Gospel reading from John chapter six contains Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse.  Jesus explained to his listeners how important it was to fill up their souls with the proper kind of nourishment—nourishment that comes from feeding on the gospel in God’s Word.  And that’s the same point Paul encourages us to consider in today’s Second Lesson.  Fill up your soul.  Don’t fill your soul up foolishly with sin, but fill it up wisely with the Spirit.


The school year at Gloria Dei starts this week Wednesday.  Many other area schools have already started.  Teachers are embarking on another year of imparting wisdom to their students.  At Gloria Dei, the wisdom we want to give our school students is more than knowledge about math and reading and science.  We also want to give them wisdom about God’s Word and will.  We want them to know what God says about sin and salvation, so that our students stay away from the foolish influences that harm their faith and stay close to the good news about Jesus that strengthens their faith and increases their spiritual wisdom.

Paul talks about a dichotomy between sinful foolishness and the Holy Spirit’s wisdom in our reading.  “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Perhaps you’ve heard someone talk about “your walk with God.”  What they are probably getting it as the way your life reflects your faith.  Our reading says, “Be very careful…how you live,” but the Greek word Paul used actually means “walk” instead.  It’s the same idea as the expression, “your walk with God.”  There are so many sinful influences in our society, and there are so many temptations that appeal to our sinful nature, that Paul wants his readers to continuously evaluate every moment of their lives.  There is never a moment we can put down our guard or think that we can let our faith coast for a while.

Why does Paul write with such concerned language?  At this point in his letter, Paul is on a two chapter-long roll about godly Christian living.  But his concerns about the Christian life are not without cause.  Christians still have a sinful nature inside them that prefers to fill up on sinful foolishness than to follow God’s wisdom.  “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”  To make his point, Paul lists a specific example of sinful foolishness.  “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.”  Paul’s original words are even stronger: drunkenness doesn’t merely lead to debauchery, but it is debauchery.  If someone foolishly thought that drinking in excess is fine so long as it affects no one else, he would be missing the point, because that foolish violation of God’s will is recklessness and senselessness in God’s eyes.

Paul’s example of drunkenness reminds me how some people view sin and sinful influences.  “How much can I get away with before I’ve crossed the line?” is a question and an attitude that our sinful nature loves to flirt with.  “If I just get a little drunk, and don’t hurt anyone else, then it’s okay, right?”  “If I just think a few lustful thoughts, and don’t actually commit adultery, then it’s okay, right?”  “If I’m just a little greedy, but still give something to church, then it’s okay, right?”  “If I’m just a little neglectful of God’s Word, if I don’t have a devotional life in private but I still come to church in public, then it’s okay, right?”  To that, Paul—and God—respond with an emphatic, “No!”

Sin is never okay in small quantities.  Sin is not dessert for our souls that we can enjoy in moderation.  Sin is not wine for the soul: a little is good but a lot is bad.  Sin is poison for our souls that can kill faith in a single dose.  Whether drunkenness or lust or greed or neglecting God’s Word or something else from a whole host of sinful menu items, sin is not something God takes lightly.  God was not kidding when he told our first parents to stay away from that one, single tree in Eden’s garden.  But they didn’t listen.  They brought sin on themselves and on us; they brought death on themselves and us.  And you and I have a long and rich history of repeating the sinful and foolish ways of our first parents.  You and I have our own personal histories with incident after incident of filling our souls with the words and thoughts and deeds of sin’s hellish and deadly poison, all because our sinful nature will never take God’s Word seriously in everything it says.


If there is a spiritual vacuum in our lives, you can make a safe bet that Satan will be right there to fill it with sin.  And that’s why Paul wants to make sure his readers’ souls are not a spiritual desert and wasteland.  That’s why Paul wants his readers to fill up their souls with the Spirit’s wisdom.  “Instead, be filled with the Spirit,” he simply says.  Souls that are filled with the Holy Spirit will not be a spiritual vacuum for Satan to fill.  Souls filled with the Spirit are souls filled with knowledge and trust that Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin and death and hell.

Something that is important to keep in mind when we read any New Testament letter is that a letter is meant to be read as a whole.  Paul discusses in these verses what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit, but he doesn’t say much here about how we are filled with the Spirit.  That’s because he has done that thoroughly in previous sections of the letter.  In chapter one, you can read how God chose you to be his own before you were born, and even before the world was created!  In chapter two, you can read the beautiful truth that God took us, who were spiritually dead from the moment of our conception, and made us alive in Christ.  God graciously sent his Son Jesus to trade places with us under the law and die our death on the cross, and on top of that God has also sent his Spirit into our hearts so that we know and believe those gospel truths.  In chapters two and three you can read how God has taken people from every corner of this world, people who may not otherwise have a common bond or connection, and brought us all together into the church by bringing us to faith in Jesus Christ.

The adoption, forgiveness, grace, faith, and love we have received from Jesus Christ are food for our soul.  It is the food that keeps our souls fed and it is the fuel that keeps our lives in line with God’s will.  At the end of our reading, Paul describes three different ways that our walk with God may be seen.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Normally, we view “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” as something we address to God.  But Paul adds that our praises to God are also directed to each other.  We praise God for his grace to us in Jesus, but we teach and strengthen each other when we sing,

Our grateful thanks to you we bring,

For your great glory, heav’nly King,

For all, O Father, you have done

Through Jesus Christ, your only Son.

O Lamb of God, to you we pray.

You take all human sin away.

Have mercy, Lord; receive our prayer;

From God’s right hand your mercy share.

Stanzas 2 & 3 of the metrical paraphrase of the Gloria in Excelsis from “Divine Service II” in Christian Worship: Supplement, (c) 2006 by Stephen P. Starke

That is why it is so beneficial to sing songs that do not merely express how I feel about God, but to sing songs that express what God has done for us.  Those songs praise God for his grace and fulfill Paul’s encouragement to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”  And those songs go with us during the week so that we may “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” personally as we walk with him and his Word each day.  And whether it is in outward song or inward thought, Paul envisions a Christian attitude that is “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty, joy and sadness, we have reason to thank God in Jesus’ name for Jesus’ cross and empty tomb and for applying Jesus’ forgiveness straight to our hearts.

So let the Spirit fill up your soul!  Let your soul be filled with the Spirit’s wisdom that points you to Jesus’ forgiving grace and enables you to live life in the shadow of that grace.  Let the Spirit fill your soul with the comfort that comes from the knowledge that God called you to be his own, and your wavering and worrying does not negate the Spirit’s baptismal call.  Let the Spirit fill your soul with the peace that comes from the cross of Jesus, where Jesus endured the war our sins caused and did war with Satan to defeat and destroy him forever.  Let the Spirit enliven your soul with the good news that Jesus’ grave was empty on Easter morning and that your grave will also be found empty at the resurrection on the Last Day.  Let the Spirit feed you with the very body and blood Jesus gave for you to forgive you and to strengthen you for the walk that lies ahead.  Let the Spirit fill up your soul with God’s wisdom so that obeying God’s commands and submitting to his will becomes a joy and not a burden.  Let the Spirit fill up your soul with the grace and mercy and love and peace that come from the blood of Jesus, and you will be filled with the finest feast that will feed your soul today and for eternity.  Amen.



  1. Pastor, this is an example of a great law / gospel sermon I only wish I could hear on a regular basis. I really appreciate you posting it. Thanks very much!

  2. Just dropped in to say thanks, again. I really appreciate you adding an atom feed to your site. There’s nothing quite as nummy as starting the day catching up on your sermons. I am blessed. 🙂


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