A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 5:5-21. More incentives to righteousness.

It is somewhat arbitrary to suggest a break after verse 4 and the beginning of a new paragraph with verse 5, especially when the same topic of sexual morality is being handled in both. Yet verses 3 and 4 seem to belong to the previous section’s practical examples of ethical conduct, each consisting of a balancing prohibition and commandment. After them, although verse 5 continues the topic of sex, we become aware that the emphasis has changed. Paul moves on in his treatment of Christian behaviour from models to motivation, and adds four powerful incentives to righteous living.

All employers in business and industry know the vital importance of incentives. How can workers be persuaded to work harder and better, and so increase productivity or sales? All kinds of inducement are offered in the form of higher wages, more attractive conditions, bonuses, holidays, recreational  and educational facilities, and then retirement and pension prospects. The best incentives are neither material nor selfish, however. Wise employers of labour seek to give their work force a heightened interest in their job, a greater loyalty to the firm, and a feeling of pride in what they are making or selling. All this bears witness to the nature of men and women, made in God’s likeness, who in addition to a job need reasons for going it, ideals to inspire them and a sense of creative fulfilment. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Bible which give us this doctrine of mankind is itself concerned not only with obligation but with motivation. People know what they ought to do; how can they be motivated to do it? Here is an aspect of the doctrine of sanctification (that is, of the process of becoming like Christ) which is much emphasized in the Bible and much neglected in the contemporary church.

The apostle has been arguing that because we are God’s new society we must adopt new standards, and because we have decisively ‘put off’ the old life and ‘put on’ the new, we must wear appropriate clothing. Now he adds more arguments for holiness. The first concerns the solemn certainty of judgment (verses 5-7) , the second what he calls ‘the fruit of light’ (verses 8-14), i.e. the implications of being people who belong to the light, the third the nature of wisdom (verses 15-17) and the fourth the fullness of the Holy Spirit (verses 18-21).


The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.