Lesson 33 –
Ephesians 5:15-20 NRSV
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians is a letter from Paul to the church of Ephesus. Paul is writing some pretty intense directions to the church. This chapter reads like one of the more “judgmental” letters to the believers. It is from this chapter that you’ll hear a phrase that sounds something like “what’s done in the dark will come to light.” In your own devotional period, search for that phrase. What has that come to mean for you? How might you interpret that phrase in a way that does not equate darkness with evil?
Today’s lesson will focus on the importance of curating a life of discipline.
Read the scripture out loud together. What’s happening during this passage?
Paul warns the people that it is important to live as “wise people,” while making “the most of the time.” These are, in Paul’s words, “evil days.” Paul warns the people to understand the Will of God. The people are warned not to get drunk, but instead to be filled with the Spirit. Moreover, the people are expected to sing spiritual songs together. Rather than being distracted by evil, we are instead to “give thanks to God” and “for everything.”
Why are we supposed to live like this?
We can infer that if Paul is writing explicitly about overindulgence with substances like wine, then there is likely a serious problem in that community. So much so, that it has distracted people from what The Way can be. Certainly, there are other instances in the Bible where wine is spoken of in positive ways (like Jesus’ first miracle, or the Last Supper), but the overindulgence of this distracts people from building positive and healthy communities.
What’s the use of spiritual songs?
Some years ago, Pastor Simpson taught a series on Black sacred music. In this class, he reminded us of the power of communal songs. Spirituals, as we know, have coded language. Hearing the song “Steal Away to Jesus” was not just a spiritual song; it was a set of instructions for enslaved people to get ready to “steal away” to freedom. There are other examples of coded language inside spiritual songs. Can you think of some?
If we are not careful, we might believe that Paul is saying, “If you just sing songs, you will be fine.” That is not fully true. And sometimes, it’s the opposite of the truth! Instead, we can look deeper. Instead of retreating into secrecy and individualism, we can rely on the strength and wisdom of our communities, past and present. Spiritual songs remind us that we are not the first to endure the hardships we endure today. They keep us focused on the possibility of freedom. They keep us accountable to a vision of wellness, one that is often hard to believe in. Especially when you are actively enduring hardship!
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
CONNECTION TO TODAY’S WORLD
During the pandemic, mental health experts and substance abuse counselors have seen a skyrocket in substance abuse and dependency. According to William Stoops of the University of Kentucky, “People are more stressed and isolated, so they make unhealthy decisions, including drinking more and taking drugs.” And for so many, the very activities we might use to help our mental health and increase our coping strategies are impossible to access right now. The gyms are not available, dance classes are shut down or harder to get on the list for, church is modified greatly, and family activities are mostly virtual. The very strategies of in-person activities, which would often support people in recovery, are dangerous for the reasons of the coronavirus. In other words, while you can find a 12- Step Program online and participate from your own home, it might not meet the need that you have of someone looking you in the eye and recognizing your story.
As many experts have named, though, “addiction thrives in secrecy, and in the pandemic, you have more people alone and not accountable to friends and family.” If you find yourself in need of community, there are online groups to support your wellness. Most importantly, it’s crucial for us all to acknowledge just how difficult this is. We might not be able to “fix” everything that presents a challenge, but we certainly cannot fix any challenges we are unwilling to name. Please do refer to the list of resources at the end of this lesson for more information.
Journal: Are there times you need help with your own disciplined actions for health? What can help you engage your world with moderation?
Closing: Listen to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written by James Weldon Johnson
God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Our native land