Ephesians 5

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent; Ephesians 5:1-9


1 This is a letter of admonition, instructing Christians, according to the plan underlying Paul's epistles, not to become sluggish and careless, but by their deeds to evince their faith, and honor and proclaim the Word he has taught them; for the sake of the gentiles and unbelievers, that these may not take offense at the doctrine of Christ.

2 To begin with, having shown that we were made children of God through Christ, he admonishes us to be followers, or imitators, of the Father, as beloved children. He employs the most endearing of terms--V.1. “beloved children”--to persuade us by the Father's love to love even as we are loved. But what manner of love has God manifested toward us? It was not simply that love manifest in the fact that he gives temporal support to us unworthy beings in common with all the wicked on earth; that he permits his sun to rise on the just and on the unjust and sends rain on the grateful and on the ungrateful, as Christ mentions (Mt 5:45) in connection with his command to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. Not only thus did God love us, but in a special way: he has given his Son for us. In addition to showering upon us both temporal and eternal blessings he has given his own self; he has completely poured out himself for us, with all he is, with all he has, with all he does,--and we were nothing but sinners, unworthy creatures, enemies and servants of the devil. More than this would be beyond even his grace and power.

He who despises such glow of love, which fills all heaven and earth and is beyond all power to comprehend it; who does not permit this love to kindle and incite in him love for his neighbor whether enemy or friend--such a one is not likely ever to become godly or loving by such measures as laws or commandments, instruction, constraint or compulsion.

3 V.2. “Walk in love,” counsels the apostle. He would have our external life all love. But not the world's love is to be our pattern, which seeks only its own advantage, and loves only so long as it is the gainer thereby; we must love even as Christ loved, who sought neither pleasure nor gain from us but gave himself for us, not to mention the other blessings he bestows daily-- gave himself as a sacrifice and offering to reconcile God unto ourselves, so that he should be our God and we his children.

Thus likewise should we give, thus should we lend, or even surrender our goods, no matter whether friends claim them or enemies. Nor are we to stop there; we must be ready to give our lives for both friends and enemies, and must be occupied with no other thought than how we can serve others, and how both our life and property can be made to minister to them in this life, and this because we know that Christ is ours and has given us all things.

V.2. “To God for an odor of a sweet smell [for a sweet-smelling savor].”

4 This expression Paul takes from the Old Testament. There the temporal sacrifices are described as being “a sweet-smelling savor” unto God: that is, they were acceptable and well- pleasing to him; but not, as the Jews imagined, because of the value of the work or of the sacrifices in themselves. For such thoughts they were chastised by the prophets often enough. They were acceptable on the ground of the true sacrifice which they foreshadowed and encircled. Paul's thought is this: The sacrifices of the Old Testament have passed. Now all sacrifices are powerless but that of Christ himself; he is the sweet-smelling savor. This sacrifice is pleasing to God. He gladly accepts it and would have us be confident it is an acceptable offering in our stead. Moreover, there is no other sacrifice the Christian Church can offer for us. The once-offered Christ alone avails. Although, following his example, we present our bodies a sacrifice, as taught in Romans 12:1, yet we do not do so in behalf of ourselves or others; that is the function of the one sacrifice alone-Christ. Therefore, all sacrifices offered in the mistaken notion that they avail for us, or even secure forgiveness of sin, are wicked and unsavory. But more of this elsewhere.


V.3. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints.”

5 In naming uncleanness in addition to fornication, the reference is to all sensual affections in distinction from wedded love. They are too unsavory for him to mention by name, though in Romans 1:24 he finds it expedient to speak of them without disguise. However, also wedded love must be characterized by moderation among Christians. While there is a conjugal duty to be required by necessity, it is for the very purpose of avoiding unchastity and uncleanness. The ideal and perfect condition, it is true, would be cohabitation with a sole view to procreation; however, that is too high for attainment by all.

6 Paul declares that the sin he indicates should not be named of the Ephesians. Unquestionably, among Christians there will always be some infirm one to fall; but we must labor diligently, correcting, amending and restraining. We must not suffer the offense to go unchallenged, but curtail and remedy it, lest, as remarked in the preceding lesson, the heathen stumble, saying: “Christians tolerate such vices themselves; their conduct is not different from our own.” An occasional fall among Christians must be borne with so long as right prevails in general, and such things are neither tolerated nor taught, but reproved and amended. Paul gives the counsel (Gal 6:1) that the brethren restore the fallen in a spirit of meekness; and he blames the Corinthians for not reproving them who sin. I Cor 5:2. A sin, once punished, is as if the sin did not exist; it is no longer a matter of reproach.

7 Likewise with covetousness: we are to understand it is not to be named of Christians. That is, should one be covetous, should one defraud another or contend with him about temporal advantage, as evidently was true of the Corinthians (I Cor 6:1), the offense must not be suffered to go unreproved and uncorrected. The Gospel must be carefully upheld and preserved among the multitude, “that our ministration be not blamed.” 2 Cor 6:3.

I make this point for the sake of those who, so soon as they observe that all Christians are not perfectly holy, but will occasionally stumble and fall, imagine there is no such thing as a Christian and the Gospel is impotent and fruit-less. Just as if to be a Christian meant the mountain already climbed and complete, triumphant victory over sin! The fact is, it is rather a contest, a battle. Wherever there is a contest, or a battle, some of the combatants will flee, some will be wounded, some will fall and some even be slain. For warfare is not unaccompanied by disaster if it be real warfare.

8 The writer of the epistle goes on to assign the reason why it does not sound well to hear such things concerning Christians--because they are saints and it behooves saints to be chaste and moderate, and to practice and teach these virtues. Note, he calls Christians “saints,” notwithstanding that in this life they are clothed with sinful flesh and blood. Doubtless the term is not applied in consequence of their good works, but because of the holy blood of Christ. For Paul says (1 Cor 6:11): “But ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” Being holy, we should manifest our holiness by our deeds. Though we are still weak, yet we ought duly to strive to become chaste and free from covetousness, to the glory and honor of God and the edifying of unbelievers.

V.4. “Nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting.”

9 “Filthiness”---scandalous talk--is unchaste language suggestive of fornication, uncleanness and carnal sins. It is common in taverns and generally found as accompaniment of gluttony, drunkenness and gambling. Especially were the Greeks frivolous and adepts in this respect, as their poets and other writers attest. What Paul refers to in particular is the lewd conversation uttered in public without fear and self-restraint. This will excite wicked thoughts and give rise to serious offenses, especially with the young. As he states elsewhere (I Cor 15:33), “Evil companionships [communications] corrupt good morals.” Should there be any Christians forgetful enough to so transgress, the offense must be reproved; otherwise it will become general and give the congregation an ill repute, as if Christians taught and tolerated it the same as the heathen.


10 By “foolish talking” is indicated the fables and tales and other lore in which the Greeks particularly abound--a people who possess a special faculty for fiction of this sort. Similar are the tales commonly related by our women and maidens while spinning at the distaff, also those which knaves are fond of relating. Here belong also worldly songs which either relate lewd matters or turn upon slippery, frivolous themes. Such are “The Priest of Kalenburg,” “Dietrich of Berne” and innumerable others.

11 Particularly unchristian is every kind of such buffoonery in the church when men are gathered to hear and learn the Word of God. But the practice is common where many come together. Even where at first things of a serious nature are discussed, men soon pass to frivolous, wanton, foolish talk, resulting in a waste of time and the neglect of better things. For instance, on the festival of Easter, foolish, ridiculous stories have been introduced into the sermon to arouse the drowsy. And at the Christmas services, the absurd pantomime of rocking a babe, and silly declamations in rhyme, have found vogue. Similarly the festivals commemorating the three holy kings, the passion of Christ, Dorothy and other saints were characterized.

12 In this category should also be classed the legends of the saints and the confused mass of lies concerning miracles, pilgrimages, masses, worship of saints, indulgences, and so on, which once dominated the pulpit. Yet these falsehoods are too gross to be called merely foolish. They are not just frivolous lies merely destructive of good morals, such as Paul refers to here, but they completely overthrow faith and the Word of God, making sainthood impossible. Such kind of jesting is altogether too serious. Those, however, who have seen into them treat them as lies of the same frivolous and abominable character as the fables or old women's tales mentioned by Paul 1 Tim 4:7. But while the latter are mere human tales which nobody believes, which no one will place reliance on, serving as mere occasion of merriment, without becoming a source of general moral corruption, an obstacle to improvement and a cause of cold, indolent Christianity, the falsehoods of the pulpit are diabolical tales held as truth in all seriousness, but a comedy for the devil and his angels.

13 “Jesting” has reference to those conversational expedients which pander to gaiety in the form of scandal; they are called among us banter and badinage. Laughter, mirth and gaiety is their purpose, and we meet with them generally in society and high life. Among the heathen, jesting was counted a virtue, and therefore received the title “eutrapelia” by Aristotle. But Paul calls it a vice among Christians, who certainly may find conversational expedients of a different kind, such as will inspire a cheerful and joyous spirit in Christ. True, Christians are not all so pure but that some may err in this matter; but the Christian Church does not command jesting, nor suffer any member to abandon himself to the practice. It reproves and prohibits it, particularly in religious assemblies, and in teaching and preaching. For Christ says (Mt 12:36) that at the last day men must give account of every idle, unprofitable word they have spoken. Christians should be a very firm, though courteous, people. Courtesy should be coupled with seriousness, and seriousness with courtesy, according to the pattern of the life of Christ supplied in the Gospel.

V.4. “Which are not befitting.”

14 Paul apparently would include in the catalog all unprofitable language of whatever name. I would call those words unprofitable which serve not to further the faith nor to supply the wants of the body and preserve it. We have enough else to talk about during this short lifetime, if we desire to speak, enough that is profitable and pleasant, if we talk only of Christ, of love and of other essential things. The apostle mentions the giving of thanks. It should be our daily and constant employment to praise and thank God, privately and publicly, for the great and inexpressible treasures he has given us in Christ. But it appears that what is needful is relegated to the rear, while objects of indifference are brought to the fore.

Now, mark you, if Paul will not tolerate banter and suggestive conversation among Christians, what would he say of the shameful backbiting which is heard whenever people meet, though but two individuals? Yes, what would be his judgment of those who in public preaching clinch and claw, attack and calumniate each other?


V.5. “For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

15 Hereby he declares in dry words that the man who does not exhibit the fruits of faith is a heathen under the name of a Christian. Here is absolute condemnation in a word. The whoremonger is a denier of the faith; the unclean person is a denier of the faith; the covetous individual is a denier of the faith: all are rebellious, perjured and faithless toward God. Paul tells Timothy (I Tim 5:8): “But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” How could he utter anything more severe, more terrifying?

He begins, “For this ye know.” In other words: Doubt not; do not find vain comfort in the thought that this is a jest or an aspersion. A Christian name, and association with Christians, will count for nothing. It will profit you as little as it profits the Jews to be Abraham's seed and disciples of Moses. Christ's words (Mt 7:21) concern every man: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” There must be performance; faith must be manifested by works.

16 If the great fire of divine love which he uses as his first argument will not draw us, then may the terrible threat of hell fire prove a sufficient incentive. In other words, if men follow not God, walking in love and showing their faith by their deeds, let them know they are not God's children, not heirs in his kingdom, and therefore are unquestionably heirs of the evil one in hell. He who is unmoved by the threats of hell fire must truly be a stick or a stone; indeed, he must have a heart like an anvil, as Job says.

17 The writer of the epistle passes unusually severe sentence upon the covetous man, for he calls him an idolater, or a worshiper of a false God. Plainly, Paul entertained special enmity against the covetous, for in Colossians 3:5 he defines this sin in a similar manner. His reasoning, I judge, is this: All other sinners turn to use what they have and make it subservient to their lusts. Fornicators and the unclean make their bodies serve their pleasure. The haughty employ property, art, reputation and men to secure honor to themselves. The unhappy idolater alone is servant to his possessions; his sin is to save, guard and preserve property. He dare not make use of it either for himself or for others, but worships it as his god. Rather than touch his money, he would suffer both the kingdom of God and of the world to perish. He will not give a farthing to the support of a preacher or a schoolmaster for the sake of advancing God's kingdom. Because he places his confidence, his trust, in his money rather than in the living God, whose promises concerning ample support are abundant, his real God is his money, and to call him an idolater is entirely just. And, in addition, he must renounce heaven! A shameful vice, indeed! O contemptible Unbelief! what a dangerous vice art thou!


V.6. “Let no man deceive you with empty words.”

18 This applies to those who gloss their unchastity over, as if it were but a trivial sin. And some have been even such vulgar teachers as to consider no unchastity evil except adultery, and to accept it as a normal function, like eating and drinking. The Greek philosophers and poets were of this class. And Terence says, “It is neither a sin nor a shame for a youth to commit fornication.” To obey such doctrine would be to know nothing of God and to live in the lust of concupiscence, like the gentiles who know not God, of whom we heard in the preceding lesson. All arguments of this character are vain words; they may fascinate the reason after a fashion; yet they are vain and futile, unable to profit their authors.

Covetousness likewise has much false show and glitter. When one defrauds another or seeks his own advantage to the injury of others, his act is not at all called sin, but cleverness, economy and sagacity, though meanwhile the poor must suffer want and even die of hunger. Such arguments are merely the specious and blind utterances of heathen, contrary to Christian love.

19 But we have additional light upon this subject, showing that because of such practices the wrath of God comes upon the unbelieving. In First Corinthians 10:8 are cited numerous examples of punishment for the sin of fornication. See also Num 25. Again, because of wantonness, covetousness and unchastity, the entire world was destroyed by the flood. This is a severe utterance but true and indubitable.

V.6. “For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.”

“Sons of disobedience”--in other words, they who have fallen from the faith. Thus we see that he who does not show his faith by his deeds, is accounted practically an infidel. In fact, he is worse than an infidel; he is an apostate Christian, or an apostate from the faith. Therefore comes the wrath of God upon such, even here on earth. This is why we Germans must suffer so much famine, pestilence, war and bloodshed to come upon us.

20 Among these idle chatterers and misleading teachers the sluggards and drones should beware of being classified, who, with better light than the heathen, know full well that covetousness and unchastity are sin. While they teach nothing to controvert this, they notwithstanding trust for salvation in a faith barren of works, on the ground that works cannot effect salvation. They know full well that a faith barren of works is nothing, is a false faith; that fruit and good works must follow a genuine faith of necessity. Nevertheless they go on in carnal security, without fear of the wrath and judgment of God, who wants the old Adam to be crucified, and to find good fruit on good trees.

It is possible that St. Paul does not refer in this passage to those who, like the heathen, teach and maintain by specious arguments that unchastity is no sin; nevertheless there is reason to apprehend that the reward of the heathen will be meted out to them likewise; for they live like the heathen, being strangers to both chastity and kindness. And our apprehension is so much more justified because they have a better knowledge of the wrong they commit. This is Paul's standpoint when he asks (Rom 2:3): “And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practice such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” “After thy hardness and impenitent heart,” he adds, thou “treasurest up for thyself wrath.”

V.7, 8. “Be not ye therefore partakers with them; for ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord.”

21 Peter similarly counsels (I Pet 4:3) to let the time past of our lives suffice us to have wrought the will of the gentiles, and no longer be partakers with them, but live the rest of our time to the will of God. While we were gentiles we knew not that all those things were sin, because of the darkness of unbelief, which prevented our knowing God. But now we have become a light in the Lord. That is, we have been so amply enlightened through Christ that we not only know God and what he desires, and understand what sin and wrong are, but we are also able to light others, to teach them what we know. Paul commends the Philippians for being a light in the world, among an evil and untoward generation. Phil. 2:15. And, similarly, when we were gentiles we not only were darkened, not only were ignorant and went astray, but we were darkness itself, leading others into the same condition by our words and deeds. We have reason, then, to be thankful unto him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (I Pet 2:9), and to “walk as children of light.”

V.9. “For the fruit of the light [Spirit] is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.”

22 Since Paul is speaking of light, it would have been more to the point had he said “fruit of the light,” in accordance with the Latin version, than “fruit of the Spirit,” the Greek rendering. And who knows but it may, in the Greek, have been altered to harmonize with Galatians 5:22, where Paul speaks of the “fruit of the Spirit”? It matters little, however; evidently “Spirit” and “light” are synonymous in this place.

“Goodness” is the fruit of light, or of the Spirit, as opposed to covetousness. The Christian is to be good; that is, useful, gladly working his neighbor's good. “Righteousness,” as fruit of the Spirit among men--for the Spirit also “is righteous before God”--is opposed to covetousness. The Christian must not take another's possessions by force, trickery or fraud, but must give to each his due, his own, even to the heathen authorities. See Rom 13:1. “Truth” is the fruit of the Spirit as opposed to hypocrisy and lies. A Christian is not only to be truthful in word, but honest in life. He should not bear the name without the works; he cannot be a Christian and yet live a heathenish life, a life of unchastity, covetousness and other vices.


Preface To The Epistle Of Saint Paul To The Ephesians

(1546 and 1522)

In this Epistle, St. Paul teaches, first, what the Gospel is, telling how it was provided by God alone in eternity and earned and sent forth through Christ, so that all who believe on it become righteous, godly, living, saved men, and free from the law and sin and death. This he does in the first three chapters.

Then he teaches that different doctrines and the commandments of men are to be avoided, so that we may remain true to one Head and become sure and genuine and complete in Christ alone, in Whom we have everything, so that we need nothing beside Him. This he does in chapter 4.

Then he goes on to teach that we are to practice and prove our faith with good works, avoid sin, and fight with spiritual weapons against the devil, so that, through the Cross, we may be steadfast in hope.

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday After Trinity Sunday; Ephesians 5:15-21


1 Paul’s admonition here is designed for those who, having heard the Gospel and made a fine start in believing, immediately imagine themselves secure and think they have accomplished all. Forgetful that they are still flesh and blood, and in the world and in contact with the devil’s kingdom, they live in unconcern, as if delivered from all danger, and the devil far fled. By the very reason of their security they are overcome of the devil and their own flesh, and fall unawares from the Gospel. They have just enough connection with it to be able to prate of it, boasting themselves Christians but giving no indication of the fact in their conduct.

2 Paul would tell them how, in view of these things, vigilance is essential to the Christian life. To regulate the life by keeping God’s will ever before the eyes, always conforming the conduct to it — this he calls walking circumspectly and being wise. If you for a moment lose sight of God’s will, the devil immediately possesses you and works pernicious results, transforming a Christian into an indolent, self-secure hypocrite; a hypocrite into a heretic and factionist; and a heretic into an open enemy. So the apostle here teaches that in all seriousness if we would secure ourselves against the craft and power of the devil we must be vigilant; we must be careful how we walk. In Satan we have an enemy bent on hindering us; on undermining our very foundation.

3 Consequently they who fail to keep earnest watch over their Christian life — that is, to have a care for soundness of belief and to gladly hear and obey the Word of God — are unwise, even foolish, and have no knowledge of God’s will. They have removed the light from before their eyes to behold instead a thing of their own imagination. They see as through a painted glass, presuming they do well in following such phantoms of their reason, until they are misled and defeated of the devil.


4 Therefore, not without reason does Paul warn Christians to be always wise and circumspect — to keep the Word of God before them. Upon so doing depends their wisdom and understanding. Let each one make it a matter of personal concern, and especially should it be the general interest of the congregation. Where care is not observed to retain the Word in the Church, but there are admitted to the pulpit brawlers who set forth their own fraudulent doctrines, the Church is injured; the congregation will soon be as the preacher. Again, if the individual fails to regulate his daily life — the affairs of his calling — by the Word of God; if he forgets the Word and absorbs himself in accumulating wealth; if he is tangled with secular interests, he soon becomes a cold and indolent Christian, then an erring soul, and finally utterly disregards God’s will and his Word.

It is for these reasons God so frequently commands us in the Scriptures continually to explain and apply his Word, to hear it willingly and practice it faithfully, and to meditate upon it day and night. He would have our lives emanate from the Word in honor to God and gratitude to him — from the Word wherein we daily look as in a mirror. But care and diligence are necessary to bring it to pass, and we should faithfully assist each other by instruction, advice, and in other ways.

5 In my admonitions I have often enough urged those who have influence, to use all diligence in drawing the young to school, where they may receive proper instruction to become pastors and preachers; and I have earnestly advised that in cases of necessity ample financial provision be made for students. But, alas, few communities, few States, are interested in the matter. In all Germany, look at the bishops, princes, noblemen, the inhabitants of town and country — how confidently they go on sleeping and snoring in their indifference to the question. They presume to think there is no need for action; the matter will adjust itself; there will always be pastors and preachers. But assuredly they deceive themselves if they think they are consulting their best interests in this affair; for they will, as the text says, become foolish and fail to recognize the will of God. Therefore they will some day have to experience what they do not now believe: in a few years after our day they will seek preachers and find none; they will have to hear rude, illiterate dolts who, lacking understanding of the Word of God, will, like all stupid Papists, preach the vile, offensive things of the Pope, about consecrated water and salt, about gray gowns, new monasteries and the like.

6 Cry, preach and admonish as we will, no one will hear; foreseeing which, Paul prophesies that they who observe not God’s will, become unwise, foolish, and consequently waste the day of grace and neglect their salvation. Now, it is God’s will we should sanctify his name, love and advance his Word, and so aid in building up his kingdom. When we fulfill his will in these things, he will regard our desires, providing us with daily bread and granting peace and happiness.

7 Now, it should be our chief concern to preserve to ourselves the Word and will of God. That would truly be wisdom, and redeeming the time. But failing therein, it must be with us as with the unwise and fools; we will have to hear the declaration: “Since you refuse to sanctify my name, to advance my kingdom and to do my will, neither will I provide you daily bread, nor forgive your sins, nor keep from temptation and deliver from evil.” God will then permit us to deplore the great calamities of the world — its turmoil and wickedness, the cause whereof the world attributes to the Gospel. But the punishment just mentioned must be visited upon them who will not recognize the will of God and submit to it. These, however, desire to justify themselves and are unwilling to receive censure for having conducted themselves unwisely, even foolishly.

8 So much for a general observation upon the expression V.15. “walking wisely and circumspectly”; so much upon unwise conduct in regard to matters of vital importance to the Church, which have to do with the office of the ministry and with God’s Word. Where the ministry and the Word of God are preserved, there will always be some among the masses to attend upon the preaching of the Word and to conform their lives to it. But when the Bible leaves the pulpit, little good will be accomplished, even though one here and there be able to read the Scriptures for themselves and imagine they have no need of the preached Word. Where will the untaught masses stand? Note how it has been with the poor people in our time who were misled by Munzer and Munster, and their prophets and factionists.


Then let everyone lend earnest effort to promote public preaching of the Word everywhere, and public attendance upon that preaching; and thus rightly to found and build up the Church. Let him also put on the wedding garment himself (mentioned in the Gospel for today); let him take care to be found an earnest advocate of the Word of God, uninfluenced by thoughts common to the secure spirit: “Oh, there are pastors and preachers enough for me. I can hear or read the Word when I please; have access to it any day. I must give first attention to bread-winning and like things. Let others look out for themselves.” Take care, my dear sir; you can easily fail by carelessness here and be found without the wedding garment, perhaps may die without it, unaware how you are being deceived. Whose fault will it be but your own since you would not hear Paul’s admonition to walk wisely and circumspectly?

9 We should make provision while the opportunity is at our doors, for, judging from the present course of the world, it will not long retain what it has. Everywhere men are diligently helping to hunt down ministers, or at least to so bring to bear upon them hunger and poverty, to so oppose them with secret fraud, as to drive them from the land. And little trouble and labor will be required to accomplish it. We shall only too soon be rid of our ministers and have their places amply supplied by deceivers. I would much rather suffer in hell with Judas the Betrayer than to bear the guilt of accomplishing one minister’s death or of being instrumental in offering place to one deceiver. For it would not be so intolerable to suffer the anguish of the betrayer of Christ as to endure that of one who, by his sin in this respect, is responsible for the loss of countless souls.


10 Paul goes on to elaborate his admonition by explaining what it is to walk circumspectly and wisely — to V.16. “redeem the time, because the days are evil.” In other words: Think not happy days are in store for you and you may defer duty till better times; better times will never be. The devil is always in the world to hinder your every effort to do good, and his opposition increases with time. The longer you tarry, the less your power to accomplish good; wasted time only makes matters worse. Then redeem the time; grasp your opportunities as best you can. Let no interest be so dear to you as the promotion of God’s kingdom and the serving of the public in every good and useful way possible, whatever befall yourself.

11 Christ in like manner says to the Jews: “While ye have the light, believe on the light, that ye may become sons of light.” John 12:36. And Paul, after quoting from Isaiah 49:8, adds: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2. So his counsel in our text means: Take heed you receive not the grace of God in vain. Or, neglect not the matter of your salvation; enjoy while you may the opportunity of furthering the kingdom of God, for the sake of your own and others’ salvation. Defer not the thing to another time, lest the opportunity escape you.

Elsewhere (Galatians 6:10) the apostle says, “As we have opportunity, let us work that which is good.” In other words: Act now, while you may. Your time passes with astonishing rapidity. Be not deceived, then, by the thought, “Oh, I can attend to the matter a year from now — two years — three.” That is simply foolish. It is an unwise conclusion of the thoughtless. Before they are aware, they have lost the salvation extended them. They defer to consider God’s will, putting it off for a season, until they shall have accomplished their own aims; then they have deferred too long.

12 The Lord comes to your door. You do not have to seek him. If you are grateful he tarries to speak with you. But if you let him pass by you will have to complain as did the bride in Song of Solomon 5:6: “I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone … I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.” Think not you will find the Lord when he has once gone, though you traverse the world. But while he is near you may seek and find; as Isaiah says (Isaiah 55:6), “Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found.” If through your neglect he pass by, all seeking then will be vain.

For more than twenty years in my cloister I experienced the meaning of such disappointment. I sought God with great toil and with severe mortification of the body, fasting, watching, singing and praying. In this way I shamefully wasted my time and found not the Lord. The more I sought and the nearer I thought I was to him, the farther away I got. No, God does not permit us to find him so. He must first come and seek us where we are. We may not pursue and overtake him. That is not his will.

13 Then be careful to avail yourself of the present opportunity. Embrace it while he is near, and faithfully consider what he requires of you. To ascertain this, go to the Creed and the Ten Commandments. They will tell you. Regulate your life by them. Be helped by the Lord’s Prayer. Begin with yourself; then pray for the Church. Let it be your desire that God’s name be everywhere sanctified and that your life conform to his will. If you are faithful in these things, assuredly you will walk wisely; you will avoid sin and do good. For the study and practice of these precepts will leave you no opportunity to do evil. God’s Word will soon teach you to sanctify his name, to extend his kingdom, to do your neighbor no injury in mind, body or estate.

14 Observe this is “redeeming the time.” This is employing it well, while the golden days last in which we have remission from pain and sin. Not such remission as the Pope grants in his jubilees, wherein he deceives the world. Right here let us be careful not to cheat ourselves with the false idea that salvation cannot escape us. Let it not be with us as befell the children of Israel, of whom it is said in Psalms 95:11 and Hebrews 4:3 that because of their unbelief they entered not into the rest of God. They would not accept their opportunity in the forty years wherein he gave them his Word and showed them his wonders, daily admonishing them and calling to repentance and faith. They but tempted and provoked him the more. Hence another admonition was given the people of God and a certain day appointed: “Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Hebrews 4:7. Every day with us is “today” and we are permitted to hear God’s voice still imploring us not to waste the time.

15 Surely we ought supremely to thank God, as the latter part of our text enjoins, for the great blessing of his nearness to us. We have his presence in our homes. He is with us at our board, by our couch — anywhere we desire him. He offers us all assistance and grants all we may ask. So gracious a guest should indeed receive our high esteem. We ought to honor him while he is with us.

16 Well may we pray, as I have said. There is too much slumbering everywhere in Germany. We cannot perceive how it is possible to preserve the Gospel and fill the pulpits for ten years longer. To such extent does wickedness rage in the world that blindness and error must sweep it as before. And no one will be to blame but the stupid bishops and princes, and those of us who esteem not the Word of God.


Alas, that I am compelled against my will to be a prophet of ill to Germany. Yet it is not I, but the prayer of my Lord and your Lord; for according to its teachings he will say: “You neglected my Word. Unwilling to tolerate it, you persecuted and starved out its messengers. Therefore I will withhold your daily bread and give instead famine and war and murder, unto utter desolation; for you wish to have it so. Then when you cry for forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the evils come upon you, I will hear you as you heard my Word, my entreaties. I will leave you in your misfortunes as you left me and my Word.”

17 In fact, no one for a moment thinks of how God has signally, richly and graciously blessed us; how we are in possession of actual paradise — yes, the entire kingdom of heaven — if we only recognized the fact: and yet we shamefully, ungratefully and unreasonably reject the kingdom; as if it were not enough for us to overstep the Ten Commandments in our disobedience, but must even trample under foot the mercy God offers in the Gospel. Then why should we be surprised if he send down wrath upon us? What else is he to do but fulfill our Gospel passage for today, which threatens every individual rejecter and persecutor of God’s Son and his servants, by whom we are invited to the marriage — what else is God to do but send out a divine army of servants to arrest the career of such murderers and to terminate their existence? We are given a special illustration — an example to the world — in the instance of the fate of Jerusalem, and in fact of the entire Jewish nation. They sinned unceasingly against all God’s commandments, and when he proclaimed grace and offered forgiveness of sins, they trampled upon his mercy. Should Christ not revenge himself when they shamed and mocked his precious blood?

18 Unto all the abominable sins mentioned, we must heap blasphemies; for when wrath and punishment come upon us we make outcry, complaining that the Gospel — or the new doctrine, as it is now called — is responsible. The Jews blame us Christians alone for the fact that they are scattered throughout the world. Their prayers day and night are directed against us, in blasphemies and reproaches inexpressible. Nevertheless, it was not the Christians who harassed and scattered them, but the heathenish Roman emperor.

But whom other than themselves have the Jews to blame for their condition? for they would not tolerate Christ, when he brought them only help and boundless grace. Refusing to accept him whom God gave and in whom he promised all blessings, they necessarily lost their daily bread from God, except as they rebelliously extort it by usury and wickedness. They had also to suffer the loss of their national life, their priesthood and public worship, forgiveness of sins and redemption, and so remain eternally captive under the wrath and condemnation of God. Such is the just and inevitable punishment of the unwise — the foolish — who refused to recognize their opportunity when Christ was with them.

19 With this terrible example before our eyes, we are still unrepentant, pursuing the same course the Jews followed, not only in disobedience to the will of God, but in rejecting his grace. For that grace we should earnestly long and pray, striving to secure to our children after us baptism, the ministry and the sacrament, in their purity. In return for our perversity, it will eventually be with us as with the Jews and other ungrateful persecutors and rejecters.

20 Then let him who will receive advice and help, faithfully heed Paul’s counsel and redeem the time, not sleeping away the blessed golden hour of grace; as Christ earnestly admonishes in the parable of the five foolish virgins. Matthew 25:13. The foolish virgins might have made their purchases in season, before the bridegroom’s arrival; but failing to attend to the matter until time to meet the bridegroom, they missed both the market and the wedding.

21 The ancient poets and sages make use of a similar illustration at the expense of the cricket or grasshopper. As the fable runs, when winter came the grasshoppers, having nothing to eat, went to the ants and asked them to divide their gathered store. “What did you in the summer time that you gathered nothing?” asked the ants. “We sang,” the grasshoppers replied. “If you sang in the summer, you must dance for it in the winter,” was the response. Similarly should fools unwilling to learn the will of God be answered. Terrible and alarming is the wrath of God when with scorn and mockery he turns away a soul. In Proverbs 1:24 and 26 he threatens: “Because I have called, and ye have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man hath regarded .... I also will laugh in the day of your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.”

22 Some may ask what Paul means by adding to the phrase, “Redeeming the time,” the modifier, “because the days are evil”; if we are to regard the present opportunity golden, why are the days evil?


23 I answer: The time is unquestionably good so long as the Gospel is sounded — is faithfully preached and received. At the same time, even today the world is filled with evils, factions, false theories and bad examples of every sort; much of this wickedness is inherent in ourselves. With these things the Christian must always contend; the devil pursues, and our own flesh discourages us and allures from recognition and observance of the divine will. If we strive not against it, we shall soon lose sight of God’s will, to our own injury, even while listening to the Gospel. For the devil’s strongest fury is exerted to befoul the world with fanaticism, and to draw from the pure doctrine of faith into that evil even them who possess the Gospel. Moreover, being still flesh and blood we are always selfsecure, unwilling to be led by the Spirit, and indolent and unresponsive in relation to the Word of God and to prayer. Again, in the outward walks of life, in temporal conditions, only obstacles and evils meet us everywhere, impeding our spiritual progress and impelling us to suppress the Gospel and to rend the Church.

24 Let no one, then, expect to enjoy an era of peace and pleasure here on earth. Although the present time is in itself good, and God bestows upon us the golden year of his Word and his grace, yet the devil is here with his factions and followers, and our own flesh supports him. He corrupts the blessed days of grace at every possible opportunity, and so oppresses Christians that they must contend against him with their utmost strength and vigilance if they would not, through the influence of evils and obstacles, be wrested from the Gospel they have received, and if they would persevere therein unto the end.

Wherefore, we have the best reasons to adapt ourselves to the present time in the best possible way; to walk wisely and circumspectly, showing all faithfulness to the will of God; obeying it while we have opportunity — while still in possession of God’s Word, his grace and his Spirit. Being opposed and obstructed by the devil and our own flesh, we must, as Paul implies, be wise and careful; we must guard against following them. If we fail in this respect, it will not avail us to pretend we did not know our duty, or had not time to perform it and consequently could not cope with them. So, then, we are to understand by “evil days” the allurements that lead us away from God’s Word and his will.

V.18. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.”

25 The apostle touches upon several evils strongly tending to waste of time and neglect of the golden opportunity. Especially is drunkenness one, for drink makes men particularly self-secure, reckless and disorderly. The evil was formerly common in Greece, and in Germany today are men who delight in being riotously drunk night and day. Such individuals are utterly lacking in the faithfulness and interest essential to following the will of God. They are unable, even in temporal affairs, to persistently apply themselves, much less to be opportune. Indeed, so beastly and swinish do they become, they lose all sense of either shame or honor; they have no modesty nor any human feeling. Alas, examples are before our eyes plainer and more numerous than we can depict.

26 Paul’s words of admonition, V.19. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” are treated in the epistle passage for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany, where the text is similar.


Preface To The Epistle Of Saint Paul To The Ephesians

(1546 and 1522)

In this Epistle, St. Paul teaches, first, what the Gospel is, telling how it was provided by God alone in eternity and earned and sent forth through Christ, so that all who believe on it become righteous, godly, living, saved men, and free from the law and sin and death. This he does in the first three chapters.

Then he teaches that different doctrines and the commandments of men are to be avoided, so that we may remain true to one Head and become sure and genuine and complete in Christ alone, in Whom we have everything, so that we need nothing beside Him. This he does in chapter 4.

Then he goes on to teach that we are to practice and prove our faith with good works, avoid sin, and fight with spiritual weapons against the devil, so that, through the Cross, we may be steadfast in hope.

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