"Joy" does not appear in this passage, but Paul's purpose is to instruct us how to produce the sustained sense of well-being that should mark a Christian's life. When a person feels good about life, about who and what he is, what he is doing with his life, and where it is headed, a sense of joy is always present. Paul's instructions are timeless in producing this.
"Walk circumspectly" indicates keeping the commandments. Paul advises us to make the most profitable use of our time, considering the state of this world. He warns us not to be foolish, and always to consider, search for, and focus upon the purpose God is working out. Then in verse 18 he makes an interesting contrast that directly involves producing the joy that should accompany the life of anyone heeding these instructions.
The verse contains a play on words. It is no accident that alcohol is associated with "Spirit." Paul's counsel is not to seek joy in the sensuous, self-centered, worldly ways that produce dissipation or debauchery, but rather to be filled with the Spirit, singing and meditating on God's Word as we give thanks in all circumstances. This formula is guaranteed to produce a sustained sense of well-being because it removes the natural self-seeking from our lives and replaces it with a God-centered way of glorifying Him. This allows joy to be the fruit, the blessing of the Almighty, rather than the direct object of our pursuit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy
Notice the encouraging reason Paul gives to wake up and carefully mind how we live: "Christ will give you light." This is an outright promise that He will give us the help to do what we must do. Backed by this promise, we are to redeem the time "because the days are evil." If his days were evil, what would Paul think of ours?
This passage reveals how the early church regarded time as it applies to a Christian. For us, all days - every period in which God's people have had to live their lives by their God-given understanding, thus by faith - are evil. God's truth has always run counter to the course of this world. Thus, the truth adds a peculiar, stressful difficulty to life regardless of when it is lived. Moreover, since each called-out individual has only one opportunity to lay hold on eternal life, and must overcome, grow, and prove his loyalty to God during that time, he must make use of every experience.
Galatians 1:3-4 confirms this perspective: "Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." In terms of growing and overcoming, living in a particular period in history gives a Christian no advantage. Every era, every age, is against him, and within it, he must make the most of his calling. The times have always been evil.
To the church, then, because it must operate responsibly toward God within a highly specialized understanding of life and its purpose, every age is full of the cyclical, frustrating, repetitious events that Solomon called futile vanities. Such events lead nowhere and produce a discouraging fatalism.
However, a Christian also knows that God is directing time and events to His desired end. Thus, the church's view of time is an elegant combination of both realities, realizing that it has a work to accomplish as an organization and that each individual Christian must grow and overcome within it. So, as Christians, we must face the evil of repetitious vanity produced by sin, which history clearly records, with faith in the hope of a glorious victory for God's called-out ones, which God's Word prophesies.
Thus, Paul advises in Ephesians 5:17, "Therefore . . . understand what the will of the Lord is." As we live our lives each day, we should never let what God says slip from our minds. His point is that we need to make the most of every opportunity because time is inexorably moving toward God's desired end, and it will not stop and wait for us. We do not want to be left behind! No occasion is too insignificant to do the right thing. Time is precious! We, like God, must take it very seriously.
We must not make the mistake of relegating Christian living to a mere couple of hours on the Sabbath. Christianity involves every aspect of life. Personal study and prayer are times of clarifying God's will. But we must not neglect the doing of His will as occasions arise - and they will arise every day. Woe to us if we disregard them, for they comprise the very circumstances that challenge us to overcome and grow in our seeking of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part Two): A Foundation
Verse 13 encourages us to understand that God is purposely exposing our sins to us for our eternal good so that we might share life in His Kingdom with Him. Therefore, He urges us in verses 14-17 to wake up and take advantage of this, for if we continue in sin, we are as good as dead. But because it is His desire to save, He exposes our sins to us so that we can repent.
Doing our part by overcoming is necessary if we want to experience the fullness of our redemption from sin. We must take advantage of the great gift of His Spirit, using every opportunity that comes our way to confront our weaknesses and drive on to perfection. He implores us not to let what has made us special to Him slip from our grasps.
Thus, in verse 17 especially, He urges us to follow wisdom through clearly understanding His will for us. He wants us in His Kingdom, experiencing life as He lives it, but a measure of responsibility for responding in submission falls directly on our shoulders. We know what we must do—we must take the time and make the effort to take advantage of our uniqueness before Him. Time is running out, so let us do it!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Our Uniqueness and Time