Do you wish to be wise? Do you wish to make wise decisions? Would you like to give wise counsel? Would you like to discern God’s will and use your time wisely? Our text wants that for you. Let’s see what wisdom we can gain from it.
We are about to close out this section of Ephesians regarding the Christian walk. It began with chapter 4, verse 1 in which the Ephesian saints are told “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Such a manner included “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Paul then presented the Christian walk in the context of the church. In verse 17 he moved to the walk of Christians in the world. They are to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds,” who are darkened in their understanding. That led to a series of contrasts in behavior given with the illustration of putting off old clothing and putting on new. The summary of the appropriate walk was given in 5:2: “walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Paul will spoke again of their walk, this time, not merely as a contrast to the old ways of walking but in terms of what it should accomplish. In 5:8 he said, “Walk as children of light.” That light will expose the darkness and even transform those who walk in it. Now we come to the final instruction about walking.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
The “then” in verse 15 certainly refers to what Paul has just been saying about light and darkness. If we are light, and by our light we expose the darkness so that others may come to faith, surely we sure look carefully to how we walk before them. But coming as it does at the end of a long section about the Christian walk, Paul is probably thinking of all that he has said beginning in 4:1. This worthy walk in love and light, which contrasts with the walk of the world, requires ongoing attentiveness, less we stray back into the old ways. As my colleague Jonny McGreevy commented, “The Christian walk is not merely about choosing the right path but how we walk on the path chosen.”
Paul gives us three thoughts to keep in mind about the walk. We are to walk with wisdom; we are to make the best use of the time; and we are to understand what the will of the Lord is. Let’s take them in order.
First, we are to walk with wisdom, “not as unwise but as wise.” Paul has basically been saying this all along with his put off/put on imagery. All these sinful ways of the old life are unwise. They belong to those who “are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (4:18). This is un-wisdom, born out of ignorance of God.
Wisdom – biblical wisdom – is tied to knowledge of God. In 1:17, Paul prays for the Ephesians “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” One could label the first three chapters in the book as the revealed wisdom of God. The latter three chapters then present the practical lessons drawn from that wisdom. And so, with such biblically informed wisdom – wisdom that is informed with the knowledge of God and his ways – we are to walk in this world, so that we do not become of the world.
Secondly, we are to make the best use of the time. Paul notes “because the days are evil.” I think what he is saying to the Ephesians is something like this: Look around you. You have come out of a way of life that was marked by darkness in understanding and behavior. But that way of life is the very society in which you still live and can easily fall back into. You must, therefore, make a determined decision to use your time in such a way so as to mature in faith and to grow up into your head, Jesus Christ (4:13-16). You must use your time wisely to step clear of the traps and obstacles that the world places in your way. You must take advantage of every opportunity to do good, to be light, to grow in faith, because you live in such a time and society that works against such things.
Thirdly, we are to understand what the will of the Lord is. This is contrasted with being foolish. The contrast helps to clarify what understanding the will of the Lord is about. It is not about knowing the secret counsels of God through which he directs the course of history and determines who the elect are. Nor is it about getting special revelation about the specifics for our own lives. It is about being wise. The fool is wise in his own eyes and trusts only himself. In contrast to the fool is the wise person, and the mark of wisdom is knowing God and living according to the ways that God has revealed. For example, the fool will lie in order to attain his end. He thinks to himself that lying is a good and clever means of protecting himself and getting ahead. The wise person knows that God forbids lying and that trust in God is the best means of achieving God’s ends for him. With such knowledge and trust in God, he then is likely to determine God’s will for specific situations. So understanding what the will of the Lord is about understanding how the Lord would have us go about making the daily decisions we make in life.
So, how wise are you? What does it take to walk in wisdom, making the best use of the time and understanding the will of God? Here are some thoughts to consider.
1. To act as wise persons we must be people who make time for thinking.
Our tendency is to fill our time as consumers. We allow little time, if any, for reflective thought. From the moment we get up to the time we go to sleep, we fill our waking time with music, news, instruction, and entertainment. And with iPods and smart phones, this is easy to do. We now may go through a day in which every waking moment is covered by sounds coming into our ears and/or receiving visual communications. We no longer need to be caught alone with our thoughts.
If our minds are always receiving (and if James Boice were here he would add being entertained), we cannot develop the capacity to think deeply. And yet that is necessary exercise for wisdom to mature. We cannot look carefully at how we walk if we are continually distracted by sights and sounds coming in, even if they might be good sights and sounds.
And so I encourage you, practice restraint turning on the car radio or cd player. You do not need to listen every time you are driving. Do not listen to your iPod every time you must ride or walk. Take some time in the day to be alone with your thoughts. Well, not completely alone. Do your thinking in conversation with God.
Your subject might be the great questions of life; they might be the pressing issues of the day; they might be the personal cares of your life. Whatever the case, give yourself thinking time with yourself and God. You might find it a difficult exercise as you learn how dependent you are on being fed outside communications. But such exercise will build your ability to act wisely.
2. To act as wise persons we must critique what the world produces and the impact on us.
What the world produces is not necessarily bad. Because of God’s common grace, there is much produced by unregenerate man that is helpful and good. We are in the midst of a technological and communications revolution that is making information available that before was restricted for one reason or another. We now have means to be connected in ways never before and to exchange information.
But with every innovation we must take the time to critique its impact both positively and negatively. There are obvious examples. The same internet that allows us to explore masterpieces in the arts and literature, to be exposed to the fruit of historical and scientific inquiry heretofore unavailable to us is the same internet that allows us access to pornography and other harmful material we normally would not experience.
But the wise person will also consider the subtle effects (both good and bad) that technological advances bring. James Boice, through the influence of Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) often spoke of the way TV impacted news and religion. While we thought we were being informed, the very nature of TV, which depends on being entertaining to keep our attention, was turning news and religious programs into entertainment shows. This has been so effective, by the way, that no serious presidential candidate today can afford not to make a showing on Saturday Night Live and being interviewed on entertainment shows. The impact on us is that we are now programmed to need whatever we receive in an entertaining format. It certainly has crept into churches which now advertize worship services as “dynamic” and promise customer satisfaction.
Consider the tremendous access to news and information. Through the internet, e-newsletters, tweets, blogs, websites, video sites, etc., we are inundated with information. And yet, the very format of this information has shortened our attention spans. We are less able to read long, comprehensive writings, especially if they are void of pictures and visual effects. The very reason churches have changed their worship to more visual effects is to adapt to a generation that can no longer sit still and keep focused. Maybe there needs to be adapting, but are we contributing to a process that will make the sustained study of Scripture and the doctrines of grace ever more difficult? A wise person will consider such things.
3. A wise person studies God and his ways.
This seems an obvious statement but touches on another subtle way in which we become more like the culture than we suspect. Like everyone else, we want to set the agenda for what is important to know. And what we want to know is what we think will benefit us, what will get us along in the world and be successful. What happens in this quest is that God becomes a mere tool to help us with whatever we are trying to achieve. That alone is offensive, but more to the point here is that it is ineffective. To understand life, to have wisdom for daily living we must understand the Creator, the Ruler of life, and the Redeemer for who he is. Otherwise, we will live foolishly. The study of God is not a discipline reserved for theologians. It is about getting to know the God for whom we were created and redeemed so as to glorify him. If we are not living to his glory, our lives will be out of order. But we cannot glorify him if we do not know him as he is.
Paul Tripp’s ministry illustrates this principle. He advertizes his teaching as practical and relevant. He is going to help your marriages get better and help you raise your children better and be more productive. But when you open his books and listen to him teach, he takes you to “the bigger picture” – who God is, what God is doing, what we were made to do in light of God’s character and will.
How do we study God and his ways? We study his revealed Word. We avail ourselves of teachers who can help us in that study. We study him through natural revelation – through his creation and through what we experience, always taking both back to the revealed Word, Scripture, for examination. But, of course, our focus must always take us to Jesus Christ, God the Son, who by his life reveals God’s character, and who by his work reveals God’s will. And the lens that we must use is the cross. Jesus’ work on the cross takes us to profound depths of understanding.
4. To make the best use of the time we must consider how we are using our time.
We are told that an examination of how our money is spent will reveal where our hearts are. Maybe so, but a review of how our time is spent certainly will be telling. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to make the best use of the time because the days are evil. All about them are opportunities to be lured into snares. And so it is with us.
We know about the obvious sinful temptations. But consider how innocent activities can lead us into evil days. Consider again the internet. It has opened wonderful opportunity to be connected with family and friends and to make new friends. And yet, it is easy to become so enamored of our online friends that we spend more time in virtual relationships than with those of flesh and blood.
Understand further that what we spend our time in will shape our values. The object of the entertainment industry is to capture our time, (to be followed by our money). As we become enamored of entertainment we begin to tolerate, then accept, its values. We certainly see this in sexual mores, but don’t limit it do that. Rick Phillips wrote an article on biblical masculinity for byFaith magazine, taken from his book The Masculine Mandate. He speaks of his love for a John Wayne movie, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and how, living in a military family, he was completely enamored of Wayne’s portrayal of masculinity, summed up in two words, “Never apologize!” Phillips goes on to write, “When I became a Christian, however, I learned that not every manly saying in John Wayne movies should be adopted. ‘Never apologize’ may sound great in theory, but in practice it can combine with a man’s sin nature to make him overbearing and arrogant.”
Phillips speaks of watching this movie a thousand times and, here’s the point, “absorbed much of its ethos.” That is what happens to us in whatever activity or environment we spend most of our time. We absorb the ethos. It is when he converted to the Christian faith, and as he says, “became more familiar with Scripture,” that he gained insight into the biblical view of being a man. In other words, by spending more time in the study of Scripture, he was able to critique the entertainment message rather than be inculcated by its values.
5. To be wise, to make the best use of time, to understand God we must desire above all else to know him and to glorify him.
This was the key to Jesus’ perfect life. He said, “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). Jesus died for us in love, but understand that his primary love is that which is for his Father, in whose will he delights. As Hebrews 10:5-7 explains:
5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
"Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'"
It is his Father’s will that Jesus delighted in doing. Again, Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross. What was that joy? Certainly it encompassed the salvation he would accomplish for us, but the verse concludes that he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. His joy was in being received back to his Father in glory. His comfort and strength was the loving relationship of his Father. In such confidence of his Father’s love, in such a love flowing out of him for his Father, God the Son acted wisely; he used his time wisely; he understood and delighted in doing his Father’s will, and thus he won for us our salvation.
And here is the wondrous part – we can join in. Listen to Jesus as he prays to his Father in Gethsemane.
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me…26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:20-26).
Until you grasp the joy set before you, you will not stay the course. Until you know the treasures that belong to you now you will seek after worldly treasures. Jesus knew the treasures he possessed as well as what awaited him. Do you know the same? Do you know what you have in Jesus Christ now – the love of the Father, the fellowship with the Father and the Son, the possession of the Holy Spirit? That is what Paul presented before the Ephesians in the first three chapters so that they could walk in a manner worthy the calling that he presents to them in the latter three chapters. The walk is not an easy one, but the walk can be filled with blessing and fulfillment if we know what we have from God and if we then desire to know him and desire to please him.
And it can be walked with wisdom if our wisdom is found in knowledge of God and his ways. Our time can be used well if spent delighting in his presence. And we can discern his will if his glory be our vision.
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