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So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21

The letter to the Ephesians inspires us to live out our Christianity in a way that stands out from the world. We are called to live a life worthy of our Christian calling. Three ways of describing it show us just how exceptional this calling is:

  1. We are light, not darkness. Sometimes we let our past sins consume us and drag us down. But even though we once were darkness, our calling confirms that we are now light in the Lord. We have a bright future (pun intended) because we are the children of light and that light shines forth to reveal the truth of God. It exposes what is wrong about sin and darkness and how that hurts people and ruins lives; but this isn’t a crusade, it’s just who we are and our speech and behavior reflect God’s light.
  2. We live in self-sacrificing love, not self-indulgent lust. We are imitators of God. The example of Christ himself is what shapes our definition of love. We are not consumed with greed or selfish desires (sexual or otherwise). Our speech and behavior reflect Christ’s love.
  3. We are wise, not foolish. This is the final contrast. God’s people are not foolish. So, what does it mean to be wise?

To live as a wise person means more than having knowledge. Education and intelligence are not necessarily the same thing as wisdom. Wisdom means having skill about how to live. And often that wisdom is transmitted to us by those who have lived a little longer than us but have the wisdom not to be arrogant about it.

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." – Mark Twain
Proverbs 4 is a testimony to this. The wise man is asking us, his children, to pay attention to his wisdom – wisdom that he himself learned from his father. But he wants us to learn wisdom so that ...
My child, listen to me and do as I say, and you will have a long, good life. I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths. When you walk, you won’t be held back; when you run, you won’t stumble. – Proverbs 4:10-12

Since wisdom has to do with the way we live, then living wise (according to the text of Eph. 5) means ...

  1. Making the most of opportunity. We are naturally inclined in our culture to link wisdom with opportunity. We live with sayings such as “When opportunity knocks, open the door.” We understand this and we equate opportunity and wisdom with success. This is why we remember Thomas Edison, but not Heinrich Göbel. Göbel invented the light bulb 25 years before Edison secured the patent. But Edison innovated on the light bulb and made the most of the opportunity for its practical application. We can understand making the most of opportunity, but the difference for Christians is that we are make the most of opportunities to do good, not simply to be successful. The important opportunity is for good because the days are evil. The times are evil because of the darkness, greed, and foolishness in the world. So what better opportunity is there for God’s people than to live in light, love, and wisdom. This is essentially what evangelism is all about. [Note: Evangelism is not mass recruiting or fund-raising] What opportunities are in front of us? Will we be wise in acting on that?

  2. Living wise means that we will seek wisdom. We will find it as we strive to understanding the Lord’s will. Discerning the Lord’s will is not a matter of fortune-telling – that’s foolishness, not wisdom.
    One day an engaged couple went to see a man of wisdom. These devout believers were very anxious because they loved each other so much and they were devoted to God, but they wanted to be absolutely certain that it was God’s will that they should be married to one another. Alas, they had sought some sort of sign or insight from the Almighty, but nothing was forthcoming. So they turned to this man’s counsel. His reply was, “Have you considered that God may not have an opinion on whether you two get married or not?” The couple was astounded and wondered if this man really was wise. “How can you say that?” they asked. “Doesn’t God care about marriage? Doesn’t he want a man and woman to stay married forever? Isn’t it important to God?” To that the wise man replied, “Indeed, God cares about marriage and his will for marriage is clear. Now God may not care one way or another if the two of you choose to get married to each other, but if you do then he certainly has a strong feeling about how you ought to live together in that marriage. If you will honor that, then you will be living in God’s will.”
    Like the young couple, it is easy to assume that God’s will represents some hidden script to the future. But that’s not God’s will, that’s fate. God’s will is “what God wants.” And since the days of the Ten Commandments (and even in the Garden of Eden) God has been pretty clear about his will – i.e. what he wants. Understanding that is what it means to live as wise people.

  3. Living wise means being filled with the Spirit. Look at the text and notice all the choices: We can make the most of the opportunities, or we can participate in the foolishness and evil of the age. We can understand what the Lord wants, or we can act thoughtlessly. Finally, you can be filled with the Spirit, or you can get filled “with spirits.” God’s people ought to be the ones who understand how to live joyfully and how to celebrate the goodness of creation with thanksgiving. Unfortunately the world has cornered the market on celebration. Celebrating and living it up are equated with excess.
    Being filled with God’s spirit of holiness doesn’t mean that we must be drab and miserable. In fact, the text spells out clearly that we ought be singing and practicing thankfulness. Notice that the aim of the singing is to encourage one another and lift each other up. This is much better and more beneficial to all of us that the world’s foolish counterfeits to joy and celebration.
    So, when we sing let’s truly sing from the heart. There’s more to this than simply be non-instrumental. We can focus on the musicality, the order, the arrangement, the notation of the songs, but to do all of that and miss the spirit of our hymns and songs is just foolish. But we aren’t foolish, we have God’s wisdom. It is a gift for the asking. God’s spirit is a spirit of wisdom, so let’s live in wisdom and take the opportunity as often as we can to encourage one another to do what Christ wants us to do.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 8 July 2007

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