The Lord’s Day
July 16, 2006
“The New Walk (4): More Reasons Why – Wisdom”
Dr. J. Ligon
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians 5 as we continue our way through this great letter of the
Apostle Paul, not only to the Ephesian church, but to us.
We’ve been looking at this section that stretches
from Ephesians 5:5 all the way down to verse 21. We’ve said that throughout this
passage Paul is concerned to give us arguments, reasons, incentives, motivations
to the living of the Christian life. God loves us very much, and He knows that
we face many temptations, from without and from within: from the world, from the
devil, and from the flesh. And because He loves us very much, He arms us with
arguments against those temptations, and He gives us motivations and incentives
and reasons to live the Christian life, reasons to be different from the world;
reasons not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing
of our minds to live out the grace that God has shown us.
And in this passage, we said when we first began
that there are four reasons or motivations or incentives that the Apostle Paul
provides. We’ve studied two of them already. In verses 5-7, for instance,
Paul puts before us the picture of the final judgment, and he reminds us to live
in anticipation of that final judgment. It’s not, of course, a denial of grace.
Paul is the Apostle of grace. But the Apostle Paul, the apostle of grace, wants
us to understand that grace is never an argument against the call to live the
Christian life. And when we start arguing for grace against the living of the
Christian life, or grace against the requirements of living the Christian life,
we’re not understanding grace. And so he wants us to see that picture of the
final judgment and remember that all those who have received the grace of God,
all of those who have been transformed by the grace of God, all of those who
have been forgiven by the grace of God, all of those who have been brought into
God’s family by the grace of God, savingly trusting in Jesus Christ for
salvation, are people who want to live the Christian life, who want to be
different from the world. And on the last day before the judgment seat of
Christ, they will be vindicated and shown not only to have been forgiven and
justified only because of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also to have
been transformed and sanctified, and, finally, glorified, so that they are
different from the world around them.
Secondly, as we looked at verses 8-14 last week,
we saw the Apostle Paul remind us to remember what we were apart from God’s
grace. Apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit we were dead, we
were asleep in sin, but by the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have
been awakened, we have been raised to newness of life. And so he wants us to
remember what we once were and what we are now by grace, and he wants us to use
those as arguments against temptation and sin. We’re tempted to do something,
we’re tempted to fulfill a desire — a desire which is out of accord with God’s
word, which is displeasing to God, which is immoral, but which the desire as it
comes to us in the form of temptation seems to be a pleasant and desirable
thing. And Paul wants us to argue, “Lord God, help me to put this in light of
the judgment seat of Christ. How will this look on the last day? And because the
grace of God is alive and at work in me, do I not want to honor Him now so that
He will be honored then?” And then to argue against it, “Lord, You remember what
I once was! I was once totally dominated by these sinful desires, but You have
raised me to newness of life in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Lord God, help me to
live out what I am. Help me to be what I am. I am a new creation in Jesus
Christ. I am not going to go that old way.”
And now in this passage, in verses 15-17, he
gives you a third motivation or argument, or reason or incentive, and it has to
do (of all things!) with wisdom. It has to do with the fact that those who
have been saved by God’s grace, those who have trusted in Jesus Christ, have
been made wise by God. How then does that affect how we live? That’s what Paul
wants to speak with us about today.
Before we read God’s word and hear it proclaimed,
let’s look to Him in prayer and ask His help and blessing.
Our Lord and our God, we ask that You, the
Father, would open our eyes in Your Son, who is wisdom itself; by Your Holy
Spirit, to see the wisdom of Your word. It is not that Your word is unclear; it
is that our hearts are foggy sometimes, our eyes don’t see as we ought. So by
the Spirit, illumine our hearts and the eyes of our mind that we might see
wonderful things from Your word. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is God’s word:
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the
most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but
understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Paul’s argument is very simple and very clear in
this passage. It has two parts: You are wise; act that way. [Thank you! You
may close your Bibles and be dismissed!] Now that’s Paul’s argument. It’s that
simple. You are wise. God by His grace has made you wise. Once you were foolish,
apart from Christ, but God has made you wise. Now live that way.
I. God has made Christians
wise, by the Gospel
Let’s walk through his argument to
appreciate it in full. He begins in verse 15 by saying, “Therefore walk not as
unwise men, but as wise.”
Paul is reminding you there that you are not to live
as if you are unwise, because in God’s grace, by God’s grace, He has made you to
be numbered among the wise. He has made you wise. God has made Christians wise
by the gospel, and so Paul’s first argument here is “Remember what God has made
you: He has made you wise.” This in a sense is another application of the same
truth we learned last week. Last week he asked you to remember what you once
were apart from Christ, and what you now are in Christ, and to live in
accordance to what you now are. This is yet another application of that truth:
Once upon a time you were foolish, but by the grace of God in the Lord Jesus
Christ, He has made you wise.
This is Paul’s argument, by the way, in I
Corinthians 1 and 2. Paul will explain there that the Father, our heavenly
Father, has made Christians wise by His Son, whom, he says, is the wisdom
and the power of God, and through His Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that has
made us wise, and so though Christians are not wise in the sight of the world,
though the world thinks Christians are foolish — foolish to submit themselves to
the will of God, foolish to trust in Christ alone for salvation, foolish to hope
for life eternal. Nevertheless God says ‘I’ve made you wise, even though the
wise of the world themselves, in their foolishness, think that you are foolish.
I’ve made you wise. You possess the true wisdom. You realize that Jesus is the
wisdom of God and power of God. You recognize that He is your only hope of
salvation. You know that if heaven is purchased at the cost of your lifelong
attempt at self-improvement, that you’re not going to get there; that you’re
going to fail that test. But you, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, have had your
eyes opened to see One who is perfect, who in your stead bore sin, bore your
sin, so that your guilt would be dealt with, so that the penalty of your sin
would be dealt with, so that the power of sin’s dominion over you would be
And you have put all your hopes…you have rested,
you have trusted in Him, and God says ‘The Holy Spirit enabled you to do that.
The Holy Spirit opened your eyes to behold Jesus, who is the wisdom and power of
God, and you are in My estimation now numbered among the wise, because you have
kissed the Son. You have trusted in the only hope of salvation, and no matter
what the world thinks of you,’ God says, ‘I number you among the wise.’ And
because of this, Paul will appeal to our possession of true wisdom. It’s not
that we started off wise; it’s not that we were inherently wise, that we were
smarter than other folk; no, we were the least of all. But God in His wisdom
made the foolishness of the world to be wise, and the wisdom of the world to be
foolishness. And Paul can appeal to our possession of true wisdom as an
incentive to holiness.
This is yet another application of that ‘Be who you
are’ argument for the Christian life. God has made you wise in Jesus Christ, by
the Holy Spirit: now be who you are. So there’s the first part of Paul’s
argument. God has made you wise, Christian, by the grace of the gospel. You are
II. Because God has made us
wise by his grace, we are to live as those who are wise, to live out wisdom
Now here’s the second part of his
argument. You see it in verse 15 again: “Walk…as wise.” Because God has made
you wise by His grace, live like those who are wise. Live out that wisdom. Walk
as wise; live as a wise person. The argument is simple. Christians have been
made wise, so live like wise people. Behave like wise people. This is not
an argument unique to the Apostle Paul. James makes it, too. So many people try
and pit James and Paul against one another in various places. This is yet
another area where James and Paul say the same things in different words. Turn
with me just a few pages forward in your New Testament to James 3, and look at
what James says. James 3:13:
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his
deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”
James had to be from Missouri! He’s the “show me”
Christian. He says ‘You’re wise and understanding? Don’t tell me about it. Show
me. You’ve got wisdom? You’ve got understanding? Show me that wisdom and
understanding in how you live.’
You know that’s how wisdom is mostly talked about in
the Bible. Wisdom in the Bible is not some theoretical, ivory tower, airy fairy
thing. It is a very practical thing, and ultimately in the Bible wisdom is never
understood to be known until it is done. You may say that you believe something,
but until you’re doing that in the Bible’s parlance, you’re not wise yet. Wisdom
isn’t that you know some stuff; it’s knowing and believing, desiring, and doing
the truth, the will of God, all wrapped up together in your heart.
And so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian, you’ve
been made wise by the grace of God. Now live out that wisdom.’
Now you say, “OK, I think I can follow that
argument. Ah…What does it look like to be wise?” Well, thankfully the Apostle
Paul has not left you without encouragement in that area. He gives you three
pictures of what wisdom looks like. I want you to look at them with me in verses
15, 16, and 17.
The first thing he says is this: What are the
wise? Well, the wise are careful how they walk. The wise are careful how
they live. Listen to what he says: “Therefore be careful how you walk.” You know
that walk is a typical Old Testament and New Testament way to talk about
our way of life, how we’re living, the way we behave, how we act. And so the
Apostle Paul says a wise person cares how she lives, she cares how she behaves;
he cares what his life is like, what his relationships are like, what he does in
this life. One mark of a wise person is that the wise person cares how he lives.
He takes his behavior seriously. He knows that it matters how he behaves, it
matters how he acts, whereas some people don’t think about their lives at all.
They just sort of do it…they don’t think about it, they don’t’ reflect upon
it. They don’t think it’s particularly important what they do or what they don’t
do. The wise person knows that how we live does matter, and therefore the wise
person takes pains to ask himself, to ask herself, “Am I living wisely?” The
wise person takes care to be certain that the way he is living, she is living,
is in accordance with God’s will.
Now, that’s one mark of the wise person. There is a
real, deliberate carefulness about the way they live.
The second thing he says is in verse 16: The wise
make the most of their time. Look at what he says: “…Making the most of
your time, because the days are evil.”
For one thing, the wise are realists: the days are
evil; we live in a fallen world. We’re not always looking back and pining for
the ‘good old days’ because if we go back and look at the ‘good old days,’ they
were evil days, too. They had their own troubles. No, we’re not made for this
fallen world in this final state. We’re made for the new heavens and for the new
earth, when this fallen world and all its principles of sin has been cleansed
and eradicated, and the new heavens and the new earth have been brought in.
Until then, however, we’re going to make the most of our time.
You see, wise people know that time is a precious
commodity, and that it is to be used to its fullest advantage. Young Jonathan
Edwards made a series of resolutions one year. As far as we know, he only did it
once in his life. It was a long list, a very helpful list of resolutions. One of
those resolutions reads this way:
“Resolved: Never to lose one moment of time,
but to improve it in the
most profitable way I possibly can.”
He’s indicating a mark of a wise person. A wise person
knows that we only have so much time, and that that time must be used wisely.
Now let me say that there are many sons of this age,
there are many unbelievers, who know that time is valuable, and the Apostle Paul
is asking us to do more than simply to in the abstract recognize that time is
precious. You know, unbelievers can recognize that time is precious from the
standpoint of their getting satisfaction and fulfillment and joy out of what
they’re doing and out of this life, but Paul is asking more than that from
believers. He is asking us as we look at time to count it precious and make the
most of it, and always be asking ourselves ‘How is what I am doing with my time
contributing to the kingdom of God and to the Lord Jesus Christ? When I look
back on my life and the countless millions of minute duties that I did–some
mundane, some challenging, some exciting, some hard, some easy–when I look back,
do I see a pattern within those things? Along with seeking to be a good husband
or a good wife, and a good mother or a good father, and a good grandmother or a
good grandfather, or a good child, or a good employee — in the midst of all
those other things, was I ultimately desiring to, with my time, glorify God?
Whether it was by doing my job well — not just to make a salary, not just to
make more salary, not just to get a promotion, but to glorify God? Or in my
teaching, or in my studying, or in my parenting, or in my being a husband or a
wife, was my time consciously spent for the kingdom of God? Did I count it
When Gordon Reed preached my ordination service, he
chose that text where Jesus says, “Work, for the night is coming when no man can
work.” And I know Paul didn’t hear that message with his own ears, but I wonder
if that’s one of the things that the risen Lord Jesus Christ must have said to
him after the Road to Damascus, because this man worked knowing that the night
was coming when no man can work. And he’s calling you and me to use our time as
precious, because the night is coming, when our work here will be done.
The wise make the most of their time.
And finally, in verse 17, the wise understand the
will of God; or, to put it this way, the wise understand and do the will
“So then do not be foolish, but understand
what the will of the Lord is.”
As I say, in the Bible wisdom is not merely knowing
something without acting on it; it’s never simply knowing something without
believing in it, desiring it, and doing it; so also wisdom in the Bible is never
self-centered. Willfulness in the Bible is viewed as the epitome of foolishness.
Folly is willfulness. “I want it my way!” — that’s folly.
Wisdom, however, is knowing and wanting and
loving and doing the will of God. The quintessential prayer of the Lord
Jesus Christ is the prayer, “Not My will, but Thy will be done.” And you know,
the Lord Jesus didn’t just pray that for us so that we would admire Him for
having prayed it. He actually, when He was instructing His disciples to pray,
said, “Now, when you pray, pray this way: ‘Your will be done on earth just like
it’s done in heaven.’” So the wise man, the wise woman, knows, loves, desires,
wants, does the will of God–delights in doing the will of God! What did Jesus
say to His disciples repeatedly? “It is My meat to do the will of Him who sent
me.” It’s like sitting down at a banquet to get to do the will of God. I love to
do the will of God. I don’t just know it, I believe it, I love it, I desire it,
I want it, I do it.
Nothing is more important in life than knowing God’s
will and embracing it, but the place where we come to understand and know God’s
will is in the course of doing it in the living out of life, especially in the
context of trials. There are some things that we can only learn about the will
of God as our belief in that truth is tested in the crucible of life. So, so
many of you know this because of how God has proved Himself and His will to you
in the course of your own pains and sorrows and struggles.
Derek shared with us a story last Sunday night [and
if you missed that sermon, you need to get that audio…it’s one of those
special, almost mystical evenings]…but he shared with us the correspondence of
those five young pastors who were martyred in Lyon, France, for their faith,
back in the sixteenth century. He shared their correspondence in which they
wrote to their former teacher:
“We are bold to say and affirm that we shall derive more profit in this school
for our salvation…” [the school of prison, and ultimately of death, of
martyrdom…they would be burned at the stake]…”We shall derive more profit in
this school for our salvation than has ever been the case in any place where we
have studied. We testify that this persecution and prison is the true school of
the children of God, in which they learn more than the disciples or the
philosophers ever did in their universities. Indeed, it must not be imagined
that one can have a true understanding of many of the passages of Scripture
without having been instructed by the Teacher of all truth in this college of
That’s why Martin Luther once said, “A Christian is not
made by reading books, but by living and dying and being damned.” Now, Luther
had a provocative way of putting things, didn’t he? But you understand what he
means. He means that it is in the crucible of trial in this fallen world that we
learn whether we really know the God that we profess to believe, and whether we
really understand His will. And if we do, we love it, we desire it, we do it.
That’s exactly what Paul is saying here. He’s saying
‘Christian, God has made you wise; now live out that wisdom in the crucible of
your trials and the crucible of your temptations, and He will prove Himself and
His will to you.’
Our Lord and our God, speak to our hearts by Your
word. You tell us that we are wise. We don’t feel that way sometimes, O God; but
make us to be wise, to live as the wise, to resist temptation, to love Your will
for Your glory and our everlasting good. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Congregational hymn: That Man Is Blest, Who
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the
Father and our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
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