As you turn in your bibles to Ephesians 5, I want to conduct a little poll this morning. The last time you flew, how many of you paid careful attention to the safety instructions being given by the flight attendant? As they were telling you what to do to be sure that you would be safe in the case there was an emergency mid-flight (or post flight), how carefully did you scrutinize what they were telling you? Where is the floatation device? Under the seat in front of you? Was it your actual seat? Where exactly were the emergency exits? Would you be exiting the plane on an inflatable slide? Or steps? How would you exactly get that door open?
Now, my guess is we didn’t pay that close attention to those instructions, did we? Why not? Because we assume too much. We assume that the plane will take off and land the way it has so many times before, with a little fretting, but mostly a denied passivity. It’s the same thing that happens when you go to the doctor and she tells you that you need to lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol, you need to loose some weight, you need to lay off the cigarettes and cigars, you need to get more exercise. We don’t take these urgings seriously enough, do we? And as a result, we find ourselves one day looking back at that moment we were instructed by our flight attendant and our doctor, and say, “Boy, I wish I would have listened!”
Today, we are going to hear a similar urging from the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul. We roll our eyes on the plane and in the doctor’s office, but please, don’t let that be your attitude today! See the Lord’s kindness to us in His urging us to examine our life! Listen to Paul as he prods us and instructs us in our passage.
If you remember from our last time together, Paul had been exhorting the believers in the churches of Asia Minor to be separate from the “darkness” of the “sons of disobedience” who would be receiving the wrath of God. He then told them to “walk as children of light.” He now is going to take all that he said in vss. 3-14 and tell us what we must do as a result, and it is this, our first and only point in the sermon:
By beginning this passage with “therefore,” Paul draws our attention back to the previous verses that deal with the way of life that we as believers have left, and to the attitudes and actions that should be present in the life of a believer. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but Paul has written a lot in this letter about the results of the new life that has been given to the believer when God supernaturally stepped into his or her life and given new life to the one who was spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. So often Paul speaks of what the follower of Christ is to “put off” and to “put on.” In fact, since Paul made the shift in Ch. 4 from theological instruction to practical exhortation, he has not stopped urging “you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:1-3). He continuously draws our minds over and over again to how we are to “walk,” a hebrew way of speaking of how we live.
And here in vs. 15, Paul one last time refers to our “walk,” telling us to “look more strictly how y'all are walking, not as unwise, but as wise.” Paul isn’t concerned about the biomechanical action of movement in their lives, but he is instructing them (and us) to look, or to examine our lives the way a soldier at boot camp examines his bed linens before the drill sergeant enters the barracks to judge his preparation. I’m sure there isn’t a passive or lazy bone to be found when the surety of that event has gotten through to that soldier. Paul tells us that with that kind of daily diligence and ongoing, accurate precision we are to examine our walk.
But for what are we to be searching as we examine our lives? Wisdom and unwisdom. Does your life show the influence of wisdom? Is wise living on the increase as you walk, or is it decreasing into unwisdom? What does the wise life look like? Well, Paul has been instructing us to walk with the wise since 4:1:
Walk with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, being equipped for the work of ministry, attaining to the unity of the faith of the knowledge of the Son of God, being mature like the stature of the fullness of Christ, not being like children who are tossed around following false teaching, speaking the truth in love, growing up into the head of Christ, not living like the world, not being callous and sensual and greedy to practice every kind of impurity, but putting off the old self, and and being renewed in the spirit of our minds, putting on the new self which is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness, putting away falsehood, speaking truth, be angry without sinning, not stealing, but working honestly so that we may share with those in need, not speaking corruptingly, but building up others with our words as it fits the occasion, putting away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice, being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, imitating God as beloved children, walking in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, not being sexually immoral nor impure nor covetousness, not talking filthily nor foolishly, nor joking crudely, but instead speaking with thanksgiving to God, not being partners with these foolish children of disobedience because the wrath of God is coming on them, but instead walk as children of light and discern what is pleasing to the Lord, exposing works of darkness.
Whew. That’s a lot. But that is what Paul considers to be wise and unwise living. And it is to that that we are to pay careful attention by looking carefully as to how we live.
And as we do this difficult, but fruitful work of Carefully Examining Our Lives For Wisdom, Paul tells us 3 ways that we may do this. (See, one point, but 3 sub-points!)
What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I think this kind of thinking is to what Paul refers when he says to “walk, not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of/redeeming the time because the days are evil.” When we consider that our lives are not ours to do with as we might please, but are a gift from God to be light in further exposing His glory, and in doing so bringing us the most and best joy, we realize that Paul is calling us to examine our walks to see if we are wasting our lives. I encourage you all to read through the book that Matt and Rich have been teaching so well to the youth this summer, Don’t Waste Your Life. In it, Pastor Piper looks at many of the ways that we may indeed be wasting the time that we’ve been given in our short, but potentially worth-filled, lives.
Paul tells us here that the days are evil, and that therefore we must redeem them from the evil. This is marketplace language. We are to buy them back, and it will cost us. We are to make them useful for good. We are to make them servants of righteousness rather than slaves of sin. But how do we do this? How can we keep from our days wasting away into a history of foolish living?
Paul tells us, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what is the will of the Lord.” So again, an exhortation against foolish or unwise living, with an added encouragement to understand the will of the Lord. This is how we will redeem the time. This is how we will purchase back evil days. So there you go. Easy as pie, right? What in the world does Paul mean by ‘understand the will of the Lord?!’ How can we who are human possibly know the mind of God?
Well, there are two aspects we must understand here. First, there is one kind of knowledge of the the Lord’s will that we can definitely know, and that is what theologians call His revealed will. This kind of will refers to those things that God has told us through His prophets and apostles and Son, written in the Scriptures for our aid. You see, we can no more know God’s will apart from His revealing it to us than we can know Him without the same! Without the One who is spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth telling us He is all of those things, we would be like ants trying to figure out the characteristics of the atoms in the tail of Haley’s Comet. We might see the phenomena from a distance, but we’d have no clue as to what He is really like. And we could also not know His will without Him in His kindness telling us what He desires.
But God has told us about Himself through history and instruction, and most clearly in His Son. We see what God is like in the person of Jesus. And through the teachings of Jesus, and of His apostles (those He commissioned to take forth the good news), and through the prophets He sent in the Old Testament, we are told what the revealed will of the Lord is. Like in the catechism question for this month: “Q42 What is the duty which God requires of man? A42 The duty which God requires of man is obedience to His revealed will.” “You’re kingdom come, You’re will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is never going to be God’s will that we have other gods before Him. He will never approve of false images being made to represent Him, because He has shown us what He is like in His true image, His Son Jesus. We will never be able to have lust in our hearts and be pleasing to God. Never will it be okay to covet. Even in Paul’s writings here, it is not the will of the Lord for our days to be not redeemed. Understand what the will of the Lord is, and cease being foolish.
But while all of these revealed things can be known about God, there is an aspect of His will that we will never know. What is called His “secret will.” These are things that God has sovereignly chosen not to tell us about what He wills. These are elements of God’s will that we can know only in hindsight, and then sometimes only in part. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16). And unfortunately, this is the aspect of God’s will that we spend the most time trying to figure out! Which college should I attend. Who should I marry. Should I buy this house, or this one? In light of the recent market volatility, should I keep my stocks, or sell them? Should I move my family overseas to speak the good news of Jesus' atonement to an unengaged and unreached people group? Try as we might, we can’t figure out a hidden code in the Bible for these kinds of answers.
But we can seek biblical wisdom. Has this college been voted in the top ten party schools for the past five years straight? Maybe not so wise a decision. Is the person I’m considering marrying an unbeliever? Scripture is clear. Is this house going to stretch me so much that I have nothing to share with those in need? Is my life and the life of my family going to be spent for the American dream or for the glory of God? Now obviously there are numerous factors to be considered in some of these questions and answers, but would this not be a good use of the “evil days” to do what Paul tells us in vs. 10, to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord?”
And one reason we have such a difficult time understanding what is the will of the Lord and thus walk in wisdom is that we don’t heed Paul’s admonition in vs.18.
Paul has a concern for the christians in Asia Minor that they are filling their lives with the wrong things. So, he urges them to get their time back to pleasing God. He further urges them to seek what God would have them do in their lives. And now he urges them to stop allowing the world to fill their lives, but instead be filled by the Spirit.
Now, the emphasis of this verse falls heavily on the latter part of the verse “be filled by the Spirit.” But before we look at the implications of being filled by the Spirit, let’s consider the implications of the first part of the verse. “Do not get drunk with wine, in which is debauchery/reckless deeds.” Is Paul really pitting the imbibing of alcohol against the filling of the Holy Spirit? Well, yes, he is. But I would say no more than at other times he pits the wasting of time or speaking crudely. Paul is not saying that being drunk with alcohol is on par with being devoid of the Holy Spirit. What he is saying is that there is a danger in allowing the fulness of anything compete with what the Spirit is putting into our lives. And being drunk with alcohol does pose a particular danger in that when drunk, we are not able to control our thoughts, feelings, and actions the way that Paul has urged us to do throughout this letter. But we could also be urged to be careful not to allow the watching and filling of television, or the imbibing of Facebook to keep us from being filled by the Spirit. I don’t say this to soften the danger of being drunk with wine, but instead to harden the danger of being filled with the world.
Too often we take the opportunities we have to be filled by the Holy Spirit and waste them on things that last for a moment, do us damage, and then are gone and useless to us. Paul calls us to give ourselves an accounting of our lives here. ‘Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.’ Being drunk with wine, not the best use of your time. What is the best use of your time? Being filled by the Spirit.
Now, Paul’s already spoken to the importance of being filled by the Spirit. In 3:14-19, Paul said:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
This is a Trinitarian work, here. The Spirit is the agent of filling, filling us with Christ, that we may experience the fullness of God. This is simply amazing. That we, those who were once darkness, but who are now light in the Lord (5:8), can not only be acquainted with God, not simply be in His presence, but that we can be filled with Him! We must respond the way Paul did in 3:20-21: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
But, how can we examine our lives carefully for the Spirit’s filling? At the risk of further division of my one point sermon, let’s see four ways:
“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” Notice not “singing to one another” (Chris Wilbanks), but speaking. Paul is talking about a horizontal fellowship with each other that causes us to look upwards to Christ and give Him glory. It is being so fully marinated in the Word of God and the songs that we write in response to that Word, that we spontaneously erupt in these songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. This is similar to what Paul says in Col. 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” It is difficult to make a distinction between these three kinds of songs Paul mentions here, and they all serve the same purpose of being towards each other for the glory of God, psalms being what we have in the psalter, hymns being similar to what Paul just quoted in 5:14, and spiritual songs being those songs that are prompted by and spoken in the Spirit. Paul is pointing us to our need to horizontally encourage each other by Scripture and doctrine, and we do this as we are filled by the Spirit.
“Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” If the first test question for examining our lives for the Spirit’s influence is horizontal, the second is vertical. Do you, from your heart, sing and make melody to the Lord? Is singing about God and to God just something you endure while you wait for the real worship of preaching to start? Let it not be so! This is one of the primary ways our heart exults in the goodness and beauty of God! This is what the sinless angels did when they witnessed the first breaths of their Lord being born in Bethlehem! This is what the inanimate creation does when we are absent from doing it! Even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, don’t let that be a deterrent from your singing to your Creator and Redeemer!
“Giving thanks always for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father…” A third test for examining our lives for the Spirit’s influence is the presence of thanksgiving to God for all things He has done in our lives. As the late John Stott said, “The grumbling spirit is not compatible with the Holy Spirit.” One of the worst besetting sins of Israel was that they constantly were grumbling against God for what they thought they should be given. We are to understand that all things are a gift to us by a loving and holy God, who cannot by His nature give us what is bad, and who wants to give us what is good for us and will bring Him glory. Our “oppressive parents,” our “unruly children,” our less than helpful boss, our whatever-we-don’t-like-but-just-might-be-forming-Christ-in-us thing, we must see as gifts from God to shape us into the image of Christ. We also must fight against the idea that what we have is from us, and not from God. Where did you get the strength to work hard at making the earth rotate so that we don’t fly into space so that you can sit at your desk? How long have you been holding the universe together so that you can go through the drive through at Starbucks? You see, you have nothing that you have not been given, so thanksgiving should be a mark of your speech and your thoughts.
“Submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” The final test of examining whether we are being filled by the Spirit is whether we are submitting to one another. Paul will spend much of the rest of this epistle on how Christians are to do this, but lets examine the concept before we (or you) examine specific instances of submission in the form of husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters (or employees and employers).
To submit literally means “to place under.” And we do this “in the fear of Christ.” This is similar to what we are to do in our relationship with God James tells us in James 4:7. We are to submit to our leaders in the church, for they “keep watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” the author of Hebrews tells us. In the former example, we are not equal in worth to God, but of course we are see that He is higher than we are, and so we should submit gladly to Him. But in the latter example, our leaders are not more worthy than we are. They are not better than we are. But we recognize that God has placed them functionally over us, so we are to submit to them. This distinction between the value of a person and the function of a person is necessary in understanding how and why we are to submit to others.
Paul will take this participle “submitting” and use it as the basis for the household code that will span 5:22-6:9. Wives submit to their husbands and to Christ by respecting her husband, while husbands submit to their wives and to Christ by loving his wife as himself. Children submit to their parents and to Christ by obeying their parents, while parents submit to their children and to Christ by not provoking them to anger, but bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Slaves submit to their masters and to Christ by obeying their masters with a sincere heart as servants of Christ, while masters submit to their slaves and to Christ by “doing the same to them, and stop threatening them because you have the same Master.” The picture is this: We all have the same God to whom we are to submit because He is of a greater worth than we are. We then are to submit to each other who are of same worth, though that will look different depending on our different functional roles.
So are you being filled with the Spirit? This is a present, passive, imperative verb. That means it is not a choice, it is a command. And it is to be done not just once, but ongoing and for the rest of our lives. But it is something that must be done to us by the Spirit. We are to be filled. And this is something that He loves to do! The Spirit wants to fill you up more and more with the fullness of God in Christ!
But do you see these marks in your life? Speaking to one another with a Godward focus? Singing praises to God? Giving thanks to God? Submitting to one another in the fear of Christ? If so, then keep redeeming the time by examining your life and seeking the Lord’s will by being filled with the Spirit! But if you see no current evidence of the Spirit’s influence in your life, and if you don’t see it increasing, then don’t simply pass this entreaty off as just any another. Understand that you are in danger of finding yourself among the dark number that Paul has already told us will be judged by God as guilty. This is not a call to gather up your strength and try to will obedience into reality. This is a call to cry out to Jesus and beg Him to make you a new creation with new desires. Those who have been changed by the Spirit are filled with the Spirit. Will you heed this safety instruction?
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