The Lord's Day Morning
July 16, 2006
“The New Walk (4): More Reasons Why – Wisdom”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
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 broken.
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 wise.
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 precious?
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 of God:
“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 suffering.”
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 Fearing God]
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.