Vol. 10 — No. 44 November 2, 1969


Walking Wisely Means

Ephesians 5:15-21

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

In Christ Jesus, who would have us live our lives wisely, Fellow Redeemed:

Our text is an admonition of Paul to exercise Christian wisdom in our daily lives. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” In other words: “Look carefully then how you walk” or “Be most careful then how you conduct yourselves.” In a paraphrase: “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility.” To make that admonition more forceful Paul used a negative and a positive word to put his meaning across. Our King James translates: “Not as fools, but as wise.” The Selection of the word “fool” by the King James translators was not the best because the word is derogatory, carrying with it the flavor of downgrading or belittling. When one calls another a “fool,” he hurts that person. For that reason our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount that whosoever shall say to his brother “Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Matt. 5:22. To call someone a “fool” is to strike at him with the tongue, a sin against the fifth commandment. Paul doesn’t use that word in our text. He is contrasting the spiritually unwise with the spiritually wise, the sensible man with the simple-minded. He is urging his Ephesian readers and all Christians that they should take care how they walk, how they conduct themselves, how they act in their daily lives. They should walk as wise men, not as unwise.

When Paul urges us to act wisely and not unwisely, we should surely realize that there is a world of difference between that which the world calls wisdom and that which our Lord calls wisdom. Paul spoke of this contrast graphically in the opening chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians. He stated that he had been called to preach the cross of Christ but not “with wisdom of words…For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” Paul then downgrades the so-called wisdom of this world which was and to this day is unable to recognize the true God in the Person of Jesus Christ and which is unable to realize that salvation can be found alone in the crucified Christ. Because of this blindness of the wisdom of the world Paul says that “not many wise after the flesh” are called, but that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” I Cor. 1:18-27. In the passage of our text Paul is contrasting spiritual wisdom, which the world would call foolishness, with the lack of spiritual wisdom, which the world calls genuine wisdom. Paul elaborates on what it means to walk wisely, not unwisely in life. In following his thought we find that—

Walking Wisely Means

I. To take advantage of every opportunity.

“Redeeming the time, because the days are evil,” Paul writes. At first glance this appears to he a choice bit of worldly wisdom: Don’t waste time, for time wasted cannot be regained. This is something for children of God to learn also. Each of us has been given a certain amount of time to use in our lifetime. Whatever we waste can never be reclaimed. It’s gone—for good!

But the word that Paul uses for “time” means more than just the clicking off of the seconds. It is special time adapted for a certain thing, a season for something, hence an opportunity. To redeem the time means to buy up the opportunity, that is, to take advantage of every opportunity. The direction of Paul’s thinking is indicated by the reason that he gives for seizing upon each and every opportunity: “Because the days are evil.” It is because the days are evil that our lifetime is called a “time of grace,” that is, an opportunity to come under the shadow and shelter of the grace of God in Christ. God gives each person a certain amount of time in his life—not just to grow up, acquire a trade or prepare for a profession, get married and raise a family, accumulate an estate. No, there is something much more important. We were all born into this world as children of wrath. The world into which we were born is evil and doomed to destruction. The days in which we live are evil. The main reason that our God extends our days is to give us opportunity to come to repentance and to learn to know His Son, Jesus Christ, as our one and only Savior from sin, death, and damnation. We are to take advantage of the opportunity given us to find Christ and then to bring Christ and His salvation to others. And oh how many opportunities there are for such efforts in our area!

Redeem the time, the opportunity that a special time presents. The hours from 10:00 A.M. till noon every Sunday are a special time, a unique opportunity. The opportunity is to hear God Himself speaking to you through His word in this House of God. Through the more informal instruction in the Sunday School and through the formal presentation in the sermon and in the Scripture readings God Sunday after Sunday is telling us what He has done for our salvation, is calling us to repentance and faith, and is instructing us in Christian living. And yet we have many people in our congregation who for little or no reason keep on missing these opportunities. That is not walking wisely, but unwisely. The exhortation is to walk wisely by taking advantage of every opportunity to fortify oneself spiritually, for the days are indeed evil.

Walking wisely furthermore means—

II. To make every effort to understand what the will of the Lord is.

St. Paul exhorts, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” Paul warns against being “unwise.” The word he uses means not using your reason or sense, being foolish in that sense of the word. How can one combat such foolishness which is the failure to use the reason that the Lord has given man? By making every effort to understand what the will of the Lord is.

This is what we are trying to do in our congregation. We want to be what the Lord wants us to be—a teaching church so that our members learn to understand what the will of the Lord is. That is why we teach the Bible stories instead of sociological theory in our Sunday School. This is why our Sunday School staff meets weekly for a study hour. This is why we have Bible study in our women’s meetings. He are attempting to teach our members to walk wisely in their lives. This is impossible without knowing what the will of the Lord is.

We should realize that all the churches caught up in the ecumenical movement are not walking wisely, for part of the ecumenical movement involves keeping people uninformed as to the will of the Lord. That Jesus Christ is both true man and true God, that there is salvation alone by grace through faith in Christ, that Jesus Christ arose from the dead and will raise all believers unto eternal life, that through Baptism the Holy Spirit gives the blessings of salvation, that Christ’s body and blood are really and truly received orally by all communicants at the Lord’s Table, that our Lord wants us to avoid spiritually all who alter or mutilate His Word in any way or degree—all these teachings are made optional or swept under the rug of man’s wisdom, as though the Lord had not made His will clear concerning them. We live in an age of worldly wise, but spiritually illiterate people. Most church people, clergy included, neither know what they believe or why they believe it. Vagueness, lack of clarity, fuzzy thinking is the order of the day. That is not walking wisely, but very unwisely. We are to walk wisely by making every effort to understand what the will of the Lord is.

Walking wisely also means—

III. To recharge one’s spirit with spiritual music and thanksgiving.

Our modern society currently condones three drugs to recharge one’s spirit: nicotine in tobacco, caffeine in coffee, and alcohol in liquor. At the present efforts are being made to gain social approval for marijuana. In Paul’s day the chief means of escape from one’s problems and means for artificial excitement of one’s spirit was wine. So he warns: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess or dissoluteness.” Drinking has always been a common way to bolster the spirits. It leads to excess, as the increasing number of alcoholics bears sad witness. If you travel much by air, you get used to having the stewardesses make the rounds even before the plane leaves the terminal, soliciting orders for alcoholic drinks. But I was a bit surprised when they started coming around already at 8:30 in the morning. I was also a bit surprised to see the bar crowded at mid-morning at O’Hare airport. This is the wisdom of the world—the artificial stimulus of the human spirit by alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, marijuana, LSD, heroin, or what have you. But that’s not walking wisely.

St. Paul urges something else: “Be filled with the Spirit or in the spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is an exegetical question as to whether Paul is urging his readers to be filled with the Holy Spirit or whether he is urging them to be filled in their own spirits with spiritual music and thanksgiving, which of course is achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit. Music enlivens the human spirit. True it is that ribald, off-color drinking songs and songs glorifying human lusts enliven the spirit of man in the wrong direction. That’s living unwisely. Paul is urging us to live wisely by refreshing ourselves in spirit with song, singing and making melody to the Lord. Bitterness, faintheartedness, fearfulness, hopelessness is not becoming a child of God. Our spirits are to be stirred up with music unto the Lord. There is nothing that elevates the spirit more than genuine thanksgiving. When we complain, when we feel sorry for ourselves, when we almost rebel against our God because of some affliction He has laid upon us, we tend to become sour. But when we learn to thank Him for His love and grace in Christ and for the many blessings that we so often tend to take for granted, then are our spirits revived. That is walking wisely, which also means—

IV. To subject oneself to others in the fear of Christ.

“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Got.” What a contrast this exhortation is to the program of worldly wisdom, which instructs on how to get ahead even if it means trampling the other person under foot by fair or foul means. A child of God is to yield, to submit, to subject himself to others rather than to assert, to subject, to tyrannize over others. This is to be done “in the fear of God,” actually in the fear of Christ. This doesn’t mean that we are to be afraid of what Christ may well do to us in judgment if we trample over others and tyrannize them in whatever ways may be at our disposal. No, the word “fear” in this connection means as much as “reverence.” When we examine the life of our Lord, we find that He came to serve, not to be served. He subjected Himself to the needs of others in love. He taught that greatness in His Kingdom comes not through the acquiring of power over others but in more greatly serving others. That calls for subjecting oneself to others.

Think of but one application. I have observed and have been informed that many congregations in the area are dominated or controlled by certain individuals or families or cliques who take it upon themselves to set the policy of the church, almost “hire and fire” pastors at will, and insist on monopolizing the decision making in the congregation. This attitude and action is entirely unChristian, contrary to the word of the Apostle, and foreign to the spirit of Christ. We want all our members to strive for greatness in our congregation, but we want all to understand that the path to greatness lies not in attempting to have the final say on everything or anything but rather in subjecting oneself to others in willing and cheerful service. This is walking wisely among the brethren. May our Lord grant us grace so to walk wisely. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached October 19, 1969
Holy Trinity Independent
Evanglical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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