Living Carefully
by Jack Wald | January 22nd, 2017

Ephesians 5:15-20

Ephesians is one of four letters Paul wrote while in prison in Rome. He was 56 years old, just two to four years away from his death at the hand of the Emperor Nero. His body was wracked with pain from all the beatings and floggings he had received over the years. In addition to his physical suffering, Paul was consumed by his concern for the churches he had planted.

Unlike Philemon, Colossians, and Philippians, the other three letters written when Paul was in prison, Ephesians was not written to a specific church or person. Although we read in chapter one, verse two, “To all the saints in Ephesus,” the earliest copies of Paul’s letter do not contain “Ephesus”. There is space left for each city where the letter was read to insert its name. Paul wrote this as a general letter to be read in all the cities of the region of Ephesus.

This is why, if you go to the end of the letter, you do not find the personal greetings that are in Paul’s other letters. There is no greeting sent from Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, or Epaphras as we find in Colossians. Although Paul spent three years in Ephesus, there are no greetings sent to any of those Paul knew in the church in Ephesus. There are no personal instructions. This is a general letter sent to the saints, the holy children of God, living in the region of what is today Turkey.

This is a letter full of grace. As Paul talks about the amazing truth that God made himself known to us and brought us into relationship with himself, he uses the word “grace” over and over again to express what God has done. Twelve times the word grace appears in this short letter.

Paul had experienced this grace. He had led the effort to destroy the cult of the followers of Jesus and then, when he was on the road to Damascus with the charge to arrest the followers of Jesus in that city, he was met by Jesus who asked him, (Acts 26:14)
‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

From being the chief persecutor of the church, Saul, who took on his Greek name, Paul, became the chief evangelist of the church. But Paul never forgot the grace extended to him by Jesus. (1 Corinthians 15:9)
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.

Why did Paul write this letter? I think Paul was aware of his mortality and desperately wanted his message to be heard. Because he could not go himself to teach and preach, he did the next best thing. He sent one of his disciples to take this letter with his teaching and read it to the different communities of followers of Jesus.

Unlike his other letters, Paul is not addressing a particular problem or concern. In Ephesians Paul is saying, here is truth you cannot live without. If you know nothing else, this is what you need to know. This letter is packed with exceptional content.

The first three chapters of Ephesians unfolds for the readers of Paul’s letter God’s great mystery and plan for the church, and he has prayed an awe-inspiring prayer that they might know all of Christ’s love and all of his blessings. Then, beginning in chapter four, there is a turn to focus on how this theology impacts us as followers of Jesus.

This is the same pattern found in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Romans 1-8 focuses on the theology of the church, 9-11 focuses on Paul’s concern for his fellow Jews who, for the most part, were resisting the good news of Jesus, and then in chapter 12 he begins:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God

Paul writes in chapters 12-16 about how the theology of the church impacts us in our daily living. He does the same thing in Ephesians 4-6. After laying the foundation for us in the first half of his letter, he then urges us to live according to the theological truths on which we stand.

I began preaching from Ephesians after Easter in 2014 and again in 2015. Then I continued from January up to Lent in 2016. I think that we will come to the end of the letter by Lent of this year.

Ephesians 4 begins Part II of Paul’s letter and his first application of the truths of chapters 1-3 is a focus on the unity of the church.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

We are to reflect the one who has called us. As a prince or princess has the responsibility to reflect the king and queen, so do we have the responsibility to reflect God who has called us to become his daughters and sons.

And then Paul urges us to “bear with one another in love,” to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The church has not done well with this over the centuries. Rather than be united, we fight each other for power and control, convinced that our interpretation of the Bible is the correct one. We separate ourselves over minute theological details and struggles for power and control of the church, shattering the unity of the Spirit.

This works against God’s desire for the church and Paul reminds us that
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

God gives us spiritual gifts so that we are able (Ephesians 4:12–13)
to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Unity in the body of Christ is a major theme in Ephesians. Another major theme is that we are to live the new life we have been called to.

Ephesians 4:17
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.

Ephesians 4:22–24
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 5:1–2
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:8–14
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Don’t live as the Gentiles do.
Put off your old self and put on your new self.
Walk in the way of love.
Live as children of the light.
Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

This is where we ended last year and this morning we come to a summary of the application Paul has been making in chapters 4 and 5.

Ephesians 5:15–20
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Be very careful, then, how you live.” Paul takes us back to how he began the application of the truth of chapters 1-3, in Ephesians 4:1
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

In August 2012 Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, partied in Las Vegas in the US. Unfortunately, nude photos of his partying were published. What do you think Queen Elizabeth had to say to him when he returned to England? I imagine she had some stern words for her grandson, telling him he is a prince in the royal family and he needs to act in a way that reflects the dignity of the royal family.

When someone comes from their country to Morocco as ambassador, he or she is aware that every public action or statement reflects on their country. Ambassadors know who they represent and act accordingly.

Who are you and who do you represent? If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a beloved daughter or a beloved son of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Throughout Ephesians Paul reminds us of who we are. We have come from the darkness into the light. We are to walk in love. We are to put off the old self and put on the new. What we do and say reflects on our father in heaven.

So Paul tells us to be very careful. Not just careful, but very careful how we live. This means we have to be focused, sober minded with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We cannot simply drift with the cultural stream, letting it take us where it goes. We cannot give in to temptations that come to us. We cannot act or speak without first thinking about what we want to do or say.

In this summary Paul tells us three things. First, he tells us
live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Be wise.

I learned a lot from my father. He taught me that when you are digging from a pile, dig from the bottom and let the pile work for you. Let the dirt come down rather than work to get it off the top of the pile. He taught me that when you get bucked off a pony or horse, get right back up so you don’t become afraid of riding. He taught me that when you have a dispute about a bill from a reputable company, pay the bill in full and then dispute it later.

He taught me to tip a larger percentage at breakfast because the bill is small but the waiter or waitress still had the same amount of work. He taught me to shave, going with the grain of the beard and then against it on the second shave. He taught me how to sharpen a knife, keeping the blade at a 45? angle to the surface. He taught me to pass by a chain restaurant when driving and look for a good place to eat. He taught me to coil a rope so it is ready next time you need it.

He taught me that when you pass a truck, watch the front wheel closest to you to see if it will turn as you pass. He taught me that when you pass a car at night, don’t look at the headlights, look at the line marker at the side of your lane so you will not be blinded by the headlights. He taught me that when you put up a row of shingles, measure from the base line, not the previous row. If you measure from the previous row, your errors get compounded. He taught me that when you have people over to eat, make sure you have more than they will be able to eat.

I learned a lot from my father, but my father never taught me how to discover that Jesus loved me. He never taught me that there is more to this life than what we observe around us. He never taught me that someday this life will be over and we need to contemplate what will happen to us afterwards. He taught me a lot of wonderful things but he did not teach me about eternal truth.

My father had a lot of wisdom accumulated over the years, wisdom helpful in making my way through this life. But when the Bible talks about wisdom, knowing how to make your way through this life is not enough.

Jesus told the parable of the rich man who had an abundance of crops and decided to build another barn to store his excess grain. This man was a good businessman. He managed his land well. He had accumulated great wealth. He had gained wisdom that helped him be successful. But what did Jesus have to say about him? (Luke 12:20)
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

We are born into this world and will live in it for just a few years. Maybe 60, 80, or even 100 years. But we will all die and be buried in the ground. And then there is eternity ahead of us. And as Woody Allen quipped, “Eternity is a very long time, especially toward the end.”

Wisdom that does not take into account God who is our creator and does not take into account the fact that we are moving through this life to a certain end and then a new beginning, is not wisdom. The Bible calls this foolishness.

Randy Alcorn writes, “You are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place.” Live in light of this reality. Make decisions on the basis of this reality. Will you cut ethical corners to get ahead in your school or work? This may get you ahead in the present, but how will this affect your eternal future? Will you give in to temptation that provides immediate gratification? How will this affect your eternal future? Are your relationships, actions, words leading you closer to Jesus? Or pulling you away from Jesus?

Paul says we are to “make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” There is a spiritual battle taking place as we move through our days. Supernatural forces of evil are at work to pull us away from Jesus, make us think we are weak and worthless, lead us into habits and behaviors that sap our spiritual strength. The devil wants to pull us off the path Jesus wants us to walk.

We need to be alert and sober minded, constantly aware of who we are, who we represent, and how we should live.

Second, Paul tells us
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

What is the Lord’s will for your life?

There are some people who are paralyzed by this question and slow to make decisions because they are so fearful of making a decision that is not God’s will for them. Should I study biology or literature? Should I date Naomi or Susan? Should I buy the red car or the black one?

This is not what Paul is talking about here. Because we live in a world we can feel, smell, see, hear, and taste, when we read Scripture we immediately think about the earthly, temporal implications of what we read. What is God’s will for the daily decisions we need to make each day and each week? Heaven is a distant event. This world is a very present reality.

But Paul, at the end of his life, is thinking more clearly. He knows that this earthly life is swiftly moving away and he is focused on eternal life. As he sits in his prison cell writing this letter, he is focused on what is most important. He is thinking of the work of Jesus to bring unity to his beloved sons and beloved daughters and to bring them safely into his eternal home.

Paul began this letter with an acknowledgment that it was the will of God that called him on the road to Damascus to be his follower. (Ephesians 1:1)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

It is the will of God that led Paul into his ministry to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul was passionate for the law and after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus redirected Paul’s passion to work with him to rescue people he loves.

Paul’s point here is really an expansion of his first point. The rich fool was a fool because he lived for today, for this earthly life, without regard for what was to come. We are called, each of us, to work with Jesus. We are called to consider in each relationship, what the will of God is for us in that relationship.

We have people we know, perhaps friends, perhaps family, who are making choices that we know will lead to pain and suffering. We know people who are living, like the rich fool, thinking only about how to get as much pleasure and wealth as possible in this life. How do we respond to the choices they make?

Preaching to them will probably not be helpful. But are we loving them? Praying for them? Do we have compassion for them? Is our heart’s desire for them to discover they are deeply loved by God and turn to follow him?

Paul keeps bringing this message in this letter. Over and over again he is telling us to focus on what is most important. We need to make good decisions about schooling, our careers, our relationships. But when we die, our accomplishments in school and work will be left behind. Paul reminds us again and again to focus on the eternal work of Jesus. What is the will of God for us in our relationships? How does God want us to work with him to rescue the people we work with, study with, play with?

The choices we make in life are important. We need to use wisdom in making these choices. But what Paul argues for here is that we keep in mind in every decision, in every action, in every interaction, in every relationship, that we are moving through this life as strangers and aliens. This world is not our home. We are en route, pilgrims, heading toward our eternal home.

Building bigger barns to store our excess wealth is foolishness. Sharing what God has given to us is wise. Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Timothy 6:17–19)
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Living your life so you can impress others is foolishness. At the end of your life, it will not matter how many people come to your funeral or how long your obituary will be. What will matter is who greets you when you come into Jesus’ kingdom. Knowing this is wisdom.

Never forget that Jesus is at work to rescue and bring the lost into his kingdom. That is his focus. Jesus did not die on the cross so you could have an easy, comfortable, and luxurious life. Jesus died on the cross so you could be rescued from eternal death and brought safely into his eternal home. Jesus calls you into relationship with him and asks that you work with him in rescuing those he loves.

Third, Paul tells us
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When I was a young pastor, I used to go into the local prison and talk with the prisoners. I liked the men I talked with and listened to their stories. One man got drunk and when someone insulted a woman he liked, he beat him with his fists and killed him. One young man took acid, LSD, and had a bad trip during which he killed his fiancee. Another man was in prison for multiple rape and murder. He told me he couldn’t understand how he could have done those evil things. He would get drunk and then do things he did not want to do.

Getting drunk or taking drugs causes us to lose control and we end up doing things we would prefer not to do. Getting drunk, Paul says, leads to debauchery, wild parties with excessive sexual promiscuity. (This was Prince Harry’s problem. Would he have done what he did in Las Vegas if he had been sober?)

Peter wrote in his letter (1 Peter 4:7)
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.
And in 1 Peter 5:8–9
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith,

Paul writes that we should not get drunk but “be filled with the Spirit.”

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from the heart. Always give thank to God.

When I read this, the question that came to my mind is “Is it ok to watch my favorite sports team?” “Can I read a good book?” But this is too literal an interpretation of what Paul is writing. Paul made references to sports so it is not unlikely that he talked about sports from time to time.

What Paul is saying is that we are to be so filled with the Sprit that every part of our life is affected by our life with Christ. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, (Colossians 3:16–17)
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In other words, our faith in Christ, our awareness of who we are and where we are headed, needs to be the focus of our lives so that everything we do and everything we think is affected, impacted, influenced by who we are and where we are headed. When we are at a sports event or movie or reading a book, our life with Christ needs to be at the center of our being so that what we are doing is integrated into our life with Jesus. Our politics cannot be separate from our faith in Jesus. The heart of Jesus for the world needs to inform our own political views and choices. We do not live two lives. We live one life with Jesus at the center.

As a teenager or young adult, there is such a long stretch of time ahead of you that death is a very distant event. I do remember a couple classmates who died when I was in high school. A boy who sat next to me in English class died over the weekend in a sledding accident. That was sobering. But I did not have the expectation that I would die anytime soon.

When we are in our twenties and thirties, perhaps get married and have children, we are consumed with our jobs, our family, and life is so large that what happens after this life is a bit suppressed.

Moving into our forties and fifties makes us a bit more aware of our mortality. We realize we have lived half of our life and this produces in some people what is called a mid-life crisis.

Paul was approaching sixty when he wrote this letter. Life spans were shorter in Paul’s time, but even today in our sixties we begin to see more and more people our age who die and we are aware that we are in the last decades of our lives.

Wisdom is knowing, even in our teenage years, that this life will end. Be sober minded. Be filled with the Spirit. Let the Spirit lead you into wisdom and truth. Let the Spirit guide you as you make decisions in life.

Know what will last for eternity and what is passing away. (1 John 2:17)
The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

This is a verse to keep in the front of your mind. Love the world. Enjoy the world. God created this world for us and not to enjoy it, not to be thankful for the beauty in this world is to be ungrateful to God, our creator. So love the world but long for your eternal home. Live in light of where you will spend eternity, not in light of the few short years you will live on earth.