A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 5:15-17. 3). The nature of wisdom.
Paul’s next little paragraph is based on two assumptions, first that Christians are *sophoi*, – wise people, not fools – and secondly that Christian wisdom is practical wisdom, for it teaches us how to behave. His word for to ‘behave’ throughout the letter has been a Hebrew concept, to ‘walk’. Our Christian walk or behaviour, he has written, must no longer be according to the world, the flesh and the devil (2:1-3), or like the pagans (4:17). Instead, it must be ‘worthy’ of God’s call, ‘in love’, and ‘as children of light’ (4:1; 5:1; 5:8). Now he adds a more general exhortation to us to behave like the wise people he credits us with being: *look carefully how you walk*, he writes. Everything worth doing requires care. We all take trouble over the things which seem to us to matter – our job, our education, our home and family, our hobbies, our dress and appearance. So as Christians we must take trouble over our Christian life. We must treat it as the serious thing it is. ‘Be most careful then how you conduct yourselves: like sensible men, not like simpletons’ (NEB). What, therefore, are the marks of wise people who take trouble over their Christian discipleship?
First, *wise people make the most of their time*. The verb *exagorazo* can mean to ‘redeem’ or ‘buy back’, and if used in this way here, the appeal is to ‘ransom the time from its evil bondage’. But probably it means rather to ‘buy up’, in which case RSV is right to translate *making the most of the time*, ‘time (*kairos*) referring to every passing opportunity.
Certainly wise people know that time is a precious commodity. All of us have the same amount of time at our disposal, with sixty minutes in every hour and twenty-four hours in every day. None of us can stretch time. But wise people us it to the fullest possible advantage. They know that time is passing, and also that *the days are evil*. So they seize each fleeting opportunity while it is there. For once it has passed, even the wisest people cannot recover it. Someone once advertised as follows: ‘Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward offered, for they are gone forever’. By contrast,Jonathan Edwards, the philosopher-theologian who became God’s instrument in the ‘Great Awakening’ in America in 1734-5, wrote in the seventieth of his famous *Resolutions* just before his twentieth birthday: ‘Resolution: Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possible can.’ He was a wise man, for the first sign of wisdom which Paul gives here is a disciplined use of time.
Secondly, *wise people discern the will of God*. They are sure that, whereas wilfulness is folly, wisdom is to be found in God’s will and nowhere else. *Therefore do not be foolish, but
understand what the will of the Lord is* (verse 17). Jesus himself prayed, ‘Not my will but yours be done,’ and taught us to pray, ‘May your will be done on earth as in heaven.’ Nothing is more important in life than to discover and do the will of God. Moreover, in seeking to discover it, it is essential to distinguish between his ‘general’ and his ‘particular’ will. The former is so called because it relates to the generality of his people and is the same for all of us, e.g. to make us like Christ. His particular will, however, extending to the particularities of our life, is different for each of us, e.g. what career we shall follow, whether we should marry, and if so whom. Only after this distinction has been made can we consider how we may find out *what the will of the Lord is*. His ‘general’ will is found in Scripture; the will of God for the people of God has been revealed in the Word of God. But we shall not find his ‘particular’ will in Scripture. To be sure, we shall find general principles in Scripture to guide us, but detailed decisions have to be made after careful thought and prayer and the seeking of advice from mature and experienced believers.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 5:18-21. 4). The fullness of the Holy Spirit.