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Living Wisely (5:15-21)

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The thing which makes the followers of Christ unique from all other people is that God has re-created them in His own image. It follows, then, that they should possess a God-like character. This has practical consequences for one’s day-to-day lifestyle.

The Apostle Paul writes in chapter 5 of his inspired letter to the Ephesians, that Christ’s followers should live lives of love and live as children of light. The term ‘children of light’ expresses the idea that the light of Christ should be visible in, and be reflected by, the lives of His followers. In view of this Paul writes in verses 15 through 21: “Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Don’t be drunken with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing, and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.”

This translation says, “watch carefully how you walk .” But what Paul is really writing about is how we are to live our lives. He mentions three things which should characterize the life of someone who is trying to be God-like. The words “watch carefully” indicate one of these characteristics. In other words, a follower of Christ should think deeply about his life and act out of conviction rather than being rash, impulsive or imprudent.

A follower of Christ should also live as the ‘wise.’ The word Paul uses implies those who have expertise or skill. When we think of someone who is an expert or has skill in a particular craft or occupation, we know that their proficiency was developed through long hours of practice, from willingness to listen to others and humbly learning from their own mistakes. In the same way, we cannot expect success in living a godly life to come by itself. It requires practice, discipline and a continual desire for improvement.

A third characteristic in the life of someone who follows Christ should be “redeeming the time” (NIV, “making the most of every opportunity”). The word Paul uses here means to ‘buy back.’ In other words, we need to treat time as something which is precious. The reason Paul gives is that the “days are evil.” All we have to do is look around us to know that this is true. The days in which we live are not only evil in a moral sense, but are short as well. We have only a little time to accomplish the task that God has given us. In chapter 4 Paul stressed the need to “put on the new man.” (4:24) Does our use of time help us toward that goal, or draw us toward evil? Paul is not saying that a follower of Christ should never relax or enjoy himself. But he is saying that we should use our time wisely and productively.

If we are to live wisely, then it follows that we should not be foolish. The word which Paul uses means ‘without reason.’ In other words our choices and decisions should not be based on whim or emotion. In contrast to this Paul urges Christ’s followers to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” This is a restatement of what he had already said in verse 10, “proving what is well pleasing to the Lord.” When we make decisions do we make them according to what would please us, or what will please Christ?

We can judge whether something is good or not by the results. As another example of the difference between foolish and wise living Paul contrasts getting drunk and being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. He points out that drinking leads to debauchery or dissipation. In contrast to this, we learn from Galatians 5, verses 22 and 23 that, “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control...” What fruit is evident in our lives?

Paul writes that being filled with the Spirit finds expression in music. He mentions psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Many attempts have been made to link these terms to certain types or styles of music but the truth is that no one can say with certainty what forms or styles of music are referred to here. There can be no doubt that the Old Testament Psalms are included, but it is also evident that appropriate music is not limited to the Psalms. Apparently a variety of musical styles are acceptable to God. How, then, should the followers of Christ evaluate the music which they hear or which is sung in their assemblies? In the term ‘spiritual songs’ Paul gives us an important criterion by which to judge. A spiritual song is, literally, one which has been prompted or inspired by the Holy Spirit. How can we know if a song is of the Spirit? We have already mentioned the fruit of the Spirit. Does a song prompt us to grow in love, joy, peace, patience and the other fruit of the Spirit? If, so then that song is of the Spirit.

What does it mean to ‘speak to one another’ in Psalms, hymns and songs? Another Scripture says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs...” (Colossians 3:16) Do our songs convey Christ’s word? Do they teach and admonish? Do they reflect wisdom or foolishness?

In addition to being a channel of mutual spiritual growth, our spirits can commune with God’s Spirit through music. In order for this to be true though, our songs, whether they are intended to edify, whether they are songs of worship and praise, or whether they are songs of contrition, must be offered to God from the heart. Do we sing from the heart, or are we merely mouthing words?

A Spirit-filled life is also thankful. Thankfulness is not conditional upon circumstances. Paul writes that we should not merely be thankful in all circumstances (as he says in the first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 18) but for everything. At first this may seem impossible. Indeed, it is impossible for those who do not follow Christ, because our thanks is to be given to God through Jesus Christ. The reason Christ’s followers can be thankful for whatever happens is that they have God’s promise in Romans chapter 8, verse 28, “...that all things work together for good for those who love God...” Do we really believe that?