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Living Wisely

July 22, 2018, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev Enoch Keong (Ephesians 5:15-20) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Ephesians
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

Tags: Ephesians 以弗所书

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Title:Living Wisely
Date: 22 July 2018
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong

Walking out of darkness and into the light; the best example in recent time on such a transition must be the rescue operation of the Wild Boars Academy football team from the flooded cave in Chiang Rai. The rescue operation was regarded as one of the toughest in the world. But it was a success, and all 13 persons trapped were freed.

Out from pitch darkness, and then out of the hospital. And before the team adopted saffron robes of Buddhist novices this week, they were featured on a televised press conference held on 18 Jul 2018. One of the football team members, the 14 years old Adul Sam-on, said these words during the conference, “We’ve learnt that living carelessly has consequences – good and bad,”…“From now on I’ll live my life carefully and I’ll live to the fullest.”[1]

Adul’s words are thoughtful and sobering, and we can sense him being intentional and committed to living life carefully, because he knows that he’s been given a second chance to live.

I.
Paul has very similar things to say in today’s text, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (v.15). Paul uses the word ‘walk’ in the verse to express the idea of living life, so he is in fact nudging the Ephesians Christians to live their lives carefully. And while Adul is reflective, Paul says it with a sense of importance and urgency. He says, look carefully how you walk. In practice, to “look carefully” is a little bit like how some ladies go about when they are shopping. I mentioned ladies, but there’s no gender discrimination here because I am referring to some of my personal friends. Anyway, my friend and I may just be walking along the streets, and the conversations were going well. But once we entered the mall, it feels as if I have suddenly lost a friend. The conversions somehow just dies, their ears seems partially shut. In exchange, their vision field suddenly stretches beyond 180 degrees, and no shops, no displays is missed as we comb the streets of shops. That’s attentiveness. We bring up the analogy of shopping because ‘to look carefully how one walks’ is not supposed to be restrictive; religious. I really don’t think Paul is asking Christians to live lives this way. To look carefully how one walks is more of being attentive to what is good, getting to like what is good, and choose to do that which is good.

But it is fully understandable for Paul to lay an emphasis on looking carefully how one walks. The Ephesians Christians were once pagans. And although they are now Christians, Paul is well aware of the dangers that these pagans turned Christian may still continue to live a gentile lifestyle in a predominantly non-Christian society. Earlier on in the letter, Paul tells us that a gentile lifestyle is one that is lived by following the course of this world. A life lived in the passion of the flesh, and carried out desires of the body and the mind (cf. 2:1-3). We don’t need to go into the details of such a lifestyle. But from today’s text, it looks like drunkenness and doing foolish things was a common sight of a gentile lifestyle. We have said this many times, that it is not wrong to consume alcohol. But to get drunk, to be no longer able to look carefully and walk carefully, feeling light and tipsy, and finding it fun to do foolish things, can only be un-Christian.

And what is it that produces a lifestyle characterized by such carelessness or frivolousness? To Paul, it is the ignorance of God and God’s will, owing to a heart that is hardened towards God (4:18).

II.
Carelessness, ignorance of God’s will and a heart hardened toward God is something we see all the time. We see it in the Ephesians before their conversions and we see it in people today. We see it in non-Christians, and also amongst Christians. And may it be that we are just visiting the church to know more about the Christian faith, or a member of the Christian church, or a church leader, or a full-time pastor, there are times where we display such behaviors. Carelessness, ignorance of God’s will and a heart hardened toward God is a human things, the difference is only in the triggers, the timing and the degree of seriousness.

It may or may not go down well with us in hearing that as Christians we share such behavioral patterns and character traits? But there is reason for saying so. John Calvin says that there is this tardiness within human nature. What he means is that mankind, with this tardiness in them, generally lacks a sincere interest to seek, to know and to follow God. The situation may not improve very much even when one becomes a Christian. Isn’t the letter in the New Testament replete with commands that urge Christians to act in a godly manner? Such as, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise”. Christians needs pushing, and in fact a lot of it. Calvin is probably right about the tardiness that we have in us.

Allow me to use the Ephesians men to illustrate Calvin’s point. No longer pagans, they have become Christians, yet, still Greeks. And whether to live life as a Greek or a Christian was probably a struggle for many back then. If we have ever attended a Christian wedding, chances are that we have heard the verse in Ephesians which says, ”Husbands, love your wives…” (5.25). Have we ever wondered why Paul had to write in his public letter such a command? Because to the Greeks in those days, men were the master of the house. They had total power not only over their slaves, but also over their children and their wives. They probably weren’t used to loving their wives before becoming a Christian. As masters of the house, they lorded over everyone under their roofs. And now, as Christians, they are told to let go of the privilege as lords, to go equal with their wives and learn to love them. That’s how God wants the husbands to treat their wives. But to love their wives was something they haven’t quite seen people doing, something against the way things were in their culture, something that because of their tardiness they simply couldn’t fathom. Hence, many Christian men have probably not begun loving their wives, which was why Paul had to write to them such a command. Did the men ended up responding positively to Paul’s bidding? Or, for some to them, to go equal with the wives was too much an adjustment and too big a sacrifice. And so they went on in life as ‘good Christians’, they attended church, they prayed, they even served in church. But when it comes to letting go of their lordship, they chose instead to harden the heart against the Lord. We can imagine people living with such inconsistency, don’t we? Question, do we share their inconsistency, as in that we submit to God in certain areas, but refuse to do so in other aspect of living? Are there areas in life that we have deliberately chosen not to know God’s will or to harden our hearts against God?

III.
Paul commands all Christians to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” How do we go about doing this if we do share with the Ephesians the inconsistency just mentioned?

Paul would answer the question by saying, “be filled with the Spirit.” (v.18) And when Paul says this in Ephesians, he does not mean that we are like a container where God put his Spirit inside us. This may be the understanding that we get from other books in the New Testament. But Paul is saying something quite different here. In the book of Ephesians, the Holy Spirit is the one that helps us put on the likeness of God and Christ – transforming us into the likeness of God and Christ – so that we will exhibit the fullness of God by and by. Transformation however, is not the work of the Holy Spirit per se. According to Ephesians, transformation happens when we cooperate with God Spirit as he does his work on us.[2]

Paul urges Christians to be wise. According to Dictionary.com, the word wise is defined as possessing discernment, judgment or discretion.[3]To Paul, these are but expressions of wisdom. To be wise is something deepe, says Paul. To be wise is to grasp the mystery of God. And how is God’s mystery grasped? With the help of the Holy Spirit. What God had done, what he is working mysteriously in our world, and how we may play a part in what God is doing, the Holy Spirit helps us grasp all of these.

But then again, God’s will and God’s logic is often time very different from mankind. We are already facing problem in understanding other ethnic groups, Malays for example. How then do we even begin to understand a God whose ways are often surprising and totally foreign to our thinking paradigms?

A cute little story points out for us the starting point in grasping the mystery of God. It was told that a little boy came to his father with a problem. His hand was stuck in an expensive vase. His father of course didn’t want to break the vase, but no matter what he did, the boy’s hand remained stuck. Suddenly, something occurred to him, and he said to his son, “Hold your fingers out straight.” And the boy replied, “No! I’ll lose my toy!”[4] Just like this little boy, we are capable of holding so tightly to what we value – not that we would, but we can – so much so that we are blocking the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Taking again the Ephesian men as an example, for Paul to have needed to teach the Greeks to love their wives is something that I constantly find to be both confounding and telling. First, Paul’s command tells us that we can be so settled in our way of life, till the point where we can’t see how certain aspects may be contradicting God’s will. Second, it also tells us the bright side of things, in that if the Greeks did choose to let go of their power, and did things God’s way with the help of the Holy Spirit, then they had indeed become wise, at least in their role as husbands.

To be wise is to grasp the mystery of God, to learn God’s will. But how are we do be able to do so, presuming that we are opened to the work of the Holy Spirit? Paul tells us to do 3 things.

IV.
We are to sing to one another, sing to the Lord, and we are to give thanks always and for everything. Why these 3 things? We are to live not as unwise but as wise. To do so, we are to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, to learn and do God’s will. And friends, to cooperate with the Holy Spirt is but second nature for all Christians. It that true? Of course not! And to be sure, God’s ways are often surprising and totally foreign to our thinking paradigms. Since that’s the case, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit we need training, we need reminders, we need a lot of pushing, we also need to be convinced to give up what we are holding on tightly and to choose his ways. To sing to one another psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is therefore to season our conversations with biblical truths. We are told to do so regularly because we all need to constantly hear the biblical truths, to be reminded on them. At times we would struggle with biblical truths and we need clarifications, we need to argue it out with someone. Who can help us? Or maybe it is us who could help another to grasp the mystery of God, to learn God’s will. Address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, says Paul.

Next, Paul says, worship the Lord. We often hear this phrase in worship services, “Let us now go into the presence of the Lord.” And that’s exactly what Paul wants us to do. Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. To grasp the mystery of God, Paul says, enter into it, stay there and experience, and you will know. Now if I were to ask us, “How does a mud bath feels like?” “What good it may do to you?” The best way to find out the answer is to enter into it, stay there and experience, and you will know.

Thirdly, to give thanks always and for everything. Do not be mistaken, Paul isn’t saying that we are to give thanks even when in suffering, pain, hurts and where there’s cruelty. But that we have a God who works in mysterious ways, a God who has our welfare in mind, and who wants to give us a future and a hope (cf. Jer 29:11), and we give thanks to him regularly. When we are able to see that God is good, and come to him with a thankful heart, I believe we will be more willing to trust and cooperate with God’s spirit, and in doing so, we live not as unwise but as wise.

The 3 things that Paul ask us to do may sound too cliché-ish to most Christians, they are for us model answers, not modus operandi. But if we do agree with Paul in that the days are evil, and we are to make the best use of the time to live not as unwise but as wise (vv. 15-16). Then let us do a million times these 3 things that we have heard a million times over; doing it with a sense of urgency.

Adul Sam-on will live life carefully because of the cave. Are we waiting for our cave experience before we will look carefully how we walk?

[1]https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/tham-luang-cave-wild-boars-speak-to-media-first-time-rescue-10541230
[2] Peter T. O’brien, “The Letter to the Ephesians”: PNTCT, Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1999. 391-4.
[3] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/wise?s=t
[4]ivAdapted from “illustration ideas” on http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-15b/?type=lectionary_epistle

Ephesians 5:15–20 (Listen)

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

(ESV)