Message: The Severity of Walking | Scripture: Ephesians 5:15-16 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: I Stand Amazed in the Presence; Wonderful, Merciful Saviour; O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer.
- What have you learned from this week’s (or prior weeks’) sermon(s), and how has that helped you in your walk with Christ and in your love for the saints and for the lost?
- How can we, as your brothers and sisters, be praying for you this week?
- Make sure to leave enough time to spend in corporate prayer with one another.
Please read Ephesians 5:15-16 with me. TWoL.
Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
As some of you know, Micah started standing about a month ago, and I don’t think that he was made to stand still. From the second that he learned how to stand, he also believed he was able to run. But the problem with running before you can walk is that you end up with a lot of crying. So, we have this large gate screwed into the wall that takes up a major space in our living room, and his process looks a little like this. He crawls over to the gate, he grabs onto it with both hands, pulls himself up, looks at you, realizes that he wants to be with you instead of attached to the gate, so he will let go and attempt to run over to where you are. There are multiple problems with this, however. The first is that he can’t stand unassisted. The second is that he needs both hands on the gate in order to stay upright because he doesn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other yet. The third is that he always lets go with one hand while keeping the other hand glued to another part of the gate. So, when you put all of these problems together—the mixture of him pulling himself up, letting go with one hand, turning his body, attempting to run without moving his feet, and not being able to uphold himself unassisted—all of this only leads to one result. He swings himself, headfirst, right into the gate. I’ve seen more black eyes and bumps on Micah’s head than I care to remember. Some nights, I actually have nightmares about the number of times Micah’s bumped his head from trying to walk before he’s ready. So, we’ve taken as many proactive measures to catch him or stop him from hitting his head as we possibly can. We’re constantly putting pillows behind him. We’ve lined the floor with soft mats. We always have a hand behind him when he’s standing around the gate. But at the end of the day, no matter how many things we do to prevent him from falling, we have to let him stand and try to walk at some point. We can’t protect him from everything.
Our passage today is about an apostle who’s just spent the last chapter and a half giving parental advice to his spiritual children about how to live their lives as people of God’s eternal covenant. He’s provided all this instruction, but, like a dad putting pillows behind his kid about to fall or using his hand to keep him from smacking his face into the gate, he’s realizing that he’s come to the end, and he has to let them take a step—hopefully, in the right direction. Before he does, however, he has one more [big] thing to say—this unit from Ephesians 5:15 all the way to 6:9 is one big unit, and he starts with our proposition this morning: walking is dangerous, so make sure that you look and know where you’re going. The component parts to our proposition essentially make our outline:
- Look where you walk;
- Know where you’re going; and,
- Don’t wander off.
If you do these things, Paul tells us that we not only honour his time and effort in sending this letter to the Ephesians, but we honour God, and this is our goal in life. We want to honour God. So, let’s honour him by unpacking our first point:
1) Look where you walk
See here in verse 15, the first part of the verse: “Therefore, be careful how you walk.” Directly translated, the passage actually says, watch or look carefully how you walk, and Paul is concerned with the way that Christians walk, or as other translations put it, how they live. We know this is Paul’s ultimate concern because he uses the imperative verb “walk” four times starting in Ephesians 4:1 (Eph 4:1; 4:17; 5:2; and 5:8).
This is what he says in each of its uses: “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (4:1),” “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds (4:17),” “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (5:2),” “walk as children of light (5:8).” And all of these imperatives are contrasting a Christian’s lifestyle from those outside of the church. You’re called to do more than identify. You’re even called to do more than imitate. You’re called to participate. It’s not simply be like Christ, you’re to be like Christ because you actually belong to God as a son or daughter. You’ve been brought into the presence of the Supreme Creator of the universe. You’ve been given God himself through the death and resurrection of his own, beloved Son. So, Paul is very concerned with the fact that you live, and you walk as those who belong to that kingdom and not to the kingdom of the devil, of the world, or of your own sinful desires.
This last “walk” in verse 15 functions as what we call an inclusio or an enclosure of an argument. Ephesians 4:1 starts with this broad general use of the “walk” in a manner worthy of your calling, and from 4:2 down to 5:14, Paul explains what that means in terms of ethical living as the people of God. And what we see in that middle section (vv. 4:2-5:14) is Paul’s progression in terms of specificity. He becomes more and more precise with what it means to walk as those worthy of their calling. The “walk” in 4:17 translates to don’t walk or live like Gentiles in their thinking—don’t let your minds be taken away with unholy thoughts. Then, in 5:2, Paul is saying don’t walk or live like Gentiles in their actions within the world. Don’t give into sensual pleasures and sexual deviance. And in 5:8, Paul brings out the most severe requirement: don’t even walk or live like the Gentiles in secret, when you think no one is watching.
You see, the kingdom of God and the people of God aren’t about perception. Yes, it’s important to be Christian and to personify for others how we are different from the world, but that personification is only good if you are being authentic. The people of God are those who not only are able to act out the gospel, but who actually believe it and know that in all circumstances it is God who we seek our delight in. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a place with a million people or no people, I will be the same. Our claim as Christians, our feeling of security, our proclamations that someone is saved by virtue of saying, “I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins, and that his blood has cleansed me from unrighteousness and saved me unto eternal life” is absolutely worthless if your heart is dishonest. What I mean is that true belief is a matter of integrity more than it is a matter of conviction. Conviction without action is hypocrisy. Or as the English writer, Thomas Carlyle, said, “Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.”
This is why verse 15 isn’t just worded like any other imperative, it’s the summation imperative. And Paul words the imperative, here, as a warning. This is very common whenever commands are given. Just think to any circumstance that you have had as a child. Don’t let go of the bar, Micah. Don’t let go of the bar. Don’t let go of the bar, or else you’ll slam your head into the pole. (Don’t eat that ice cream, Stephen . . . or else you won’t get any for a week). In the same way, Paul is giving his readers a warning here. Walk this way, don’t walk that way, walk this way. Watch carefully how you walk or else you’ll be consumed with evil as it says in verse 16. Do you see this shift? Do you see how Paul is warning them, and he’s warning them because this is the beginning of the end. He’s summing up what he’s trying to say to these Ephesians so that they don’t end up walking the wrong way, and he’s saying, “Remember, conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.”
But we must be clear, this walking and living—this conduct isn’t to be blind. Paul doesn’t just say walk carefully. He says watch carefully how you walk. Open your eyes. Make sure you’re looking that you don’t lose your footing or that you’re not tripping over your own feet. Make sure you’re looking! It’s all well and good if you’re walking in a straight line until you walk into that obstacle that you weren’t paying attention to.
Look where you’re going. Don’t assume that your way is unobstructed. Don’t assume that that sin you feel you’ve overcome and defeated won’t come back and tempt you again. Be careful or be strict, says Paul, that as you walk, you’re both walking intentionally and watching intentionally. Both are necessary to grow in holiness and maturity. Both are necessary to be faithful. The devil is like a prowling lion, don’t give him any opportunity to pounce. Watch to see that you stay clear of him. Watch to make sure you’re walking where you’re supposed to be walking.
2) Know Where You’re Going
In addition to watching where and how you’re walking; you also need to know where you’re going. It’s not enough to be walking in a straight line and avoiding errant objects, but if you don’t know where you’re going, or if you have no direction, then what’s the point?
The Christian life isn’t a meaningless life. It isn’t an errant, directionless life. There’s a trajectory that every single one of us is on. If you don’t believe in the gospel, it’s hell. If you do believe the gospel, it’s heaven, and I hope everyone in this room wants to get to this second option, but if you forget how to get there, then you may think you’re watching carefully, and you may think you’re walking the right way, but when you forget where you’re going, what seems like the right first step often leads you down the path of destruction.
This is exactly what was happening to the Jews of Christ’s and Paul’s day. They thought they were walking in the right direction—follow the law, do everything exactly right, live a good life—but what they forgot is where they were going, or who they were striving towards. They forgot about the grace of God. They forgot about the need to trust in him. They forgot that their walking wasn’t sufficient, they needed hearts that had been charted out with the map.
I know I’m speaking in extended metaphor, but this is exactly what Paul means when he says you ought to walk “not as unwise men but as wise” in the second part of verse 15. In other words, you’ve gained practical wisdom and insight into God’s eternal will and eternal work. What God has planned from the very beginning has been made known to us once-and-for-all. All things are to be united in Christ, things in heaven and on earth, and such things are to be displayed not only in the Jews but in an ethnically diverse church. All the people who God loves are brought under one, cosmic roof not as enemies and not as strangers but as family. How? through the wisdom of God.
This is how Paul uses the word “wisdom” throughout Ephesians. Eph 1:8-10: “he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will . . . to unite all things in [Christ],” Eph 1:17-19: “that [God] might give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of [Jesus] . . .that you might know what is the hope to which he has called you,” and Eph 3:8-10: “I [Paul] was given this grace to preach the unfathomable riches of Christ and the mystery of God’s plans, SO THAT the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church [everywhere].” Stated another way, the wisdom of God is Jesus Christ incarnated, perfectly righteous, walking towards Jerusalem, dying upon a cross, bearing the sin and stain of wrath, rising three days later triumphant over the weight of the grave, and sitting upon his well-deserved throne as King over everything! Christ is the wisdom of the cosmos.
And Paul contrasts those who have this wisdom to those who are unwise. What does being “unwise” mean? Well, Paul answers that throughout his letter as well. I’ll give one example in Eph 4:17-18: they are unbelievers who are darkened in their understanding and have futile thinking. It’s quite simple, those who are unwise are those who have no idea why God is God and what God has done. They are fools. They do not perceive who Jesus is—the very depth and height of God’s wisdom. They have no inclination to want the things of the Spirit brought about through the shedding of Christ’s blood. No, they are unperceiving of these things because they see no value in it. Paul says don’t walk as the unwise, walk as the wise! Those who possess true wisdom live as those who have received the eternal mystery of God. There ought to be a drastic difference in your life between your pre-saved, sinful life and your saved, holy life.
I remember the very first time the girl I liked told me that she liked me back. Fortunately, that girl isn’t Candace—and I say fortunately because I was a kid, and I had no idea what it means to like a girl. You see, as a kid, and prior to knowing this girl liked me, I treated her like my best friend. We would walk around together, we would talk and make fun of each other, all the things good friends are supposed to do. But then, I found out she liked me, and I went from hanging out with her to standing at least 10 feet away from her at all times. I went from talking with her to being too afraid to talk to her, so I’d write notes like, “I’m glad you like me,” and include a pack of tic-tacs that were a sign that I liked her because I liked tic-tacs, but all she interpreted from those letters was that I thought that she had terrible breath. Praise be to God that I got my act together when I found out Candace liked me. Otherwise, I would never have known that when she gives me a tic-tac, it really means that I have terrible breath, but she loves me anyway.
Walk as those whose lives have been drastically changed, but unlike me, you don’t change for the worse, no you change for the better. God has said, “I love you,” in the most drastic and dramatic way possible. What’s more is that you’re brought into the hall of heroes—other men and women who knew what it meant to possess the wisdom of God. There on your left sits Abraham, Ruth, and David, and there on our right sits Paul, Peter, and John but always before us and ever present with us is the Wisdom of God, the Son of Man, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb who was slain—Jesus is our truest love, and he has come to die upon a cross, so that he might bring us near to himself. He has born for us our iniquity and our penalty so that we might perceive what it means when God says, “he loves us.”
We come to know the ways and the reasons of God through the activity of his redemption for us. If he doesn’t act to redeem, then we can only know from afar—we can only know what creation reveals to us—and it condemns us because we can’t get to it—we can’t get to God—on our own. But when we’re given not just the wisdom of God from creation but the wisdom of God in redemption—through the cross, then we’re made able to behave and act in the world on a different level because we’re no longer working for what we have. When we have the wisdom of God, we’re no longer striving to maintain some fictional status that the world tells us we have to value. We’re not trying to figure out what creation has been pointing us towards the entire time—GOD HAS COME TO US, and we are fundamentally affected in every conceivable way.
Your conduct as those who have received the wisdom of the eternal God in the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be utterly and radically different. You’re looking where you’re walking. You know where you’re going because God has shown it to you, and it’s a marvelous thing. We say, “I don’t want to forsake that. I don’t want to veer to the left or the right—I don’t want to give any ground to that past sin—because nothing is more satisfying or more beautiful or more intoxicating to my soul than Jesus crucified, risen, and reigning. Nothing is sweeter than that!
Walking is dangerous, so make sure you look and know where you’re going. Make sure that the gospel is as truly satisfying to you in your heart as you say it is. Allow your conduct to match your conviction. Don’t pretend like you don’t know. To pretend or to fool yourself is simply to show God that you really don’t know what it means to possess his wisdom because if you love Jesus, you know that you love him all the time, so you’re putting to death that sin, and you’re casting off that old man. Yes, you’ll make mistakes along the way, but those mistakes aren’t defining the journey—Christ is ever before you, so get up from your fall. Go to him! Don’t let anything distract you from beholding and savouring him. This is what it means to be wise. Your life is changed because your affections are changed, you know where you’re going, you know who’s waiting for you at the end, so run to him—get to him by every and any means possible, because he’s come to us in a way that we thought was impossible. The cross was born for you, so that you might not lose your way. Don’t forget. Cling to Jesus and the truth of God’s eternal wisdom revealed in him.
3) Don’t Wander Off
Verse 16 further clarifies what it means to walk carefully, it means that you make the most of your time. The word used in Greek means “to redeem.” It’s similar to how we use the word redeem when referring to a coupon. When you go to a store and redeem a coupon, you’re looking to take full advantage of that coupon. If it’s to buy up to 100 of something you really want for a dollar, my guess is that you’re spending a hundred dollars because you’re buying a hundred of that thing. Redeem here has that meaning—to redeem means to purchase as far and as much as you possibly can. The colloquial meaning is how the NASB translates it: make the most of your time.
And how we understand this part of the verse is directly tied to how we understand what it means to walk as those who are wise. If we are wise, then we know that God the Son has come to us in the form and likeness of man, and he has come to die upon a cross for our sin and for our guilt. We’ve received the eternal, matchless gift. It is the height of everything that we could ever want or need. Thus, Paul says, redeem the time! Make the most of what you’ve been given in this life—you’ve received the greatest gift, so go out and do the greatest possible good. Make the gospel known to all who might hear. Do radical things for your fellow brother and sister in Christ. Make a substantial difference in the world. Live like you’ve got it all and stop wasting your days on the things that don’t matter.
I’ve talked about the seashell analogy by John Piper with many of you already, but the analogy is about a retired couple who wrote an article for Reader’s Digest or some magazine like that, and in that article, they write about how they had decided to move to Florida by the beach. And every morning, they would wake up to the sound of the ocean, an empty seashore, and the opportunity to collect seashells while they walked along the coast. They talked about the bliss of their life and the many seashells that they had collected as their reward. It’s at this part of the article that Piper quips, “someday, these two will stand before the Lord, and he’ll ask how did you spend your life in light of what I’ve done for you on the cross,” and all they’ll be able to say is, “Lord, Lord, look at all my seashells.” This is an abominable.
What is your seashell? It may not translate into things, it may be how you prize your relationships, it may be the vices you allow yourself to indulge in without self-control, it may be wasting your time on frivolous things, it may even be your worldly busyness and need to feel self-important. Whatever it is, we all have that thing that distracts us from redeeming the time.
We, as Christians, those who watch our steps, those who are wise not in the way of the world but in the way of the cross, we are not to waste another moment of our lives. Redeem the time. Redeem the time because the days are evil. This world is fallen. This state is fallen. The ongoing tragedies and travesties that immerse our news outlets, they remind us that the days are evil, and that the prince of the power of the air has not yet been cast into that fiery lake. Redeem the days and don’t waste your time because idle, wasteful hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips and speech are the devil’s mouthpiece. We’re called to be busy as Christians, but it’s not busyness in the way the world defines it! No, we’re in the business of seeking out one another’s holiness, and sometimes this is the most inefficient process. It may mean sitting with that person for one, two, five, ten years before there’s real change. Sometimes it means doing things we don’t want to do at first so that the duty might become a discipline, and so that that discipline might become our delight.
The days are evil, the Christian life is hard, but this part of the verse that talks about the evil days are also a reminder here at the end that the good days, the eternal days, the resting days, the peaceful days, the God’s-glory-in-our-physical-presence days, they are coming, and we are to long for them. We are to look forward to them with every fiber in our bodies and souls but looking forward and knowing where we’re going doesn’t mean that the work is done. We aren’t to wander off and ignore our circumstances! No, we’re to proactively live, doing as much as we possibly can to glorify our Lord in whatever time he’s given us, and it’s okay if that looks drastically different from what the world expects of us. We are to give of ourselves body, mind, soul, and strength for the sake of our brothers and sisters and for the sake of the lost. This is what we have found in the cross, and it is our calling not only to believe in it, but to share it and display it to the ends of the earth.
Christian, it is not too late. Yes, the days are evil. The devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But because we are ever watchful of his jaws, and because we know that we have the Lion of the tribe of Judah on our side, we can redeem the time. We can live distinctly holy lives because God is with us and God is for us. We can risk all that we are and all that we have for Jesus because death where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? We aren’t afraid of suffering or persecution because we have a Christ who suffered, was persecuted, and was nailed to a cross on our behalf. What can stop us now? God is for us! Therefore, we can walk sacrificially in love for one another. We can go out of our way to show the world that their sin does not satisfy, and we can do all of this because we have nothing to lose, and yet have already gained everything. Paul knows that walking in this world is a dangerous thing. But he wants to make sure that his children know that, despite its danger, there is still much to do and the opportunities to do what is good and right abound. He wants them to know that they can do these good and right things, they can call people to know the goodness of God in the gospel, because they’ve been equipped with everything that they need to succeed. They’ve been taught to watch intently where they walk. They’ve been taught to constantly remind themselves of where they’re going in the knowledge of what Jesus has done, and, if they do these things, they surely will not wander off. Make every effort to glorify God with the wisdom that he’s given you. Don’t waste his time by wasting your time. Walk in such a way that brings him delight and displays his glory in all the earth and to the praise of his exalted name.