Message: Walking, Talking, and Glorifying | Scripture: Ephesians 5:17-20 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: And Can It Be?; O God, Our Help in Ages Past; Psalm 19; 10,000 Reasons
- What does it mean to possess the wisdom of God, and why is this so essential for our understanding of verses 17 onwards?
- Where have we seen this distinction of the wise vs. the fool before, and why is it significant to recognize where this distinction is most widely used?
- What is wisdom literature that uses contrasting language like the wise vs. the fool grounded/rooted in, and how does that affect us today as those who have been given the wisdom of God within the context of verses 15-16 (you may have answered this already)?
- What does Paul mean when he says, “Understand the will of the Lord”? Is there a difference between possessing wisdom and possessing understanding? If yes, explain what that difference is.
- Why does Paul, in verse 18, tell us not to be drunk with wine? What does wine do to us that Paul (and God) is trying to protect us from? What do we often look to wine and other substances for that the cross through the Holy Spirit should do for us?
- Are you reliant on any other substances to help affect you in ways (perhaps, in milder ways) like wine does? Is it okay to be affected by these things/in some ways, to depend on these things (for example, coffee, coke, candy, etc.)?
- Is Paul prohibiting the drinking of wine and other potentially mood altering substances completely? Where do we draw the line? Is there Scripture that might support your position?
- What does it mean to be filled by the Spirit?
- One of the things I didn’t clarify in my sermon due to time, is that the phrase here is to be filled BY the Spirit and not WITH the Spirit. Thus, the Spirit is the person that is filling you, but Paul is not talking about the Spirit filling you with himself. The content of what the Spirit is filling you with is different. What might that content be (look at what precedes in our previous verses)?
- What is the external consequence of our wise understanding through the Spirit according to Paul?
- What is the internal consequence of our wise understanding through the Spirit according to Paul?
- Do you do these things willingly, vocally, and meditatively? If not, why? What stops you from fulfilling this command from Paul?
- Ultimately, Paul tells us that the reason why we sing as well as the result of your singing is based in thankfulness. We sing because we’re thankful, and as we’re singing, we’re filled with thankfulness! How and what in your life over the past couple of weeks has caused you to be more thankful for the salvation you’ve received in Christ? How have the things you’ve been learning in the sermon and in your devotions been helping you to display a more worshipful life?
- How can we be praying for you this week (both in sorrow and in victory)?
- Make sure to leave enough time to pray with one another before leaving.
For those of you here who are salespeople, I ask what is the number one thing that sets a good salesman/woman apart from a bad salesman/woman? I think the answer to that is understanding your audience or client. A good salesman who understands the needs, proclivities, and communication styles of their client is how one establishes trust and a good rapport. How well you understand your client will show in their reciprocal willingness to work with you. I saw this firsthand when, while my parents were looking for a car to buy a number of years ago, we walked into the car dealership, and we were instantly assigned a sales rep. Now, this sales-rep had energy, she was nice, she clearly knew her cars, but one thing that she did not understand was who her clients were. Some of the phrases she used with my mother was, “Can I get an Amen and a high-ten, sister?” Or, “Come on in and give me a big hug, sister,” and she used sounds that fall outside of my range to replicate. And the whole time, my father and I just cringed at how hard she was trying to say all the wrong things. A poor understanding of your client leads to a poor ability to meet their needs. The point is that true understanding leads to drastic and lasting action, and in these verses, Paul is asking us and imploring us not only to know the truth of what he’s saying but to understand it, and to understand it in such a way that we exhibit a surprising counter-cultural attitude because of it. It is understanding that brings about true and lasting change and makes us effective in our witness to the world. So, let’s turn to see how understanding leads to change now in Eph 5:15-22. TWoL.
So then do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another I psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Our proposition this morning is a conditional statement, and it is this way because our passage has two main parts to it. It calls us to have a Spirit-filled understanding, but it also calls us to action as a result of being filled in such a way. This is what I want you to walk away with this morning: If You Possess Spiritual Understanding, Then You Display a Unified Joy—a Unified Holiness. Those who have received the truth, live in such a way that they can’t hide that truth, and our outline, like last week, follows the component parts of our proposition:
- Possessing Understanding
- Receiving Spiritual Revelation
- [as a consequence of 1 and 2,] Displaying Joy Together
Understanding yields results, and I know you’ve heard similar things from me before, but the message of the Bible is the same message over and over again, and Paul is saying these things not to be redundant, but to make sure it’s really in your head and your heart: “do you understand this message?” “Do you know what that understanding means for your life?” So, let’s start with what it is we ought to understand:
1) Possessing Understanding
Verse 17 says, “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” The first word, translated in the NASB as, “So then,” is actually “because of this” or “therefore.” The translators of the NASB chose “so then” because verse 15 also starts with a “therefore.” So, to avoid redundancy they switched the wording, but “therefore” is the most appropriate translation.
So, Paul is saying that there’s an inference to be made as those who seek to walk wisely. Wisdom doesn’t sit still. Wisdom doesn’t give into the evil of our day. Wisdom doesn’t waste time. What is the inference that we draw from this? The inference is that the wisdom of God revealed to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ displays a true and proper understanding in how we live. You may think that this is obvious. Of course, Pastor Stephen, wisdom about the gospel means a changed life, but I don’t think that gets to the heart of why Paul seems to be stating the obvious here.
You see, wisdom to both Israel and to Gentiles had become a kind of currency. If you have wisdom, you can say a lot of good things and help a lot of people. But wisdom wasn’t something that changed people’s lives. Just look at the wisest man in history. Solomon was said to have recorded more wisdom on paper than anyone before him. For all that was recorded on parchment, imagine just how many more proverbial sayings he must have amassed in his life, and yet, for all his wisdom, his life ends as a sad example of a man lost in the world. Wisdom in the Ancient Near East was a platitude. Wisdom was a saying. Wisdom was a sage-like statement that had regulative force, but at the end of the day, it could be disregarded or considered for a fleeting moment and then left unchecked.
But Paul is saying, “you have received wisdom! And it isn’t just the wisdom of the world. It isn’t just wisdom from creation, it is the wisdom of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning.
Remember with me, what does it mean to have wisdom? It means to have comprehended the plan of God in salvation history through the revelation of his Son as the Saviour of the world. True wisdom is living affected by the truth that God loves you so much so that he sent his only Son to die for you and to pay the penalty of your sin for you. Therefore, Paul says, “don’t be foolish, but understand the Lord’s will.”
One of the things that I didn’t have time to cover last week, but that is important for us to understand in our text today, is to ask the question, “where else in the Bible do we see language like this: don’t be foolish; be wise?” We see it most often in wisdom literature don’t we. Most prominently, we see this kind of language in Proverbs. Wise comes from walking with the wise, but harm comes to those who befriend fools (Prov 13:20). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov 1:7).
Allow me to give you a brief explanation of the Proverbs—they’re rooted in creation theology. This means that while the Proverbs were read within Israel, they do not apply only to God’s covenant community. These proverbs are recorded in such a way that they apply as general truths to the very fabric of creation. There is a proper way God, through Solomon, tells us to behave in this world, and God’s written that propriety into the land that we live on, the waters that surround us, the cosmos that are above us, and the souls that we embody. We have moral principles that guide us, and the Proverbs are the recorded revelation from God of what we know is right and good in our natures: if we violate these principles, then, generally speaking, we will destroy ourselves. This is the wisdom from God in creation.
The problem with wisdom literature is that not a single person in this room has abided by its principles. All of us have violated these general precepts, and all of us have suffered ruination in some way, shape, or form from our lack obedience to them. In fact, as sinners, our innate desire is simply to keep disregarding these principles on the basis that we think that we can carve out our own standard of wisdom. Wisdom, for sinners, is not an objective thing written into the fabric of the world and our souls—no wisdom is our own perception of our feelings and of what we think is good for us.
So, you see, the only inevitable outcome of our disregarding the wisdom of God in creation, whether it is something that happens during our lives or something that will happen after this life, is destruction. It’s like the man who jumps off the building, thinking that gravity does not apply to him. Inevitably, whether he floats down a little slower or a little faster, his fate is sealed. He has an appointment with the ground that he cannot avoid UNLESS someone or something intervenes.
Here is where we connect back with Paul in Ephesians because the wisdom of creation teaches us one thing—we, as sinners, are wholly and irrevocably unwise. As fools, we spurned the wisdom of God when the wisdom of God is the only objective, unmoveable standard for what is and ought to be in the entire universe. Outside of God, nothing can be known, nothing can exist. Only within and from God, himself, can things be known.
So, when Paul tells us to walk as those who have received the wisdom of God in the revelation of Son, he is telling us that what we can infer is that despite our foolishness—despite the fact that we have spurned the wisdom of God revealed in creation, and despite the fact that we deserve destruction for doing so—he has intervened.
You were made wise, THEREFORE ground yourself in the objective standard of God. Understand what the will of the Lord is. Return not only to the general wisdom that God gives in creation and not only to the thought of some sage-like advice that has no ultimate bearing on your life but consider your life now that you have received the specific wisdom of God given to you in salvation. There were rules for how everyone should live to experience God’s common grace, but now there are rules for how we are to live as those who have received the gift of God himself. You possess the understanding not of the fool, but as the wise, as those who are able to do something universe-altering with the wisdom you’ve been given. You possess the understanding of the will of the Lord to save you, me, and all sinners through the truth of Christ’s shed blood upon a cross.
We need to understand that God has intervened in history to save us from utter and sure destruction, and this allows us particular insight into what his will is for us and how we are to act. We are to intervene in history to save others from their own utter and sure destruction. Possessing understanding means not only knowing what is true or what ought to be done. No, it means actually doing what ought to be done. When you receive the wisdom of God in redemption, what happens is that wisdom changes and challenges you in all that you do, and it ought to challenge you in such a way that your life conforms to the image of the Son and the love that he displayed in giving his life as a sacrifice for you.
2) Receiving Spiritual Revelation
Verse 18 is the third attribute of those who are called to walk the Christian life and the second inference from what it means to have received wisdom from God. As those who have received wisdom, we aren’t only called to consider and understand the will of the Lord, but we’re also to be Spirit-filled in our understanding.
In this second part of the inference of verse 18, we’re told that our consideration and understanding of wisdom comes to us and is imparted to us through or by the Spirit. Do you see the trinitarian formula? God the Father imparts the wisdom revealed to us in God the Son through the power of God the Spirit. There is no divine action in all of history where all three persons of the Godhead are not present and intimately involved. This was true in creation, this was true upon the cross, this is true at our salvation, it is true in our sanctification and ethical living, and it shall be true in the glorification. All three are present and accounted for when it comes to living the Christian life.
And this ought to be of infinite comfort to us as sinners because it goes against so much of what the world tells us. Some believe that God simply creates and leaves us be. Some believe that there are only one or two persons in the Godhead. But Paul is saying here that ALL THREE are acting in history, in the present, and in the future at the same time with the same will and motivation, and all three are necessary to do this. All three are necessary for you to walk in the way that Paul is telling us to do here. Unless God is willing, unless the Son is testifying, and unless the Spirit is imparting and empowering, there is no reason for us to watch how we walk because at some point we will give up.
But if there is a God, and if that God has given us wisdom, if that God has died upon a cross, and if that God is actively revealing to us what it means to live in light of the cross, then there is hope that we can and shall persevere. If God is always active to both uphold the universe with sovereign, exhaustive control, while intimately ministering to us, revealing himself to us, and enabling us to seek after him with the time we’ve been given, then what else do we need? Is this not a God worthy to be worshiped? Does he not fill your lungs, your heart, your mouth, your mind, your strength, and your soul with praise?
This is also why at the beginning of verse 18, he gives us the negative command: don’t be drunk with wine in which is reckless abandon or dissipation. Let me just comment briefly on this word dissipation in the NASB that we’re not all familiar with. The word for dissipation in the Bible is the negative version of σωζω, which means to save or to preserve life. In other words, dissipation means to be against the preservation of life—to do what is contrary to saving life—to waste life. Thus, what Paul is saying here is that being drunk has nothing to do with making the most of your time, but rather, it has everything to do with wasting it.
But why does Paul use drunkenness as the thing that stands against being filled by the Spirit? Well, I think the explanation is rather simple. He has already listed the other sins that distract us from walking ethically pleasing lives to God—sexual immorality, crude joking, evil thoughts, deceitful words, etc. So, drunkenness seems to be one of the last things that he has to deal with in a world that seeks to escape God by any and every means possible.
More than this, however, is that all the sins that Paul has discussed prior to drunkenness have to do with sins that corrupt the heart and the mind, and that sinfulness moves outward to corrupt the body. Drunkenness, on the other hand, has to with an outside substance making its way into our system to change our experiences and manipulate our senses, and we do this needlessly and, for most of us, voluntarily.
Paul wants us to grasp this point: what we possess in our wisdom and our understanding, what we hold to be objectively right and good, is an alien righteousness and goodness. The cross provides something from the outside that is poured into our lives to change our experiences, our desires, and our senses. To subjugate ourselves needlessly and voluntarily to anything that might distract us or prevent us from embracing this alien righteousness and goodness at all times, as much as possible, is equivalent to rejecting that thing that ought to be most satisfying to us.
You see, we go to things outside of us to help us escape the problems of the world and to disassociate ourselves from our hardships. We look to things for our happiness, our joy, our satisfaction. But Paul is saying, DON’T LOOK TO THESE THINGS THAT PROVIDE YOU ESCAPE FROM THE WORLD. Don’t try to be satisfied in and with substances that alter your consciousness, perception, and experience because your life doesn’t belong to you. Everything that happens to you, every circumstance in which you are placed, even your suffering, you’re supposed to experience them. God has intended for it.
So, instead of being filled with wine and trying to control how you live, be filled by the Holy Spirit. Be filled by him in the wisdom of God and in the understanding of the will of the Lord. Let him dictate your path. Let him help you endure. You’re meant to experiences all the joys and sorrows, the ebbs and flows as they present themselves because through this, you understand more fully what it means to live by and under the sovereign control and intimate love of God. This is the goal of the whole Christian life: what is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying and experiencing him forever, and that isn’t found in worldly spirits. It’s found in the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom is from God. Understanding that wisdom revealed in Christ and its direction for your life is brought about through the work of the Holy Spirit. True spiritual understanding isn’t something that belongs to or is gained from the world—it’s given to you. You’re called to possess it. You’re called to treasure it. You’re called to experience the fullness of God in it without inhibition or inebriation because he’s a God who desires to give us all of himself, and he is a jealous God who does not want to share you with anyone or anything else.
3) Displaying Joy Together
What is the result of our being filled with this wisdom, this understanding, and this Spirit? Verses 19 to 20 tell us that the practical outcome of receiving such things is a life of worship. This is what Paul emphasizes in these verses. True walking as those worthy of their calling, as those who love Christ, as those who are no longer like the Gentiles, as those who are children of light, there is but one thing to do when you’ve received everything, and that is to worship. It is to respond in a way that reflects the magnitude of the gift we’ve received.
This is what worship is. Worship is a response. Walking as Paul calls us to walk is a response. Living a certain way as those who’ve been made wise, given understanding, and filled with the Spirit is a response. We respond to the measureless grace of the gospel.
And the best way to respond is by singing. Literally, we are to speak psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs—we’re to do that, which is particularly human: speak and sing! The reason why the verb “speak” is used in verse 19 is to emphasize the vocal nature of it. It’s not enough to internally affirm the truth and understanding that we’ve received, we have to express outwardly what is inside of us. The joy and satisfaction we receive is so incredible that it springs out like a well from us, and the best way to express it is by singing. Perhaps the most well-known advocate for the necessity of singing was Martin Luther who said, “next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise,” and it is through the combination of words and music, something that only humans can do, that we are to proclaim the Word of God—we proclaim “the Word of God through music.” And he adds that we do this because “singing truth is the best way to write it on our hearts.”
This is precisely what the apostle means when he says that we are to speak the truth in song to one another—we are to sing them with our mouths. Remember, this speaking is a result of the actions commanded before: that we walk as those who understand the wisdom of the gospel revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. The content of our singing is the content of our transformed hearts. We don’t just sing songs that sound nice. We sing songs that declare the excellencies of his majesty enthroned above. We sing songs that emphasize the glory of God, the truths of Scripture, the promises of the gospel, our adoration for the three persons. What worship is not about is us. A good litmus test for whether or not we should sing a song is to ask if the song is about God or about me, and if it is about me, what I can do, how I’ve been given value and worth, or how I am important, then those are songs are probably the kind of songs that we can skip.
This isn’t to say that songs can’t reference me or you. No, the overarching question is, “does the song turn our gaze upon Jesus.” Does it value that infinitely valuable treasure? In other words, does the song rest in the truth of what Scripture proclaims. Colossians 3:16 uses similar words as our passage here, but instead of talking about wisdom, understanding, and the Spirit of God, it simply says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” as the condition for how and what we sing. It is Christ whom we sing about. Matt Boswell once said that our churches’ songs should simply be Bible-centered sermons with melody. Tim Challies has said, “show me the songs that a church sings, and I’ll tell you the theology that they believe.” In other words, we sing about the full gospel because it reveals who and what is our highest joy. That which we desire and delight in the most is also that which we will speak about the most.
And people like Boswell and Challies, they get their ideas straight from the apostle, because just look at these result of possessing spiritual understanding in verse 19: first, you sing outloud to and with one another, and, second, as you sing outloud with one another, your heart begins to give way, and it, too, sings and gives praise to the Lord. Notice with me, that “your” in verse 19 is a plural “your.” He’s speaking about you all collectively. But also notice that heart is in the singular. The result of speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that reflect the truth of the gospel is one collective heart that is satisfied and delighted in our wise God. When one of us is singing his truth, all of us are singing his truth. When all are singing the truth, all are singing as one in truth.
Is this not what the whole point of Ephesians is? We are one people and we sing to one Lord as God’s one family. It doesn’t matter how good you sound in the congregation. It doesn’t matter if the person behind you is completely tone deaf. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the song—if it is truth, if it proclaims the excellencies of our God, it it is steeped in Scripture, if it highlights the heights, depths, lengths, and breadth of the love of Jesus displayed upon a cross, then sing! Sing because you believe it! Sing because you glorify God through it! Sing as Solomon sang, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine!” Sing outloud. Sing in your heart as one people. Sing not because it adds anything to God but because he wants to fill us as his church with the truth about him and love for him. Singing saturates. Singing enlivens. Singing brings joy.
I can’t remember the number of times on my drive home when I’d plug in my ipod or iphone and play a worship set of songs, belting them at the top of my lungs. That was just me, by myself, in the car, and my car was filled with joy. Then, I walked into a stadium for the first time with 15,000 people gathered together to sing the truths of the gospel, and all I remember was being so overwhelmed at the voices proclaiming as one people this message about their Saviour, the boldness and clarity of their declaration was piercing to the heart, and it moved me to a new understand of what it means to enjoy our God as the people of God. Sing in the joy of your salvation together. Nothing moves hearts more than people who sing the truth together. Nothing terrifies the devil more than a church that loves to sing the truth together. Nothing brings us more satisfaction and assurance that God is pleased with us than when we are singing the truth together—singing with our voices and singing with our hearts. This is why the longest and largest book in the Bible is a compilation of congregational songs about the truth. We were made to sing and called to sing about God—to sing as those filled by the Spirit with the wisdom of the cross.
And might I ask you, what happens when your life is saturated in this way? Are you made lifeless? Do you mumble and groan in your remembrance of these things? No. I imagine that your reaction is one of satisfied rejoicing. I imagine that the thing that comes across your mind and your heart is one of deep thanksgiving as verse 20 says. When I think about the cross, I realize that I don’t need the approval of man. I don’t need more money. I don’t need more success. No, all I need is Jesus, and I have him. What circumstance can tear me away from possessing everything, absolutely nothing.
When we possess wisdom, when we understand what that wisdom entails, and when that wisdom is given to us by the work of the Spirit, all that’s left to say is “thank you.” When we’re confronted with the depth of our despair and the breadth of his love, all we can do is say, “thank you.” And we’re called to do this corporately. We aren’t thankful that we’ve been saved in isolation from everyone else. No, we’re thankful that we’ve been saved into a family more wonderful, dynamic, and glorious than anything we’ve ever previously known.
This is the disposition of sinners saved by grace. The gospel would be a horrible thing if it were an individual experience, but it’s made wonderful because the body has many parts and there at its head sits the Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords. If you possess spiritual understanding, then you will display a unified, worshipful joy because together you get to see and savour the Messiah who came to bring a new people to himself. He came to love and show us what it means to be a family that shall never fail nor end. What can our mouths and hearts do in response other than give praise? What can we do other than give him all the glory that he is due? There is nothing else that we can do. There is nothing else we should want to do. He is our wisdom. He is our understanding. He is our portion in the Spirit. He is our joy forevermore. Bless the Lord, O my soul, bless his holy name.