Look Carefully How You Walk | Ephesians 5:15-17

 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV

Ephesians 5:15-21 is a section that buildings upon everything that Paul has exhorted of us so far. In 4:1-16, he urged us to strive for unity with one another and to use our individual gifts for the purpose of building up the collective body of Christ. In 4:17-5:14, he contrasted our lives in Christ with those who are still dead in their sins, which culminated in the light and darkness distinctions within our previous text. These next seven verses appear to be the capstone of his general exhortations before the apostle turns to address the Christian household in 5:22-6:9. Mirroring the 4:1-16 and 4:17-5:14, our present three verses tackle our conduct within the world, while 5:18-21 focus upon our conduct around one another.

WALK CAREFULLY

From the very beginning, we meet our fifth and final walk command of Ephesians: look carefully then how you walk. The word then makes this commands connection to the previous passages explicit. As I noted last week, each essentially exhorts us to do the same thing. They only approach from different angles. To walk in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ must mean no longer walking as the Gentiles do, which must also mean walking in love as Christ loved us, which must also mean walking as children of light in the midst of a world of darkness. And with each of these commands piled on top of one another, the apostle now urges us to give our diligent attention to how we walk, to look carefully or, as the KJV says, to walk circumspectly. Imagine hiking a narrow and slippery trail up a steep mountain. In this scenario, each step is carefully placed because the consequences are too great to do otherwise.

Like such hike, careless walking deadly to the Christian. Walking worthy of our calling, unlike the Gentiles, in love, and as children of light do not come naturally to us. Although we have been raised to life with Christ, we must still daily put off our old selves and put on the new. The road to life is narrow and hard. A life of comfort and ease is spent walking down the broad road to destruction. Watson notes a stone is easily rolled down a hill but requires much strength to push it up hill against the natural force of gravity.[1] Likewise, sin is still the natural impulse of our flesh, so we must take great care and effort to push against our sinful desires. We can only coast our way into hell, never into heaven.

 But how do we do this? How do we walk with more care? Paul provides four starting points here. Two are descriptions, one is a reasoning, and the fourth is a conclusion.

NOT AS UNWISE BUT AS WISE

First, the apostle counsels us to look carefully how we walk by being wise instead of unwise. Wisdom is the skill of living well, and the Bible clearly affirms that it comes from God Himself. Many nonbelievers, by God’s common grace, live wisely to an extent and reap wisdom’s benefits; however, true and eternal wisdom begins with the fear of God (Proverbs 9:10). Indeed, the greatest display of wisdom is submission to God as the sovereign Creator. Wisdom hears God’s message through Isaiah, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (55:9) and responds as David did, praying, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).

In fact, wisdom’s antithesis, folly or foolishness, rejects such humility and obstinately refuses to be taught. As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Fools cannot be wise simply because they reject instruction. As another proverb reads, “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (15:32). Note the irony. A fool’s elevated view of self causes his very destruction; whereas, whoever is humble enough to learn will grow wiser. Or as Jesus said, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humble himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

Looking carefully how we walk means being wise, not foolish. Proverbs 14:16 tells us plainly that “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.” The wise care primarily about the LORD that they fear. The wise will only increase in wisdom because they are diligent to follow His path, determined to enter by the narrow gate.

BEST USE OF TIME

Second, Paul tells us to look carefully how we walk by making the best use of the time. Time is, of course, the most valuable and non-renewable of our resources, and it is given with perfect equity. The wealthiest can buy no more minutes in an hour or hour in a day than the poorest of the poor. The wise take this to heart, numbering their days. Especially as we set our eyes upon the Eternal One, we become distinctly aware that our time on this earth is short. “The years of life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty” (Psalm 90:10). Following these years, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We, therefore, live with a perpetual countdown timer looming over us, only the time left is hidden from our view. This life will soon end, and we will see our Lord face to face. In light of this end, we must make the best use of our limited time, or again as the KJV reads, redeem the time. Martyn Lloyd-Jones remarks the sense that this command has, saying:

The meaning of the word, redeem is that of buying up something, and especially the idea of buying if for ourselves. If you like, it is the picture of a man who is looking for a bargain. He wants to buy something for himself and he is watching the goods on the stall, or in the shop window. He is anxious to get that bargain, so he looks around and shows great keenness.[2]

We are actively hunting for the best uses of our time. We are seeking to capture each opportunity that presents itself. In particular, we should be eager to make the most of our time around nonbelievers. Recall too that this verse comes on the heels of Paul speaking about the distinctions between believers and nonbelievers, and Paul makes this same command again in Colossians 4:5, which reads, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” If people spend their entire lives saving up every dollar and cent that they can in order to accumulate wealth, how much more should we give ourselves over to warning non-Christians of the judgment that awaits continued unbelief? The general view of evangelism is typically that we must be prepared to answer any questions about Christianity that someone might have. Although Peter speaks somewhat about this[3], here Paul is expecting us to be actively searching for such opportunities. Unfortunately, as a dear brother noted a few weeks ago, the primary deterrent of evangelism is not so much our fear of rejection as it is the fear that they will want to follow Jesus and we will have to teach them how. Thus, in order to confidently seize every opportunity of presenting Christ to nonbelievers, we must first be sitting at the feet of Jesus ourselves. Like Martha, we busy ourselves with so many things, but Mary chose the portion that would never be taken from her. Making the best use of our time begins with being continually in the presence and footsteps of our Lord and then using every opportunity to invite others to come along as well.

EVIL DAYS

Third, Paul gives us a reason for looking carefully how we walk: because the days are evil. Such a statement, especially spoken during an election year, is quite easy to affirm, yet I believe that we are a bit double-minded here. As we glimpse the big-picture of the world around us, we easily conclude that things are sliding ever closer into the dark abyss. Current events bombard us, and we begin to believe that we are living in an ‘unprecedented’ time, that no one in history has ever seen anything like what we are going through! Ecclesiastes begs to differ, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (1:8). Of course, history never repeats itself exactly because, like snowflakes, no two moments can ever be identical to one another, yet as God’s great story, history repeatedly has patterns and themes that appear time and time again. Even still, we continue to ask the unwise question, “Why were the former days better than these” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)? We ask this because we forget that they were not better than today. We would do well to remember that our present pandemic is an inconvenience compared to the Black Death’s thirty-three percent death-toll. When we lament the wickedness of politicians, we should remind ourselves that Manasseh, a king of Judah, committed child sacrifice. Furthermore, while we are rightly horrified at reports of sex and child trafficking, we should remember that such practices were once considered legitimate industries rather than being underground markets. But all of this is simply to say that the present day is not as bad as you think it is.

But on the other hand, everything is probably worse than you think it is. Like I said, we are double-minded on things. We watch the news and conclude that everything is spinning out of control, but we generally do not live like it. Practically, we live as though the world is pretty decent place. Even the trials and suffering that we experience gets chalked up to being “just how it goes.” Paul, however, warns us that the days are evil. The days are not simply hard or busy or hectic or challenging; they are evil. He will repeat this description in verse 13 of chapter six after reminding us that our struggle is not against “flesh and blood, but against… the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places” (6:12).

In fact, one of the devil’s greatest schemes is simply to present the inverse of God’s design as correct, which is exactly what happens with our view of the present. We give the wars and rumors of wars around us more attention than they deserve, making ourselves anxious in the process, but the cloud of darkness that enshrouds our daily activities is treated as only a temporary fog. A war of eternal consequences rages around us, but we live as if we are in peacetime. Evil lurks both around us and within us, so we must look carefully how we walk. “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlists him” (2 Timothy 2:5). As a follower of Christ, you are no longer your own. You belong to Christ and His kingdom, shining light against the darkness of evil around us. Therefore, what you see, hear, say, and do are not at your command but are at the order of your Lord.

Furthermore, because we live in a world ruled by the prince of this world, we must take great care not to be indoctrinated by the cultural catechesis around us. For instance, increasingly our society is leaning toward Buddhist and Hindu means of dealing with stress and anxiety, where the answer to these problems is to calm your thoughts into nothing. Don’t think just be is fast becoming the unspoken motto of a mindful world in which everyone is ‘in the moment.’ Yet the biblical response is never to stop thinking but always to shift our thinking onto what is “good and right and true” (5:9). “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit” (Colossians 2:8) because these evil days are filled with such things. Note carefully the world’s deceit does not need to be overtly evil for it to take us off our path; it only needs to be empty and void of the substance of Christ. Satan’s strategy is not to turn our focus onto him; it is simply to turn our eyes away from Christ. The greatest tools in the enemy’s toolbelt are not overt assaults but lullabies and seemingly harmless distractions.

UNDERSTAND THE WILL OF THE LORD

Finally, Paul concludes do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Again, he warns us against foolishness but also to comprehend what is God’s will. How do we do this? Isn’t attempting to discern God’s will about particular decisions one of our great concerns? Like understanding the evil days above, our view of God’s will can become quite skewed. While major life decisions are what we wish God would speak directly to us about, He instead gives us clear instruction on how we should live day to day. The stark reality is that the Scriptures care far less about answering where you should be than they do about what you should be doing where you are. For instance, who you marry is, in many ways, not nearly as significant as what kind of husband or wife you are once you are married. Likewise, where you work is generally not as important as how you work. Could it be that many of our prayers go unanswered because we asking questions that God has no interest in answering?

God’s will has been revealed to us. We see it in the Ten Commandments, in the Sermon on the Mount, and here in Ephesians. Within the Scriptures, the LORD’s plan for how we are to live is clear. In fact, let us return to our original command. The will of the LORD is for us to look carefully how we walk. Because the days are evil, He knows that we require wisdom and diligent attention. We cannot coast our way into the kingdom. Many will stumble and crawl inch by inch through the narrow gate, but none will pass through without striving. Luke notes that Paul and Barnabas traveled about, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The road to heaven is marked by hardship. If the road was easy, we would not need the encouragement to continue. We would not need the promise that the prize is worth the finishing the race. The days are evil, so we must walk with care, wisely understanding the will of the Lord and making the best use of our limited time.  

Are you, therefore, walking carefully? Are you paying attention to how you live? Are you looking carefully at how you walk? Tony Reinke writes that “attention is the skill of withdrawing from everything to focus on some things, and it is the opposite of the dizziness of the scatterbrained spectacle seeker who cannot attend to anything.”[4] The advertising industry knows all too well the value of a careful look, of our attention. We typically focus on things that we love or, at least, things that ensnared our affections, and whatever has our eyes and heart will inevitably also have our wallet and our time. Obscene amounts of money, therefore, are continuously being spent to grab and maintain our attention. Yet we freely surrender massive amounts of our attention to amusements and distractions, and we should note that both words stand opposite of careful.[5] Using the word entertainment, however, is more honest to what is happening. Entertain is often synonymous with amusement today; however, whenever we speak of entertaining an idea, we stay closer to its origin of keeping or holding onto something. A truth is here that we must see. Entertainment does not simply distract us; it attracts us to something. It does not merely divert our attention away; it fixes it upon something. Our attention will be given to something, and we must take great care where we look, for we look at and walk toward what we love. There is a war being waged for our eyes because our feet follow our sight.

We must, therefore, diligently set our attention upon Christ. We must focus upon Him above all things, taking great care to walk in His footsteps as His disciples. We must resolve to turn our eyes from worthless things and onto Him who is worthy. He is the image of the invisible God, making the Father’s will known to us. He is our good shepherd who leads, guides, and defends us even through the valley of the shadow of death. He is our hope even as the days grow darker. He is our comfort even in the midst of sorrow. He is our rest even as we continue to labor onward. We walk as imitators of Him, knowing that His grace alone is sufficient to sustain us until the end.


[1] Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm, 11.

[2] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light, 449-450.

[3] But even Peter tells us to be ready to give our defense of the hope that we have. We should be well-versed in apologetics, certainly; however, in Revelation, John saw the church conquering ”by the blood of Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (12:11). Our reasonable defense must be hand-in-hand with our affectionate hope. We are inviting others into the grace and peace that we have received without measure from our Lord.

[4] Tony Reinke, Competing Spectacles, 18-19.

[5] Amuse (a-muse) means not musing or thinking. As Wiktionary notes, it derives from an Old French word meaning “to stupefy” or “to waste time.” Likewise, to distract means “to divert the attention of.”

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