Ephesians 5:15-21 | Wise Urgency
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, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Well, these are urgent words, aren’t they? So, let’s be urgent with them.
The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us three things:
1. Christians live with wise urgency (vv. 15-17)
2. Wise urgency comes from the Spirit (v. 18)
3. The Spirit creates a wise culture (vv. 19-21)
Christians live with wise urgency (vv. 15-17)
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.
When Christ calls us to himself, he calls us immediately. There is no ramp-up period. We don’t ease into new life with Christ. He starts his work immediately, and he never lets up.
C.S. Lewis captures that idea in his book Mere Christianity.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.
When God comes down to live in our house, we begin living with increased attention, increased urgency. Life with God is like living in a construction zone in the middle of a war. He’s building something beautiful, and we have a great hope that one day it’s going to be far more than we could ever imagine, but the enemy seeks to destroy. God doesn’t want us to be ignorant of that. He wants us to live with wise urgency, as a soldier at war. The time to obey Jesus is now.
How aware are we of spiritual danger in the world? Paul was aware. He talks about it throughout Ephesians. In chapter 2 he said unbelievers follow “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” In the passage we saw last week, he urged us “not to take part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” In chapter 6, he says “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Spiritual warfare was part of Paul’s theology because the evil one still roams. And though he lost us to God, he’ll do all he can to make us ineffective Christians.
Too many of us assume the days are harmless because most days look so nice. We aren’t careful because the threat doesn’t seem large. But Satan doesn’t have to persecute us into ineffectiveness. We can be beat on the front of pleasure just as easily as the front of pain. In fact, pleasure may be easier. And I think that’s where we are today in America. The enemy is crafty, and he’s on the attack. And as he props up the appealing images, we drool our way into his hands. We forget God’s wise path to life because the path of darkness looks brighter at the start. But it’s a lie. It’s a trap.
So Paul says we must live with wise urgency. How do we do that? Well, we pay attention to our steps, moment by moment. Do our steps land in line with God’s word? We must be wise. Biblical wisdom is someone skilled in finding what’s pleasing to God. We must make the best use of time. The Greek language here means to purchasing a slave’s freedom – buying up the time, redeeming the time. We are to understand what the will of the Lord is. That sounds complicated but it’s really not. The Bible tells us God’s will. It’s to make us like Christ, to redeem the world, to bring heaven down, to grant eternal life.
And Paul warns us here to pay attention. It’s far too easy to step off this path and go back into darkness.
So what’s our hope? Jesus is our hope. In the fullness of time, God waged war against the evil of this world. What was his weapon of choice? It was a baby. He sent his Son into the world to redeem the world. Jesus lived with wise urgency. He looked carefully how he walked, obeying the law perfectly. He was wise, the beloved Son in whom God was well pleased. He made the best use of time. At the pinnacle of his battle, he gave himself up for us on the cross. He bought up the evil days and purchased our freedom. Why? Because he understood the will of the Lord. He prayed, “not my will but yours.” And he’s asking us all to pray the same. That’s the wise urgency we must have, living in a moment-by-moment relationship with God, trusting he knows best, listening to him, and following even when the path seems crazy.
No one looked at the cross that first Good Friday and saw good news. It looked like utter failure. But what looks like failure to the world is the wisdom of God. Jesus’ resurrection was the historical proof that God’s way is not crazy; God’s way is wise. On the cross, Jesus defeated satan even as satan thought he defeated Jesus. God turned the tables on the devil. Jesus exchanged sin for righteousness and reconciled sinners to the Holy God. Death brought about life.
Every other path may look bright and be loud and flashy, but it leads to death. God’s path looks stupid, like death on a cross, but it leads to life. Are we willing to listen to that wisdom?
Satan doesn’t want you to. He doesn’t want you on the front lines. Redeemed sinners are a threat to his power. He wants you hiding in the ditch alone. But God never leaves us alone, and he never makes ineffective Christians. We might end up in the ditch sometimes, but he’s there with us. And when we’re with him, we’re always on the front lines of the battle of this world. We might not be able to move out of bed, but we’re fighting with Christ, for Christ. And the best news of all is that he’s fighting for us. In fact, he already fought for us. And he won. And he gives us his Spirit now, granting the wisdom we need. The devil hates that. He freaks out about that. A Spirit-filled you is too much for him! But a Spirit-filled you is God’s plan!
You are not a problem Christ has to figure out how to solve. You are a strategy he’s seeking to deploy. There is no time to waste. The devil isn’t resting. Neither is God. Are you?
Death looms over this world, and the only way to make it through is to follow the One who’s already conquered death. If you’re in Christ, the truth is, you’re already dead. And if you’re in Christ, the truth is, you’re already alive. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you. Will you accept that and live as if it’s true?
If we say yes to that call, we find a second amazing reality: wise urgency comes from the Spirit. Our second point.
Wise urgency comes from the Spirit (v. 18)
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit
How are we going to live with wise urgency? By being filled with God himself.
When we come to Christ, God gives us an inexhaustible resource of fullness. The concept of “filling” is really important to Paul in Ephesians. In 1:23, he says the church is Christ’s body, “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” In 3:19, he prays that we “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” In 4:10 he says Jesus “ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” In 4:13 he says God put gifts in the church to “become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” And now here, in 5:18, Paul says to be filled with the Spirit.
God did not create a world full without him. He created a world to be filled with him. We were made to be filled with God. But when sin entered the world, we turned from God to idols. Sin didn’t remove our need for filling; it just redirected our gaze from the one who can satisfy to worthless fillers, like junk food on a Saturday night.
So, Paul gives us two opposite ways we can be filled: with wine or the Holy Spirit.
The seems like a strange choice of options, doesn’t it? Get wine-filled or Spirit-filled! But this isn’t the first time the Bible mentions these two together. We see in the book of Acts, when the Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, that some of those watching thought the disciples were drunk. So, there must be something to that comparison. The word Paul uses for drunk means to be soaked, saturated with, dominated by. Being drunk is to be controlled by the alcohol. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by him. But the Spirit takes control in an opposite way from alcohol. He makes you better, not worse.
To be drunk with wine is debauchery. The Greek means spilled out. It’s what Jesus used in the parable of the Prodigal Son, when he said the younger son went out and spent all his money on riotous living. He spilled it out. He wasted it. He squandered it. He spent all his inheritance and got nowhere. That’s what being drunk on wine does. It spends you and gets you nowhere. But being filled with the Spirit is the opposite. When filled with the Spirit, we aren’t wasters. We’re buyers. Those drunk with wine waste their time. Those filled with the Spirit buy up the time God gives, they make the most of it.
Pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones understood this. He was a medical doctor before he became a pastor. He says:
“Wine, pharmacologically speaking, is not a stimulant. It’s a depressant. Further, it depresses first and foremost the highest centers of the brain that controls everything that gives self-control, wisdom, understanding, discrimination, judgment, balance, the power to assess everything; in other words, everything that makes a man behave at his very best and highest.
The Holy Spirit has the exact opposite effect. If it were possible to put the Holy Spirit into a textbook of Pharmacology, I would put him under the stimulants, for that is where he belongs. He really does stimulate. He stimulates our every faculty: the mind and the intellect, the heart and the will.”
Being filled with the Spirit is a life of mental, emotional, and psychological stimulation. It’s being alive in the most wonderful way—alive to God.
But maybe you say, “Well, I’m not a drunkard.” That’s fine. Replace wine with any other idol. It’s the same thing. It leads to debauchery. It leads to exhaustion. Riotous living might not look like a keg party every Friday night. It might look like a normal Williamson County life, void of the Spirit of God and full of the spirit of the age, pursuing comfort, security, and the good life. The question for us today is: do we factor God into our life or is our life too full for him?
God is saying we must empty our lives and be filled with the Spirit because that’s what we’re made for. We spend so much of our life going from one thing to another never being satisfied. And God is commanding all of us today, “Stop it! Stop filling yourself with emptiness. Let me fill you.”
When you say yes to that call, the Holy Spirit will lift you far higher and for far longer than anything else. Everything else is fleeting. The Spirit abides.
The Spirit’s filling is part of the gospel promise. In John 7, Jesus stood at a feast and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” And John says, “This he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.”
Do you understand what that means? In the gospel, God promises to continually fill us with the Spirit as we come to him and drink. So, here’s the command today: go to Christ and drink! Fill yourself up with him, and he will fill you up with himself. You don’t have to pay for him. He’s free. You don’t have to earn him. He’s all of grace. You don’t have to maintain him. He’s self-existent. You don’t have to perform for him. He’s not impressed with you, anyway. He’s impressed with Christ. But you must go to him. And when you do, he floods with living waters. So, what are you waiting for? Why put life on hold for one more second? Go to Christ!
When you go to him, the Holy Spirit flows in, and he flows out, creating a wise culture, which Paul shows us in verses 19-21.
The Spirit creates a wise culture (vv. 19-21)
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, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
There’s an entry from the journal of John Wesley that shows these verses in action. Wesley was one of the key men God used in the 18th century revival known as the Great Awakening. He was aboard a ship to America with a group of Moravian Christians when a strong storm arose. The difference between his reaction and that of the Moravians changed him. Here’s what he said.
At seven I went to the Germans [Moravians]. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behavior. Of their humility they had given a continual proof, by performing those servile offices for the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired, and would receive no pay, saying, “it was good for their proud hearts,” and “their loving Saviour had done more for them.” And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck, or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. There was now an opportunity of trying whether they were delivered from the Spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger, and revenge. In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans [Moravians] calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, “Were you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”
From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbors, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that fears God, and him that fears him not. At twelve the wind fell. This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen.
Do you see the wise culture the Spirit created? The Moravians stood in the storm as Wesley shrank away. They praised as the waves crashed. Why? Because they lived with wise urgency. Because they were filled with the Spirit. They were there to worship God! They didn’t do it out of a desire to be loved. They did it because they were loved. There was no difference in their faith in the sunshine vs. their faith in the storm. We often think wise urgency matters only when the storm comes, but these Christians show us wise urgency matters in the sunshine before it matters in the storms. It was their way of life in the mundane that struck Wesley at first. And when the storm came, what he saw only confirmed the strength of their faith. If you don’t have wise urgency in the sunshine, the storms won’t bring it out. Who you are in secret proves the wisdom or foolishness in which you’re walking.
The Moravians stood to sing before the storm came. When it came and threated life, they sang on. Their singing addressed Wesley, as verse 19 commands. As their voices rang out to God, they made melody in their hearts, as verse 19 commands. And they gave thanks always and for everything, as verse 20 commands. The Spirit flowed from them and filled Wesley’s heart.
Now, some would say they’re stupid for singing in that kind of storm, but it was the will of God. Don’t be surprised if your walk with God looks stupid to the world. The wisdom of God was death on a cross!
Be filled with the Spirit, look carefully how you walk, and see what God will do. Your faith today will lead to singing in a storm. And God might use you to encourage the next John Wesley and spur the next Great Awakening!
The Moravians humbled themselves. They served where others wouldn’t. They were filled with the Spirit. And through them, the Spirit filled Wesley. And what was his response? It was to submit himself to them, as verse 21 commands. He saw their faith and it cut him to the heart, and he went to his English brethren and pointed out the difference between him that fears God and him that fears him not.
Do you see the kind of wise culture the Spirit creates? He brought heaven down to that ship. But it wasn’t easy, was it? There was a storm. There was danger. But God was in it!
When God gets involved, it doesn’t mean everything will be safe. It just means everything will matter! God wants that in your life right now, today. There are no insignificant moments! Live with Spirit-filled wise urgency!
We opened with C.S. Lewis, so let’s close with him. In his book The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver talks with Susan about their troubles with the evil White Witch. It’s rumored Aslan, the Jesus-figure, is on the move. Mr. Beaver assures Aslan can help, but when Susan realizes Aslan is a lion, she says,
"Oh. I'd thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
When King Jesus comes, of course he isn’t safe. How can holiness be safe to our sinfulness? But the wonder of the gospel is that this King puts himself on the cross instead of us. This King gives his holiness to sinners. This King destroys evil by redeeming us. It’ll be painful. It’ll be trying. But it’ll be glorious because this King is good. And when the King comes, I tell you, he creates something beautiful. No decent little cottage for you. He’s building a palace.