Two of the defining attributes of God are wisdom and faithfulness. They go hand-in-hand: the latter is a practical manifestation of the former. For wisdom teaches that faithfulness to God and His Word pleases Him and blesses His saints. The first recorded words of the incarnate Lord—“I must be about my Father’s business”—demonstrate those attributes in the Son. And it is a manifestation of those attributes to which we as believers are being exhorted in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he exhorts: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (5:15-17).
The first exhortation to “walk circumspectly” is a call to walk “carefully.” There is a vast difference between being carefree and careless. We are to cast our cares on the Lord in order to be free of cares, worries, and anxieties, but not in order to be careless of the Lord’s will regarding our sober responsibilities as ambassadors for Christ in this world. Being careful in our walk suggests being certain that we know and understand God’s will for our lives and then being faithful to do it. Such a pattern stamps us as wise rather than foolish. Whereas the believer who pursues his own goals and ambitions manifests the foolishness of only temporal concerns, the believer who lives for God’s glory has eternity in view and demonstrates wisdom from above.
The phrase, “redeeming the time,” amplifies what it means to “walk carefully,” namely, that we are to “make the most of” our time, in other words, “taking advantage of every opportunity.” What characterizes a wise and faithful saint is an earnest endeavor to seize every occasion for God, to make what seems to be merely secular altogether sacred. We do so, not by buttonholing every person we meet and insisting on giving them a testimony (though most of us probably testify far too infrequently), but by manifesting the savor of Christ in all that we think, say, and do. We do so, not by refusing to do mundane things (though we often spend too much time and energy on them), but by following our vocation, or mowing our lawn, or washing our dishes “as unto the Lord.” Everything that confronts us and everything which we confront is an opportunity to be seized for eternity.
We are to do so, the next clause explains, “because the days are evil.” We live in an evil age (as has been the case in every age) and in sinful flesh. A battle is raging every day; we must engage the enemy within and without. Failure to do so will not lead to peaceful coexistence, but to capitulation and destruction. The alternatives for believers are clear. Walk carefully, seizing each opportunity for the Lord, or walk carelessly, succumbing to the weakness of our flesh.
Paul explains that this way is wisdom: “understanding what the will of the Lord is.” Clearly, Paul is telling us that wisdom is not manifested in an intellectual understanding of doctrine but in a practical application of those doctrines to our lives. We act wisely when we understand God’s truth in such a way that we see every occasion before us as an opportunity from God to submit to Him and His will and thereby bless others and glorify Him. The moments we live for our selfish desires, the opportunities we seize for ourselves—those are the times that we have forgotten or misunderstood what the Lord’s will is. Whether we view this life as a sprint (because it is so brief in the light of eternity) or a marathon (because it is so encompassing in terms of human life), earnest believers will walk wisely and faithfully, using every God-given occasion to do His will.
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