The Good and Godly Life

27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
    when it is in your power to do it.

28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
    tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
29 Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
    who dwells trustingly beside you.
30 Do not contend with a man for no reason,
    when he has done you no harm.
31 Do not envy a man of violence
    and do not choose any of his ways,
32 for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the upright are in his confidence.
33 The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked,
    but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.
34 Toward the scorners he is scornful,
    but to the humble he gives favor.
35 The wise will inherit honor,
    but fools get disgrace. – Proverbs 3:27-35 ESV

At this point in his lecture on wisdom to his son, Solomon turns to some practical advice on wise behavior. It is not enough to seek wisdom; one must also be willing to put it into practice. The wisdom of God is intended to influence and inform every area of life, including our relationships with others.

“The Book of Proverbs is the best manual you’ll find on people skills, because it was given to us by the God who made us, the God who can teach us what we need to know about human relationships, whether it’s marriage, the family, the neighborhood, the job, or our wider circle of friends and acquaintances. If we learn and practice God’s wisdom as presented in Proverbs, we’ll find ourselves improving in people skills and enjoying life much more.” – Warren Wiersbe, Be Skillful

So, knowing that wisdom that remains un-applied is unhelpful, Solomon gives his former advice some practical application. He begins with five statements that each start with those two words that no young person likes to hear: “Do not…”

But it isn’t just young people who dislike being told what they can or cannot do. People of every age bristle at the idea of having any kind of restrictions placed upon their behavior. It goes against the grain and wreaks havoc with our fallen human nature. Ever since the fall, we human beings are inherently wired for autonomy. We want to be the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. Yet, Solomon knows that the kind of wisdom God graciously grants requires that we behave in such a way that our actions reveal just how wise we truly are. Our actions give evidence that we have heard from God.

The first thing Solomon addresses is the goodness that the godly should display.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
    when it is in your power to do it. 
– Proverbs 3:27 NLT

This is an interesting verse. At first glance, it appears that any goodness we show others must be somehow deserved. The phrase “from those to whom it is due” might better be translated “from its owners.” The idea seems to be that acts of goodness rightfully belong to those who need them. If God has blessed us with resources, He has not intended them solely for our own benefit. They are to be shared with others, especially those in need. The apostle Paul provides further insight into this lifestyle of generosity and openhandedness that flows from a wisdom-filled life.

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. – 2 Corinthians 9:7-11 NLT

The next point Solomon addresses is deferred goodness. In other words, he warns about putting off you acts of generosity to another day.

Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
    tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you. – Proverbs 3:28 ESV

There is such a thing as delayed gratification, which is a good. It’s the idea of putting a hold on fulfilling a desire you have so that you might see if you truly need it. To put it more simple terms, it is the ability to wait to get what you want. But delayed goodness is something different altogether and, it is never the right thing to do. If someone is in need and you have the power to help them, do so. Don’t put it off. Don’t delay.

James dealt with this problem of delayed or deferred goodness in his letter.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? – James 14-16 NLT

To put of till tomorrow what you could easily do today is the definition of procrastination. But to put of doing an act of goodness for someone in need is the definition of wickedness. It is insensitive and evil, and does not reflect a reverence for God or a heart for the less-fortunate, for whom He cares greatly. Solomon’s book contains other proverbs that encourage timely care for the down and out.

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord
    and he will repay you! – Proverbs 19:17 NLT

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing,
    but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed. – Proverbs 28:27 NLT

Don’t rob the poor just because you can,
    or exploit the needy in court.
For the Lord is their defender.
    He will ruin anyone who ruins them. – Proverbs 22:22-23 NLT

The third admonition appears to be directly tied to the second. It involves a neighbor in need.

Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
    who dwells trustingly beside you. – Proverbs 3:29 ESV

What Solomon describes is the opposite of doing good. It is the intent to do evil. And Solomon continues to us the illustration of a neighbor in need. As a wealthy individual, his son was not to allow his affluence to affect his relationship with the less-fortunate. He was not to use his wealth as a weapon to oppress or take advantage of the down and out. Another proverb describes this unacceptable relationship between the haves and the have-nots.

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
    but the rich has many friends.
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
    but blessed is he who is generous to the poor. – Proverbs 14:20-21 ESV

Think about it. To purposefully delay your assistance to a needy neighbor is to “plan evil” against him. You know of his need and you have the ability to meet it, but you choose not to do so. And it would appear that Solomon is inferring that the one who delays his goodness has no intentions of ever helping is needy neighbor. You promise to come back to tomorrow, and he believes you, because he trusts you. But when tomorrow comes, he finds himself still in need and his “generous” neighbor a no-show.

Next, Solomon warns about unnecessary and unprovoked conflict between neighbors.

Do not contend with a man for no reason,
    when he has done you no harm. – Proverbs 3:30 ESV

Solomon continues to warn about the unjust treatment of the poor and needy among us. There is never a reason for a rich man to take advantage of someone who, because of his poverty, appears to have fewer rights. There is unacceptable and not in keeping with wise behavior. In fact, the last proverb on this book will promote a completely different attitude toward the marginalized and defenseless.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
    ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
    and see that they get justice. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

Finally, Solomon warns his son about guilt by association. He begs him to avoid those people who lack wisdom and who are prone to behave in ways that are in violation of God Word and will.

Do not envy a man of violence
    and do not choose any of his ways,
for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the upright are in his confidence. – Proverbs 3:31-32 ESV

His son was to avoid these people like the plague. Instead, he was to surround himself with the upright and righteous. In fact, Solomon recommends a life of wisdom, righteousness, and humility. He promotes a lifestyle marked by generosity and care for the needy. Wisdom is not intended to be a self-centered attribute. First of all, it comes from God, and it is designed to reflect His nature. Wisdom allows us to live in keeping with His heart and in community with His people. It provides us with the insights we need to live in a fallen world and not be corrupted by its evil influences. Wisdom flows from the throne of God through the people of God and impacts the lives of all those whom God has made.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Godly Life Versus the Good Life

1 My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
    and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:1-12 ESV

The Proverbs are full of comparisons, juxtapositions, and contrasts. There is wisdom and foolishness, wickedness and righteousness, and the God-follower and the self-worshiper. These sayings of Solomon paint a vivid picture that contrasts the life of the man who seeks after God and the man who turns his back on God, setting himself up as the master of his own fate and the captain of his soul.

Solomon writes from the perspective of a father appealing to his child, begging his son to make the attainment of wisdom and understanding his highest priority. But in doing so, Solomon is not suggesting that his son pursue an academic-based education. He is not recommending an increase in human reason or mere head-knowledge. He is spurring on his son to pursue God – the sole source of all wisdom, knowledge, reason, and common sense.

Getting to know God is the goal, not gaining wisdom for wisdom’s sake. Solomon tells his son, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 NLT). How easy it is for each of us to trust in anything and everything but God. Rather than trust God, we turn to our own limited understanding and attempt to explain the complexities of life and solve the difficulties that come with living life on this sometimes perplexing planet.

If we lack joy, we attempt to find it through the means that this world makes possible. If we feel unloved, we seek satisfaction and significance through the pursuit of pleasure or even promiscuity. We seek – but we tend to seek in the wrong places.

But Solomon tells his son, “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:6 NLT). He reminds his son that wisdom brings joy, is profitable, valuable, precious, and is the key to long life. But that kind of wisdom is only available from God. Wisdom, true wisdom, flows directly from God and nowhere else. Our ability to live life well on this planet is completely dependent upon the wisdom and understanding that God alone provides. And it comes from a relationship, not just a book.

We learn wisdom from watching and coming to know God, not just by reading about Him. Wisdom isn’t a product that God imparts. It is the essence of who He is. It is His very character. Wisdom, understanding and knowledge do not exist apart from God. So, what the world offers as wisdom is a cheap substitute.

At their core, wisdom and understanding are spiritual resources, not academic or cerebral ones. They flow from a right relationship with God. Solomon tells us, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). The fool wants nothing to do with God. He desires wisdom and understanding for their own sake, for what he might get out of them. But he has no desire to have a personal relationship with the One who makes them possible. He does’t want the loving discipline that also comes from God and is necessary for acquiring true wisdom and understanding. But those who long to have a relationship with God will find that wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are the byproducts of their pursuit of God.

One of the things Solomon desires for his son is the sense of peace and well-being that come through a right relationship with God. By pursuing and availing himself of the wisdom God has to offer, this young man can experience a wide range of beneficial and highly attractive blessings from God.

Length of days and years of life… – vs 2

Peace… – vs 2

Favor… – vs 4

Good success… – vs 4

Straight paths… – vs 6

Healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones… – vs 8

Full barns and vats bursting with wine… – vs 10

The loving reproof of God… – vs 12

This isn’t Solomon’s version of the prosperity gospel. He isn’t offering his son the key to having his best life now. He is simply stating that godly wisdom results in godly character and those whose lives bring glory and honor to God will be rewarded.

It is Solomon’s hope and prayer that his son will remember and ingrain all that he has taught. He wants his son to implement his teachings and commandments. But Solomon isn’t speaking of human insights or mere fatherly wisdom. He is calling his son to listen, learn, and appropriate all the godly wisdom that he has tried to impart, including steadfast love and faithfulness (vs 3). These things are of such value that Solomon compares them to priceless jewels to be hung on a necklace and worn around the neck. They are to be written down and preserved for posterity, kept close to the heart so that they are always within reach when needed.

The godly life is a profitable life because it brings favor with God and also with men.

you will find favor with both God and people,
    and you will earn a good reputation. – Proverbs 3:4 NLT

Godly people stand out in the crowd. Their relationship with God sets them apart and makes them distinctively different from the rest of the world. Unlike other people, those who place their trust in God display a reliance on His will instead of their own. They depend upon His wisdom rather than trusting on their own flawed and highly limited understanding. They make it a habit to turn their backs on evil and keep their eyes focused on the only One who can help them walk the straight path that leads to life rather than death.

Since God is their sole source of wisdom, comfort, security, and significance, they are willing to give back to Him what rightfully belongs to Him, including their material resources. That’s why Solomon encourages his son to be generous with God.

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain,
    and your vats will overflow with good wine. – Proverbs 3:9-10 NLT

God doesn’t need our “stuff.” He doesn’t require our possessions in order to fill His depleted treasury. By giving our resources to God, we are acknowledging that they have not taken His place as the source of all our needs, wants, and desires. We have not allowed the gifts to take precedence over the Giver.

And the one who understands and appreciates the role of God as the sole source of sustenance in his life will also warmly receive and accept God’s loving discipline. God provides for all our needs, from the physical to the spiritual and the psychological to the moral. He loves us enough to discipline us. He patiently trains and lovingly corrects us.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

So, the one who willfully seeks the wisdom of God through an ever-deepening relationship with God will always experience a well-balanced does of blessings and discipline.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

It All Begins With God

1 My son, if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
    he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
    and watching over the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
    and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 discretion will watch over you,
    understanding will guard you,
12 delivering you from the way of evil,
    from men of perverted speech,
13 who forsake the paths of uprightness
    to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 who rejoice in doing evil
    and delight in the perverseness of evil,
15 men whose paths are crooked,
    and who are devious in their ways.

16 So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words,
17 who forsakes the companion of her youth
    and forgets the covenant of her God;
18 for her house sinks down to death,
    and her paths to the departed;
19 none who go to her come back,
    nor do they regain the paths of life.

20 So you will walk in the way of the good
    and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will inhabit the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it,
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. Proverbs 2:1-22 ESV

If…then.

Proverbs 2 opens up with a father presenting his young son with a series of conditional statements. Each entails a hypothetical situation in which the father imagines his son choosing the right path over the wrong one.

if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you

ifyour ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding…

if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding…

if you seek it like silver…

if you…search for it as for hidden treasures…

The father imagines five hypothetical, yet highly probable situations that optimistically portray his son as an enthusiastic seeker of wisdom. And he eagerly predicts the outcome of his son’s decision to choose the right path.

Thenyou will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

But upon closer examination, it appears as if this conditional statement contradicts what was stated in Proverbs 1.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

These two proverbs seem to present inexplicable conundrum, similar to the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken of the egg?. Is a healthy fear of the Lord the pathway to wisdom, or is it the other way around? And to the author of Proverbs 2, the answer would seem to be, “Yes!” It’s both. The fear of the Lord and wisdom are inseparable. They go hand in hand. You don’t get one without the other.

Notice what Proverbs 2:5 says: “…then you will understand the fear of the Lord.”

It is not that wisdom produces or results in a healthy fear of the Lord, but that it helps us to comprehend what it means to fear the Lord. The NET Bible translates verse 5 this way: “then you will understand how to fear the Lord.”

The relentless pursuit of godly wisdom and understanding will reveal the will of God and show us how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. In other words, godly wisdom produces godliness – a lifestyle that honors and glorifies our Heavenly Father.  Jesus describes the godly life this way: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). And the apostle Peter put it in practical terms for believers living in the less-than-friendly environment of Asia Minor:

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. – 1 Peter 2:12 NLT

The fear of the Lord must show up in everyday life. It must be practical, tangible, and visible. And we learn how to model a proper reverence and awe for God through a relentless pursuit of godly wisdom and instruction. We are to treat God’s wisdom like a priceless treasure for which we search until we find it, and then risk our lives to protect and preserve.

And this pursuit of wisdom is not some shot-in-the-dark quest for the invisible and non-discoverable. It’s not like searching for hidden treasure without a map. No, the author tells us that “the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest” (Proverbs 2:6-7 NLT). He is the source of all wisdom and He makes it freely available to all who come to Him in humility and an honest assessment of our need for Him. 

The wisdom and insight needed to live the godly life comes from God Himself, and He reveals it through His written Word and with the enlightening power of His Holy Spirit. The apostle Peter provides us with a powerful reminder that God is the sole source of all that we need.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. – 2 Peter 1:2-3 NLT

The power is ours. But its availability to us is enhanced by our increasing knowledge of God and His Son. That’s a description of increasing wisdom or insight. As our knowledge of the Father and the Son increases, our insight into their sovereign will improves and our godliness increases. In the prayer that He prayed in the garden on the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus described what it means to have eternal life.

“…this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3 ESV

Think about what Jesus is saying. Eternal life is not just some future state in which believers will live in unending community with God the Father and God the Son. It is an actually an unveiled and undiminished awareness of the Godhead. There is a day coming when God’s children will know Him intimately and perfectly. The apostle Paul describes it this way:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

In the meantime, we can grow in our knowledge of God and His Son. We can increase in our understanding of who they are and what they expect of us. The author of Proverbs 2 assures us that “you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go” (Proverbs 2:9 NLT). He makes the confident assertion that “wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy” (Proverbs 2:10 NLT).

We will have the ability to make wise choices and avoid evil people. Wisdom will provide practical help in escaping the allure of immorality and promiscuity. And this kind of divine assistance is critical because life can be hard. Decisions have to be made. Difficulties must be dealt with. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or how to respond. We are bombarded by bad advice and the well-meaning counsel of friends who are just as confused as we are. So, the author encourages us to “cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:4 NLT). It appears that he expects us to put a fair amount of effort into the process. He seems to believe that we must want insight and understanding bad enough that we would expend some energy in order to get them. Cry out! Ask! Search! Seek! How badly do we want these things? How hard are we willing to pursue them until we find them?

As we go through life we encounter our desperate need for insight, understanding, wisdom, and knowledge.This world can be a confusing place. We don’t always know what to do. So the first step seems to be a recognition of our deficiencies. We have to come to an understanding of our lack of understanding. We are not the brightest bulbs in the box. But the sad truth seems to be that we don’t usually reach this point of awareness until something difficult happens that leaves us at a loss. It is in those times of desperation that we tend to turn to God, and that is the key – we have to turn to the one and only source where help and hope can be found.

God alone can equip us with much-needed common sense, integrity, and the ability to understand what is just, right and fair. In other words, God gives us discernment, direction, discipline, and discretion. He provides us with all we need to live life on this planet wisely, safely, and righteously. Rather than live according to the standards of this world. we learn to live God’s way. We learn to think like He thinks, love what He loves, hate what He hates, and view life from His perspective.

This life can be hard, but God has given us everything we need to not only survive, but to thrive. With His help, we can live our lives in 4-D, exhibiting discernment, direction, discipline and discretion. He will keep us on the right path. He will help us make wise decisions. He will protect us from the temptation of this world. He will give us the ability to see life from His perspective. But first we must come to the realization that we need what He has. We must desire His  understanding, knowledge, insight and wisdom more than anything else in the world. Then we must seek after it diligently, eagerly, and relentlessly.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Ignore at Your Own Peril

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
    in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Proverbs 1:20-33 ESV

In order to help his son grasp the vital importance of wisdom, Solomon attempts to bring the inanimate concept to life by personifying it as someone traversing the streets of a busy city, desperately trying to get the attention of all those mindlessly going about their daily lives.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square. – Proverbs 1:20 NLT

From one place to the next, this “woman” directs her cries to three distinct groups of people: simpletons, mockers, and fools. A simpleton is someone who is naive and dangerously open minded. They lack discernment and the ability to determine what is right or wrong. These kinds of people are prone to believe just about anything and, as a result, are easily misled. You might describe them as gullible or an easy mark. And “Wisdom” questions why they seem to be perfectly fine with their simpleminded ways.

“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded? – Proverbs 1:22 NLT

But they show no interest in anything “Wisdom” has to offer. They display no desire to grow up or wise up. They’re confidently content and, in many ways, even complacent. To their own detriment. Wisdom sadly states the folly of their ways:

“…simpletons turn away from me—to death.” – Proverbs 1:32 NLT

The next group Wisdom addresses are the scoffers or mockers. These are boastful and arrogant individuals who dismiss the counsel of others. They are full of themselves and convinced that they have nothing to learn from anyone else. And Wisdom confronts them with a question that is designed to expose their stubborn resistance to input from others. The NET Bible Study Notes describes them this way: “They are cynical and defiant freethinkers who ridicule the righteous and all for which they stand.”

These people are scornful and dismissive of anyone who might try to point them in the right direction. You might say that they’re too big for their britches or too high and mighty to accept the counsel of someone they deem as inferior to themselves. Wisdom describes them as those who  “would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof” (Proverbs 1:30 ESV). Because they think they know everything, they’re unteachable and, therefore, incorrigible. The Proverbs are full of less-than-flattering assessments of this particular group of people.

…a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. – Proverbs 13:1 ESV

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return…
So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. – Proverbs 9:7-8 NLT

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
    and quarreling and abuse will cease. – Proverbs 22:10 ESV

The third group Wisdom addresses are the fools. This term is used throughout the Proverbs, but in at least five different forms. In this case, Solomon uses the Hebrew word, kᵊsîl, which refers to a “stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton” (Outline of Biblical Usage). He doesn’t have a mental deficiency, but rather he suffers from a moral one. And his immoral behavior brings him satisfaction rather than shame.

This kind of fool rejects the discipline of parents or other authorities in his life. He seems stubbornly determined to make the wrong kinds of choices, even to his own detriment. His focus is on whatever brings him immediate pleasure. And he is to be avoided at all costs. Wisdom summarizes the fool by stating that he despises knowledge. He finds it repulsive and rejects it as unworthy of his time or effort. In fact, another Proverb declares that “to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools” (Proverbs 13:19 ESV).

That’s why Solomon portrays Wisdom as summarizing the sad but unavoidable outcome of the fool’s chosen path of life.

“For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.” – Proverbs 1:29-31 ESV

And the saddest part of all is that Wisdom has persistently called and pleaded with all three groups.

“Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:23 NLT

But the simpleton, scoffer, and fool repeatedly reject the offer and seal their fate. When Wisdom calls, they refuse to come. When she reaches out, they pay her no attention. They arrogantly ignore her advice and spurn her counsel. And in each case, they make a choice to reject all that Wisdom has to offer. The simpleton could choose to become wise, but decides to remain just as he is. The scoffer could embrace all that Wisdom has to offer, but mocks her advice as unnecessary and unworthy of his attention. The fool could choose to learn and grow wise, but makes the painful choice to suffer the consequences of his folly.

So, eventually, the voice of Wisdom grows silent. She stops calling and offering. She stops pleading and promising. And sadly, the say comes when Wisdom stands back and witnesses the inevitable fall of the simpleton, scoffer, and fool.

“So I will laugh when you are in trouble!
    I will mock you when disaster overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
    when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone,
    and anguish and distress overwhelm you.” – Proverbs 1:26-27 NLT

It is not that Wisdom takes joy in the fall of the wicked, but that the justice of God is always fulfilled. The opportunity to grow in wisdom was freely offered and summarily dismissed. The chance to benefit from all that God has promised was made available but rejected as worthless. And that bad choice has even worse consequences. And Wisdom reveals that the less-than-ideal outcomes facing all three are of their own choosing. They brought it on themselves.

“For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them…” – Proverbs 1:32 ESV

Yet, Solomon wants his son to know that there is hope. It doesn’t have to turn out poorly. The future doesn’t have to be bleak and marked by death and destruction. All he has to do is listen. That was Solomon’s original plea to his son.

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.” – Proverbs 1:8-9 ESV

And what Solomon and his wife are offering their son is wisdom – the wisdom of the ages but, more importantly, the wisdom of God.

“…but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Proverbs 1:33 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Path to Destruction

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.
10 My son, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.
11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
    let us ambush the innocent without reason;
12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we shall find all precious goods,
    we shall fill our houses with plunder;
14 throw in your lot among us;
    we will all have one purse”—
15 my son, do not walk in the way with them;
    hold back your foot from their paths,
16 for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.
17 For in vain is a net spread
    in the sight of any bird,
18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they set an ambush for their own lives.
19 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. Proverbs 1:8-19 ESV

Many have deemed verse 7 as the thesis statement for this rather diverse collection of wisdom sayings that Solomon helped author and compile.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

That phrase, “the fear of the Lord,” is a recurring theme throughout the book of Proverbs and conveys the idea of the reverential awe and affection that a child of God displays for his Heavenly Father. But it also describes the healthy respect that each child of God should have for His holiness and power that manifests itself in willful obedience to His will. God was not to be taken lightly and His commands were non-optional. His love and patience were never to be construed as tolerance or a disregard for sin. God is holy and completely sinless. He cannot and will not tolerate sin among His people. His inherent sense of justice demands that all sin either be confessed and atoned for or its perpetrator be condemned and appropriately punished.

The primary audience for Solomon’s collection of wise sayings were his own people, the Jews. He had gathered and compiled this rather eclectic mix of time-tested truths in order to help his people grow in wisdom and live godly lives. But he asserted that any increase in knowledge was dependent upon a healthy fear of the Lord. The Jews, of all people, should have understood that their God was just and righteous. Their centuries-long relationship with Yahweh should have convinced them of the nature of His holiness and prompted them to live their lives in keeping with His laws and precepts. Through the sacrificial system, they had been given ample opportunity to take advantage of His merciful offer of atonement from sin. They had repeatedly experienced His grace and forgiveness, both personally and corporately. So, they knew the value of having a healthy fear of the Lord.

But Solomon knew how easy it was to forget the goodness and graciousness of God. He was fully aware that his collection of wise sayings would be of no benefit unless his people maintained a right relationship with their God. As the apostle Paul would later declare, any wisdom that is not based on a healthy respect for God will prove to be nothing more than the foolishness of men.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:18-23 ESV

The prophet Isaiah records a stunning and somewhat sobering statement from the lips of God concerning those who gave Him lip service, but whose hearts are far from Him. In other words, they were going through the motions of worship but their hearts were not in it.

 “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear. – Isaiah 29:13-14 ESV

Solomon had received the gift of wisdom from God Himself. He knew its value and appreciated the impact it could have on living a fruitful and fulfilling life. But he also knew the danger of elevating wisdom for wisdom’s sake. The apostle Paul also understood the insufficiency of human wisdom apart from a reverence for God. He even quoted the words found in Isaiah when addressing the believers in Corinth.

For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? – 1 Corinthians 1:10-20 ESV

So, as Solomon begins his book of Proverbs, he establishes the fear of God as the foundational basis for all that will follow. And then, as he directs his words to a particular audience: His own son. As a parent, Solomon understood his God-given responsibility to impart wisdom to his children. As a king, he also understood the need to prepare the successor who would one day take over the reins of his kingdom. And as the divinely appointed sovereign over the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God, he knew that he must train his heir to reign righteously and in keeping with the commands of Yahweh. Solomon had received similar council from his own father, David, while the king was lying on his deathbed.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

Solomon begins his address to his young son by warning of the very real dangers that lie ahead for him. He wanted his son to know that there would be very real and potentially deadly temptations lurking in his future.

My child, if sinners entice you,
    turn your back on them!
They may say, “Come and join us.
    Let’s hide and kill someone!
    Just for fun, let’s ambush the innocent!” – Proverbs 1:10-11 NLT

Solomon wastes no time in describing the potential dangers his son will face. But he doesn’t begin with the rather benign temptations to lie or steal. He doesn’t warn his son about the kinds of peer pressures that young people normally face. No, he cuts to the chase and describes for his son a scene in which his friends attempt to convince him to commit murder. Solomon paints a rather bleak and shocking picture of a lifestyle marked by wanton evil. He doesn’t describe childlike indiscretions or innocent mistakes made by uninformed minors. No, he fast-forwards to the more egregious sins that will accompany adulthood.

Solomon warns that these “friends” are anything but friendly. They are sinners and their intentions are purely evil. He describes in great detail their proclivity for abusing others in order to satisfy their own sinful passions and line their own pockets.

“Let’s swallow them alive, like the grave;
    let’s swallow them whole, like those who go down to the pit of death.
Think of the great things we’ll get!
    We’ll fill our houses with all the stuff we take.
Come, throw in your lot with us;
    we’ll all share the loot.” – Proverbs 1:12-14 NLT

But Solomon warns his son to have nothing to do with such people.

My child, don’t go along with them!
    Stay far away from their paths. – Proverbs 1:15 NLT

He realizes that his son’s decision to avoid such people will begin long before he meets them. The ability to choose the right kind of friends begins early in life. Solomon wanted his son to choose the right path instead of the wrong one. And that decision would begin in childhood. This need to prepare children for the future by warning them to choose the right friends and to walk the right path is recorded in a later proverb.

Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road;
    whoever values life will avoid it.

Direct your children onto the right path,
    and when they are older, they will not leave it. – Proverbs 22:5-6 NLT

Solomon wanted his son to make wise choices. He wanted his son to choose the right path. And he knew that his son would face plenty of temptations to surround himself with the wrong kind of people who would lead him in the wrong direction. It would all start out subtly and innocently enough, but before his son would find himself on “a thorny, treacherous road.”

Again, there is another proverb that echoes this sentiment.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. – Proverbs 14:12 ESV

And that is exactly what Solomon warns his son.

But these people set an ambush for themselves;
    they are trying to get themselves killed.
Such is the fate of all who are greedy for money;
    it robs them of life. – Proverbs 1:18-19 NLT

Driven by their greed and insatiable desire to satisfy their own sinful passions, these kinds of people inevitably end up on a path that leads to destruction and death. And Solomon wants his son to avoid that fate at all costs. But it all begins with a fear of the Lord. And that awareness of God’s holiness, coupled with a knowledge of His desire that His people live set-apart lives, results in a desire to choose the right kind of friends who have chosen to walk the right path.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Wisdom of God

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:1-7 ESV

The Hebrew Bible takes the title for this book from the opening line: “The Proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David, King in Israel.” But that is somewhat of a misnomer because many of the proverbs contained within the book were not actually written by Solomon. Many of the proverbs bear his name and authorship, while others are the work of others, such as Agur (Proverbs 30), King Lemuel (Proverbs 31), and various unnamed “wise men.” If anything, Solomon played the dual role of contributor and editor, collecting and compiling the 31 proverbs into their current form. It seems that many of the wisdom sayings found in the book that bears his name were composed long before Solomon was born. Some of them can be traced to earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian books of wisdom.

This collection of wisdom sayings was intended to provide the people of Israel with time-tested maxims that they could use to manage their lives and relationships.

“The Book of Proverbs is about godly wisdom, how to get it and how to use it. It’s about priorities and principles, not get-rich-quick schemes or success formulas. It tells you, not how to make a living, but how to be skillful in the lost art of making a life.” – Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Skillful

Throughout the book, the topic of wisdom is elevated to a place of prominence and ever personified as a woman calling out to anyone who would avail himself of the gifts she has to offer.

Listen as Wisdom calls out!
    Hear as understanding raises her voice!
On the hilltop along the road,
    she takes her stand at the crossroads.
By the gates at the entrance to the town,
    on the road leading in, she cries aloud,
“I call to you, to all of you!
    I raise my voice to all people.
You simple people, use good judgment.
    You foolish people, show some understanding.
Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you. – Proverbs 8:1-6 NLT

In the first seven proverbs, the messages they contain are written from the perspective of a loving father addressing his young son.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction – Proverbs 1:8 ESV

My child, listen to what I say,
    and treasure my commands. – Proverbs 2:1 NLT

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments – Proverbs 3:1 ESV

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
    do not forsake my teaching. – Proverbs 4:1-2 ESV

“In its basic form, the proverb is an ancient saying that takes wisdom and endows it with youthful vigor. In a few, piquant phrases the proverb capsulizes a practical idea or truth in such a way as to lift the common-place to a new level of mental consciousness. It reweaves the threadbare idea and shows the ordinary to be quite extraordinary.

“Fundamental to the proverbial form [genre] is the fact that it bears a truth that has been tested by time.” – C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Poetic Books of the Old Testament

Solomon had an affinity for this topic because he had been endowed by God with wisdom greater than that of any man who had ever lived.

And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men… – 1 Kings 4:29-31 ESV

And not only was Solomon wise, but he was also extremely wealthy and powerful. He had been born the privileged son of the powerful and popular King David. As the son of the king and the successor to his father’s throne, Solomon had been raised in the palace and surrounded by luxury. As he would later confess, his life was one of excess and unmitigated success.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. – Ecclesiastes 2:4-10 ESV

After ascending to his father’s throne, Solomon became a man conflicted by his unparalleled wisdom and his insatiable desire to find meaning in life. He had everything and, yet, he remained unfulfilled. He would later admit, “I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them” (Ecclesiastes 1:16 ESV), but this led him to lament, “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 ESV).

Solomon grew to recognize that wisdom alone was insufficient. Wisdom unapplied was not only useless but futile. It led to frustration and a life of fruitlessness. So, Solomon went about collecting the wisdom of the ages and compiled it into a concise compendium designed to provide insight and meaning for life.

Solomon makes it perfectly clear why he took the time to pen the Proverbs.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and knowledge, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young…” – Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT

It sounds as if Solomon is putting together a self-help manual aimed at teaching people how to get smarter so that they can be more successful in life. But then he qualifies his purpose statement with a non-negotiable requirement. It all begins with a healthy fear of God. The Proverbs are not just a collection of wise and pithy statements designed to increase our wisdom and improve our lives, but they are a reminder to make God the focus of our lives. He is the sole source of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. He alone gives insight to the simple and knowledge and discernment to the young.

The wisdom described in the Proverbs is a byproduct of a relationship with God. It cannot be achieved any other way. Ignoring God will leave us ignorant. When Solomon says that fools despise wisdom and discipline, he is describing those who reject God. By turning their back on God and refusing to live according to His terms, they reject the very things they need to succeed in this life. They miss out on the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding He alone can provide. But it all begins with a fear of God. The NET Bible describes the fear of the Lord this way: “The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom (9:10) and the discipline leading to wisdom (15:33). It is expressed in hatred of evil (8:13) and avoidance of sin (16:6), and so results in prolonged life (10:27; 19:23).”

The fear of the Lord is marked by an understanding of who God is – His holiness, righteousness, wrath, justice, power, sovereignty, love, grace, and mercy. To fear God is to show Him reverence and awe. It is an acknowledgment of His majesty and might. It is a recognition of His holiness and hatred of sin. A healthy fear of God prevents us from taking God for granted and treating Him with contempt.

Solomon describes those who refuse to fear God as simpleminded, mockers, and fools. “They hated knowledge and chose not to fear the Lord” (Proverbs 1:29 NLT). To refuse to fear God is to refuse all that God has to offer – including wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Those who reject God “must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes” (Proverbs 1:31 NLT). No one plans to live his life as a fool. Every person on the planet wants to live wisely and successfully. But unless they seek God and start with Him, they will never achieve their goal. “For simpletons turn away from me – to death. Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm” (Proverbs 1:32-33 NLT). Wisdom is an attribute of God. He is all-knowing, all-wise. All that there is to know and understand is found in Him. Find Him and You will discover all you need to live a disciplined and successful life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Turning Homes Into Lighthouses

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV

Next, Peter turns his attention to the parent-child relationship, where the filling of the Spirit could help the believers in Ephesus to dispel the darkness engulfing their community. A home where godly parents and children lived in submission to the will of God would be a beacon of light and life to the lost. Their Spirit-empowered interactions with one another would bring glory and honor to God as they lived in keeping with His good and perfect will.

Paul begins by addressing the children within the Ephesian church. He calls on them to obey their parents “in the Lord” (en kyrios). In his earlier passage addressed to believing wives, he called on them to submit to their believing husbands “as unto the Lord” (hōs ho kyrios). The idea is the same here. Paul is calling on children to obey “in the Lord.” The obedience of the children was not to be dependent upon the belief of their parents, but they were to obey because it was the will of God. Paul was essentially telling young children who came to faith in Christ, “you need to understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17). Regardless of age, every member of the body of Christ was to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV).

It would seem that Paul has believing children in mind because he calls them to obey “in the Lord.” He seems to assume that these children are old enough to understand their Christ-honoring commitment to submit to their parents in the same way they would submit to Christ Himself. And Paul quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to drive home his point.

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Deuteronomy 5:16 NLT

In this passage, Moses is reciting the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, and this verse, he shares God’s command that His people show proper honor and respect to their earthly parents. This commandment was applicable to children of all ages, including those who had reached adulthood. In a society that had no welfare system, it was the responsibility of adult children to take care of their elderly parents. God was ordering His covenant people to treat their loved ones with dignity and respect, and He tied future fruitfulness to present faithfulness. If they continued to treat their parents with honor all the days of their lives, then they would enjoy a long and fruitful stay in the land of promise. This is why Peter refers to this as a “commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2 ESV). As long as the people obeyed it, they would enjoy the blessings of God. Faithfulness to do the will of God would be accompanied by fruitfulness.

It’s interesting to note that, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul included disoBelibedience to parents among the list of godless characteristics that will mark the end of the age.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

It seems that Paul is describing people who are old enough to know what they are doing. Their behavior reflects the status of their hearts. Their outer actions are simply byproducts of their inner condition. Jesus made this point quite clear when He stated, “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

Paul doesn’t seem to be focusing his attention on small children. They were not the problem. It was those children who were old enough to come to faith in Christ but also old enough to be tempted by the inevitable allure of autonomy and freedom from their parents’ control over their lives. He is calling them to remember their commitment to do that which is pleasing to God. They were to emulate Christ, who willingly submitted Himself to do His Father’s will.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV

“I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 5:30 ESV

Paul states that children who obey their parents are doing what is right. The Greek word is dikaios, and it means “that which is righteous, in keeping with the commands of God” (Outline of Biblical Usage). To obey earthly parents is righteous because it is in keeping with our Heavenly Father’s will. It is what He desires, therefore, it is right and good.

This command is intended to last a lifetime. It doesn’t end at the age of 18 or whenever the child moves out of the home. No, it lasts as long as the parents remain alive. And in a culture where the family unit tended to stay intact for much longer periods of time, this command carried special significance. It was not uncommon for young married couples to take up residence in the home of the husband’s parents. Multiple generations would end up residing under the same roof, making obedience to this command more essential than ever. A home where parents, children, and grandchildren lived together was the perfect environment for displaying the Spirit-filled lifestyle to which Paul was calling his audience.

And it was within this kind of familial context that Paul called on fathers to treat their children with love and respect, raising them in accordance with the will of God. And that included “the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NLT). Once again, Paul is emphasizing the need for all believers to do things according to God’s will, not their own. And they were not to use the prevailing cultural context as their model for godly behavior. Paul has already warned the Ephesian believers not to pattern their behavior after the world.

Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:7-9 NLT

Instead, they were to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 NLT). And for fathers, that meant leading their children in such a way that it produced godliness rather than bitterness. Paul demands that father’s not “provoke” or exasperate their children. Believing fathers were to submit themselves to the will of God and minister to their wives and children in a loving and self-sacrificing manner. Their God-ordained role as the heads of their households didn’t give them the right to lord over those under their care. They were to be servants and shepherds. They to were to model Christ-likeness as they provided instruction in godliness.

God holds Christian fathers responsible for the care of His flock. A godly father is to recognize that his children are gifts from God.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT

And because God has assigned believing fathers with the role of shepherding His young lambs, He will hold them responsible if they fail to care for them well. The warning that God applied to the spiritual shepherds of Israel can be applied to those Christian fathers who abdicate their God-given responsibility to shepherd their children as God has commanded.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

And God went on to describe what He would do to those shepherds who failed to carry out their God-ordained role.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

In a similar way, Paul is pleading with the fathers within the church at Ephesus to step up and do what they have been called to do. They were to model the self-sacrificing love of Christ. They were to teach their children to honor God by demonstrating it through their own lives. Their homes were to be lighthouses, illuminating the darkness of Ephesus with the glory of God’s grace and the life-changing power of His Spirit.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Practical and Personal

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV

Paul has strongly stressed the need to know and obey the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:17). He has called each member of the congregation to live as a light in the midst of the darkness of Ephesus by submitting to the control of the Holy Spirit within them. Together, they were to shine the light of God’s life-transforming glory into the dark recesses of the sin-soaked society around them. The fledgling church in Ephesus was to be a beacon of hope as they allowed the Holy Spirit to fill them. His presence and power would overflow and impact all their relationships. Paul indicates that this Spirit-empowered change in their corporate interactions will leave them singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19 NLT). As the Spirit makes the will of God known and then empowers the Ephesians to obey it, they will see their relationships radically changed, and their gratefulness to God increase. But it will all begin with their willingness to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

It’s interesting to note how verse 21 is often overlooked or ignored by those who take issue with verses 22-24. In the modern-day church, there are many who find Paul’s words regarding wives submitting to their husbands as old-fashioned and heavily patriarchal. They view them as antiquated and no longer applicable in today’s more modern and enlightened context. There is little debate that, when taken out of its context, Paul’s teachings about submission within the home can sound like he has a low regard for women. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul is not suggesting that wives have less value or worth than their husbands. He is not treating them as second-class citizens or subjugating them to an inferior role in the marriage relationship. He is simply continuing his discussion on knowing the will of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to apply that will to everyday life so that the Ephesian believers might be lights in the darkness.

Paul brings up the institution of marriage because it was something the Ephesian believers shared with their unsaved neighbors. Marriage was an accepted part of everyday life in Ephesus. Christians were not the only ones who participated in the God-ordained institution of marriage. But Christians were the only ones who could demonstrate what God’s will was concerning marriage.

Within the 1st-Century context of Greek culture, Paul’s teaching regarding husbands and wives was radical and unexpected. The prevailing view of the day held that wives were little more than property. Oftentimes, they were treated more like slaves than helpmeets. In general, women were seen as inferior to men and accorded little honor or respect.

“After centuries of Christian teaching, we scarcely appreciate the revolutionary nature of Paul’s views on family life set forth in this passage. Among the Jews of his day, as also among the Romans and the Greeks, women were seen as secondary citizens with few or no rights. The pious male Jew daily said a prayer in which he thanked God for not making him a woman. And he could divorce his wife by simply writing ‘a bill of divorcement’ (which must include the provision that she was then free to marry whomever she wanted). The wife had no such right.” – Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians

But Paul was not attempting to write a commentary on gender equity or trying to rectify centuries of ungodly thinking about the role of women in society. His interest was in helping Christian husbands and wives apply the will of God regarding marriage to their own homes. And his words must be kept within the context of his call to mutual submission found in verse 21. That’s the key to understanding verses 22-33.

Don’t forget how Paul opened this section of his letter.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

How are mere humans supposed to imitate God? How can fallen men and women model their lives after a holy and completely righteous God? The only way they can do it is through a relationship with the Son of God. It is only through faith in Christ that anyone can be made right with God. And as believers are transformed into the likeness of Christ through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, their lives inherently imitate God because they emulate the One who “expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3 NLT).

Paul opened this chapter by calling the Ephesians to imitate God by demonstrating the same kind of sacrificial love that Christ poured out on them. God so loved the world that He sent His Son (John 3:16), and He “showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).

Now, in verses 22-33, Paul is taking this call to imitate God by loving like Christ and applying it to the institution of marriage. He is focusing his attention on the one place in society where love and submission could and should be practiced and prove the power of the Spirit of God to apply the will of God to everyday life.

Paul begins by addressing the wives, telling them to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). It’s amazing how often the last four words of his statement are left out by those who take issue with this passage. They also overlook his emphasis on wives and their own husbands. This is not intended as a blanket statement regarding the relationship between all women and all men. This has less to do with gender than it does with the God-ordained institution of marriage and the divine definition regarding the roles of husbands and their wives. And it only applies to Christian marriages. What Paul is prescribing here is only possible when both husband and wife share a common faith in Jesus Christ. 

When Paul calls the wife to submit to her husband, he is not issuing a command to subjugate herself to a lower or inferior status in the relationship. He is not suggesting that the wife is of lesser value or importance to God.

“People often misunderstand submission. It does not indicate inferiority or involve losing one’s identity and becoming a non-person. Some women fear that submission will lead to abuse and or a feeling of being used. Submission does not mean blind obedience or passivity. It means giving oneself up to someone else.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Ephesians

Paul is teaching the will of God concerning the marriage relationship. A Christian marriage is to look distinctively different than a non-Christian marriage. A husband and wife who are also a brother and sister in Christ are to model a radically different kind of marriage. Their interactions with one another are to be in keeping with the will of God and empowered by the Spirit of God. And it begins with a willingness to submit to or come under God’s providential plan for the marriage relationship.

These 12 verses, when taken in their context, reveal that the Christian marriage is to reflect the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. This must not be overlooked or discounted. That is the whole point of Paul’s teaching. The wife is intended to represent the church, the holy and spotless bride of Christ. The husband represents Christ, who demonstrated His love for His bride by laying down His life. Jesus gave His life so that His bride might have fulness of life. He died so that His bride might live. He sacrificed His body in order that the church might be cleansed and made holy. He modeled selflessness in the form of sacrifice.

In the same way, the wife is to model selflessness in the form of willful submission. The church, the bride of Christ, willingly submits to Him because it is God’s will. And when a Christian wife submits to her Christian husband, she is doing so “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). Or to put it another way, she submits to her husband in the same way that she submitted to the Lord – through faith – trusting that God’s will and His ways are best. Paul doesn’t suggest that she submit only when her husband acts like Christ. That is where faith comes in. She is expected to do God’s will whether the conditions are perfect or the outcome looks predictable. That’s why Paul added, “as to the Lord.” Ultimately, she is trusting that obedience to God’s will is preferable to her own desire for autonomy or self-will.

What Paul is suggesting is not only difficult, but it is impossible – without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. No one likes to submit. There is no human being that likes the idea of coming under the authority or leadership of another. Yet we all do it every day if we feel like we will receive some benefit from having done so. Employees submit to their bosses, in order to get a salary. Citizens submit to their governing authorities, in exchange for protection and the preservation of their rights and freedoms. You might call it a form of quid pro quo.

But Paul is suggesting something altogether different. He is calling husbands and wives to follow the example of Christ. He willingly submitted to the will of His Father, even to the point of laying down His life (Philippians 2:6-8). He willingly sacrificed His life so that His bride might be made holy, righteous, and pure. And when a husband and wife, two people whom God has formed into one, do the same thing, they bring Him glory. They reflect His will and imitate His very nature – together.

And Paul sums up his teaching by calling it a “great mystery…an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one” (Ephesians 5:32 NLT). On a human level, it makes no sense. It seems illogical and impractical. To today’s modern sensibilities, it seems out of date and out of touch with reality. But Paul is revealing God’s will, not marriage advice. And he does sum up his teaching about this great mystery with some rather simple advice:

So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Spirit-Filled, Not Self-Obsessed

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. Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

Wake up and live carefully. That’s Paul’s simple but straightforward admonition to his readers. He is alerting them to their need for wariness and wisdom as they attempt to conduct their lives in this world. He has made it clear that their behavior was to be markedly different than that of their unsaved peers. They were to have discarded their former lifestyle of sin and replaced it with the Spirit-empowered capacity to model Christ-likeness and imitate God. Paul has already urged them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2 ESV).

Their lives were to be characterized by love, moral purity, selflessness, and obedience to the will of God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, their lives were to appear as shining lights in the prevailing darkness that engulfed the city of Ephesus. Their very presence would provide a stark contrast to the immoral and godless behavior plaguing the city, exposing sin and providing living proof that the gospel of Jesus Christ was powerful and transformative.

But they would have to remain constantly vigilant and eager to discern the will of their Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:10). That would require wisdom and insight. It would hinge on their willingness to submit their lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Every moment of every day was to be considered an opportunity to walk in lockstep with God. But to live in keeping with God’s will they would need round-the-clock input from the Spirit of God. They were surrounded by evil. Their community was plagued by wickedness and their fellow citizens were enemies of God who had “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). The small band of Christians who made up the church in Ephesus found themselves surrounded and outnumbered but they were far from helpless. But the key to their survival was knowing and obeying the will of God. That’s why Paul told them, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15 ESV).

The wisdom of God was going to be essential to their success. And Paul asserts that failure to understand the will of the Lord is tantamount to foolishness.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:17 ESV

It is almost as if Paul has in mind Proverbs 1, where the author personifies wisdom as a woman crying out for someone to heed her offer of knowledge and counsel. She offers everyone the opportunity to become wise but she can find no takers.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT

And later in the same Proverb, the author paints a sad picture of the fools showing up too late for the party. Having spurned wisdom’s original offer so they could live according to their own wills, fulfilling their own desires, they find the window of opportunity has closed.

“When they cry for help, I will not answer.
    Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me.
For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.
For simpletons turn away from me—to death.
    Fools are destroyed by their own complacency.
But all who listen to me will live in peace,
    untroubled by fear of harm.” – Proverbs 1:28-33 NLT

For Paul, the key to knowing the will of God is submission to the Spirit of God. Unlike the image painted in the Proverb where wisdom calls out to the people from the street corner, Paul portrays wisdom as having taken up permanent residence in the believer’s life in the form of the Holy Spirit. But Paul reveals a vital point regarding the Spirit’s presence within the life of the believer. Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that, upon His death and resurrection, He would send the Holy Spirit to live within them.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV

According to Jesus, the Spirit’s presence would be complete and permanent. Earlier in his letter, Paul reminded the Ephesians that their salvation had been accompanied by the sealing of the Holy Spirit “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). But later, in chapter four, Paul stated that they could “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). The indwelling presence of the Spirit is guaranteed and permanent in nature. But that doesn’t mean that believers always live in obedience to the Spirit. That’s why Paul warned the Galatian church about the need to live in faithful reliance upon the Spirit’s leading.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. – Galatians 5:16-18 NLT

Like the woman portrayed in the Proverb, the Holy Spirit cries out, offering to believers the wisdom they need to live in keeping with the will of God. Not only that, the Holy Spirit provides all the power necessary to make obedience to the will of God possible. And in order to describe this reliance upon the Spirit, Paul uses the metaphor of intoxication. Oddly enough, he compares obedience to the Spirit with drunkenness.

To be drunk is to be under the control of alcohol. Once consumed, it dictates one’s behavior and virtually eliminates any capacity for self-control. A person who is drunk on wine, says and does things that are contrary to his normal behavior. His actions and attitudes change, usually for the worst. And Paul is suggesting that the filling of the Spirit should produce a kind of altered behavior that reflects the Spirit’s control.

“The baptism of the Spirit means that I belong to Christ’s body. The filling of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Christ.” – Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul attempted to portray the contrast between being filled with or under the control of the Spirit and living according to our sinful nature.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

When the believer ignores the Spirit, he ends up “drunk” on the influence of his own sinful will and the outcome is anything but pretty. But Paul goes on to reveal that the one who submits to or comes under the influence of the Holy Spirit produces a completely different set of outcomes.

…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

And to the Ephesians, Paul portrays this filling of the Spirit in terms of its corporate or communal aspect.

be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-20 NLT

The filling of the Spirit produces unity, joy, gratitude, and a spirit of worship. His indwelling presence flows out in praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done. The one who gets drunk on wine is ultimately self-consumed. He cares nothing about how his behavior will impact those around him. He is driven by his own desire for self-gratification and personal pleasure. But the one who allows the Spirit to fill and control him is under the influence of God’s will, which is always other-oriented. To imitate God (Ephesians 5:1) is to live a life of selfless, sacrificial love for others. It is to put the needs of others ahead of your own. And this will set up the next section of Paul’s letter, where he provides practical examples of what a Spirit-controlled life should look like. It all begins with submission to the Spirit but it shows up in submission to others. That’s why Paul prefaces what he is about to write with the sobering statement: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Walk the Talk

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”  Ephesians 5:6-14 ESV

Paul had a predilection or preference for certain words or concepts, and he weaved them into all his letters. One for which he was particularly fond is the  word, “walk.” In Greek, the word is peripateō and it appears more than 30 times in the writings of Paul.  It means “to walk, to live, to conduct one’s life,” and it carries the idea of moving from one location to another. But for Paul, it was a way of describing how people, either saved or unsaved, conduct their lives.

Seven times in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses the word peripateō to describe the way people navigate life on this planet. Everyone, regardless of their relationship with Christ, is required to “live” or “walk” their way through life. The question is what manner of “walk” they will display. What will be the basis of their conduct? How will they deport themselves as they make their way through life? What rules will they live by and by what criteria will they measure their success or failure?

Throughout this letter, Paul repeatedly uses the word peripateō to convey his desire that the Ephesians live or walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1). He uses it to compare their old lifestyle to the new one made possible through their faith in Christ. Seven different times, he uses this same Greek word to establish a contrast between the old sinful nature and the new, Spirit-enabled nature graciously provided to the child of God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked (peripateō), following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air – Ephesians 2:2 ESV

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk (peripateō) in them. – Ephesians 2:10 ESV

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk (peripateō) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called – Ephesians 4:1 ESV

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk (peripateō) as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. – Ephesians 4:17 ESV

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk (peripateō) in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk (peripateō) as children of light – Ephesians 58 ESV

Look carefully then how you walk, (peripateō) not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV

For Paul, the abundant life promised by Jesus (John 10:10) was not only possible, but it was indispensable and intended to be highly practical. Saving faith was meant to produce a radically different lifestyle modeled after Christ, enabled by the Spirit, and intended to glorify God the Father.

There is no place in the life of the believer for a dualistic or bifurcated approach to life. The willful mixing of old and new together is unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs. That is why Paul so strongly stated, “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people” (Ephesians 5:3 NLT). And just so his audience understands, he takes those rather broad categories and boils them down to specific examples of unacceptable behavior for believers: “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you” (Ephesians 5:4 NLT).

And Paul warns the Ephesians about the danger of rationalizing or justifying these kinds of behaviors.

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. – Ephesians 5:5 NLT

For the Christ-follower, there is no excuse or explanation for such behavior. It can’t be excused or explained away as innocent or harmless. These kinds of “acceptable” behaviors are rooted in sexual immorality, impurity, or greed and, as Paul so strongly states, “You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5 NLT).

Paul goes out of his way to differentiate between the old and the new and, to do so, he uses the metaphor of dark and light.

…once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:8-9 NLT

Something had changed. They were no longer who they used to be. They had been delivered from a life marked by darkness and sin and delivered into a new kingdom characterized by light and life. Paul emphasized this divine deliverance in his letter to the believers in Colossae.

…he [God] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT

They were free to live distinctly different lives because they now possessed the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. They had the God-given capacity to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV). In other words, not only had they been transferred into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, but they had also been given the power to live as citizens of that Kingdom. That’s why Paul insists that they “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 NLT). They were no longer of this world. As Peter so aptly described it, they were “temporary residents and foreigners” whose task was “to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT).

Light exposes darkness. That is Paul’s primary point in this passage. As children of light, they were expected to influence the darkness around them. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. So, the presence of these believers in their community should have resulted in a glaring exposure of the sins that lurked there. But instead, Paul seems to suggest that the Christians in Ephesus were actually joking about the sinfulness of their community. They were sharing obscene stories, engaging in foolish talk, and laughing at one another’s coarse jokes. In doing so, they were essentially hiding their light under a basket, something Jesus Himself warned about.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. – Matthew 5:14-16 NLT

Paul warns the Ephesians that their flippant approach to the sins of their community was unacceptable because it was ungodly.

It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. – Ephesians 5:12 NLT

And he firmly affixes the responsibility for exposing such behavior on the shoulders of the Ephesians Christians. Look closely at what he tells them.

…their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible… – Ephesians 5:13-14 NLT

What is the source of that sin-exposing light? It is the believers who populate the church in Ephesus. They were, as Jesus put it, “the light of the world” and they were to shine so that the light of their good deeds was visible to “everyone in the house.” Paul wasn’t suggesting that they condemn their lost neighbors for their sinful behavior. No, he was calling on the Ephesian believers to live as light in the midst of the darkness. The good behavior of the Spirit-empowered Christians would radically expose the bad behavior of their lost neighbors and friends. The contrast would be palpable and powerful.

According to Paul, the believers to whom he wrote had a divine source for determining what was right and wrong.

…this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:9 NLT

The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God provided them with the knowledge of God’s will that helped clarify and quality their conduct. That’s why Paul told the Galatian believers, “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT). The Spirit was there to help them “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 ESV). And once they knew what God deemed to be “good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9), the Spirit could empower them to do it.

That’s why Paul issues a much-needed wake-up call. He pleads with his brothers and sisters, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 ESV). They had become lulled into a stupified sense of compromise and complacency, and Paul was calling them to snap out of it. They were to walk as children of the light. Their very presence in Ephesus should have been making an impact on the sin-darkened lives of their neighbors and friends. They had been redeemed for a reason. Ephesus was not their home anymore, but it was their God-appointed base of operations while they waited for the arrival of their future home: the Kingdom of God. As long as God delayed His Son’s return, the Ephesian Christians were to be His ambassadors and serve as His light-bearing emissaries into a world darkened by sin and in desperate need of the light of life (John 1:4). Jesus had chosen to shine His life-giving light through them and, as the apostle John declared, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5 NLT).

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