Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:15a “See then that ye. . .”
These words connect our text to what has just been previously said. If we would seek to reprove others, we had best look to ourselves first. “Physician, heal thyself” certainly applies in this situation. Before we reprove the sins of others, let us reprove the sins of self.
As believers, our conduct must be above reproach. We live, as it were, on the stage of a crowded theater, watched by God, angels, fellow Christians, and unbelievers. We know the latter audience is Paul’s main concern here, as the parallel passage in Colossians (4:5) specifies, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.” Our conduct should wow the world, flabbergast the lost. Unbelievers should have to stand in awe of our lives.
Conservative Christianity continues to be demeaned often in our society. In fact, it is about the only bigotry sometimes deemed “politically correct” in our present culture. One of our public universities recently had a guest lecturer speak on the dangers of the religious right. (I would rather be in the religious right than in the religious wrong.)
Though our society in general tends to think negatively of us en masse, receptivity to the Gospel, on the individual level, seems on the rise. This underscores an important truth. No matter how negatively the culture thinks of us as a group, individuals within the society are hard pressed to disavow the positive influence of a flesh-and-blood example of a godly life lived in their presence. There is a comeliness in loving, gentle godliness.
You and I can, by the beauty of our individual lives, be a beacon wooing those around us to Christ. God has put on us the same honor that He put on the star of Bethlehem. We are guides to Christ.
Eph. 5:15b “. . .walk. . .”
Here, for a fifth and final time, the word “walk” is used in this section of Ephesians (4:1-6:9) which deals with Christian behavior. Paul has told us to “walk worthy” (4:1), to “walk not as other Gentiles walk” (4:17), to “walk in love” (5:2), to “walk as children of light” (5:8). Verse 15 gives a fifth admonition regarding our habitual conduct. We are to walk. . .
Eph. 5:15c “. . .circumspectly,. . .”
The word, taken from Latin, literally means, “all around looking, in every direction watching.” The idea entails being on the alert, as if one is walking in a dangerous place. For Christians, this world is a spiritual mine-field. Within us, we have slippery hearts. Beside us, we have to be careful with whom we walk, lest we be led astray (1 C 15:33). Around us, the world is filled with temptations, pitfalls, quagmires, traps, and snares. We have to be careful about where we put our feet down. G. Campbell Morgan said we need to be like a cat who walks carefully among pieces of broken glass embedded in cement on the top of a security wall. Only by being extremely careful is the cat able to maneuver without cutting itself. Believers, step warily, “circumspectly,” looking in every direction.
We are not “to see a demon behind every bush.” As Henry Blackaby says, if we blame Satan for every problem in life, we leave no room in our theology for God to test us. At the same time, though, do not go to the other extreme, and think the devil is nowhere. Spiritual warfare is real.
It seems as though we live on a chessboard, hardly able to move back and forth without wondering how we shall be attacked. One reason I gave up playing chess is that it forced me to think too much. Living a holy life also requires huge amounts of concentration, but I am willing to give it my focused attention because godliness is a goal worthy of mental exertion.
The deeper Christian life is never accomplished by accident. “No guidance is promised him which shall dispense with patient watchfulness” (Moule). Our security is in watchfulness and prayer. In Gethsemane, Jesus told the disciples, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (MK 14:38). My dad always loved to quote the saying, “Proceed on your knees.” Another applicable old proverb is, “Make haste slowly.” We go forward, we have to proceed, we must make haste, but we should do so prudently.
Step guardedly, like a tight-rope walker. If we believers take but one step awry, we can fall, and there are no safety nets to catch a fallen testimony. Tread gingerly, as we would if negotiating one of those high steel beams construction workers walk on. I can hardly bear to watch when they do that. I know I would be extremely cautious if I were trying to do it. Christian living is as precarious. It deserves our undivided attention.
Closely watch the parameters within which we are to regulate our lives. The Greek word “akribos,” translated here as “circumspectly,” literally means to live exactly, by the rule, according to a set norm. Believers are to maintain strict conformity to a standard. Even as we embrace the Bible’s promises, also grasp its precepts. Walk by the rule God gave us. Christianity is not a broad plain in which we walk at large without restraint or limit. We enter “the strait gate” and walk the “narrow” way (MT 7:13-14). Pursue a steady course without diverting to one side or the other.
Eph. 5:15d “. . .not as fools, but as wise,. . .”
Within the lines of Christian duty lies the only wise way of life. The ancients said, all roads lead to Rome. True, but not all roads lead to Heaven. Some imagine they can believe anything they wish and still make it to Heaven, but only one road leads to Heaven, the same road which in this life yields the nearest thing to Heaven on earth. Wisdom resides in Christ.
The ability to make right choices and live life aright is one of the gifts given to Christians in salvation (1:8). Unbelievers do not understand the deepest truths of life. Melzar helped Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but never even pretended to understand their desire for holiness before a righteous God (DN 1:14). The lost and the saved hold to vastly different world-views, the former foolish, the latter wise.
“The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (PS 14:1). The lost foolishly live without reference to God, either as theological or practical atheists. A believer, on the other hand, wisely is obsessed with thoughts of God. It is “the” fact of life, a truth which never escapes him or her. When I left for seminary, Grandpa Marshall’s parting words to me were, “Son, I believe in God as much as I believe you and I are standing here.” To him God was the most important essence of life.
“Fools make a mock at sin” (PR 14:9). The lost foolishly deem sin a minor matter. They see it as nothing to fear, and yet it is one thing worth fearing. Since unbelievers are wrong in their thinking about God, they are also wrong in their thinking about the perils of sin. This week I saw on TV an interview with a teenage homosexual prostitute who sells himself to men in San Francisco each night. Being HIV positive, he is going to die, yet continues his trade. When asked if it did not bother him to be doing this while dying, he replied, “Death is only a dream.” Not true! For those outside Jesus death is a nightmare! The lost are foolishly blind to spiritual consequences. Wisdom begins in the fear of the Lord (PR 1:7).
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (PR 12:15). Being wrong about God and the gravity of sin, the lost begin to deem the handling of life as something not beyond them, a matter they can figure out on their own. As a result, the lost person becomes his own god, his own authority on life.
Unbelievers see themselves as sharp enough, shrewd enough, having intellect enough, to master life on their own. They lean totally on their own mind, depending solely on “its own rude guesses” (Parker) at life’s puzzling problems. The believer, though, has wisely learned it is never enough in life to know facts and skills. Something else is needed–wisdom to apply them rightly. The Psalmist (119:59) wisely says, “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies” (PS 119:59). A wise person understands he needs guidance from above, for it is possible to be a genius without being wise. Even if a lost person does admit a need for outside help, he or she turns not to God, but to others. The lost thus often follow the path of least resistance, the road of public opinion. Christians should not automatically go along with the crowd. We are not to do things because everyone else is doing it. We take direction from above. We are expected to follow the wisdom of God (3:10). It is ours and can be activated by asking it of God (JM 1:5). We need to take advantage of this privilege, for it is possible to do even a right thing in a wrong way. One can do a good deed in such a way that it causes more harm than help. Severe virtue repels and rouses resentment. Some have the spiritual gift of clobber.
“Thou fool” (LK 12:20), said God to the man who thought only of bigger barns, being obsessed with a lust to “eat, drink, and be merry.” The lost are foolishly addicted to the things of this world. They worry more about what is in their earthly bank than about what they have stored up in Heaven. They show more concern for their physical bodies than for their immortal souls. Christians wisely live in light of another age and time. Limner, the famous artist, was known for spending a vast amount of time on individual works. When asked why he felt a need to be so exact and meticulous, he replied, “I paint for eternity.” Do we understand we live for eternity, not only our own, but also the eternity of others? The everlasting destinies of others are affected by the way we live. In this light, we can never live too tediously, too exactly, too “circumspectly.” I plead with you, do not disgrace our faith, and thereby turn others away from it.