Wise Guys (and Gals)
Please read Ephesians 5:15-20 in your "go-to" version of the Bible.
(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)
I came across this bit of wisdom that has undoubtedly made the rounds on the internet but also bears repeating:
The SIX most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.” The FIVE most important words: “You did a good job.” The FOUR most important words: “What do you think?” The THREE most important words: “After you, please.” The TWO most important words: “Thank you.” The ONE most important word: “We” The LEAST important word: “I”
This set of important words is the kind of attitude the Apostle Paul commanded the Ephesian church to have. This is the last of the section where he urged them to behave in these ways and will next turn to three specific sets of typical relationships where these imperatives may be applied.
CONTEXT = Much of the book of Ephesians is about relationships and that may be another good reason for closely studying this book. Having good relations does not come automatically; sometimes they don’t come easily. Being wise, spiritual, and knowledgeable makes relationship-building better.
The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.
1. Wise people make best use of every opportunity to build relationships. (15-17)
As is often done in the book of Proverbs, Paul explained wisdom by comparing it to foolishness. The first of two comparisons is between the wise and foolish person. Paul didn’t directly describe the UNWISE/FOOLISH person because the point is the UNWISE person fails to do what the wise person does.
Paul does give details about “wise guys/gals” in these verses.
- They are CAREFUL how they LIVE. Wise people are proactive, sensitive, and motivated by love to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.
- They make the MOST OUT OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY. In the Greek, this is a word picture of a savvy businessman who sees the condition of the market and acts in a way to make a profit.
- They recognize THE DAYS ARE EVIL. To follow up on the meaning behind the phrase MAKE THE MOST, Paul implied sensitivity to our situation is necessary for appropriate action and thereby success. In this case, the wise person sees THE DAYS ARE EVIL and makes the most of every opportunity to do GOOD to counter-act the evil. These DAYS ARE EVIL because they are full of worldly enticements to sin and because the times as we know them will soon end.
- They UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD’S WILL IS. When God gives us unexpected insights into His will, that’s called prophecy. That’s one way we understand His will. Most of the time we come to an understanding of God’s will by putting in time and effort of our own, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Activities that increase our understanding are prayer, Bible study, conversation with brothers and sisters, and acts of service and witness.
2. People Filled with the Holy Spirit share in building maturity and unity. (18-20)
Here is the second contrast: drunkenness versus the Filling of the Spirit. There are at least two big problems with drunkenness. One, the Bible identifies it as a sin. (See Proverbs 20:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 5:21; 1 Timothy 3:8.)
Two, as Paul observes here, it leads to other sins: it LEADS TO DEBAUCHERY. DEBAUCHERY means “wild living;” it is indulging every fleshly appetite. The relationship between drunkenness and sin is obvious and has been proven many times in human experience. Alcohol is a depressant and it has the effect of lowering one’s inhibitions. In a state of impaired judgment, people are more likely to do the wrong thing. Drunkenness often makes a person more vulnerable to peer pressure.
Instead of being “under the influence of spirits,” wise people are under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The “Filling of the Spirit” is a word picture of spiritual maturity. If maturity could be measured as a volume, the maturing person is “filled” with the Spirit, where an immature person has little or none.
Paul listed three ways in which Spirit-filled people help each other mature in the faith. To one degree or another, these three examples happen in the context of shared worship. The first is to SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER in worshipful, musical ways.
- PSALMS are songs of praise that are preserved in the Old Testament book of Psalms.
- HYMNS refer to epic ballads sung by pagans in praise of their gods and heroes; in this case, offer praise to God instead.
- SPIRITUAL SONGS can be the opposite of secular songs or spontaneous, Spirit-inspired music. Either way, it’s SPIRITUAL because it comes from God.
No matter which kind of music we make, the objective is to SING AND MAKE MUSIC IN YOUR HEART TO THE LORD. Truly worshipful music is sincere (it comes from the inner person, the HEART) and is directed to the Lord. As someone observed years ago, we tend to think of worship the wrong way. We see God as the director, worship leaders as performers, and the people as the audience. Biblically, the worship leaders are the directors, the people are the performers, and God is the audience!
The second way we can help each other mature is to encourage the attitude of gratitude in each other = ALWAYS GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER FOR EVERYTHING IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Contra Unitarians, let’s note all three members of the Trinity in are mentioned in 18-20. Let’s note the two words that make this command unconditional: ALWAYS and EVERYTHING. Let’s notice that gratitude motivates our worship. We gather because we are grateful for what we’ve done.
I’m saving v. 21 for next Sunday, so I’ll only briefly mention this third way believers help each other: mutual submission. While it is good in some contexts, competition is inappropriate and can be toxic in the church. Mutual submission requires humility, the death of pride, and putting others ahead of one’s self.
The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.
Ironically, the last 25 years has seen a proliferation of communication technology and a decrease in communicating. What we’ve also seen is an emphasis on emotional intelligence to facilitate better relationships while our culture isolates us from each other.
That said, the emotional intelligence industry is a good thing. While it’s not biblical, it gives scientific insight into human nature that is consistent with what the Bible reveals about people.
For example, emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutchendorf suggests six habits of relationship-builders. Here’s an abridged version of his article.
1. BECOME A GREAT LISTENER. Most people are too busy thinking of what they want to say next to really listen to what the other person is saying. We naturally bond with people who really listen, hear us, and that we’d want to relate to.
2. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. The best way to let people know that we hear them is to dig deeper and ask questions.
3. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WHOLE PERSON. Focus not only on the words, also the tone of their words, but also facial expression and body language.
4. REMEMBER THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO OTHERS. Remembering people’s names, what is important to them, keeping facts accurate.
5. BE CONSISTENT AND MANAGE EMOTIONS. Regardless of how we are feeling, we need to be able to temporarily put those feelings aside to fully listen and engage others. If we are experiencing strong emotions, we are better off letting this individual know what is going on.
6. BE OPEN AND SHARE WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. To build strong relationships we need to be able to pace ourselves and share when it’s appropriate to the depth of the relationship.
Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold