“Be on the Alert”
It has been estimated that, that, if all of man’s accumulated knowledge from the beginning of recorded history until 1845 represented one inch, what he learned from 1845 to 1945 would amount to 3 inches. And what he learned from 1945 to 1975 would represent the height of the Washington Monument. And what he has learned from 1975 to 1990 would be twice that high. And since 1990 is estimated to be doubling every three months! We live in an age that is saturated with knowledge. But unfortunately, along with that knowledge seems to have come a corresponding decrease in man’s knowledge of what he is doing and why he is doing it.
In other words, the more educated the human race becomes, the less need it sees for the knowledge that only comes from God. Therefore the ultimate destiny of mankind is that we are “ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” as 2nd Timothy 3:7 says. And so the question becomes, “how are we as Christians to live in such a world?” Well, in the passage before us, we have at least three answers to that question. In Ephesians chapter 5 the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us three word pictures of the Christian life. The Scripture often refers to the Christian life as a walk. And that is because God leads us step by step through the Christian life. It is not a sudden, miraculous, transformation, but like a long journey, it begins with a single step that leads gradually to a full understanding of all that God has given us in Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians chapter 5 we find three “walks” described for us. First, in verses 1 through 14, we have the childlike walk – “walk as children of light,” Paul says. We talked about those verses, so we won’t take the time to go back over them today. Then in verses 15 through 21, the portion of the chapter at which we want to begin looking today, we have described for us the circumspect walk. And finally, in verses 21 through 32, we will see the cooperative walk – all of us as Christians submitting to each other, in our homes, and in our marriages, in all of our relationships.
So today we want to begin thinking about the circumspect walk as it is described for us in verses 15 through 21. And of course we take that term from the statement of verse 15:
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.
Now the word “circumspect” is not one that we use in everyday conversation, so we need to think about the meaning of it; the implications of Paul’s use of this particular term. Let’s think for a moment about the perspective of the circumspect walk as we find it described in verses 15 through 17. The word “circumspect,” like many other English words, comes from the Latin translation of the scriptures, called the “Vulgate.” And the English word “circumspect” comes from two other Latin words, the word “circum” meaning “around,” and the word “specto,” meaning, “to look.” So it means “to look around.” In other words, one of the principles of the Christian life is that we walk “looking around” as we go. If you have been traveling by air lately you have probably heard an announcement through the public address system warning you to, among other things, be on the look-out for anything that might seem suspicious. In other words, “walk looking around” as you go through the airport. Now that is the idea of walking circumspectly. You know, there are so many ways we can “mess up” in the Christian life. It seems that no matter how hard we try, sometimes our old sin nature catches up with us and we slip into sin.
In the next chapter we are going to have a whole section devoted to the devil and his tactics. And if you don’t think he is actively trying to cause you to miss your step in the Christian walk, “you’ve got another think coming,” as my Dad used to say. This is a fact that we often overlook in our desire to avoid legalism. But make no mistake about it, the Bible says we are to walk with our eyes wide open. We are to go through the Christian life” looking around” at all of the things might cause us to fall into sin. Those who are recovering from various addictions know about this principle from another viewpoint. They have to be careful that they do not look at things that might cause them to fall into temptation.
So the implications of walking circumspectly are that we are to walk “looking around us,” that we walk in such a way as to avoid temptation that we walk with all the information we can get.
But there is another “implication” of circumspection, and that is that this phrase “see that you walk circumspectly” is written in a tense in the Greek that means “keep on walking circumspectly.” Or we might translate it loosely “make a habit of walking carefully, diligently, informedly”
But this is such an important principle that in verses 15, 16, and 17, God gives us three illustrations of circumspection. Notice that not only does this verse say “walk circumspectly,” it goes on to say “not as fools, but as wise.” And this is our first illustration. It is the illustration of building on the right foundation. Now what is a fool? Well there are a lot of suggestions about that, some serious and some funny. But in Matthew chapter 7, Jesus Himself told a little story that gives us God’s own definition of a fool. Let’s look at that illustration:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Now let’s think about this little story: First of all, notice that the focus of the story is “these sayings of mine.” In verse 24. In other words the Word of God. And, as always, the stress is not only on hearing the word of God, but doing it as well. Then look how Jesus illustrates that focus: It is the story of two houses, one on the beach and the other on an outcropping of rock. And as we look at these two houses they might look very much the same. The men built the houses and nothing seems to be wrong at first. But then came one of those sudden storms that so often came up in the area of the Sea of Galilee . And that’s where the difference showed up. As we would expect, the house on the rock stood firm and the one built on the sand fell flat. It may be that Paul had this very story in mind when he writes to the Ephesians “walk …not as fools but as wise.” And what is the wise walker? Obviously, the one who builds on the foundation of the Word of God. Think carefully here: you will never be able to walk circumspectly, to walk wisely, to walk looking out for the attacks of Satan without basing that walk on the foundation of the Word of God. There is a great deal of teaching and practice among Christians today that looks real good. It draws big crowds, and it generates money, and sometimes famous people identify themselves with it. And we might think, “What’s wrong with us? We’re not getting that kind of results.” But the fact is that some of the fastest growing religious groups in the world today are absolutely in opposition to the Word of God. And the day will come when that will all be shown up for what it is.
But let’s bring that down on a smaller scale. Let’s be very frank for a moment. It is easy to put on a good front. To look good from the outside. That house built on the sand didn’t look any different from the outside than the one built on the rock. But sooner or later the storm comes. And those storms can take different forms. It may be a storm of disappointment with people, or a storm of financial difficulty, or marital problems, or trouble with your children, or a boss who just doesn’t really understand ho great you really are.
And listen, if you do not have the instruction of the Word of God, if you do not have the perspective of the Word of God, if you do not have the comfort of the Word of God, your house will collapse in that kind of storm. Very often that storm will be in the form of temptation to sin. Many of us, if we were willing to be truthful, would have to admit that we have done things that we never would have thought we would do as a result of temptation. But the house that withstands those storms is the house that is built on the rock of the Word of God.
But there is a second illustration here, and that is buying up opportunities in verse 16 Look at it:
Redeeming the time because the days are evil.
The word “redeeming” is a translation of the Greek word exagaradzo, which means “buying up.”
This is the word that is sometimes used to refer to buying a slave and then setting him free. And so, of course it is often used in the context of describing our salvation. But as you can see, it is used in a different way here. How do we “redeem time?” Well, we use a similar term in our secular lives. Sometimes a businessman doesn’t have something ready for an important meeting so he will buy some time by telling his secretary to make an excuse for him. Or he will get the meeting postponed or something. Most students are experts at buying time. This word exagaradzo is also found in Galatians 6:10, where it is translated with the word “opportunity.” So what this verse is talking about is using whatever opportunities we have for God’s purposes in our lives.
Now we are talking wisely,” remember? Walking circumspectly. So what does it mean to “redeem the time?” Well, the second phrase of the verse helps us understand a little better. Notice that that second phrase says “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” One of the characteristics of our time is the “busyness of our lives. Now some of that busyness is all right. But a great deal of it is evil, or leads to evil. In the frantic search for happiness in our society along with our economic prosperity, there are many opportunities for temptation and sin. And along with this the New Testament reminds us that “evil men and seducers” will become more and more numerous. And we can easily see that happening in our society. It sometimes seems that our whole society is anti-Christ and anti-Christian. And Paul is saying to us as he said to the Ephesians, “be very careful how you use your time, because you live in a day that is, at its foundation, evil. In addition to that, in the scope of eternity is so brief. James says in his letter, “what is your life? It is only a vapor that vanishes.” Someone else has pointed out that if were to let the Empire State Building represent the whole span of human existence, your life would be equal to a sheet of typing paper lying horizontally on top of it. And beyond that, and much more importantly, remember the old saying, “only one life ‘twill soon be passed, only what’s done for Christ will last.” On a personal note, it was a chapel message on this very subject at Bob Jones University during my college years that brought conviction to my heart and formed my call to the ministry.
Let me ask you something: what have you done during the past week that will last for eternity? Have you spoken to someone about Christ? Have you lived in such a way that someone might be “infected” with Christianity? Have you spent any time reading God’s Word or praying? Certainly much of our time is spoken for just with the necessities of life. And God knows that, but even at that there are ways that some of that time might be “redeemed.” Thankfully, in many areas of our country there are Christian radio stations that carry many good Bible teaching programs and spiritual music and those kinds of things, which can be heard in the car as you drive, or as you do housekeeping tasks, and so forth.
This message is basically designed for the instruction of Christians, but there is a sense in which it applies to those who do not yet know Him as Savior. It is vital that you understand that you may only have a short amount of time left in your lifetime in which to accept the fact that Jesus Christ died a terrible death to pay for the sins that you have committed. In fact, He died with you in mind. Because He was a human being he could die for human sin and because He was at the same time God, he could die for the sins of all humanity.
If you have never done so before, won’t you accept the gift of forgiveness of your sins that His death provided as payment for your sins? God signified His acceptance of that payment by raising Christ from the dead three days later. Simply tell God in your own words that you realize that you are a sinner and that you believe that His payment for that sin will satisfy the demands of a holy and just God. Do that right now, won’t you, while you still have time.