35: Understanding the Lord’s Will (Eph 5:17)

Lesson 35: “Understanding the Will of God”

Ephesians 5:17

Hebrews 11:17-19

One of the things that many Christians have trouble understanding is why, when they or someone close to them are doing what they believe is God’s will, do they have problems and testing and disappointment? Maybe they believe that God has called them to the mission field, but they just cannot seem to raise their support. Or perhaps they are serving the Lord in some secular position, accomplishing a great witness for Him, and then they lose their job. Or perhaps a serious illness comes into the life of someone who is sincerely trying to do what honors Him. And when such a thing happens to us, or we hear about it happening to someone else, we say to ourselves or to others, “how could this happen to me?” I thought I was doing God’s will, I thought I was doing what He wanted me to do, I just don’t understand.” Why does God put people in such situations? Well, let me just put it this way: “I don’t know.” But in the passage to which we now come in our study of the book of Ephesians, there is a principle that at least helps us deal with those kinds of situations. Look at verse 17 of Ephesians chapter 5:

“Do not be unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”

If you have been following this series of studies you may remember that that verse comes as in the middle section of the chapter, which I am calling by way of outline, the circumspect walk in verses 15 through 21. Paul is talking about the way we as Christians should live.  In verses 1 through 14 he said that we should walk as children of light.” So we are referring to this as the childlike walk. And then in this second part of the chapter, which we talked about in our previous lesson we talked about the circumspect walk. And then in the third part of the chapter, verses 22 through 32, will deal with the cooperative walk; the fact that we as Christians are to be submissive to each other.

In our previous study as I said, we talked about the circumspect walk. And we saw two principles for that circumspect walk. The first principle is to build on the right foundation –the foundation of the Word of God.

A second principle of the circumspect walk is what Paul calls “buying up opportunities” to bring people to know Christ. We talked about those verses in some detail in our last study so we won’t go over them again here. But today in verse 17 we continue with the third principle of the circumspect walk, and that is bringing knowledge together. Look at verse 17 again:

“Do not be unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”

Notice that word “understanding” it is a translation of a unique Greek word, one which is hard to translate clearly into English. It is the word “suneimi” It is translated in other places with the word “consider” and the words “be wise.” It is a word that basically means to put facts together, consider them and draw a conclusion.” It can also be translated with the word “accounting.” It is actually one of the words from which we get our English word “summarize.” So we might call this third principle of the circumspect walk, “bringing knowledge together.

Look at it again:

Therefore, be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.

Now at his point you may be wondering why I would summarize verse 17 in this way. I am indebted to the late Dr. S.Lewis Johnson, one of my professors at Dallas theological Seminary for much of the material in this study of Ephesians, and he is the one who came up with this wording, because that is exactly what the word suneimi means. It is a word that describes taking various principles or experiences, combining them and drawing a conclusion.

I wonder if there is someone who is reading these pages today who is facing a situation that seems impossible, or perplexing; something that just doesn’t seem to fit the way God usually does things; the way you thought he had promised to do things. And yet He doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. If that is your situation, there are several similar situations described in the scripture. Because of time and space limitations

I will relate just one of them. It is a very significant story from the Scripture; one with which you are probably familiar. It is found in Hebrews chapter 11, the well known “faith chapter” In it are contained many stories of great accomplishments for God mostly by people who were anonymous, but some who were famous. But down in verses 17 through 19 we read about a situation that I think most of us would consider impossible.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son . . . (18) of whom it was said, in Isaac your seed shall be called.” (19) Accounting that God was able to raise him from the dead, from which he had received him in a figurative sense.

You remember the story: after many years of childlessness God had given Abraham and Sarah a son miraculously – when they were their nineties.

And God had repeatedly told Abraham that through this son “He would make him the father of many nations.” By now the boy was nearly grown, probably in his late teens. And then Abraham was told by God to take him out to the mountaintop and sacrifice him!  Now that was an amazing command when you think about it. It must have flabbergasted Abraham. It was unlike anything God had ever told him to do before; contrary, when you think about it, to God’s very nature.

But to get the full flavor of the story we have to go back to the original version in Genesis 22 and see how Abraham complied. There is a relatively unknown literary device known as polysyndeton, which is the close repetition of conjunctions to show immediacy or quick compliance. And this device is often used in Hebrew poetry. And Genesis 22 is one of the best examples of it. Look at Genesis 22, beginning with verse 3:

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and he split the wood for a burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him . . .”

The story goes on from there along the same lines, but you get the point. “Immediate,” we might even say “enthusiastic” response from Abraham. How did Abraham do that? Remember, Abraham had never heard this story in Sunday school. He didn’t know how it would turn out. But he almost ran to comply. How did he do it?  Well, we have to go back to Hebrews chapter 11 to get the answer to that. But look at verse 19:


Concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead from which he had received him in a figuratively sense.

The first word of this verse is the word that we’ve been working with throughout this study. It is a form of our word “suneimei” – to put things together and draw a conclusion.” In fact the King James Version uses a word that is perhaps even better. It says “accounting” that God was able to raise him from the dead.” How did Abraham do what he did? Well, he probably thought back over God’s dealings with him in the past. And you know, God had asked him to do some other difficult things in the past. They didn’t compare with this, but they were big requests at they time they were made. Way back in Genesis chapter 12, probably 60 years before this, God had said, “I want you to leave your country and go to a place that I will show you.” He didn’t tell him where, He just said “go.”

Abraham’s story is special to me for a lot of reasons, but the one that is closest to my heart is that all of my maternal uncles and aunts spent their entire adult lives as missionaries to foreign countries. They went to Africa and Central America and Cuba in the days when you couldn’t get there by flying. They came home only every four years. They went into countries of a completely different culture and customs, learned new languages and all because they thought God was telling them to do it. But at least they had a particular country in mind. And they knew something about the needs of the country and what they would be doing when they got there.

But Abraham didn’t know any of that. He just said, “I’ll go.” Now as Abraham got ready to sacrifice his son, I think that he must have thought back over God’s dealings with him in the past. He thought about that first call of God and he remembered how God had been faithful to him in that experience. And then he probably remembered the time when God had told him to separate from Lot, his nephew. And Abraham loved Lot, and really didn’t want to do that, but he obeyed God, and God was faithful to him, and he saw how it was the best thing to have done, eventually. And he remembered other things that God had told him to do and then demonstrated himself faithful as a result. Of course the biggest test had been the birth of this boy in the first place. That had been tough. Abraham had even thought that he had to “help” God at one point, and Ishmael was born from that fiasco. But God had said, “No, Abraham I am going to give you a son through Sarah.” And the writer of Hebrews reminds us of this verse 18, when he says, “Of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” And Abraham thought back over all of that; he thought about all the times God had been faithful to His promises. He thought how Isaac had been born when it was physically impossible for him and Sarah to have children; he “brought his knowledge about God together,” and he came to a conclusion. And what was that conclusion? That God was able to raise Isaac up from the dead! Notice carefully: the text doesn’t say that God would raise him from the dead, but that He was able to do it.

Abraham didn’t hesitate to do what God had told him to do because he knew that God could take care of this unbelievably difficult situation. Now here is something significant: God didn’t do what Abraham expected; he did something even better! At the very last moment He provided a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And there was the animal for the sacrifice instead of Isaac. Oh, it would have been great if God had raised Isaac from the dead, it would have solved the problem, and it would have been impressive. But do you think that Abraham would have ever gotten over the memory of plunging that knife into Isaac’s chest? Don’t you think that Abraham would have lived the rest of his life remembering the look on Isaac’s face as he realized that his father actually was going to kill him?

My point is this: God may not do whatever it is that you “conclude” that He is going to do. But if He doesn’t He will do something even better. Now it may not be as quick as Abraham’s situation was. One of the difficult things about the Christian life is living on God’s timetable instead of our own. But think carefully about this; a major part of the Christian life is “understanding what the will of God is. This thing hasn’t caught Him by surprise. It isn’t something that has “slipped by him.” He has a purpose in it. And your part for right now is just to “bring knowledge together” about Him and His ways.

And that brings us right back to our verse here in Ephesians 5:17

Therefore, be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.

Now think carefully, it did not say knowing what the will of the Lord is; it says understanding what the will of the Lord is.

And there is a world of difference! It is important know what God’s will is. But it is even more important, in a way, to understand God’s will. What Paul is saying here is that we need to understand the way God’s will works. I love to work crossword puzzles. And one of the things that interests me is the way a  letter in a block somewhere looks like it couldn’t possibly be in the right place. But as the puzzle boxes start to fill up it becomes obvious that the puzzle couldn’t have been solved without that one piece fitting together in their proper places.

As we conclude, let me paraphrase Ephesians 5:17 this way: Therefore, be not unwise but understand how the will of the Lord works.

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