Automaker Henry Ford asked electrical genius Charlie Steinmetz to build the generators for his factory. One day the generators ground to a halt, and the repairmen couldn’t find the problem. So Ford called Steinmetz, who tinkered with the machines for a few hours and then threw the switch.
The generators whirred to life–but Ford got a bill for $10,000 from Steinmetz. Flabbergasted, the rather tightfisted car maker inquired why the bill was so high. Steinmetz’s reply: For tinkering with the generators, $10. For knowing where to tinker, $9,990.
Ford paid the bill.
Wisdom, knowledge and understanding are priceless commodities.
When Solomon became king, he was quite young, and so one night, overwhelmed by his lack of experience and understanding, he cried out to God for wisdom.
God was so pleased by such a request, He gave to Solomon not only wisdom, but also wealth and honor (1 Kings 3:1-13).
And the Bible remembers Solomon as the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 4:30).
He became rich. Israel become rich. His period became the golden age of Israel. Nobody was lacking anything. There was peace and wealth.
All because of the wisdom of one man.
Of course, His wisdom came from God who is the source of all wisdom. The whole book of Proverbs tells us the value and source of wisdom, but Proverbs 3:13-26 tells us that the wisdom which comes from God is better than silver, gold or rubies.
With it come long life, riches, and honor. The life characterized by wisdom is pleasant and full of peace and safety.
Wisdom should be the goal of every person on earth. Solomon tells us to get wisdom and understanding even if it costs us all we have (Prov 4:7).
Do you long for wisdom? Do want wisdom above all things?
I do. I look back at my life, and realize that there have been some terrible mistakes that could have been avoided if I had only had a little more wisdom. Of course, hopefully, I’ve learned from those mistakes, and so will not make similar one’s in the future.
But I’ve often wondered. Aren’t there ways to gain wisdom without having to learn it the hard and painful way? Aren’t there ways to know how to avoid the mistakes?
Well, I’m here to tell you today that there is. If you want wisdom, we are told how today in Ephesians 5:15-17.
In Ephesians 5, Paul instructions Christians to walk in light of everything they have been given in Jesus Christ. We saw in Ephesians 5:1-6 that we need to walk in love. In Ephesians 5:7-14, we saw that we need to walk in light.
The final instruction on how to walk begins in Ephesians 5:15 and goes all the way to the middle of chapter 6, and the command is this: “Walk carefully.”
Rather than try to cover the rest of Ephesians 5 and half of Ephesians 6, we are just going to talk about the first aspect of walking carefully: how to be wise—how to know what God’s will is. We will see this by looking at Ephesians 5:15-17.
Ephesians 5:15. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,
In these verses Paul commands us to walk circumspectly. This is the final way in Ephesians to walk as Christians.
To walk circumspectly means to walk carefully or to walk accurately. When you walk carefully, you look all around before we take a step. It is how you walk when you’re in a barnyard, you don’t want to step on anything left behind by cows or horses.
It is how you walk when you are barefoot and walking in a construction area. You don’t want to step on any nails or get any splinters.
It’s how you walk in your garden. You don’t want to step on any vegetables.
Walking circumspectly in this world is similar to these. We need to walk carefully and be attentive because there are pitfalls all around us.
Paul tells us next in Ephesians 5:15 how to walk circumspectly.
We walk circumspectly, according to Ephesians 5:15 by walking not as fools but as wise.
In the Greek, these two words fools and wise use the same root words; one is just negated. The Greek word is sophos (adj) or sophia (n), and means wisely or wisdom. In Greek, like in English, you can negate some words by adding a certain prefix.
In English we have unity, and disunity. There are things which are moral, and things which are amoral, and even things which are immoral. We live in time so we are temporal, but anything outside of time is atemporal.
Paul does the same thing here with wisdom. He says to walk circumspectly, not asophoi but sophoi. Not unwisely, but wisely. Not as fools but as wise.
This is a great contrast in Scripture. Let me talk briefly about each. When we read Scripture—especially the book of Proverbs—about the character of a fool, we discover one overriding quality.
A fool is one who is primarily governed by his or her feelings. Why do they do what they do? Well, because they felt like it. Fools cannot give reasons for why they behave as they do.
Even in church services we see this. Why do some people attend certain churches? Well, because it makes them feel good. They want “happiness and enjoyment. They want to have a good time, as they call it, to get excited, to work themselves up by singing hymns and songs and choruses, and to keep on repeating and repeating until they are in a state of mental intoxication. They do not want to be made to think. Life is hard enough as it is, they say, without having to struggle with this thought, and that, so let us have more singing and less preaching and so on. Feelings!”
Sometimes, on the other hand, fools are governed by their zeal. Now we sometimes assume that simply because a person is zealous, that they have a lot of excitement and energy to serve the Lord, that they must be right.
But zeal does not make one right. In fact, one can be zealous and very, very wrong. Most of the mistakes Christianity has made in history is due to misplaced zeal. A zealous Christian can be a very foolish Christian.
So, if these are examples of foolishness, what does it mean to be wise? Paul says, don’t be fools, but be wise. What does it mean to be wise?
I think sometimes people confuse intellect and wisdom. They think that since they are not very smart, or don’t have a high IQ, they are not very wise. But wisdom and intellect are not really connected. For sure, someone who is smart can be wise, but someone can also be wise who is not very smart. And I have found that quite frequently, an accumulation of knowledge can sometimes get in the way of wisdom.
When Paul calls us to not be fools, but to be wise, his call is not really for us to get more knowledge, but simply to use the knowledge we have. Gaining knowledge is not wrong—and in fact it is something we should strive for—but it is useless if we don’t apply it. Those who are wise use whatever knowledge they have.
Do you want to know what makes someone wise? “A wise man is a man who always thinks. He does not act merely on the basis of instinct, or impulse or desire. No, he is a man who insists upon thought and reason and meditation.”
When confronted with a problem, they don’t make snap judgements, but they look at every aspect of the situation. They hear all sides of the story. They think about it. Pray about it. He examines all the evidence from all angles. He listens, and then listens some more. He gathers data.
And then, when he has done all the learning and gathering that he can, and after he has consulted the principles found in Scripture, he makes a decision, and lives by it. When a wise man speaks, you know that it is a result of careful thought and that all would do well to listen.
That is wisdom. That is the crucial element to walking carefully in this world.
But maybe all this thinking doesn’t appeal to you. Sounds like too much work, you say. Well, there is a reason for it.
Next in Ephesians 5:16 Paul wants to tell us why we should walk carefully.
Ephesians 5:16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
How do we walk carefully? By being wise.
Why do we walk carefully? Because the days are evil.
This verse is probably an allusion to Psalm 90:12 which is a prayer for God to help us number our days so that we may be wise. Paul says something similar here when he tells us that walking wisely allows us to redeem the time.
What does this mean? What is redeeming the time? The word means to make the most of, or to use time wisely. It also has the idea of urgency. There is an urgency in life. Time is important, and it should not be thrown lightly away.
Time is a commodity just like money. When we want to make the most of our money, we shop around. We look for bargains. We spend our money only on what is necessary. We spend our money only on what is quality.
My wife tells me that when she was a child, she used to go to rummage sales with her parents. Every Saturday, Wendy and her two brothers would each get a quarter to spend at any rummage sale in whatever way they wanted. And you can bet that they were very careful and very selective in what they spent their money on.
Well, whether we realize it or not, our time is similar, except that we are constantly spending it. Your minutes do not roll over into next month. Once a minute is gone, it is gone.
Earl Radmacher provides this illustration:
Imagine you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,400 that carried over no balance from day to day and allowed you to keep no cash in your account and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you had failed to use during the day.
What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course.
Well, you have such a bank, and its name is “Time.” Every morning it credits you will 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose.
It carries over no balance. It allows no overdrafts. Each day it opens a new account with you. Each night it burns the records of the day.
If you fail to use the day’s deposits the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing on tomorrow. You must live in the present—on today’s deposits.
That is what it means to be redeeming the time. It means to invest it wisely. To use it wisely. To make every second count.
Take an inventory some week of how you use your time. Carry a notebook around and every half hour or so, jot down what you spend that time doing.
It will be eye-opening.
You might discover too much time spent sleeping—or too much time at work. Too much time at television—or, here’s a shocker—too little time watching television—yes we need to relax occasionally.
I can’t tell you what you will find because it’s different for everybody. The point is that we must be very careful how we spend the limited amount of time we have.
The question though is why? Paul tells us here to redeem the time—but why? What does it matter if I waste an hour or so? There’s plenty of time to spare, right?
Well, Paul gives an answer to this question at the end of Ephesians 5:16. We should redeem the time because the days are evil.
What does Paul mean? Well, remember the context. Paul has briefly mentioned in Ephesians 5:1-14 some of the unloving and dark things that the world is involved in.
If we are not careful with how we spend our time, we will get swept up and carried away with this evil.
If you do not watch what you spend your time doing, you will soon be doing what is evil.
How does the saying go? Idle hands are the devil’s workshop?
But here’s the problem. Sometimes we don’t know how best to use our time. We want to redeem the time, we just don’t know how. We don’t want to join in evil, but sometimes we are unsure how to know what we should be doing, and are unsure how best to redeem the time.
So let me ask you. What do you think is the best use of your time?
Now some of you may be thinking, “Oh well, since the pastor is talking, I know what he thinks the best use of my time would be. He wants me to always be reading the Bible and praying. That would be the best use of my time.”
Well guess what? I do not think that is always the best way to use your time. I think that sometimes, the best use of your time may be to watch a movie or a television show. I think that sometimes, the best use of your time may be to read a novel or a book of fiction. Or to go work out, play a sport, or play a game. Sometimes, the best use of your time is to lay down and sleep.
When you are redeeming the time, it just means that you know what your priorities are, and how best to use your time. And sometimes, your time is best spent doing some sort of activity which you find to be relaxing—whether it’s fishing or hunting, watching a television show, reading a novel or whatever.
Doing these things will help you be more productive when you go to work, will help you learn more when you open your Bible, will help you focus more when you come before God in prayer.
Reading our Bibles and praying are vitally important, but it is entirely possible to spend too much time reading the Bible and praying so that you ignore what God actually wants you to be doing with some of your time.
Of course, this isn’t most people’s problem. According to recent statistics, the average person spends 35 hours a week watching television. That’s five hours a day.
Just think what would happen if Christians spent just one of those hours reading the Bible, or loving and serving other people?
Knowing how to spend your time is key to redeeming the time. Redeeming the time means that you know what your top priorities are, and how to balance them adequately.
The top priorities in life are God, family, friends, work, and self. Those are the five main spheres of life, and to be balanced, we must operate within all of them at times, not neglecting any, and we must be able to discern which are given priority at different times.
You need to know when you need time with God, when you need time with your family, when you need time to hang out with others, when you need to work, and when you need time for yourself.
We need to do this, according to the end of Ephesians 5:16, because the days are evil. Periods in history which are evil are those where all the priorities have been completely messed up.
Most often, days become evil when people place too much of an emphasis on self. I think this is a big one here in Whitefish. Many people are here just for the recreational activities. They hunt or fish at the expense of God and family. Hunting and fishing are not evil in and of themselves, they are wonderful activities. But they become evil if we neglect God and family to do them.
We all know people who place work as too much of a priority. They are always chasing that next raise, or that next promotion. They work 70 or 80 hours a week. Too much emphasis on work has made the days evil for them.
The days are evil when these five areas of life become all mixed up. When people fail to redeem the time properly.
So here’s the question: How are we to know which of the five areas should be priority, and when they should be priority? I don’t think it’s as easy as slicing up the twenty-four hours of the day, and saying “Well, 7 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, 1 hour for self, 3 hours for family, 1 hour for devotions, 1 hour for church,” etc.
No, I don’t think it’s that easy. When it comes to walking wisely and redeeming the time, I don’t think there are any set formulas. So how do we know when to do what?
Well, that is what Paul wants to tell us in Ephesians 5:17. Paul tells us how to become wise in such matters. How to walk wisely in this world. How to walk circumspectly. How to know when to do what.
Understand the Will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:17)
Ephesians 5:17. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Paul is elaborating on what he said in Ephesians 5:15. If you want correct priorities so that you can wisely redeem the time, you need understand what the will of the Lord is.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to help very much, right? I mean, we are asking Paul, “How can I walk wisely? How can we redeem the time?” And his answer is, “Know God’s will.”
To many of us, this sort of answer doesn’t seem to help very much.
It’s like a story I read about a young man who became the president of a large corporation at a young age. He wanted to get a good start at leading the company, so he met a wise and older man who had been the president of a different company for years—and had been very successful.
When they met, the young man said, “Sir, as you know, I lack many of the qualifications necessary for such a job. But I am president now, and so I am wondering if you would be kind enough to share with me some of the insights you have learned over the years which have been keys to your success.”
The older man stared at him for a while and then said simply, “You need to make good decisions.”
This didn’t help much, so the younger man replied, “Thank you very much sir. But that is not really very helpful to someone in my position. How do I know when I’ve made a good decision or not?”
This time the older man replied, “You need the wisdom that comes with experience.”
Exasperated by now, the young man said, “That’s exactly why I came to you. I don’t have the experience or the wisdom that comes with it. Aren’t there any ways I can get it?”
“Yes,” replied the old man. “You gain wisdom and experience by learning from bad decisions.”
At first glance, this seems to be what Paul is saying. Do you want to be wise? Well then, you need to know what the will of God is.
And we say, “But how can we know the will of God?”
But this is only a dilemma we struggle with today. In Paul’s day, I don’t think they had this question. There weren’t people wandering around wondering what God’s will for their life was. They had ways of knowing what God’s will was.
Maybe if you know your Old Testament, or if you attended our Home Group Bible study last spring, you are thinking of the Urim and Thummim. This was a way they had to discover and discern God’s will.
Urim means “lights” and Thummim means “perfection.” Apparently, they were two stones of some sort, which, when asked a question by a priest, would light up or flash in some sort of way to give God’s answer to the question.
And we all think that would be nice to have today in order to know God’s will. But guess what? Paul didn’t have the Urim and Thummim in his day—they disappeared long before he was born, and nobody knows what happened to them.
But he did have a tool for knowing God’s will which was better than the Urim and Thummim … and we have it to. This tool can be discovered by changing only one letter in Urim and Thummim.
Do you want to know what it is? Take the “r” in Urim and change it to an “s” then, take the pages of your Bible and Usim and Thummim.
Knowing God’s will is not more difficult than that. God’s will is not hidden and elusive. He is not hiding it from us. He has made it as plain as day if we will simply read and obey.
Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Pick up the Bible and read it!
That is what Paul did. That is what the early Christians did. That is what we too should do if we want to know God’s will.
A well-known pastor and author from California wrote a little book called, Found: God’s Will. In it, he says the following: “As believers … if we do not know God’s will, what are we? Uninformed? No. Searching? No. We are stupid.”
That’s a blunt statement, but he goes on to point out that this is exactly what Paul is saying here in Ephesians 5:17. Do you see that word unwise (or foolish) there at the beginning of Ephesians 5:17? It is a much stronger and more derogatory term than the word fools (or unwise) in Ephesians 5:16.
Here the Greek word is aphrones. It means ignorant, totally senseless, unlearned, foolish. Probably the closest word in English because of its derogatory nature would be … stupid.
Paul is saying here, “Come on people! Don’t be stupid. Understand what God’s will is.” And he doesn’t elaborate in Ephesians 5:17 on how, because he knows that they know—and now you know—that the primary way to know God’s will is to read and study and obey the Bible.
I get quite upset at some Christians and some churches who make a huge deal out of seeking God’s will through supernatural and mystical encounters. They have prophecy conferences, and seminars on how to speak in tongues, and books on how to hear God’s still small voice, and training courses to know God’s secret will.
And all the while, they are ignoring what God has already set out for them in black and white—as plain as day—in the Bible!
I’m not saying God can’t work through these other things, and I’m not saying He doesn’t. All I am saying is that why would He when there is more than enough of God’s will for us to live up to within these pages.
I tend to think that God will not give us more revelation until we have lived up to the revelation He has already provided. God will not reveal more of His will until we obey what He has already revealed in the Bible!
To do otherwise is to be foolish, not wise.
Usually, when we think about knowing the will of God, we have in mind His will about what we think of as the “important” decisions in life—like who we should marry, or what we should do for a career. This is not what the text is about.
When Paul calls us here to understand God’s will, he is concerned with how we live our everyday, normal, moment by moment, day in and day out lives. “Perhaps we would not have so much trouble in finding God’s will for important decisions if we were more accustomed to discerning his will throughout life.”
Do you remember the story of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7. The foolish man built his house upon the sand, and the wise man built his house upon the rock.
When the storm came, the foolish man’s house fell down, but the house of the wise man stood firm. We all remember the story because we have all sang the song.
But have you ever stopped to wonder what the difference is between the wise man and the foolish man? Do you know that distinguishes one from the other?
Most people think that what makes the wise man different from the foolish man is that the wise man has God’s Word and the foolish man doesn’t.
But you want to know what? If you go back and read the story in Matthew 7, you will discover that both builders have the Word of God. Both builders have the Bible. And it appears that both builders read the Bible and hear God’s Word!
But only the wise man obeys. Only the wise man does what God says. Both have the Bible. Both read the Bible, but only one obeys the will of God as revealed within the Bible.
Paul, here in Ephesians 5:15-17 is telling us exactly the same thing. He is saying, don’t be foolish. Be wise. Walk wisely. How? By understanding what the will of the Lord is, and doing it.
Do you get into God’s Word daily to find out what His will is for your life? And then, when you have found it, do you obey it? Only when you do these things will you be walking wisely.
You want to be wise, don’t you? Get into Scripture and let God teach you what He wants you to know.
Harry Ironside was one of the greatest pastors and Bible teachers of the previous century. Early in his preaching and teaching career, while he was still a young man, he heard of a old saint named Andrew Fraser who lived out among the olive trees in California who knew the Scriptures forward and backward and was widely known to be a great man of God.
So Harry decided to go visit him. When Harry reached Mr. Fraser’s tent and introduced himself, the young man told his host that he was trying to preach the gospel and teach the Word.
“Well,” said Mr. Fraser, “sit down for a while and let’s talk together about the Word of God.” He then opened his much-worn Bible and for some time, until his strength was about gone, earnestly presented truth after truth of the precious Word of God, turning from one passage to another. He did this in so simple and so sweet a manner that young Ironside entered into these truths in a way that he had never done before. Tears began running down the cheeks of the young preacher.
“Where did you get these things?” he asked. “Can you tell me where I can find a book that will open such wonderful truths to me? Did you learn these things in seminary?”
He waited for Mr. Fraser’s answer, which he never forgot, “My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the colleges or seminaries in the world.”
Do you want God to teach you? Do you want to become wise? Then redeem the time, because the days are evil, and by understanding from Scripture what the will of the Lord is.
Endnotes on Ephesians 5:15-17
 Today in the Word, MBI, April, 1990, p. 27.
 Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light, 428.
 Ibid, 432.
 John MacArthur, Found: God’s Will (Colorado Springs; Chariot Victor, 1973), 16.
 Snodgrass, 308.