“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.” Ephesians 5:15
Turns out, John Wayne was a prophet as well as an all-American hero. He reportedly said, “Life is hard, but it’s harder when you’re stupid.” As with many aphorisms, I don’t know if he actually said this or if it’s merely attributed to him, but it certainly suits The Duke. [As a kid, I wanted to be like John Wayne when I grew up, but only made it a little past Don Knotts]
Now I don’t recommend going around labeling anyone’s behavior as stupid. The word is too crass, but the sentiment certainly is true. Life can beat you up when you’re walking the straight and narrow, but you don’t need to invite the blows by living unwisely.
That’s the constant refrain of the biblical prophets and especially clear in the verse for this week’s GraceWaves. Paul often included a section in his letters that addressed practical, daily living, and that is the case in the last two chapters in Ephesians. Based on the deep and sound theology of the first part of his letter, how then should we live? The key is wisdom, literally a right thinking about life and how we should best live it. What does this mean for you this week?
First, we all need a regular reminder to be wise. I have done things in my life I’m not proud of. They hurt me and other people.
I can recall certain episodes from my teenage years when my dad would shake his head and say “I thought you had better sense than that.” He could have used the word “stupid,” and been right on the money. I was unwise.
I still have that ability and the growing record to prove it! So do you. But our shared stupidity underscores the remarkable nature of God’s grace. The fact that we have failed does not invalidate the wise lifestyle, and our shared hypocrisy does not mean we should not strive for the higher life in Christ. God loves us unconditionally, but in His love for us He will not leave us where He found us. He calls us to a higher life. Listen for that call.
Second, understand God’s intent for the wise life. God “tuned” us to operate best when we love Him, others, and ourselves. The Christian moral life described in the Bible is always in our spiritual and physical best interest. We have greater peace, bless others, and are generally physically healthier if we walk in the light.
The alignment of joy and moral conduct is the overlooked benefit of Christian life. Too often, people view God as prudish, unsmiling, a spoil-sport, and trying to keep us from having any “fun.” The exact opposite is true. God is joy. He is peace. And He is holy. He tries to steer us away from behavior that is harmful, to ourselves and others, as He tries to steer us to Him, and that is truly fun. I’ve known a great many people who knew how to have “fun” in a lower sense but certainly didn’t know how to have peace.
Don’t treat the moral life as unsophisticated and obsolete. The Creator understands His creations. Live wisely.
Third, don’t ever make the moral life the primary focus of your faith. Read carefully here, please, otherwise I risk being labeled a libertine. The moral life has some definite parameters, some do’s and don’ts, but if that is your primary aim then you risk descending into legalism and becoming terribly judgmental. You become “good” in the very worst sense of the word.
Paul is our best illustration. In Philippians he wrote that he was blameless under the law. I don’t think this was an idle boast. Paul knew how to obey rules. He was scrupulous, i.e. full of scruples, but he lacked love.
His life in Christ changed him. God brought him deeply into the heart of grace so that Paul still conformed to a higher standard, but for an entirely different reason. It was an expression of gratitude and love. It was a longing to be like God who resided within Him, not a desperate attempt to impress God or other people.
So take a careful look at how you walk this week. Live wisely, pilgrim.
Dr. Terry Ellis
March 15, 2015