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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:As you face a new year in Christ, resolve to walk wisely and not foolishly
Text:Ephesians 5:15-17 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2014
Added:2015-12-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2014 Book of Praise

Hymn 54

Psalm 25:1-2

Psalm 101:1-3

Hymn 64 (confession of faith)

Hymn 67

Scripture reading:  Ephesians 5:1-21

Text:  Ephesians 5:15-17

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

A new year is almost upon us.  Many people around this time make resolutions.  People often resolve to quit bad habits or make other changes in their lives.  Perhaps some of you have your resolutions for _____ [the new year] too. 

There are several places in the Bible where we read about believers making resolutions.  In Daniel 1, Daniel resolved that he would not eat the king’s food.  In Matthew 1, Joseph made a resolution to divorce Mary quietly – of course, we know that he had to break that resolution.  In Acts 19, Paul resolved to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and then go on to Jerusalem.  And in 1 Corinthians 2, we read that Paul decided (ESV) or resolved (NIV) to know nothing amongst the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 

So the practice of making resolutions, being resolved to do something, is found in the Bible.  However, we don’t find anyone making new year’s resolutions.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t do it.  In fact, if our resolutions are in line with God’s Word, there’s nothing wrong with it at all.  It could be beneficial.

As we enter into ______ in a few short hours, our text offers up a solid resolution for each one of us.  Because it’s God Word, it’s not optional.  God calls each one of us to make this resolution, not only for ______, but for always.  So I preach to you God’s Word this evening:

As you face a new year in Christ, resolve to walk wisely and not foolishly

We’ll see that this involves both:

  1. Understanding the nature of our age – and acting accordingly
  2. Understanding the will of the Lord – and acting accordingly

Scripture is clear that union with Christ must result in certain behaviours, desires, and attitudes being cast off.  When Scripture teaches that, it’s not about measuring up for God or doing our part for salvation.  Instead, that’s about the fruit of our salvation, a salvation we have entirely by grace in Jesus Christ alone.  We must put our trust in Christ alone for our salvation – never, ever thinking that our feeble efforts at Christian living might be a substitute for Jesus.  We need his perfect obedience in our place, we need his sacrifice on the cross, and we need him raised up to heaven as our Mediator.  In other words, we need the gospel and there is no substitute for it.

We need to hear that again this evening because our text is about sanctification – about the process of being conformed to the image of Christ.  This passage is about how the gospel bears fruit in the lives of the redeemed.  We don’t want to approach this passage taking the gospel for granted.  It can be really easy to do that if you take this text all by itself on a special occasion like New Year’s Eve.

The way to avoid that is by noting briefly the context.  Ephesians begins with our unconditional election in Christ.  Paul teaches that we have been chosen from before the creation of the world, not because we were holy, but to be holy.  Believers are chosen, not because of anything in them, but because of God’s grace in Christ.  Chapter 2 goes further and notes that we were once dead in trespasses and sins (verse 1), but God made us alive together with Christ (verse 5).  In chapter 3, Paul writes about “the mystery of the gospel.”  The mystery is the fact that the Gentiles have been graciously included in God’s plan of salvation.  The focus in the first three chapters is on the gospel, on what God has done, his grace.  Then when you get to chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul begins to shift gears and speak about sanctification, the transformation that takes place among those who have believed the gospel.   Ephesians 4:1, “I therefore a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”           

Here in Ephesians 5, the whole question of identity is crucial.  Just who are believers?  Look at Ephesians 5:8, “…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”  That’s about identity – who you are.  You are light in the Lord.  When you are in the Lord, one with him, united to him, you are light, not darkness.  Then what follows from that?  “Walk as children of light,” says verse 8.

As we get to our text, verse 15 carries on in the same line.  There’s an important little word right at the beginning of that verse.  It’s the third word, “then.”  You could also translate it, “therefore.”  We can’t overlook that word because it connects us to what came before.  What came before was not only the gospel of grace, but also a changed identity for believers in that gospel.  Believers in Christ are “light in the Lord.”  They are united to Christ, brought out of darkness and they now shine.  That’s the way things are in principle.

But sadly this doesn’t always get worked out in practice in the lives of believers.  It didn’t always get worked out in the lives of the Ephesians and doesn’t always in our lives either.  As believers, we can be tempted to walk unwisely and sometimes we give in to those temptations.  By the way, “to walk” here means “to live” or “to make this your way of life.”  Temptations are often present to live foolishly.  These temptations can come from outside of ourselves, from people around us, from the world of entertainment, from the Internet, whatever.  But these temptations can also come from within, from the remnants of our old nature.  We have to be aware of this constant temptation to pursue a way of life which would be foolish.  Look carefully, says Paul.  Be thoughtful and reflective about how you’re going to live as someone redeemed by grace and united to Christ.

Verse 16 speaks of one particular way to do that.  Paul says that his readers should know that the days are evil.  What does that mean?  “The days are evil,” means that believers live in an age where sin and wickedness are so prevalent all around us.  That was not only true for the Ephesians in the days of Paul; it remains true for us today.  John Calvin is worth quoting here.  He comments on this expression “the days are evil.”  This is what Calvin says, “Everything around us tends to corrupt and mislead; so that it is difficult for godly persons, who walk among so many thorns, to escape unhurt.  Such corruption having infected the age, the devil appears to have obtained tyrannical sway.”  “The days are evil” means that this age is still characterized by ungodliness and rebellion against God. 

If we look back at this past year, we certainly can say that the days have been evil.  There’s so much wickedness around us, so much lawlessness and iniquity.   Examples are easy to think of just from the daily news.  We hear about terrorism, crime in our community, poverty, disease, rebellion against God, and societal breakdown.  All of this and more reminds us that the days are indeed evil. 

Unless Christ should return, we will be saying the same thing about _____ in 365 days.  We can’t pretend that suddenly somehow mankind is going to engineer peace and goodness on the earth.  Scripture gives us no reason to have that view.  It’s not going to happen.  Instead, we can expect that the days will continue to be evil in _____.  There may be more terrorist attacks.  There may be more persecution of Christians in Canada and around the world.  Though we pray and work for legislation to stop the killing of unborn children, more will die in _____.  Other evils may beset us too.  In Calvin’s words, we can expect to continue walking among thorns. 

The wise believer sees this and acknowledges it.  The wise believer says, “Yes, the days have been evil and will continue to be until Christ returns.  But how am I going to live in view of that?”  The wise answer is at the beginning of verse 16:  “making the best use of the time.”  The NIV translates that “making the most of every opportunity” and the NKJV with the traditional “redeeming the time.”  What it means is that we are stewards of time.  God has given us whatever number of days here on this earth – an appointed and set time for each one of us.  If we are God’s children, united to Christ, then these days are seen as belonging to him.  The world sees time differently – worldly people see their days and time as being theirs, theirs to do whatever they want, and that will involve evil and wickedness.  The terrorist sees his time as the opportunity to kill and cause fear.  The abortionist sees his time as the opportunity to make money by taking unborn lives.  But the Christian sees time as a gift of God, a gift which is to be used for him and in his service.

Here again we need to think in terms of union with Christ.  As we consider our Saviour’s life on this earth, as we read about him in the gospels, we see him “making the best use of the time.”  His days were evil too, he lived in the same evil age that we do.  He took that time that had been allotted to him for his ministry and he fully capitalized on it, he made the most of it – he acted as the best possible steward of that time.  Loved ones, this is the Saviour to whom we’re united.  He is described by Paul elsewhere as the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30).  What he did with time was perfectly wise and godly.  If we’re united to him, we aim for the same.  We resolve to not foolishly waste our time with sin and wickedness like the world does.  In the verses following our text, Paul gives an example of a foolish waste of time:  drunkenness.  Also on New Year’s Eve that has no place in the life of a Christian – it’s a foolish waste of the time God gives on this earth.  Instead, as we face a new year we say, “Jesus is my Saviour.  I’m united to him and he used every moment of his time on this earth for the glory of God.  I want to do the same.  I don’t want to waste any more time with foolish pursuits.  I make this resolution.  And Father, because I can’t do it on my own, please help me to do that with your Holy Spirit.”                            

So you have to understand the nature of the age and act accordingly.  Our text also speaks of understanding the will of the Lord and acting accordingly.  We see that in verse 17.

Here we find out the real difference between foolishness and wisdom.  Wisdom is found in understanding the will of the Lord.  Now in Scripture “the will of the Lord” can have two different senses.  Sometimes the Bible speaks about “the will of the Lord” as his secret will – he decrees that certain things will happen and then you only know that it was his will after the fact.  But here in Ephesians 5:17, “the will of the Lord” is referring to his law.  This is speaking of how he wants us to think, speak, and act.  This is referring to God’s will as it pertains to our hearts and what we set our affections upon.  This is referring to our attitudes and desires.  “The will of the Lord” is his will for our lives as expressed in his Word. 

Loved ones, you see, wisdom comes from understanding the Word of God.  As Proverbs 1:7 says, fools despise wisdom and instruction.  But if you turn to God’s Word you’ll find that Proverbs 2:6 proves true, “the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”  When you’re a diligent student of Scripture, when you hunger for God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will be at work in your life.  The Spirit will work through the Word to give you the wisdom you need as a child of God – he will show you the will of God for your life.

Again, as believers we’re one with Christ, so what do we see as we look to him on this score?  He truly understood the will of the Lord and that was his wisdom.  Jesus knew God’s law inside out and he not only knew it and understood it with his mind, he loved it with his heart, and he consistently lived according to it.  That’s good news for our salvation because his obedience is imputed to us, but it’s also something that impacts our sanctification.  Christians will want to have Christ reflected in them by their understanding the will of God and acting accordingly, living in wisdom and holiness.  In fact, Jesus was quite adamant that if you thought otherwise, you really have no part in him.  He said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  It’s clear, isn’t it?  If you love Jesus, you will strive to understand the will of the Lord and have that impact everything in your life.       

So how do you get to know the will of the Lord so you can understand it and avoid being foolish?  It’s not complicated.  It may be difficult, but it’s not complicated.  You have to be busy with Scripture, where the Lord’s will can be found.  Let’s talk just about personal time with God’s Word this evening.  This is a time of new beginnings.  In a few hours the calendar flips over.  You have an opportunity to make a fresh start in _______.  Maybe ______ [this year about to end] wasn’t a good year for your personal Bible reading and study.  Maybe you were undisciplined and haphazard.  There were many days where you simply forgot and didn’t do it.  There were the days when you were too tired to do it or otherwise lacking in motivation.  I’ve been there too.  I want to urge you to make a fresh start tomorrow.  Find some plan -- just Google "Bible reading plan."  You need a plan – picking up your Bible occasionally and opening to random passages or your favourite passages is better than nothing, but it’s not sustainable and you’re missing out on large sections of God’s Word.  There could be Scriptures that your heart needs to hear in _____ – without a plan, you might miss those passages that could be instrumental in helping you grow in wisdom.  It would be like going to church just when you feel like it.  But when you have the discipline of regular church attendance, you have the blessing of regular application of God’s Word to your life.  It’s the same thing for disciplined personal Bible reading and study.  This is vitally important. 

Loved ones, knowing the will of the Lord is crucial if you’re going to walk wisely in the new year.  You will never know the will of the Lord apart from the Word of the Lord.  So I urge you this evening, if you’re going to make just one resolution this New Year’s, make it this:  to be a better student of Scripture so that you can grow in wisdom, growing in reflecting your Saviour.  Will you make that your resolution?  Will you resolve with me to walk wisely and not foolishly?   

Let me conclude this evening with these words from another letter of Paul.  This is from 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12:  “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  AMEN.

PRAYER:

O God our faithful and loving Father,

As we face this new year, we thank you for your Word.  Your Word has been a guide to us in ____, and we know that it will continue to be for _____.  Father, thank you for giving us your wisdom in Jesus Christ.  We thank you for all his perfections, his obedience, his sacrifice, also his present intercession on our behalf.  Thank you, Lord.  Father, your Word this evening has reminded us that we live in evil days.  The year gone by was filled with so many evidences of it.  Unless Christ returns, we anticipate that ____ will too.  As we live in union with Christ, please help us to see the time that you give and use it in a wise way.  We also pray for the help of your Spirit in understanding your will from your Word.  Please give us wisdom from the Scriptures.  But also please give us the desire, motivation and discipline to benefit from your Word.  As we look at this new year ahead, Father please lead us all closer to yourself.

Thank you for all the blessings we have received in ____.  You sustained our physical lives.  You brought us through injuries and sicknesses.  You gave supports and comforts that made our lives enjoyable, pleasant and bearable.  Every success we had came from your hand, every goal we attained was because of you.  You even gave us blessings that we couldn’t have expected.

Father, we also thank you for the ways you sustained us spiritually.  We think of our salvation and how you planned it before the foundation of the world.  We’re thankful for Christ who came in humility to live and die for us.  We praise you for the work of your Spirit in the year gone by.  His power and presence have made us able to understand your truth, to know your love, and to be showing Christ in us.  We thank you that we’ve had your Word in our lives.  It has been such a blessing.  We’re thankful for the ministry of your church too.  Father, thank you for your patience with us and all your Fatherly ways.   We have been so richly blessed by you in every way. 

Please continue to bless us and be near to us in all these ways in ____.  And we pray for the return of our Saviour – if it is your will, we pray for that to happen even in the coming days of this new year.  Please let him come quickly with the clouds of heaven so that the evil days may be over and a new age may begin.

As we go from here this evening, please keep us safe.  Please give us all a blessed time this evening as we bring in the new year and help us to do it in a joyful and yet godly way.  We pray through Christ Jesus our Lord, AMEN.                  

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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