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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Wise and Thankful
Text:Ephesians 5:15-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 100:1,2,3,4                                                                        

Ps 111:1,5                                                                                                      

Reading – Ephesians 5:1-21

Ps 81:1,2,3

Sermon – Ephesians 5:15-20

Hy 77:1,2,3

Hy 6:1,2

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

Beloved in the Lord, what does it take to be wise? A wise person has his eyes open, and he sees things as they really are. You could say that a wise person is able to look “behind the scenes,” past what’s visible and outward, to what’s really going on. It’s for this reason that a wise person will be a thankful person.

Take your material possessions, for example; you’ve got a car, a home, a device, some nice stuff—and maybe you paid your own hard-earned money to acquire these things—but your eyes are open to where these things have come from. You know that it’s all a gift from God. Your health too, your family; your abilities, your employment and your leisure—you recognize that it’s all from the Father, so you’re thankful.

But it goes the other way too. If our eyes are closed to God’s daily involvement in our life, we won’t see his many gifts, and we won’t be thankful. If we’re always focused on ourselves, we’ll probably have a sense of entitlement, thinking that we deserve a life of ease and pleasure. We might have a pile of blessings, but if we’ve sidelined God in our thinking, there will be no spirit of gratitude within us. This isn’t just ungrateful, it’s foolish.

In our text, the Holy Spirit exhorts us not to be fools, but to be wise. We’ll see that this relates to many aspects of life, and as a general theme we’ll see that a wise person will be a thankful person: “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:20). A wise person fears the LORD, Proverbs teaches us, and that’s still the truth. When we stand in awe of the Lord, we show that we’re a people of understanding. I preach God’s Word to you,

If we are wise, we’ll give thanks to God always for all things:

  1. knowing God’s will
  2. being filled with his Spirit
  3. singing to the Lord


1) knowing God’s will: We’re deep into the second half of the letter to the Ephesians. If the first half was largely filled with the explaining of doctrine, then the second half is focused on how to live out this doctrine—how to apply the reality of salvation through Christ to our daily existence, as church, as families, as husbands and wives, and as individual believers.

It’s clear that the Spirit is keeping a practical focus in our text, for it begins, “See then that you walk circumspectly” (v 15). He mentions “walking,” but Paul isn’t concerned here about where the Ephesians take their morning stroll. This is about the direction and path of their very life! For any person, walking is a basic daily activity—and certainly even more so for people in the first century, who didn’t have cars and trains and bikes to carry them around. If you went anywhere, you walked!

So it’s a good metaphor for the progress of a person’s life. Where are you going? Day by day, what kind of path are you on? Back in chapter 2:2, Paul reminded the Ephesians that they “once walked according to the course of this world.” Satan and the world chart a course for us, and it’s an easy path, so we prefer to follow it. It’s the path of least resistance when you’re tempted: just give in. It’s the path that promises to lead to happiness and fulfillment.

But we must walk “circumspectly” (v 15). That’s not a word we use every day, but it means “carefully” or “watchfully.” As we go through the constant journey of our days, the Spirit tells us to be cautious. Keep a close watch on your life’s principles and values, and tread deliberately. It’s so easy not to pay attention; it’s easy to do things without thought or care. But a person who is walking cautiously takes time to consider: “Can I say that this activity is really pleasing to God? Is this habit strengthening my faith, or harming it? I’m feeling really comfortable these days—I wonder: Is this still the narrow path?” 

Walk circumspectly, “not as fools but as wise” (v 15). If you’re nasty and you call someone a fool, you probably mean that they’re stupid; they have a serious lack of cognitive ability. But when the Bible calls someone a fool, it describes a person who says there is no God—or even more to the point, a person who lives like there is no God. A fool does his own thing, whatever seems right to him at the moment.

In the same way, Scripture’s portrait of the wise person is not someone who got straight A’s on his school report card. When the Spirit speaks about having wisdom, it means having a thorough and personal awareness of who the LORD really is. We’ve got our eyes open to his glory as Creator and Saviour, as Judge and Redeemer.

When we know God—when we fear him—He gives us insight into things as they really are. The Father blesses us with the ability to find our way through the constant challenge of holy living, gives the kind of understanding that leads to right action. By his Spirit, the Father gives a practical discernment about how to please him in the decisions of everyday life.

And as Paul presents it to us, we’re either walking as fools or we’re walking as the wise. There’s only two ways to live. Consider Psalm 1, which contrasts the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous, and reveals where both these paths end up. Or think of Proverbs, which shows the practical benefit of God’s wisdom over-against the futile ways of folly.

Beloved, how are you walking? Do you live out your days as a fool, or as wise? Do you rush into things, propelled by your desires, or pushed by the force of habit, or pressured by the people around you? Or do you walk carefully? Do you prayerfully consider what’s right in the eyes of God, and strive to do what honours him and what helps others?

The next verse says that walking in wisdom means we must be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (v 16). The word “redeem” is language of the marketplace, a term from the world of commerce. It describes buying something for yourself, and not like the casual spending that we do at the shopping centre, but more like an aggressive buying—how you might act when something valuable is being sold at an amazing price, for a limited time only, and in very limited quantities. You snap it up without hesitation.

“Redeem the time,” says the Spirit. Realize how valuable are the days of your life on earth. This isn’t simply about being organized and efficient with your schedule, making the best use of the hours that God gives. It’s about using our many moments as opportunities to glorify him, making sure that we spend it all on God.

And there’s an urgency to redeeming the time, “because the days are evil” (v 16). We’re living in the final days before the second coming of Christ. Jesus told us that in these closing days there will be more evil and more persecution—and that’s what we see. Satan is going to be aggressive in these days because his time is short. He wants to destroy God’s good work as much as possible, and he’s got his sights fixed on the church.

So Satan creatively thinks of ways for us to waste our time, to sell it cheap—to leave it “unredeemed.” He wants to keep us busy with things that will weaken or distract us from whole-hearted service of Christ.

We know about the endless source of distraction that we have in our phones. Enough hours to fill a lifetime can be lost scrolling and watching and posting and clicking. But let’s understand that the temptation of time-wasting is far more diverse than that. Even if we’re mostly responsible with our phones, we can be irresponsible with our hobbies, or with our social life, or with our work, or our sleep—irresponsible because we surrender so many hours and so much energy and thought to something that has become an idol to us.

The truth is, in these evil days each of us, young and old, is under great pressure to misuse our time—to waste our life, where we’re spending it on ourselves and not on God. So “redeem the time,” the Spirit says. Realize how valuable is your time on earth—these are precious days for doing God’s will. Rescue your time from the evil uses of the world. Don’t let the devil have it all, but buy back your attention and reclaim your priorities for God!

“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (v 17). The Spirit repeats his command not to be unwise, not to be someone who is morally stupid and self-destructive because he fails to live in dependence on God.

And if we have been blessed with wisdom, we shouldn’t grow complacent. This verse implies the possibility that a person can become unwise; that is, you might have good sense and godly wisdom today, but you begin to wander from the path. There’s so many godless ways of thinking that we might start to take over. Is my own happiness the most important thing? Should I follow my heart? Should we tolerate everything and never judge? Without even being aware of it, we can become most unwise.

Instead, the Spirit urges, “Understand what the will of the Lord is” (v 17). If we’re wise, our earnest desire will always be to know and to do God’s will. And what is his will? Earlier in this letter, Paul explained God’s will. In chapter 1, he said that God “made known to us the mystery of his will” (v 9), and he said that God’s will is to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth” (v 10). God’s will is to restore the universe, to reconcile everything through his Son.

So often we have a very personal focus on God’s will, when we say things like: “I want to find out his will for my life.” That’s good to reflect on, but try to think more broadly. What is God’s will for the church, for this universe that He made? What is God’s will in salvation? His will is to restore true and lasting peace to a broken world.

Our little lives should be seen within that framework, viewed in connection to what God is doing in history. Because then we’ll understand far better what we’re here for. We’re not here for ourselves; we’re not here to waste our time, or simply to bide our time in little fortresses until Christ comes back. We’re here to take our willing part in God’s plan today, to be eager and thankful servants for the growth of his kingdom. For this we need to be filled with his Spirit.


2) being filled with the Spirit: In our text Paul already contrasted the path of fools with the way of the wise; in the next verses He contrasts two kinds of gatherings, a pagan party and a Christian fellowship. When believers get together, there should be a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, an atmosphere of worship. We’ll look at that in the next point. But when fools get together, there’s often drunkenness and recklessness.

“Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation” (v 18). Likely many of the Ephesian believers knew all about this, since they grew up in unbelief and in a pagan city. Idols were worshiped throughout the Roman empire, but Ephesus was renown for its religion, seen in the massive temple there dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of fertility. And a big part of pagan worship was wild, drunken parties and orgies where you had sex with multiple partners. As a person became more drunk and more exhilarated, they felt the gods come closer; as you lost yourself in pleasure, you experienced unity with the gods.

Yet drunkenness isn’t only a state of being for when you visit pagan temples. People have always sought to escape reality through heavy drinking. People do it today, even church-going young people, and church-going older people. This is the folly of sin, when people get together for the sole purpose of getting drunk.

But there’s an appeal, like there always is. By drinking a lot, you can gain a sense of freedom, a warm experience of pleasure, even a blissful state of forgetfulness. The attraction of drinking too much isn’t hard to figure out. When he tempts us, Satan always offers us something—every sin comes with a promise.

But every sin also brings pain. Paul highlights one of the painful results of drunkenness, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation.” Other translations say “debauchery,” or perhaps even more clearly, “reckless living.” The point is, drunkenness often results in a person losing their self-control. The barriers are lowered, well-established morals are discarded, and there is a sudden recklessness to our words, our thoughts, our deeds.

Some of our highest barriers surround God’s gift of sexuality, and yet we know there is much pleasure on the other side of that wall. So the carelessness of being drunk often involves stepping over the line sexually, sinning in ways a person would find hard to do in a normal situation: saying deeply inappropriate things, totally surrendering to lustful thoughts, and even committing the act of adultery.

Not just in relation to sexuality, but in so many ways, drunkenness is the activity of a fool—the fool who says, as we heard before, “There is no god.” Getting drunk involves forgetfulness, all right: forgetting God’s holy claim on your life so that you can do what pleases only you.

Beloved, if heavy drinking is part of your weekly activity, then you need to know that this is contrary to a life of gratitude to God. If your self-control is lost, or if your mind is numbed, or if you’re aching after last night’s drinking session, then you will not be able to function as a willing and cheerful servant of Christ. Drunkenness does not belong in the lives of those who know Christ, who are becoming wise in him.

But Paul isn’t merely negative, seeking to condemn all forms of pleasure. Rather, he wants to replace folly with something higher and better: “Do not be drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit” (v 18). It’s one of Christ’s most precious gifts that we have his Spirit residing in our hearts. He who is the living God himself is pleased to make his home with us, transforming us from the inside out.

And when you have the Spirit, He works a real joy, a true delight. You could say that He’s the better way of being lifted above the sadness and the monotony of life; He’s the better way of gaining confidence and finding pleasure—for He works in us a pleasure in the Lord. The Spirit powerfully moves us to holiness and self-control. It happens not by drinking spirits, but by being filled with the Spirit.

“Be filled with the Spirit.” In the original Greek, Paul uses a verb tense that means something like “Be continually filled by the Spirit.” Receiving the Holy Spirit isn’t a once-for-all experience, where once you have him you never need to give it a second thought. We have an ongoing need to be filled and strengthened with the Spirit.

And of course we depend on God to do the filling—He must send the Spirit, or we won’t know his power. But notice that we’re far from passive in receiving this gift: “Be filled.” Paul exhorts us to let our life be governed completely by the direction of the Holy Spirit. There’s something we can do about this, a calling to make our life more and more open to the Spirit’s work. Fill up with Scripture, and fuel up with prayer. Fill up with Christian fellowship and with holy worship. For these are the things that the Spirit uses to drive us and move us. These are the things the Spirit uses to give the energy and ability to live as his thankful people.


3) singing to the Lord: Instead of the pointless parties and empty existence of an unbeliever, when you have the Holy Spirit you’re filled with true joy. And this joy overflows into worship, where we lift up songs of praise and thanksgiving. Scripture teaches this often, that those who are grateful will sing. Even if you’re no good at singing, you’ll want to sing because you’re amazed at all that God has done for you in Christ. From the fullness of a thankful heart, the words will come—words of worship for the Lord.

Notice too, that worship is more than vertical—that is to say, it’s not just directed to God. But it’s horizontal too, for it blesses the people around us; Paul says that we should “[speak] to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (v 19). The three terms here are common Old Testament words for songs of worship. “Psalms” are the Psalms, of course. “Hymns” describes festive praises to God. And “spiritual songs” are songs prompted by the Holy Spirit. All together, these words refer to the same activity: offering praise to God for his great works.

And we can speak these words “to one another.” If the Spirit is filling us, and his wisdom is directing our life, we should encourage those around us with God-centered words. Psalms of praise give us something to say about God’s glory. With hymns of worship, we sing a powerful reminder to each other of what God has done in the Lord Jesus.

This kind of worship carries over into all of life, where everything we do is an act of praise to the LORD. When the Spirit fills you, then your conversations can be as pleasing as a powerful hymn of praise to God. When it’s done for Christ, your loving service is like a sweet melody to the Lord.

For what’s the spirit in which we can do all things? We do it in gratitude. If our eyes are really open to God’s glory, then our singing will always have the theme of gratitude: “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 20).

We can reflect on how there’s many things we can be thankful for. You’re alive, you have daily bread, most of us have health and strength. But most importantly, we give thanks to God for the gift of his Son, the one who makes lasting peace between God and us. And give thanks for his Spirit who renews and restores you. And thank God for his Word, the book that guides us in the path of life. Those who are wise, who fear God and know Christ, will never run out of reasons for giving thanks!

But notice the extra words in our text. They raise the bar; they make an ordinary command, something that even unbelievers will agree with as polite—suddenly much harder. For the Spirit doesn’t just say “give thanks” at day’s end, not just “give thanks” for salvation. He says, “Give thanks always for all things.” Gratitude must permeate our whole being: thankful always, and even “for all things.”

It means being grateful to our God, no matter what happens. How is that possible? Can you give thanks during pain and suffering? Can you be grateful when your life seems like it’s collapsing in a heap? How can we give thanks when we don’t know how we’re going to pay this bill, or meet this deadline, or deal with this brokenness?

We can give thanks when our eyes are open to things as they really are. We can give thanks because we see who we’ve become in the Lord. We can give thanks, says Paul, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 20). That’s how God looks at us, in Christ. In Christ, God has become our Father. And He will be a faithful Father, whose grace will always be enough.

If you’re still looking for something, still missing something, ask for grace. If you’ve tried this world and found it wanting, ask for grace. This grace is sufficient. It meets our deepest need. For what we need is a Saviour. What we need is the truth, and salvation. And this is what God has provided. In Christ, we know that all things work together for good. In him, we have a hope that is steadfast and eternal. That will never change, never be lost. And so we may give thanks always. No matter what’s going on, there’s a reason to look to our Father with thanksgiving.

Think for a moment of Paul and Silas, imprisoned in Philippi. They’d already been beaten by a mob, now they were locked up in jail, and they had no good reason to expect that they would get out of this alive. But what are they doing? At midnight, the book of Acts says, Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God. They weren’t looking at their miserable outward circumstances, but they were looking to Christ. They were giving thanks always, for all things, singing and making music in their hearts to God.

Beloved, in the same way let us give thanks always for everything good that God has given! If you are filled with the Spirit, may your life be a sacrifice of praise to God in all things, and at every moment, on every path you take!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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