Our text this week will be Ephesians 5:15-21,
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Last year, Michael Hughes, who is one of our Field Staff at Community Church, gave me a book that I have really appreciated. It is a book that was written by Brian Hedges and he gave it a one word tile, ‘Watchfulness’. There was nothing about that title that excited me at the time. And to be honest, there was nothing in that title that enlightened me as to my need to read this book. But it did not take me long to discover that I would greatly benefit from reading it.
He began by talking about the resurgence within the Christian community to engage in the spiritual disciplines. He said in the opening paragraphs of this book, “Books on spiritual transformation and the spiritual disciplines line the shelves. Many of these are helpful, offering wise instruction on practices such as meditation, fasting and prayer.” Then he added these words, “But one discipline rarely appears in these catalogs of devotional habits: watchfulness.”
These words seemed to be true from my own experience. I could not recall seeing one book that was about the spiritual discipline of watchfulness. In fact, I could not recall any of the most popular books about the spiritual disciplines that contained even one chapter on watchfulness.
As if to capture my attention even more the author wrote these words just a few paragraphs later, “Past believers understood the need for watchfulness and spoke of it often. This was especially true of the sixteenth and seventeenth century English puritans and their evangelical heirs in the following centuries. In their sermons, letters, diaries, and manuals on spirituality, these saints commended the practice of watching.”
These puritans did not spend so much time speaking about watchfulness in their sermons, letters, diaries, and manuals because their generation had perfected it; but because their generation struggled to do it as much as ours.
One Puritan preacher of that time, John Flavel, lamented the loss of this discipline in his generation when he wrote in his book ‘Keeping the Heart’. He said, “The attracting beauty that shone, from the manner of life of the saints, upon the faces and consciences of the world (which, if it did not allure and bring them in love with the ways of God, at least left a testimony in their consciences of the excellency of those men of their ways,), is in a great measure lost, to the unspeakable detriment of religion. There was a time, when Christians conducted themselves in such a manner that the world stood gazing at them. Their life and language were of a different strain from those of others; their tongues discovered them to be Galileans wherever they came."
If that generation of believers who had access to so much teaching concerning watchfulness struggled to walk worthy of the call that they had received; then what might that say about the condition of our generation when it is rarely ever mentioned? How much more do we need to listen to Paul’s words today when he comes saying, “Look carefully then how you walk.” (v.15)
As I began to consider all of this and saw all of the references concerning watchfulness in the scriptures, I found myself more than a little shocked that our generation has all but ignored and neglected this discipline. It is sobering to think that this could even happen. It is shocking and even sad to consider all of the problems that the neglect of this discipline has had upon the lives of so many.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson begins his commentary on Ephesians 5:15-17 with an opening sentence that seems to capture his understanding of the loss that has occurred in our generation. He begins with a sentence that gives voice to the sadness, regret and lament of having forgotten to be watchful in the Christian community concerning our walk with Christ. He says, “It used to be commonplace to speak about ‘the Christian walk’.
Something has changed in our day. Something has been forgotten. There is something that we need to begin to practice once again.
Here are some of the definitions used by others concerning ‘watchfulness’:
John Owen’s defined watchfulness as: “A universal carefulness and diligence, exercising itself in and by all ways and means prescribed by God over our hearts and ways, the baits and methods of Satan, the occasions and advantages of sin in the world, that we be not entangled.”
Isaac Ambrose says, “Watchfulness is the first and principle help to all exercises of religion; it is the eye to see them all well done and used, and therefore we set watchfulness in the front of all duties...For the nature of it: ‘Watchfulness is a continual, careful observing of our ways in all the passages and turnings of our life, that we still keep close to the written word of God.”
Thomas Brooks, “Watching is a military term. There are two aspects of it: 1. The soul’s keeping spiritually awake, for to watch is opposed to sleeping. 2. Our mind must be intent upon our business, that we may catch all advantages against, and ward off hazard from the enemy.”
This week I looked up all of the passages in which the Apostle Paul speaks of the Christian walk. He speaks of the Christian walk in the majority of his epistles. If Paul were here it would not surprise me if the topic of ‘Watching Carefully How We Walk As Christians’ was not sprinkled throughout his conversations among us.
Paul would remind Christians that:
We once walked and lived engaged in the very sins that brings about the wrath of God upon men (Col 3:5-7 – Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.)
Having received Christ Jesus as Lord we are to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith (Col 2:6 – Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith. Just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.)
We are to filled with all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, thereby pleasing Him and bearing fruit produced by the Grace of God (Col 1:9-10 – And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God...)
He would insist that we walk in the daytime (Rom 13:13 – Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not n sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.)
He would remind us to keep our eyes on those who walk in righteousness (Phil 3:17-18 – Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.)
He would remind us that our Christian walk would be a witness before outsiders (1 Thess 4:10-12 – But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.)
Even if our generation fails to proclaim ‘watchfulness’ and ‘walking worthy of the calling that we have received in Christ’; the gospel writers will come to us repeatedly to remind us that we are to look carefully at how we walk.
Ephesians 5:15- “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”
This is an authoritative command by the apostle Paul and Christians are expected to obey it. It is a ‘present imperative active’ verb. It does not speak of an action that was done in the past and is no longer needing to be done. Nor does it speak of an action that is to be started in the future. It refers to a contemporaneous and continuous action to be performed by every believer.
I have begun to see in my life that I need to guard against taking days off and relaxing my guard when I don’t perceive a problem. I like routine. Within that routine I manage quite well. But the moment that I am out of my routine I find that I am the most susceptible to temptation and trouble. I have begun to ask myself why this is? One of the things that I have discovered is that I shelter in my routine rather than finding shelter in Christ. During those times when I am in my routine I relax and forget to prepare. I should never consider myself a civilian but as a soldier who is always preparing for the battle.
Proverbs 24:10 – If you faint in the day of distress, how small is your strength.
Matthew 26:40 – And Jesus came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So could you not watch with me one hour?’
2 Timothy 2:3-4 – Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
It is the duty, the mandate and the responsibility of every Christian to ‘look carefully’, ‘to pay attention’, and ‘to walk circumspectly’. We are to be fully aware and looking in all directions for hazards. This command is not an option, a suggestion, a choice or a preference to consider.
If you are like me, you will admit that it is a challenge to be continually aware of everything around us. My attention is usually given to one direction, to one area of vulnerability, to one temptation, to one point where there is pressure. As a result, this leaves me unaware of other dangers that are lurking in other areas.
Where are we to be looking carefully? John Owens definition told us that there are three fronts that we need to consider:
We are to be aware of indwelling sin.
Proverbs 4:23 “Keep the heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
Matthew 12:34 “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
We are to be aware of the sin in this world.
Ephesians 5:15-16 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
We are to be aware of Satan and his schemes.
1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Ephesians 6:11 “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of the evil in the heavenly places.”
How faithfully are you watching these areas?
A few weeks ago I watched a documentary about a man who received a purple heart. There was one part of the story where they re-enacted a scene that took place just before this group of soldiers were going to be ambushed by the enemy. In the scene there was a platoon full of combat weary men. And with them was a new soldier named Jimmy. Strangely enough he was excited to be there in the jungle. He had enlisted at thirty-three and he could not wait to see some action against the enemy.
Jimmy kept talking to one of the other soldiers as they walked through the jungle. They were both distracted from the mission, their surroundings and the possibility of danger lurking all around. Out of nowhere, the platoon leader comes up from behind. He knew that that these men were distracted and that it could be fatal mistake. He says to them sternly, “You trying to get each other killed? Hmm.” Then he pushes Jimmy away and looks at the veteran and says, “Now you know better Ray. Keep your eyes open man.”
Those two soldiers had become distracted. In that moment, they had forgotten about the dangers that were lurking all around them. They had forgotten about the things that they had been instructed to do by their leaders and by what their own experience had taught them. That is why the platoon leader said, “Now you know better Ray. Keep your eyes open man.”
These soldiers carrying guns, grenades and eighty pounds of gear. They have already written their letters to their loved ones that will be sent to them if they die in combat. They are in a foreign land walking through a jungle where the enemy is lurking and lying in wait for them. And yet, even there they forgot that they needed to look carefully and to live circumspectly.
How much more are we lulled into believing that we can let our guard down throughout our day? Therefore, Paul comes and warns us against not paying attention to the dangers around us. He warns against the dangers of living in a careless, unwise, wasteful and mindless manner. He warns us not to be distracted by the innumerable things that seek to get our attention.
Dr. John Stott speaks of our need to watch carefully over our spiritual life when he says these words, “We all trouble over the things which seem to matter to us – our job, our education, our home and family, our hobbies, our dress and appearance. So as Christians we must take trouble over our Christian life. We must treat it as the serious thing that it is.”
Thomas Boston was a Scottish pastor and theologian. He says, “There are some things we must watch over to keep them right, some things we must watch against, and some things we must watch for.”
I. There are some things we must watch over to keep them right.
We must watch ourselves
We must watch over our principles, our hearts, and the thoughts of the heart.
We must watch our tongues and all of our senses.
We must watch over our feet, our walk, and our conversations.
We must watch over our graces and our duties
II. There are some things we must watch against.
We must watch against lusts and corruptions
We must watch against the sin or our nature
We must watch against our former sins and the particular sins to which we are often inclined
We must watch against little sins and those that are often neglected or quickly justified
We must watch against the appearance of evil, the occasions of sin, temptations to sin.
We must watch against evil company
III. There are some things we must watch for, as men watching for advantages against the enemy, and for strengthening themselves.
Watch for the proper season of duty
Watch for the motions of the Spirit
Watch for opportunities
Watch for the success of your duties
When you consider these things, is your heart overwhelmed? Do you wonder just how long you can be attentive to every area of your life? I have found myself often wondering if I am able to do this. Therefore, we must remember that this duty is ours, but the power to do it is from God. The same Holy Spirit that opens the eyes of the blind has opened our eyes to be watchful during the days of our sojourning.
It might be a temptation to consider ‘Watchfulness’ and conclude that we are to be preoccupied with self and not with Christ and the gospel. But that is not what I want you to leave here today believing.
Just as a runner sets his eyes upon the finish line and not upon his feet; so also, we are to keep our eyes upon the prize. (Philippians 3:13-14 – Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.)
Robert Murray M’Cheyne once wrote a struggling Christian with these words, “Do not take up your time so much with studying your own heart as with studying Christ’s heart. ‘For one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ!’”
M’Cheyne, who could be as introspective as Martin Luther, followed his own advice. He wrote the following in one of his journals.
“I ought to go to Christ for the forgiveness of each sin. In washing my body, I go over every spot, and wash it out. Should I be less careful in washing my soul? I ought to see the stripe that was made on the back of Jesus by each of my sins. I ought to see the infinite pang thrill through the soul of Jesus equal to an eternity of my hell for my sins...I must never think a sin too small to need immediate application of the blood of Christ…I must never think my sins too great, too aggravated, too presumptuous that I am hindered from coming swiftly to Christ...I must not only wash in Christ’s blood, but be clothed in Christ’s obedience.”
With this in mind it is a privilege to celebrate communion with you all here today.