“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16)
I remember when I was very young that one of my mother’s more common sayings was this: “Peter, would you stop acting the fool!” I can still recall her plaintive and sometimes exasperated tones in the face of my behaviour. Mothers know only too well that, “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15), and according to my mother, it was found frequently in small boys, especially me.
Here in Ephesians 5, we discover that the temptation to foolishness is not simply confined to small boys, although undoubtedly they have a major share in it, but it’s a problem facing us all. This explains why Paul concludes this section of his letter with the command, “See that you walk carefully, not as unwise or fools, but as wise” (5:15).
Now it’s certainly the case that Christians face the temptation to act in ways that we might describe as ‘foolish.’ This is so because everyone born into this world is born in a state of congenital foolishness. According to the book of Proverbs, foolishness is in our hearts from the very beginning. Now, what do we mean by that? Does it mean that we are unintelligent and stupid? Not really. When the Bible speaks about a ‘fool,’ it’s referring to someone who lives as though God does not exist. In other words, such a person is not interested in living according to Scripture.
Instead, they live on the basis of their feelings, instincts and impulses. More often than not, the reason why they act the way they do is that they feel like it. And our culture certainly panders to this way of thinking. Advertisers encourage us to buy on the basis of our feelings. One car manufacturer suggests that the reason why we should buy its cars is because when we get behind the wheel of one of their vehicles, our immediate response will be “Oh, what a feeling!” Never mind other important issues like fuel consumption, safety and handling. It’s the feeling that counts. Again, other products are hawked to us on the basis of impulse. One famous shoe manufacturer tells us, “Just do it!” In other words, don’t sit around thinking about the consequences of your actions, or how they might affect other people. If you get a strong urge, just do it.
Now when Paul tells us to be wise he means that we shouldn’t live simply by our instincts and feelings. Instead, we should think about whether our actions will bring honour to God and how they will affect others. And further, he adds that the wise person will, “make the most of every opportunity,” or “make the most of the time.” Here Paul uses an expression that is composed of a couple of Greek words that mean ‘buy out of the market place’ – the verb is in the middle voice, which renders the meaning ‘buy up for yourself.’ Probably the best meaning is to ‘make the most out of every situation’. As far as the Christian is concerned, life in this world is a great opportunity to serve the Lord and to help others.
The non-Christian sees life quite differently. For an unbeliever, life in this world means to get ahead, make as much as you can, settle down, live a life of pleasure and watch the world go by. Christians, on the other hand, realise that life is temporary and the wisest thing to do is to be engaged in activities that prepare ourselves and others for life in the world to come.