Living Life to the Fullest (Ephesians 5:15-20)
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (August 15, 2021)
The ancient pagans declared, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” This hedonistic and almost fatalistic philosophy is very much in vogue yet today. Modern advertising specialists phrase it somewhat differently, but the message is the same: “Get the most out of life! Live it up! You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can!”
But through His apostle Paul, God confronts us as Christians with a whole different philosophy of living life. It might sound somewhat the same, for he begins by saying, “Make the best use of the time.” In actuality, however, he is saying the extreme opposite of Eat, drink and be merry. Paul conditions that exhortation by warning, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”
Throughout this context in Ephesians, Paul is exhorting his readers, who have been brought to faith in Christ, to “walk in a manner worthy of their calling” and to walk as “children of the Light” not children of the darkness. Obviously, there ought to be a clear distinction in how Christians walk in this world; that is, how they live, and how the rest of the people in the world live. Children of the Light walk wisely, while the children of the darkness walk unwisely. Christians live so as to “make the most of it,” not for the sake of worldly pleasure, but to make the most of their time in ways that honor God through our Lord Jesus Christ and leave themselves with eternal benefit.
Living life to the fullest for the Christian involves first of all “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The word translated “time” is the Greek word kairos. Kairos is the special time that is adapted for a certain thing, the season for something (Lenski). We might say that it is an opportune moment. Paul literally then says of this kairos, “to buy it out” or “buy it back.”
If something you need is on sale, that’s an opportune moment. The wise person will buy it while it is cheaper. Time is also a precious commodity. It is not in endless supply. Yet, life in this world is full of things to do, places to go, responsibilities that demand our attention, as well as once in a lifetime opportunities. The wisdom is knowing and utilizing the time we have been given beneficially, seizing the opportune moments when they appear.
But I don’t have to tell you, “buying out the time,” “making the most of every opportune moment” is not always the easiest thing to do in life. There are all sorts of things that will seek to impede us. Paul says the days are evil. The wickedness caused by sin in this world sees to it that our hours and days are filled with all sorts of temptations to use our time for unwise things; such as, indulging our lusts, focusing only on ourselves, or devoting our attention to things that will not last and in the long run leave us no eternal benefit.
Adding to this is the fact that this past year and a half has truly been an almost Orwellian experience. As in George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” we have experienced not only pandemics, an abundance of natural disasters, government overreach and frightening intrusion into our lives, but also the deliberate distortion and reversal of word meanings by academia, political leaders and the mainstream media just like Orwell’s Newspeak and Doublethink. The push for gender identity and critical race theory have given us true doublespeak. Our very language and even culture are totally upside down. I’m sure we would all agree, our world has dramatically changed and not for the better. Many of us might even be seeing in all this apocalyptic signs of the end of days!
It’s no exaggeration to say that the days are full of all sorts of evil; tragedies, deaths of loved ones, loses of worldly goods, loses of even our own health. Is it wise, then, to be complacent about our time in this world as though tomorrow will always come? Is it wise to be frittering away our time indulging ourselves in the pleasures of this world and not be investing in opportune moments to secure for ourselves an inheritance in heaven instead of the sentence in hell that awaits all the unwise?
Remember the rich farmer Jesus talked about who had built bigger and bigger barns to store all his worldly goods and said to himself: “Eat, drink and be merry, O soul.” Jesus said that very night his soul was required of him. All he could do at that point was to look back in regret at all the time he had wasted. The truly wise will be “buying out the time” whenever and wherever they have opportunity.
The wise will also understand, as Paul goes on to say, that to live life to the fullest means understanding what the will of the Lord is” for their lives.
Here again, the wicked days in which we live have sought to change our priorities,
concerns, and even values in life. With all that is happening in our society it is fair to ask: “Does anyone even care what God’s will is anymore?” We are hell-bent on hiding away The Ten Commandments from public view. We don’t want to have to think that there could be a moral code of behavior that transcends our whole world and we are all accountable to a Higher Authority: God. After all, we want to be laws unto ourselves. So what if God says homosexuality is an abomination in His sight or that living together outside of marriage is a sin or that He hates divorce. We, as a society, seem to feel that if we want to chose such lifestyles then that is our prerogative. So what if God has decreed that the unborn are persons He created and He redeemed in the death of His Son. Our amoral society seems to think: “If I want to call that fetus (little One) just a piece of tissue and then rip it from my womb, then I’m only doing with my body what I have a right to do.”
Even the proclamation of the true and full Gospel is suffering from this unwillingness to know and do God’s will. Many seem to be saying, “So what if God teaches that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ. God is love. Surely He would not damn sincere, good people, no matter what they believe! After all, God doesn’t want us to judge people. He wants us to get along with everyone, doesn’t He!”
Wait at minute! Didn’t Jesus teach us to pray: “Not my will but Thine, dear Father in Heaven, be done?” Whose will ought to have priority after all! You and I are just the created. God is the Creator. We are poor, weak, miserable sinners. He is the perfect and holy God! It’s truly immaterial what your or my personal will is in any matter. God’s will ought to be supreme. He alone has the power to accomplish His will, with or without our permission or cooperation. If God’s will is not allowed to stand in our lives, then our will only will lead us to destruction. In the wisdom of the Proverbs we read: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (14:12). It behooves the wise, therefore, to walk in a manner that is in accordance with God’s will.
But in this darkened world, how do we learn and come to know God’s will? Do we pool our collective ignorance? Do we trust our instincts? Do we search the imaginations of our own hearts? Heavens, no! Doing these things has gotten us into trouble in the first place. We can only come to know God’s will through His revealed Word as has been gifted to us in the Holy Bible.
On top of that, we can’t come to truly comprehend that will of God apart from His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. God’s will for you and me and our whole world is bound up in the flesh of Jesus. It is God’s will that we all come to salvation and all truth in The Word of God Made Flesh. Only in His flesh is God’s will for us “finished!” Only in His flesh are we redeemed to eternal life!
If we truly want to know and live according to God’s will, then we must be giving serious attention to what God says, not what we think. That means we must be taking advantage of every opportunity open to us to be listening to God in His Word. In other words, we must be taking advantage of worship services and Bible Studies. We must be taking time for private and family devotions each day. There is no substitute for lost time in God’s Word. It’s not a “class” you can “make up.” The world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh are vying for our attention 24/7. The wise don’t miss any opportunity to listen to God so they can stem the influence of all the “other” voices in their lives.
Obviously, therefore, if we are buying up the time, seeking God’s will in all things, then as Christians we will not be pandering to our sinful flesh but will be being filled in our spirit. Paul writes: “…Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The Greek here is somewhat ambiguous. It is not clear if the word “spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit, as our ESV translation clearly takes it to mean, or if it is referring to our “spirit,” as other Bible Scholars contend. Either way, the point Paul makes remains the same; the wise person recognizes that the truly important things in life are spiritual; that is, what is ours by the Spirit of God. Our focus throughout our life ought to be on such spiritual matters, not what is “fleshly,” or worldly.
Paul is clearly making a contrast here between the verbs: “getting drunk” and “being filled.” Getting drunk on wine indulges the flesh while incapacitating the spirit.
In his treatise entitled “On Drunkenness,” the ancient writer Philo characterized drunkenness generally as a mark of the blind and foolish man who is a slave to the material world. (Reinicker, p. 191). In a drunken stupor all one focuses on is his own pleasure. He gives not one thought to his sin, his need for repentance, the needs of others, nor his life with God.
On the other hand, the one filled in spirit; that is, filled by the Spirit of God, is totally fixated on God and His mercy to him a sinful being. His fleshly concerns are secondary. He is filled with overflowing joy over what God has done, is doing, and will do for him in Jesus Christ.
It is highly probable that behind the scenes of Paul’s choice of words here is an allusion to the orgies of Bacchus. The religious aspects of drunkenness were seen in the Bacchus festivals in the worship of Dionysus. Bacchus was “the god of wine.” During these festivals men and women regarded it as an acceptable act of worship to become intoxicated, and with wild songs and cries to run through the streets, and fields and vineyards. Such acts of wantonness in the celebrations to Dionysus were well known in the ancient world.
Paul’s mention of being drunk on wine is in reference to all sorts of worldly intoxication. Not everyone is overcome by the whiles of alcohol. But the allurements of the world for power, prestige, wealth, and pleasure can easily intoxicate the strongest of us. So spirit numbing are the intoxicating powers of the world that even Christians can be overwhelmed to the point that they stop going to church, stop listening to His Word. Their eternal relationship with God is all but forgotten.
The wise, however, recognize that their real food and drink, as well as their true life are out of this world. They are seeking them in Jesus Christ, who is the Life Giving Bread. The wise seek to be filled in the spirit by feeding on the body and blood of Christ in faith. They comprehend what Jesus promises: “Whoever eats of My flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” It is, of course, the Holy Spirit Who does this filling as He brings the fruits of Jesus’ sacrifice to His people through the Word of His Gospel and His Holy Sacraments.
Instead of the painful hangover, spiritual doldrums, and dirges of despair that remain for the foolish as a result of their drunkenness, those who seek to be filled in the spirit by God’s Spirit enjoy “addressing one anther in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all (their)hearts.”
Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are in essence the poetic and melodic verse of worship to God. The word psalm stems from a verb meaning “to pluck the strings.” The noun was used to refer to sacred songs accompanied by instruments as King David did. The term hymns referred to poetical compositions whose primary purpose was to praise God. Spiritual songs were literally “odes;” songs of lyric poetry. Technically, those three terms describe the various types of psalms in the Psalter: the Book of Psalms, which contains many musical notations and super-subscripts with instructions for the musical melody and the choir director.
Such psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs have always been an integral part of the believer’s worship of God. You see, there are times when the joy and praise of the heart stirred by God’s unfathomable grace can not put into mere words. Words have their limitations, but the expressive quality of poetic verse and melodic sounds can often express what the heart feels. That’s why you don’t read Handel’s Messiah or Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, but you hear and experience them.
The same can be said for our worship services. The liturgy is structured as it is with the very purpose Paul has in mind in this passage. The appointed Psalms, hymns, canticles and chants, help to facilitate this action of the Holy Spirit in the heart of His people and enables them to “replay” the message in their hearts all week. Luther is even known to have said that music drives the devil away and is the handmaiden of theology. Of course, he was not talking about jazz, rock and roll, and rap!
Dear friends, if there is no song of praise on our lips or no melody of thankfulness on our heart to God, then we can be sure that we are not being filled in the spirit but have been getting drunk on the intoxication of this world. Because when we are filled in the spirit with God’s goodness, greatness, and truth, we will even be giving Him praise and thanksgiving in our troubles, knowing that under His grace even in our weakness He brings forth His saving strength... that in worldly defeat He brings about victory... and that in times of trial He makes us stronger.
Here is the question we might all ask ourselves today: “At my life’s end will I be the prodigal son who will look back on my life in my drunken stupor and realize how I had foolishly squandered my inheritance and lost my life or will I be the one who will look back in the glory of our Father’s presence with all thankfulness and joy to see that I truly had lived life to the fullest and wisely listened to God’s loving admonition to buy up the time, taking advantage of those opportune moments to be filled by God so that even in the evil days I was enabled to enjoy the life God had given me in Christ?”