Walking in Time for the Sake of Eternity

Having instructed the churches, and us, not to walk as the Gentiles, but to walk in love, to walk as children of light, he now gives instruction as to how to walk with special care in the wisdom God provides through the Holy Spirit.

I. Paul gives more attention to wise walking. (15, 16)

A. Paul assumes that we should learn to distinguish between what is wise and what in unwise.

  1. Wisdom is a major issue in Scripture, for we live in a fallen world as fallen people who have thrown off the rule of God. In Titus 3:3 Paul says, “for we once were foolish, disobedient, led astray.” One element of redemption is to be restored to the path of wisdom. The whole created order functions in accord with wisdom for Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth.” Not to know wisdom, therefore, is ipso facto to be destructive, disorderly, and contrary to the holy principles upon which the world order is established.
  2. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom, therefore, is growing into a true understanding of the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:29 indicates that judgment looms over the godless “because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord.” Proverbs 3:7 says, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Proverbs 8:12, 13 personifies wisdom and begins its speech with, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.” Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
  3. James contrasts wisdom from below with wisdom from above (3:13-18). One sets forth jealousy, selfish ambition, and disorder as its fruits; the other is “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
  4. Paul, by revelation, tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:30 that Jesus “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” In Colossians 2:3, Paul, in making “the word of God fully known” (1:25), that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
  5. Wisdom, therefore, and the admonition to walk as wise people means that we treasure and seek with relentless energy and sense of blessing the knowledge of righteousness and redemption in Jesus Christ. When Christ shines on us (14), we reflect him and are conformed to his character.

B. A key way to avoid being unwise and to grow in wisdom is making a constructive use of time.

  1. The days are evil. As stated above, this world is fallen, under the curse, subjected to vanity even in its present physical makeup (Romans 8:20-23). Beyond that, the “course of this world” as described in 2:1-3 is ever-present in every culture and in every human soul. If any good is to come from it, we must emulate Christ in his work in pursuing a redemptive mission.
  2. We must actively seek to claim the minutes and days of our lives for holy purposes. Jesus “redeemed us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us.” The Father sent the Son in human flesh and made him subject to the same law that held its curse over us, “to redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 3:13; 4:5). With that same determination, and in light of the same dark circumstances, we must commit ourselves to redemption of time. We have to buy it back from its subjection to the curse.
  3. Isaac Watts wrote many verses in reflecting on Psalm 90 One of the best known reflects clearly the necessity of redeeming the time.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

         Bears all its sons away;

      They fly, forgotten, as a dream

         Dies at the op’ning day.


Phillip also wrote a hymn on this subject basing it on Ephesians 5: 15, 16.

The Wisdom of Redeeming Time

God of eternity, from Thee

Did infant time his being draw;

Moments and days, and months and years,

Revolve by Thine unvaried Law.

Silent and slow they glide away;

Steady and strong the current flows,

Lost in eternity’s wild sea,

The boundless gulf from whence it rose.

With it the thoughtless sons of men

Before the rapid streams are borne

On to that everlasting home,

Where not one soul can e’er return.

Yet while the shore on either side

Presents a gaudy flatt’ring show,

We gaze, in fond amusement lost,

Nor think to what a world we go.

Great Source of wisdom, teach my heart

To know the price of ev’ry hour;

That time may bear me on to joys

Beyond its measure, and its pow’r.



II. Avoid those things that are foolish.

A. The contrary of foolish living is in understanding the Lord’s will.

  1. In order not to be foolish, which is the default of all our actions and thoughts unless they are indeed redeemed, we must give ourselves to rejection of those actions and thoughts Scripture says are foolish, or are characteristic of fools. Psalm 53:1 says that one who has convinced himself that “there is no God” and lives accordingly is a fool. Luke 12:20 records Jesus words “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” He spoke this about the person who had all concern for temporal security but no concern about the state of his soul for eternity.
  2. Positively, we must “understand what the will of the Lord is.” There are several ways in which we can know the will of God.
  • Words that arise in the mind from Scripture that are removed from their meaning in context cannot be taken as special guidance for us. For example, “Make every effort to come before winter” (2 Timothy 4:21), would not be guidance as to when one should take a trip. It was given to Timothy under a specific circumstance that related only to him. “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine,” should not be taken as specific guidance when confused about what to order at a restaurant.
  • Any command that God gives in his word that clearly has universal application is the will of God. All the 10 commandments should be considered moral law and unwaveringly applicable. One can never feel led to commit adultery or show reverence to an idol. A specific command to Timothy can also have universal application: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20; cf 2 Timothy 1:14). Every minister of the gospel should guard the Scripture in his preaching always seeking rightly to interpret and apply the word of truth. All the applicatory sections of the epistles should become embedded within the way we think, and then discernment of God’s will can be tested according to those principles and commands. Their purpose is to lead in paths of righteousness and purify our hearts in holiness.
  • Wisdom literature in the Scripture should be absorbed into our way of thinking, carefully considering the many ways in which its principles can be applied. “By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10). That is an insightful observation and has numerous ways and times in which its substance can aid in discernment of God’s will.
  • The example of Christ as he pursued God’s will and endured the contradiction of sinners, can give lessons about patience and the slowness with which we should seek retribution for personal offenses.

B. Do not live merely for the momentary pleasures of dissipation. Paul points to a common way in which people in virtually every generation have indulged foolishly in a pleasure that will lead only to more foolishness, immoral conduct, and a vain use of the tongue. Peter describes with greater detail the kind of life connected with the vice of drunkenness and connects it with a particular path of life consistent with the will of God. “Live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and the malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” 1 Peter 4:3-5).



III. Cultivate a life of the Spirit. This is the premier way of buying up, redeeming, making the most of, time. Being filled with the Spirit calls for three things. First, we embrace the reality that by the Holy Spirit we have been born again and he presently dwells within us. Second, he has given us the Bible by his own work of revelation and inspiration and will give a head-heart understanding of its statement of graces and responsibilities. Third, we are filled with the Spirit when his will as revealed in his word is known and pursued by us. In this way, we fill our lives and thoughts with “Spiritual” things. When the apostles and early disciples were filled with the Spirit, the phrase referred to a sudden and special movement of the Sprit for the purpose of preaching or prophesying with special power (Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:31; 13:9). The command, however, to “be being filled” contemplates an ongoing reality of sanctification and service by a purposeful pursuit of divine aid for the life to which we are called.

A. Find joy in corporate worship (verse 19). One of the ways in which we become more conformed to the work of the Spirit is through Scripture mandated and guided corporate worship.

  1. Singing was a large part of Old Testament worship both by designated specialists and also by the entire congregation of Israel. (1 Chronicles 15:22; 2 Chronicles 23:13). The Psalms use the command “Sing” or the words “I will sing,” “O, come let us sing” 68 times.
  2. As in the Psalms, the songs we use should be useful for instruction in truth for one another. We sing only what we are willing to teach another about the work of God, the greatness and glory of God, the mercies of Christ, and the hope of eternal life.
  3. Meter, tune, emotion, and often rhyme makes singing an excellent way to place truth in the heart. How many times have songs been instrumental {pardon me} in reminding us of the goodness of God, enforcing a particular duty on us, or encouraging us to witness and perseverance.

B. Live with gratitude with an eye to divine providence (verse 20).

  1. Paul wrote, “Always giving thanks for all things.” Some things are easy to be thankful for and immediately infuse joy into our perception of what it means to be alive: a graduation, the birth of a healthy child, the obvious spiritual-mindedness of children, a successful surgery. Other things are more hidden in their benevolent purposes and are reasons for thanksgiving only because of trust in the providence of God and in his promise that to the called he works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).
  2. We give thanks in the name of Christ.
  • He has redeemed us as his own, has made us the children of God, and into his image we are being formed by all the arrangements of God’s providence. This too is a matter of being filled with the Spirit as Paul explains in Romans 8:26-29. “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
  • He is the greatest–the infinitely excellent–gift that has been given us when for our sake the Father “spared not his own Son.” Since the greatest has already been made a gift, we can trust, because of him, that all that is necessary to fulfill the purpose of such a gift will be done. Gratitude should overflow our lives when we consider all that is invested in “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  1. We give thanks to God the Father. This completes the trinitarian nature of thanksgiving. The Spirit intercedes for us, The Son has died for us, and all of this conforms to the will and final purpose of God the Father (Galatians 1:3, 4).
  2. Always and in all things to maintain an intention of thanksgiving is one aspect of being filled with the Spirit.

C. The fear of Christ establishes a right mindset of humility.

  1. To be filled with the Spirit means to live with spiritual deference and humility of mind toward others. In the matters of learning, worshipping, thanksgiving we constantly look to corporate expressions of God-centeredness for personal edification. This does not mean that other commands of submission, teaching etc. are voided by this idea of being subject to one another, but that we recognize that the entire body profits when each manifests his own gift for the good of the whole, and the gift of none is despised (1 Corinthians 12:12-26; 1 Peter 4:7-11). That there is a proper ordering in submission is evident throughout the New Testament (e.g. Hebrews 13: 17).
  2. We do this in the “fear of Christ,” for he is the ultimate example of submission. He came from his position of divine glory in heavenly eternity to pursue obedience in earthly darkness to a work of ultimate indignation for the glory of the Father. This is an awesome and fearsome thing that one would voluntarily submit to divine wrath though he alone was the just son of Adam. When we speak of submission to one another, always we should bear in mind, with a sense of healthy fear, the example of Christ.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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