Sermon on Discipleship: Living Circumspect Lives, Ephesians 5:15-20

A sermon preached by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley on August 15, 2021

We continue with our study of Ephesians this morning and pick up in chapter five beginning with verse 15. Last week we noted that this part of Paul’s letter turns from talking about theology and is now looking at how that theology, what we believe, impacts how we live. In other words, this part of the letter deals with ethics and how we live in the world. The first part of chapter five describes what a life looks like before a person gets to know Christ. There’s an obvious transition in chapter five right at verse 14 where we read, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” It is believed that this is part of an ancient baptismal hymn and serves as a launching point for today’s lesson showing what it looks like to live as a Christian after one’s baptism and you are now a Christ-follower.  In baptism, a person wakes up from death and lives a revitalized life. In baptism, a person renounces their former way of life and are re-clothed with the robes of Christ’s grace. We get an entirely new spiritual wardrobe.

Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Ephesians 5:15-20

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1]

The first thing a person hears when they wake from their sleep and rise from the dead is, “Live circumspect lives as a person of wisdom as opposed to one who acts like a fool. Why? Because there is manifested evil all around us!”

The days are evil we’re told.  One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that going on around us. School shootings are at an epidemic level. Our battle with the COVID epidemic has morphed into the COVID endemic that is not going away. We turn on the news and hear stories how the Taliban are going door-to-door shooting family members and kidnapping daughters to sell them of as wives.  People there are so scared they are burying book because books are dangerous and encourage you to think for yourself. Fellow Americans threaten other fellow Americans with threats like, “I know where you live and I will come and hunt you down” over politicized healthcare issues. Then we add to this list all the natural and environmental issues the world is facing like water shortages, drought, wildfires around the globe, melting ice packs, dead zones in the oceans from trash, depleted fish supplies…you get the point.  Evil and the effects of evil are legion. And the first thing from Paul’s pen today is, “Live circumspect lives because the days are full of people, issues, and circumstances that will harm you and try to bring you down to places you don’t want to go.”

What does living circumspectly even mean? Let’s break it down. When Paul writes the word “live”, he’s using a word we get the word ‘peripatetic’ from today. A peripatetic is a person who moves around a lot. They’re active. In Jesus’ time, a peripatetic was often used to describe a teacher who taught his or her students while walking about; Jesus was a peripatetic, for example. The other word Paul uses is an adverb that describes the type of walking a person is to walk.  How are you and I to walk in this world? Carefully. Diligently. Circumspectly. It’s the same word used when the Three Wise Men came from the east and anxious King Herod told them, “Go and search diligently for this child and then let me know where he is!” One Bible translation has our verse read, “Be careful how you walk.”[2]  Friends, that’s what living a circumspect life means.

My eldest daughter and her husband recently went on a hike in the Alpine Wilderness Area in the Eastern Washington through an area known as The Enchantments. Surrounded by 7-to-10,000-foot mountains, the trail takes you through remote wilderness full of mountain goats, beautiful views and pristine lakes. In order to hike the Enchantments requires two things. First, you need a permit. Second, you must be in excellent physical condition. The trail is a strenuous one-day and one-way hike through twenty-two miles of some of the most rugged terrain in our country. Except for along the lakes, there are no trails to speak of to follow. You have to plot your own most of the time because the trail is made up of large granite rocks and boulders. At one point of the trail, you must climb to a place called Aasgard Pass which is over 7,800 feet high.  In order to get there, you scramble up rock and boulder fields gaining almost 2,500 feet elevation gain in under three-quarters of a mile! As you hike this rugged terrain, you must watch where your feet land; is that rock stable or will it give way when I walk on it causing me to twist an ankle? Hiking up to the pass requires you to read the mountain and choose a safe and efficient way up the side. You climb over boulders ensuring that you have good handholds. And then there are the goats and rams like we see on the Dodge truck commercials.  They eye you all the way up. So not only do you have to pick a safe path, you have to have an eye on the rams and goats making sure they don’t get too friendly! Lauren and Brooks hiked circumspectly, carefully, and thoughtfully.  The had to pay attention to their immediate surroundings or risk injury. Their route was always adapting itself based upon the condition of the trail.

Friends, this is how the Apostle is encouraging the folks in the church in Ephesus to live! He reminds them that now they have been raised in baptism in Christ, their lives should reflect a new way of living and engaging life itself.  He then gives three reminders as they walk carefully in life.

The first is thing he tells them is literally, “Don’t be stupid” which our English versions dilute to being foolish.  Sounds kind of harsh, Paul! Well, it is! Paul doesn’t want them to forget the new life they have been given in Christ. He wants them to remember that new life came with a high price tag with the death of Jesus. Paul doesn’t want them to get spiritually lazy and fall back into old ways of living which was unto themselves instead of for God. He wants them to be able to discern God’s direction for them as a church, so they need to be alert. Be diligent in understanding what the will of God is, Church; don’t be foolish and stupid!

And then Paul reminds them of a second compare and contrast: Don’t get drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit of God. This can be interpreted in a couple of ways.  One way to understand it is that Ephesus was home to a very active Dionysian cult whose worship included vast amount of wine drinking and hedonism. Perhaps Paul is telling the church not to get caught up in the local ways of worship and stick to worshipping the Lord[3]. Another way to understand this text is simply that Paul is telling the church not to become inebriated with what the world says will make you happy and content. The world says consume but the Spirit of God says give. The world wants us to look out for ourselves, look out for number one, but the Spirit of God says look after each other.  Be filled with Holy Spirit, Church, and not overly saturated with the way the world and culture lives life.

Finally, Paul tells the community, worship together Church! Make music together as a Church and within your hearts! Saturate yourself with the presence of God with one another and sing songs of gratitude!  Be thankful and grateful for all you have been given, all that you have, and for all that is coming! Sing, Church, sing! 

This, beloved, is what it means to walk a care-full, thought-full, diligent, circumspect life. So, as we go today and head into a new week, let’s assess how we are walking in this life of ours. Does your life, does my life, reflect that we are walking circumspectly, care-fully, and attentively with God?

I’ll close with this prayer pastor Eugene Peterson wrote regarding our text this morning. Perhaps you can make it your own. He prays:

Instead of careless, unthinking lives, we want to understand what you, Our Master want. What we really want is to drink your Spirit, huge draughts of your Spirit. We want hearts so full that they spill over in worship as we sing praises over everything, taking any excuse for a song to you our Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ. [4]

© 2021 August 15 by Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.


[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] New American Standard Bible.

[3] The Dionysian Background of Ephesians 5:18 by Cleon I. Rogers in Bibliotheca Sacra, BSAC 136:543 (July 1979).  Accessed on 14/2021 at    http://mydigitalseminary.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/The-Dionysian-Background-of-Ephesians-5_18-by-Cleon-L.-Rogers-Jr.pdf.

[4]  Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 204.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Mystic Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a husband, father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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