Live as the Wise
Pastor Charlie Wang
July 14, 2019
Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 9as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today in our epistle lesson from Ephesians, we have an old evangelist and minister Paul at his final stage of life. Biblical scholars believe that he was around 60. He was very old in the eyes of his contemporaries because the life expectancy 20 centuries ago in the Mediterranean area was about 50. He didn’t have HMO or Social Security money. He knew he would not have the opportunity to die as a free man outside of the prison. His death was imminent, perhaps, just in months. 2 Timothy 4:6 “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.” He believed that his life was like a libation, which was poured out in front of a burning offering. In the Jewish tradition, the priest would pour a cup of wine in front of a burning sacrifice at the end of the ritual in God’s honor. This cup of wine would never be retrieved. It was going to evaporate from the ground and nothing would be left. Paul’s life at this point already began to dry and vanish from this visible world soon.
According to church tradition, St. Paul spent the last period of life in a Roman prison and then was martyred. Paul was lonely and weak in a cold and damp dungeon. In the eyes of the world, Paul lived in a living hell. Many people in his condition would give up any hope and care. However, Paul still had much good news to tell his fellow Christians. The misery of Paul’s personal suffering could not keep him from sharing God’s wisdom and love. His strong desire to benefit people spiritually proved that despite the confinement in a prison, his desire to serve the Lord remained strong. Regardless of where he was, Paul continued to share God’s grace and wisdom. His personal bad news could not eclipse Jesus’ good news. The darkness of the world could not overshadow Jesus’ light. As long as Paul was alive, God’s call stood current and drove Paul to communicate God’s love in any possible way. Without public audience to preach, Paul spoke to prison guards in person, a captive audience, or wrote pastoral letters to Christian communities. He had much to offer. Many people envy Paul’s purpose-driven life, for they don’t have that goal in life and a call to serve. His legacy tells the world loudly that God’s grace is made perfect in human weakness.
St. Paul quoted from a popular praise song of his time, Ephesians 5:14 "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Early Christians took the unsaved souls as spiritual sleepers. They needed to be awakened by the power of God’s spirit to see who they were and what the world was that they lived in. The saved Christians were risen from death to a new life which was in the light of Christ. Most people want to sleep in the dark, for light will disturb their sleep. When we wake up we need light to see what the environment is. Now we are in the light of Jesus. We have a new sight to see the world and new insight to see ourselves. We all need Jesus as the true light to shine where we are so we can see the emptiness of the vanity fair, and to shine the inside of our souls so we can see our weak, ignorant and sinful humanity. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit which challenges us and changes us.
Starting from this paradigm shift, we begin our faith journey. After waking up in Christ’s light, we can see with our spiritual awareness. We don’t want to be foolish as we used to be. We want to live carefully and wisely. We will have new understanding of time and timing. We will seek wisdom from God to be wise people. We will seek the will of God that we can live for.
Paul cautioned us to make the most of the time, because the days were evil. Here Paul as a cross cultural giant between the Hebrews and the Greeks, his notion of time carried double layers of meaning. One has the idea of day upon day, and hour upon hour as passing time. Timing has the idea of definite points of time, a time where something has to happen, the due time. This is the difference between time and timing.
These days, there is a popular concept called “time management.” In other words, as an individual or as a company, how to manage the asset of time is one of the keys to success. Time is more precious than any other commodities. In order to evaluate the ability of a student, the interviewer asks him to project himself in five or ten years. The interviewer wants to know how the student plans the future and how to accomplish his goals by making the most of time. The way of how the student concentrates in study and how he spends leisure time is important. If the student doesn’t have a clear-cut goal and vision for the future and doesn’t race against passing time, there would be no bright future for him. Good management of passing time for the imminent future is the right path to success.
Proverbs 20:4 “A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.” This great wisdom tells us that the sluggard doesn’t keep in mind that harvest time comes closer irreversibly. If we want to reap a harvest, we have to make the best of time and work hard. If we don’t keep the appointed time in mind and let time slip away from finger tips, we will get nothing done then. The final harvest is the accumulation of our daily efforts. If we don’t keep the finale in mind, we have nothing to work for. If we are too sluggish to keep up with passing time, we will reap nothing at the end. Both passing time and the imminence in time are equally important to us.
Time is the only equally distributed gift from God. There are 24 hours a day and 7 days a week for everyone. We can neither buy time nor make it. It depends on each individual how to make the most of time. The time we have is not retrievable, negotiable or transferable. The appointed events preset by God are not to be altered by anyone. Sooner or later, we have to die at a due time to meet the Lord Jesus. Are we ready for that? And how do we prepare ourselves for that? To children, they have to grow up to be responsible adults for themselves, for the family and for the community in time. This is Christian worldview regarding the best use of time and the imminence of time.
St. Paul wanted to make us aware that the days were evil. The attractions of the world take away a lot of time and life from us and reward us with nothing of eternal significance. A friend of mine kept the track record of LA Dodgers in the garage for decades. After his death, his wife told me that none of their four children wanted keep them for the father. She felt much better when the garage was cleaned up. Actually very few things in the world carry eternal significance. It is good to have a reasonably good life and have some hobbies for pastime. But if people don’t invest in eternity, they will have nothing there. God’s children should have their focus on eternal spiritual things, like faith, hope and love. Everyday when we wake up in the morning, we should ask ourselves whether we have faith and hope in Christ and whether we are ready to love God and people more this specific day. We ask the Lord what new insight and power we will receive from him. Christians always keep in mind the time of the union with Christ soon and keep making the best of time for eternity.
The wisdom from God covers how to handle the addictions to alcoholism and other things which control people. Since some birds taught humans how to ferment wine, drinking has always been a problem. Birds collected grapes and other fruits together and left them in rock cracks. In days, the fruit juice became alcoholic beverage. Ancient hunters found this delicious pink fluid and drank it. The fluid tasted good and they liked the way they felt after drinking. Since then people learned to make many kinds of wine and liquor. There are thousands of years between the first sip of bird-made wine to today’s drinking problem around the world. Every year, in the United States, alcohol is responsible for almost 100,000 deaths, 25,000 of it by drunk drivers alone, 6 million non-fatal injuries, and more than $100 billion in economic losses such as disability, unemployment and loss of productivity.
Why does alcoholism become such an abiding trouble and how to solve it? Actually, alcohol is a depressant; it loosens people because it depresses their self-control, their wisdom, their balance and judgment. Many men and women pour alcohol into their systems to help them feel differently about themselves and about the world. Life is too short and tough for everyone in the world. Our life span is limited to decades. No one is able to stop its progress from young to old and from its colorfulness to gray death. There is little wisdom and knowledge from anyone to answer the basic human probing questions: what is the meaning of life and what would happen after death? Or why are humans so sinful and how to cope with it? Drinking is one of the answers for some. They consume alcohol to sooth their anxiety as an anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life.
My grandpa was a drunkard until death. I remember when I was a teenager boy, he told me from the bottom of his heart, “How can I go to sleep without yellow wine?” His body was addicted to alcohol as a part of his system. Alcohol was his way to escape the reality of life. Being sober was not his normal life. You are blessed if you don’t drink or you are off the hook. As Christians we should have deep sympathy for those who are caged in drinking. That’s why our church has supported an AA group every Monday evening for decades to use our facility to help people quit drinking. Let us see what the Bible gives us for wisdom and power.
Paul addressed the problem of alcoholism. Ephesis was an affluent port city in today’s Turkey where the church was located. Drinking was a way of life for many who used liquor to escape the reality of life. The church members were influenced by the society and some of them brought this drinking problem to the body of Christ. St. Paul encouraged them, Ephesians 5:8-9 “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.” He didn’t condemn drinking as many do today. He once encouraged his apprentice, Timothy, to take some wine for health purpose. He didn’t discount the monotonous and painful reality of life. He just shared the power from God – the presence of the Holy Spirit to replace the effect of liquor. When we have the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, we don’t need to rely on anything else for peace, joy, inspiration and contentment. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the gift from God to help us. Being low in energy and spirit is unbearable for some people. Those who live without the Spirit have to find ways to feel better with stimulants like alcohol, gambling, drugs, sexual debauchery or even cell phone addiction. Actually everyone has to deal with the downhill side of life. Christians with the presence of the Holy Spirit experience life in a similar way as others do. However, with the truth, power and comfort of the Spirit, we understand that the low or even a depressed mood is allowed by God. Our way to cope with it is to let the Spirit take control and learn to live downcast for a while. We accept the reality that life is not necessarily always rosy and ecstasy. We trust the Lord that the joy from God will come soon and revitalize us after the rest in spirit and in body. Christians don’t always stay high. We learn to cope with highs and lows in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Like many of you, I am very thankful that I am a man free of alcohol any substance. As St. Paul stated in 1Corinthians 6:12b “I will not be dominated by anything.” He was mastered by the power of the Holy Spirit only which cheered him up and put praise in his heart and songs in his mouth even when he was suffering in prison. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, God’s children like Paul can never be dominated or crushed by anything. We are free, joyful and inspired.
I know that many people in this world envy Christian life. They wish they could have such a dwelling spirit and available power in life. People within and without the church can’t help asking, “Where can I get this Holy Spirit?” You can. God affirmed us in 1 Corinthians 12:3 No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.” All confessing Christians have the Holy Spirit in their life. God’s presence is promised. For sure the Spirit is with you, while you confess “Jesus is Lord.”
Christians are assured of their relationship with the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” Paul told us that we all are a part of God’s temple as tangible presence in the world. Many people go to religious temples to see and to worship idols. However, Christians are walking witnesses of God to manifest the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit affirms us, guides us, inspires us and cheers us up.
With the Holy Spirit, we can have the wisdom of God. James3:17 “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” Therefore, if you are really thirsty for God’s love, truth and guidance, you have to be a Christian, confessing, “Jesus is Lord” and being a clean temple for the dwelling Spirit. Drawn upon the power of the Holy Spirit, you will have the wisdom and strength to manage your time and life; you will be a free person, depending on nothing, but enjoying peace, joy, contentment and gratitude. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our life is the best gift from God and links us to the loving God to eternity.