WISE & UNWISE CHOICES
Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) says this: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” That’s an interesting way to begin sermon. Fortunately, these aren’t difficult verses to break down. Anyone really can understand them. So let’s take a look at them.
There are really two thoughts going on here. The first one has to do with the way we live. “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.” What do you think about that? Are we careful about how we live? Do we seek to make wise decisions and avoid the unwise? And do we make the most of every opportunity? When you think about it, that’s a pretty tall order.
Be careful how you live. Be wise and make the most of every opportunity. I confess that I was not very wise yesterday. It actually happened at the funeral home. You may or may not know that Barb Starling’s mother died a couple of days ago and they decided to celebrate her life yesterday afternoon. I hadn’t seen Barb and Jay for quite some time so I wanted to attend to show our support.
It wasn’t a traditional funeral. There was no minister presiding and there were no rows of seating. Rather, there were round tables scattered throughout the room with chairs around them. There was food and drinks at the back of the room on the opposite side from the casket. There was no real reception line. There was just a bunch of people talking to each other. They did that for a couple of hours and then everyone quieted down while Barb said a few things about her mother, Hazel Quick, and then invited others to come and share their stories. A few did.
This was one of the times when they tried something different. I’ve been to funerals where they tried something different and, to tell you the truth, I’ve seen very mixed results. Sometimes it works but often it doesn’t. Fortunately, this one worked quite well. And then when everyone had spoken who wanted to speak, Barb asked me to say to prayer, which I was most honoured to do.
So far, all of the decision had been wise ones. So far. I’ll introduce the rest of the story by saying the Hazel was well known for a few things, one or which was her love for chocolate, especially dark chocolate. And so there was lots of dark chocolate scattered on the tables around the room. After the prayer, I sat down at a table and notice that, right in the centre of the table was a bowl of Lindor chocolate truffles. Is your mouth watering yet? And to make matters worse, they were dark chocolate truffles.
That would not be an issue for most people but as many of you know, I can’t tolerate much caffeine and so I tend to avoid coffee, tea, cola’s and chocolate because they do funny things to me. But I couldn’t resist. I took one of those dark chocolate Lindor truffles, unwrapped it and bit into it. It was so good. In fact, it was so good that, when I finished it, I took another one and ate it. And then another one. That’s right. I had three truffles. I can usually tolerate one but three is way over my limit
Was that a wise thing to do? Not really because about five minutes later, I started to get all of the symptoms I always get when I overdose on chocolate. Mainly I start acting like hyperactive four year old. And some of you are wondering how that’s any different than usual. But trust me, it is. So was it wise? No. Was it delicious? Yes. Would I do it again? Definitely. Do you know why? Because every now and then I can get away with it and there’s really no harm done.
But that’s not true of everything. Sometimes, unwise decisions can have tragic consequences. Have you noticed that there’s a new driving fad in Windsor these days? It’s called going through red lights. I’m serious. I was going to Windsor yesterday and got stopped at various stop lights. At every light I stopped at, someone went through it when it was still red. Is that a wise choice? No. And it’s worse than eating chocolate because the consequence is that someone can get killed.
There’s a real easy solution to that one. It’s called putting cameras up at intersections so that people who go through red lights will be caught and pay a fine. The city of Hamilton did that a few years ago. I know because our son Andrew got caught by the cameras and was sent a ticket in the mail along with a photo of him driving through the intersection when the light was red. Busted!
I realize that these cameras a very controversial. In 2016, red light cameras in Hamilton nailed 14,000 people who were breaking the law. Each ticket was $325 and, if you do the math, you’ll discover that those tickets added up to over $4.5 million. The profits have been used to improve school zone safety, pedestrian safety as well as a number of other safety initiatives. And – this is the most important point – intersections where the cameras are located have seen a significant decrease in the number of accidents and injuries.
So it sounds like a win-win but can you imagine the uproar if City Council in Windsor tried to do that? One camera at the corner of Walker and Provincial would probably fund the entire city police force all by itself. But people would cry foul left, right and centre. Why? Because they’d be concerned that they’d get caught breaking the law and have to pay for their unwise choices. And that would never do because a lot of people don’t want to be held accountable for their irresponsible choices that can have tragic consequences.
THE DAYS ARE EVIL
Paul wrote, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.” Don’t make stupid choices. Make good choices. Why? That brings us to the second point. Paul goes on to write, “… because the days are evil.”
That’s an interesting phrase too. Let me ask you. Do you think the days are evil? Maybe they are. When you turn on the news, what do you discover? I think you discover that there is lots of evil in this world. Oh sure, there’s good out there but there is definitely lots of evil too.
Think about this. There are about 7.5 billion people on the earth. But 2 billion of them suffer from one of various forms of malnutrition. Three million children die from the effects of malnutrition every year; that accounts for 1/3 of child deaths worldwide. I think that’s evil.
Let’s bring it to a more personal individual level. Scott Peck was a theologian and psychiatrist who authored the book The Road Less Travelled which became an international best seller. He once wrote of a 15 year old teenage boy he was working with. His name was Bobby. Bobby was increasingly troubled after his 16-year-old brother killed himself with a .22 rifle.
Peck tried to probe Bobby’s mind, but got nowhere. Searching for ways to establish a bond, he asked what Bobby had received from his parents for Christmas. “A gun,” Bobby said.
Peck was stunned. “What kind?” he asked.
“A .22,” was Bobby’s reply.
More stunned, he asked, “How did it make you feel, getting the same kind of gun your brother killed himself with?”
Bobby answered, “It wasn’t the same kind of gun. It was the same gun.”
I think that’s evil. Does anyone really think that there is not evil in this world?
I could go on but you get my point. The days were evil 2,000 years ago when Paul first wrote to the Ephesians, it is evil now and it’s been evil at every point in between. And it will continue to be evil until Jesus returns in glory at the end of the age to complete the kingdom that he began when he first walked this earth.
Do you know why that is? Listen to what it says in 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV): “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Your enemy the devil is prowling around looking for people to devour. Isn’t that true? Sure there are all sorts of good things in the world. There are people who do great stuff and help others and support good causes. But, whether or not they realize it, they are fighting against the devil who has his evil talons in all sorts of things. And as long as he is in this world, the days will be evil. Thank goodness that, in Jesus Christ, his days are numbered but they are not over yet because he’s still prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Just try to make sure that it’s not you.
The days are evil but do you know what isn’t evil? I can’t find very many references in the Bible to say that people are evil. I’m not saying they aren’t there because they might be but, try as I might, I can’t think of one. The Bible might call many things evil. It talks about the evil one who is the devil. It talks about resisting evil. It talks about people who do evil things. But I don’t know of any verses that say that people themselves are evil.
Do you know why that is? It’s because all people are capable of being redeemed by the blood of Jesus. All people can have their sins forgiven. All people are eligible to enter the kingdom through faith in Christ. Evil can’t do that. Evil cannot enter God’s perfect kingdom and so people themselves cannot be evil.
One of the big problems in the Church is that we sometimes get that mixed up. We look at people as if they are evil. And we treat them as though they are evil. And by treating them as though they are evil, we also treat them as though they are beyond God’s redemption. And do you know what that is? It’s just bad theology because as it says in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV), “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” If God wants all people to be saved then God made it possible for all people to be saved which means that while people might do evil things, they themselves are not evil.
But do you know what we do when we treat them as if they are evil? We turn them off to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We make it difficult for them to be saved because of our actions and our words and our inability to see them as God’s creations, worthy of God’s love and capable of being washed by the blood of the Lamb. Yes, people might do evil things but they themselves are not evil. And we have to stop treating them as if they are.
Instead of treating them as evil, do you know what we are supposed to do? We are called to love them. No matter what someone does, no matter what actions they might take, no matter how heinous their crimes or how grave their sin, God commands that we love them. And I meant that word when I said it. God commands us to love. It’s not a suggestion or a recommendation. God’s call to love is a non-negotiable, non-debatable imperative. We are commanded to love. I’m not saying that it’s always going to be easy but no one ever said that faith was easy either. Love is a command.
FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
I just want to close off with one more point. Ephesians 5:17-20 (NIV) says this: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Don’t treat people as evil. Instead love them. And understand the Lord’s will. And then it goes on to suggest a few things that we can do if we really want to make wise choices. First, it says don’t get drunk. Note that it doesn’t say not to drink wine. That’s something else that we sometimes get mixed up in the Church. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wine or any other alcoholic beverage. And I’m not trying to justify my own behaviour because I don’t drink alcohol. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that drinking alcohol is evil or sinful. What it does say is that we are not to get drunk because drinking leads to debauchery which basically means hedonism, just doing things for pleasure for pleasure’s sake with no sense of consequences. We are not supposed to get drunk because it leads us into sin. I think that’s true and we need to pay attention to that if we want to be faithful to Christ.
But why did Paul place this first in the list of things that we should consider if we want to make wise choices? I can think of all kinds of other things that I’d put before saying not to get drunk. I’d might say to pray or to treat others with respect or to feed the hungry. But to tell people not to get drunk? What’s that all about? Why did he put that first? He did it because of what comes after. He wrote that rather than being filled with alcohol, be filled with the Spirit. So if you’re going to be filled with anything, be filled with the Spirit. If you’re going to get high on anything, get high on the Spirit. If you’re going to let something influence your behaviour, don’t turn to alcohol. Rather turn to Jesus.
And then Paul gets really specific. If you want to dwell upon the things of God, here’s what you should do. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord and give thanks to God for all things. In a nutshell, what this means is that if we are filled with the Spirit, we will dwell not upon the evil things of this world but rather upon the holy things of God. We will seek to fill our hearts, our minds and our bodies not with things that lead to debauchery but things that bring us closer to God and to each other.
That’s what Jesus was getting at when he spoke the words that Brian read this morning from John 6:51 (NIV) which says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus, of course, is talking about communion in which we symbolically break the bread and pour the cup as reminders of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jesus calls himself the living bread that came down from heaven. He also tells us to eat this bread and, in doing so, reminds us again about how important it is that we be filled not with wine which leads to debauchery but with the Holy Spirit and Jesus who is the bread of life.
So in the end, it comes down to this; we have to make choices in life. But what will those choices be? Will they be wise or unwise choices? Do we choose to follow the evil of this world or do we follow the way of Christ? Do we fill ourselves with things that lead to sin or do we fill ourselves with things that lead to holiness.
choice is ours. Jesus calls us to choose wisely.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We walk this earth day by day receiving blessing upon blessing. We offer our thanks for your many gifts given freely to us out of your generousity and grace. We praise you, O God, and thank you for the beauty of summer, for bright flowers and rustling leaves, for clean water and refreshing swims and road side fruit stands.
Father God, we offer our praise to you in morning and in the evening, in our homes and at work, everywhere, without hesitation or reservation! When difficult times arise, you are our refuge and strength. Thank you for the assurance that we are never alone. We can depend on you when our own resources come to an end. You are worthy of praise and adoration and we will honour you with our thoughts, words and actions, acknowledging who you are and what you have done for us. God you have given us the summer breezes, the fluffy white clouds in the sky, the beautiful flowers in our gardens, the birds singing in the trees and the warmth of the sun. Everything we see reminds us of your awesome power.
We thank you for the gift of love, especially as it is shown in marriage. And so, we lift up to Laura Durance and Jason Alexander who were married yesterday. Bless them God as they begin their adventure of married life together. Keep their promises true and their vows pure.
We also thank you for the lives of Carol Laird and Gary Noble whose lives were celebrated this week. Bless their families and friends as they mourn these losses. Give them the comfort and peace that only you can provide.
We pray for our
brothers and our sisters who suffer from illness or who are recovering,
remembering especially Nancy Fitch and Doug Montgomery. We pray for the poor
and hungry. We pray for victims of war; keep us kind and compassionate. We pray
for those who are sick at home or in the hospital. We ask that you touch them
with your healing spirit. We pray for those who mourn the loss of a loved one.
Grant them healing and wholeness. Grant them your peace. We pray specifically
for Canadian soldiers in many parts of the world who continue to put themselves
in harms way for a greater good and more peaceful and just existence. And on
this day, we remember, especially, the Dieppe Raid that happened 70 years ago
today. Remind us, O God, that even though military people may far away, they
are defending us here right now as they always have. Amen.