The children’s Sunday School Song, “The Wise Man and the Foolish Man” is not only cute with a catchy tune; it is also packed with truth. It, of course, references the teaching of our Lord who, at the end of His Sermon on the Mount, said that all who hear His words and do them are like the wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the storms came, his house stood. He lived wisely with wonderful dividends. The foolish man, however, though hearing the same truths, refused to heed those truths. He is likened to one who built his house upon the sand. The same storms came but his house fell to the ground. It went “splat,” as the children inform us. The one who lives like a fool will experience impoverishing dividends. (Matthew 7:24–26).
What is the point of the song? The point of Jesus’ teaching? There are two ways to live: wisely or foolishly. There are ultimately two types of people: foolish and wise. Paul teaches the same thing here.
Christians are daily faced with this choice. Christians are to live wisely. What does this look like? Well, at the least, it looks like vv. 15–17.
If the previous passage contrasted light with darkness, this passage contrasts wisdom with folly—wise living with foolish living. The contrasts are not unrelated.
Those who are light are also enlightened. Those who are light in the Lord are at the same time responsible to walk as those who have been enlightened to walk like the Lord. Those who have been given light are to wisely live like it. Though the darkened world may praise and practise folly, the enlightened believer praises and practises wisdom. In fact, the Christian is on the lookout to avoid foolish choices and conduct as he watches daily at the gates for wisdom.
The Christian is a watchman; the Christian is to be always on the watch as he walks in this sin-cursed and darkened world. And to the degree that we do, we will live wisely.
Paul identifies at least three areas in which we are to be wise:
First, we are to walk wisely and therefore to walk carefully (v. 15). This will require discipline. Second, we are to walk wisely and therefore to walk economically (v. 16). This will require discernment. Third, we are to walk wisely and therefore to walk thoughtfully (v. 17). This will require deliberation.
We Are to Walk Carefully
First, we are to walk carefully. Paul writes, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (v. 15). We are to be wisely disciplined about where, how and with whom you walk. We must use godly judgement.
I recently listened to a talk radio show that was asking the question, why do women live longer than men? The answer? Because men are more prone to engage in idiotic activity! That is, they are more prone to behave foolishly. In a nutshell, when it comes to decisions about behaviour, women are generally wiser than men.
Three key words open the passage: “see,” “walk” and “circumspectly.” (The ESV conflates the first and last as “look carefully.”) The NEB puts it this way: “Be most careful then how you conduct yourselves: like sensible men, not like simpletons.” “See” means to take heed or to beware. “Walk” is the theme of chapters 4–5. It speaks of the way in which we conduct our lives. “Circumspectly” means exactly, accurately or diligently. “Wise,” in this context, speaks of those who say yes to God, who uphold Him as their proper fear object (cf. Psalm 14:1; 53:1).
Clearly, the exhortation is that, because of the darkness that surrounds us (“evil days”), the Christian is to walk very carefully. We are to conduct our lives with great diligence, with great exactness in accordance with the will (Word) of God.
We must watch out because of where we walk. The world is a dangerous place. Consider the various trials that tempt us to unbelief (see Hebrews 3:12; 1 Corinthians 10:12). Indeed, the church can be a dangerous place (see Philippians 3:2; 2 John 8; Mark 8:15). Relationships can be dangerous—even in the church (see Galatians 5:15).
We must watch out because of what is at stake. At stake, is the eternal state of our souls. Those who do not watch where they walk have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” and “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (vv. 5–6). The welfare of your family is at stake. Jesus spoke of those who would not walk wisely in His generation as being “unaware until the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 24:36–39). Noah warned people, but they did not walk wisely and entire families were destroyed. The welfare of the church is likewise at stake. If we do not walk wisely, it may be “a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). If we “bite and devour one another” we may be “consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15).
Be alert. Don’t get too comfortable with the things of the world. Demas, “in love with this present world” forsook Paul (2 Timothy 2:10).
In short, don’t be a fool. Be careful how you walk. Learn to walk skilfully in accordance with the glory of God. Fools live as though there is no God. They live as those who daily say, “No, God!” (see Psalm 14:1; 53:1). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15). “A wise man fears and departs from evil, but a fool rages and is self-confident” (Proverbs 14:16). “A fool has no delight in understanding but in expressing his own heart” (Proverbs 18:2).
Listen to your spiritual fathers, to those whom you respect in the faith. “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent” (Proverbs 15:5). Paul advised the Thessalonians like a father (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12). Sadly, many are like Proverbs 23:9: They speak in the hearing of a fool, who despises words of wisdom.
Are you careful or are you careless? Solomon wrote, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). Once again, we remember the words of Jesus about the wise man and the foolish man (Matthew 7:26–27).
Are you hell bent on going your own way? Paul speaks of those who, “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Don’t be foolish! Walk wisely—doctrinally (Galatians 3:1); materially (1 Timothy 6:9); and dispositionally (Titus 3:1–3, 8).
As you walk wisely, watch out with whom you walk. A recent newspaper headline read, “Having Sex with your Fiancée is a Serious offense in the UAE.” The article told of an engaged couple who were arrested in the United Arab Emirates because she fell pregnant out of wedlock. It is a sad fact that such news is even considered front-page news. Actually, premarital sex a serious offence everywhere—to God, and therefore to the Christian. It is more than shameful that the Muslims get this better than many Christians! What is the problem? We are listening too often to fools. And those who walk with fools will ultimately find themselves destroyed (Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33–34).
What voices are you listening to? Who are your counsellors? What are your listening habits? What are you reading? What are you watching? We need people in our lives who, with integrity, can say, as Paul said, “Be followers of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). In September this year, our church is hosting a counselling conference. One reason for that is that we want to develop men and women in our church who are able to speak into each other’s lives. One of the saddest verses in the Bible is 2 Samuel 13:3, which reads, “But Amnon had a friend.” That friend was Jonadab, “a very crafty man,” who helped Amnon to rape his sister. We need to ensure that our friends are helping us advance in godliness rather than godlessness. As Solomon urged,
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil.
We Are to Walk Economically
Second, we are to walk economically. We are to walk wisely, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (v. 16). Be wisely discerning about what you do with your opportunities. Be wise about the times in which you live. Be like sons of Issachar, who “had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
The word translated “redeeming” means to buy up or to rescue from loss. “Time” translates the Greek word kairos. It speaks of an opportunity or season, a fixed time. Improve your opportunities. Exchange your time only for that of greatest value. Wise people are consistent. They are well-ordered. They are not erratic.
An ancient proverb reads, “Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set within sixty diamond minutes. No reward offered, for they are gone forever.” By contrast, Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Resolved: Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.”1 We must use our opportunity to shine for Christ, to improve the “evil days” by being winsome to win some. Paul provides a parallel to this in his letter to the Colossians:
Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.
Keep an eye on your watch as you watch. Christians are to wisely spend their time. We are to be discerning concerning what is important and what is not—what is a productive use of time and of the various seasons of our life.
In the season of your youth, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Don’t waste your youth. Far too many older Christians can testify to the fact that they did just that. There were opportunities in high school and university to stand or Christ that were wasted. I can certainly testify to that!
In the season of small children, how economical are you? Are you investing your time wisely? Are you present with your children? Are you delegating parenthood to strangers—to those who have an unbiblical worldview? Dads, what are you doing about the worldview to which your parents are exposed? Parents, sheltering their children is still the biblically wise thing to do! Adorn the gospel before your children while the opportunity remains. It is a travesty that parents will stand before a church and ask to be held accountable to raising a godly seed, but with then not even bring their children to Sunday school. Don’t waste your God-given opportunities!
In the season of retirement, remember that there is more to the economics of retirement than a pension fund! The greater issue is, how are you investing your time? Too many programs in evangelical churches “infantise” older saints. We create field trips to entertain them rather than expecting them to be involved in meaningful ministry. It is offensive! In your season of retirement, who are you investing in? A large part of that answer has to do with how you invested your opportunities to learn and to grow and to relate before you grew old, but there is no time like the present to change. I have a friend who started seminary at age 63 and today pastors a church.
In your season of schooling, learn all you can. Prepare yourself. Equip yourself to engage the worldview lies that you will surely face. (And, remember, you need the church for this!) Don’t waste your schooling years on the flimsy and fleeting. Don’t be foolish! Too many families are failing here: They are too busy with the wrong things. If you are in a school setting, use it for the glory of God. Open your mouth and stand for Christ.
In the season of employment, earn all you can as you learn and improve all you can so that you can give all you can (Ephesians 4:28). Use your opportunities in the workplace to evangelise and even to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19).
Don’t squander your season of health. Learn all you can. Serve while you can. In fact, redeem the time by watching out for your health. Robert Murray McCheyne, who died just shy of his thirtieth birthday, lamented his failure in this area in poetic terms: “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.” What are you doing with your well cared-for body?
Are you redeeming your season of illness. Joni Eareckson Tada was injured at age 18 and left a quadriplegic. She has said that she is thankful that the Lord did not heal her, for she has learned far more about God through this trial than she ever would apart from it. Sadly, too many Christians use poor health as an excuse and they live their lives self-focused and ultimately in a useless way.
What about your season of trial and difficulty? James wrote, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). The implication is that particular trials may have a certain shelf-life. Make the most of those opportunities (see also 1 Corinthians 10:134). Job spoke of coming forth as gold through a trial (Job 23:10). Peter spoke in similar fashion of trials,
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
(1 Peter 4:12–16)
Don’t waste your opportunities to wisely shine to the glory of God and the good of others.
Don’t waste the opportunity to grow downward in humility and to grow upward in holiness. In sum, be wise about not wasting the time that God has given to you. Be discerning. To put it bluntly, don’t be a fool. Included in this, don’t foolishly waste opportunities to learn to be wise. Gather with the church for worship. Be involved in a small group. Throw yourself into ministry. Make the best use of the time to be wise.
We Are to Walk Thoughtfully
Finally, we are to walk thoughtfully. Paul concludes, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (v. 17). We must be wisely deliberate about what we do.
As we choose to walk in a disciplined way, with discernment, then of course we will need to make decisions as to what is right and what is wrong—what is wise and what is foolish. In other words, we will need to be thoughtful. But what should guide our thoughts? Simply, the will of God. This is what Paul tells us here in v. 17.
“Unwise” translates a different word than wise in v. 15. It means mindless, stupid or ignorant. It even connotes egotism. The reason for that is because self-absorption leads to stupid decisions and stupid living. In fact, the word can describe a rash act or an unbelieving disposition.
So what is the antidote for this? It is to “understand”—to put together mentally, to comprehend. This word connotes being right or pious in godly living.
The fool lives by feelings, impulses, zeal, and fads. The wise, however, engage their minds. They apply their minds to God’s Word—His revealed will—not to their will. They therefore remain well-ordered and consistent, not erratic.
We are to watch that we walk according to God’s revealed will. If we will walk wisely we need a standard by which to make the distinction between foolish and wise living. That standard, of course, is God’s Word. We are called to an exact walk; the instructions are clear. We are to walk this way and not that way. And it really is not that difficult; the rules are not mysterious (see Deuteronomy 29:29–30:20).
We must be concerned and committed to think God’s thoughts after Him. Without this decision, we will neither be disciplined nor discerning in our walk. This brings us to the next observation.
We must be committed to comprehend God’s thoughts—His will or Word. This verse is not about the subjective aspect of God’s mysterious will (whom shall I marry? what job shall I take?) but rather His revealed will. God’s revealed will is the same for every Christian: to be saved; to submit; to suffer; to be sanctified; to be thankful; to be prayerful; to be a church member; and to be a serving church member.
What are you doing to know God’s will? Are you seeking to comprehend it? Are you seeking to put it together? You will never walk straight and sound if you are not decisive about learning God’s Word and then deciding to obey it? This is required of every Christian. But unfortunately, some choose to live as though they are stupid, senseless and mindless and egotistical. So they ignore those in their lives who seek to shepherd them (parents, husbands, elders, teachers). They ignore the opportunities to know God’s truth. They seek a worldly life coach rather than God’s coaches.
The choice is quite literally yours. What will you choose? The wise and narrow way or the foolish and broad way? Wisely and fruitful or foolishly and futile?
What makes the difference? That is, how does one choose the right, wise way? By choosing to follow Christ, the one who became for us the wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30). We can summarise what it is like to live wisely by looking at the sum of all wisdom, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is interesting that it is said of Him, as a child, that He “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). The bigger He grew, the wiser He became. He walked carefully. In fact, He walked so carefully that He never sinned. He exercised discipline to walk exactly as God intended for Him; as God intended for everyone. What a joy that He did what we never could. And, in a mysterious way, He learned obedience by the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:7–9). He exercised discipline and was exercised by discipline—as we now are (Hebrews 12:11).
He walked economically. He redeemed His appointed time to redeem us. He did not waste His opportunity. He exchanged His time only for those things of greatest value: His relationship with His Father; His opportunities to love God by loving His neighbours; His opportunities to warn and to win sinners; His opportunities to choose God’s truth over the devil’s lies; His opportunity to pay the redemption price for sinners.
He walked thoughtfully. He was deliberate in his approach to life. His passion was to do the will of His Father (John 4:34; 6:38). And this will was for Jesus to save all whom the Father had given to him (John 6:37–44; 17:1–3; etc.).
We should be grateful for the wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can be saved because He lived and died wisely. He can save you from the guilt and from the folly of your sins. He can make you “wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Christian, be like Jesus. Be wise and let God use you to make others wise as well. Live wisely that you might die wisely.