Summary: Paul shows us how to use biblical wisdom to discover the will of God through: 1) Understanding (Ephesians 5:15), 2) Occasion (Ephesians 5:16), 3) Action (Ephesians 5:17)
Most of us acknowledge that God has a plan for the life of every believer, but often we have trouble in finding just which way this plan goes at a particular juncture, where the answers sometimes seem to elude even the most persistent searcher. Some apparently think that God’s will is lost. At least they say they are searching for it! To them, God must appear to be a sort of divine Easter bunny who has stashed His will, like eggs, somewhere out of sight and sent us running through life, trying to find it. And He is up there saying, “You’re getting warmer!” Others offer the suggestion that God’s will is to be found via a dramatic experience. Running down the street, you fall on a banana peel and land on a map of India. Immediately you say to the Lord, “Thank You for that clear leading. I understand! India it is!” Or there is always the voice from heaven or the vision in your dreams calling you to Chile. Then there are those who are actually afraid of the will of God. They believe that God is a kind of “cosmic killjoy,” stomping on everyone’s fun and raining on parades. People with this view actually fear the will of God as a severe way of life that will demand the sacrifice of their most treasured abilities or possessions. Then there is the brass-ring mentality. (They believe that if you don't make the right choice, you will be left with second best). (MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2012). Found: God’s will. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.)
Why is it important to discover God's Will? Only in the Lord’s will and power can anything good and lasting be accomplished. When the Lord’s will is carefully sought and the principles of His Word applied more faithfully, His priorities become our priorities. God is then is free to work in us and through us to accomplish great things; but when our priorities are not His priorities He can do little with us because He has little of us.
God’s general will is, of course, found in Scripture. Here we find His perfect and sufficient guidelines for knowing and doing what is pleasing to him. But the will of which Paul seems to be speaking here in Ephesians 5 is the Lord’s specific leading of individual believers. Although His specific plans and directions for each believer at any given moment are not found in Scripture, the general principles for understanding them are there. God does not promise to show us His will through visions, strange coincidences, or miracles. Nor does He play a divine guessing game with us, seeing if we can somehow stumble onto His will like a small child finds an egg at an Easter egg hunt. God’s deepest desire for all of His children is that they know and obey His will, and He gives us every possible help both to know and to obey it.
In the present passage, Paul shows us how to use biblical wisdom to discover the will of God. He shows us how to discover this through: 1) Understanding (Ephesians 5:15), 2) Occasion (Ephesians 5:16), 3) Action (Ephesians 5:17)
1) Discover God's Will through Understanding (Ephesians 5:15)
Ephesians 5:15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, (ESV)
Those who love the Lord are rightly concerned to do his will but often in seeking it fail to give sufficient place to the wisdom God has already made available. He has provided this primarily through the Scriptures, not only through individual verses but in the accumulation of teaching about himself, the world, the church. This includes what Scripture says about us both as limited, sinful human brings and as Christians. But wisdom is more than knowledge, even Bible knowledge. It is knowing God, maturing in our relationship with him and walking with him so closely and perceptively that we are enabled to develop a godly character, live thoughtfully and make proper choices in life. Through the revelation that God has given us of his own nature and of the ways he has acted in human history, we can usually gain insight as to how God would view the various ethical and moral choices that confront us. In spite of our (sinful tendencies), we are blessed with the ability to make choices wisely. Such a mature knowledge of God and his Word should help us to go beyond the tendency to extract verses out of context and apply them mechanically to life’s decisions or to become overly concerned with seeking special supernatural leading (Liefeld, W. L. (1997). Ephesians (Vol. 10, Eph 5:15). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).
Paul’s instruction for believers to look carefully and see that they walk carefully is based on what he has just been teaching. The reference to "then" refers immediately back to the apostle’s call for believers to walk as those who have been raised from the dead and are living in Christ’s light (v. 14). It also reaches even further back to build upon his call for believers to be imitators of their heavenly Father (5:1). Christians are to walk wisely rather than unwisely because they are God’s beloved children, saved through the sacrifice of His beloved Son (5:1–2). Only the wise walk befits the children of God. This is a PRESENT ACTIVE INDICATIVE, not another PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. It is a statement of fact, not a command. “Walk” is a biblical metaphor for lifestyle (cf. 4:1, 17; 5:2) (Utley, R. J. (1997). Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound: Letters from Prison (Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, then later, Philippians) (Vol. Volume 8, p. 127). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.).