The following message is based on Ephesians 5:15-21. It was preached on February 17, 2013
One of the keys to being a successful person, in life, at work, with family, etc. is setting priorities. It is the focus upon what really matters, amidst manifold distractions. As it was put to me quite some time ago, it is the challenge “to keep the main thing, the main thing.” Others have labeled it “keeping first things first.” It is never easy. Former Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden was known for his inspirational talks. His players called them parables. One of his players recounted the following favorite story:
Bowden was playing college baseball, and he had never hit a home run. Finally he hit one down the right-field line, into the corner. He rounds first and looks to the third-base coach. He turned at second, was halfway to third and the coach was still waving him on. He got to home; he hit the plate. He had his first home run. He was so excited and everybody was slapping him five. Then the pitcher took the ball, threw to the first baseman, and the umpire called him out. [Coach Bowden] said, “If you don’t take care of first base, it doesn’t matter what you do. If you don’t honor the Lord first, it doesn’t matter what else you do.”
We are coming to the end of our study on Church health and relationships. The Apostle Paul here lays the ground work for how God’s administration in the church ought to work.
A big part of taking advantage of opportunities is setting priorities on what is really important. That’s what I’ve entitled our message this morning, “Setting Life Priorities.” What are good priorities?
GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF LIFE STYLE.
Ephesians 5:15 states: “Be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Other translations use the allusion of walking. Take notice of the New American Standard when it says: “…be careful how you walk….” What does it mean to walk as wise men? For one thing, it involves care and awareness. The NKJ says: “See then that you walk circumspectly….” The idea is living with a cautious, vigilant, attitude. Being spiritually aware. How is this done? Paul goes on to elaborate in a number of ways.
One way that we walk as wise men and women is by making the most of our time. Taking advantage of the spiritual opportunities around us. It means managing our spiritual resources in a way that honors God. Being keenly aware of your life and that you have been graced with opportunities to live for and point others to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are allotted a portion of time to serve the Lord. Some a very little time; others 80-90 years. No set time is guaranteed. Every day is a gift. We must make the most of it. Making the most of life means prioritizing God and the things associated with Him! Jeff Reed states: “The key to the passage is to walk wisely, making the most of our time. This implies setting the priorities of our lives around Christ and His plan. The heart of His plan is the church. This means that His purpose must become our purpose. His mission must become our mission. His priorities much become our priorities. Since we are to walk wisely and make the most of our time, we must plan our days, making sure that we do not just spend them as the world does.”
This also means understanding the Lord’s will. Someone recently pointed out that there is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge might be knowing information; wisdom is seeing how to apply principle. Wisdom has a starting point according to the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The means by which we can understand the Lord’s will is by being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Being filled with the Spirit begins by coming to faith in Jesus Christ. As it says in John 7:37: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” This was the occasion of the Feast of Booths, commemorating the wilderness wanderings in the book of Numbers. On one occasion where the Israelites were very thirsty, Moses was told to strike the rock.
Being wise is the opposite of being foolish; getting drunk. Verse 17 tells us: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Interesting that getting drunk with wine is equated with dissipation. What is dissipation? It is equated with indulgence. Following your senses. Being led by desires. Not thinking with a spiritual cap on. Some of us cannot have a drink of alcohol because it opens the doors to other things. Others of us must learn to be temperate. It is not that being a Christian is equated with abstinence from alcoholic beverages, but Christians learn how to practice self control. Alcohol indulgence is just one of many examples of unbridled living. We could put food here, sex, or any other source of temporary gratification. So we will either participate in unbridled living or living with God’s purposes. It means I’m not living for myself and my own pleasure. My happiness is not the main goal, rather the giving of myself so that Jesus Christ might be glorified. Not only do good priorities involve care of lifestyle, but…
GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF COMMUNITY.
This includes speaking and singing. The picture is of worship and community life. Verse 19 tells us: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This reminds us that the local church must be the center of our lives. Being filled with the Spirit includes many activities that are listed here. For instance, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. This means worship, both in a corporate sense and in a smaller, more intimate sense. Our lives are geared to recognizing Jesus and His rightful place in our lives. Hearing thanks given from the lips of each other, so that we are built up and encouraged.
Spiritual growth in a caring community versus the individualism. Do I live only for myself? Or am I led by my feelings? Ephesians 2:1 describes the Christian’s former way of life before Jesus enters the picture: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” Living for oneself vs. living for the benefit and blessing of others.
Or I can live in a godly community of believers where I am in it for others. Being subject to one another allows your fellow Christians to call you to account for your life, giving people the opportunity to speak the truth in love that you and I might conform to Christ. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. I am part of a larger whole; part of a winning team. Have you considered the priority that church is in your life? Is it the center of your social, spiritual and educational efforts? Are you giving to your church through your time, your talents and your financial resources?
Our church is a caring community. I recently met a minister and some folks from his church that had traveled from the Reading area to attend the funeral of their member’s mother. For a small group of individuals to take the time out of their day to show that support was pretty impressive. Maybe a few of you would like to comment on what this church has done for you? How has your life been blessed and enhanced by having Central as a part of your life? I’ll encourage you to come to one of the microphones in just a moment.
Here’s an anonymous testimony: “During a very dark time in our marriage the ministry we received from Central truly led to the healing of our broken marriage. The combination of the counsel we received as well as benevolent funding to attend a marriage retreat, provided the light to show us the way to bringing God into our marriage, trusting in Him and valuing the importance of our marriage covenant. We truly feel without the love and compassion we received from Central, our family would be in a much different place today. We will be forever grateful that God led us to this church as this is just one example of the many blessings we receive from being a part of the wonderful community of believers.”
And another: “I’m Amy Ramsey and I would like to talk about what Central means to me. In our family, Andy and I made a decision that church would be our first commitment. We’ve given up travel sports, popular kids school events and weekend getaways. They are not easy choices and usually heart wrenching decisions. Recently there was a conflict with sports and church and I saw it as a great opportunity to test my faith and see if my actions follow through with my words. I prayed about what would bless God the most and about the strengths that God gave each of my children. When I choose God and my church, it gives me a deep sense of peace and the strength to keep going (as only a mother of five can do)!”
All of these are examples of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our midst. In closing, listen to what Howard Synder says: “Spiritual growth occurs best in a caring community. There are spiritual truths I will never grasp and Christian standards I will never attain except as I share in community with other believers- and this is God’s plan. The Holy Spirit ministers to us, in large measure, through each other.”