As we’ve noted, Ephesians chapters 4-6 reveal seven ways in which we are to walk, each of which in-turn is based on related doctrine in chapters 1-3. The first reality of our Christian walk is to walk in unity (4:1-16), the second is to walk in purity (4:17-32), the third is to walk in love (5:1-7), and the fourth is to walk in Light (5:8-14). We come now to the fifth, walk in wisdom (5:15-17).
Wisdom truly is a fascinating subject. It is spoken of often by Christian and non-Christian, but it is often not fully understood by either. Wisdom is often defined as “good judgment,” but while that is true to a certain extent, true wisdom goes far beyond that.
As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15, we are not to walk as fools, but as wise. But what does wisdom fully mean? We first encountered the concept of wisdom back in Ephesians 1:8: “Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” For the sake of our present study, let us review the two words found there. Wise is the Greek sophia, a word which was very important to the ancient Greeks; they wrote and thought much about it. The word speaks of a quality or an attitude rather than an action. The basic meaning, according to Aristotle, is, “Knowledge of the most precious things.” To be more specific, this is the intellectual knowledge of ultimate realities such as life and death. “Prudence” is the Greek phronesis, and like sophia, it was an important word to the ancient Greeks. The basic meaning is “a way of thinking, a frame, intelligence, good sense.”
But the word often has the fuller idea of “discernment and judicious insight.” Again, Aristotle tells us that this is the knowledge of human affairs and of things in which planning is necessary. Another ancient Greek, Plutarch, describes this as practical knowledge of the things which concern us. That is crucial. It’s one thing to know something, but quite another to put it into practice.
To correlate all that, there are times when these words are interchanged, but again phronesis is more practical than sophia. This is further substantiated by the words being used together. Surely Paul is not being repetitious here; rather he is referring not only to theoretical knowledge, but practical application as well. To the Greek mind, if a man had both of these, he was thoroughly equipped for life. So, may we say that every person needs both of these. Many people are “intellectuals” who have great theoretical knowledge, but they have little common sense and cannot accomplish the practical things of life. On the other hand, there are those who are quite practical and “down to earth” but are not concerned with deeper knowledge of ultimate realities. Every one of us needs both of these, and God has given us both. It is up to us to claim them.
We are now ready to view wise as it used here in our text. Since there is a certain amount of the practical use of knowledge in the Greek sophia, then we see that God wants us to use our knowledge correctly. In fact, this is what Bible teachers usually say about wisdom. However, the fact remains that sophia speaks primarily of knowledge. Therefore, God wants His people to have and use the right kind of knowledge. He want us not only to know things, but to know the right kind of things. And He not only wants us to use that knowledge, but to use it correctly. The question now is, what knowledge is Paul concerned with?
This leads us to our second thought—what wisdom involves—which we’ll explore next time.