Walking as Wise: Knowing the Way of Christ by Walking in the Way of Christ

Beginning with the scientific revolution in the sixteenth century and continuing through the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that which was deemed knowable or worthy of being known, was limited to that which was empirically verifiable or rationally deducible from certain premises about the laws of nature. Outside of this narrow definition of knowledge was thought to be the realm of mere speculation or superstition. It was perfectly acceptable for one to believe things about the supernatural realm, but these beliefs or opinions could never claim the certainty of scientific knowledge. With the onset of Romanticism and Existentialism in the nineteenth century and then postmodernism in the twentieth, the kind of certainty promised by the Enlightenment rationalists proved to be more elusive than originally imagined. Epistemological questions increasingly take center stage as modern, western man wrestles with the question of what constitutes knowledge and how it is that we know what we know. The book of Ephesians is particularly relevant to the questions being raised in our modern, secular age. Among several themes presented in the epistle, an important, though neglected, theme is the way in which the Christian comes to know and understand the invisible, spiritual mysteries and heavenly realities.

Knowing the Way

In Ephesians 1, Paul prays that his readers would come to know the hope of their calling, the riches of Christ’s inheritance, and the power of Christ’s resurrection (v.18-19). In chapter 3, he prays that they would know the length, width, breadth, and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (v.18-19). Paul preached a gospel of propositional truths that were to be understood and embraced by those who heard him. Paul’s traveling companion, Luke, who wrote his gospel account under Paul’s authority as an apostle, claims in his opening lines that he wrote: “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:4, NKJV, italics mine). In the book of Acts, Luke records the account of Paul seeking to make “the unknown god” that was worshipped by the Athenians known to them in the person of the risen Christ (17:22-31). This knowing that Paul desires for his readers in Ephesians 1:18-19, 3:18-19, and other places, is related to the ability to see. The Greek word “eidó” used here refers not just to having an idea in one’s head but knowing based on what one can perceive to be true.[1] That is why this ability to know is predicated on the reality of the heart of one’s eyes being enlightened through God’s predestinating grace, of which he speaks in 1:3-17. It is through God’s sovereign and electing grace that Paul’s readers heard the word of truth and were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, Paul prays that they might grow in their knowledge and come to perceive the great truths of the glorious gospel of Christ. The perfect participle clause in v.18 provides the causal basis for Paul’s prayer.[2] This knowledge that he desires his readers to obtain is not something they can simply work toward apart from grace. However, having received the enlightening of the eyes of the heart, the believer should come to a greater understanding of these things. Commentator Matthew Henry highlighted the progressive and experiential nature of spiritual enlightenment for the Christian when he wrote on v.18, “Observe, Those who have their eyes opened, and have some understanding in the things of God, have need to be more and more enlightened, and to have their knowledge more clear, and distinct, and experimental. Christians should not think it enough to have warm affections, but they should labour to have clear understandings; they should be ambitious of being knowing Christians, and judicious Christian (emphasis mine).”[3]

The Apostle Paul’s explanation of knowledge and how it is acquired presents a bold contrast to, and even an apologetic against, the Gnosticism that would plague the early church beginning in the second century. Given that Paul’s writing of Ephesians likely pre-dates the rise of Gnosticism by at least several decades, some might object to reading Pauline theology through this lens. However, there were many comparable mystery cults in the first century Near East that promised access to divine wisdom by engaging in various rites and rituals. Furthermore, while Gnosticism had not emerged as a system of thought in the first century, the various elements of such a system were present.[4] Unlike the mystery cults of the day, which were for those already considered pure,[5] the knowledge of which Paul speaks is offered to those who were dead (2:4), having no hope and without God in the world (2:12), and who received by grace through faith (2:8-9). The spiritual enlightenment of which Paul speaks does not occur automatically through a pagan ceremony or by receiving a special secret from a spiritual guru to which no one else is privy but occurs along the journey as the believer progresses toward the eternal city. The radical dualism of the gnostic heresies separating the spiritual and physical world tended not only to rely on a secret spiritual knowledge, but also to downplay the importance of holiness in the physical body as the body was inherently evil and not redeemable. This was a characteristic of the mystery religions of Paul’s day as well in that they did not aspire to any kind of ethical transformation. Paul’s sexual ethic, particularly in Ephesians 5, is a bold refutation of any gnostic view of the human body. Growth in knowledge is bound up with morality: what the Christian practices and by what he avoids.

The circumstances of the writing of Ephesians support this reading. Some critics raise doubt about whether the epistle was written by Paul or even was intended for the church in Ephesus due to its lack of personal detail and the absence of the phrase “in Ephesus” in 1:1 in the earliest manuscripts.[6] Defenders of Pauline authorship respond by arguing that Ephesians was meant to be a circular letter for a broader audience than simply the church in Ephesus. This is consistent with the work of scholar William Ramsey, who explains that Ephesus was the center of political life for the whole province of Asia and was the leading city in the region. “In the ordinary communication between the capital and the other cities of the province, the influence from Ephesus would be carried to these cities [of Asia Minor].”[7] In other words, if Paul intended to write a circular letter to the churches in Asia, Ephesus is exactly the place you would send it. If Paul was writing a circular letter that was to be passed around, it makes sense that the content of the letter would be geared toward broader issues in the church such as the rising trend of gnostic ideas. Since there were no immediate concerns in Ephesus occasioning this letter, Paul could focus on general areas of concern such as the nature by which the Christian comes to an understanding of greater spiritual realities. This letter can justifiably be read more like a philosophical treatise exploring broader themes including epistemology. Skeptics of the Pauline authorship of Ephesians also point out the difference in the style of writing from Paul’s style in other epistles. However, as Carson and Moo note, the differences in style tend to be exaggerated and are limited to the first half of the epistle.[8] We may add further that such differences in style should be expected if Paul’s purpose for the epistle differs from others and if he intends to write on a broader theme rather than address specific circumstances of a particular church.

Walking in the Way

Five times in the fourth and fifth chapters of Ephesians, Paul instructs his readers that they are to walk (peripateó) in a certain way. This Greek verb for “to walk” is translated as “live” in some English versions because it is a word that refers to more than just placing one foot in front of the other, but how one conducts his life.[9] Similarly, the Hebrew word for the verb “to walk” (halak), with which Paul would have been familiar as a well-educated Jew, also relates to one’s ethical behavior in life. From this word comes the Hebrew word halakah, which refers to legal decisions codified in the Mishnah.[10] A careful reading of the text of Ephesians would suggest that this walk is toward greater spiritual maturity. In the first half of the epistle, Paul prays for greater understanding for his readers of great spiritual realities. He then demonstrates how the Christian is to grow in his knowledge and understanding as he walks in obedience, increasingly conforming himself to the image of Christ. The growth in knowledge comes by walking on the journey of sanctification.

Walking in Unity

Paul begins this journey toward greater understanding by imploring his readers to walk in a manner worthy of the calling. To walk worthily is to walk in humility, lovingly bearing with one another, as well as doing everything necessary to preserve the unity that comes through the Spirit. Paul had demonstrated this to the church in Ephesus during his stay there and testifies to this using the exact same phrase when speaking to the elders from Ephesus at Miletus in Acts 20:19.[11] This is an odd first step in the journey. Endeavoring to be humble and patient and seeking to keep the peace with those who one might find burdensome requires a certain level of maturity. Yet, it is mentioned here as the first step in the walk of faith because it is the primary necessity of a new Christian entering into the communion of the body of Christ. This need for humility and patience works both ways. Those already in the body must show patience and humility toward the new Christian and the new Christian, with humility and patience, must seek to learn the faith and conform himself to the body of Christ. In I Corinthians 3, Paul demonstrated his disappointment with the party spirit that took over in the Corinthian church by referring to them as “infants in Christ” (v.1). Rather than bearing with one another in love and striving for unity, the Corinthian believers formed factions within the church based on their favorite teacher, pridefully elevating themselves above others and promoting schism. Thus, Paul commends the preservation of unity as the first step to take in the journey towards understanding.

Paul then provides the theological basis for walking in unity in the following verses in a sevenfold reference to the word “one.” The reality of one body, which was discussed by Paul in 2:11-22, in breaking down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile demands that members of that body live in harmony, working with each other in love rather than against each other. However, this pursuit of unity is not a pursuit of uniformity. There is diversity within the unity by virtue of the gifts that have been given to the church for the building up of the body. Christ’s gifts for the church are another manifestation of the power of Christ’s resurrection that Paul prayed his readers would grasp in 1:18. A lack of harmony in the body is a sign of a body that is sick and will not grow. Yet it is in humble forbearance that Paul instructs his readers to speak the truth in love so that they may be mature and grow up into Christ who is the head. Therefore, the first step toward a greater understanding of the great spiritual realities consists in walking in humility and endeavoring to preserve spiritual unity.

No Longer Walk as the Gentiles Do

The second reference that Paul makes to walking is stated negatively in 4:17: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” While believers are to bear with one another in love, this does not mean that believers are to stay as they are. Paul’s desire that his readers’ minds would be enlightened means that they must abandon those things which darken their understanding and alienate them from God. The pursuit of enlightenment must of necessity correspond to a flight from ignorance. In Paul’s anthropology, the root of the natural man’s sinful ignorance and futile mind lies in the hardness of the heart. It is not that man gains understanding and then obeys, but rather that man by grace begins to walk in the path of obedience that he might be enlightened to see these great realities in Christ. In verse 20, Paul writes, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” The fact that his readers knew about Christ and had believed on him did not mean that they yet understood the great hope, divine power, and limitless love of Christ, which is why Paul prayed that they would. At this point, though they have yet to understand these things, there are behaviors that must change in order that their minds would be renewed (v.23). By contrast, continuing in the paths of the Gentiles is to continue to have a futile mind.

In demonstrating what it means to not walk as the Gentiles do, Paul likens it to changing one’s clothes. At this stage in the journey, the traveler needs to be “taking off” the kinds of clothes that characterized his former life and putting on new attire befitting the course he is on and the destination toward which he is aimed. The old self, characterized by deceitful desires is to be taken off and the new self, put on. The imperatives that follow in verses 25-32 are not only basic to Christian morality, but typically expected of decent human beings. While the walk of sanctification consists of a great deal more than these prohibitions, it is not less. The Christian to put off lying, and speak truth; put off stealing, and instead work with his own hands; put off corrupting speech, and embrace edifying speech; put off malicious slander, and be kind. Amidst these couplets, Paul also warns against an uncontrolled anger while commending a righteous anger maintained within proper limitations.[12] He also warns against grieving the Holy Spirit, which is the result of persisting in such overtly sinful behaviors while professing Christ. This connects back to the hardness of heart that characterizes the unbeliever in verses eighteen and nineteen and enables them to give themselves up to sensuality and impurity. Says Calvin, “But if we give ourselves up to aught that is impure, we may be said to drive him away from making his abode with us; … Endeavour that the Holy spirit may dwell cheerfully with you, as in a pleasant and joyful dwelling, and give him no occasion for grief.”[13]

Walk Like God’s Children

The third reference to walking comes in 5:1-2: believers are to walk in love, imitating God as little children. This reference to children is connected thematically to the “adoption as sons” Paul speaks of in 1:5,[14] and the incorporation of the Gentiles through adoption into the household of God in 2:19. Here Paul transitions to the next stage in the journey of sanctification from commands to replace bad behaviors with good toward the practice of imitation. This goes beyond merely putting off those immoral practices that characterize the Gentiles and instead resembles a young child trying to mimic the behavior of a parent out of admiration. An imitating child is not so concerned about what it is he or she is not supposed to do, what it is that would get him or her “in trouble” but is more focused on what the parent is doing and seeking to copy every move. This distinction between the walking in 4:17 and the walking in 5:1 can be illustrated by the difference between the children and the rich young ruler presented in Matthew 19. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belonged to the children (19:14) and that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven would become like children (18:4). In contrast, the rich young ruler wanted to know what he must do or what he must avoid to be acceptable in the kingdom of God. Children are commended, not only for their childlike faith, but for their desire to imitate their parents.

In the verses that follow, the stakes are raised. The point is not only to rid oneself of filthy behaviors, but to live as a fragrant and sacrificial offering. This is the principal way in which the believer is to imitate. The prohibitions beginning in verse 3 are categorical rather than particular: sexual immorality, and all impurity or covetousness are not to be even mentioned for those who practice such things have no inheritance in the kingdom of God (v.5). Whereas in 4:29, Paul said that the believer should put off corrupting talk, here he broadens the category of prohibited speech to “filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking.” Likewise, the counterpart is upgraded from the commendation of edifying speech to the hearers to thanksgiving unto God. “This paragraph differs from the preceding in that the sins discussed in it are not criticized because of the harm they may do to the other members of the community and are not connected to the pattern of God’s love in Christ; instead they are set in the light of the relationship of believers to God.”[15]

As Children of the Light

The fourth reference to walking comes in v.8 as part of a new thought that begins in v.7. Paul here uses the word children again, but this time he implores his readers to walk as children of light. In v.9, he says that just as his readers used to be darkness, they are now to be light. That is, they are not merely to be receptors of light, but conduits of light which manifests the evil that operates under the cover of darkness (v.13). This task is not something that is entrusted to a young child who is trying to learn by mere imitation, but to those who have walked a little further down the path and have the ability to exercise some discernment (v.10). The word translated discernment, dokimazo, in v.10 means “to put something to the test, to prove, or to examine.”[16] The Christian is holding up a light to expose the darkness that lies along the pathway to test whether that which lies there is pleasing to the Lord. At this stage in the journey, that which has been learned by imitation is being applied. This is the point of Paul’s quotation in verse 14: the one who has been risen from the dead is not to look like they are still dead by sleeping, but rather should rise and Christ “shall give thee light” (KJV), that given the context, should be used to expose the evil.

Walking as Wise

Paul’s last reference to walking (peripateó) occurs at 5:15 where Paul instructs the reader to pay careful attention to how he walks. This imperative is modified by three phrases that describe for the reader what a careful walk looks like. At this stage in the journey, the Christian is to walk not as unwise but as wise, not as foolish but with understanding, and not as a drunkard but filled with the Spirit. The wisdom spoken of in v.15 is not mere theoretical knowledge, but practical skill.[17] This kind of skill is going to be necessary in order to wield weapons like the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith that Paul speaks of in 6:14-17. Furthermore, wisdom takes account of the time element, recognizing that time is not an unlimited resource but is scarce and must be stewarded well. Those lacking in maturity often struggle to manage their time and prioritize well. It is one thing to be walking on the right path; it is another to stay focused on the journey and maintain a pace that ensures timely arrival at the final destination.

In parallel to the contrast between wise and unwise, v.17 contrasts foolishness and understanding. Rather than merely trying to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (v.10) as is characteristic of the Christian at the previous stage in the journey, he is to understand (συνίημι)[18] what the will of the Lord is. In other words, he is not merely testing everything by holding a light up to it, but he is exercising wisdom and good judgment. He has moved from mere empirical observation to deductive reasoning based on what has already been tested and proved to be true. Through the habitual practices of putting off the old self and putting on the new (4:17-32), imitating God by walking in love (5:1-6), walking as children of light having no fellowship with darkness (5:7-14), the Christian grows in wisdom so that he understands the will of the Lord.

Paul gives the third way in which one might assess whether he is walking carefully in v.18: how one uses alcohol is a test of spiritual maturity. One who has become drunk has given up control of his rational faculties, demonstrating an inability to make sound judgments about when to stop drinking. One option to avoid such an outcome is to take a “teetotaler” position and condemn all enjoyment of alcohol. However, this position does not necessarily demonstrate maturity either. Such an approach might be necessary for one who struggles with abusing alcohol, but such a person would qualify as a “weaker brother” Paul speaks of in Romans 14:1, not one who is wise and mature. The alternative to being drunk with wine that Paul presents here is not to avoid wine completely, but rather to be filled with the Spirit. This occurs by speaking to one another in the language of psalms and hymns, singing to the Lord from the heart, continuously giving thanks to God for everything, and mutually submitting to one another in honor of Christ. The Christian at this stage in the journey is doing nothing less than adopting a new language, speaking the dialect of the eternal city toward which he is headed. Where earlier Paul commanded that corrupting speech should be put off and replaced with edifying speech (4:29) and then that all foolish talk and crude joking should be replaced with thanksgiving (5:4), Paul now says that all speech should be flavored with thanksgiving in psalms and hymns. The focus has shifted from what the Christian should not say (corrupting speech, foolish talk, crude joking) to how the Christian should be speaking at all times. Instead of trying to avoid saying the wrong thing, psalms and hymns of praise and thanksgiving become the natural tongue of those on the road of sanctification.

In addition to singing psalms and hymns in a spirit of gratitude, being filled with the Spirit manifests itself in mutual submission within the context of a proper authority structure. Paul expounds upon and qualifies this reference to submission to one another out of reverence for Christ by presenting the household codes that run from 5:22 to 6:9. The law of the household that Paul presents parallels the household codes of familia in the Greco-Roman world.[19] Walking in wisdom includes the recognition of proper authority. It does not require the same kind of submission for all people as if individuals within the household are interchangeable parts. A husband does not submit to the wife by making her the head, but by loving her as his own body and sacrificing himself for her. Likewise, the father does not submit to the children by granting them their every wish, but by committing himself to raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The real submission of all parties is to Christ and manifests itself in different ways depending on the relationship within the household to the other parties. Walking in wisdom and understanding what the will of the Lord is does not consist in elevating oneself as a know-it-all or a holder of special, secret knowledge above others, but submitting oneself and honoring all valid authorities. For in submitting to proper authorities, the Christian can then stand against the improper rulers and authorities of the present darkness (6:12).

Onward in the Whole Armor of God

As Paul prayed in 1:19 that his readers would know the greatness of God’s power (dunamis), so now he encourages his readers to “be empowered” (endunamoó) by putting on the whole armor of God. This must be done so that his readers may stand. This is an interesting word choice given Paul’s repeated imperative to walk throughout chapters 4 and 5. This is clearly a point of emphasis for Paul as he uses the terms “stand” (histémi) or “stand against” (anthistémi) four times in the space of four verses (11-14). Given the context of Paul speaking of progressively walking in pursuit of greater understanding, it would seem an unnatural metaphor to speak of “standing firm” repeatedly in a purely negative or defensive sense. Thus, Merkle points out, “It is likely, however, that this term conveys more than just the need to stand one’s ground and not retreat. The term can also imply a forceful offensive stance against an opponent.”[20] Combine this with the fact that Paul describes in verse 12 the nature of the fight as wrestling or struggling, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil that rule over the present darkness. In a wrestling match, one does not merely avoid getting pinned by his opponent but struggles to defeat his opponent. This is also consistent with walking as children of light who are called to expose the darkness to the light (5:13-14). The battle depicted here then is not merely holding ground but taking more ground. All of this is done by praying at all times in the Spirit.

The description of the Christian life that Paul describes in Ephesians is not one in which the mind and the will are disconnected, but work in tandem. The Christian’s knowledge and understanding is not divorced from action. It is not enough simply to know the truth, to have the eyes of the heart enlightened, and treat the journey as an optional bonus. It is by walking that the Christian grows in the knowledge of God. Those who struggle with doubt or lack assurance of their salvation, are bid to get up and walk from wherever they have fallen. Belief and assurance will not come by waiting for new enlightenment or revelation. It is in the walking where the sunshine of God’s grace is felt, not resting in the shade tree of doubt.

Notes

  1. Englishman’s Greek Concordance, accessed May 10, 2023. https://biblehub.com/greek/1492.htm
  2. Net Bible Online, accessed May 11, 2023. https://netbible.org/bible/Ephesians+1 Note 49 indicates the following: “The perfect participle πεφωτισμένους (pephōtismenous) may be either part of the content of the prayer (“that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”) or part of the basis of the prayer (“since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened”). Although the participle follows the ἵνα (hina) of v. 17, it is awkward grammatically in the clause. Further, perfect adverbial participles are usually causal in NT Greek. Finally, the context both here and throughout Ephesians seems to emphasize the motif of light as a property belonging to believers. Thus, it seems that the author is saying, “I know that you are saved, that you have had the blinders of the devil removed; because of this, I can now pray that you will fully understand and see the light of God’s glorious revelation.” Hence, the translation takes the participle to form a part of the basis for the prayer.
  3. Matthew Henry, Bible Gateway, accessed May 15, 2023, https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Eph.1.15-Eph.1.23.
  4. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 312.
  5. Ibid, 299.
  6. D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 488-89.
  7. William M. Ramsey, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, New ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), 274.
  8. Carson and Moo, 484.
  9. Englishman’s Greek Concordance, accessed May 10, 2023. https://biblehub.com/greek/4043.htm
  10. Ferguson, 492.
  11. Benjamin L. Merkle, Ephesians: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, ed. Andreas J. Kostenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2016), 113.
  12. John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, trans. William Pringle, vol. XXI (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Book House Co., 2009), 298 [on Eph. 4:26].
  13. Ibid, 301 [on Eph. 4:30].
  14. Merkle, 154.
  15. Ernest Best, Ephesians, ICC (London: T&T Clark, 1998), 473, quoted in Merkle, 158.
  16. Englishman’s Greek Concordance, accessed May 10, 2023. https://biblehub.com/greek/1381.htm
  17. Merkle, 172
  18. https://biblehub.com/greek/4920.htm. This refers to an arrival at “a summary or final understanding,” which fits with the journey metaphor.
  19. C.R. Wiley, The Household and the War for the Cosmos: Recovering a Christian Vision for the Family (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1019), 77-98. Wiley draws on the classical definition of pietas to inform the Christian understanding of piety, drawing parallels between Abraham and Aeneas and between the household codes in Ephesians and Xenophon’s Oeconomicus.
  20. Merkle, 211.

 


Jared Lovell

Jared Lovell is a deacon in the Reformed Episcopal Church serving Grace RE Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Jared is a classical educator, teaching European and American history at Memoria Press Online Academy, and is a teaching fellow at the Wayside School.


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