Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
In recent Life for Leaders devotions, I have been reflecting on the first part of Ephesians 5:18, which reads: “Don’t get drunk on wine.” This imperative, like many in the Bible, is negative in the sense that it tells us what not to do.
The negatives in life are necessary. Young children need to learn, for example, not to run into the street. But sometimes we can get stuck in the “don’ts.” As parents, we can sound like a broken record with our children: “Don’t break that. Don’t touch that. Don’t talk to me that way.” At times the church has fallen into the “don’t” rut as well, emphasizing all the things people should avoid without moving on to what we should embrace.
I’m not suggesting that don’ts are wrong or unnecessary. God has given us the Ten Commandments, after all, which contain several clear “Thou shalt nots.” Our Lord understands that we need boundaries in our lives, lines over which we should not cross. So the don’ts are necessary and helpful. But we don’t want to get stuck in the don’ts.
We see a fine example of this moral un-stuckness in Ephesians 5:15-18. This passage includes three clear don’ts: Don’t be unwise (5:15); Don’t be foolish (5:17); Don’t get drunk (5:18). Yet, each one of the don’ts is matched by an appropriate do: Don’t be unwise, but do be wise (5:15); Don’t be foolish, but do understand the Lord’s will (5:17); Don’t get drunk, but do be filled with the Spirit (5:18). Yes, there are boundaries we mustn’t cross, behaviors we should avoid. But there are also positive actions for us to do, inspiring goals for which to reach. Be wise. Understand. Be filled with the Spirit.
In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion we’ll examine more closely the last of these exhortations. But, for now, I’d like to encourage you to reflect upon your own life. Do you get stuck in the don’ts? Are you forever trying not to do things you ought to avoid, without seeking to do that which is right and honoring to the Lord? In my experience, focusing too much on the don’ts doesn’t work. If, for example, I put all of my attention into not doing things that hurt my wife, I’m much less successful in my relationship with her than if I focus instead on how to love her.
I’m also concerned that, far too often, the church of Jesus Christ majors in the don’ts as we communicate with the world around us. Our neighbors can associate us so much with the negatives of what we denounce that they understandably fail to hear the positives of what we offer, enjoy, and praise. Perhaps if we were to commend and embody a positive vision of life rather than getting stuck in the don’ts, more of our neighbors would be drawn to the Lord through us.
Something to Think About:
Do you ever get stuck in the don’ts? If so, when? Why?
When are don’ts helpful, even necessary in your life?
When do the don’ts keep us from living the full Christian life?
Something to Do:
Yes, something to do! Not something to avoid. Talk with a good friend or your small group about the balance of dos and don’ts in your life. See if you need to adjust this balance.
Gracious God, thank you for the don’ts you have revealed to us. We need wise limits. We need to know what behaviors and attitudes we should avoid if we want to live the fruitful life you intend for us.
Yet, dear Lord, you know how easy it is for us to get stuck in the don’ts. We can focus so much on what to avoid that we fail to reach for that which is good, true, and beautiful. Without ignoring the don’ts, help us to embrace the dos. May our lives be guided by a vision of flourishing that comes from the Gospel. And may we share this vision with our neighbors, in word and deed, so that they might be drawn to you. Amen.