Two Types of Wisdom
The first kind is the wisdom that helps us live in this world. It is the wisdom of how to do our work well, how to be a virtuous person, and how to be effective. This wisdom is good (Ecc. 2:13), but it is unable to take us beyond this life and show us the way to God (Ecc. 3:16-17).
The second kind of wisdom is the wisdom that leads to eternal life. That is the wisdom Proverbs has in view when it says things like “blessed is the one who finds wisdom” (3:13) and “she is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (3:18). This is the wisdom that consists in how to know God and live a life that is pleasing to him in a spiritual, eternal sense.
Often we downplay the first time of wisdom (how to live in this world) in light of the second type. But the Scriptures do not do this. As we saw earlier, when Paul commands us to “make the most of the time” and “walk as wise” people (Eph. 5:15-17), the first kind of wisdom is actually an essential part of his meaning. His command that we “walk as wise” is hooking up with Proverbs 6:6-8, which commands to be wise in the skill of living in this world.
Now it’s time to see that this is not the only type of wisdom Paul has in mind. Interestingly, Paul’s command that we be wise also hooks up with Proverbs 11:30, which says “the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.” So both types of wisdom—knowing how to live well in this world and pointing people to Christ—are the way we “make the most of the time.”
Here, then, is the question we need to ask: How do these two types of wisdom relate?
We can go further than simply saying that both are commanded. Even deeper than this, we can say there is actually a critical relationship between the two (which is what we would expect since Paul is alluding to both as involved in “making the most of the time”—that is, our productivity).
Advancing the Gospel Through Ordinary Life
This goes to the heart of the apostle Paul’s vision of the Christian life. Paul’s vision of the Christian life is not, as D. L. Moody allegedly said, about “getting everybody in lifeboats,” with everything else amounting to re-arranging the chairs on the Titanic.
Rather, Paul sees an essential and profound connection between the arena of our everyday lives and the advance of the gospel. This is evident in Ephesians 5:7-17, which provides the fuller context in which Paul commands us to “walk as wise” people who are “making the most of the time.”
It would take too long to go into all the exegesis, but Peter O’Brien nails it in his commentary on Ephesians when he shows that Paul is essentially saying that through living in a Christ-honoring way among unbelievers in the world—in the context of our jobs, communities, trips to the grocery store, and everything else we do in everyday life—the light of the gospel shines through our behavior, with the result that some people come to faith.
That’s what Paul means when he says “take no part in the unfruitful [that is, super unproductive!] works of darkness, but instead expose them” (5:11). The meaning of “expose” here is not “rebuke unbelievers when you see them sin.” Rather, the meaning is that by living a gospel-driven life you are walking as “light in the Lord” (5:8) and exhibiting the “fruit of light” (5:9), and that this light illuminates some unbelievers by causing them to see the futility of their ways and glory of Christ.
The result of living our Christian lives—wise in all respects, in terms of how we manage our time and our jobs as well as making sure to speak up about the gospel—is that many people around us will come to faith. That’s what Paul means when he goes on to say “but when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible” (5:13). That is, when anyone is illuminated by the light of your Christian walk, they become “light in the Lord” (cf. 5:8) just as you did. J. B. Philips gives a good paraphrase of this passage:
It is even possible (after all, it happened to you!) for light to turn the thing it shines upon into light also.
Paul’s point is that the light has a transforming effect, and in Ephesians 5:13-17 he has described for us the process by which darkness is transformed into light. It is among the chief ways that “he who is wise wins souls” (Prov. 11:30).
This is the same exact thing Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:16 when he says “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” How do they glorify God? There are only two possible ways. First, and I think chiefly in view by Jesus here, is that some will glorify God by becoming believers as the witness the example of your gospel-drive (that’s part of the “light” that shines) good works.
The second way some will glorify God is by, on the day of judgment, being put to shame by seeing they had no basis on which to reject the Christian message (which Peter is probably alluding to in his allusion to Matt. 5:16 in 1 Pt.2:12).
Either way, it’s not boring to be around Christians and it will always have some type of impact. Otherwise, as Jesus said, you are sort of missing the point of your life. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything” (Matt. 5:13).
In other words, the Scriptures make a connection between making the most of our time (productivity) and the advance of the gospel.
Hence, the true effect of being productive and “making the most of the time” as Christians will be the transformation of our communities, cities, societies, and nations for the sake of the gospel. Being productive in our lives is not separate from our task to transform the world through the light of the gospel; it is an integral part of it.
Matt Perman formerly served as the senior director of strategy at Desiring God Ministries in Minneapolis, MN, and is a frequent speaker on the topics of leadership and productivity from a God-centered perspective. He has an MDiv from Southern Theological Seminary and a Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute. Matt regularly blogs at What’s Best Next and contributes to a number of other online publications as well. He lives in Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @mattperman.
(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman available on Zondervan. It appears here with the permission of the author and publisher.)