Living Assistance Training

Proclaim Sermons
August 18, 2024
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Tens of thousands of people die on America's highways every year. Car manufacturers, however, are making cars safer to drive than ever. One way they do this is to remove the possibility of human error as much as possible. It's called "driver assistance technology." The apostle Paul is doing something like this in today's reading. Here, he gives us assistance advice as we travel the highway of life.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 42,939 people died in motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roads in 2021. The data is roughly the same regardless of the year. Tens of thousands of people die annually on our highways.1 California, Texas and Florida lead the nation in fatalities.2

More alarming, however, is that many of these crashes are tied to human error. This is why new cars rolling off assembly lines are equipped with "driver assistance technology" designed to help drivers reduce their driving errors.

Here are some of these relatively new technologies: Blind spot warning lights in side mirrors; forward collision automatic emergency braking; lane departure warning systems; rear cross traffic warnings that alert drivers of potential collisions while in reverse that may be outside the view of the backup camera; adaptive cruise control that automatically adjusts the vehicle's speed to keep a pre-set distance between it and the vehicle in front; a backup camera, also known as a rearview video system; and automatic high beams.

There's another plus: If you own a car with all these technologies in place, you're likely to get a reduced rate on your insurance - assuming the absence of speeding tickets and previous accidents, of course.

Living assistance training

We're headed for the day in which the actual driving of a car will be entirely ceded to computer systems. We'll put the car on autopilot much as do the captains of commercial airliners.

But, when it comes to living safely, we do not have any surefire way to control our behavior, do we? Even when we know our actions will lead to dire consequences, when something sets us off, we can lose all restraints and do foolish, stupid things.

Enter Saint Paul. Although the Bible has much to say about how to live well and do what is right (consider Proverbs, for example, and all the words of Jesus), the apostle Paul is unflagging in his attempts to provide "living assistance training," and our reading today from Ephesians is a case in point. It reads, as does Ephesians 4-6, like a training manual. Here, the wise old saint, writing whilst under house arrest in Rome, offers sound biblical advice about how to get along in life and at the same time glorify God.

This text has four primary warning systems, and each is coupled with a qualifier or contrasting phrase.

This is cautionary advice. So, let's look closely at each of these "living assistance training" suggestions.

Be careful, not as ...

The entire phrase is: "Be careful then, how you live, not as unwise people but as wise." When we shout a warning, we might say, "Mind the gap!" "Watch your head!" "Watch where you're going!" "Look out!" "Watch your step!"

There's a strong note of having visual awareness in all of these imperative warnings. The New Testament was written in Greek, and Paul uses a word that implies observation. He might as well have said, "Be mindful, be observant, look out, be watchful." He is stressing the importance of absolute vigilance.

To what end? To keep from doing a faceplant on the sidewalk. Be careful "... how you live." But the Greek word Paul uses does not mean live, but walk (peripateite). When we watch where we are walking, we are better able to see rocks or pebbles on our path, when we are about to step into a void or off a curb, when we are about to flatten a pile of dog do-do, when a tree limb is crossing our path or when there is a turn in the path or how steep the grade is ahead of us.

The walk can be an enjoyable one if ... we watch our steps.

This kind of circumspective living is not something that the foolish are fond of. Fools (the Greek word is asophoi, meaning "without wisdom") often lack critical thinking, frequently demonstrate poor judgment and are astonishingly unwilling to learn from experience or to take instruction. In other words, dumber than a barrel of hair.

Know any people like this? People who don't watch where they're going seem unable to anticipate consequences. Being impulsive, they tend to make hasty decisions driven by immediate desires or emotions rather than thoughtful reflection. This impulsiveness can lead to a series of ill-advised choices that may have long-lasting repercussions.

Those benighted souls who don't watch their steps also tend to resist new information or alternative perspectives. Foolish folks are pigheaded and obdurate, clinging stubbornly to their beliefs and opinions, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This intellectual inflexibility can hinder personal growth and prevent them from adapting to changing circumstances. They ignore advice or dismiss the expertise of others, further isolating themselves from valuable insights that could contribute to better decision-making.

Another trait marking those whom the apostle Paul calls "foolish," is an appalling lack of self-awareness. Fools fail to recognize their blind spots, they overestimate their abilities and exhibit a sense of arrogance that blinds them to the need for self-improvement.

Of course, one needs a balance between being overly cautious and wildly reckless. But if we need a "living assist" idea, the apostle is on to something here: "Be careful, then, how you live, not as unwise people but as wise."

Make the most of time, because ...

Carpe diem! The word Paul chooses is not time in the sense of chronological or linear time, but rather specific moments in time ... as in opportunities, occasions, the here-and-now. This is the second "living assist" warning he gives us. No time like the present. Why? "Because the days are evil."

What does he mean?

Since it was quite possible that Christians experienced cultural hostility, if not actual physical abuse and sometimes incarceration, even death (Paul himself was under arrest when he wrote this), Paul might be saying that because Christians were so often detained, distracted or distraught, it was imperative that time be spent wisely or judiciously. That is, the Ephesian Christians should be alert for every opportunity to do good, to make a difference. This is living wisely.

Why get all upset about how evil the world is treating you? Why waste all that energy? Why get mired in negative despair at how the country is going to hell in a handbasket, when you could be volunteering at church, the community center or the hospital? A wise use of time doesn't involve tilting at windmills, flogging a dead horse or closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.

Christians who make the most of the time have a good understanding of the temporal nature of life. Opportunity doesn't waste time with those who are distracted and caught up with pointless endeavors.

Don't be foolish, but ...

The third "living assist" reminds us not to be distracted while driving down the road. It is foolish to text and drive, dangerous to be talking on the phone while driving, hazardous to reach to the back seat to retrieve a can of soda while driving. Some of these behaviors are so foolish, they are illegal. Using this metaphor, the verse could be written, "Don't drive foolishly, but always remember what the law requires."

People who live wisely understand the will of God. You say, "I don't know what the will of God is!"

Nonsense. Of course you do. You know that taking credit for work you didn't do is not God's will. You know that sneaking around with someone outside the covenant of marriage is not the will of God.

Actually, the apostle Paul addresses this issue in his letter to the Galatians. "Be led by the Spirit," he writes. This is the will of God when push comes to shove. On the other hand, "the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."3 Yes, we know what God's will is, and if we're "driving" our lives safely, we will not ignore the law. Paul goes on to contrast "foolish drivers" with wise ones, those who demonstrate "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Then he adds, "There is no law against such things."4

Don't get drunk, but ...

Finally, we may not have thought about this, but the last "living assist" is about drunk driving. Wise Christians do not drink and drive - figuratively or literally. People who "get drunk with wine" embarrass themselves and others. Their behavior is cringeworthy. Christians shouldn't do this. Foolish Christians do, but not the smart ones, not the ones who are making the most of time, who are careful how they live.

Too often we hear media reports about professing Christians who have totally embarrassed themselves, thereby making it a lot more difficult for the rest of us. Paul says, in effect, "Don't be that person who becomes a laughingstock, an object of derision, someone who brings dishonor to our faith."

Rather than being excessively full of vodka, gin or whiskey, we should be "drunk" on the Holy Spirit. If we're going to be exuberant Christians, the joy should flow from the Spirit, not from spirits. So, let's sing lustily the bar songs of scripture: "Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to one another, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times ...."

By following the "living assist" ideas Saint Paul offers, we can ensure that we will be safe and that we will not cause injury to others.