Circumspect is not a word that we often use in our everyday speech.
For example, I never heard my Dad use the word when I was a kid walking with him out in the pasture where the cows were grazing. Nor did my mother tell me to be circumspect when crossing a busy street. And neither did my Driver’s Ed instructor warn us to be circumspect when driving on a hilly, curvy road. But they did use words to warn me of the consequences of failing to be circumspect.
The NKJV Bible uses the word in relation to our Christian life. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16).
The Greek word is used 5 times in the New Testament and is translated in various English versions as ”exactly” “accurately,” “diligently” “carefully,” or “perfectly” depending on the usage.
The English word “circumspect” comes from two Latin words which mean “looking around.”
The ESV translates this verse, “Look carefully then how you walk.”
The opposite of walking carefully or circumspectly would be walking carelessly. Recklessly. And without proper forethought or guidance. The wise man advises, “A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless” (Prov. 14:16).
One of the founding fathers of America, Samuel Adams, who was a statesman and political philosopher, wrote in 1771, “the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance.” I wonder what Adams would say today?
Of course, the reality is that in every age and circumstance of life followers of Christ are called upon to be circumspect. To make wise decisions. And to be alert, watchful, and careful.
The Ephesians text provides some insight regarding how to walk circumspectly.
(1) Walk in Wisdom.
Being smart is not the same as being wise. And there is a difference between worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (Jas. 3:17). It is God’s wisdom gained from reading His Word, talking to Him in prayer, and listening to the advice of godly people.
(2) Realize the days are evil.
Don’t be naive. While there have always been evil days, the issues are different now. The means and methods by which the devil tempts us to sin are not the same as in the 1950’s. I grew watching a black and white TV with 3 channels. “Leave it to Beaver,” “Fathers Knows Best,” and “The Lone Ranger,” were some of the shows I watched.
Nudity, vulgarity and coarse humor weren’t piped into our homes like they are today on cable and satellite. There were no violent video games. No internet. No 24-hour news programs reporting the evil in the world. And no iPhones transmitting pornographic images no matter where you are.
Evil days require an extra measure of walking circumspectly.
(3) Make good use of your time.
The brevity of life reminds us to be circumspect. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. We can carefully use that time to do good. Seize opportunities. Serve God. And minister to the needs of others. Or we can waste it with poor planning. Inefficiency. Constantly checking our iPhones. Surfing the internet. Watching TV. Posting foolishness on social media. Or just plain laziness.
(4) Know the will of God.
Commentator John Stott was right when he wrote, “Nothing is more important in life than to discover and do the will of God.” Circumspect Christians desire to know God. Understand His Word. And gain wisdom.
Not everything in the Bible is specifically given to us in a list of “Do’s and “Don’ts.” It requires careful attention to make specific and personal application to one’s life and circumstances.
Walking circumspectly may well be summed up in the lyrics of a simple children’s song:
Be careful little eyes what you see
Be careful little ears what you hear
Be careful little tongue what you say
Be careful little hands what you do
Be careful little feet where you go
Be careful little heart whom you trust
Be careful little mind what you think.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman