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#6 summer sermon series: Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

August 19, 2018 The Church~We’re in This Together   “Living As Children of Light” Ephesians 5:1-20

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Dear brothers & sisters in Christ;

This is now the 6th Sunday when our assigned Epistle reading for the day is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians; this has given us the opportunity to ~essentially~ read thru Ephesians & have a series of sermons.   Altho Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit is also having Paul speak to you & me, & to all believers until Christ returns.

In the first part of the letter, Paul first talks generally about this Christian faith, and how we have been brought into it by grace & thru faith, and not by our own works or efforts; that’s chapters 1~3.   Beginning in chpt.4, the Holy Spirit changes /from general to specific, /from theory to practical, /from what is this grace & faith to how do we live in this grace & faith; //or as we said a couple of weeks back: taking faith from the paper to the playing field.   And that’s very important. This Christian faith is not just in our head or heart, it is to become our life and daily behaviors. Only then are we light & salt to a sinful & dying world; only then will we be able to ‘go therefore & make disciples of all nations….by baptizing, & teaching all that Jesus commanded.’   And that is the mission of this Holy Church to which we belong.

Last Sunday we heard the last half of chapter 4; but I was not here, so I don’t know how Rev. Carnicom talked to you about it, except with the theme he provided: ‘Off with the old; one with the new.’   What I do know is that, as Paul writes, the teaching of the HSp flows from chapt.4 into chapt.5, and it all fits together;   concerning this life we are to live in Christ as beloved children of God, which is sooo different than how the world sees this life & how to live it.   These words are so practical & instructive to our Christian faith that I thought it would be helpful for us to review them. So, I put the last part of chpt.4 on the insert, and I invite you to follow along. This is what it means to be Christians who live ‘as children of light.’

{** read 4:17~5:21 }          Christians, ‘children of light’ are ‘imitators of God.’

A television commercial shows a little boy driving his little pedal car down the sidewalk, wearing one of his father’s hats, and doing all the things he had seen his father do as he drove his car.

As the commercial ends, the little boy turns into the sidewalk leading to his house just as his father pulls into the driveway. The father comes over to the boy, kneels down beside him, and the boy says to him some very familiar words: “It’s been a tough day.”

Children quite naturally imitate their parents. In their early years, that’s how they learn their patterns of speech & behavior; they learn what to think about things that surround them, & how they react to the things that happen. This is not just natural, but it is also God’s good design for parents to teach their children. That puts a good-sized responsibility on parents & grandparents, & even aunts & uncles. Our little ones will grow up to behave very much like us. They will imitate our things = including the way we speak about & interact with God.

Therefore, Eph.6:4 says: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”   And, you remember that Jesus said:

“Whoever receives {a} child in My name receives Me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

So, there is imitation of good, and imitation of bad; but there will always be imitation.     It’s how people ~young & old ~ learn to either = respect, kindness & generosity, OR abuse, selfishness, & prejudice.   Imitation is something that cannot be prevented by just telling someone: ‘do as I say, not as I do.’

So these 2 sections of this Epistle shows us the importance the Holy Spirit puts on godly & intentional imitation, said ch.5,v.1: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love.”   This theology of ‘parentage’ is one reason why our good & saving relationship with God is pictured as Father & child, just as it was for The Son of Man as He was on the earth.

This ‘imitating relationship’ is something we cannot let our old nature take away, **because it defines our faith.   The Bible talks about our old independent spirit being like a ‘rebellious child’. That’s the side of us Satan pounds away-on with the temptation to disobey. But if we turn away from our Father, and stop imitating God, the Spirit says we will have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ.

So, this is Paul’s appeal to the believers in Ephesus as they are surrounded by a godless & fallen world. Their’s was a culture callous & resistant to decency & godliness, filled with ‘sensuality’= that means a focus on ‘do what feels good’;   for the old-sinful-self that means impurity of many kinds. You & I live in the same world. ‘But that is not the way you learned Christ,’ Paul says.   The Holy Spirit is also speaking to you & me, & to our children when He says: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love.”

Purity, honor, respect, morality, holiness ==this is the new self, given to you & me in baptismal grace, so that we will walk in the likeness of God, and display the holy God to our unholy world.   We do this because God showed His mercy for us in sending His Son who “loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The children of God desire to please their Father with the ‘new self’ we’ve been given.

A way-of-life in the opposite ~ the old self~ is incompatible with life in God’s family. Sexual immorality, impurity, & covetousness are such big, glaring disobedience against God that Paul singles them out here. *Because those who live in such things have become ‘idolaters’ == they are imitating a false god by such sinful behaviors; such a person has turned away from true faith, and will have no heavenly inheritance.

These are hard words, but it’s simply the truth that children imitate their ‘god’ == whether The True One or a false one.   This is why Jesus went to the cross for each one of us; not only to forgive our past sins & win-us-back, but also to turn us away from future sinning; to give us a new & right spirit, so we would walk as obedient children of God.   He did not die on the cross so that we can stay in such sins & disobedience; obedience is part of Christian belief.   Jesus says: ‘My sheep listen to my voice and they follow Me.’ As for a life of these immoralities & disobedience, our Father says: ‘not in My house; not in My family.’

This also means that our Christian faith is a ‘repentant faith.’ Until death, our old-self still clings to us. So, all of us must acknowledge that temptations to immorality & impurity & covetousness confront us, and there are times when we fail, and fall into a sin. But we have a Father who is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

The cross of Jesus stands every day, in the center of our life, to keep us mindful of the terrible cost of our sins, to show us the perfect sacrifice which won our forgiveness, and to stir-up that new self in us so we will see our Good Shepherd, listen to His voice, and follow in His right & holy ways.

Paul goes on to help the believers in Ephesus to identify those things included in the immoral, impure, unholy, & destructive lifestyle. Sexual things were a big concern in the first century Greek culture == just as it is in our own culture, where everything form of dark debauchery is permissible. Christians who believe the Bible know this.

But, what may be worse in our day than in Paul’s day is the number of believers & denominations that have been so deceived away from God’s Word of Truth so that many churches & people think that all this sexual immorality is ‘acceptable’ for God’s people. It is not! Just as it is not acceptable /to speak falsehoods, /to have sinful anger, /to be a thief, /or to make a lifestyle of bitterness, slander, or malice.   In the Holy Spirit’s own words: these things are destructive to the children of God and to the family of God;   and the people that are darkened, futile, ignorant, & hard-of-heart will not inherit the Kingdom of Christ.

Paul identifies a number of immoralities, but certainly is not as explicit as he could be to name them; we’re even warned that it can become shameful to even speak too much of the darkness & perversion of sins that we know are done in secret. ** We know those sexual sins he’s talking about: we see them in nearly every TV show & movie, read them in novels, & even have ‘pride parades’ & new laws to force us to accept & tolerate this sinful behavior as ‘normal.’   This morning it’s enough for us to recognize this truth: God’s wonderful gift of sexuality & its actions belongs only within the solemn vow of marriage, defined of one man & one woman. All other actions fall outside of what is acceptable for God’s holy people.

Understanding that truth was at the top of the list as Paul writes. All the other things he mentions kind-of flow off from that: greediness, filthiness & foolish talk & crude joking, unfruitful works of darkness, being unwise, & getting drunk. “let no one deceive you with empty words == such as ‘these are no big deal ~ every one does them’; for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”   In fact, don’t even associate with those who do such things, so that you won’t be deceived, or so that those around you, including your children, will not be tempted to imitate such darkness & fall into sin against God.

To avoid that, what does the Holy Spirit say? “Walk as children of light = for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.”   And how else will we know what is ‘good and right and true’ except that our wise Father wrote it all down for us to imitate; to see, to learn, and to follow & obey.   Thru Paul, God is taking the ‘theory’ of Christian faith and teaching us how to ‘put it into practice’; for without putting it into practice, it not real faith.

So, in chapters 4 and 5, we have those two ideas put together; in the Christian faith it is what happens after God has put off our old self and put a new self on us in Christ. 2 ideas: ‘be imitators of God, as beloved children’, and ‘walk as children of light.’

And to do those 2 things, the Holy Spirit says this to you & me, which we can conclude with today:   Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.   Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.   And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,   addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Do this because you are a beloved child of God. Walk as a child of the light; not just for your own soul, but also as a good witness, and for the good of the souls around you who will imitate you.

Amen.