Stress. Nobody needs it, but we all have it. I was feeling a bit stressed out today so I grabbed my bible hoping for God’s calming presence. The Word never lets us down. I turned to Ephesians 5, which is, believe it or not about far more than marriage, and I read these words:
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
The passage is full of challenging exhortation: 1. imitate God (okay sure.), walk in love (easier boasted about than done), don’t even let sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness be named among you, don’t have a filthy mouth (there is a grandma in the Church somewhere who still carries a bar of soap in her purse for just such an occasion…), stop the foolish talk and eschew the crude joking (no, I didn’t hear the one about….and I don’t want to either).
Paul says to replace the dirty talk with thanksgiving! I suppose if we must talk as much as we do we might as well talk about what is beautiful and true! Paul then reminds us that those who practice the works of darkness do so because they are the sons of disobedience, and as such have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.
The passage then hits the Christian like a bus. Paul writes that the Christians should not even partner with the the workers of darkness. This idea of not partnering with the sons of disobedience should be incredibly convicting because our society is obsessed with social networking, and we are pragmatic to a fault. How many alliances do we form with the children of disobedience every waking hour of the day? How many filthy jokes have we endured, and smiled at, and laughed at for the sake of employment or relationship? More than we’d care to admit I’m sure, but something I’m sure we are even less able to admit is how much the actions of the children of disobedience influence our own coarse joking.
The title of this post begins with the word “Encouraging”. What is encouraging about all this conviction? What is good about reading a passage of Scripture and realizing that you are falling woefully short? The good news is the motivation for not walking in darkness. Ephesians 5:2 talks about Jesus Christ. Paul encourages the Church in Ephesus with the heroic actions of our Savior, and then he launches into all the “don’ts”.
“God’s word is so encouraging because is couples the ‘good life’ with the ‘Good Shepherd’.“
There are a couple things we can learn from the way Paul teaches.
1. Jesus Christ is the foundation for any behavior change. If people don’t know Christ as savior then they have no motivation nor ability to change. For Christians the grace shown toward us at the Cross is our reason to walk in the light. We were once children of disobedience, but Christ sought us and bought us with sacrifice. Notice how Paul puts two seemingly opposed descriptions of what Jesus did on the cross side by side. Verse 2 talks about how Christ was sacrificed. The term sacrifice, frankly, conjures up mental images of bloody gore, cruelty, heroics and pain. We would not normally place such a bloody notion next door to one as pretty as “fragrant offering”. When one contemplates the notion of a “fragrant offering” the smell of bacon and perhaps frankincense come to mind. Perhaps when you think of “fragrant’ you think of Calvin Klein Cologne, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, or shampoo. But certainly the terms “sacrifice” and “fragrant offering” are diametrically opposed?
No. Not at all. The gory, painful, mess of the cross was a fragrant offering to God the Father, from God the Son. Jesus Christ is the offering, and you, Church, are the beneficiary of Christ’s sacrifice. The Father is well pleased with His Son’s obedience on the Cross, but will He be pleased with His adoptive sons and daughter’s obedience in life?
2. Our motivation for holiness is to be found at the Cross. Our ability for holiness begins at the Cross. The only righteousness we will ever have is the imputed righteousness that is implanted in us on the day we first believed and is watered and grown by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul starts the passage off by talking about Jesus as our only basis for any kind of righteousness and help at all. For this reason, Pastors, elders, youth workers, parents and grand parents must begin with gospel at all times. We must not assume people are saved. We can talk about the myriad of true statistics concerning the almost assured poverty of those who have children outside of wedlock. We can talk and talk about the stupidity of gossiping and telling filthy jokes on social media that employers and colleges can easily see. And it will all be mere moral programing until the people in Churches and youth groups are converted.
Before people can be better, they must first have the root of bitterness ripped from their souls by the Lord Jesus Christ!
God’s word is so encouraging because is couples the “good life” with the “Good Shepherd”.
Any other combination is an utterly futile path that leads one down the road of self incrimination and hopelessness.
Praises to God that He never leaves us to our own devices!
Now, that is encouraging.