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TEXT: Ephesians 4:17-5:21
SUBJECT: Ephesians #10: You're Always at Church
In 1967 a young man came up to play right field for the San Francisco Giants. He was a great athlete and a skilled player. They say you can only do five things in baseball, and he could do them all, and do them very well. He could hit, hit for power, run, field, and throw. I saw the man many times in person, and listened to nearly every game he played with the Giants. Never did I see him loafing on the field or hear the broadcasters say he was going less than all out. Like Roy Hobbs, from The Natural, this man might have been 'The best that ever was'.
He wasn't. Because, while dedicated on the field, he was not disciplined off it. He was a heavy drinker, a chain smoker, and when asked how he kept in shape in the off-season, he said, 'I fish'. He was still a fine player and helped his team, but had he given his all, he might have been an immortal-and more to the point-his team might have got out of its customary second place and into first.
Was the young man a good teammate? For two or three hours a day during the season he was one of the best. But the rest of the time, he was one of the worst. Like other strong young men, he got away with the party life for a while. But before long, it caught up to him. He gained weight, he slowed down, and his amazing skills became ordinary. At thirty-five years old, the man who was going to be the next Willie Mays was out of baseball, and all because he didn't take care of himself off.the field.
Believe it or not, this story of a disappointing ballplayer from my childhood is what today's Bible passage is all about. It's about taking care of yourself away from the church so that you can be a blessing to the church. The player had gifts that might have been used for the team's success. But they weren't. They were wasted on all-night carousing. And, not only did he suffer from what he was doing, but so did the team.
You also have gifts. Jesus Christ has given them to you, but He's not given them to you to use or ignore or throw away if you want to. He has given them to you to put to use in the church. This is what vv. 7, 12, and 16 say-
To each one of us grace was given, according to the measure of Christ's gifts.for the work of ministry (or service).causing growth in the Body for the edifying of itself in love
If this patchwork of verses doesn't satisfy you, what do you say to I Corinthians 12:7-
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.
Every believer is gifted and he's to exercise his gifts for the good of his brothers and sisters in Christ. Not for them only, of course, but for them nonetheless.
Your gifts, however, will not be put to good use if you're living an idle or corrupt life away from church. Because the Church is one Body every member is connected to every other. This means: You have no private life. What you do or say or look at or even think of affects the church.for good or evil.
This is one of the responsibilities of being in the Church, or to put it better, of being in Christ. We cannot live for ourselves only. We have to live for others. If this burdens us in one way, it also lifts the burden. For nothing is more tiresome and boring and depressing and unfruitful than living for yourself. This is what our Lord meant when He said-
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever wants to lose his life for My sake, shall find it.
This living for others is more than what you do on Sundays or when you bump into a church member at Costco. It means living your whole life for Christ and His Church.
How do we do that? In pretty much the same way a ballplayer keeps himself in shape off the field: by doing some things and not doing others. From 4:17 to 5:21 Paul gives us a long and unwieldy list of do's and don'ts.
He starts with sexual purity, vv.17-20-
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling, have given themselves over to licentiousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
In Paul's time and place-and ours-the world was awash in immoral sex. Note carefully: I didn't say 'sex', for that's a good thing, a gift of God, and a way of hinting at what union with Christ means. Paul is sometimes accused of being the first monk, you might say, a man who despises all the ordinary and physical pleasures of life. He wasn't; in fact, he said people who believe sex is wrong are giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.
Paul, then, is not against sex; he's against unhealthy sex. Which means sex outside of marriage, including the kind that only takes place in your head. Joshua Harris wrote a book on this topic, whose title hits the nail in the head-
Sex is Not the Problem (Lust is).
The rule, therefore, is a simple one: Don't do or look at or think about things that stir up unclean desires. This will differ from person to person somewhat. But not all that much. Don't be a hair-splitter saying your movie was okay because 'It didn't show X, Y, or Z'. Be honest with yourself and with the Lord. If it feeds your lust, stay away from it.
This brings up a question: Why were the Gentiles back then, and most Americans now, so crazy for immoral things? Paul tells us why: (1) their minds are dark, (2) they're alienated from the life of God, and (3) they've hardened themselves against what they know is right.
Pretty much everyone knows immorality is wrong, including the people who say it isn't and champion it. To prove they know better, ask them: Is this what you want for your children?
No man has a problem with his daughter shaking hands with five hundred men. But what if she slept with five hundred? He would have a problem. But why? Well, there's the danger of AIDS, of course, but.is that what his real problem is? Of course it isn't. He knows very well the men are using her, and not loving her. That's what sex outside of marriage is: using people! And that's why it is wrong-not because sex is dirty and ugly, but because it is clean and beautiful, between people who are committed to each other-
Till death do us part.
All this is true, but it's not complete, and if you're saying nothing else, you're not likely to persuade many people to live a wholesome life.
Paul says people live this way because they're cut off from God's life. And, deep down, they want that life, but are trying to get it in all the wrong places. You don't need a hundred women on your resume; you don't need to move in with your boyfriend. The highest joys of togetherness and communion are found in sharing the Life of God which He offers to everyone who believes in Christ.
John Donne was a pastor and a poet, who struggled with sexual lust his whole life. He tried the usual ways to curb his desires, but couldn't. So he cried out to the Lord-
Batter my heart, Three-Personed God.
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Brothers and sisters, there's something better to be had than the relationships or fantasies that make you feel guilty and dirty, the things that you want no one to find about, or if they know, you have to defend, though you know better. That Something is the Life of God, which you can have right here, right now.
Living in sexual sin is an unworthy way of life, a Gentile way of living. And, by God's Grace, we're not Gentiles-
We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit,
And rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.
Can a person live a secret life and also come to church every Sunday, preach good sermons, help the poor, lead singing, and pray in the prayer meeting? Sure he can. I can name men who have. But their contributions to the church would be far better than they are if they repented of their evil ways and held their vessels in honor. If you want to be a good church member-
Flee fornication (including the kind only in your head).
Because sexual impurity was such a big thing in Ephesus, Paul names it first, and brings it up later, as well. But chastity or fidelity is not all we need to unify the church instead of letting it go to pieces. We need transformation in every part of life. Paul names a few of them in vv.21-32-
If indeed, you have heard Him and been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, each one speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 'Be angry and do not sin'; do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer but rather, let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed to the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.
It's easy to get lost in the details of this passage. The big idea, however, is what's most important. It says, we used to be connected to Adam after the Fall. This means we inherited his evil ways, which can be summed up under two headings: (1) we defy God, and (2) we don't love others.
These two things come out in our lives: in dishonesty, in laziness, in holding grudges, in bad words, in being ungrateful, in bitterness, in yelling, and in wishing others ill. Not everyone is equally affected by all of these things (thank God!), but we're all subject to some of them. Because this is what we are as long as we're connected to Adam.
But Christians are not only connected to Adam, we're also connected to Christ, and one day, we will be connected to Him only. On that day, we will be as sinless as He is and as devoted to God as it is possible for us to be.
In the meantime, we're to prepare for perfection, by growing in grace. This means, depending on what your sins are, Lazy men start working; bitter women start forgiving; lying boys start telling the truth; screaming girls start speaking softly.
At first glance, this looks next to impossible. Old habits die hard. How can the fifty year old man who's still mad at his mother forgive her after all these years? On his own, he cannot forgive her, and Paul doesn't tell him to! What Paul says is, 'He's not on his own'-he shares in the Life of Christ, and by tapping into that life through meditation, prayer, and faith, he can forgive her and love her before the sun goes down tonight!
What a wonderful Savior we have! He offers more than advice! He offered Himself on the cross and now He offers us the very Life He got on the other side of it!
We ought to try harder than we do and help each other do better. But the church is not a self-help program; it's the Body of Christ, and as Wesley wrote-
Alive with Him, our Living Head
And clothed with righteousness Divine.
Can lazy, crooked, unforgiving, foul-mouthed, angry and hateful people be members of the church? They can be, and often are. Alas! But their lives, away from church, hurt the church, no matter how faithful they are on Sundays.
WALKING IN LOVE
The third item on Paul's list is Christ-like love, 5:1-2-
Therefore, be followers of God as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us ,an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
He starts by saying we are the children of God, and not unwanted children, but dear children, very precious to our Father, and deeply loved. The love He has for us is shared by Christ, who loved us so dearly that He offered Himself to God for our salvation.
This saving love of God and Christ is to become a model of our love for each other. Their love for us is, in the first place, undeserved. God and Christ do not love us because we are worthy of their love, or even neutral. Paul says in another place, it came to us when were-
Deceived, disobedient, hateful, and hating one another.
It is also sacrificial. Christ didn't love us enough to give us a pep talk now and then, but to die for us in the worst possible way: on the cross and forsaken by His Father.
It is permanent. Nothing in here about being dear guests, that is people He likes for a while and then wants to get rid of! We are dear children, and as much as children can try their parents' love, they cannot lose it. The Prodigal Son's Father is our Father.
What He gives to us, we give back to Him, by loving His children, as contrary and difficult and vexatious as they are sometimes.
Do I need to say it? Following in the love of God and Christ is a good way to live and to make yourself a contributing member of the Church.
IMMORALITY REVISITED AND ADDED TO
In vv.3-14, Paul revisits immorality, and throws in something else too.
Bur fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather, giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as the children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goddness, righteousness, and truth), proving what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather, expos them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore, He says,
Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.
Not only does immorality keep you from being the best church member you could be, it also puts you in danger of losing God forever. This does not apply only to fornication, but to all manner of uncleanness, the shameful things people do in the dark (when no one's around to see them, but God). These things are huge temptations to people today, but they're temptations that have to be resisted and replaced by something better.
Note also: covetousness is named alongside fornication, uncleanness, dirty jokes, and so on. Paul says this excess love for things is no different than sexual impurity. Why? Because they're all idols, that is, they're all things to fill up our empty souls and take God's place!
Putting unclean things or even clean things before God is not the way to keep yourself fit for serving the Lord or His church. We pretty much know this about unclean things. People hooked on them are usually ashamed of themselves and hate themselves for what they doing.
The other things may be a greater threat, the things that are not wrong in themselves, but which become wrong because they nudge the Lord out of the center of our lives. There's nothing wrong with collecting; I have far more book than I will ever read-and I've gotta have more! But, as dear as books are to me, can they be my life's biggest investment-either in time or money or interest? Or, do I have better things to invest in, my family, my church, and my neighbors?
Beware the power of material things. Last week, I heard a pastor say he never saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer, taking the dead man's things to the grave with him. But the church we invest in, will not be lost in death-
You can take it with you.
Living for pleasure and living for money are like the air we breathe, polluted air, I might add, but we don't notice it because it's all we've ever known. This is why we have to hold up our way of life to the Light of Christ, so that we can see what it really is, and, in a word, wake up to live the life He has for us.
If you have to sleep through my sermon, do it. But don't sleep through your life.
Next, Paul says, a good church member is opportunistic, that is, when chances to do good come up, he takes them, vv.15-17-
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but wise, knowing what the will of the Lord is.
'Redeeming the time' does not mean, 'make good use of your time'-though you ought to do this. It means, 'Take the opportunities God gives you, when He gives them to you'. It means 'Seize the day' because our days are numbered in this world, and what we do for Christ here has to be done soon-or it will be left undone.
When a brother needs a cheering word, we can either give it to him.or mean to get around to giving him to it. He may not be here when you get around to it, or maybe you won't be. Be attentive and be active. Don't wait to think it over (as I always do), but act in love and wisdom, and most of the time, you'll do the very thing that's needed.
FULL OF THE SPIRIT
Finally, Paul urges us to stay clear of drunkenness-not because all drinking is wrong-but that we can be full of another Spirit, vv.18-21-
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Boozing is stupid because it wastes your life-that's what dissipation means, waste. It controls people who overdo it; it makes them sing smutty songs off-key; it makes them feel sorry for themselves; it makes them pushy and violent.
Why be full of spirits, Paul says, when you can be full of The Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, whose influence has the opposite effect. It puts you in control of yourself, instead of out of control; it makes you speak helpful words to your friends and sing praises to God; it makes you thankful for what you have, and allows you to bend your will to the needs of others, and with a good attitude.
Of all we need to be useful church members, what we need most is the filling of God's Spirit. Which He will give us, if we ask for it in faith. The filling won't come out as gobblydegook yelled at church, but in joyful devotion to Christ and His people.
THE BALLPLAYER REVISITED
Let's go back to the ballplayer who began my sermon. I think helping your team win on the field is better than having a good time off it. But that's just me. Maybe it's the other way around. For ballplayers.
It is not this way for church members. The Church is so wonderful, so worth serving, that I can gladly give up the things in my private life to serve it better. So can you. Let us repent of our private sins, and commit ourselves to the disciplines we need to serve the Body of Christ, and it's Head, our Lord Jesus Christ.
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