Monday, October 3, 2022

Ephesians 5:21 "Submitting To One Another Out Of Reverence For Christ"

 


We are about to consider the relationship between husbands and wives (and those who want to be husbands and wives!), between children and parents, and employers and employees. Nothing tells the truth about the reality of our Christian faith quite as much as the way that we live and behave in the home and at work. Before we consider this we must once again take note of the solid ground rules and foundations laid for us, for this teaching about relationships does not occur in a vacuum.  There is a ground prepared for us on which we need to stand if we are to live effectively as Christian husbands, wives, children and employees.

CONTEXT

We must consider once again what precedes our text.  In terms of the immediate context we previously considered 4 areas in which we should make every effort to live as wise people in days that are evil. These days are not just the days in which we live. They include the entire history of fallen humanity. In regard to this we are called  to  

 (i) 5:15,16  -  live wisely with respect to our use of time 

(ii) 5:17- not  make foolish decisions but seeking the will of God instead 

(iii)  5:18-  to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit instead of being under the influence of mind altering substances  such as alcohol. 

(iv) 5:19,20 -  our  Christian lives  ought to be characterized by music in our hearts i.e. joy and thanksgiving.

From the greater context (Eph. 4:17 - 5:21) we also observe that healthy relationships can only be built when we put off falsehood and lies and speak the truth (4:25); by controlling our anger (4:26-27); by  giving attention to honesty and work ethics (4:28); by engaging in  good principles of communication (4:29; 5:4); by dealing with twisted emotions such as bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, slander, malice (4:31);  by maintaining sexual purity (5:3) etc.  All of these aspects are fundamental to happy relationships.

All this leads us to the next important thought in 5:21, “submitting to one another out of reverence (fear) of Christ”. This phrase presents another important building block and in fact a transition to 5:22ff in which the apostle Paul speaks about three vital relationships-marriage, family and work.

But before we deal with these we need to understand the principle of mutual submission in 5:21.  In the original Greek this verse forms a part of a sentence which begins in 5:18 and   is made up of a whole string of present participles[1],  “….Be filled with the Spirit, addressing  one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody  to the Lord with 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 (lit. fear) for  Christ.”

Paul here introduces a controlling principle for effective Christian relationships in marriage, in the home and at work: mutual submission! Here we find 2 important principles :

(i)         The principle of mutual submission to one another comes before any submission is commanded upon wives to their husbands, children to their parents and employees (slaves) to their employers (masters).  Husbands must submit to their wives in fulfilling their God given roles. Parents must submit to their children in reacting in a godly manner to them. Masters (employers) must submit to their employees in being fair to them.

(ii)        The principle of mutual submission is subjected to the “reverence (fear) of Christ”.

Let’s consider these in turn:

1.      The principle of mutual submission  commanded

“…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”. This principle is deeply rooted in the way Jesus relates to us. Two illustrations from Scripture will help us to see this.

a. Matt 20: 20-28. The mother of James and John came to ask Jesus for a  special favour. She wanted her 2 sons to sit on Jesus left and right in the kingdom. Talk about a mother with future ambitions for her sons! Matthew’s account then goes on to tell us that the 10 other disciples were indignant about this presumptuous request. Jesus takes this opportunity to teach them principles of submission and servanthood: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  This is Jesus’ explicit teaching on mutual  submission and service. It is rooted in His own example. Jesus our great  Leader submits himself to  His church. 

b. In John 13:12ff, on the night He was betrayed, Jesus visibly demonstrated this principle as He washed the feet of his disciples. Then He said to them: 13 “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done for you. 16 Truly, truly I say to you, a  servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you  know these things,  blessed are you if you do them.

These texts are clear. Jesus in all His infinite greatness laid aside His heavenly splendour   and became our servant (Phil. 2:5-8)   and supremely so on the cross, by laying down His life for ours. And what does He require of us? He requires of us to submit to one another (Phil. 2:1-4). And nowhere do we see the practical application more than in the mutual submission that we must show to one another in marriage, the family and at work.

2.      The principle of mutual submission is subjected to the “reverence [2](fear) of Christ”.

In submitting to one another we are expressing our active reverence (fear) of the Lord. This is our supreme motive why we submit to one another: out of reverence for Christ! The word used here is used in the sense of a reverential fear[3] for Christ which inspires us in terms of a constant carefulness in dealing with others. It has nothing to do with phobias.  It has nothing to do with slavish fear. It has to do with a great respect for the person of Jesus Christ, for whose sake  we discipline ourselves  to  love and serve others. Be reminded  that this is the disposition of those filled with the Spirit (5:18).  We bear the fruit of the Spirit to one another (Gal. 5:22-24)

The ‘fear of Christ’ is a significant and weighty phrase. The term is generally used in the OT in terms of ‘the fear of God’. So here we see Paul attributing divinity to the Lord Jesus Christ. We see this also in the way Paul easily substitutes ‘God’s kingdom’ as ‘Christ’s kingdom’ (5:5), and ‘God’s will’ for ‘Christ’s (the Lord’s) will’ (5:10,17), and  worshipping God’ becomes ‘worshipping  (the Lord) Christ’ (5:19).  So, we need to step back and see the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is – He is Christ the Lord. “He is the Word, the Word who was with God, the Word who was God… the Creator of all things… the Life and the Light of men.” (John 1:1-4). He is the One whom we must revere, and we must have Him in mind when we deal with one another.

In particular we must now remember that it is this Jesus who has created all mankind in His image (Gen.1:27). When you look into the face of another human being, and even your enemy and the person who hurts you, you must remember that this person is an image bearer, belonging to God. Remember also that this person (and you) will one day give an account to God (Rom. 14:12. Matt. 12:36; 2 Cor.5:10; Rev. 20:12; 1 Pet. 4:5). And so, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ must begin there. This is a very great truth. We should greatly fear lest we forget and abuse this truth.

But this is supremely important when we speak about our closest relationships, beginning with our husbands, wives, families etc. The reason why we have breakdowns in these relationships, is because we stop fearing Christ; we lose sight of Christ, and when this happens our sinful self gets in the way. The apostle John   warns us about loving the world  and the  things of the world – the  desires of the flesh, the desire of the eyes and pride of life   more than Jesus. (1 Jn. 2:15). The chief of all sins is pride. Pride is the devil’s original sin-and it is ours. It is the arch sin, and it colours and disfigures so much of our life together. It does not even spare us in the church. Pride is intensely self-centred, and when focus is on self then God and others move into the background. This is what we see when chauvinist  men claim to be superior to women and when feminism despises the male counterpart.  All racism, tribalism, nationalism is built on this idea  that some  races or tribes or nations are superior. The further our society drifts from the doctrine of man and God  the more divided and confused it becomes.

We need the reverential fear of Christ, the fear of God to guard our relationships. My fallen nature needs this steady reminder in order for me to be a good husband and a father  and a friend and a pastor to you.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). It guards me. It keeps me steady. I must submit in reverential fear to Jesus to be a Christ-like husband to my wife, to be a Christ-like father to my children – a Christ-like pastor to my congregation. That is my call  from God. To submit myself to Him and therefore to you in the exercise of  these  duties  will ensure that  you receive the best   from me.  

The Christian doctrine of mutual submission is not man’s idea. It is God’s idea. And  God requires us to  submit to one another  in humility, by seeking the best  for  each other.  In this  Christians are not bound by cultural norms and laws of submission – which  in the hands of  fallen people can actually be very repressive  and demeaning. The Christian’s conscience is bound to our unchanging Jesus, who is the final word  on everything  and who has given us a blueprint for living.  

Learn the fear of the Lord.  Learn to look at people from His perspective. Learn to understand what your God –given  duties are, and then do them. You say that you love  God? Then fear Him by doing what is right in terms of being a godly husband, a  godly wife, godly parents, a godly church member. 

How will your works be judged on the day of Christ’s coming? One day you shall face that penetrating gaze of your Lord Jesus. What will you say? Will you say: “I believe that You died for me, and that You shed Your blood for me, but I did what I wanted; I did not obey Your commandments; I did not do what You clearly told me to do; I did not live the life of holiness about which You spoke to me from Eph. 4:17 – 5:21;  I did not want to submit to my God given duties.  Can you imagine what it will be to look into His eyes on that day?

The Lord Jesus is about to speak to us about how to submit to one another in the fear of the Lord – as husbands, wives, as children and employees. What excuses are you making in not submitting to everything that is written in the Scriptures? It is quite a thought that my lack of disobedience and my lack of submission out of reverence for Christ would harm you, and would harm the reputation of Christ upon earth. And sadly, the modern church  is by and large compromised  in this area. We are good at many things. But this one thing we lack! May God have mercy upon us.



[1] A present participle is a verb form made by adding -ing to the base —that often functions as an adjective.

[2] Gr. phobos

[3] W.E.Vine: Expository Dictionary of biblical words

Monday, September 5, 2022

Genesis 50 : "All in God’s Hands"

 



This Lord’s day  morning  I received  the news that my dear mother  had died. Though we expected it, we did not expect it,... if you know what I mean. 

Death always catches us off guard.  I am so thankful that she died in the Lord, and therefore this is all in God’s hands. I am comforted  by this  truth, and I am comforted by the fact that my mother knows the God of all Truth. And I am able to stand before you this evening, grieving not as those that have no hope.“All in God’s hands”,   was the title I chose for Genesis 50 some time ago. Today I needed to know that!

You will also  have  noted that this closing  chapter   mentions  two significant deaths,  that of Jacob and Joseph.  

OUTLINE 

1.      50:1-3 The Grief of Joseph and of the Egyptians in response to Jacob’s death

2.      50:4-14 The Burial of Jacob in Canaan

3.      50:15-21  Dealing with the sense of guilt of  Joseph’s brothers

4.      50:22-26 The Death and Burial of Joseph


 1.      50:1-3   The grief of  Joseph  and of the Egyptians in response  to Jacob’s death

We read of  the grief of Joseph and the Egyptians, but  nothing is said about  the other brothers. We will consider their reaction  in 50:15-21. The grief of Joseph is described graphically: “Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him and kissed him.

He commands his servants the physicians to embalm his father…. fourty days were required for it… We have  here a description of  the  process of embalming among the ancient Egyptians by   Herodotus[1],

“The body was given to the embalmers, who first took out the brains and entrails and washed them in palm wine impregnated with strong astringent drugs; after which they began to anoint the body with the oil of cedar, myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia; and this lasted thirty days. They next put it into a solution of nitre (saltpeter) for forty days longer, so that they allowed seventy days to complete the embalming; after which they bound it up in swathes of linen besmeared with gum. Being then able to resist putrefaction, it was delivered to the relatives, enclosed in a wooden or paper case somewhat resembling a coffin, and laid in the catacomb or grave belonging to the family, where it was placed in an upright posture against the wall.”[2]

Embalming was the customary way in which the Egyptians prepared their dignitaries for burial. For Jacob’s burial this was especially helpful for he had requested to be buried at the ancestral cave of Machpelah in Canaan. It was a long way back to Canaan, and his body would have never made that trip without being embalmed.  We then read of a 70 day mourning period by the Egyptians (50:3b). He must have been a very popular figure.  

But ultimately  Jacob's death was all in God's hands.  His death was not the end for the  people of God.

2.      50:4-14 The Burial of Jacob

Since his father Jacob needed to be buried in Canaan, Joseph   requested permission from Pharaoh to bury his father there. His request being granted, he was accompanied by a large delegation of high-ranking Egyptian officials, in addition to his brothers (50:8), and also a large company of horsemen and charioteers (50:9).  The burial site was at the threshing floor of Atad, beyond the Jordan, and a further 7 day mourning period happened there (50:10).  The ceremony was so awesome that it made a profound impression on the Canaanites (50:11).  In so doing Jacob’s wishes and instructions  to his sons were carried out (50:12-13).

It was all in God's hands. Jacob was buried in the land of covenantal  promise. 

3.      50:15-21   Guilty Feelings reappear,  issuing in fear

Here we find a significant portion of Scripture and the heart of chapter 50. Previously we had seen that grief was seemingly only expressed by Joseph and the Egyptians.  We have no reason to believe that the other brothers were less grieved by their father’s death, but this  account by Moses  is  deliberately delayed to deal with the primary emotion of the brothers. They  feared Joseph’s reaction following their father’s death. “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” (50:15).

This is the power of a guilty conscience, and a lack of understanding of godly forgiveness! Years later, they were still not able to lay their consciences to rest in respect to their horrible treatment of Joseph (cf. 42:21-22). Despite Joseph’s previous assurance in 45:4-8 (read) their collective consciences weren’t easy,   even though 17 years had passed since then, and despite the fact that Joseph had been nothing but kind to them. Now they feared that Joseph would be vindictive to them and that thought appeared to dominate their minds more than the death of their father.  And so, in another sense they were actually distrusting Joseph. None of that was true, of course. We understand that Joseph, with God’s help had dealt with his own bitterness against them. He had truly forgiven his brothers. He would have had plenty of opportunity to do them harm, but it never happened in 17 years.  His brothers failed to receive and believe the complete forgiveness that Joseph had already offered to them.

Now, lest we think that all this has no bearing on us… be careful!  When we experience troubles or illness, or misfortune, even we as professing  Christians quickly fall into the same trap  thinking, “I am being punished for my old sins.” We quickly doubt what God has said in I John 1:8, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. We quickly  forget  that  Christ is faithful to His Word.

And so we read, “they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (50:16-17). When Joseph heard this message he was shattered:  “Joseph wept when they spoke to him”. Why did he weep? He had been kind to them for 17 years, and still they still doubted his sincerity.

Joseph’s response is significant. Here in 50:19-21(read)  we find a model response, based on a profound understanding  of God’s sovereign hand  over all kinds of difficult things that might  happen to a believer.  

How did Joseph respond? He told them that ultimately all was in God's hands!

a.      JOSEPH POINTED THEM TO THE ULTIMATE JUDGE (50:19). “Am I in the place of God?” Joseph was a powerful man in  Egypt, but he himself in relation to God. He  knew that he wasn’t  God (unlike the Pharaoh’s). He knew that he was in God’s hands.  God was the ultimate Judge  of  those that sinned against him. What an insight. Joseph’s question is a good one to ask when tempted not to grant forgiveness,  or  when seeking revenge  against someone who has wronged you. Take your place before God. Acknowledge God as the one who evaluates and assesses every single life without exception. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” (Rom. 12:19). Part of our understanding of who we are  and who God is, is this  understanding that  God alone is  the ultimate Judge. Joseph understood that

b.      JOSEPH POINTED THEM TO THE SOVEREIGN GOD OF PROVIDENCE (50:20). You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”. He had told them this before  in 45:5 - “God had sent me ahead of you to preserve lives.  God’s sovereign purpose was to preserve a remnant in famine years. His purpose was to preserve the seed of Abraham and the seed of the woman and the Messiah who one day shall come. And so he could assert  that he  could take no credit for  his position in Egypt.  God did this! We are all in God’s hands.  Dear Christian friend, are you grumbling about your  circumstances and about what people have done to you? You may find yourself grumbling against God. You will have to deal with your attitude before God or you may die a bitter, unforgiving person. Today, stand with Joseph and say, “Those people mean it for evil, but God meant it for good, and I submit to him and trust his purpose in it all.”  Let’s learn a few lessons  from Joseph.

c.       JOSEPH TELLS THEM- “BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL, I WILL BE FAIUTHFUL TO YOU.” (50:21)

From Joseph's example we learn a few important  lessons:

·         Believing in God’s providence frees us from bitterness. If you really understand  that  God is at work in your situation, you  will  trust  God.  Learn not to look at second causes.

·         Believing in God’s  providence can give us a new perspective on our tragedies. God is involved with us even in the worst moments of life. He is somehow in control even in our darkest moments.

·         Believing in God’s  providence gives us courage to keep going in hard times. God is designing something beautiful out of what now seems  painful. And yes, life is hard –but God is good.

·         Believing in  God’s providence helps us to live by faith.

 

4.      50:22-26 The Death and Burial of Joseph

There are more than 50 years between 50:21 and 50:22.  Genesis  finishes with  the deaths of Jacob and Joseph. Joseph died at the age of 110 (50: 22). He lived long enough to see  his third generation (50:23).  He too, like Jacob, charged his brothers concerning his burial. He too requested that his bones be carried back to Canaan at the time of the Exodus. In Exodus 13:19 we read, “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God shall surely take care of you; and you shall carry my bones from here with you”.

Conclusion

And so we come to the end of Genesis. 

Two funerals do not seem to constitute a very positive ending, for after all Genesis began with man’s promising  origin. It all began in paradise, in the garden of  Eden. But thankfully the book of Genesis is not the end of the story. The final chapters of the  Bible are found in Revelation, where  we are shown where it all leads to – paradise restored  (Revelation 21:1-4 Revelation 22:1-5).

But even in the book of Genesis  we learn that death is not the end.  

·         And Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people (Gen. 25:8).

·         And Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him (Gen.35:29).

·         When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his lost, and was gathered to his people (Gen.49:33).

The expression, “to be gathered to his people” was no mere euphemism for death. It was an expression of the patriarch’s hope of life after death. They viewed their death as the occasion to be re-joined with those whose death had separated the living from the dead. 

When  Jesus said, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Matt. 22:32), He spoke in the present tense. He  did this  to prove that there is life after death. Otherwise, He would have spoken in the past tense, saying I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”!

Both Jacob and Joseph called their  sons  and spoke about their  death and gave clear instructions regarding their burial. Let us  follow them in  seeing death not as the end, but as  the beginning. 

Let us, by faith, look forward to being reunited with those we love (I Thess. 4:13-18) and dwelling with our Saviour (John 14:1-3), forever in His presence and experiencing the things He has prepared for us. All is in God's hands!



[1]  Herodotus (c.484 – c. 425 BC) was an ancient Greek historian and geographer from the Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire (now Bodrum, Turkey). He is known for having written the Histories – a detailed account of the Greco-Persian Wars. Herodotus was the first writer to perform systematic investigation of historical events. He is referred to as "The Father of History”

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Ephesians 5:15-21 "Living Wisely In A Foolish Age"

 


Ephesians 5: 15 – 20  is essentially a summary statement of all that we have previously read and considered as we have  thought about practical Christian living  from  Ephesians 4 &5

Practical living (ethics, morality and behaviour) is defined not by what we think, but by what God thinks. I trust that you are clear on what God thinks about lying, stealing, corrupt language, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, slander, sexual immorality, covetousness etc.  We cannot be indifferent to these issues, because God isn’t. Also, our love for  Jesus is measured  by our obedience to these things:   ”If you love me you will keep  my commandments.” (John 14:15)

We are not going to say much about  5:6-14  which is a strong exhortation  to let no one persuade us or deceive us  to think that  these  things are not really serious in God’s eyes.   The Bible calls us not to listen to the sons of disobedience (5:6). We must have no partnership with such people (5:7). Their endorsement of a lifestyle which is contrary to  God’s word, belongs to the darkness. “It is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” (5:12). If you are a Christian you belong to the light (5:8). Christians must not participate in the darkness but expose it (5:11,13). When you are a Christian you can have   no part in dark stuff  (5:11-14).

Our passage in 5:15-21 follows the typical pattern of Paul’s teaching. 

Remember? He teaches Christians what to avoid in this world, but he does not end there. He is not just a moralist who says, “Don’t do this …”.  He shows us not just what to avoid, but how to live positively in a God-centred way. He shows us how to replace negative lifestyles with God’s thoughts. The Bible never takes something away, without exchanging it for something better. The Christian life is the exchange of our old, downward spiralling life for a new God-focused, heaven (upward) directed life. Christians are not imitators of the ways of this world. They are imitators of the life of God (Eph. 5:1). Christians focus on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy in God’s sight (Phil. 4:8). Christians live wisely and discerningly and above all, Christians are committed and submitted to a Spirit –filled lifestyle.

This is all very important. We are about to enter into a very important practical section of our studies in practical Christianity, Ephesians 5:21-6:4 - God willing,  in October, when  we aim to deal with the matter of practical Christian living in the home. Nowhere is our Christianity more crucial and more tested than in our homes. In this regard, it is significant  to take note that that the suitability of a church elder is judged by the way in which he conducts his domestic affairs - by how he relates to his wife and his children (1 Tim 3).

And now with regard to our text, we  shall  consider four vital  aspects of  Christian thinking  and behaviour  before we apply  practical Christian thinking to the marriage,the family and the workplace 

1.      5:15-16 Living wisely  in respect to our use of time

2.      5:17 Living wisely in respect to seeking the will of God

3.      5:18 Living wisely in living a Spirit-filled life 

4.      5: 19,20 Living wisely in living a life of joyfulness and thankfulness

1. 5:15-16  The wise use of time

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”   Dear people, let us not be naïve about our world. Let us not be naïve about the times in which we live.  In Gal. 1:4  we read   that Christ “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age…".  No matter what you think at times and what you may have been led to believe - this world is not good. There are aspects, by God’s grace and intervention that are good, but this is a fallen world! It is always mixed with evil, which makes the good unreliable. When the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians he isn’t writing as an armchair theologian. He had experienced much evil in his own day. He often had been at the receiving end of evil, such as when he was stoned and beaten and imprisoned, and when he went without food and clothes and shelter (2 Cor. 11:23-29). He even confessed that he was wrestling with his own sin (Romans 7). And besides all this he suffered  a thorn in the flesh  which God would not remove - no matter how much Paul pleaded with God (2 Cor.12:7-9). We are not living in a world in which everything is easy and healthy and holy. This requires wisdom. It requires healthy biblical realism.

How then do we live wisely in a world filled with so much evil – both, without and within? The text in 5:15 in its literal rendering says: “See to it that you walk circumspectly (peripateio)…”. Life in a fallen world demands of us that we consider all matters before us with discernment and caution. Impulsive living and giving into mere appearances and prayerless living is the mother of poor decision making. We must live carefully and circumspectly. Everything in this life requires effort and care. We may put much effort  into our jobs, our education,  and our outward  appearance, but  we need to be careful  that we do not neglect  the foundational  disciplines of  training for godliness (1 Tim.4:7,8), so that our marriages, our families  and  every other relationship will be conducted with God given wisdom.

Wise people are called to make the most of their God-given time by making the most out of every opportunity - literally by redeeming (Gk. exagorazo – to buy back) the time. Don’t waste time or opportunities. Time can never be recovered once it is gone. You cannot turn back the clock. Yesterday’s wasted opportunities are gone forever.  I have heard it said by a good number of people who have become believers only in later years, “Oh, how I regret all the years I have wasted in living for myself and without serving God!” 

Jonathan Edwards, the great  American theologian wrote in 1722 in his journal a number of resolutions (commitments). The second resolution reads: Resolved: “Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can”.

Incoming back to 5:15 we must remember what is said  in  the prior verse in 5:14: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  A sobering reminder! Many a time we  sleep through  golden opportunities, drifting through life, engaging in meaningless and fruitless activities, never making the most of  the opportunities that present themselves to live for Christ and in His service. Time wasting is the mark of foolish living (5:17).

2.  5:17 Seeking the will of God

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is”. Living in an evil age with all its temptations, requires that we need to keep one eye on the world in which we live, and one eye upon God. The great temptation is to live by our  conventional wisdom i.e.  living by what everybody else thinks and says and being saturated by the values of our culture without questioning the culture. We must learn to always question the standards of this world, by asking God, what do you say in your word? It is clear that God’s will is that we should be like Christ. Therefore, anything that comes at us should be examined in the light of God’s Word and this question,  Is this God’s will for my life?

Christians who live arbitrarily and contrary to God’s Will, will find out very soon how painful that path is. They will soon find out  that where they plan to go, God will not go with them. It is as good as walking into the devil’s den. So your happiness in this world very much depends upon your abiding in the will of God. (see Jn. 15:1-9)

3.  5:18 Living a Spirit-filled Life

“And do not get drunk (Gr.methuo) with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled (Gr.pleroō) with the Spirit.” Drunkenness is characterized by a loss of understanding and  a loss of judgment. Alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant. It depresses the nerve-centre of the brain. It inhibits a person’s self-control, affects their wisdom and understanding, and impairs their sense of judgement, balance and co-ordination. This is why drink is the main cause of all car accidents. It is the main cause of domestic abuse and murder.  Drunken drivers kill others because they are not in control of their faculties, and therefore not in control of the car. Their faculties are possessed by the effect of alcohol. The side effects of alcohol are a ‘hangover’. The excessive intake of drink utterly exhausts a person.  It is significant then  that the apostle Paul uses this ‘spirit’ which controls a man, to compare it with the effects of the Holy Spirit upon a person: “Be filled with the Spirit!”  

I was reading Dr Lloyd Jones’ comments upon this verse, and he had the following fascinating insight to offer as he observes that the Holy Spirit is not a depressant but a stimulant. He writes: “If it were possible to put the Spirit into a textbook of Pharmacology, I would put Him under the stimulants, for that is where He belongs. He really does stimulate… He stimulates the heart, mind and the intellect … after  the Evangelical Awakening  over 200 years ago these besotted, drunken  miners  in the Midlands, in the North and round about Bristol ...were suddenly converted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and they began to clamour for schools, and wanted to be able to read. The Holy Spirit stimulates the mind and awakens one’s faculties and develops them. (Martyn Lloyd Jones: Life in the Spirit, Exposition  on Ephesians  5:18-6:9, Banner of Truth, p.20) ) 

Alcohol does the opposite. It kills brain cells and makes people stupid.The Holy Spirit, by contrast strengthens us. He gives us understanding and intelligence to see things as they really are. He helps us to understand this evil world, and He helps us to overcome the world. He helps  us to see its foolishness. And so we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit”

This statement (5:18b) is written in the imperative mood - hence it is an authoritative command. 

It is written in the plural form, “all you …be filled”, therefore it applies to the whole Christian community. 

It it is written in the passive voice “be filled” i.e. do not fill yourself, but ‘let the Holy Spirit fill you’

It is also written in the present tense which has the force of an continuous and ongoing action i.e. keep on being filled with the Spirit

The positive, stimulating influence of Holy Spirit makes the difference in our lives! He is indispensable to the living of a life of happiness and true wisdom. We are called to yield to Him!

4. 5:19, 20 Living a joyful & thankful life

“19 addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart , 20 giving thanks always  and for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”. This is the result of a focussed life. It gives us freedom, and therefore it gives us real joy. What makes the Christian faith different from others? It is a singing faith! We always have music in our hearts and music on our lips!  A Buddhist temple does not resound with songs of praise. It is more occupied with keeping the evil spirits away. Muslim worshippers never sing. Their worship is never jubilant, filled  with the songs of the forgiven. The Christian has much to sing about because our God reaches into the depth of our fallen beings and sets us free by contrast is great in His love and mercy, and mighty in His power. His Grace is magnificent.

SUMMARY

In the light of what we have learned so far in the 4th and 5th chapter, what does the Lord  require of you?  To walk in wisdom  and to understand the world in which you live; always redeeming the time, always filled with the Holy Spirit  and always thankful  and singing God’s praises. This is the God centred life for which you were designed!

Monday, August 22, 2022

Ephesians 4:31- 5:2 Exhibit Christ-like Behaviour!

 


The Christian life is a call to think God’s thoughts after Him.

The Christian life is the imitation of the life of Christ in all aspects of life.  

That is where the thoughts of our passage are leading us today. We have already covered a lot of ground on the nature of practical Christian living in this 4th Chapter. We have thought about the importance of humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love (4:2), eager to maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit (4:3-6). 

We have thought about the importance of appreciating the foundational gifts for ministry (4:7-11) which export themselves into an “every member ministry” in the church (4:12-16). 

We have seen that the church is composed of a body of people that has a fundamentally different attitude and lifestyle to the world. Christ in us makes all the difference (4:17-24). 

From here we have seen how Paul considers specific areas in which our lives become renewed and reformed: habits of lying, anger, stealing, badmouthing are replaced by loving truth-telling, by a controlled anger, by a positive work ethic, and by constructive speech (4:25-29). 

Extreme care is taken not to grieve the Holy Spirit (4:30).  

This is what we have covered so far, and there is more to come.  We need to be trained in righteousness, and we must not assume that these things will come to us without constant reminder and practise and help from God. Sadly we frequently see a huge disconnect between what professing Christians say and believe and what they do. True Christians however are not slaves to sin. Christians possess the power of the Holy Spirit to put off old habits and to put on   the life that God desires us to live.

With this in mind then,  and  the Holy Spirit being present   and our Helper, we consider  the next few verses in 4:31-5:2. We shall find the same writing pattern as before. Paul encourages us to replace old ways of living (negative behaviour) with new ways of living – informed by the truth as it is in Jesus (4:21).  Jesus makes the difference!  Grace in the soul  follows a person’s conversion.  This is not a call to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. This is a call to obey God who gives grace to  all who call upon Him.

OUTLINE

(i)                 4:31 Put  off (away)

(ii)               4:32 Put on

(iii)             5:1-2  Be imitators of God

1.      4:31 Put off

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you along with all malice.”   Let us look at  5 more  things that we need to put off   

·         Bitterness: (Gr.pikria) - a sour spirit / sour speech“an embittered  and resentful spirit which refuses to be reconciled.”[1]

·         Wrath (Gr. thymos) – passionate rage  and anger (Gr. orge)- a more settled and sullen hostility

·         Clamour (Gr. kraugē)-  getting  excited, shouting / screaming 

·         Slander (Gr. blasphemia) – speaking evil of others

·          Malice  (Gr. kakia) wishing evil  and /or plotting evil against  people

The first is bitterness.  This attitude comes through negative life experiences, which we internalise, allowing them to fester in our souls over some time. The terrible thing is that we think that we are entitled to hold on to our bitterness, little realising that this actually makes us ugly people. And at the heart of this problem is a   failure to take hurtful matters to God and to leave the hurts with Him (e.g. Matt. 11:28-30 “Come to me all you who labour and  are heavy laden , and I will give you rest). Worse still, some blame God for allowing them to fall into certain trials or hardships. Bitterness has deep roots and gives birth to all sorts of further ugly emotions, some of which we see here:  wrath, anger, clamouring- i.e. shouting and screaming and slandering and wishing evil upon others.  You see this string of emotions described in Hebrews 12:15ff where it is related to Cain, who ultimately killed his brother Abel.

We see this spirit of bitterness also in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. On the one hand we have the father of the prodigal son. He seems to have every human reason to be    embittered by the actions of his younger son. But not so! He welcomes his wayward boy back with open arms. This is not the case with his older brother. He is bitter and angry against father and younger brother (15:28). The sad thing there was that his accusations against his father weren’t true.  He had lost nothing. Everything in the estate was now his.  But he was a bitter man and that made him an ugly and a discontented  man.

2.      4:32: Put on

 “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  Again, let us begin by looking at the words:

·         Kind (Gr. chrestos lit. to be good and gracious) – note how close it is to Christos- the Name of Christ.  This word is also used  in Luke 6:35, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the  ungrateful and the evil…” 

·         Tender-hearted (Gr. eusplachnos; lit. well out of the heart/affections – to be compassionate, coming from the heart.

·         Forgiving one another – (Gk.  charizomenoi);   lit. acting in grace towards one another-  as God in Christ has acted in grace towards us.

The negatives in  4:31  are to be  exchanged  by  these  habits. A changed heart must issue in changed behaviour. Here lies the proof of our salvation.  And even if we do mess up (and there is no one that doesn’t at times) then the  default behaviour   instilled by the new  birth will issue in repentance and  renewal.  

We need to be kind. We need to be to be like Jesus and like our heavenly Father who is kind to those who actually should not deserve kindness. See how kind God is. His sun shines on the just and the unjust. The unjust breathe His air and enjoy His creation. They enjoy His many laws by which He keeps the world stable. In some ways they even enjoy the effects of His gospel (making kind, compassionate and forgiving people), by which He constantly pours out grace into our societies and into this world.  God is kind.  We must be kind.   

We need to cultivate a tender-hearted, compassionate spirit. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37) is a story about true compassion on the part of a Samaritan and lack of compassion on the part of a priest and a Levite. The Samaritan   exhibits the compassion of Jesus. Jesus was compassionate  and we see it in His  frequent dealings with the crowds that came to Him – harassed, like sheep without a shepherd.

We need to cultivate  forgiveness. In order to extend forgiveness we need to understand what God has done in forgiving our sins.  When God forgives He does so completely: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions” from us (Ps. 103:12). A word of clarification:  God does not ignore sin. He cannot do that. His holy nature will not allow that. So how does He do it? He punishes every sin either in hell or on the cross.  So, if you repent from your sin  and  believe in the Lord Jesus and trust in His finished work on the cross,  then you may be assured that your sin is taken care of in the cross.  If you  will cling to your sin, then you will bear  the consequences of these  in eternal hell.

Those who know  that their sins  are forgiven  bear a debt of gratitude. So they pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” What are we saying when we tell our heavenly Father, “we forgive them that trespass against us”?  Three things:

·         I will not bring the matter up to you.

·          I will not bring the matter up to another.

·         I will not bring the matter up to myself.

It is when you realize that you are the recipient of a forgiveness that you did not deserve, that you are then suddenly freed from the power of a hard heart and  bitterness. You realise  that God has been better to you than you  deserve!  The story of the woman in Luke 7:36ff illustrates the point.  She had been a sinner – an immoral woman.  But Jesus  has dealt with her soul. She had been forgiven her many sins. She wants to show her gratitude, and   in response she comes to a house where He is at supper and she begins to pour expensive perfume over his feet.  The Pharisees and religious teachers judge her. Jesus commends her, and tells them that this  woman loves much because she has been forgiven much. They saw themselves as righteous, not in need of God’s forgiveness, and therefore they showed no love for Jesus.

So the secret of not living in the spirit of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, slander and malice is in running to Jesus, whose life in us  enables us to  live  in  kindness,  tenderness  and forgiveness.

3.       Eph.  5:1,2  Imitate God … and walk in love  

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself  up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice  to God.”  

The commandment to imitate God is rooted in a very simple and profound fact:  Walk in love because that is what the Lord Jesus did for you on the cross.  He loved you by giving up His life for you as a sacrifice for you. He gave His life for yours, so that you do not need to bear the righteous wrath of  a holy  and just God.  

This is a call  to  you  and I to live a radically God centred life: Imitate  God (5:1); learn Christ (4:20);  Not grieving the Holy Spirit (4:30) ! 

Notice the grace foundations of Paul’s teaching concerning the Christian life. We are  to be kind, compassionate  and  forgiving  to others  because that  is what God is to us.  You and I don’t deserve forgiveness , but God  gives it to us in the Name of Jesus —  while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5)

O the love of God,  and  the deep, deep love of Jesus, His Son! It’s an amazing thing. May the Holy Spirit help us to understand that.  It is the instant cure to all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander and malice. It is the cure to a toxic society.  And when that understanding  is shared among a large group of people in our  congregation, and many congregations in our country and in the world then  we have a  healthier world where  people bear with one another in  all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing  with one another in love (4:2). 

These  are much superior  goals than  pursuing climate change policies as a primary goal for curing the ills of this world, don’t you think? Because when the heart is changed in this way, all other things including managing  our fragile environment  will change.



[1] John Stott : Ephesians  BST commentary, p.  190

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