A sermon on Ephesians 5:1-20 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 4 October 2020
Our passage today is a good example of one of my favourite sayings. That is, we are called not just to believe the gospel or to tell the gospel but to live the gospel. There are four examples in the first half of Ephesians 5:1-20, and there are two in the first two verses.
The gospel says, In Christ you have become the children of God. Once we were lost. We had denounced God as the rightful lord of our lives and we had renounced all right to life with him. But the Father of Jesus announced his desire to be our Father too. The doors to his kingdom were opened for all who trust in Christ so that we might return to our true home in fellowship with God. Jesus made himself our brother by sharing our flesh and blood and taking our sin so that in him we might become the sons and daughters of God and share his inheritance of life and glory.
So says the gospel. It is good news. But the gospel also says “become imitators of God as beloved children.” Since we have become children of God, we are to act like his offspring, we are to display the family likeness. We are to become like him. For his qualities to become our qualities.
The secondly example is in verse 2. It reminds us that Christ loved us. When we were unloveable. When we couldn’t love each other or even love ourselves, Christ loved us. He didn’t just teach love. He lived love. And he gave himself for us. He surrendered his freedom to his captors, his reputation to his accusers, his hands to the cross, and his life into his Father’s hands. He gave himself to God for us, as an offering to God on our behalf. An offering and sacrifice that was fragrant. That smelled good. Like the smell of the BBQ coming from next door. The death of Jesus was a fragrant offering. A gift that was pleasing to his Father in that his whole life pleased God and his death for us pleased God’s purpose for us.
Jesus modelled the life that pleases God. I mean, what a joy it is to bring joy to someone else. To give a gift that puts a smile on someone’s face. To achieve something that impresses a teacher. To finish a job that delights a client. How greater still the thrill, the satisfaction of pleasing our maker. Jesus pleased his Father with the depth of his love for us and with his commitment of everything to fulfil his Father’s plan.
This is the gospel. It is good news. And so, because of this, the apostle Paul says to us, “Live a life a love. Follow the pattern of the one who pleased his Father. Love because you’ve been loved. Don’t just feel love. Don’t just teach love. Live love. It’s the gospel. Not just believing it. But being it and doing it.
Thirdly, verses 3 to 7 remind us that we have been made holy. The gospel says that through the death of Christ, by his triumph over death, sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit we have been made holy. Our sin is not just forgiven, but sin’s hold on us, its control over us has been broken and we have been consecrated to God. God’s holy people are not just those who have finished the race of faith, who have proven their worth, and are honoured for their example. The saints are not just those who are worthy to get their own day in the Church’s calendar and their picture in the stained glass window. But God’s saints are sitting among us right now. If you turn around you will see them face to face. Because in Jesus Christ God announces that he belongs to you. He is yours. And you are his. His holy people. Washed clean by the blood of Christ and not by your own good deeds. Set free from sin and consecrated to the service of God.
The gospel says that those who have trusted Christ for salvation are holy to God. And so the gospel says, Be holy. Be who you are. The saints. God’s holy people.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, impurity, or of greed, because they are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
The holiness of God cannot bear the presence of the sinfulness of humanity. It has no place in his creation. It will have no part, no share in the new creation of his eternal kingdom. Christ gave his life, his blood shed to wash us clean of such things. How can we indulge in them a moment longer? Like an addict who at the same time knows what he is doing is wrong and yet keeps doing it.
And so it is the Spirit who has made his home in our lives who breaks the cycle of our addiction to sin. He is our 12 step program to fight its evil influence over us. By the Spirit we acknowledge that we are powerless. By the Spirit we grasp his greater power to restore us. By the Spirit we entrust our lives to the care of God. By the Spirit we search our lives and expose our faults. By the Spirit we confess our sin. By the Spirit we ask God take them away not just from over us, but from within us. By the Spirit we seek to make amends. Only by the Spirit of holiness from God can we have nothing to do with any kind of sin, and so live instead for God. Self-controlled. Grateful. Treasuring God’s gift of intimacy responsibly and appropriately. Being content with what we have and not giving into greed which is just idolatry because it worships money the creation of human beings, instead of the creator of human being and of all other things. Money is good as long as it serves us and serves God’s purpose for us. But money is wicked when we begin to serve it. Money is a wonderful servant for the kingdom of God, but it is a cruel master that will control us if we let it.
The fourth example is in verses 8 to 20. It remind us that we have been brought out of darkness into the light. There is something primal about our fear of the dark. In the dark, we can’t see where we are going. In the dark, dangers are hidden from sight. In the dark, things look different and out of place. At night, when we aren’t asleep, we have this urge to fill the darkness with light.
God is light, and without him our lives are full of darkness. Even on the brightest day, with all the lights on, without God there is a darkness that we carry inside within us, lurking in our hearts. Hidden by the darkness, we are prey to every fear while being bold to practice every shameful thing. But in Christ, God has shone his light into the darkness. Revealing the truth about himself, and exposing the lies that we believe. To trust in Christ is to come out of our darkness and into his light and to see ourselves and the world around us properly for the first time. By the light of Christ we are led past the moral dangers that surround us. We follow him to his kingdom of eternal light where the darkness is banished forever.
Or as Paul says in verse 14, to come to Christ is like waking up for the first time. The devil wants us to sleep. To be senseless. Morally unconscious. To be unaware of God and unaware of our true selves. The devil wants us to sleep in eternal darkness. But to hear the gospel is to hear the alarm bell of God.
Wake up, O sleeper, rise from dead, and Christ will shine on you.
The good news is that in Christ the night has gone. The dawn of righteousness has come. And it is well past time to get up and to live in the day.
So the gospel says, Live as children of light. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness. Abandon folly and become wise. Don’t be full of grog but full of the Spirit. And offer to God the praise he deserves and worship him. Of course, we come to church to worship God. To proclaim his worth in prayer and in the reading of his Word and in music and song. Except that in our state, in our country, we aren’t allowed to sing because of COVID 19. But still, music is a wonderful thing. The words and melody of a song speak not just to our minds, but to our spirits as well, to the very core of our being. And I see the power of music during a church service at the local nursing homes. How it can reach past the confusion of age and dementia and speak to those to whom simple words can no longer speak. And we will always love the songs that spoke to us when we first came to God.
But worship is so much more than a sacred hour in a sacred place singing songs. Worship is so much more than feeling God close to us and feeling close to him. Worship is a life lived in the light by the light. Led by his Spirit into a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude for all we have and for all we may do for him. Every day. Every hour of the day. Even if that light must shine in the world’s darkest places.
My friends I simply conclude with this message. If you have not yet, believe the gospel of God in his Son Jesus Christ. Become his child. Know yourself as loved. Let the blood of Christ wash away your sins and consecrate your life to God. Wake up from your slumber and see the light of the Spirit.
And if you haven’t already, begin to live the gospel as well, to find the strength the live the right life not in yourself, but in the power of God that is found in Christ by his Holy Spirit. Don’t just believe the gospel. Don’t just tell the gospel. But live it too.