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Breaking with the World

March 20th, 2019

But among you, as is proper among the saints, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or crude joking, which are out of character, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure, or greedy person (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:3-5 BSB)

The topic of this section of Ephesians is walking as God’s people, or how we are to live as followers of Jesus Christ. There must be a loyalty in our hearts to Christ and there must also be a break in our hearts with the world. John wrote: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

We are faced with a choice and we will choose based on whom we identify with the most. If we identify with the world, if that is who we consider ourselves to be – members of this earthly society – then we will follow its dictates and live accordingly. If we identify with Christ, however, then we will follow Him and live out our faith. One of these is winning our heart’s affections every day. Either we will become more and more worldly or we will become more and more godly.

What is different in a Christian?

The victories in our Christian lives come by the hand of God, and when we place our faith in Christ we receive a new nature: “The new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We also receive the Holy Spirit: “Having heard and believed the word of truth—the gospel of your salvation—you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).

The new self desires to follow Christ and to obey Him in all things. The new self identifies with God and with His eternal family. The new self will never be satisfied with what the world offers. It seeks the purity of the life from God and will only find itself truly nurtured by God’s truth and by the fellowship with His Spirit and with God’s people.

But the old sinful nature is still within us, and will be until we leave this world. And the old sinful nature, or the flesh, longs after the world. This is the Christian’s battle, to reject the voice and the influence of the old nature. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). We are often encouraged in scripture to lay aside the old world of the dead flesh and to live in the light of God.

The identity with the world

Yet we must work in the world, and live in the world, and associate with this world’s people. As long as we are on this earth we will have some identity with this world. Christ told the story of the Good Samaritan who was a “neighbour” to an injured person and stopped to help him (Luke 10:25-37). The Jews and the Samaritans did not trust one another, and the beliefs of the Samaritans were a mixture of Jewish beliefs and Canaanite paganism (2 Kings 17:34-35). But “good Jews” out of fear and busy-ness failed to help the injured man, and the Samaritan stopped and cared for him.

Jesus’s point was that just as help might could to us from surprising people, so we should offer grace and kindness to all people. We have an obligation to help others, whether they are Christians or not. We should be responsible citizens and share the compassion of God with the lost world.

But we cannot love what they love.

Identifying with an unbelieving world

Paul mentioned typical ways that the world identified with one another: in sexual immorality; in crude joking and bad language; in complaining (contrasts with thanksgiving); and in greed. In the first century Mediterranean cities, brothels were common, as was temple prostitution in Ephesus, and a visit to one or both was a means of “male bonding.” One could make friends there, and be considered “a regular guy” by others. You did those things to fit in.

And the joking and bad language, well that continues to this day. Sometimes in our world we imagine this to be “authentic speech” and the niceties of polite speech somewhat hypocritical or pretence — appearing to be what you are truly not.

And the greed, this was just another means of male-bonding, that they would make business plans in brothels or through coarse joking, or in the midst of complaining and swearing, and it the dominant idea that drove those bargains were greed, not a sense of responsibility. These were the type of evil men spoken of in Proverbs:

They say, “Come along, let us lie in wait for blood, let us ambush the innocent without cause, let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole like those descending into the Pit. We will find all manner of precious goods; we will fill our houses with plunder. Throw in your lot with us, let us all have one purse”– my son, do not walk the road with them or set foot upon their path. For their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed blood… So they will eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the waywardness of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. But whoever listens to me will dwell in safety, secure from the fear of evil. (Proverbs 1:10-33)

Christians are to live responsible, in faith in God that He sees and will reward the faithful. Earlier in Ephesians Paul said:

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing good with his own hands, that he may have something to share with the one in need. (Eph. 4:28)

Remember that Paul himself was a business man engaged in a tent-making enterprise. He knew that greed could drive a business venture, or service to humanity and a fair profit could drive it. If the atmosphere in which partnerships and business plans were hatched was ungodly, then greed would dominate. But if a Christian atmosphere predominated, then considerations of responsibility, service to society, and fairness in business practices could dominate the formation of responsible plans.

What was not said?

For the Christian, these types of worldly associations were simply wrong. The Christian must identify with Christ and not with the world. Returning to John’s words:

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world. The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever. (1 John 2:16-17)

The world and its desires is passing away. It is dying every day. Any enterprise built on lust, greed, selfishness, and has no concern about doing what is right cannot last forever.

But what other ways do we seek to identify with the world? Paul did not here mention them all. He merely mentioned a few and laid down the principle. What would we add to this list? What ways do people tend to seek to identify with the world?

Gossip would be one way, and it is certainly covered in this section to some degree. He speaks about thanksgiving being expressed rather than complaining, and gossip is just another way of complaining. We may look on the bad or look on the good in life – and this applies to the lives of others.

Alcohol and drugs are also ways that people might associate with the world.

Godless and worldly entertainment. What a Christian chooses to let into his mind influences him. Not all sports, writings, or works of arts are necessarily off-limits for a Christian, but we should use godly discretion.

Gambling.

Some sporting events.

False religions, philosophies, and ideologies.

We could add many more, but whenever the crowd goes one way the Christian should ordinarily go the opposite way.

Our Positive Faith

These things are the opposite of love. Loving others as Christ loved us, receiving and sharing His love with other believers, these things thrill our hearts and excite our minds.

Though the passage above is warning of negative things, the larger passage focuses on positive things of God. We find oneness in Christ when we associate with people who love the Lord and His Word. There is a spiritual thrill that is unmatched by the world when we get together with other Christians in spiritual fellowship.

This passage encourages believers to speak good things to one another, lifting each other up.

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:19-20)

Ephesians

Walking in Love

March 19th, 2019

Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 BSB)

Chapter four of Ephesians ends by warning us not to grieve the Spirit of God, and by stating two primary ways we grieve the Spirit: (1) by holding on to bitterness, rage, anger, and plain old sinful meanness; and (2) by not being tenderhearted toward one another. 

We tend to think we have done enough if we only do not get angry with one another too quickly, that to simply leave one another alone is the fulfilment of all the social commands of scripture. But this is utter nonsense. Christ taught us, “As you would that men should do to you, do you even so unto them” (Matt 7:12). This calls not for passive indifference but for positive action. Granted that sometimes our most earnest desire is to simply be left alone, and we should respect people’s privacy, but we also desire company, understanding, and compassion. 

Giving oneself up

The first nature of this command in Ephesians 5 is to approach one another with unselfish and sacrificial willingness. To walk in love, like God in Christ loved us, means this nature of selflessness should permeate our relationships with one another. Love, if our actions are to be worthy of this word, must have someone else’s best interests at heart, and in order to do this our own selfishness must be laid aside.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that love is costly and risky. We often invest in someone only to see them not respond with the way they should. But true love is not deterred and just keeps on no matter what. Quite often the seed we plant does not germinate until after we are gone – just as the martyrdom of Stephen impacted Paul the Pharisee, being one more prodding from God that lead to his salvation. 

Are there no boundaries?

I would not say that we should lay aside our responsibilities for caring for our families and even for ourselves. We may sacrifice comforts and necessities for a period, but eventually we will need sleep, healthy food, and good friends. Though our passage is about love and how the Spirit produces this in our hearts, the Spirit also produces wisdom. And He leads us to understand – if we will ask Him and follow Him – when and how to sacrifice ourselves.

Early in his public ministry in his city evangelistic outreaches, Billy Graham would go all day long meeting with civic and church groups, coming to the evening meeting tired from the day’s events. A godly pastor advised him that people do not come to the meetings at night to see tired young men.

Nor should we willingly empower the abuser or enable the manipulative evil person. Christ said, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16), meaning that we should not be naive about what might be in the hearts of others – no more than we should be constantly suspicious and cynical of all. 

I can think of a few former missionary colleagues who in the name of openness and compassion to the people they were seeking to reach acted with foolish ignorance and entrusted their children’s safety into evil hands, allowing them to be abused.  Many Christians – not just missionaries – have not balanced these boundaries and have been hurt and have become jaded in heart, not caring to reach out in compassion anymore. There are users and abusers in the world, and they even find their way into churches. Though we still should be compassionate toward all, we dare not be naive. 

Channels of God’s love

We love as God loves us. Paul wrote that it was the love of Christ that compelled him (2 Cor. 5:14). John wrote:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 BSB)

Our “love” is tainted with self-interests and blinded by pride or maimed by fear and pain. Our “love” is often love for self first and love for others only so that they will love us back. 

God’s love, however, is pure and wise and considerate: “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17). If we love as God loves us, if we love under His Lordship, if we love as His instruments, if we love as He loves others through us, then our love will be wise and helpful. And we will live in peace.

The command of scripture is: 

Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:7-8 BSB)

We should live in the spirit of sacrificial love constantly, and that spirit includes the heart that trusts in Christ in all circumstances and rests in the peace that trust affords. But also is aware of the evil in the world and does not foolishly drop its guard. 

 

Ephesians