Imitators of God

Series: New Community

Sermon by David Strain on Aug 30, 2015

Ephesians 5:1-21

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If you would take a copy of God’s Word in your hands and turn with me again to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5. If you’re using one of our church Bibles you’ll find that on page 978. Once you have the Scriptures open before you, would you bow your heads with me as we pray together? Let’s pray.

Lord, our prayer as we come to You is the same as the prayer of blind Bartimaeus who, when he heard that the Lord Jesus was passing near cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me! Sir, I would see!” That is our cry. Have mercy on us; we would see Jesus. We ask that You would take away our blindness and show us Christ and show us ourselves, show us our need and how Jesus is the answer to that need. Show us our sin and show us full atonement in our Savior. And bring us by Your Word to Him anew, for Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.

Ephesians chapter 5, reading from verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“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.

 

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 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. 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 become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

 

‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’

 

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and 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 for Christ.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

As we continue in our studies of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, as you can see we’ve come to chapter 5, verses 1 to 21 which, at first glance, seems like a complicated, even random grouping of exhortations jumbled one on top of another. Closer inspection will demonstrate that it follows a very careful and actually rather simple, even beautiful, outline. You will remember that the central metaphor Paul has been using when he deals with applying the truths about which he has been so burdened and exercised in chapters 1 to 3 to our lives, which is the focus of chapters 4 through 6, the central metaphor he uses is the Christian walk. He first mentions that in chapter 2 verse 1 where he reminds us that we “once walked in trespasses and sins.” But chapter 2 verse 11, having been made alive together with Christ and saved by grace, we have become “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” And then at the commencement of the practical application section of the letter, chapter 4 verse 1, he exhorts us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called.” And in chapter 4 verse 17 we are no longer to “walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of our minds.” So for Paul, the central motif or metaphor for the Christian life as he applies the truth to the details of how we live is the Christian walk.

And if you’ll look at verses 1 to 21 of chapter 5, you’ll see that the three major sections of this passage are constructed around that same metaphor of the Christian walk. So verses 1 and 2, we are to “walk in love,” walk in love, “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Then in 3 to 14 we have a long, generally negative section dealing with sin and its consequences, but if you look at verse 8 you will see the positive use that Paul makes of all of that. Verse 8, “You are light in the Lord; walk as children of the light.” We are to walk in love; we are to walk in light. Then in 15 to 21, Paul calls us to walk in wisdom. Verse 15, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” Walk in love, walk in light, walk in wisdom. To expand the walking metaphor for a moment, we might say Ephesians 5:1-21 is a roadmap for the Christian pilgrim; a roadmap for the Christian pilgrim. Here is how to walk the path all the way to our heavenly destination. Walk in love, walk in light, walk in wisdom.

I. Walk in Love

Let’s look at verses 1 and 2 first of all then - walk in love. Notice carefully the family language. Do you see that in verses 1 and 2? “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children.” If we’re Christians, we are beloved children of God and children imitate their parents, don’t they? Even as adults don’t you find yourself repeating phrases your parents said to you growing up? Aren’t there mannerism and ways of speaking that were just so very characteristic of mom and dad that still find a way of appearing on your lips and in your behavior, even though perhaps you never set out to mimic them. You suddenly catch yourself sounding just like Dad. Children imitate their parents and Paul is saying here Christians are children of God and they ought to bear the family resemblance. They are to be imitators of the Father. His character is to have its echo in our characters. And that means specifically that we are to walk in love. “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Jesus our Elder Brother has loved us, and in His great love He has shed His blood for us, bearing our sin in His body on the tree, crucified in our place, condemned in our place. And because He was condemned in our place, we have become adopted children of God in His family. And Paul is telling us here that the love of Christ that brought Him to the cross is to be the paradigm, the template, for the way we love also. It’s one of the great paradoxes and mysteries of the Christian Gospel that at the cross, when the white-hot fury and hatred of divine righteous wrath against my sin and your sin was poured out upon our substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ, when the Father damned the Son at Calvary with a damnation I have deserved, at the very same time the Father was never more pleased with His Son, as His Son in obedience to the Father offered Himself a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. And that, Paul says, is what it means to walk in love. This is not a call to emotionalism. That’s how our culture defines love - a vapid sentimentality. No, for Paul to walk in love is to walk the way of the cross. It is to obey God and honor God. It is to join our Savior who prayed, “Father, not my will but your will be done.” It is to go the way of Golgotha and to join your Redeemer in giving yourself for the glory of God and for the good of others in loving self-denial and sacrifice. A saccharine sentimentality is not the way of love. Costly sacrifice for the glory of God is. Walk in love.

II. Walk in Light

Then secondly we are to walk in light. Walk in light. Look at verses 3 and 4 first of all. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” There is another way to walk, another course your life may follow than the way that Christians are called to walk. The world walks that way. It is enticing, often, and deceptive and deadly always. It is the way, Paul says, of sexual immorality and impurity and covetousness. The word he uses for sexual immorality is “pornea.” We get words like pornography from it. The word translated “impurity” is a close cognate of it and together they address all forms of sexual behavior that breaks the bounds of God’s law. Sex was designed as a beautiful expression of intimate love between one man and one woman between the bonds of lifelong marriage. But as a culture, we have ignored God’s pattern and debased human sexuality in increasingly perverse ways, haven’t we?

But did you see that in this text it’s not just these sinful expressions of sexuality that Paul is concerned about. He also addresses covetousness. That is to say, he deals with greed. In fact in verse 5 he even calls covetousness, greed, a form of idolatry. See that in verse 5? Greed makes idols of things. Jesus says a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things. Greed disagrees and makes an idol of material plenty. Sex and money. Paul could not have been more relevant in exposing the festering sins of our society, could he? And look at the text. So poisonous and deadly are these vices that Paul says they’re not even to be named among us. What he has in mind is the kind of gossip mongering that delights in the spread of the salacious details about other people’s sins while studiously avoiding facing up to our own. Nothing, he says, could be more incongruous for a Christian than that. It is not proper for saints. That words, saints, simply means “holy ones.” That’s what a Christian is, a holy one. But if that’s who we are, then filthiness, verse 4, crude joking, foolish talk could not be more out of place in our lives. Instead, Paul says thanksgiving should be the characteristic mark of the Christian. Isn’t that a challenge for our characters? When people talk about you, what do they say is the great preoccupation of your life? What is the default setting of your heart? Is it gratitude and thankfulness? Is your default setting gratitude and thankfulness or is filthy talk and gossip mongering the way that you use your lips?

And in case you wondered why it’s so terribly important that we deal with sexual immorality and greed and coarse, filthy talk, Paul shows us in the passage exactly what’s at stake. Look at verses 5 to 7. “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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.” That is a shocking and sobering warning. Paul is working to shake us from a casual attitude to sin because of a veneer of Christianity overlaying your otherwise worldly life is no Christianity at all. A veneer of Christianity overlaying an otherwise worldly life is no Christianity at all. Mouthing Bible words on Sunday while a torrent of perverse talk pours from our filthy mouths Monday to Saturday, a quoting of religion while our hearts and our secret selves are characterized by sexual impurity and immorality, Paul says a life like that will not inherit the kingdom of God.

And it may be that some of you here this morning near to hear the alarm bells that Paul is sounding loud and clear. If you walk in the way of the world it will lead you to the world’s tragic end, but if you can hear the alarm bells of God’s Word warning you and calling you to repentance, well then there may yet still be hope for you. Look at verse 8. “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” You don’t need to live in the shadows, in the vice grip of secret sin. The Light of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ, can give you the light of life. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. “Do not be deceived:  neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” You can step out of the shadows. The Light of Life may yet engulf you and chase the darkness away. Jesus Christ can make you clean. Hear the alarm bells and flee to the only refuge for sinners like me and like you. Run to Jesus and He will make you clean. God is calling us to repentance.

And those who do repent Paul calls in verse 8, “children of the light.” And so we’re called to walk as children of the light. How do we do that? What does that mean? If we’re not going to live in the darkness anymore but live as children of the light to walk in the light what does that mean? Paul gives us two principles in verses 9 and 10. Do you see them? Two things to do. Very simple; very practical. “Walk as children of the light for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. And try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” What is good and right and true and what is pleasing to the Lord. So before you speak, before you sit down to watch that movie, before you click on that website you might want to ask yourself, “Is this good? Is it right? Is it true? If I say this, if I go here, if I look at that will I have the smile of Abba Father? Will I please the Lord?” I rather suspect that if we were to ask our self those questions on a regular basis our mouths would be closed and our screens would be blank much more often than they are.

And then in verses 11 through 14 Paul deals with the culture of secrecy that we use to hide our sin. Look at verses 11 to 14. “Take no part,” he says, “in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” Bring sin into the light where it cannot thrive! That’s what he’s saying. It thrives in the shadows of secrecy. The light kills sin dead. Take the Ashley Madison scandal. I’ve had reason, as you know, to pay particular attention to it. Much to my distress there is at least one other David Strain living in the greater Jackson area who is apparently a client of this website. But think about what the site itself tells us about sin. Think about it. It is an online mechanism for arranging secret, illicit affairs. We have made a business of cheating and lying and sexual immorality and adultery and we are finding new and creative ways to keep it all hidden, keep it in the shadows. At least that’s what we think. But Paul says here sin cannot stay hidden forever. Be sure, your sins will find you out, as the client lists of Ashley Madison are discovering at their great cost right now.

But look at Paul’s counsel to us in verse 14. If we’ve been skulking in the shadows of unaddressed, unconfessed sin, Paul has counsel for us. His counsel is - bring your sin into the light first, do it now, before your sins are brought into the light for you either here, to your great shame, or hereafter in the judgment to come to your eternal condemnation. Sometimes our hidden sins are exposed in the providence of God - witness the Ashley Madison case. And whether they are or not here, they will one day be when the books are opened before the judgment seat of Christ. There is a great exposé coming when all of it will be brought into the light. And if you have sought to flee from the glaring light of the holy gaze of God here, hiding away in the darkness, when you face the light of God’s holiness hereafter everlasting darkness will consume you. And so Paul’s warning is - bring your sin into the light now. “Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and the light of Christ will shine on you.” Jesus, the Light of the World, will chase the shadows away. Come with your sin, confess, repent, flee to Christ, and instead of the darkness of death and sin there will be the light of life and mercy.

III. Walk in Wisdom

Walk in love, walk in light, then finally, walk in wisdom. Verses 15 to 17 - “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of God is.” Wisdom is urgent. The days are evil; judgment’s coming. Time is short. Instead of foolishness, understand God’s will. How we do all of that is the force of verses 18 to 21. Look at the please. Verses 18 to 21 - “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and 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.” Drunkenness here is an example of the kind of sinful foolishness Paul is warning us about. Instead, the way of wisdom in which he calls us to walk is to be filled with the Spirit. The construction that he uses here actually means “to go on being filled, constantly with the Spirit.” The whole Christian life is to be an unceasing experience of the Spirit inhabiting and empowering our lives.

And then he tells us how that happens. He says that it takes place as all of God’s people minister God’s Word to one another, “addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.” When we hear that language of, “be filled with the Spirit,” we tend to look for some spectacular, dramatic experience. We think that’s what it means. Here, Paul says, “No, no. You will be filled with the Spirit - the means God will use to continually supply the strengthening power of the Holy Spirit in your life will not be some sudden, spectacular, spiritual pyrotechnics. No, it will be as God’s people gather Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day and open their hymnbooks and sing ancient words to the living God - psalms and hymns and spiritual songs - and you hear one another adoring Him, crying for mercy, confessing sin, seeking grace, giving thanks.” And as we hear each other sing, we’re encouraged and strengthened and the Word of God is made to dwell in us richly and the Spirit of Christ is ministered to us by the means of His Word. We are called here to Word ministry to one another. I think it’s a beautiful thing.

After a long section of sharp, pointed exhortation where Paul is pressing down hard upon our sin, that he then turns and says, “Be filled with the Spirit.” And the way to be filled with the Spirit is to be together with the people of God in the Lord’s place on the Lord’s Day singing the Lord’s songs to His praise and glory. In the ordinary, normal routine of public worship, the Lord Himself has promised to garrison your soul against the onslaught of worldliness and temptation that you may learn to walk in Christian obedience, to walk in love, laying your life down in imitation of Christ your Elder Brother who loved you and gave Himself up for you, to walk in the light, not even naming those scandalous things let alone practicing them, and to walk in wisdom bringing honor and glory to God, redeeming the time because the days are evil. May God help us to walk in love, to walk in light, and to walk in wisdom for His glory and praise. Let us pray together.

Our Father, how we confess to You that our hearts indeed are prone to wander and prone to leave the God we love. Thank You for this strengthening, searching ministry of the Word of God. You have called us to repentance and as we now bow before You, we turn to You and we would no longer leave our secret sins in the shadows but to bring them into the light, into the light of Christ, asking that Jesus the Light of the World now would cleanse us and turn our darkness into light that as children of the light we may walk in the light to the praise and glory of His name. Amen.

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