Normally, we think of chapters as the beginning of something new – a new stage of life, new development or new thought. There is a break, we turn the page and then start the next chapter. As you probably know, chapters and verses were not added to the Bible until much later than the original writings. A man named Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters in the year 1227. Langton was a professor at the University of Paris at the time and later became the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Modern verse division for the New Testament was the work of Robert Stephanus, a French printer. He divided the Greek text into verses for his Greek New Testament published in 1551.
So, it is easy to miss the fact that the beginning of what we know as Chapter 5 is just the next sentence in what we call Chapter 4. So, we should read it that way:
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
So, what is it to imitate God? As you know, I have qualms about the whole notion of “What Would Jesus Do?” That way of imitation only goes so far. We could say, “Well, Jesus would walk on water, or feed the five thousand, or heal the blind, the lame, or the deaf, or he would confound his critics time and again. We cannot do all that Jesus would do but Paul is saying here that we can imitate Jesus in one particular way. We can live a life of love and give ourselves up for each other. We can forgive each other. In that way, we can trace our lives over his and over time come to understand that the nature of the Christian life is about being an offering and a sacrifice – not to ourselves and not to others but to God.
We are not pretending to be someone we are not. We are following their example but in a way that is not like lip-synching. We are letting them show us what Christ looks like in the world in our skin.
And, it makes all the difference how we see our example and He sees us, doesn’t it? If we are imitating a god who is unforgiving, harsh, and unpleasable then that is the god we will imitate. If we see ourselves as unloved then we will reproduce that in our own lives for others to follow. But, Paul says we are to be imitators not only of a God who has forgiven us but as dearly loved children of His who need not be fearful of losing God’s love.
I know people who imitate a God who is unloving and incapable of complete forgiveness. Their imitation of him has ruined them and often their children. They could never believe that they were dearly loved children. Instead, they were children who needed constantly to be performing for the love of the father.
Gentiles and Believers
Paul goes on – again as a continuation of how we are to be toward each other – as members of the Body.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these 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—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
First, Paul is not talking here about people outside the Church. He takes it for granted that those people are this way. He says in 4:17 – “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”
Paul is telling the Ephesians that this is normal for the world but it cannot be normal for the Church. This is the normal behavior of people outside Christ and we should not be surprised by it. But, in fact, there must not even be a hint of these things among Christians. Unfortunately, there is far more than a hint of these things. We are bombarded with examples of Christians – pastors and people alike – whose behavior is no different than the Gentiles. I don’t need to give you examples, do I? Immorality, greed, impurity, foolish talk, obscenity are around us all the time and some Christians even excuse it as, “Well, that’s just the way they are” or “Those rules don’t apply to leaders.” I suppose, in a sense, they are right if we think of our leaders as Gentiles and not Christians. Then it is just normal behavior and we should not expect anything else from them. While Paul says we are not to partner with such people who falsely claim to be Christian it does not mean we cannot vote for them or work for them. They are, in Paul’s words elsewhere, vessels for destruction. “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth..What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.”
However, if they claim to be Christian then Paul is saying this behavior is unacceptable and we are to root it out first in ourselves and then in the Church. Paul addresses three of these as if they are all to be said in one breath: Immorality, impurity, and greed. It’s almost like he’s saying “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” or “Punt, Pass and Kick.” Scripture lumps them together for a reason because they feed off each other. They are all distortions of something good that God created.
Sexual immorality is the word porneo and it is the corruption of something God intended for good. Greed is the same word as lust or desire. It is a corruption of a good desire to be responsible for something that becomes the desire to control and acquire. It is an appetite that is never satisfied. Impurity (akatharsis) is the word for the gradual build-up of sin – like moral plaque on the teeth that are never brushed or cleaned. It is the distortion of grace in a way. It is losing the ability to need or ask for forgiveness. All of these are a result of the acute awareness of personal emptiness just as Paul says in Chapter 4. Their thinking is futile – which means empty and hollow. It runs in circles and ends in a cul de sac.
And that is exactly how Paul describes the way we are deceived by those whose words are empty and mean nothing. They are constant liars who have lost any natural desire for the truth. They are like a cancer virus in the body by the way they disguise themselves as normal cells until they have taken over the cell nucleons and are finally revealed as deadly cancer. By then it is too late for the cell to reject it. The healthy cell is not overwhelmed but is deceived and outwitted.
What happens to those who deceive the Church and believers? First, they are marked as children of disobedience. In other words, they are not just periodically, like all of us, disobedient but disobedience has become a part of their nature. They have chosen to live in disobedience and lead others into it as well. They have lulled the believers into sleep and their senses have been dulled. They have changed sides, changed families, stopped struggling and given themselves over to deception. What does Paul say about their fate? The wrath of God comes upon them. Wrath is not God losing his temper or blowing up finally in impatience. Wrath is God giving them over to themselves. Wrath is finally becoming fully what they have been only imperfectly. Wrath is their choice.
The Light of Christ
Paul does not say, “Fight fire with fire.” Instead, we fight darkness with light and lies with truth. Paul says we are not only to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. “For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is the light that makes everything visible.” In other words, we are to be whistleblowers – and first for ourselves. We are to be very careful how we live and make sure we are not looking at the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. However, that does not mean we are to never call out bad behavior and deceit. What is the sign of God’s love for us?
“Those walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” It does not say we have attacked those with whom we disagree but that we have turned on the light that exposes their fruitless deeds.
“That is why it is said: Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
And the light of Christ is not like any other light. It is the light of forgiveness. It is the light of sacrifice. It is the light of humility. It is the light of preferring others over yourself. That is why the world does not recognize the light of Christ because it does not come with condemnation, anger, and getting even. It exposes to heal and not to harm. It does not come with pride and vindictiveness. It is the only light that will dispel the darkness of sin without desiring the destruction of the sinner.
“Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness. Let him show me my faults – it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.” Psalm 141:5
“Show a wise man his faults and he will love you.” Proverbs 9:8
But, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” and “Don’t bother talking sense to fools; they’ll only poke fun at your words” or “The mouths of fools are their ruin; they trap themselves with their lips.”
Turn on the light and wake up to what has been happening over time. Sin and deceptions of sin are narcotics. They dull the senses. Sin is not riotous drawing attention to itself but is numbing and deadening. Things that used to disturb us now seem normal. Things that used to cause concern are now seen as necessary. Things that used to keep us up at night have lost their power to make us restless. We are asleep. We have rolled over and turned off the alarm.
You know the movie Awakenings with Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro. It is based on the true story of Dr. Oliver Sacks who discovered that the drug L-Dopa was effective in arousing patients in his clinic who had been catatonic for decades. We did not understand the power of dopamine to stimulate the brain until he used it to wake up people who had been victims of an encephalitis outbreak years before. Some once awakened could not handle their new world. “Rose R was struck by sleeping sickness at the age of 21 and awoke in 1969 to find her world of 1926 had vanished. She remained rooted in the 1920s and, as if the time gap was beyond her comprehension, stopped responding to levodopa.” But others responded and their lives were changed. The world had become unfamiliar to them but they were grateful to be awake.
The Will of God
That is what Paul is saying. God has provided a way for us to wake up and stay awake. “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” The world around us is darkened. It is filled with people walking in their sleep. It is inhabited by people who have become careless for themselves and others. People who are foolish, with hardened hearts, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
But that is not to be us. We are to be wise and the way to wisdom is obedience. Finding the Lord’s will is easy, actually. It is not about finding the perfect career, spouse, place to live or even how to solve difficult problems. No, God’s will is much simpler than that. It is to choose a way of life that imitates His love for us. It is to become a particular kind of person whose life over time looks to be traced over the pattern of Christ. It is a life of gratitude, respect for others, humility and wisdom. It is to be children who are dearly loved by a God who is well-pleased.
God says in Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, thick darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the righteousness of your dawn.”
The themes of light/dark/truth/deception/sleep/waking is everywhere in Paul’s writing:
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
That is for us this morning. Wake up to deception, to empty words, darkened and futile minds, and those who are careless and hardened. Arise and shine. Arise and reflect the light of Christ. Arise and dispel the darkness..and kings will come to the righteousness of your dawn.