In days such as these we’re facing now as Christians and as a church – difficult and dark – what’s Paul just been saying in Ephesians 5.14? Close your eyes and hope it will all go away before Christmas? No, he says wake up! The light of Christ is shining. Wake up as a church.
Recently the BBC reported that a woman managed to sleep-walk to her motorbike and ride it in her sleep. Yes really! It's dangerous enough riding motorbikes when you're awake! But she was asleep, just going through the motions, not thinking about what she was doing and not aware of the dangers. And similarly, it's so easy to be sleep-walking along as Christians and as a church. We might look awake but are we just going through the motions? Are we actively living as light in the power of the Spirit? Are we producing what’s good, right and true, and actively exposing darkness? Are we awake to the many God-given opportunities for the gospel? Wake up! Walk wisely, filled with the Spirit as we so need the Spirit’s fruit and power. Ephesians 5.14-15:
“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...be filled with the Spirit."
Once we were asleep, dead and in darkness, but Christ has rescued us. We’ve been woken out of sleep, risen from death and been brought into the light of Christ. So now as children of light: be careful – walk wisely & be filled with the Spirit. Be careful & be filled. Now you say I’m fed up with being careful in these restrictive times but being careful in Ephesians 5 has many positive outcomes in terms of walking as children of light as a church. So first:
1. Be careful - in four ways.
i) To walk wisely
Being careful to walk wisely is how we can practically wake up, press the reset button and reboot our walking in love and as children of light.
ii) To make the best use of the time
For some, that’s been one of the questions of lockdown. Well making the best use of time here in Ephesians doesn't mean just getting lots done. It’s not meant to overwhelm us but rather to help us prioritise. It means to invest in what matters. Paul reminds us that the days are evil - they're full of darkness – judgement is coming – the stakes are high - so we need to invest in what matters. That will mean making the most of every opportunity to be light to those around us. That might mean inviting someone to an online Christianity Explored course. Or getting involved in reaching out as a church to share with those in need both here and overseas. It’s not just footballers who should be taking a lead in caring for the poor. In Galatians 2.10 Paul says he’s eager ‘to remember the poor’. You could get involved with Christians Against Poverty, which aims not just to help people out of the depths of desperate material poverty but also out of the utter depths of spiritual poverty. You may also need to reprioritise enjoying time with God - in his Word and in prayer, both on your own and in a group.
If we're really going to invest in what matters, we might need to make small changes or even radical changes to our lives. Therefore, be careful, thirdly, not to be foolish but:
iii) To understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5.17)
And to use our time wisely as individuals and as a church to that end. For roughly 30 years at JPC our vision statement or God’s will for us has been Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain, taken from Jesus’ teaching on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in Matthew. You see, the will of God for the people of God, is revealed in the word of God. Now we don't find God's particular detailed will for our lives listed when we open the Bible, such as what course or career we’re to take, whether we personally should go and do mission overseas and in which country, whether we as individuals should adopt or foster, or the name of the person we should marry.
This disappointed one Yorkshire-man who was trying to decide whether to marry his girlfriend Maria or not. He prayed and prayed and often went into local churches to ponder and pray. One day he was sitting in a church when he looked up and saw some writing on the wall which said ‘Ave Maria’, so he did! But seriously, we do find general principles in Scripture that guide us as we make those particular decisions, such as Christians are not to marry unbelievers and that we’re to make disciples of all nations. It can also be helpful to talk and pray through specifics of big decisions with more mature Christians. What we do find out in Scripture is God's general will for all Christians and churches, things we don't need to ask others about such as becoming more like Christ, caring for orphans, being ambassadors for Christ, being salt and light or how we’re to behave for it’s all here in his Word.
But maybe there's something you're struggling within God's will and you need to get to grips with it. Speak to someone wise about it. Get hold of
a good book on it and work your way through Bible passages on it.
iv) To not be under the influence of wine for that is debauchery
Part of not being foolish and understanding what the Lord’s will is for our lives means not being under the influence of alcohol. How can we be careful to walk wisely if we’re drunk on wine or beer? In one way even the government recognised this recently when they ordered pubs to shut at 10pm. Don't lose control as under the effects of alcohol but rather be self-controlled which is a fruit of the Spirit. Don't be depressed through drink as alcohol is a depressant but rather be stimulated by the Holy Spirit who helps God’s Word dwell in us richly, leading our minds, our hearts and our wills to God’s will and ways. Now the Bible recognises in 1 Timothy and Song of Songs that a little bit of wine can be good for the stomach and can lower inhibitions for intimacy in marriage. But some will need to stay away from alcohol altogether. And the result of too much alcohol is debauchery. Wild, uncontrolled actions. Animal-like and worse than animal-like behaviour, which leads to others being hurt. You see excessive alcohol dehumanises. The results of being filled with the Spirit are very different. The fullness of the Spirit makes us more human, for he makes us more like Christ. So Ephesians 5.18 don’t be filled with booze, rather:
2. Be filled with the Holy Spirit
What does Paul mean and how? Well be filled with the Spirit or keep on being filled with the Spirit is an imperative, in other words, it’s not optional but of vital importance, if we’re to do God’s will and be fruitful. The verb is also plural. It's a privilege for all Christians. It's not an elitist privilege. It's not just for a few. No, Paul is quite blunt. None of us is to get drunk; all of us are to be filled with the Spirit. Yes, encouragingly all true believers have been sealed once and for all by the Spirit for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4.30) and all believers are to keep on being filled with the Spirit throughout the Christian life. How? There are no special techniques. The original can be translated "let the Holy Spirit fill you." We must turn from what grieves the Spirit such as bitterness, anger, slander and malice (Ephesians 4.31) and let him fill us. We’re to obey the Word and surrender to the Spirit. And we’re to keep on being filled with the Spirit. As John Stott puts it:
The fullness of the Spirit is not a once for all experience but a privilege to be renewed continuously.
Are we feeling defeated in our Christian lives? Or are we complacent? If you feel defeated, turn and be filled with the Spirit and his fruit will grow in you. If you're complacent and feel you've arrived spiritually, keep on being filled with the Spirit - God hasn't finished with you yet! So, what will a Spirit-filled church look like in practice? 4 further aspects are now mentioned:
a) Addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
So broadly we’re to encourage and exhort one another. As we’re discovering on zoom Christian fellowship isn’t just about drinking coffee and eating together but about speaking about Christ together. If we can't talk about him then, we’ll find it much harder at work, school or college.
Key here is we're to be full of joy and delight in God. Spirit-filled people love to sing to God and to one another! Covid restrictions help us get to the heart of that, which is to seek to find our satisfaction and joy in God.
b) Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.
Note 'with your heart'. Here's comfort for the tone-deaf! And indeed for those missing singing out loud during covid. Sing and make tuneful music with your hearts for the ears of the Lord, as one translation puts it. It's to be authentic, joyful and sincere, not just going through the motions. Some say silent worship is being referred to here so this could help when we’re behind a mask in the church building again. But what Paul is definitely talking about is the sincerity of Christian praise, that Spirit-filled Christians should have a song of joy in their hearts and when we can again in the building Spirit-filled public worship is to be a joyful celebration of God's mighty deeds, though that can include more sober gladness as we say psalms and reflect on God's Word.
c) Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If we're walking wisely, then we'll remember our sinfulness, we'll remember Jesus' amazing sacrifice on the cross, and we'll fix our eyes on the great hope we have as Christians. And we'll be thankful. We'll recognise that, even in the midst of a pandemic, we’re blessed in so many ways. Indeed, in Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. The Spirit-filled believer is always full of gratitude to God for everything, giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. So that rules out grumbling, complaining, and being negative. Paul says those who don't complain shine like stars in this crooked and depraved generation (Philippians 2.14-15). Fourthly and finally:
d) Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Some people I've known, who claim to be filled with the Spirit, have been aggressive, very self-assertive and brash. Yet the Holy Spirit is a humble Spirit and if we’re filled with him we should reflect Christ's character and attitude which will mean submitting to one another as well as to Christ. Notice that we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, meaning if we’re truly subject to Jesus Christ we won’t find it difficult to submit to each other as well. And this is a basic principle for life in Christ as a church: mutual submission out of reverence for Christ. We’re not to be a collection of Kings and Queens each ruling our own dominion, population of one. Because of what we know of Jesus, and because we submit to him, we submit also to one another. Ephesians 5.1-2 provide the context for this:
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…
You see Christ isn’t just the model for leadership. He’s also the model for submission. Jesus lived on earth in submission to the will of his heavenly Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said (Luke 22.4):
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.
There are more dignity, freedom and strength of character expressed in that moment than in any other in human history. There’s nothing demeaning about living in submission to Christ and in appropriate submission to one another. When we do, we're imitating him The notion of submission to any authority is one that goes counter to an age that sees independence and autonomy as just about the most precious things in life. Submission is often seen as dangerous and degrading. But the truth is that the only way to true freedom for all of us is by submitting to the authority of Christ, who is our Lord as well as our Saviour. And that means willingly and voluntarily submitting to those who have a God-given authority, for the sake of order in society too.