Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Fed by the Lord to Be His People - August 9, 2015 - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) - Ephesians 4:17-5:2
It is said that imitation is the finest form of flattery and while that may be true, I do not, however, believe that Paul is simply telling us in our text for today that we should be imitators of God because we want to flatter Him. Rather, I believe Paul’s encouragement is his usual encouragement of response of faith. When we think about all that our Lord has done for us and all He continues to do for us how can we help but respond by striving, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be an imitator of Him. Of course, we realize, especially in our world today, that being an imitator of the Lord is not necessarily an easy thing, maybe even at times it is something that is difficult and even impossible to do. Let us move into our text and hear what Word of the Lord we have for today.
Our text begins with Paul’s words of exhortation for Christian living and rather than read his whole exhortation, let me simply sum it up with a short quote, “22. . . put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, . . . put away falsehood, . . . 27and give no opportunity to the devil. 29Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (v. 17-29).
Paul exhorts us to put off the old self, that is to crucify the old flesh. The old flesh is our sinful human nature. The old flesh is the fact that we are conceived and born in sin, that we daily sin much, that we sin in thought, word and deed, that we sin sins of omission and commission. Our old flesh is our genetic nature, the fact that we are sinful from conception. Paul exhorts us to put this off by crucifixion. And, no, Paul is not saying we need to each go out and have ourselves crucified. Remember, by Baptism we have been identified with Christ, so that His crucifixion has become our crucifixion, thus, to crucify the old flesh is to remember our baptism and the Word of the Lord to us and we do that through making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, again seeing why the means of grace are so important.
Paul exhorts us to passively have put on us the new self, the robes of Christ’s righteousness. Here again this is what happened at our baptism. At our baptism we were passively done to. We do not take the initiative, instead we are brought as little babies, by our parents. Jesus, through the hands and mouth of the pastor, washed us with water and put His name on us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the waters of Holy Baptism we were robed with Christ’s robes of righteousness.
Paul exhorts us to speak honestly, that is to speak the truth in love. This is a most difficult thing, especially in our world today, our world which has a difficult time with truth. And this truth is what is so twisted by our world. As Christian, not wanting any one to perish, we must speak the truth, especially the truth that there is only one way to heaven. Yet, this truth sounds so intolerant to our world that they persecute us for our caring, yet, Paul encourages us as such.
Paul exhorts us to work rightly. We are to be honest in our work. We are to reflect our faith in our work. We are to work, not as if we are working simply for some material gain, not as if we are working for some human boss, but work as if we are working for our Lord. And in so working, we reflect and indeed bear witness of our faith.
And Paul exhorts us to encourage and build each other up in the body of Christ, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as many of you are doing.
Our text next moves to state the negative, telling us what we are not to do, we read, “30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (v. 30-31). Our text begins by telling us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? To grieve the Holy Spirit means to make Him unhappy. We do this by wearing the name Christian and acting as if we were something other than a Christian. As Christians we understand that the Holy Spirit lives in us, therefore He hears, sees, feels, and knows all that we do. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we disobey any and all the commandments, which we do daily. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we give God second place in our lives, when we misuse His most Holy Name, when we neglect worship and Bible class, daily devotions, reading the Bible, making regular and diligent use of His means of grace, when we disobey and disrespect all those He has put into authority over us, when we kill by name calling, hating, and hurting, when we lust after others, when we steal from others, when we gossip and speak evil of others and when we covet those things which He has not intended for us to have.
Paul would have us to remember that sin is not just sin if it is acted out, rather sin is sin which begins in our hearts. The sins which Paul lists show the steps of the progression of sin. Sin begins with bitterness which has its beginning in the heart. Bitterness leads to rage and anger. Rage and anger lead to brawling and slander. Brawling and slander lead to every form of malice. Sin does not always begin with an act, most often it begins small in our hearts and if it is not stopped right away it can grow and build until ultimately it could lead a person away from Christ and the church. How do we stop the tide of sin. We move on in our text for that answer.
Our text moves to the positive, telling us how we are to live, we read, “32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32). We begin to stem the tide of sin by changing our practices. We stem the tide of sin by being kind and compassionate. The more we work at being Christlike, which we understand we can do only with the help of the Holy Spirit, the less we are bitter, enraged, angry, brawling, slanderous, or malicious to others.
The ultimate end of sin is to be forgiving. To be forgiving is a basic Christian attitude. To be forgiving is to reflect God’s goodness to us, toward others. To be forgiving is to not worry about who wronged who, or who needs to apologize first. No, to be forgiving is to forgive one another as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. To be forgiving leads to the last two verses of our text.
With the help of the Holy Spirit we strive to be imitators of Christ as we read in verses one and two, “1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (v. 1-2). Paul begins by calling us, dearly loved children. We are dearly loved children and God has shown His love for us not because of anything we have done to earn His love, as we have been shown, but simply because He is a God of love. We are dearly loved children because God has created us and He has chosen to love us as His dear children.
The love that God has for us is shown in Christ’s love for us. Christ’s love for is His fragrant offering and sacrifice of Himself on the cross for us. Jesus did not have to give His life for us. He was perfect. He could have simply saved Himself, but He did not. Because of His great love for us He took all our sins upon Himself. He took our sins, all those sins we described earlier when we were talking about breaking the ten commandments. He took all our sins and all the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, upon Himself. He suffered the eternal as well as much of the temporal punishment which should have been ours to suffer. He suffered for us, in our place because of His great love for us.
Because of all that Jesus has done for us, Paul tells us that we are to be imitators of Him. We are to be imitators by living our lives as lives of love, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to the praise and glory of Christ’s Holy Name.
What does this mean? or should we ask, how do we do this? We do this by going against our very human nature which means we do these things only with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. We do this only as Jesus has His way with us. Thus, we do this by striving to live according to God’s commandments, by cleaning up our act so to speak. We do this by working to keep God first in our lives, by not speaking foul language, cursing and swearing, by being in worship and Bible class, having family and personal devotions, by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our might and by loving our neighbor as ourselves. If you could love your neighbor as yourself then you would not do any evil thing against your neighbor, then you would keep the commandments perfectly.
We are imitators of God when we cease to put degrees on sin, in other words when we cease to debate who sinned more and who should say “I’m sorry” first. We are imitators of God when we realize that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that is why Jesus took our place on the cross so that just as freely as we have received forgiveness from Him so just as freely we might pass that forgiveness unquestionably and unconditionally to others.
We are imitators of God when we follow the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Keeping in mind that we strive to first do unto the others, without expecting something in return. We do first. Remember it was while we were sinners, while we were enemies of God that Jesus gave His life for us. Jesus did not wait until we were good or until we earned that He should give His life for us, rather it was when we needed it the most that He gave His life for us. We are imitators when we go out and first do unto others.
We are imitators of God when we love others, even the unlovable. When we meet someone we, through our human eyes, deem as unlovable maybe we need to remind ourselves that if God loved them enough to send Jesus to die for them, who are we to love them any less. Understanding that Jesus loved everyone so much that He gave His life for everyone, how much more do we respond by telling the whole world of that love for us and for them.
Two things to keep in mind. First, Jesus did not give His life as a ransom for us as merely an example to us. We would never be able to follow that example. Jesus gave His life for us because of His great undeserved love and mercy for us. Jesus gave His life for us to save us. Because of what He did for us we strive to be imitators in our lives of His life. Second, please do not misunderstand what Paul has been saying. Paul is speaking in the context of sanctification, that is in the context of becoming more and more holy. We cannot earn our way into heaven by striving to do the things we have been talking about. Our way into heaven has been given to us, that is an accomplished, completed fact. Because of the gift of heaven, because of all our Lord has done for us, we respond, willingly, freely, by giving our lives to the Lord, by letting the Holy Spirit work these good works in and through us, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.
So, once again we see God doing it all. He has given us His Son Jesus who gave His very life for ours. Jesus suffering and death was for our forgiveness. And He has given us an example, one that we, by ourselves are unable to follow, so He has also given us His Holy Spirit in order to work in us so that we might be able to follow Jesus’ example. And so we are left to do the only thing we can do and that is to say “Praise the Lord for His good gifts and blessings.” To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.