Sunday, January 26, 2020

WHEN THE DAYS ARE EVIL

Walking as Children of the Light – Ephesians 5:3-20

As we saw last week, Paul writes that we are to give our lives as a fragrant offering to God. We read that we are to present our life’s work as a soothing aroma. We are to pour out ourselves as a drink offering of worship to the Lord.

But what does it all mean in practical terms? These phrases may sound somewhat poetic, but they are also vague. We have heard the theoretical, but to know how we are to actually live our lives, we also need to hear the tangible. How are we to put these truths into practice in our lives?

These matters become progressively important to us as we see society begin to crumble, the times become increasingly evil, and the day of the Lord drawing near.
 


Paul gets right to the issue. In fact, after spending so much time in the first half of the book on the doctrinal issues, it is almost startling how suddenly practical he now turns his writing. In the previous chapter of the book of Ephesians, Paul first talked about sins that directly affects the lives of other people—sins like lying and anger and stealing. These are behavioral deeds that have effects that will be quite obvious to others.

The list of sins that Paul now enumerates in the first part of chapter five of his book tend to be more private in nature. In today’s culture, these sins are often considered as “victimless.” However, as we have been learning about the church being the body of Christ, we have come to realize that there is no sin that is without victims. Prepare to squirm in your chair a little as Paul writes about these: 

Private Sins

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.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:3-6 BSB) 

The word that Paul uses for sexual immorality is porneia. It is easy for us to see the connection with today’s society, especially in the age of the internet and cell phones. Today, pornography has become epidemic. But pornography and other forms of sexual immorality are merely the outward results of the inward corruption of what God intended to be beautiful. That is why Paul adds the words impurity and covetousness, the last being basically another word for greed.

Impurity is corruption which distorts the beautiful and alters the pure. Covetousness speaks of the greedy desire that characterizes the sexually impure. When one kind or one level of sexual gratification begins to diminish, the impure person will seek other levels or more extreme forms of gratification.

It should not be startling to us that our inward thoughts will eventually take the form of outward actions. This is why Paul warns against filthiness, foolish talk and crude joking. In the context of the verse, Paul is talking about obscene joking and stories with veiled sexual innuendos or a double meaning.

These back-handed and debasing sexual references have a corrupting influence in that they give voice to an inward defilement. These off-color words, coming from the lips of the foul-minded person and fueled by the covetousness that Paul speaks about, will eventually give rise to further and more destructive outward behavior in the society. 

Private Sins Become Egocentric Worship

Concerning this covetousness, Paul notes that greediness is just another form of idolatry. This connection between greediness and idolatry may not be immediately evident. We see greediness or covetousness as something that is directed toward pleasing one’s self; that is, self-gratification. Idolatry, on the other hand, is giving homage or worship to someone else or some object in the place of the worship that only God deserves to receive.

But this is just the point. Self-gratification is indeed idolatry, even if there is no false god involved. Instead of paying homage and rendering worship to some statue or some tree, the covetous man turns his worship inward. He is living to please himself rather than to please the One who created him. His idolatry becomes centered on self.

Paul says that the covetous man and the idolatrous man has no place in the kingdom of Christ and of God. The reason for this is obvious. Those who have their own self-interest as their goal live in a manner that is completely foreign to the culture of the kingdom of God. This is what Paul told the believers of Philippi when he warned them that there were many who would mislead them even by their bad example in living.

Paul said to the believers in that church, “Many… walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame, with minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19 ESV).

This is a life of self-indulgence—and self-gratification is idolatry. It can actually be reduced to the simple and almost comical phrase that Paul mentions here: they worship their belly. Their only thought is for what makes them “feel good.”

The priorities of a believer are much different. After all, the believer in Christ recognizes that the things that entice us in this life are a shallow form of contentment, and will in the long run leave us empty and abandoned. Thus Paul says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 ESV). 

Left Abandoned by All

Not only will self-worship eventually leave one abandoned, but to return to our phrase in Ephesians, Paul says that neither will these idolaters have a place in the inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

How could they? They are the “sons of disobedience.”  Their devotion to their own desires will eventually fail them and they will find no place in heaven for their perverted priorities. Alas, they are destined to see only the wrath of God.

Paul’s admonishment to the church of Ephesus is obvious:   “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:7-8a ESV). 

Walking in the Light

Just as the admonishment is obvious, so the advice that Paul gives also is quite apparent. Paul tells the people of the church, “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” (Ephesians 5:9-10 ESV).

The phrase regarding walking in the light brings to mind the words of John, “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7 NAS).

The contrast to light, is of course, darkness. That is why Paul continues, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11a ESV).

Again, taking the words of John from the same passage as above, we see this same contrast between the light of God and the prevalence of darkness in this world: “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5 NAS). 

Exposing Deeds of Darkness

Concerning these “unfruitful works of darkness,” Paul says that it is the task of the one who walks in the light to expose them, “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12 ESV).

If this is to be our task, if we are to expose the unfruitful works of darkness, how are we then to go about it? Of course, there are times when we are called to say a word or to take an action, but the simple answer is that the very presence of light is the critical component in exposing the darkness. Maintaining our walk in the light, especially in the midst of darkness, will expose the futile works of the present age. Those things that once depended on darkness or done in secreted ways to keep them hidden are brought into full view with the coming of light.

In making this point, Paul then quotes a writing that has either been lost to us, or perhaps it is a combination of phrases that arise out of the Old Testament: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14b ESV).

This phrase seems to be directed not to those who consistently live in deeds of darkness and described as “dead.” Rather, it seems to be directed to those who had been walking in the light of God, but who have lost their direction and allowed themselves to drift into a state of laziness. The admonition is to pay more attention to how we conduct our lives, and to allow God to lead us in his light. In fact, that is how Paul continues:  

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. (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV) 

Living in Evil Days

Paul wrote also to the Galatians of the evil age or the evil world in which we are living (Galatians 1:4). In that letter he spoke of the fact that Jesus “gave Himself for our sins” so that we could be rescued from the evil age in which we live.

The evil age is an age and a world where Satan in active in trying to corrupt all that is pure and good.

Here in Ephesians the admonishment concerning these evil days is that we be wise in our walk and that we make the best use of the time that we have here. Paul speaks of it also in the final chapter of Ephesians (6:13) where he encourages his readers to take up the “full armor of God so that we will be able to resist in the evil day.”

When he also admonishes us to make the best use of our time, he is telling us that our lives must be focused not on the world, but on what Christ is doing. Our time here is limited, and the days are evil. If we are to live through them in victory, then we must be wise in our actions. We must be centered on the work of Jesus, whose main concern is for his people here on earth, both those in his church and in rescuing those entrapped by the blindness of the age.

The little New Testament book of Jude has some good words for us concerning this wisdom in our walk and making the most of our time: 

But you, beloved, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God as you await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life.

And indeed, have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; and to still others, show mercy tempered with fear, hating even the clothing stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:20-23 BSB)  

The Greek Word Asotia

What follows the mention of the evil age in Paul’s writings is a series of very practical and relevant instructions for living a life that will keep us walking in the light of God. The first is this: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 ESV, NIV).

Debauchery is a word that is not often used these days in most circles of conversation. Using only this word, we may not have a clear idea of what Paul is saying. The NASB translation instead uses the word dissipation, but for most people, this does little to clarify what Paul is saying. The ASV puts it by saying that in drunkenness is riot, and the KJV says that in drunkenness there is excess.

Although none of these words encapsulate entirely what Paul is saying, each of them actually adds a bit of understanding into the Greek word asotia, which is the word used by Paul in this phrase. The fact that so many various English terms are used to translate this single Greek word shows the difficulty in capturing what Paul is saying in using it, but it also shows the depth of the meaning of the word.

The word debauchery speaks of moral corruption. In fact, it is these very words, moral corruption, that we would probably use to say it in these days. Dissipation is usually used in a manner that has a different definition, meaning the act of scattering something or spreading it in various directions.

However, there also is an alternative meaning to this word, which is to indulge too much in evil or in foolish pleasures. And of course we know what it means to cause a riot, as the ASV says,  or the KJV, when it speaks of excess.

I actually prefer the reading in the Berean Study Bible: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to reckless indiscretion. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

All of these interpretations of the Greek word asotia help us to understand, in one manner or another, what Paul is saying about drunkenness. As is widely known, the over-use of alcohol causes a person’s better judgment to give way to uninhibited behavior.

The word dissipation speaks to this in both of the definitions, because one’s sense of a centered life is scattered, and as he or she indulges in foolish and shallow pleasures. They begin to allow their life to be without direction or real purpose. His or her life ends up being one of moral corruption and without moderation.

It is for this reason that the overuse of alcohol is so strongly condemned in several places of Scripture. Some people have taken this admonition to the extreme to denounce any use of alcohol at all, but of course this is not what Paul is saying. It is not the alcohol that is the problem. Rather, it is the unrestrained use of it—it is the indiscretion and the dissipation that are the problem. It is just that alcohol is especially disposed to contribute to this failure.

The Apostle Peter actually uses this same word asotia in one of his letters when he tells his readers, “For you have spent enough time in the past carrying out the same desires as the Gentiles: living in sensuality, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. Because of this, they consider it strange of you not to plunge with them into the same flood of reckless indiscretion (asotia), and they heap abuse on you” (1 Peter 4:3-4). 

The Positive Filling

A life that has no center, and which is scattered by various forms of self-gratification can never bear fruit. Half-realized plans and failed attempts at reform can never accomplish anything lasting.

Rather than living like this, Paul says that we should be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” In addition, not only should we be addressing one another in a positive and enriching manner, but we are also to be “singing and making melody to the Lord within our own hearts, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20).

We are to have this attitude of thankfulness and rejoicing with others and even within ourselves. It is the giving of thanks to God for the good things that we have which will keep our lives centered and bearing fruit. It is our thankful attitude will keep our lives centered on God. 

Instructions for Walking in the Light

The principle is the same as we saw earlier when Paul instructed the Ephesians about “putting on the new self.” He told them that it was not enough only to stop lying, but that they replace that habit, and should instead practice speaking the truth. It was not sufficient to stop stealing, but the reformed thieves should in addition begin working with their hands so that they would have something to share with those in need.

Paul wrote much the same thing earlier in his letter as he is saying here in the fifth chapter of Ephesians: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

In all of these things, Paul was encouraging the people to replace the negative practices or manners in their lives with positive things. By merely removing the damaging and destructive habits, there is an emptiness left within the person. That is why it is crucial to replace that negative with the positive, so that evil does not find a place to begin again.

Jesus once told a parable that also spoke to this issue. In it, he emphasized the importance of not only cleaning one’s life of evil, but also replacing it with the good and the pure: 

When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” On its return, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and dwell there. And the final plight of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-26 BSB)
 

An empty dwelling, even if swept and put in order, will not remain that way for long. Moisture invades the empty rooms and mold begins to grow. Frost creates great cracks in the foundation. Vermin begin to enter, along with termites and other pests. If a house remains empty for too long, it soon becomes unredeemable.

It seems that it is not much different with our own lives. 

Fill Your House with the Spirit of God

The final instruction that Paul gives for being filled with the Spirit is that we should be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV).

With this phrase, Paul introduces some additional practical teachings about walking in the light and being filled with the Spirit. These instructions will teach the Ephesians and us as well how we can live in harmony in our families and other of our social relationships.

The first of these teachings is likely one of the most controversial in today’s society—the relationship between husband and wife. We shall look into that next week.

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