(This sermon was delivered at Worship in the Woods, at Westminster Woods Camp, during our annual joint worship with Pendleton First Presbyterian Church).
It is my understanding that Pastor Roger has been preaching on Ephesians for a while now, putting me somewhat at a disadvantage. The joy of preaching or studying a book of the Bible, especially one from Paul, is seeing and experiencing how the passages build upon each other. I looked forward to hearing Roger wax eloquently as he delved into the passage and how these words speak to the greater message found in Ephesians and affects our lives today. But it was not to be so. When Roger called last week and let me know about his grandson’s surgery, I couldn’t say no to his request that I preach today. But I decided that since he got to miss out on preaching on this section, I’d like the good folk from Pendleton to make a request of Roger when he returns home. Now give him a few days to get settled back into things, but ask him to preach on the next section of Ephesians. If you know your Bibles, you might know that the next section is the “Wives, submit to your husbands,” and just as important, “Husbands, love your wives.”
Our reading from Ephesians 5:15-20…
I recently heard a definition about wisdom that I think helps us grasp what the writer of Ephesians, who, for the sake of argument, we will assume is the Apostle Paul, is talking about when he wants us to live as wise people, especially this time of year: “Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put one in a fruit salad.”
That is the kind of wisdom living he is talking about. And with that wisdom, Paul is calling us to be careful. Now, what is usually translated “live” could more accurately be translated “our living walk.” Paul is saying “Look how you walk:” Keep your eyes peeled as you walk, because these days are evil. The word “careful” here modifies the word “walk,” not “look.” Basically, watch where you step. Paul is commanding his audience to keep their eyes wide open, so they can walk carefully in this evil age. The first reaction to these words might be a paranoid approach to life, peeking around corners and through drawn curtains, but that is not at all the picture Paul paints later in this verse. A careful walk through life, in fact, results in an intoxicating joyful life full of song, thanksgiving, and healthy relationships. But we will look at that a little closer later.
For now, Paul fleshes out what careful walking looks like. Because the eyes are wide open as one walks carefully through a treacherous world, the believer can take advantage of opportunities he or she may encounter along the way. Paul doesn’t talk about avoiding pitfalls, or give a long list of those pitfalls that might be encountered while living in the evil days. Paul deals with some of those pitfalls earlier in Ephesians as he delves into what it means to live into the new life of Christ. But, instead Paul puts a more positive spin on wise living. Wise living involves recognizing, seeing, and making the most of the opportunities that are encountered daily.
Again, Paul doesn’t give a list of the kind of opportunities he is talking about, but from the overall letter, we can deduce he isn’t talking about business opportunities or waiting for the best buy at Walmart, even though the word “making the most” is a word from the Greek found in commercial transactions. What I think Paul is talking about is that when the culture may be trying to lull us into living the same way that everyone else does, we need to be alert to those moments when we can exhibit unique Christian living. He doesn’t mean keep a sharp lookout for cheap real estate during a recession, what he means is keeping a watchful eye open to avoid the evil of the day and to be ever on the lookout for where God is being active in the world because that is where God’s kingdom will be found and experienced. Direct your walking towards those God moments in which we can join God in his love and grace.
That means living wisely is understanding what the Lord’s will is. Throughout Ephesians, Paul has written a lot describing God’s great cosmic purposes for everyday living, Thus, Christians should know both what God is doing in the world and how we should respond in our everyday living. Paul’s call to paying attention to walking wisely is tied directly to understanding the will of the Lord. The temptation is to just drift along with the current of the culture, where the will of the culture overtakes the will of the Lord. Paul is calling us to pay attention so that doesn’t happen so that we can live and experience the Kingdom of God.
So, how can we live wisely in a foolish and evil world that wants to grab hold of our attention and pull us along its currents? Paul give a profound answer—“be filled with the Spirit.” What does that mean? Paul uses what I think is an interesting analogy. It’s like being drunk on wine. I don’t think he includes this prohibition on getting drunk because it is such a great sin, because intoxication can and does cause great harm, but I think he includes this example because it is such a good comparison. When you are drunk, you are under the influence of the alcohol and the more you drink, the more under that alcohol’s spirit you become. Your speech slurs, your eyes roll, you stagger, your response time slows. I think that is why it is called a DUI, driving under the influence. You no longer are the one in charge, but the alcohol is the calling the shots. And being under that control doesn’t last forever. Once you sober up, you’ll have to drink again to come under the influence again.
It is somewhat similar to be filled with the Spirit. Now, I believe that in our baptism, we all receive the Spirit once and forever. But to be filled, to come under the influence of the Spirit, is an ongoing process. Ironically, Paul doesn’t talk about what it takes to have a Spirit filled life in this particular passage. I’m guessing he thinks you figured it out in the previous passages with what not to do: Don’t steal and slander. And what to do: worshiping together, having patience with one another, speaking the truth in love. But what Paul does is describe a Spirit-filled life: Speaking, singing and making music, and giving thanks.
Those who are filled with the Spirit speak to one another in a distinctive way—with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Now, don’t ask me what that exactly means because I’m not going to walk up and belt out Amazing Grace when I see you on the street. But it maybe how we talk with each other as we talk to God in worship. What a wonderful way to think about our walk and worship with God—not grim duty, not reluctant reverence, not fearful distance, but heartfelt singing together. Paul would seem to indicate that those who are filled with the Spirit are so overflowing with joy that if flows out into song, even if you are someone like me who has a tough time carrying a tune. Music is made first in our hearts and then outflows with voice and instrument.
And not surprising, a Spirit filled life is a life full of gratitude. It is the level and extent of the gratitude that is surprising. Paul indicates that if the Spirit is in control of our thoughts and desires, we will give thanks always for everything. Now, I will be the first to say that sometimes things can be so awful that I can’t give thanks. Maybe Paul means we can give thanks in those times, but not for those times. Yesterday, I did a funeral. Many times we gave thanks for the life of the one who had died, we gave thanks to the Savior who now held her close in his arms, and we gave thanks that the pain was gone. But she died. Death is the great destroyer of relationships. I can’t give thanks for death. So I think a Spirit filled life that is full of thanks is wise enough to understand what is evil and what is the good work of God in our lives, even in the midst of tragedy. And that Spirit filled life overflows not with complaint and dissatisfaction, but with thanksgiving.
This text, and a large portion of Ephesians, calls of to kind of living that will move people to ask us to give the reason for the hope that is in us—carefully wise, always looking for opportunities to live for Christ, deeply in touch with the purposes of God in the world, but not in a way that alienates others but draws them into a relationship with Christ. And in doing so, the Spirit will fill us with joy and gratitude, and creating relationships that demonstrate our closeness to God with hearts that overflow with song. Amen.