Thursday, April 26, 2018

God's Secret Plan: File #11

Continuing on with his theme of walking with Christ, walking a new life, Paul launches into the passage we find in Ephesians 5:3-14. The main point of this passage is fairly straightforward and is essentially the same as the previous passage--as Christians, there are certain things which must not, under any circumstances or in any degree, be part of our life. We must walk in a path that is different from that of the world and free of certain things. Beyond this, Paul also seems to give us some key as to why this purity is necessary, where it comes from, and what kind of effect it has on the world in which we live.

Ephesians 5:3-14: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.

Paul lists a number of things which he makes it clear are to play no part in a Christian's life because those who do such things do not have an inheritance in heaven--these things are all part of the walk of darkness, and we are walking in the light.

First, let's go briefly through the things Paul mentions here: Fornication--all forms of sexual immorality. Uncleanness--moral impurity. Covetousness--greed, desire for more and more, usually more and more money but it can be used for a greedy desire for anything. Filthiness--that which is shameful or obscene. Foolish talking--which means in Greek basically what it means in English. Jesting--seems to mean suggestive and obscene humor. All of this may be summed up as impurity.

These things are not just to be removed from the Christian's life but completely removed. Paul says that impurity should “not be once named among you.” Barnes paraphrases this: “That is, let it not exist; let there be no occasion for mentioning such a thing among you; let it be wholly unknown.” (Ephesians 5:3) Verse 7 has the idea of a complete break with such things: “Be not ye therefore partakers” with those who do such things. You may live in a society of impure people. You may have friends or even family members who are involved in these things. But you must not be a participant with them in their sins. Paul repeats this idea of complete separation in verse 11 when he tells them to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” So far from being a part of such thing, they should be active in combating such things. They should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Why? First, because such things are not becoming for saints (v. 3)--that is to say, if we are holy people, it would hardly make sense for us to act in unholy ways. (This idea seems to be repeated in verse 4--Barnes translates the phrase “which are not convenient” as “which are not fit or proper.”) For the children of God to act like children of the devil is not fit or proper.

Second, because to do such things is to lose our inheritance. Verse 5 says that those who live in impurity do not have “any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” This could both mean in the present, that they are not part of the kingdom, of God's work, they do not belong to God, are not members of His redeemed community. And in the future, they do not have a hope of heaven or the resurrection of the just, of Christ's eschatological kingdom. So far from this, they are under the wrath of God. Verse 6: “Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” This, again, has both a present and an eschatological truth--both now and in the future, those who follow the course of darkness have no hope but are under sentence of the wrath of God, unless they repent.

Why is impurity not becoming for saints? Why will it cause us to lose our inheritance? Why does the wrath of God come upon such things? Because these things are contrary to the nature of God. In verse 10, Paul contrasts these impure things with “what is acceptable unto the Lord.” He expands upon this through the use of a metaphor, one common to both Paul and John, speaking of the contrast between light and darkness.

Light and darkness are a natural symbol of contrast because, for all intents and purposes, the definition of darkness is the absence of light. A dark place is, by definition, a place where there is no light. In an ordinary room, there is light but there is also some dim places and even some dark places--which is the same thing as saying that there are some places which do not have as much light. In Genesis, God created the light and then separated it from the darkness--He did not have to create darkness, because darkness is merely the absence of light.

1 John 1:5 explains “that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” God is light undimmed by darkness and God is purity untainted by sin. God's nature is the definition of what is right and wrong. We can say that sin is what God is not, just as we say that darkness is where light is not.

If you shine a light in a dark room and then hold an opaque object in front of it, the light will not be seen and there will be darkness--not because the light has ceased to shine but because something is preventing its rays from reaching the rest of the world. And sin, impurity, moral darkness happens when the free will of man or angel deliberately blocks and turns from the way of God, preventing the light of His holiness from shining on some portion of their being, even though the holiness of God remains undimmed. God did not create sin; we create sin when we superimpose our will before the light of God.

Therefore, by definition, sin cannot be compatible with God. Those who are followers of God cannot allow sin in their lives. To do so is practically a contradiction in terms. Those who walk in the light cannot simultaneously walk in darkness.

There is an interesting phrase in verse 5 which puts this contrast in a different way. There Paul says that the covetous man, the man who is consumed by a desire for self-gratification, the man who is ruled by greed--that such a man is an idolater. At first sight, this seems like an odd choice of words, especially if you take covetous in the sense of money-hungry. Nobody places a billfold in a niche on their wall and burns incense to it. No one has ever created a giant golden dollar symbol in a public place and then offered sacrifices to it or sang hymns to it. In a literal sense, no one would claim to give religious devotion to money.

But there is something interesting about idolatry.  One of the most famous Bible stories about idolatry is Aaron making the golden calf. But after Aaron made the golden calf, he proclaimed a feast to the LORD, that is, to Jehovah. (Exodus 32:4-5) To Aaron, at least, the golden calf was not necessarily meant as a new god or a replacement for Jehovah but merely a physical representation of the true God. The same seems to have been true of Jeroboam, though his motivation was political. He connected his golden calves with the deliverance from Egypt, with the work of Jehovah. (1 Kings 12:28) And throughout Kings, though the worship of the calves is repeatedly condemned, it always seems to be considered on a different level from the outright worship of other gods such as Baal.

The sin of Aaron and Jeroboam was not in rejecting the true God, at least not explicitly. Neither one would, seemingly, have said that they had exchanged the worship of God for the worship of a material object. Rather, the material object was merely a way of worshipping God. The only problem was that God had explicitly stated that He could not be worshipped through the means of a material object. (Exodus 20:4-6) Therefore, whatever Aaron and Jeroboam may have said, they were not, in reality, worshipping the true God, for God is truth and those who worship him must worship in the Spirit and in truth. The true God cannot be worshipped in a wrong way (except through ignorance which neither Aaron nor Jeroboam could claim.)

And the truth is that many people today do the same thing. They would claim to be followers of God and would certainly not offer explicit religious devotion to anyone else, but they have placed something else in their heart which has in practice usurped God's authority, as Aaron's golden calf took the place of Jehovah. The covetous man is an idolater because, no matter what his religious professions, the real center of his devotion is his own desires. As Jesus says in Matthews 6:24, no one can offer ultimate allegiance to two different things. We cannot serve God and money. We cannot serve God and... well, anything else.

For this applies to more than merely a love of money. Whenever we make the final end of our hope something other than God, we are idolaters. And that ultimately applies to everything Paul speaks of in this passage. The man who is living an impure life in a greedy pursuit of pleasure outside the bounds of God's law is as much an idolater as the worshippers of the Golden Calf, even though, like them, he may still claim to worship the true God and most certainly would not claim to be worshipping his own pleasure. And because it is idolatry, it cannot be incorporated into the Christian life. We must walk a life of purity because to do otherwise is idolatry.  We cannot serve God and idols, we cannot walk in light and walk in darkness, we cannot walk in purity and in uncleanness simultaneously. (c.p. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

But the contrast goes farther than that. It is not merely that we see the light or know the light--notice what verse 8 says we ARE light. The change in a Christian is not just a change in allegiance, it is a change of nature. In so far as we are Christians--that is to say, in so far as we are in Christ--we are the light. That is why Jesus said that He was the light of the world and also that we, as His followers, are the light of the world. This is the message of the Gospel: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Glass has no phosphorescent properties--but if you put it in the light, it becomes a light. Human beings also have no phosphorescent properties--but if we walk in the light, we are light.

And because we are light, we have the function of light. I mentioned before the contrast in verse 11--not only are we to have no part of such uncleanness, but we are to reprove it, to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Paul carries this thought on in verse 13. After mentioning the sins men commit in secret, he adds: “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” As light, we cannot walk in darkness, because the function of light is to dispel darkness. As holy people, we cannot live in sin, because the function of holiness is to dispel sin. Sin always tries to hide, to excuse itself, but the presence of holiness reveals it for what it is. If there was no light in the world, anything could hide in the darkness. If there was no holiness in the world, sin might be able to pass itself off as all right. God has called us, as His people, to take light into the world, revealing sin for what it is. This does not necessarily mean that we should always go around preaching sermons to people about their sins, but it does mean that our function and purpose in the world is to oppose, to unmask, to destroy sin--just as the function of light is to oppose, unmask, and destroy darkness. And because that is our mission, it would be worse than pointless for us to take part in sin ourselves.