Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Living in the Light

Ephesians 5:8-20

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have always enjoyed reading newspapers. One thing I have found when reading newspapers is that if the story took place at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, it is not going to be good news. You never have a story of something wonderful happening at that hour of the night. It is always bad news. It will be news about someone fighting or stealing or killing.

The Bible often contrasts living in darkness with living in the light. In fact, the context of today’s Scripture in Ephesians includes a very clear contrast between the two. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:8-11).

Do you see the contrast? Once you were in darkness, now you are light in the Lord. Then we see the contrast between the fruit of the light with the fruitless deeds of the darkness. This is the context of what we read earlier. It is clear; as Christians, we do not belong to the darkness.

I find it very interesting that Paul does not here go into a list of the deeds of the darkness. Earlier in this chapter, he admonishes against sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk and course joking, but this is not meant to be a complete list. Sometimes we as Christians can start looking at a list like that and say, “Oh, I don’t do this or that, so I must be pretty good.” Meanwhile, we are doing all sorts of other bad things that aren’t on the list. This is not an exhaustive list. Indeed, when we see what Paul actually wrote, he says to avoid the fruitless deeds of the darkness. What defines these deeds as belonging to the darkness is the fruit which comes from them. There are all kinds of things we can do which aren’t bad in themselves, but which do not lead to the fruit that God desires from us.

So Paul tells us to be careful in how we live. Many times we live our lives without examining what we are doing. We live day by day, doing what we need to do, never thinking if it is what we ought to do. Never thinking if it glorifies God. Never thinking about the fruit of our decisions.

There have been times in my ministry when I have heard complaints about my preaching, that what I was preaching was too hard to follow. They have said things like, “we’re not ready for that.”  But the reality is that we are not promised tomorrow. We are not even promised this afternoon. We are only promised right now. Make the most of every opportunity.

In 1650, Jeremy Taylor wrote a treatise called The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living. www.ccel.org/ccel/taylor/holy_living.iii.i.ii.html

He suggested waking up early and thinking about God the very first thing, spend time with God throughout your day (no matter what you are doing), and immediately before sleeping at night, evaluate your day. During the day, don’t waste any time, for every day well spent might become a “day of salvation.” Especially if you are busy, set apart a time for fasting and prayer and confessions, meditations, and time with God, lest you be distracted by the world.  Let your free time be spent praying, reading, meditating, works of nature, recreation, charity, friendliness and neighbourhood, and means of spiritual and physical health; always remembering your calling in Christ – beginning and ending each day with God.

The reason he advised each Christian to evaluate our day is because it is easy to simply live, yet not live for Christ. Be careful how you live, says Paul. Be wise about your life. Are you living like a child of the light? Is your life characterized by goodness? By righteousness, being in a right relationship with God? With truth? If you meet someone new, would they know you are a Christian if you didn’t tell them? Every moment is important – you never know how God might want to use you in the moment. As Jeremy Taylor put it, any day might end up being a day of salvation for someone.

Therefore, do not be foolish. Now, this is a term that has changed meaning over the years. We think of foolish as simply being silly. And while this scripture warns against unwise use of our time and our lives, it’s not really saying “don’t be silly or whimsical.” In the Bible, a fool is one who has rejected God’s ways and lives life as if God and God’s will were of no consequence. As Psalm 14:1 says: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

So in this context, Paul is saying, live your life, each moment, as if God does matter, as if God’s will is first and foremost in your life. That will impact everything you do. Then Paul tells the Ephesians some practical wisdom: Don’t get drunk. I find it strange that Zambia is a Christian nation, yet there is a huge problem with drunkenness. That can only mean one thing: it means that we are a Christian nation in name only. And I hear that some in the church spend their time getting drunk. That’s not wise living. That’s not godly living. The Bible is clear – not because wine itself is bad, but because it leads to foolish living and to excessive indulgence.

Instead, we are told to be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit fills us, prompting us to understand God’s will and wisdom, prompting us to love God and neighbor. Many people say they don’t know what God’s will is or they ask what God’s will is for their lives. Meanwhile, they are not spending time in prayer. They aren’t spending time in God’s Word. Or, when they are in the Word, they pick a sentence here or there, completely out of its context, and then they say “this is God’s word” – meanwhile, Jesus said something completely different.

When we try to understand what the Lord’s will is, sometimes it’s not clear. But Jesus said to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12)

In other words, follow Jesus. What do I mean by that? Be faithful to not only know and understand Jesus’ words, but do what he said! Obey his commands! Only a fool would hear Jesus’ words and disobey.

When we are filled with the Spirit, following Jesus faithfully, then we will have joy. Not always happiness, which can be manipulated by so many things. But joy, which is independent of outward circumstances. Throughout the whole letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul expressed joy while imprisoned.

How can you sing and make music to the Lord, giving thanks even in difficult circumstances? Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

How do we get from where we are to where God calls us to be? First of all, acknowledge that Jesus is indeed the Light of the World. That is key, because if you don’t, you will continue to stumble in the darkness. If we do not know him, we remain in the darkness, controlled the sinful nature, and, according to Romans 8:8, Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

So instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. You might wonder, how do I become filled with the Holy Spirit? By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit pursues us from before we even know God. When we accept by faith the gift of salvation, and when we ask God, we receive the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said in Luke 11:13 “If you, then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” However, if you’re like me, there are times when you hope for more of the Spirit.

Here is the difficulty: we do not get more of the Spirit. We cannot. Because God gives us the fullness of his Spirit at our salvation. There is not “more” Spirit to be given! However, if we want more of the Holy Spirit’s influence, we need to take the example of John the Baptist, who testified about Jesus: He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30).

We allow him to become greater by setting our minds on him. Set your hearts (and minds) on things above. (Colossians 3:1, 2). Focus on the teachings of Jesus. And continue to pray for God’s wisdom – wisdom from the Holy Spirit to fill your heart to overflowing – and for that overflow to pour out in joy and in love of God and neighbor.