CBC – October 23, 2016
Sermon Text: Eph 5:1-14
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. 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. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Meditation/Preparation – Heed well the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16. The biblical standard for “success” articulated in this text is a much-needed remedy for what ails so many in the church today: “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a).
Wherever, whenever, and to whomever the Christian proclaims the name of Jesus, a fragrance is released. To some it is an aroma of life and hope and renewal and forgiveness. Nothing can compare with the sweet smell of the Son of God. The gospel of his dying and rising for sinners awakens life and leads to life. To others it is a suffocating, poisonous stench.
Do you want to smell good to God? Then be true to the gospel! Be faithful to its terms, articulate its promises, and don’t back down from declaring the eternal consequences that come with its denial.
– Sam Storms, Enjoying God, October 26, 2008
1. Radiating the light of God
2. Radiating the aroma of God
3. Radiating the magnetism of God
We have been working our way through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians since the middle of June. We turned to Ephesians with two reasons in mind.
One is that when you are in stormy seas the best way to avoid illness and to keep from losing orientation is to get your eyes on the unchanging horizon. So in the disorienting storm of loss and disorientation in early June we wanted to steady our eyes on the horizon of the mission of the church. Our mission at College Baptist Church is “to live for the praise of the glory of God.” And that phrase comes from the first chapter of this letter. Four chapters later it might still be easy for us to get lost in the waves of the book going by and lose sight of the mission that drew us here.
Ch. 5, which we begin to look at today, is part of the practical application section of the book that began with 4:1 – “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” You can hear lots of echoes of that in this sentence at the top of ch. 5. And chs 4-5 together are a part of the practical application of the message that began way back in June in ch. 1. God chose us to be holy and blameless in the world. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. Why? To the praise of his glorious grace. We have redemption and forgiveness according to the riches of God’s grace which he lavished upon us when he make known the mystery of his will according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ, a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in Christ, to the praise of his glory. We have obtained an inheritance so that we might be to the praise of his glory, and we were sealed with the Holy Spirit who guarantees that inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. So this is a letter about knowing our hope and our purpose. And we should still be keeping the steadying horizon of that purpose in our sights when, in the uncertain months of waiting for a pastoral search to bring a new pilot to our wheel, we are four months across the water reading a passage like ch. 5 in this book of Ephesians.
The second reason we turned to Ephesians in June is that we have a plan and a hope as a church to construct a new addition to our building to enlarge our classroom capacity, to give us some fellowship space on the same floor as the sanctuary, and to improve the facility with better restrooms and offices. Ephesians has been the source of our plan and purpose for that building, too and we want to keep that vision in front of our eyes as we move into the future. We have proposed calling this addition The 4:12 Center because our mission for that addition is taken from Ephesians 4:12, at the beginning of the practical applications of this letter: we want this building to be a place where we can better equip the saints for the work of the ministry and where we can build up the body of Christ. Ch. 5 is an extension of the exhortations in this letter that began with that practical purpose for our addition.
This morning we are taking an encouraging step in building up the local body of Christ when we add this welcome and possibly record number of new members—and also by the strengthening of the bonds of peace and acceptance and unity among the whole body that (as we sang earlier) are the fruit of Christ’s presence here among us. Behold (says Ps 133:1) how good and how pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity!
This morning we also mean to anticipate the mission of the new building by learning further from ch. 5 how we can equip ourselves for the work of ministry. And the simple answer that Eph 5 offers is: be imitators of God. Simple, eh? Shall we stop right here?
I can think of two reasons that answer isn’t so simple at all! First of all, how in the world is a sinner supposed to obey a command to imitate God? How could I ever imagine that I could be like God? We’ve been running into this question ever since the start of this practical section of the letter in 4:1 some six weeks ago. How does an unholy person obey a command to be holy? How do unloving people ever aspire to grow in love? But now the radical nature of those exhortations in ch. 4 is even more clear: the kind of holiness and love and righteousness and unity that Paul has been talking about are God-like holiness and love and righteousness and unity. Who is sufficient for these things? (even the Apostle Paul asked) Imitate God? What could that even mean?
And a second reason that a command to imitate God in holiness and love and righteousness and unity seems more challenging than simple is that the connection of this practical application in the second part of the letter to the theological arguments in the first part of the letter that they’re supposed to be applications for is a connection we might not be thinking about any more, so many weeks and months after reading that first chapter or two. Does equipping ourselves for the work of the ministry by imitating God have something to do with the mission of the church to live for the praise of the glory of God? Surely it must. But we’re going to have to concentrate our minds a bit to follow Paul’s thinking in tying these calls to action here on the bouncing ship of life in ch. 5 with the horizon of mission way out there in ch. 1.
The key to answering these questions, it seems to me, is to notice the sort of images Paul uses to develop his command to be imitators of God. There’s a walking image, yes: walk in good works (2:10); walk in a manner worthy of your calling (4:1); don’t walk in futility like the Gentiles (4:17); but walk in love (5:2); and walk as children of light (5: 8). But this walking means behaving, conducting oneself. So it’s the manner of the walk where we meet the images that tell us how our conduct can imitate God in Christ.
When we walk as beloved children (5:1), we walk as children of light (5:8), not in darkness but visible, exposing truth about things hidden in the darkness, shining, the way that Christ shines on us.
When we walk in love (5:2), we imitate Christ’s love for us. And to love like Christ means that we give ourselves up sacrificially the way that the offerings of Israel did – with sweet savors, with the fragrant aromas of roasting barbeque, something like the smell of baking bread in the kitchen.
And when we walk, not like the Gentiles, but in good works, we refuse (in the words of 5:7) to partner with any sons of disobedience. The futility of the Gentiles consists in “empty words” and deception (5:6); its talk is foolish and crude and out of place and it attracts to itself immorality and impurity and covetousness and filthiness.
Do you see what all these images have in common with each other? Light. Aromas. Magnetic kinds of attraction that draw other things to stick to it and partner with it. These are all kinds of radiation. Light waves. Wafts of fragrance. Magnetic waves. And they all say to me that when Paul speaks here of imitation, he means the sort of imitation that comes by reflection.
The moon imitates the sun by reflecting the sun’s rays to us at night. Those wafts of baking bread and barbequing meat (that are so dangerous to bring up this close to the noon hour in the middle of a sermon) serve as a kind of reflection of the heat on the food as it cooks and radiates it out to our sense of smell the way light does to our eyes. And magnetic waves reflect the polarity that a wrap of electric wires can impart to a piece of iron, and so it sticks and adheres and partners with things that are complements to its polarity.
I think Paul is suggesting that we can be imitators of God in the sense that we can reflect the light that he shines on us. We can be imitators of God in that the heat and fire he applies to us will result in an aroma of Christ radiating from us (a fragrance from death to death for some who are perishing, but a fragrance from life to life among those who are being saved). We are even imitators of God in the kind of magnetic attractions we have: When God wraps us with his electric currents of love, we will find ourselves adhering to, partnering with all that is good and right and true and holy, because those are the same things to which God is drawn. And our new polarity is going to repel filthiness and emptiness and foolishness and crudeness and immorality.
To be an imitator of God is to reflect his spirit and his energy and his mission. To be an imitator of God is to radiate the light and the aroma and the magnetism of the grace he pours out in us.
This has nothing to do with us unholy people being God any more than moonlight has to do with the moon being the sun or cold meat being savory or a piece of plain iron being a magnet. Our imitation of God works by the grace of God alone. We are sleepers and dead (says 5:14) but Christ shines on us. We are cold and lifeless before we are placed as a sacrifice on God’s altar, but God’s fire burns over and under us until the aroma of our sacrifice becomes sweet. We are a shard of iron attracting rust and dirt until God envelopes us with his coursing energy and we begin to attract the beauty of holiness and righteousness to us with the growing energy of an electro-magnet.
This is no radiation in which we can take pride as if we were its source. There are radiators still in some Hillsdale houses where the steam heat has been replaced by a gas or electric furnace. And those old radiators stand cold against the wall, radiating nothing. Radiators only work when the heat is flowing through them. So what’s the secret to imitating God by radiating God? God has to flow through us!
Now, is there a connection between this practical application in Ephesians back to the theological foundation and the mission of the church in ch. 1? We might be in a position to see that more clearly now.
How do we equip the saints for the work of ministry? We assist them in every way possible to imitate God by radiating the light and fragrance and magnetism of God. We do everything we can to hook our own radiator and the radiators of those around us up to the high-pressure, fiery-hot steam-supply of the life-giving grace of God. Then we radiate. Then we obey.
And what does that equipment of the radiating saints in ch. 5 have to do with the mission of the church in ch. 1 to live for the praise of the glory of God? Everything in the world once we recall what Scripture means by the “glory” of God.
The word glory in Scripture expresses a radiation. Listen to Paul in 1 Cor 15:40-41 – “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” What is the glory of the sun and the moon and the stars? They shine.
Especially does Scripture speak of glory as the outward display of all the qualities of excellence and worth and majesty in God. We read in the prophets, “I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. (Ezek. i. 28) Or Ezek 10:4—“the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD.” Or Isaiah 24:23 – “And behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. And the earth shined with his glory.”
Paul speaks often of the riches and the fullness of God’s glory. Here he’s speaking of those Biblical transcendentals that we met last spring working through Romans 12. Where the Greco-Roman tradition referred to their static transcendentals of the good, the true, and the beautiful, the Hebraic tradition in which Paul revels saw in God a more dynamic, active, and relational set of transcendentals: the loving, the good, and the honorable (Rom 12:9f). They’re not just there. They don’t just exist. They relate, they emanate, they radiate. God is glorious! And these are the excellencies we are created to crave. These are the qualities of worth that we worship. Our mission is to live for the praise of the glory of God. Like Moses, we plead with God, “Moses says, “Show me your glory;” and when God grants Moses’s request, He makes all his goodness, his mercy, and his honor pass before him (Ex 33:18f).
So of course the practical application of the theological truth of this letter is a call to reflect and radiate and revel in these same glories of God.
We are made to shine the light of God’s love and his goodness and his honor into the lives of those around us. We polish and clean our lives of unholiness so that we can reflect that light with all the fidelity and radiance possible.
2 Cor 2:14 says we have a mission to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere. I’ve been avoiding the temptation to speak of this aroma of Christ in us as if it were some sort of body odor. We probably ought to exude Christ from our pores. But all of the contexts in which Paul uses this metaphor come from the aroma of sacrifice. From the burnt offering. Romans led their captives in triumphal procession through the city to display them as a sacrifice. “Christ gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice” (5:2). The scent of a Christian is the radiation of Christ’s willingness to lay down his life as a merciful sacrifice for those he loves. Our sweet savor arises from the heat of the fire with which God tries our lives when we respond with willing obedience for the joy set before us.
And we are made to cling to and partner with all that is loving and good and honorable in our surroundings and circumstances. The magnetic polarity of God repels filth and emptiness and impurity. It attracts and is attracted to all that is holy and pure and lovely and merciful.
Let us live for, and equip ourselves for, and unite together in the praise and radiation of the glory of God.
2 Cor 4:6 – May God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shine in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Amen.