Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 5: 1-20 Filled with the Spirit

A few years ago, we were moving into the Curatage in Dundonald, and we were looking after our niece, who was about three. She was very keen to help in any way at all. It was as if I had a shadow the whole day - if I sat on a camping chair, she wanted to sit on one; if I leant against the window sill, there she would be propped as well!

It’s funny how children seem to learn by copying - as they move from eating with their hands to eating with a knife and fork; as they learn to tie their shoelaces; as they hear and copy words - as a friend is quickly learning to his cost! Those little mild outbursts are being echoed back to him!

If it’s true in our human families - and I’m sure you have some funny stories of when you or your kids were growing up - we’re being urged to do the very same in the family of God. As we’ve been working our way through Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he has been reminding them and us of how we have been brought into God’s family. We didn’t deserve it, it’s a free gift of God’s grace because of God’s love - which we receive as we believe the promise of God.

Last week, if you were with us, you’ll remember the horrible, dirty T-shirt. Paul says in 4:22 to put off the old self and to put on the new self. Because we have already been changed (through the sacrifice of Christ v2), we must change what we do. And how do we learn what the new self is like? We have been made into God’s children; we should take our lead from God.

Imagine a little boy living on the streets; pickpocketing; dirty; homeless and helpless. What a change it would be if he was adopted by Prince Charles and Camilla. No longer would he be running around dirty; no longer would he be pickpocketing the visitors to the palace. He would have to change his ways, learning from his new parents; and looking up to how his new brothers, William and Harry, live.

It’s the same with us. Verse 1: ‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us...’ We are already beloved children - we are certain of God’s love for us, displayed in the cross; and so we copy our heavenly Father, wanting to do the same things as him; wanting to walk in his ways; wanting to turn from those things that displease him.

So what will it look like to be children of God? In verses 3-5, Paul says that we will be pure. While the world might run after fornication and impurity and greed, celebrating these things, the Christian is called to be different. It can be hard to avoid such things - in TV, internet, movies, but we’re not even to mention such things. Why? Well because obscene talk, silly talk, and vulgar talk have no place among the saints.

Now when you hear that word, what do you think of? Your mind might race to stained glass window pictures of saints; or you might think of especially holy dead people who wrote parts of the Bible. If you have your Bible open (and it’s normally helpful), flick back to the very first verse of Ephesians. Paul writes to the saints who are in Ephesus - he’s not writing to dead people. He’s writing to the gathered church. You and I - we’re the saints who are in Aghavea. The saints in the New Testament are God’s holy ones, his children, the church.

Paul says that if we are God’s people and we are holy people, then there’s no place for gossip or impurity among us. It’s not even proper to dwell on the juicy gossip of others. Just as with last week - as we put off things, there is something else to put on. If we’re doing away with obscene, silly and vulgar talk, then we’re called instead to put on thanksgiving. Rather than greed (which is idolatry), we’re called to be thankful with what we have.

But more than that, we’re reminded that the end of the two ways is very different - ‘Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person... has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.’ And as Paul goes on, some will try to deceive us with empty words. Don’t be worrying about morality - everyone is doing it. Don’t worry about the consequences - if it feels good, do it. There are no consequences - you will surely not die.

These are empty words because: ‘the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.’ So don’t go there. Don’t be associated with them! Remember whose you are - God’s holy people; remember who you are - light in the Lord. Paul is saying to remember what God has done in you, and to live in the light of the change. ‘For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light...’

Once again, we’re called to copy our heavenly Father. You might recall how you used to live - and shudder - but as you trust in Christ, you have been rescued, your past is gone, and you have been made clean. But in case we’re wondering what it means to live as children of light, Paul gives us the answer: ‘for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.’ That’s a very simple test for any of our thoughts and words and actions: is what I’m doing good? Is it right? Is it true?

Rather than taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness, we are to expose them. A long time ago, before I was married, I was sleeping, and was woken by this rustling noise. I had a packet of rolos sitting on my bedside table, and when I turned on the light, I discovered a mouse, trying to get into the sweets! As soon as the light turned on, it fled, exposed in its dark deeds. It’s a simple matter of turning on the light. You see, if we’re children of light then the way we live will be like a light, exposing the darkness of others, bringing their wickedness into sight.

I wonder if you’ve any trouble sleeping with these bright mornings? The sun hits our windows very early, stirring us to waken. This is what Christ is doing through us, to stir and waken those in darkness, and to bring them into the light as well.

In the last verses, Paul says that as well as being children of purity and children of light, we’re also to be wise. The days are evil - our time is short. We want to make the maximum impact as we shine and obey the Lord. So don’t waste your time getting drunk with wine - don’t be filled with wine; instead, Paul says: be filled with the Spirit.

On this day of Pentecost, as we remember the Holy Spirit being given to the first disciples gathered in that upper room, we need to remember that we too have the gift of the Holy Spirit, living in us, helping us and empowering us to live as God’s children in a wicked and hostile world.

He is the one who creates in us the family likeness, helping us to put off the old self and to put on the new self, as he helps us to sing psalms hymns and spiritual songs; as we give thanks to God the Father every time for every thing.

When I was a child, I was with my granny in a shop one day. We didn’t know the shopkeeper at all, but he was able to say for certainty who my mother was because I looked so much like her whole family. Let’s pray that each of us will become more like the image of God as we copy our Father in all we do this week.

This sermon was preached on the Day of Pentecost, 27th May 2012 in Aghavea Parish Church.


  1. Hi Gary
    Love how you mix the spiritual and the day to day vagaries of existing as a human being following King Jesus.
    Thank you again to you for your kindness to my family, especially when my dad died. You made it bearable and you were a calm, comforting influence.
    I will continue to follow your and Lynsey's progress with interest. Isn't 'tinternet' gr8?
    God bless you both!
    Ronnie Kennedy from St. Lizzies

  2. Thanks for the visit and the comment Ronnie. Hope all is well with you all.