Text: Ephesians 5:1-21
One of the most rewarding and terrifying aspects of being a father is watching my children imitate me. On the one hand, it is flattering to see my daughters use my mannerisms. And it is gratifying to see them learn the liturgy from me. On the other hand, it’s convicting to see them mimic my bad habits as well! I recall a Lutheran pastor once say that nothing builds up our sanctification like having kids! How true that is.
As we continue today in our Trinitytide series through the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, we’ll see that God also delights in his children imitating him. And unlike earthly fathers, our Heavenly Father has no bad habits that we need to avoid! Please turn in your bibles to Ephesians 5, beginning at the 1st verse:
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.
Once again, we have St. Paul beginning a major section with a conjunction, “therefore.” This refers us back to last week’s passage that concludes with the verse “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” You may recall that we talked about the necessity of showing the same grace to each other that God shows us. God forgave us, God lavished his grace on us; should we not do the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ? We pay forward the grace God has given us.
This is the foundation of our imitation of God: just as God’s property is always to show mercy, so should ours be. Just as God has loved us, so are we to love each other. St. John Chrysostom emphasizes this call to act as beloved children. He writes:
You are called to imitate God, to become like God. This can happen when you are reconciled with him…. Paul then adds another splendid incentive: You are to act as beloved children. He is saying, in effect: “You have another reason for imitating him, not only to receive good but also to be fittingly called his own children.” … Not all children imitate their father, but those who know themselves to be beloved act like beloved children.
One of my favorite radio preachers, Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries, is fond of saying, “Only those who are loved can love.” For the next couple of weeks we are going to see St. Paul give a lot of commandments. He’s going to lay down the Law of God. He’s going to give us lots of “dos” and “don’ts.” This can sometimes be uncomfortable, because we don’t always like to be told what to do. But remember that it stems from this first verse: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” We walk in love because we are loved. With that in mind, let’s pick up in verse 3:
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 of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
In what is sometimes called “classical theism” we understand God through what he has revealed. That is, his commands tell us something about his character. God doesn’t forbid false witness because he arbitrarily decided against false witness, because he flipped a coin on the false witness issue. No, God forbids false witness because truth and justice are part of his character. He doesn’t forbid sexual immorality because he’s prudish or anti-fun. No, he forbids sexual immorality because he loves us and sexual immorality is dangerous to our physical and spiritual health. Similarly, covetousness, that idolatrous longing after things that are not ours, poisons our peace and contentment. God wants to keep you from covetousness in the same way that I want to keep my little girls away from Drano: it’s dangerous to our well-being. Filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking damage relationships and demean our dignity as those made in God’s image.
This language of the sexually immoral, the impure, the covetous not inheriting the kingdom of Christ and God. Is certainly harsh-sounding. Again, this is not arbitrarily on God’s part: but it is the consequence of the image of God being marred by our sin. A good God cannot ignore evil. Evil must be dealt with. Justice is a good thing. And we must become like God to be with God. If we are to imitate him, we therefore must be reconciled to him. The good news is that God himself has initiated this reconciliation by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to become one of us and to take God’s wrath on the cross, so as to satisfy justice and righteousness, and to in turn make us justified and righteous. And if we are to follow and imitate God, we cannot follow the evils we see in the world. Verse 7 of our Ephesians text:
Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were in 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.”
You see the contrast between darkness and light. The light exposes and cleanses. The light isn’t secretive, but is open and honest. St. Paul told us to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” That which pleases him is no secret. It’s not something that is in the dark, but it is found in the Holy Scriptures. In our Gospel passage today, Jesus gave us the Summary of the Law: “Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Again, we are imitating God. We love God because he loves us. We are to love our neighbor because God loves our neighbor.
Christ himself is spoken of as the light in these verses: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Just as Christ has risen from the dead, so too does God, in Christ, raise us from spiritual death and promise us resurrection from physical death in the last day. We are called to walk in the light and to walk in Christ. Chrysostom writes:
[Paul] is not speaking only to unbelievers. For there are many believers, no less than unbelievers, who remain still trapped in various sins. There are indeed some who do so all the more. Therefore it was necessary to call these to awake, etc.
Even Christians need to wake up out of the stupor of sin. When it comes to sin, remember, that the Scripture defines it for us. As our 7th Article in the 39 Articles notes, the Old Testament has civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. In a New Covenant context, it is the moral laws of the Old and New Testaments that bind our consciences. Passages like today’s ought to be convicting in some way to all of us, for we all have sins with which we continue to struggle. But let’s make sure we are indeed struggling with them and not just giving in! We ought to fight against our sins, but we don’t fight alone. In our Collect, we recognize the call to live righteously requires God’s grace. We prayed that the Lord would grant his people “grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and mind to follow” him through Christ our Lord. And by God’s grace, he’s given us some tools to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to fight against sin. Verse 15:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
If we want to be wise, if we want to walk in the light, if we want to lift up our spirits, if we want to be filled with God’s spirit, we need to be in public, corporate, biblical worship. St. Jerome explains why hymns and psalms and spiritual songs (called “canticles” by Jerome), are so beneficial. He writes:
Our hymns declare the strength and majesty of God. They express gratitude for his benefits and his deeds. Our psalms convey this gratitude also, since the word Alleluia is either prefaced or appended to them. Our psalms properly belong to the domain of ethics, teaching us what is to be done and avoided. The domain of the psalms is the body as an instrument of grace. But the domain of the spiritual canticles is the mind. As we sing spiritual canticles we hear discourses on things above, on the harmony of the world, on the subtly ordered concord of all creatures. These spiritual songs help us express our meaning more plainly for the sake of simple folk. It is more with the mind than the voice that we sing, offer psalms and praise to God.
I’ve often said that singing through the Psalter each month has been the biggest boon to my spiritual life since I’ve been an adult. Chrysostom expresses exactly my experience when he writes:
Do you wish to be happy? Do you want to know how to spend the day truly blessed? I offer you drink that is spiritual. This is not a drink for drunkenness that would cut off even meaningful speech. This does not cause us to babble. It does not disturb our vision. Here it is: Learn to sing psalms! Then you will see pleasure indeed. Those who have learned to sing with the psalms are easily filled with the Holy Spirit. But if you sing only the devil’s songs you will soon find yourself filled with an unclean spirit.
Since we’re often praying back God’s word to him in the Psalms, we are again imitating him. We’re learning to be thankful in all things. We’re learning how to lament properly, to praise properly, to remember properly, to think of others properly. The same is true of the other biblical songs in the canticles and of the great hymns of the Church throughout the ages. When St. Paul tells us to imitate God, we’re not left casting about in confusion. We’ve got the Scriptures, we’ve got the Prayer Book, we’ve got other faithful children of God throughout the ages who have shown us how to do the same. May we rejoice in our heritage and we follow our Lord, learning to become more and more like him.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and fo the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Part 1: Ephesians 1:1-14 – “The Family Secret”
Part 2: Ephesians 1:15-23 – “Remembering you in my Prayers”
Part 3: Ephesians 2:1-10 – “From Death Valley to the Highest Peak”
Part 4: Ephesians 2:11-21 – “One New Man”
Part 6: Ephesians 3:14-22 – “A Glimpse Behind the Curtain”
Part 7: Ephesians 4:1-16 – “Gifts for the Body”
Part 8: Ephesians 4:17-32 – “Not According to the Gentiles”