Sermon on Ephesians 5:17-21, preached on Sunday, 16 Dec 2018.
Bible Readings: (OT) 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 / (NT) Ephesians 5:17-21
I. ‘Read the sign’ – Understand the Lord’s will
II. ‘Follow the sign’ – Walk with the Lord
III. ‘Enjoy your trip’ – Give thanks always to the Lord
It’s now school holidays and about time for beginning of a holiday season during which people like to go and visit places. Some people drive their cars whereas others take public transports. Wherever they go, in whichever way they travel, one thing everyone encounters is signs, such as road signs, traffic signs, information signs and warning signs. All signs give information and most of them are quite useful for travellers, especially when they’re in new and unfamiliar places. So, an essential skill for a wise traveller is to read and interpret various signs and their information. If someone is good with this, he/she can save time and money while enjoying everything in that trip. If anyone doesn’t have this skill, then, often his/her trip could easily be unpleasant.
The same principle is applied to Christians, especially in terms of our heavenward journey on this earth and that’s exactly what our text passage from Eph. 5:17-21 is about. This is what you and I and all Christians need to know and understand as we walk our path of faith in Jesus. V. 17 begins and tells us, in a word, to read and interpret the information on signposts well, that is, to ‘understand the will of the Lord.’ Then, v. 20 talks about pleasantness of such a trip, saying, ‘giving thanks always and for everything to God in Jesus.’ All other verses in this passage tell us about what happens when a good Christian – a wise traveller travelling toward heaven, our eternal home – will choose and do and follow.
In this sense, I can say that this passage in Eph. 5 is a traveller’s guide for Christians. If you could remember this passage in this holiday season, you’d greatly appreciate the Lord’s wisdom and give thanks to God in a way v. 20 says, that is, ‘giving thanks always and for everything’ to God in Jesus’ name.
I. ‘READ THE SIGN’ – UNDERSTAND THE LORD’S WILL
The very first thing that is essential for beginning a travel or journey is to read the sign and, having read the sign, interpret it well. Otherwise, no trip is going to be pleasant but reserved for a trouble.
As we Christians continue our heavenward journey, we need to “understand what the will of the Lord is” as v. 17 of our text passage urges. Rom. 12:2 agrees by saying, “you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” A brief yet full definition of God’s will for us is given in 1 Thess. 4:3 in these words: “this is the will of God, your sanctification.” By ‘our sanctification,’ it means ‘making us Christians like Christ in every way.’ Saying that God’s will is to ‘make us like Jesus,’ it covers from God’s calling and justifying us – in other words, making us believers of Jesus first in order to make us like Christ the Lord in our thoughts and deeds. Still in other words, the Lord’s will for us is to make us grow in faith and holiness to reach the measure of Christ. Eph. 4 explains it with these words: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Although this might sound complicate, it is actually simple to the minds of Christians, like reading and understanding any simple road sign. The will of God is so easy to read and understand because He is our heavenly Father and we’re His beloved children. This relationship is simply and well explained with our relationship with Him in Christ. Like every good father desires for his child and carries that desire out in all things for the child, our heavenly Father makes us grow and become mature in faith and holiness. This has been His will since the beginning of the world. Even before He laid the foundation of the world, as Eph. 1:4 tells us, He planned this for each of us. 2 Tim. 1:9 confirms its beginning in these words, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling … because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” It’s no trouble for average Christians to understand this will of God that, saving us from sin and death through faith, He wants us to be like Christ Jesus His Son, our Saviour and Lord in faith, in thoughts and deeds, in all things of our being and life.
But, some Christians seem to have a trouble with knowing and understanding God’s will for each individual and especially for their specific circumstances. For example, what is His will for my career, my marriage, my role in church and in this world? What is God’s will for me in certain situations? John Stott, renowned English theologian, pointed this out as God’s ‘particular’ will, compared to His ‘general’ will. Whereas this ‘general will’ is found in the Bible, His ‘particular will’ is not in His holy book. So, people find this difficult to grasp. John Stott’s suggestion is, as have been done by many godly Christians, to find general principles of God’s word, followed by careful thought and prayer as well as seeking of advice from mature and experienced fellow Christians. This is one of the important reasons why we Christians ought to belong to a body of Christ, that is, church, and be strengthened by and equipped with one another in faith. So, if any of you want to know God’s will for your life or for your specific situation but are frustrated because you don’t really see it, then, follow this three-step guidance – (1) examine the general principle of the Bible, (2) pray to your heavenly Father, and (3) speak to your fellow Christians who are mature with experience.
So, the first essential guide for Christian travellers is to ‘read the sign,’ that is, to know and understand the Lord’s will.
II. ‘FOLLOW THE SIGN’ – WALK WITH THE LORD
Then, we must ‘follow the sign.’ In other words, we should walk with the Lord, follow Him, being guided by Him. This is the second point for us Christians.
These days, people on the road use GPS-based navigational devices to find their ways. But when no GPS devices were available, people used to drive with maps. So, stopping temporarily by the verge of the road to check the map was normal for many drivers. If a passenger could read map, driving became easier. But, if a passenger couldn’t read it, the driver had to stop regularly for map referencing. Besides, following the signs was so important in those days. If you failed to follow a sign and missed a turn, then, that used to be the beginning of a trouble and obviously a disaster in case you did that in a big and unfamiliar city like Sydney. So, almost all drivers in those days paid so much attention to following signs. Of course, it is important for modern drivers equipped with GPS devices too because GPS devices use signs too. Ignoring signs causes trouble, but following them makes our trip easy and delightful.
The same thing applies to our faith and spiritual walk. If we follow the Lord’s will, our life becomes easy and enriched with delight; if we ignore the Lord’s will and do whatever we like to do, our life becomes difficult and dry. This is what this passage from Eph. 5 points out.
Please have a look at the first part of v. 17; it begins and says this, “do not be foolish.” ‘Be not foolish’ by what? By ‘ignoring or setting God’s will aside.’ Once you know His will, follow it and continue following it in your life. V. 18 illustrates what following God’s will is, comparing the example of being filled with the Holy Spirit to that of getting drunk with wine. It says, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Here, the picture we get with the bad example of getting drunk with wine is clear, especially with the word ‘debauchery.’ This reminds us of the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable in Lk. 15. That unruly son requested his share of inheritance from his father, meaning that he regarded in his mind that his father had already died. Taking that share, he went away and spent all his money up to a point he had to beg for food and even fight for fodder against pigs he reared in the field. With this word picture of ‘debauchery,’ you can clearly see the connection between being foolish by disregarding God’s will and facing disastrous end after many troubles! Not following signs will trouble you in your trip.
Its opposite is, as in v. 18, ‘being filled with the Spirit.’ What is being filled with the Holy Spirit? It means, being ‘under influence’ of the Spirit of God. Then, what is the influence of the Holy Spirit? In other words, what is the Holy Spirit’s concern or aim with having us under His influence? To carry out the Lord’s will in our life. So, once you and I know the will of the Lord, then, being filled with the Spirit means that we give ourselves to God or we give up of our own desires or ways only to yield to the will of God. At the same time, we find ourselves under the mighty powerful hand of God, leading us and hemming us in, behind and before, and laying His hand upon us, as the psalmist says in Ps. 139:5.
It is interesting to notice here how being influenced by either wine or the Spirit is contrasted. This reminds us of the happening of the day of Pentecost in Acts ch. 2. When the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles, they spoke in various languages to the pilgrims in Jerusalem. All people were amazed by seeing the apostles under the ‘influence’ of the Holy Spirit, but some others said that the apostles were drunk and under the influence of ‘wine.’
Being under the influence of the Holy Spirit and of wine are completely opposite to each other. Being drunk with alcohol, one loses control of his body and mind; his tongue gets loosed. I’ve searched the internet to see how people in the world describe drunkenness and found many different expressions like, for example, ‘maggot’ for Australians, ‘cured’ like the way of making ham by Chileans, ‘three sheets to the wind’ by Canadians, pointing out a square kite whose three lines are loosed in the wind, or ‘legless’ by Irish. Koreans often refer a drunkard to a stray dog. The common ground of these expressions is, as you see it well, being miserable or grottiness. There’s nothing recommendable with drunkenness at all.
But, being influenced with the Holy Spirit is completely different. Rather than loosing oneself, one who is under the influence of the Spirit gains full control of oneself. Gal. 5:23 calls it as ‘self-control’ and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit together with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness as listed in Gal. 5:22-24. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means that our mind and heart, our will and intellect are renewed and stimulated to actualise good things of God in our life. Everything of being under the influence of the Spirit is desirable and recommendable.
In fact, vs. 19-21 is the direct result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. What are these results? All good things that are required of us by the Father and the Son like these – first, ‘addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts,’ second, ‘giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in Jesus’ name,’ and third, ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ What a wonderful picture of the Lord’s perfect children, His perfect church this is, like the early church in Jerusalem of Acts 2:42 and following!
And please remember that this is what comes with ‘following the sign,’ I mean, walking with the Lord, having known and understood His will for His children like you and me. We ought to read the sign, then, follow the sign, the Lord’s will!
III. ‘ENJOY YOUR TRIP’ – GIVE THANKS ALWAYS TO GOD
What is next? As I said earlier, there’s only one thing left – that is, ‘enjoying our trip,’ enjoying our heavenward journey by ‘giving thanks always to God for everything in Jesus’ name.’ This is our last point for this morning to consider from Eph. 5:17-21.
Talking about travelling, reading and understanding signs and following them will surely reward drivers with a pleasant trip. As long as you’re in the right way and direction, as long as you’re following all necessary and required road safety measures, nothing will bother you. The only thing left for the driver is to enjoy that drive, enjoy that trip nice and easy and pleasant. In such a case, a bump on the road is nothing; raining might cause a little concern, but that would be no problem either. All things in general of that trip become pleasant.
Likewise, Christians who know the Lord’s will and understand it fully, then, follow it have only one thing in their heart and mind and soul – that is, to give thanks to God always and for everything. After all, knowing that God had embraced each one in His divine heart even before the foundation of the world was laid, knowing that saving us through the death of Jesus His Son on the cross of Calvary was His plan for each one of us and Jesus the Son voluntarily and joyfully took our death penalty on Himself so that we could, through faith in Him, receive His eternal life blows our mind away, is it not? This is the will of God the Father and the Son for us. On top of this, our heavenly Father’s plan for us to grow in faith and holiness to be like His Son, Jesus, is so amazing to a point that it can only be described as the ‘mystery’ of God! To a believing heart that understands this, nothing hinders that heart from giving thanks to God always and for everything! Col. 3:17 sums it in this way, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him [that is, Christ].” A lengthy elaboration of Col. 3:17 and v. 20 of our text passage from Eph. 5 is what we heard earlier this morning from 1 Chron. 16:8-36. It was king David of Israel. Having brought and placed the Ark of God into the city of David, he sang and said, “Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon His name … Sing to Him, sing praises to Him.” Then, he concluded at the end of his praise, saying, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” Hearing it, all people gathered together replied and said, “Amen!”, and they altogether praised the Lord!
When we’re asked to give thanks to God always and for everything, we don’t need to exercise or train ourselves to do that, we don’t need to put on the wall a plaque with this command engraved because giving thanks to God will be automatically done by all Christians who understand the Lord’s will and walk with Him, following His guide!
It all begins from reading the sign God put before our eyes – the Bible, His holy book that reveals the will of God through the blood of Jesus Christ. So, read the Lord’s sign, I mean, His will for us. Reading it, understand it by the wisdom our Lord provides. Having read and understood the sign, the will of God, follow it, walk with the Lord. Then, the Holy Spirit will enable you to give thanks to the Lord always and for everything in the name of Jesus Christ! Even your time of difficulty will turn to a deep thanks for your heavenly Father’s grace. That’s why the psalmist boldly says in Ps. 30 that God has turned for him his morning into dancing, loosed his sackcloth and clothed him with gladness!
So, my dear brothers and sisters in Jesus, when you see various signs in your trip in the upcoming holiday season, remember your need for reading and understanding the Lord’s will, then, follow it and enjoy your heavenward journey, being led by His mighty yet gracious hand, the blessing the Lord Jesus has enabled for us through His saving blood! ***