I preached this sermon at my grandparents church, Grantham Mennonite Brethren Church, in St. Catharines, Ontario. I am delighted to call pastors Mike and Tabitha VandenEnden friends, and was thankful for their invitation to preach.
You can check out the audio on the church’s website (look for: “19 Aug 2018”)
Ephesians 5:15–20 | Be Full of Care: Be Filled with the Spirit
Be very careful how you live, make the most of every opportunity.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery or excessiveness.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit!
This is a growler.
It is from the Oast brewery down on Niagara Stone Rd. in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
It is empty right now, but you can go there and refill all 64 ounces with beer anytime.
The pulpit may seem like a strange place for such an object. But do not worry, it is meant to make you feel a little uncomfortable. It is making me feel a little uncomfortable.
Bringing a bottle of wine up on stage did not seem that harmful of an object, but this… especially for one person… would certainly cause to make you or I drunk. It would be unwise, it would be embracing an evil of today, it would be foolish, it would not be following God’s will, it would lead to worse things…
But, today’s sermon is not about drinking and drunkenness.
In verse 18, when Ephesians says do not get drunk on wine, it is not just talking about alcohol and drunkenness. It serves as an image, a very concrete image, like this bottle. It gives us an example of something we can very clearly grasp. We all know what walking in drunkenness looks like. But we’re talking about more. Ephesians is dealing with darkness, with sin, foolishness, and our Old Humanity—which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires–all of these things should make us all uncomfortable.
This drunkenness is contrasted with the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit.
In today’s verses we encounter two main themes: Living Carefully and Being Filled with the Spirit
We are urged to be careful about how we walk, for how we live.
We are warned to not get filled up and drunk on wine,
But instead: we are to “be filled with the Spirit.”
Getting drunk is something that the followers of Jesus have been accused of, at least once, before (plus, Jesus himself was accused too). The particular account I’m thinking of is a celebrated occasion! You can read all about it in Acts 2.
On the day of Pentecost: a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the house where the disciples were sitting, what seemed to be tongues of fire rested on each of them, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, and people from other places in Jerusalem could all hear in their own mother tongue. [Acts 2:1–13]
People in the crowd made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter addresses the crowd and says, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
It’s only 11 in the morning right now, and fortunately, no one here seems to be drunk.
However, maybe unfortunately, at least at first glance, we do not all seem drunk on the Holy Spirit? Are we filled with the Holy Spirit? Sitting or standing here in this sanctuary? What does it mean, when Ephesians says: “Be filled with the Spirit?” What does it mean, when Ephesians says: “be very careful” about how we live?
Let us open our Bibles to Ephesians 5. We are looking at verses 15 to 20.
There should be a Bible in the pew if you haven’t brought your own.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (15–17)
When we first hear these words: “Be careful.” I imagine that we hear the words coming from the mouths of our parents, or out of our own mouths and saying them to our children. We are either told this, or we say this, because we are afraid that something bad or unfortunate may happen. We are making sure to avoid potential danger—caution must be exercised
I can only guess at the number of times my mother told me as a child to be careful.
This is usually the first meaning we think of: avoiding potential danger.
But I want us to hear both of the two meanings to the word: careful.
We must hear the word careful here as being: full of care. That we, as the Body of Christ, demonstrate and show thought and attention to how we live.
The importance of this second meaning becomes abundantly clear when we place our passage in its surrounding context.
Ephesians chapters 4 and 5 regularly places a negative command followed by a positive command. We read:
Take off your Old Humanity, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires, and put on the New Humanity, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
- No more lies, but truth.
- No more anger, but peace
- No more theft, but generosity
- No more gossip, but encouragement.
- No more revenge, but forgiveness.
- No more promiscuity, but self-control.
- No more drunkenness, but come “under the influence” of God’s Spirit.
We are called to be nonconformists. We are to avoid the danger of darkness.
We are not to walk or live in darkness, in drunkenness, not to be prideful, lustful or with any hint of sexual immorality, not to be greedy, gossiping, sarcastic or obscene and coarse in our joking, and not harmful with our words. To be truthful, as Mike preach about last week [We read all of this at the start of chapter 5]
We are also called to be transformed. We are to walk in the wisdom of the will of God.
We are to walk and live in the light, as children of the light, in right relationship with God and others, building each other up with our words, kind and compassionate, forgiving, sacrificing, full of thanksgiving; 5:9, fruit of the light consists of goodness, righteousness, and truth; finding out what pleases the Lord!
But this is not the end of who we are called to be.
If we were simply to be nonconformists and transformed people, if this is where the story ended, we could become Christians, and then separate ourselves away from the world. We could happily sit in our “holy huddle.” We, Mennonites, have been good at separating ourselves and pointing the finger at darkness outside our community.
After all, we read in 5:3, ”But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” And in verse 7: ”Therefore do not be partners with [those who are disobedient].” And again in verse 11: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.”
Therefore, should we not be separating ourselves from the world and from this darkness?
But there is more…
We are also called to be transformers!
Verses 13 and 14 tell us that: The Children of Light are not to share in the deeds of darkness; AND they are to expose the deeds of darkness (v. 11) and thus transform them into light.
Now we are back to our passage at hand.
For those who have put on the New Humanity: we are to walk carefully, and we are to walk with wisdom. Being full of care is not simply an act of avoiding potential danger; it is to both avoiding potential danger AND living with thought and attention toward the darkness in the world—being wise with how we expose it.
Verse 16 very bluntly says: “The days are evil.”
Earlier in chapter four we read that: Our Old Selves are still very capable of being corrupted by deceitful desires [4:22].
We do not need convincing that there is darkness in the world. And so, we must be very careful, both with our own behaviour, and in participating with Christ’s work of transformation.
We also must, as verse 16 says, make the most of every opportunity.
The Greek words used here are actually quite fun.
The word Exagorazõ or ”Making the most” of every opportunity has a “commercial” or “shopping” like quality to it. In Tom Yoder-Neufeld’s commentary, he describes the sense of the word as: “Snapping up all chances at a bargain that are available.”
Who here is a bargain shopper? [Raise your hands…] When I walk into a grocery store, I say, “Where’s the flyer? I will eat whatever is on sale.” When Danielle and I shared a phone, she signed us up for text notifications at Plato’s Closet…
that’s right… I still get text notifications for sales from a used clothing store.
Ephesians is encouraging us to be like bargain shoppers with our time—with our daily lives. We need to look for every opportunity: sign-up for text notifications, for those annoying emails, for a regular phone call from a friend, for anything to make the most of every opportunity to walk in wisdom.
Furthermore, kairos, means time. But time is not neutral. There is chronos time, which means duration; and their is kairos time—which is “opportunity time.” Like making time for watching a beautiful sunset; time feels like an opportunity.
Therefore, putting those two words together, we are to be very careful bargain hunters for opportunities to live and walk in God’s will.
But what does this look like?
What does exposing darkness to light look like? How are we to walk in wisdom and understand what the Lord’s will is? What kind of opportunities are we talking about?
Firstly: Before we go about doing anything…
We must begin by recognizing who God is and what he has done in Jesus. That is what the first three chapters of Ephesians are all about. God’s grace; that God’s actions always precede our actions; that God first loved us. Our living comes at its best when it is a response of gratitude to what God has done.
It looks like not getting drunk
We are made as New People in Christ, and we are to take off our old selves. We are to take the bottles of wine, and the growlers of beer, and smash them [I won’t smash this on stage].
But as I said before, this isn’t just about alcohol; though alcoholism was a problem in the first century, just as it is today; there is a lot more going on here.
Remember the discomfort we all felt when I pulled out the growler? Good. This is a taste of the discomfort that Godly Guilt or Godly Sorrow should produce our hearts if there is sin in our lives or in our midst. In 2 Corinthians 7 (10-12), Paul speaks about Godly guilt that brings repentance which leads to salvation, it brings about earnestness, eagerness to clear ourselves. It brings about a sorrow that causes concern, alarm, longing, and readiness to participate in justice and reconciliation. It’s a good guilt.
The discomfort of sin in our lives, or in our midst, needs to have light shine upon it. A reminder, again, to expose things wisely and to find the opportunity time that God gives you, so that his light may shine in the darkness. Speaking truth in love.
In the same way that we would treat drunkenness, we need to treat pride, gossip, lust, pornography, greed, jealousy, hurtful sarcasm and coarse jokes, all unhelpful speech.
Does our wealth cause our community pause? The Mennonite community in North American has never been as wealthy as it is today, and it has changed how we function as a community. Are we blinded to our greed? I know I take the wealth I have for granted and I worry about how it blinds me.
If there is something you or I need to repent of, may we reflect on this, may we pray to God and ask for forgiveness; and go to the person or people we need to and ask their forgiveness.
Sometimes I have thought that little things, like small lies, or maybe a slight lack of honesty (as I like to rationalize it to myself), are the kind thing that is not that big of a deal. But sin can be a small slow drip of water that can easily spread mold and destroy a house. Repenting of things that seem small is necessary.
I know I can be very quick to speak and say hurtful things. I can be very confident in my own understanding. I can be domineering, and take over, in conversations. I will sometimes ask someone for their opinion, and then attempt to convince them why their opinion is wrong. This is something which I have often needed to ask forgiveness for; but I am learning to be more gentle in my speech.
Repentance, confession, and forgiveness—these are things Christ followers must be known for.
It looks like being filled with the Spirit.
We must recognize and understand the ways in which we need to walk in the will of God—this is not an impossible task. 5:9: the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth and find out what pleases the Lord. What brings about the fruit of the Spirit? What brings about deeper unity in the body, in His church? What brings about light in darkness?
We are no longer talking about exposing and confessing sin. We are talking about sharing Jesus and the gospel with everybody! In our actions, in our words, in every part of our lives. Sometimes this may involve confrontation with darkness, but other times it can mean bringing joy and peace and love into a situation where people no longer want darkness in their lives and do not know where to turn.
We must make the most of every opportunity.
If we are walking as children of the Light, sharing in the life of God given to us by Jesus, how does that play out in each of our relationships? In our families, with our spouse, children, or siblings? In our workplaces, with our co-workers, employers, or employees? In our social environments, with friends, acquaintances, or strangers?
We need to be known for being nonconformists—for not participating in the things of this world.
We need to be known for being transformed people—for looking like we are New People, changed by the love God.
We become witnesses of Jesus and ambassadors for the Kingdom of God by participating in God’s mission.
We do this by being careful, by walking in wisdom and making the most of every opportunity that God gives us.
When my grandfather was in the hospital for an extended time, I heard how the nurses spoke about him so positively, his generosity of spirit; do not think your age affects your ability to share Jesus with others.
It can be beautiful and far simpler than you think follow the leading of the Spirit.
But other times, just starting a conversation seems really hard. It sometimes feels impossible. There can be so much fear and hesitation on our part. We often desire to be in control so deeply. We like to feel safe. We don’t want to let go.
But when we do not let go…
We are not making the most of every opportunity, we are letting time pass us by…
We are not being careful with how we live, we are being foolish…
When we hold on, we do not let the Spirit fill us.
“Evangelism is not a task given to the Church, but a promise. Jesus promises that as we follow him we will become fishers of men, women, and children. Our lives, reflecting the image of God, will attract and change others. To hold the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to ourselves is a supreme act of selfishness.”
-The Most Revd Ng Moon Hing
Bishop of the Diocese of West Malaysia and Primate of the Church of the Province of South East Asia
But I promise you, that it becomes irresistible; once you allow the Spirit to fill you and work through you, it is so life giving—it is a sober inebriation that brings joy to God and to your soul. But it only happens when we walk with vigilance and pay attention to each opportunity that comes our way, saying: “May your will be done in me.”
How will we remind ourselves to live this way, to make the most of every opportunity? To be careful with how we live? And to be filled with the Spirit?
This is something that is abundantly clear in today’s passage: we must sing!
Ephesians says we must speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We are to sing and make music in our hearts to the Lord, and to always give thanks to God the Father for everything.
This is something that I think this church can do very well.
I love that our MB Churches have such a strong and rich musical heritage. There are so many songs that I whistle down the street as I’m walking or biking. These songs are in our bones and in our heads. And this is a beautiful thing. This is a place where the Spirit can fill us. Where the psalms come alive to melody and where hymns in 4-parts resound as we sing together, visibly and audibly expressing our unity as God’s people.
But, I will give us small warning. Our MB churches have really great music. The curious word in verse 19 is speaking—we are to speak psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another. If the words of the psalms, hymns, and songs are not impacting how we speak to one another then who cares how good the music is? If our music is great, but we are not singing and making music in our hearts to the Lord? Who cares how good the music is?
I admit that there have been times when I have felt very apathetic about contemporary worship music. All the chords are the same and the words often lack the beauty or theological density of hymns. But it was not that long ago, when I went to a church where the music was not very good, but where everyone in the room was so obviously singing from their hearts to God. They were signing songs that I would normally care very little for, but, was inspired by their praise. This church was giving thanks and it was so obvious that their community was filled with the Spirit. Regardless of the lack of professionalism in their musical skills.
Therefore, may the words of the psalms, hymns, and songs, that we sing become part of our speech. That we are known as a people who are grateful and thankful to the Lord, that we may speak to one another with these kinds of words.
That each day we can say from our hearts and say to one another:
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118)
“Come, let us sing to the Lord, let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95)
Grantham, as we go from here today:
May we recognize God’s love and redeeming and reconciling work in Christ;
May we be vigilant and wise, not foolish and drunk;
May we make the most of every opportunity and follow the will of the Lord; participating in Christ’s work of transforming our lives, relationships and the world.
May there be no hint of darkness, or drunkenness
May we be filled with the Spirit and speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music in our hearts to the Lord;
May we give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of Jesus.