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Monthly Archives: August 2021

Standing Your Ground on the Day of Evil

“…put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

– Ephesians 6:13

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The Christian life is simultaneously one of war and peace, or perhaps better, peace and war.

In spite of what some have claimed throughout church history, God means for the Christian to know that he is at peace with Him (Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:12-13).

And God also means for the Christian to know that he is at war with the devil.

First, let’s talk about peace with God.

Amazingly, we are told that Jesus Christ defeated the devil at the cross.

The great Old Testament prophecy of Genesis 3:15 – that Eve’s offspring would crush the Serpent’s head – was fulfilled when, we are told, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

(one without the eyes of faith might think that it was Jesus who was made a shameful public spectacle, but evidently not…)

So even though Satan introduced strife between man and God, the cross defeats Satan and restores man’s relationship with God.

Second, there is war.

With Christ’s earthly mission accomplished – “It is finished” – God’s Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead and poured out His Holy Spirit on His Bride, the Church.  

For God uses His church as the “mop up” operations vs. Satan proceed.

Hence, right at the beginning of the book of Acts, we hear about the beginning of the end, as Christ’s finished work takes effect:

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams

We are in the last days then, the end times, as the day of final judgement draws ever nearer. Even if Satan might be a defeated foe in these “Last Days,” he fights on ; God, for some reason, permits him to fight on…

Why does Satan bother? It is a mystery to me. Perhaps he thinks he somehow has a chance. Or maybe he doesn’t believe the prophecy of his final defeat. Or, does he simply try to cause as much pain and suffering as he can until his end comes?

In any case, he has his sights set on you.

In this guerilla war, you, believe it or not, are in his crosshairs.

Again, God means for the Christian to know that He is at war with the devil.

Have you ever heard the famous hymn “I Walk in Danger All the Way?”

It is a most appropriate hymn to talk about as regards our Epistle reading this morning. Just so we can be reminded of what we are dealing with out there.

In verses 2 and 3 it does not talk directly about the devil, but about what the Bible calls “his work” (I John 3:8), namely sin, disease, suffering and death:

2 I pass through trials all the way,
With sin and ills contending;
In patience I must bear each day
The cross of God’s own sending.
When in adversity
I know not where to flee,
When storms of woe my soul dismay,
I pass through trials all the way.

3 And death pursues me all the way,
Nowhere I rest securely;
He comes by night, he comes by day,
He takes his prey most surely.
A failing breath, and I
In death’s strong grasp may lie
To face eternity today
As death pursues me all the way.

The first verse of the hymn deals specifically with our foe, the destroyer:

1 I walk in danger all the way,
The thought shall never leave me
That Satan, who has marked his prey,
Is plotting to deceive me.
This foe with hidden snares
May seize me unawares
If I should fail to watch and pray.
I walk in danger all the way.

We are at war. As the Lutheran Study Bible puts it

“In these end times, evil forces battle against God’s children, who have been rescued from evil (2 Co 6:2).

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Out text speaks about “the evil day”. What is this evil day?

The commentator Clinton Arnold says that it is an experience that “comes at various intervals throughout the lives of God’s people when the powers of darkness execute their strategies in an effort to cause believers to fall” (450, see Lenski also, 663).

Think of what Jesus says to Peter prior to his temptation to deny Jesus on the night of his betrayal: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31)

None of this is easy for us to understand – in Peter’s day and today as well. Oftentimes, we are perplexed about where to look, how to fight.

If Satan is trying to destroy me, if Satan is trying to destroy Christ’s Church, where specifically can I see this happening?

I will be extremely blunt here: It happens in so many cases and in every which way… The schemes, lies and subtle manipulations of Satan happen in hundreds of thousands of ways. And ultimately, Satan’s goal is to destroy your soul.

He wants you to leave behind the Gospel of Jesus Christ, particularly in your greatest time of need, perhaps as you near death. After all, above all else, that is what he hates!

And just what is that Gospel that Satan hates so badly?

It is something outside of you, and that thing by which

…you were delivered from all your oppression

…from where you draw all your strength…

…and that thing that no earthly power can match.

The Apostle Paul said that the Gospel is the power of God for all who believe and defined it quite specifically in I Corinthians 15:

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Above all, Satan wants you and everybody else to

…ignore this message,

to minimize this message,

to not regard this message,

to fail to see its supreme importance,

and to even hate and fight against it with every evil impulse that is within you…..

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Yes, the thing he wants to kill most is the consciences of Christians. He wants the church dead and unawake to His word, particularly His Gospel.

He also is looking most forward to seeing all manner of chaos and destruction, in some ways it seems like a horror movie…

Disorder and disarray… Mayhem and murder… Luther grasped this a bit:

“The wickedness of the devil is so great that no man can grasp it, nor is it possible for any human being to be so wicked in his own nature. For although a man is very wicked and intensely angry and does his very worst, he thoroughly wreaks his vengeance, pours out the vials of his wrath and rage, and then stops. But to be so wicked as to find one’s pleasure and delight only in the misfortune of other people, in their lingering hunger, thirst, misery, and want, in the perpetration of nothing but bloodshed and treason, especially in the lives of those who neither have done nor could do one any harm, this is the hellish and insatiable rage and fury of the wretched devil, of which human nature is incapable. For no human being could of himself be so desperately wicked as to be delighted and pleased to see a young, innocent child stabbed to death before his eyes without any reason or an entire city of both young and old people innocently murdered…” (1156, p. 394, What Luther Says)”

Somedays I wonder if Luther here underestimates the capacity of human nature to find pleasure and delight in other’s misfortunes.

My mind goes to various atrocities that I know have been committed by men….I think of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky writes a novel called “Demons”, or, alternatively, “The Possessed”.[i]

…and years later the Russian revolution leads it’s most zealous adherents to commit unspeakable atrocities that I will not, well, speak of in this place.

Sometimes I wonder if it is only people like cowardly, status-seeking, and obsequious university academics who are willing to cover for such evil, cover their eyes to such evil….

In any case, I really do hope that Luther is basically right, somehow… That some evils are so great most no man or women can abide them for long… or live in peace with the knowledge of them until death swallows them up forever….

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In any case, an important point needs to be made here.

Satan indeed loves extreme evil. And yet, the most subtle kinds of evil are the ones that are most likely to fool most people. His clever lies are those things which are most insidious and deadly to our faith…

How insidious and deadly have his lies been?

Well, consider that even now as Christian hope springs up elsewhere in the world, for instance in China and the “Global South”, Christ’s church has been more or less decimated in Europe, in England, and increasingly, in the whole “Western world”…

How?

Well, the spiritual battle can be raw and intense – as when actual demons reveal themselves – but again, Satan is often far more subtle than that. Here in the world, and in the “Western world” in particular, we know the battle is really one of our minds.

The Apostle Paul’s words can be of great help here…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The power of the lie is so strong, and comes in so many forms!

The lies, the idols Satan tempts us with the world over, are so many! Let’s look at some…

If your land has peace, prosperity, and suffers no war – if your own household suffers no war — you must have peace with god or the gods!

Or how about this?:

God will redeem America because it is His chosen nation, much like Israel was God’s chosen nation in the Old Testament!

What about this one?:

Good works are what I am all about! If I obey the 10 commandments to the best of my ability God will surely reward me for my efforts, and bless me with blessing in this life and salvation in the life to come!

Or more subtly:

If I turn from my sin and decide to follow Jesus – and work very hard and read my Bible and pray, I know I don’t get my salvation that way but I do know that earthly blessing – “thrivetime” – is very, very likely to come! There are exceptions like Job of course, but even he got it all back in the end.

If you are a Christian you will be healthy, happy, wealthy, and wise – suffering will not come to your door – or at least it you won’t end that way on earth!

Or this one?:

If we simply obey Christ’s commands more strictly. If we devote ourselves to total non-violence in the form of Christian pacifism… and if we condemn the contrary… we will heal the world and make it a better place!

This one seem seems popular today:

If we devote ourselves to the cause of racial justice and insist that in order to follow Christ we must completely open up our nation’s borders to let the floodgates come in, the blessings will flow as well! After all if we are merciful God will be merciful to us.

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Satan wants our souls dead forever, that is clinging to anything other than the simple Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners.

He is particularly pleased when the Church picks up the word of God, and yet – having calloused and deadened consciences – fails to be shaped by it even as it looks to shape it itself…

In other words, not really listening to what the Word says and letting it have its way with them, but, often taking this or that passage out of context, wielding it as a weapon en route to fulfilling their own goals.

The goals that they believe will give them survival, satisfaction, and even salvation.

Which also, at the same time leads them to quickly condemn others around them, and to quickly deny the Christianity of those around them… for not seeing things in the same way….

But they do not understand that Christ gives real peace to His real people up front.

That He means for them to be driven to do good because they know that God is not only Good, but that He has been good to them personally in Christ!

That He means for them to fight not to gain salvation but because they have been given salvation in Him!

Again, Romans 10:1-4 – featuring the Apostle Paul’s earnest words to his own Jewish brothers and sisters – unveils the errors that so many of the most morally earnest people today miss, namely that “it is finished” in Jesus Christ:

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes….”

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Jesus Christ forgives sinners of all their sins: past, present, future!

He forgives me! He forgives you! Even now in this moment!

So guard your mind and your conscience!

Remember who you are in Jesus Christ!

Be aware of the more subtle lies of Satan!

And also don’t forget this:

That even as he might flatter human beings with the temptations to use their reason and to produce high-falutin’ ideas, there is ultimately something much more basic, base, at the bottom of it…

Hence, the Apostle John warns us of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16)

Do not let them consume you!

Do not let life’s riches, cares, and pleasures distract you!

Do not envy those in the world you have so much, and yet have in effect sold their souls to the “the powers of this dark world” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…” 

And “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

No footholds!

Remember, the beachhead has been established!

The flag of the cross has been planted!

God’s Holy Spirit goes from Jerusalem, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth like ripples in a lake from a stone….

And the victory has already been won!

So keep your conscience clean.

Live, and grow by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Remember always that Jesus said my words are spirit and life!

In this war, be comforted!

4 I walk with angels all the way,
They shield me and befriend me;
All Satan’s pow’r is held at bay
When heav’nly hosts attend me;
They are my sure defense,
All fear and sorrow, hence!
Unharmed by foes, do what they may,
I walk with angels all the way.

5 I walk with Jesus all the way,
His guidance never fails me;
Within His wounds I find a stay
When Satan’s pow’r assails me;
And by His footsteps led,
My path I safely tread.
No evil leads my soul astray;
I walk with Jesus all the way.

6 My walk is heav’nward all the way;
Await, my soul, the morrow,
When God’s good healing shall allay
All suff’ring, sin, and sorrow.
Then, worldly pomp, begone!
To heav’n I now press on.
For all the world I would not stay;
My walk is heav’nward all the way.

And God has given us armor for this journey. We need to take a look at it also…

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What is it?

First of all, we might recall the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:

“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day has drawn near. So let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh…”

As we “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” essentially reminding ourselves that we are the chosen ones of God, the baptized (see Winger, 748-753, see Gal. 3:27), we do so with this armor God gives us.

A little background on this armor from the Concordia Self-Study Bible:

“The armor represents both a promise of divine protection and an exhortation to battle. Like a general encouraging his troops, Paul tells us that the victory is certain because Christ has already won the war, and He has made us well-prepared to stand with Him to face any last-ditch assaults. In ancient legends, the weapons and armor of a hero could give certain victory to anyone who wore them (1 Samuel 17:38).[ii]

While in this mortal coil, we are going to experience evil, and must battle against it. Here, the ride never ends because the devil is no mean commander, and knows his game (Lenski, 658).

So put on the armor of God, receive the real power, the success, the invincibility that He gives you.  

Stand firm.

“One little word can fell him,” that is, the devil. So speak the word to yourself and others!

Pray… look to Him… cling to Him… on all occasions!

The devil is the Father of lies, but Jesus Christ is[iii] the belt of truth that protects our midsection, loins, and thighs…[iv]  Do not let the false promises of the world affect you at your center, but keep in mind your identity in Him and live with integrity in the truth.

So stand.

The devil is full of wickedness and unrighteousness but the Lord Jesus is the strong breastplate of righteousness that brings redemption to His people (Isa 59:20), closely covers them with His protection (Isa 59:14), and guards our hearts from demonic attacks.

So stand.

Satan is the strife-producer and accuser who calls us unworthy and guilty but our Lord Himself is the one who fully embodies “the readiness to announce the good news of peace” that covers our feet. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa 52:7)

So stand.

Satan fires fiery arrows of temptation at believers, attempting to lodge this or that evil thought or lie in our heart, but Jesus Christ is the large shield of faith, or panoply of faith, whereby these attacks are easily and effectively quenched. Trust Him. As many in the Old Testament put it, the Lord “is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (Ps 18:30)[v]

So stand.

The devil is the one who aims to keep you and your neighbors blind: to cover eyes with his dominion of darkness. Christ is the helmet of salvation (see Isa 59:17) that allows us to see with the eyes of faith that the cross does indeed bring victory – and the new creation! And to also protect the knowledge we have of Him as our rescuer who has brought us into His Kingdom of Light.

So stand.

Satan, who disguises himself as an “angel of light,” is the one who would deceive us though his own voice, and urge us to listen to him. Christ is the very Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God in human flesh who not only comes into our ears and gives us life, but animates us as we counter the other powerful voices in the world (Isa 11:4).

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8)

So stand like a victor, for that is your business (Lenski, 662).

Remember who you are.

Pray in confidence and faith![vi]

Because God stands for you.

Because God remembers you.

Again, think of Jesus saying to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Shortly thereafter he says to those who come to seize Him, “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53)

But when Jesus told Peter Satan was to sift him like wheat, what did He then go on to immediately say?:

“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Don’t doubt that Jesus Christ Himself prays for you too, as He did for Simon.

So, friends, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, put on the full armor of God, because He cares for you.

Amen


[i] https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/dostoevsky-demons-novel-our-times-adam-de-gree.html

[ii] It continues: “The armor Paul describes is not simply from God; it is God s own armor, what He Himself wore in battle. Dressed in Christ’s armor, we look remarkably like Christ, for through Baptism we are clothed with Him” (Eph. 4:24; Rom. 13:12-14; Gal. 3:27).” (Lutheran Study Bible)

Also from the Lutheran Study Bible: “stand against” The picture is defensive; Christ defends us against the devil on our behalf.” (Lutheran Study Bible)

On the other hand: “The Greek used here does not necessarily imply only a defensive resistance to attack; it can be used to speak of an aggressive stance against one’s opponents. Psalm 21:11 [20:12], for instance, describes enemies who devise a wicked scheme, but ‘they are not able to stand;…. That is, they are not able to carry out their hostile plan against David. Similarlly, Ps 18:38 [17:39] depicts David at war against a horde of attacking enemies, but aided by God’s strength for battle, he strikes them doewn so that ‘they are not able to stand.’ In other words, their ‘standing’ implies aggressive attacks against the kind. Finally 1 Chr 21:1 notes that the devil ‘stood’ in Israel to incite David to sin by taking a census. In Ephesians, as we will see, believers are summoned to take both defensive and offensive postures against their supernatural enemies (Clinton Arnold, 445)…

Finally, Winger makes a strong case that defense is the main focus and that certainly, it is always the “Lord himself [who] will fight for us” and that our job “is to stand firm and watch him win the victory, to entrust oneself completely to the Lord’s strength.” See 737-738, 746,

[iii] Note Jerome (!): “From what we read of the Lord our Savior throughout the Scriptures, it is manifestly clear that the whole armor of Christ is the Savior Himself. It is He whom we are asked to put on. It is one and the same thing to say, Put on the whole armor of God and “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our belt is truth and our breastplate is righteousness – but the Savior is also called truth and righteousness. So no one can doubt that He Himself is that very belt and breastplate.

On this principle He is also to be understood as the preparation of the gospel of peace. He Himself is the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. He is the sword of the Spirit, because He is the Word of God living and efficacious, the utterance of which is stronger than any helmet and sharp on both sides.”

Commentary on Ephesians 3.6.1, found here: https://melkite.org/faith/what-is-the-armor-of-god (also in ACCS, 208); quoted in Winger, 744, as well (see 742 also).

[iv] See Chrysostom in ACCS, 210.

[v] Arnold: “The most relevant informing passage… for illustrating the dynamic between faith ad divine strengthening is [Eph] 3:16-17. In this prayer for a realization of God’s empowerment, Paul juxtaposes his request that they may ‘be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner self for Christ to dwell through faith… in your hearts.’ Faith is thus explained as the medium by which one can gain divine empowerment and experience a greater measure of the exalted and victorious Christ’s presence” (457)

[vi] Found online in a Bible study: “The best identity protection comes through prayer. Martin Luther wrote both a morning prayer and an evening prayer. Each prayer asks for protection from the evil one. Your goal for the week should be to pray the evening prayer each night and the morning prayer each morning. They are both printed below, and your leaders have a card for you that you can carry with you if you desire. Closing Prayer Close with the prayer that is appropriate for the time your group is meeting. Morning Prayer I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen. Evening Prayer I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

How We Help Our Brothers Get Woke

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“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

– Ephesians 5:14

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Sometimes, the Bible makes things so clear, it can be very painful for the world to hear.

Who is the light? The Light, with a capital L, is Jesus Christ.

Who is the darkness? The darkness, with a small l, is sinful man.

The commentator Clinton Arnold write:

“Darkness is… [a] way of describing the pervasive impact of evil… Sin… has spread to every person much like a terrible disease… Darkness and sin become the characteristic and defining condition of humanity. Darkness is also a sphere in which the unredeemed live. It is an area or domain in which the power, control, and influence of evil is compellingly felt. Paul unpacks this to some degree [earlier in the book of Ephesians, in 2:2-3], when he speaks of unbelievers living under the control of ‘the age of this world,’ ‘the rulers of the realm of the air,’ and ‘the lusts of our flesh’ – the threefold form of evil influence that has been classically referred to as the world, the flesh, and the devil.” (Ephesians, 328)

And the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, also makes clear what God’s activity is towards all those He calls His children, to all who believe in the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ:

He rescue[s] us from the Dominion of Darkness and [brings] us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13 ; see also Acts 26:18).

This is the critical truth we must know – with none of us, we pray to God, being left behind.

And this is why in our reading from Ephesians today, the first thing we hear is the Apostle Paul saying:

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of [the evils those living in darkness do] God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.”

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The Apostle Paul then goes on to say “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…”

What does it mean for us to be light?

Well, again, we first remember that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, the Logos or Word of God, is the Light of the world.

Capital L.

As the Christmas hymn Of the Father’s Love Begotten says of Him:

“This is he whom seers of old time chanted of with one accord,

Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;

Now he shines, the long-expected, let creation praise its Lord,

Evermore and evermore.”

And now, because of the Lord Jesus Christ, we too, are light.

Again, Paul says to the Ephesians “you once were darkness”…

Now back in his day, before artificial light like streetlamps and other security lights, realize this would have likely hit his audience even harder than it hits us…

“the connection of nighttime darkness with evil [would have been] even more intense” (Winger 565)

And for Paul to say “You once were darkness”!

What does this mean?

It means “you were controlled by darkness. You Ephesians were, to say the very least, influenced badly and a bad influence yourself!”

And this, of course, was true of us as well.

Whether we came to faith in Christ later in life or were baptized early on and learned early on to exclaim “I am baptized” throughout our lives…

…we were certainly born in darkness, and under God’s wrath….

But now, because you are accepted by God… Given forgiveness, life and salvation through the perfect life and innocent death of His Beloved Son Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, you too,

Be pure light!

This is why Paul, for example, tells the Thessalonians “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (I Thes. 5:5)

And why he says to the very messed-up congregation of the Corinthians:

“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6; see also I Peter 2:9).

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor 9:15)

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So, you have become enlightened not in the worldly sense but in the Biblical sense… you have become light, and, a good influence…

Back in Paul’s day, dealing with the Ephesians in the context of their native Ephesus, today modern Turkey, he urged them to…:

“Follow God’s example…as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

That passage, in fact, came right before our reading for today….

And so Paul now goes on to tell us to “make fruit of goodness, truth, and righteousness” and to “put your stamp of approval” on what pleases God (yes, the text we read says “find out what pleases God” but that is not the best translation…).

The polar opposite of the “sphere of darkness” that we spoke of earlier is the “sphere of light”, characterized by goodness, righteousness, and truth (Clinton Arnold)

And so here Paul, as he so often does in this Epistle, is encouraging the Christians in Ephesus to be like Christ.

He knows that they already know that exercising goodness, righteousness and truth are God’s will and pleasing to Him, but here he has in mind putting it into practice in their own contexts….

How might this look in their family relationships and households?

In how they conduct themselves at work?

How they choose to navigate living in their pagan societies? (Arnold)[i]

So now, our own application of these texts, is quite simple: How can I, taking into consideration the same, do likewise?

Compare the words and deeds of the world around you with the teachings of Holy Scripture!

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Paul then goes on to encourage us to do something we might find rather uncomfortable:

To not only avoid but to expose fruitless deeds of darkness.

The admonition here is not something like avoiding unbelievers altogether, for example, but to not be involved in the kinds of behaviors that they participate in which are not pleasing to God.

These behaviors are characterized, again, as “works of darkness”.

They would certainly include the kinds of things that he mentioned earlier: sexual immorality, greed (or perhaps, “covetous desire” or even “lust” is a better translation), and filthy talk.

And given his references to deeds done in secrecy as well, he might be focusing on the occultic or magical arts – which went hand in hand with Temple-sanctioned sexual activity — that were so common in Ephesus (see Acts 19:13-20).

At the same time, they also would certainly encompass any kind of behavior that is displeasing to God.

So Paul is talking about a confrontation here that is born of love, “tough love”

…and it seems he is doing this particularly with fellow believers who he sees are falling under the sway of evil environments and Paul wants them to escape the traps of the devil.

People cannot come to God – or continue in the saving relationship they have with Him – unless their deeds are exposed and they confess these sins.

And that is the main reason that we expose them, that the words:

“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

…will begin to make some sense to them, or continue to make sense to them.

Now, this can be done badly, and even if things are not done badly this whole area is fraught with difficulty, to be sure.

I recently read this, for example, from a pastor angry at some people who, in his view, tried to “help” a certain woman he recalls (note the quotes):

“I have seen far too often the horrifying ramifications of those who have bought into the bulls**t [BS] of false teachers. I have encountered too many times the deep distrust of our Lord’s church when his people have been far too quick to wound than to heal—when they find delight in judgment and are hesitant to forgive. Think of the mother of three young children going through a divorce—terrified about what her future holds, longing for some hope, some kindness, only to be met with demands that are beyond her ability to perform. The peddlers direct her within herself to dig deeper, to try harder, to fix what is broken. But the deeper she goes, the more horrors she uncovers, and they are all beyond her ability to fix.

By the time I meet her, her eyes are full of tears, but her jaw is set tight in firm conviction. For she resolves to hear nothing more from the church, for there is only pain, only more hurt to a life that is saturated with hurt. There is no hope if hope is found within, no confidence if confidence is in her own ability. So, she writes it off altogether, to be alone in her brokenness.

I want to hold her, to protect her, to do something. I want to punch those peddlers in the face and scream for all to hear, “It’s all bulls**t. Everything outside of Christ alone is bulls**t!” Just another lie from the hearts of men designed to make themselves feel better.

Let us not grow weary of our repentance and confession. Let us continually fall empty handed at the foot of the cross. And God willing, let us call it bulls**t when it is.”[ii]

Now, there is a lot there. In my view, such heartfelt statements should make us think, reflect and start and not end conversations.  

Obviously, we must be wise about the way we go about exposing or uncovering evil and be challenged by our own motivations for doing so.

While also, at the same time, taking care not to be cowardly in what we refuse to confront.

The apostle Paul, as he so often does, helps us put all of this in perspective:

“you who are spiritual should restore [your brother] gently…” (Galatians 6:1)

Another point to make here is this: we would be wrong to read Paul as saying that we should only care to help (not “help”) our own, to show tough love to our own, within the church…

God does mean for us to confront the world as well, to expose its deeds of darkness.

We might think that the particular context of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians doesn’t really have much to do with us today, but if we think this, we should think again.

The Lutheran commentator Thomas Winger stated in his Ephesians commentary published just 6 years ago that:

“Contemporary socioeconomic entrapment in the sexual entertainment industry and the growing trade in human trafficking bear close resemblance to the ancient conscription of cult prostitutes [in Ephesus]. A vast difference from ancient fertility cults, whose worshippers typically desired a maximum of children, is the modern disdain for children, resulting in infanticide and the abortion of babies in utero. Yet these modern practices may in fact be further evidence of the idolatrous (demonic) nature of the modern cult of sexual immorality” (Winger, Ephesians, 574).

In many cases, we might perhaps prioritize our decisions to act based on our own particular gifts, callings or vocations, and the seriousness of the injustices that we find thrown across our paths…

I think about the non-profit organizations[iii] and the Pennsylvania politicians who recently revealed how “intact unborn babies with hearts still beating [are being] delivered to NIH-funded research labs [at the University of Pittsburgh].”[iv] There, while the infant’s heart is still beating, the organs are being extracted from their body to be used in the “service of science”.[v]

Some might think that unbelievers do not feel the need to hide their activities as they have a different moral standard than Christians, and in some cases, this might be true… and confrontation might be hopeless.

But not all the time. We Americans especially need to take very seriously that our society, “our world,” has in large part been formed by the Biblical message.

So go forward in boldness, noting that “light exposes, light convicts,” and, we pray, “light converts” (Winger 566), so that we, with Paul, might see that:

“…everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light…”

+++

“Everything that is illuminated becomes a light…”

Paul is talking in this passage about the process of being enlightened here in the Biblical sense.

“It implies the catching the [L]ight and reflecting it, so as to become a new source of light….”[vi]

First, we are converted to Christ, justified, given peace with God, saved. Second, we are continually converted in the sense of becoming more like Him.

Again, this means learning hard things. Of, yes, being not only taught but disciplined in a sense.

And, again, we don’t like discipline, do we? Even if it is done well, we still don’t always like it! We don’t like discipline, even if we might like to think about being disciples, which comes from the same root! (discipline, disciple).

And, in some ways, this is understandable. One of the main themes in a sermon I did here a few weeks ago was “Who really cares about me?”

The answer, of course, is Jesus.

And, God’s people, the church, right?  

When people love you, they really do help you to live in ways that are good, and to avoid ways that are bad.

Yes, it is true that we today, especially in the church, are very hesitant to do this.

We know when people point out other’s flaws, they very often do not want to help.

We often think about this in terms of one-up-man-ship. One brings another down to exalt one’s self.

Many today will take matters even further: this kind of thing is not only about feeling morally superior, it is putting one’s self in the position of authority, which now, in our world today, seems to be synonymous with power.

One other reason people will also not do these things is because they do not feel qualified to do so. They are hesitant to do these things themselves because they think: “I know I myself am a sinner, so who am I to correct others?”

We are not pure enough light… We are not spiritual enough.

But, whatever truth there might be in this – is the Lord calling you to repent of a certain sin right now? – to think this way is wrong….

We need to realize that God does ask from us “tough love” – because as hard as it may be and as much as we might mess up, we really do need to help one another, to love one another, to live in the Light, in the Truth.

As some of the earliest Christians put it just a few years after Christ’s resurrection and ascension: “Correct one another, not in anger but in peace, as you find in the Gospel.” (Didache 15:3)

So, we asked “Who really cares about me?”

Well, I have a new one for you today, that goes hand-in-hand with the other one:

“Who can I really trust?”

Remember that “an enemy multiplies kisses, but wounds from a friend can be trusted…”

So, who can you trust? Increasingly, to be sure, the answer for many of us seems to be: Hardly anyone, really. Maybe no one. Nationally, Walter Cronkite has left the building.  

Or, closer to home, I’ve heard this: “If your mother says she loves you, make sure you verify that with two to three witnesses…”

Who, really, can you trust? Who can you depend on?

Again, in one sense, the answer is:

“Jesus. Just Jesus.”

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” There is no evil in who He is and how he acts (Clinton Arnold)

I can promise you that man, human beings, are going to let you down, disappoint you, perhaps intentionally deceive you.

Those immersed in anti-Christian darkness will surely do so.

And, sometimes even more noble men — perhaps as they feel or become convinced they must “fight fire with fire” for example — will as well.[vii]

+++

God, however, does not ever need deception in order to succeed. I recently read the following from a Christian I follow online, a former military man:

“God is the author of truth.

God is truth.

God is sovereign over all things.

God is all knowing.

God is ever-present.

If you believe these truths, then you know the following….

The bad guys, the deceivers, the liars, the cheaters, and the back-biters, don’t stand a chance.

God wins.

Rest in that as sure as the Sun rises this morning….”[viii]

The Sun (with a “u”) rises this morning, and the Son (with an “o”) will also rise in the East, on that Great Day He comes again to shine!

In the Gospel of John, as Jesus Christ speaks with Nicodemus, He says of Himself:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.….”

Christians brothers and sisters, as those who are given the Gospel and the Spirit of God, may this describe none of us!

Rather, as Jesus goes on to say there: “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

May we be found in the Light!

The Light of Jesus Christ!

And let us not only be keen to remember the Battle of Light and Darkness out there but the battle of Light and Darkness inside our own souls as well. I recall the lyrics of a popular Christian song I was introduced to in college, back in the 1990s….:

I keep trying to find a life
On my own apart from you
I am the king of excuses
I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do

Tell me what’s going on inside of me
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars
In the Heavens

Oh, Lord be my light
And be my Salvation
‘Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light

This beautifully sums up the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, as he speaks about his struggles as a Christian.

Paul then immediately follows up with these words:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus….

Go in peace, and be the light.

Amen


Notes:

[i] Winger talks much about how all of this is written in the context of the Ephesian Christians understanding that they were not to participate in the religious rites (such as festal meals and even temple prostitution) of the Ephesian religion, but rather the Christian religion (Winger says that the Greek word eucharist here, translated “Thanksgiving,” is the Lord’s Supper here, and stands as a sharp contrast to the dark religion in Ephesus.

[ii] This same preacher also writes, just prior to the part quoted in the sermon: “As a preacher of the Word, I have, on more than one occasion, come to a screeching halt in my routine when I fear that I may be misleading or confusing those seeking the truth. With fear and trembling, I wonder if I have I misrepresented the gifts of God. Have I allowed sin to flourish when it should have been condemned? Have I permitted my own personal objectives override the commands and decrees of our Lord? Have I caused one of the little ones to sin? Wouldn’t it be better to have a great millstone fastened around my neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea?

Perhaps I have tried to sell some bulls**t as the real deal. If so, it is time to confess and reengage with the Word of life and salvation, for this sort of crass peddling can destroy lives.”

[iii] Judicial Watch and the Center for Medical Progress (CMP)

[iv] https://stream.org/andrew-cuomo-was-the-poster-thug-for-the-sexual-revolution/

[v] One of the politicians involved, Sean Parnell, stated: ““This is murder. If an infant’s heart is still beating and you are extracting organs from their body, I mean, come on. My God. This shouldn’t happen in the United States of America….” David Daleiden expands: “Pitt’s abortion program, run by Planned Parenthood, was tasked with aborting infants alive to harvest the freshest kidneys for federal money—and targeting Black and Brown mamas and babies the whole time.”

https://www.foxnews.com/us/pittsburgh-calls-investigation-fetal-tissue:

“Pitt’s application specified that it sought to “develop a pipeline to the acquisition, quality control and distribution of human genitourinary [urinary and genital organs and functions] samples obtained throughout development (6-42 weeks gestation).” Past 42 weeks is considered “post-term” or “overdue,” according to NIH.

In 2015, Pitt told the Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) that it has been “collecting fetal tissue for over 10 years … includ[ing] liver, heart, gonads, legs, brain, genitourinary tissues including kidneys, ureters and bladders.” 

Pitt did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on the recent calls for investigation.”

[vi] Ellicot’s Commentary for English Readers, Biblehub.com

[vii] Even as they talk about how those who tell the truth don’t need to remember how they lied in the past, and other such things…

[viii] As this was from a man we’ll call a patriotic Christian American, he ended this statement with “Now, go to war.”

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2021 in Uncategorized