Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Are you saved by blood but continue to speak and live indecently? General hostility, filthy language and sexual immorality have no place this body


Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love even as Christ loved us and gave Himself on our behalf, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. And let not sexual immorality, any impurity, or any lustful desire even be spoken of among you, as is fitting for saints. Nor should there be any filthiness, salacious talk or crude joking which are not fitting, but rather thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:1-4

St. Paul never engaged in publicity stunts when he instructed God’s people, and neither should we.  He never would have erected a church sign saying: the best vitamin for a Christian is B-1.  Instead his unwavering message is this:  Live your lives as beloved children of God.  But isn’t that obvious, you ask?  It may be, but why chance it?  Besides when Paul encourages these things he isn’t merely reminding us, but empowering us to do them as well.  Without God’s word we are not only clueless but also powerless in spiritual matters, unable to lift a finger in thankfulness or praise.  Cut yourself off from preaching and you are done.  Neither is it adequate to say:  I know what I believe, I don’t need to hear God’s Word from the pastor every week, receive his absolution, or share in the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins;  I can read my bible at home, watch Joel Osteen on TV and listen to the FISH on the radio.

Good luck with that.

If that’s what you think, you are what is called “low hanging fruit” for the devil, and every single temptation of the flesh will lay you low.  Such thinking will never do, because there is no more important work than to live as beloved Children of God, and that takes Real Power, the kind that can only be obtained from the divine Word.

What is a beloved child of God?  We are all children of God because He is the heavenly Father who created us, but like rebellious children, sin estranged men from Him.  All of us have taken the blessings God gives and squandered them on prodigious living without a thought for anything but the pleasure of the moment.  Only when we find ourselves living among the pigs, jealous of their food, do we come to our senses, but even regret would have no advantage unless God gave His only-begotten Son to be our Savior, and imparted all the benefits of His sacrificial death to us in holy baptism, which is what makes us Beloved Children.

Paul uses stout language in this little verse in order to give us a better understanding of the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love for us.  He says that Christ offered Himself as a fragrant “sacrifice” to God; and that word, sacrifice, should make us both afraid and grateful.  It makes us afraid because the things Jesus suffered were due and payable to us, and except for His sacrifice there is no avenue of escape for sinners.  Our wrong-doing has merited the fury of God and by rights there should be shame, mockery, thorns and a cross for each of us.  Sin is no laughing matter!  By rights we should be forsaken by God and handed over to our enemies to be “butchered, immolated and eliminated” even as Jesus was for us.  That’s what the word “sacrifice” means as Paul uses it.

But when we hear these words: that Christ gave himself as a fragrant sacrifice to God for us, in our place and on our behalf, we no longer fear, but rejoice.  We thank God for giving His Son to take our sins onto Himself, to be our substitute, to suffer and die in our place and to eliminate our offenses so that they are not only absolved, but dissolved.  Our sins are not just hidden away, swept under a rug, or locked in a cabinet with all the ugly family secrets, where they might one day find us again, haunt us again and make us afraid and ashamed again.  We need not spend our lives looking over our shoulders wondering when the sins of our youth might come calling for us.  Our damning deeds are gone, destroyed and paid in full by Jesus!  They can never again trouble us, condemn us, judge us, harm us, hinder God’s blessings from reaching us each day, or keep us away from the heaven which God promises us (and which our loved ones in Christ are presently enjoying).

How does a beloved child of God live?  St. Paul sets the highest possible standard when he says: become imitators of God.  What does that mean?  We learn the answer in chapters four and five of this epistle where Paul gives us a catalogue of six virtues and six vices.  On the plus side he teaches us to speak truthfully; put aside rage; respect the property of others; perform honest labor so that we can be givers and not takers; use our words to edify others; and finally to maintain a tender-hearted attitude towards others forgiving them the wrongs they perpetrate against us, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us.

On the other hand he solemnly warns God’s people against sins of the flesh telling us to avoid at all costs sexual immorality, impurity, lustful desires, filthiness, salacious talk and crude joking.  Why such strong language?  Because Ephesus was home to the temple of Diana the great fertility goddess of the ancient near east, and sexual license was considered not only a right but even a religious duty, and nothing was out of bounds, but more than that because these things contradict who we are as God’s beloved children.  In what way?  First, because God who created us is pure and faithful therefore we must keep ourselves unspotted from the world.  Secondly, because the church is the bride of Christ.  He is the Savior who sanctified her, cleansed her and presents her to Himself as a splendorous bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish.  As Christ is a faithful husband to us, who will always love us, honor us and never abandon us; so we too should be faithful and untainted.  Thirdly, because in baptism our bodies become earthly dwelling places of the Holy Spirit and as such we are to keep them unpolluted from sins of the flesh.

It has been said that chastity is the one new virtue that the church introduced to the world and it’s true, not only then but now as well.  Today we live as beloved children of God when we believe the Gospel of our salvation.  Faith is the most fragrant form of thanks we can offer to God, but our thanks becomes even more aromatic when, heeding Paul’s admonition, we lead sexually pure and decent lives, and husband and wife love and honor each other, and when, as opportunity arises, we defend virtue, show it as coming from God, and commend it to all men – so that they too might lift up holy hands in praise to Him who gave Himself as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God on our behalf.   Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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