Good morning! What we are doing this morning is the most important thing that will happen in the world today regarding pushing back the darkness and bringing hope to the world. Please take your responsibility as an American citizen seriously and vote this week. Ask the Lord to guide your decisions. He has put us here for such a time as this.
Remember, it’s not the Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, capitalists or socialists that will save the world. It’s Jesus. He is the light of the world no darkness can overcome. He is still the prince of peace in a world torn apart by fear, selfishness, hatred and greed. He alone can restore us to sanity. The love we need to bring unity and bind us together as a human family comes from him alone.
Let’s open our Bibles to Eph 4. But first, let’s remember this is a letter sent from the Apostle Paul who is in house arrest in Rome to a little congregation he started in the great city of Ephesus in modern day Turkey.
This little congregation is a living example of God’s purpose from the very beginning. “To bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Eph 1:10
This little congregation was made up of Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, aristocrats, laborers, religious, not religious who have all become the one Body of Christ. How? It isn’t anything they did. Paul says, “It was while we were dead in our sins that God made us alive in Jesus.”
Any Godward move we make in our life is God’s work. It’s a sign of his love for us. Paul put it this way - “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith - and even this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2 8:10
So what are the good works God has prepared for us to do? It would be to participate in God’s purpose to bring all things in heaven and on earth back together under Jesus.
Ephesus was not much different from modern America. Therefore, Paul’s words are very relevant for us today. “…you must no longer live as the (unbelievers) do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” Eph 4:17-20
Paul is not fault-finding here; he’s simply describing life w/o the Lord. Life without Jesus is blind, pointless, without purpose or meaning. Satan wants us to believe getting rid of God will lead to freedom, joy, enlightenment, peace, when in reality, just the opposite is true.
Hardening our hearts against God results in ignorance, loss of sensitivity, and slavery to sensuality and impurity. When we shut God out, we become slaves of our sinful nature and all the depravity and ugliness that goes with it without even knowing this has taken place.
For some reason this surprises people, just like it did the prodigal son! Remember his story? He thought cutting free from his dad and the rules back home would result in joy and freedom. But he was ignorant of the sinful nature that lived within him. He was ignorant of the fact that he had a real spiritual enemy who was out to deceive and destroy him.
Consequently, things didn’t turn like he planned. His sinful thinking led to futility. The further he drifted from the Lord, the more darkened his understanding became. He lost his spiritual sensitivity. He could no longer differentiate between what was holy and good and what was filthy and depraved. Some of you know what I’m talking about, because it happened to you.
The Lord allowed him to lose everything he thought was important, so he could learn what really mattered. One day while he was slopping pigs with a few stinking rags covering his naked body the Lord intervened in his life. The prodigal said, “What am I doing here? I need to go home, maybe my Father will let me be his slave. Better a slave in his house than a nobody here!”
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming and ran to meet him. He took off the boy’s filthy stinking rags, bathed him, and clothed him in the clothes he had already prepared for the day his son would home.
But the boy still had a choice to make. Would he wear his father’s clothes and become his father’s son. Or would he save a few old rags so he could wrap them around himself and sneak out at night to return to his old way of life?
That’s the question Paul is asking the Christians in this little church in Ephesus. It’s the same question he’s asking us today. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:22-24
Are you willing to be clothed in Jesus? Are you willing to take off and burn those filthy rags from your old sinful life in the world? Are you willing for the Lord to change the way you think about yourself and the world around you? Are you willing for him to dress you in his holiness and righteousness?
Are you willing to be part of God’s solution for the depravity that has gripped our world? I have to warn you. If you are willing to be the aroma of Jesus, to be clothed in his righteousness rather than your own, you will be hated, falsely accused, and misunderstood by the world. But you will be the only hope this fallen world has.
The shootings in Boston are another reminder that all our human attempts at peace are falling short. Our public rhetoric is becoming increasingly bitter and malicious. Our scape- goating is becoming more audacious. We talk about kindness, gentleness and love, but we can’t seem to generate it. Our hearts are becoming increasingly hardened. Who can take out our heart of stone and give us a new heart of flesh, soft, fresh and clean? Only Jesus.
Paul knows what he’s talking about. When we first meet him in the book of Acts, he’s described as “Saul, breathing murderous threats”. He was filled with hate and violence. But then Jesus met him on the Damascus road. The Lord gave him a new heart. He changed his way of thinking, enlightened his mind so that he would later write to the Gentiles in Philippi, “I hold you all in my heart!”
Saul never went back to those rags of depravity. How about you? It’s a decision we must make every day. When you wake up in the morning you go to the closet and you pick out the fresh clean clothes you are going to wear. Paul tells us to do the same spiritually.
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need…”
“…Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph 25-32
Let me expand on what Paul is suggesting here. If you are a Christian, when you get up in the morning the Lord has a job for you to do for the sake of the world. To do that, you must be dressed properly. When you are getting dressed in the morning, pray “Lord Jesus …
I take off the opinions and deceptions of the world and I clothe myself in the TRUTH of your Word.
I take off complaining and criticizing and I clothe myself in worship and praise.
I take off exalting and promoting myself and I clothe myself in humility before you.
I take off my demands for my own rights and entitlements and I clothe myself in serving others.
I take off pretending to be something I’m not and I clothe myself in sincerity and integrity.
I take off bitterness and hatred and I clothe myself in love for you and other people whoever they may be.
I take off the vulgarity and crudeness of this world and I clothe myself in your holiness, grace and beauty.
I take off stinginess and selfishness and I clothe myself in generosity.
I take off resentment and anger and I clothe myself in mercy and forgiveness.
I take off fear and I clothe myself in the joy and strength of the Lord.
Don’t be intimidated by the vileness of the world around us but neither be naive about it. The Lord’s kingdom is coming and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Nothing infuriates the devil more than for us to refuse to be intimidated by him. Let me close with Jesus words to us as we live as his people in this broken world.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:9-12
Thank you Lord Jesus for calling us from death to live and making us part of the coming of your plan to bring all things together under your cross. Fill us with your love so that all that we are and all that we do might bring glory to you and draw others into your kingdom of love. In your mighty name!