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Lesson 11--In the Spirit--Ephesians 5:15-20

Ephesians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

Some words have distinct meanings.
One word meant something to Reginald Heber. He spent time at the University of Oxford as a teacher and student. While there, he developed a poetic bent.
In the cathedral, he witnessed light flowing through ornate stained-glass windows and bouncing off the gold-gilded ceilings creating a sparkle. It was like the angels were there. No wonder his creative juices started flowing, and he wrote:
Holy, holy, holy
Lord God almighty
Early in the morning my song shall rise to thee
Holy. holy, holy
Merciful and mighty
God in three persons, blessed Trinity
Holy, holy, holy
All the saints adore Thee
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea
All the cherubim and seraphim are falling down before Thee
Which wert and art and evermore shalt be
We recognize that song because of its majesty. The repeated triad of holy drives home the point that God is different and distinct.
God’s church is to be holy. It is a word that belongs in church. But what makes it that way? There are many answers, many we have already touched on.
But in this lesson, I want us to focus on a central idea that makes God’s church unique and holy.
The church seeks the wisdom to follow God’s will, not man’s.
So, let’s dig into today’s lesson to find out what makes the church God’s church.

Discussion

A Walk in Wisdom

Paul, again, begins this lesson with the same refrain using the common word “to walk.”
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,” (Ephesians 5:15, ESV)
He says to pay close attention to your daily spiritual walk. It is the latest in the instructions on living in God’s church.
He has told the Ephesians:
Walk worthy of the calling Do not walk as the Gentiles do Walk in love Walk as children of light.
He adds another element to Christian living in this passage—walking as wise, not unwise. What exactly is wisdom and its reverse?
Wisdom is the application of acquired knowledge. The smart person knows what to do. The wise person knows when to act and when to refrain.
Milan Kundera, the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, has said that “The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything.”
A wise man knows what is appropriate to the situation where he finds himself. He can run when running is required but walk when that is necessary. Wisdom says the right words to those grieving and keeps his comments to himself to prevent an argument.
But what kind of wisdom does Paul counsel?

Use of Time

The first has to do with the time we use in our lives.
“making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16, ESV)
Paul’s language is vivid. He goes to the agora or the Greek market in Ephesus. It is there where you exchange your money for the goods you need. This is the term for “making best use.” It is buying from the market.
Time is like money but only more precious. We can always make more money, but all men, from Jeff Bezos to the curbside beggar, are given 24 hours in a day. When it is gone, you cannot save it or extend it. It is a gift with an expiration date.
This passage says to notice your opportunities. The term “season” in Greek is one of two words to describe time. Chronos measures hours, minutes, and seconds. It is what we mean when we ask, “what time is it?”
The other is kairos, the general time, the appropriate time. The tree has a time for dropping its leaves. It is when it is the right moment, the season. We plant in one season and harvest in another. This is the right time when the opportunity presents itself.
Paul says you need to take your opportunities seriously because “the days are evil.” Reviewing the context, he observes that most people use up their life doing evil things.
Christians order their lives for another purpose, the purpose of serving God rather than self. They use the falling sand in the hourglass for eternity rather than today.
We all need to take notice of how we spend our lives. Wise people know the gift time truly is and invest it in the timeless rather than the temporary.
The wise man knows the value of time. Benjamin Franklin observed, “doth thou love life? Then waste not time for that is the stuff of life.”

Seeking God’s Will

In verse 17, Paul continues to detail wise living for a Christian.
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:17, ESV)
Many seek the will of God for their lives. But are looking for something different than what Paul points to. Many want God to make every decision for them. I have known people who wish God would tell them what cereal to eat for breakfast and which pants to wear for the day. They want to know God’s specific will for their lives.
When Paul says “understand” he means to use your reasoning power. That is not the reflection of spiritual maturity. Wisdom is seeing the big pieces in life and putting them together.
One of God’s great gifts is the gift to the mind. As with any gift, he expects us to use it. We gain all kinds of knowledge from God’s word. How do we make sense of it?
We are curious creatures who seek comfort in the familiar. Tragically, most don’t want to “understand the will of God.” Instead, they want to be told what they already want. Many want the sermons and classes to confirm their prejudices. They want comfort over conformity and satisfaction over security.
Can we read the Bible and look at it with open minds to determine what God wants for his church and us? Remember, God’s plan is more extensive than my own individual desires. It is the mystery of changing the barriers that religion builds.
What is this will of God? We can keep reading and find the answer to that question.

A Church in the Spirit

In verse 18, Paul presents a contrast.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18, ESV)
Before we dismiss this too quickly, we need to travel back to Ephesus.
Paul presents a clash of cultures, as we have already seen in this section of Ephesians. He has contrasted immorality with faith. Now, he tackles another ever-present challenge for the Ephesians as they live in their city.
One of the more famous Greek gods was Dionysus. He was the god of wine and fermentation. Greeks would indulge in Bacchanalian festivals (named after the Roman equivalent). In them, they would drink fermented drinks until they were drunk.
They believed in this way Dionysus controlled their lives. In fact, as is apparent today, drunkenness relaxes the urges and takes away your control.
For the Ephesians, it was the literal form of “under the influence.”
I knew a young man in a class when I was in college. He was a graduate of the U. S. Air Force Academy. He was intelligent and savvy. His job was to take a B-52 bomber up every other day and fly around Alaska for hours. His plane had enough nuclear weapons in its bomb bays to destroy the world twice. He waited for a command to launch. If it did not come (as thankfully), it never did. He returned to the Air Force base in Abilene.
I remember discussing with him the idea of alcohol. He admitted he drank, so I asked him, “why do you drink?” He said it loosened up his personality. In other words, when he was under the influence, he became a different person.
The question Paul floats in this verse is fundamental. What controls your life? Is it going to be the spirits you drink or the Spirit of God?
All of us are under the influence. The only question is under whose influence? It will change your perspective.
So what does a church under the influence of the Holy Spirit look like? It is nothing like the modern charismatic version of falling on the floor and spouting gibberish in the form of “Holy Spirit language.” Paul tells us.

It is a singing church.

First, a church filled with the Spirit is a singing church.
“addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” (Ephesians 5:19, ESV)
For those of us in churches of Christ, this has become a bone of contention. Does this verse exclude the use of instruments in worship or does it allow them? It matters little what personal opinion is. What matters is what does this verse teaches about that subject.
First, let’s dispel something. I hear people say, “that Bible says you cannot use an instrument in worship.” I hate to tell you, but no commandment exists that says, “thou shalt not use an instrument in worship.” I wish there was. This lesson (and our approach to things) would be so much simpler.
But second, does the absence of command give us the license to do as we please? Notice how quiet the Bible is about:
Using cocaine. Nothing says you can’t. Driving above the speed limit. Spitting in the face of others.
You may say that is silly, but that’s because we have resolved them so quickly in our minds. We know what to do because we apply a principle in a passage in a way that restricts certain behaviors. The absence does not give permission for action.
If this verse was not in the text, we would be free to do as we will. But this is the constraint that defines something we all do.
In this context, we must do with test the view, which is something many don’t want to do. They want a cut-and-dried up or down. We say, “I know what I believe.” But a belief that is not tested is not Bible but prejudice.
So let’s test it for the trust can stand the examination. What kind of singing does it indicate here?
First, the passage says this kind of music is, for lack of a better term, “oral togetherness.”
“addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” (Ephesians 5:19, ESV)
It is a thankful church.
We “speak to one another.” The voice is employed in a way that she is together and speaking to the needs of each other. One of the interesting findings of current research is how potent it is when people sing together. It changes their heart and puts them in one mind.
We know that singing does that. What happens if an instrument is added?
Some say it makes no difference. I beg to differ, and my evidence is simple observation.
I had a good friend who was the preacher at the conservative Christian church in town in a previous church. Since we shared much, except for the use of the instrument in worship. Fred and I loved each other and had complete respect for each other.
I would send my children to their VBS each year because they could be around friends and use the same material we did. On the closing night, they had a program, and they supposedly had a time of singing, but it was with a piano.
I took the opportunity to watch. I looked around, and no one sang. They did not know how. They simply listened to the piano and the song leader.
Later, Fred and I were visiting. He said, “we still sing.” And I asked him, “are you sure? I’ve been to your church, and I did not see any mouths moving.” He reluctantly agreed that the piano kind of shut down the singing.
Anything that takes away the “together we sing with our mouth” cuts against the grain of this verse.
The second consideration of this passage is the meaning of the Greek word “psallo.”
It is translated by the phrase, “making melody.”
What exactly does it mean? It is only used in the New Testament two other times, both translated by “sing.”
“What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” (1 Corinthians 14:15, ESV)
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13, ESV)
That doesn’t help resolve the issue much.
The term literally means “to pluck.” It can mean to pluck a string, like a guitar. It can also indicate to pluck a hair such as one that is ingrown.
How do you know what is plucked? It is a word that demands a direct object that specifies what is plucked. In our lesson today we see it. We make melody “with the heart.” The instrument specified is the human heart. Paul doesn’t add anything else, so it seems excluded.
But is this accurate? Everett Ferguson was one of my church history teachers and is well-known in all Christian circles for his knowledge. When he was getting his doctorate, he attended Harvard University. While there, he roomed with another student who happened to be Greek Orthodox.
One day. Ferguson asked his roommate if it was accurate that the Greek Orthodox Church did not use instruments in their worship. His friend confirmed it, and Ferguson asked him “why.”
“We do not use instrumental music because it is not in the New Testament and is contrary to the nature of Christian worship.”
This was from a native Greek who understood the language far better than I do.
Which begs the question, “how did the church really sing?”
Perhaps we have read something in or out of the text. It can happen, so it is essential to come to some kind of conclusion.
Remember, the church grew up in an environment. Both the Jews and Greeks used instruments in their worship and rites. The Jews had the lyre as part of temple worship, and the Greek mystery religions relied heavily on harps and lyres. So, it would have been only natural to adopt it.
The only way to know what they did was to look through their picture albums, their history. We know so much about the church by looking at what was done in the second century and beyond. It is not inspired but illuminating.
When we do, we find a deafening silence about the instrument. In fact, the first mention of it was in the 6th century when it was kept in a closet and used only in weddings. But even that raised great debate. It is not something that would have happened had it been accepted. In fact, it was a thousand years before it became standard practice in the worship of what was then the Roman Catholic Church.
In fact, the term for singing without musical accompaniment is “a cappella,” which means “in the manner of the church.”
Another factor to consider comes out of the book of Ephesian itself. That has to do with the context of culture.
For two chapters Paul has contrasted the church with the culture around it. Paul emphasizes that the church is different from the climate that surrounds it. The moral practices of the church were distinct from the world around it. Immorality, coarse joking, and a tolerance for sin were “out of place” in the church.
That even includes the religious climate.
This principle would lead us to reject instruments in worship because it reflects the religious culture we find ourselves in, not the pure church Paul was describing in Ephesians.
And finally is the issue of practicality. This is a personal point with me. It came from a distinct moment in my life.
One year, my family and some friends attended the annual Bible Teachers Workshop at Abilene Christian University. At night, they would have a lecture at which we would sing.
One night something terrible happened. A tornado spun up and struck the electrical transmission station just as they were to start. The power went out in Moody Coliseum, leaving it darker than the darkest cave.
We wait for the power to come back (which it never did), but something happened I will never forget. We sang.
We sang the first verses of songs we all knew. I don’t know how many songs we sang, but we sang dozens of gospel songs in the pitch black of night.
I reflected on that night later. God’s simple plan allows for us to worship regardless of circumstances, culture, or condition. We could not have done that if we had to use an instrument. Singing, pure singing without assistance can make worship a reality in the African bush, an Amazon jungle, or a glass cathedral.
Man cannot do that.
But let me make a couple of observations about this.
First is a stark reality. The culture changes the church more than the church changes culture. Since the end of the apostolic age, the way the church was organized, led, and worshipped resembled more of the culture around it than the plan of God. It is the pressure that pushes the church constantly.
Are we caught in the grasp of culture or the grasp of the Spirit?
One more item. People wonder, “is this going to send me to hell?” I don’t know because I am not in a position to judge. However, I think that is the wrong question.
Have we given ourselves permission to do as we please in the dress of “God’s doesn’t care”?
Remember in this passage that the pursuit is not what we can get away with and remain Christian. Instead, as verse 17 instructs:
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:17, ESV)
We need to pursue the will of God. We need to be humble and obedient enough to conform to his will, not our own, and certainly not that of the religious world around us. Do people use an instrument because it is in the text or because it allows us to fit in with the religious world around us? And if it is the latter, how is that the will of God?
But this lesson ends with one more mark of a church under the influence of the Spirit.

It is also a thankful church.

Listen to how Paul closes this lesson:
“giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 5:20, ESV)
The church sees the blessings in all things. This kind of gratitude sees God’s hand in all things, even the worst of times.
John Chrysostom, the great preacher of the Church of a later day, had the curious thought that Christians could give thanks even for hell, because hell was a warning to keep them in the right way.
It saddens me to see much of the backbiting and attitude of discord in the church today. Instead of finding differences and problems, we should see the blessings.
A church led the the Spirit doesn’t argue but blesses, doesn’t complain, but thanks.
Does that describe us?

Conclusion

Paul has said that we should walk as wise, not as unwise. And while that sounds easy, it is not. Instead, it forces us to think to a higher level and pursue a different path than the world, even the religious world around us.
We live not as others do, but the church lives in the Spirit of God.
How does a church in the Spirit do?
We have seen the answer. The wise man seeks the will of God over his own will. The unwise seek their will over His will.
Tragically, too many of those who call themselves Christian have succumbed to human invention and prevalent ideas brought by men. Those ideas from good books rather than God’s word come foolish living that pursues human goals.
The question we must constantly ask do we seek to do the will of God over our own. That will determine whether we are wise or not.
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