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Don't Be Deceived

Ephesians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  47:47
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Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church. Please take your Bibles and turn them to Ephesians 5, Ephesians 5.
In the year 1803 a poet named Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem based on an early 14th century legend from the German city of Hamelin. It seems that Hamelin had been troubled by a rat infestation and that a man in brightly colored clothing playing a pipe had offered to solve the problem for the city. He played on his pipe and led the rats out of the city but when it came time for payment, the city reneged on their deal. He left town vowing revenge. He returned on a city holiday while the adults were all in church and proceeded to lead 130 of the town’s children away never to be seen again. Interestingly the legend was depicted upon the stained glass windows of a church in the town of Hamelin.
Now why am I telling this story? Because in many ways the modern church has become like those children of Hamelin. The world has shown up in brightly colored clothing, playing a pretty tune on a pipe and the church in many sectors is mesmerized by the playing. Whole congregations have been led off to the woods never to be seen again. This isn’t necessarily new - it’s been happening for a while. More than 20 years ago James Montgomery Boice, pastor of 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, said this in a sermon “The Evangelical church is in bad trouble today, part of the problem is that we don’t even know it. We’ve abandoned our theology. We’re substituting other things for the Word of God and we don’t even know this is what we’re doing. The Evangelical church has lost its soul, and it has lost its soul because it has lost its theology.” Let me humbly say that our condition hasn’t gotten any better today - if anything we’re in a worse position.
I approached this text this week with a fair amount of trepidation - I know I said that last week too but this week is for a different reason. Last week’s sermon was hard to preach because it may have gotten under some of your skins and it may have hurt - and it is never my intention to hurt you purposely. The hurt may have been necessary however to awaken your spirit to the fact that while you think you are saved, that you may still be far from God and, in fact, may not know Him at all. This week’s text leads me to a different dilemma. I know that I will probably upset some of you by the end of this sermon. Why? Because this week’s text leads me to talk about some issues that are inflammatory in our day. That are critical for us to talk about because they are issues that the world is playing masterfully, just as the pied piper played his pipe, to lead the church astray. It is fitting I think that the kids are here this week to hear some of this because if we aren’t talking and teaching about it in church and some of you aren’t talking or teaching about this at home, then the main source of information that they have is the world.
This morning Paul is going to continue the warning that he began to issue to the Ephesians in verses 3-5. Let’s look at our Bibles to see what he had to say to them, what warnings he issued and then understand how these warnings come down through the intervening years to us and our lives today. We’ll be reading Ephesians 5:3-7.
Ephesians 5:3–7 CSB
But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things. Therefore, do not become their partners.
There really is nothing new under the sun. Solomon tells us that in the great book of Ecclesiastes and he just keeps getting proven right. If you look at the world that we live in compared to the world that Paul was writing to, we are facing many of the same issues just with a different face - and in some cases the exact same face. Sexual immorality, impurity and greed are just as prevalent during this generation as they were when Paul sat down to pen this letter so many years ago. Harry Reeder during a sermon this week at the Ligonier National Conference - by the way, just as an aside if you’re taking notes or if you just want to grab a contact card from the seat in front of you write this down. If you own a cell phone that is capable of running apps, these are a few you should have on your phone - REFNET, Grace to You, G3, Ligonier, Truth for Life. They are solidly biblical and will serve you well throughout the week as you seek to grow and deepen your faith. Now back to Pastor Reeder’s statement - he said this we live in a culture of insanity, absurdity, immorality, lethality and it is rooted in profitability. We live in a culture of insanity, absurdity, immorality, lethality and it is rooted in profitability.
The reason for this is that we’ve forgotten who God is and who we are. In many sectors of society - some of which we’ll talk about this morning - man is playing on the throne and trying to relegate God to the wings if He’s allowed to be in the area at all. And this should not be a surprise, after all this is what has always happened. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that this is the condition of the world. Consider these words from Romans 1:28-32.
Romans 1:28–32 CSB
And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.
The theological term for this is the Noetic effect of the Fall - that when sin entered the world our minds were broken to the point that rational thought was no longer a given commodity but rather a grace given by God. This is not to say that unbelievers cannot determine or discern truth but rather to say that ultimately their capacity to attain truth will be limited by their continued distance from God and the brokenness of that relationship. Steve Lawson recently said it this way “Sin will make you stupid.” If an unbeliever continues in a sinful state and sinful state of mind then they will veer further away from the truth and further into madness and illogical thinking.
An example from our day may help clear this up. One of the primary arguments that the liberal gives for supporting abortion is that it is simply a clump of cells, that it is not a real life and therefore can be disposed of any way the bearer of those cells see fit. Recently though, the city of Portland, Oregon - a bastion of liberal thought and ideology - has instituted bereavement leave for anyone who loses a pregnancy be it by miscarriage, stillbirth or any other premature loss of a pregnancy to include abortion. Does anyone else see the lack of logic here? There’s a disconnect. Why would you experience grief for the removal of something that isn’t alive? Implicitly they are simply acknowledging what we all know to be true but their depraved minds refuses to admit - that life begins at conception and that any loss of life in utero or out is worthy of grief.
And so Paul continues his warnings to the Ephesian church and to us, writing
Ephesians 5:6 CSB
Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things.
Let no one deceive you - the word here is apatao meaning to cause someone to have misleading or erroneous views concerning the truth. It is the way that Paul refers to the serpent in the Garden in 2 Corinthians 11:3 “But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” The Ephesians are to be wary of all things that are presented to them lest any idea or doctrine that comes to them lead them away from the truth. John writes that we are to test the spirits 1 John 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” There are some doctrines that come to us that sound right, that sound good but are far from the truth of God.
These are presented as empty arguments. When used in a figurative sense such as here in Ephesians 5:6 the word kenos has the sense of a vain or frivolous person or futile things - opinions, boastings or speech. Here and later in Colossians 2:8 Paul will use this word to warn the believers not to be swayed or misled by the empty, frivolous doctrines of the world. In Colossians Paul is very explicit about where these empty words come from Colossians 2:8 “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ.”
The ultimate goal of these empty words is to deceive the believers and to get them to go astray. The worst instance of this is when it comes from those posing to be leaders in the church but instead are leading people astray and away from the Savior. Jesus plainly warned his disciples that there would be people who sought to do this very thing.
Matthew 24:4 CSB
Jesus replied to them, “Watch out that no one deceives you.
Later in the same discourse He warns them again
Matthew 24:23–24 CSB
“If anyone tells you then, ‘See, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Over here!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
Paul warns his protege and the man who he would be passing the torch to upon his death to be aware and not be surprised that this is going to happen
2 Timothy 3:13 CSB
Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Earlier in chapter 3 he writes 2 Timothy 3:1-5
2 Timothy 3:1–5 CSB
But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.
And we say of course - that’s exactly what the world looks like and we would be correct except that Paul is writing this to characterize those within the church. Later in chapter 4 as he charges Timothy to maintain his course and to fulfill his ministry primarily by preaching the Word Paul writes
2 Timothy 4:3–4 CSB
For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.
It would seem that there may have been those in Ephesus who were already turning their hearts toward these behaviors and beginning to listen to those who would come to them with empty words seeking to deceive them in relation to “these things”. But what are these things? Are they the empty words themselves or does Paul have something greater in mind here? I’m glad you asked. Paul is pointing the Ephesians back to the previous verses where he said that sexual immorality, impurity and greed should not even be named among them. It would seem that there was a group of teachers who were telling the Ephesian believers that those practices were okay - that God wouldn’t really judge them if they practiced these things. In an effort to coexist with their culture, the culture of the day was becoming acceptable in the church. Rather than standing counter to the world, the world was influencing the church and polluting the truth.
Paul states in no uncertain terms that the wrath of God is coming on the disobedient because of these things. The wrath of God here is a bit tricky because the verb coming is in the present tense. The issue here is what wrath is Paul getting at - is this the eschatological wrath of God that will be poured out on all sin at the end of time or does this describe some present instance of the wrath of God being enacted against those who practice such things? The challenge to understand this is that the word for the disobedient is the same word used to describe the former state of the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 2:2 “in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient.” In that passage Paul is telling the believers that at one point they were this - spiritually dead in their trespasses and living in a manner contrary to God’s righteous and holy way - and now they are that - but God moved on their behalf, woke them up and convicted them of their wicked status and just condemnation under the law until they repented and received grace through faith in Christ.
The present tense is used in other places by Paul to refer to a future event - 1 Thessalonians 1:10 “and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” and also in Colossians 3:6 “Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient,” a parallel passage to our passage this morning each being in the present tense but especially the 1 Thessalonians passage points us to a future event. While there may be a present penalty for some of those who practice these things, there will certainly be a future date when all who practice these will receive their just recompense.
Paul says do not become their partner - this is a compound word that carries an emphatic sense of the fullest participation in something. This word only appears twice in the New Testament - here and earlier in Ephesians 3:6 “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” We cannot be both - we cannot be a partner of the world and a partner with Christ. We cannot follow the doctrines of sexual immorality, impurity and greed and follow the Gospel. Yet there are many in the church that are trying to do just that.
Rather than calling out the inconsistency of the sexual revolution and all that it entails, there are sadly many in the church who have succumbed and listened to the “empty words” and fallen in line with supporting these ideas. When we say that the Bible whispers about sexual sins such as homosexuality and the like we have fallen in line with the idea that God’s wrath is not promised for those who do such things. When Christian leaders support two men who show pictures of fetuses that they will be adopting and celebrate the start of a “family” they have given over to the empty words of the culture. And this goes for all of the letters of the sexual revolutions alphabet - LGBTQIA+.
When a church within our own convention celebrates the baptism and membership of openly gay and transgender members - they have given over to the empty words of culture. And let me be clear - gay, transgender, any other sexual moniker they are welcome here just like any other sinner. We will share the Gospel with them and hopefully watch God’s hand move in their lives and see them forgiven, see fruit grow but what we will not do is affirm their lifestyle, affirm their sin and allow them to remain there.
The world would like to try and tell us that there are 58 different genders and expect us to affirm all of them. Yet Scripture would call us to an entirely different course of action.
The ultimate end of the sexual revolution is to be able to practice their self-gratifying desires with no repercussions. If that means that a baby has to be killed to maintain their sexual freedom then so be it. The world celebrated this week as MacKenzie Scott donated $275 million dollars to Planned Parenthood. The state of Maryland - this is still beyond my comprehension - has a bill in the state legislature right now that removes the criminal penalties for failing to act in a manner that would prolong the life of an infant up to 28 days old. In other words - quoting an article from - “a baby born alive and well could be abandoned and left to starve or freeze to death, and nothing could be done to punish those who participated in that cruel death.”
Now I’m not saying that there are churches that are supporting that bill - but there are pastors who say they are pro-abortion. There are churches that are affirming gay members - even to the point of making them clergy. We have succumbed to the idea that God’s wrath does not reside on the sin of sexual immorality and instead are simply trying to get along.
Another instance where the modern church has given over to the world and the empty words it employs is in the ideas of social justice and critical race theory. Now I’m not going to stand here and say that everything is hunky dory and that atrocities have never been committed but can we be honest with just one thing - there is no such thing as racism because we are all the same race. My Bible tells me that God created them male and female - only two genders not 58 - and that all mankind descends from Adam. The fact that melanin levels in people’s skin is different doesn’t make us all different races. Every other biological factor is the same. Can we call it what it is - hate. The sinful hatred of one person towards another. As a church we need to see the vocabulary of racism removed because we, of all people, should know that we’re all the same. And that goes for churches as well - we should’t have white churches, black churches, asian churches, hispanic churches or any other homogenous type of church. If our study of Ephesians has taught us anything it is that Christ came to unite all people under the Gospel - Jew, Gentile, black, white, male, female and any other distinction that you want to make - given all of us different roles to fill and serve in without making any one person less than any other. It’s interesting that one psychologist interviewed for an article I read on the different number of genders said that “the concept of gender really is a social construct” but no one will make the same claim over race.
All of this comes down to another social theory called deconstruction - that is really the goal of all of these “empty words” is to get the church to deconstruct our faith and to reconstruct it in a manner that is more palatable to the world. The concept of deconstruction is very popular and is an underlying tenet in CRT, in the sexual revolution, in all of what is assaulting the church today. And this isn’t new. To boil it down - deconstruction is the process of reducing something to its constituent parts in order to reinterpret it. Its what Satan did with Eve - did God really say? Let’s break down what God did say and reinterpret it in the light we want to so that we can eat the fruit.
There really is so much to say about each of those - but we would be here a long time and really there’s no there there. None of them really have the substance they need for any sort of longevity. In five years they’ll be replaced by something new or something far worse than the current landscape.
But what are we to do? Paul tells us not to partner with them - how are we to avoid that?
A few steps. The first is that we have to be able to identify the “empty words” when they come to our doorstep. How do we do that? Do we peruse Twitter and Facebook to see what the current trends are? Watch MSNBC and read the Huffington Post to see what the talking heads are saying? No. We take a note from the department of the treasury when they are training agents to determine counterfeit bills. They don’t give the agents counterfeit after counterfeit examples, rather they have them study genuine money until they know it so well that when presented with a counterfeit it is immediately apparent. We must study the Word of God so deeply that when presented with an idea that is counter to the foundation that has been laid by the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone that it is immediately identifiable. We must learn from Christ in the desert rather than Eve in the Garden. J.C. Ryle in a book entitled Warnings to the Churches wrote this “I am firmly persuaded that many Christians do not give time enough to private reading of the Scriptures. I doubt seriously whether people did not know their Bibles better 200 years ago than they do now. The consequence is that they are tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine and fall an easy prey to the first clever teacher of error who ties to influence their minds.”
The first step is that we must know what we believe and the way that we know that is by studying the Bible. The second step is that we must engage with the culture - Paul telling us not to partner with the culture is not a call to isolationism from the culture rather it is a call not to be caught up in their practices. We still must be engaged with them for two reasons. The first is to identify the silly ideas that are attacking the church and to tear them down - 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” The second is that salt in the salt shaker has no value to preserving or seasoning anything. If we are separated from the world then the good influence of the Gospel doesn’t happen.
Finally we are to courageously stand firm on our beliefs and not waiver when the battle comes to our front door. Regardless of the avenue from which it comes - whether from without or within - we embody what Paul also wrote to the church in Corinth - after all of the admonitions for tolerating sin and calling them out for divisiveness and bad behaviour - at the end of his first letter to them he leaves them with this 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 “Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love.” We need to be alert to the challenges that will seek to persuade us away from the belief that we hold and to persuade us away from our first love. We need to stand firm in the faith, be courageous and be strong - notice the link here to the words spoken to Joshua in Joshua 1:6
Joshua 1:6 CSB
“Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their ancestors to give them as an inheritance.
and in Joshua 1:9
Joshua 1:9 CSB
Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
but notice also and remember the command that precedes what is written in Joshua 1:9 - Joshua 1:8 “This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.”
Notice the contrast to our passage today - wrath abides on those who waiver and are misled by empty words but those who rest and reside on these words will prosper and succeed (not necessarily in this life, but certainly in the next) in whatever you do.”
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