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"New Year, New Life: Making the Most of the Time"

Dec.30/18 - Eph.5:3-20

"WHAT TIME IS IT?" / "WHO'S ASKING?" [BEING BEGETS BEHAVIOUR]

Once again we find ourselves on the threshold of another year. 2018 is exhausted, spent; 2019 is almost upon us, untapped. What will we do with this new year? How can we make better use of it than we did with the 12 months now gone that were previously entrusted to our stewardship? Our resolutions will arise from our unspoken hankerings: and those hankerings are generated by our unseen spiritual reality. So the prior question to “What time is it?” or “How shall we best use these coming months?” is, “Who’s asking? What’s your innermost being truly seeking?”

               Sometimes other people’s resolutions can bring a smile to our face as we recognize a little bit of ourselves and our foibles in them – we can relate. For example: MK Dunn tweeted, “My new year’s resolution is to be more assertive if that’s OK with you guys?” Christie posted: “Just burnt 2000 calories... That’s the last time I leave brownies in the oven while I nap.” Jake’s New Year’s resolution was: “Make a handful of people believe I’m normal before blindsiding them with my actual personality.” Finally, RainnWilson tweeted: “My New Year’s Resolution is to spend less time interacting with people & more time with my phone. Doing pretty well so far...” (Do we see ourselves reflected in any of those aspirations?!)

               As we pick up again Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find him heading into the “application” section – how we as Christians ought to translate our new life as believers into behaviour. The first part of chapter 5 deals with general morality and attitudes; the last part, how we handle power in various types of relationships. But much of his exhortation builds on what was established back in chapters 2, 3, and 4. Before we get into specifics, let’s note how BEING BEGETS BEHAVIOUR. Our choices and decisions will spring out of our very nature, who we are at our core.

               Eph 5:8 “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light...” You WERE – but now you ARE: there’s been a radical change, a shift in their very essence. There’s been a re-birth at our core. This parallels what he detailed back in 2:1-6: “As for you, YOU WERE DEAD in your transgressions and sins, in which YOU USED TO LIVE when you followed the ways of this world...All of us also lived among them AT ONE TIME, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.Like the rest, WE WERE by nature objects of wrath.But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST even WHEN WE WERE DEAD in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved.And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...”

               Do you see the distinction the apostle is making between THEN and NOW? 2018 is transitioning into 2019: much MORE dramatic is the new birth for a person only God can make possible, when we come to the end of ourselves and put our trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Only God can make us truly alive and free us from the trap of our sinful nature.

             “You WERE once darkness” - “We WERE by nature objects of wrath” - doing things “shameful even to mention” (v12). Eph 5:6 points out, “...because of such things God’s WRATH comes on those who are disobedient.” Our sinful rebellion alienated us from our Creator, to Whom legitimately was owed our honour and our obedience. But we chose to go our own way, do our own thing. We were lumped in with those Paul spoke of in Romans 1:18 and Colossians 3:6, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness...” “Because of these [Col 3:5 - sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed], the wrath of God is coming.”

             But in God’s great mercy He forgave of their sin those who look to Christ, and caused us to be ‘born from above’ by the Holy Spirit, given the right to become children of God (John 1:12). Thus Paul can emphatically say (5:8), “But NOW you ARE light in the Lord – LIVE AS children of light...” BEING BEGETS BEHAVIOUR.

             I understand at the Christmas Eve service something transpired involving Pastor Phil’s dog Chevy being bedecked with a set of reindeer antlers. But that did not inherently change Chevy’s nature: he did not suddenly begin looking for moss to eat or other reindeer to have a family with! The external decoration had no effect on his internal nature. God’s change for a Christian, by contrast, is quite different: we are given a new nature, Christ comes to live right inside us.

             Eph 5:1 enjoins us to “be imitators of God...as dearly loved CHILDREN” – offspring. Back in 3:16f,19 Paul prayed, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That’s dramatically different! So of course our purposes and priorities are going to shift markedly as a result.

MILKING THE MONTHS: GOD’S PLEASURE OR OURS?

The older we get, the more quickly the years seem to flit by – they’re gone before you know it! I keep saying I want to live to the age of 120, like Moses (Deut 34:7). He sang in Psalm 90:10, “The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” How can we get the most out of the limited time on earth we have? Bruce Wilkinson is quite correct in that, for the Christian, this life is but the dot at the start of a line that goes on forever – but how can we make the most of these weeks and months and years that seem to slip by so quickly?

             The Apostle Paul uses a most intriguing phrase in Eph 5:15f, “Be very careful, then, how you live— not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” NRSV “Making the most of the time...” The root verb in the Greek has the same construction as the word for “marketplace” – in other words, doing business, “redeem, buy up for one’s use, make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good”. There’s a similar idea in Col 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” How do we “take every moment to the bank?” / “Milk it for all it’s worth?” Paul says to ‘be very careful...how you live’ – implying that this requires wise strategy.

               Time is a limited resource. Each day is a gift. One day we will stop breathing and, after, render an account to the Lord for how we used the time He gave us. Romans 2:6,16 “God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’...This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ...” How we utilize this precious limited resource will depend on our PRIORITIES, and our PRIORITIES (or values) arise from our PURPOSE. Your goals determine your day-to-day objectives. If your goal is to make a million before you’re forty, that’s going to determine what you do with your time, how you go about your days.

               Now, is our purpose going to be EARTHLY or HEAVENLY? What’s Paul’s very next line? 5:17 “Therefore do not be foolish, but UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD’S WILL IS.” Whose will? God’s will! Back up to vv8B-10, “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and FIND OUT WHAT PLEASES THE LORD.” So with each new day, week, month, year, we approach the Lord and ask, “Jesus, what would YOU have me focus on? What’s Your Kingdom purpose for this brief unit of time? Show me what pleases You – what’s good and right and true.My life is in Your hands, I want to seek Your Kingdom and Your righteousness most of all.”

               This contrasts markedly with the purposes and priorities of those who aren’t saved. Eph 2:3 describes the goals of those who worship self and leave God out of the equation: 2:3 “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying THE CRAVINGS OF OUR SINFUL NATURE and following ITS DESIRES AND THOUGHTS.Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

               Enthroning Jesus as Lord in our life is going to make a radical difference in the New Year’s resolutions we come up with. Are we living to please God, or to please ourselves? To fulfill His Kingdom purposes, or gratify our own selfish cravings?

               We praise God the visas have come through for the group going on a short-term mission to Papua New Guinea. These folks have allocated a specific block of time to serve the Lord by helping with mission work in a remote location at considerable cost. That’s very commendable. What about the rest of us? Understanding what God’s will is doesn’t mean we necessarily have to go to a foreign mission field. There’s also a mission field right here in Huron County, at your workplace, in your neighbourhood. But can you attack this year’s opportunities with at least as much zeal as this group going to PNG is showing? To whom is Jesus sending YOU as His ambassador? 2Cor 5:11,19f “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men...God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” Who ya gonna tell? Who’s the Lord putting on your heart that doesn’t know Him? How ya gonna pray for them, and set it up? If you’re willing, and seeking an opportunity, God is quite capable of opening the door.

GRATITUDE DISPLACES GREED AND GRUNGE

We’ve seen so far that BEING BEGETS BEHAVIOUR: our new nature as God’s children through faith in Jesus changes our purpose in living. We’ve seen also that God wants us to MILK THE MONTHS for His purposes, to make the most of the opportunities that come our way. Finally – and here we get down to the nitty gritty of the choices we make each day – Paul wants us to understand that it’s the intimacy of our relationship with the Lord, evidenced in ongoing THANKFULNESS, that helps us escape the traps and temptations that would drag us back into defeat and enemy territory. GRATITUDE (conscious of GRACE) displaces GREED and GRUNGE.

             Eph 5:18A “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” NRSV (more literally) “Do not get drunk with wine, for THAT IS debauchery.” What’s ‘debauchery’? (not a word you hear every day! “Pardon me, are you looking a little DEBAUCHED this morning?” [!]) Debauchery means to be dissolute, to exhibit prodigality – wastefulness. In fact those who love to drink might say, “Let’s get WASTED!” And if the pleasures of this life constitute the ceiling of your worldview – why not? And so you end up with some people living from weekend to weekend – that seems to be the highlight of their existence, their reason for being. But Scripture warns, Prov 23:21 “for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” Probably not a direction you’d want your New Year’s resolution to take you!

             So, how’s the apostle suggest we counteract the temptation to yield to overindulgence in substances? How do we offset that physical hankering to slake our thirst, float away on a bigger buzz? 5:18B-20 “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. INSTEAD, BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT.Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always GIVING THANKS to God the Father FOR EVERYTHING, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here he’s describing a moment-by-moment conscious walk with our Heavenly Father, letting His Spirit fill us, saturate us, plug those holes in the dike of our leaky sense of self-worth so we know we’re loved by Him and precious to Him every moment of the day. And experience friendship and caring fellowship in a loving church family, our brothers and sisters in faith. We don’t need to depend on alcohol or substances of any kind to experience inner satisfaction. His GRACE feeds our GRATITUDE.

             Hear how that grace transformed Paul’s own life, after having persecuted the church, witnessed approvingly Stephen’s martyrdom, and thrown believers in jail: Eph 3:7f “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s GRACE given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this GRACE was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST...”

             God’s grace toward us acts like a huge reservoir, an overflowing SURPLUS of goodness in our lives that frees us from having to seek meaning and satisfaction in lesser sources that always end up getting depleted, leaving us desperate for a higher ‘high’.

               Substances like alcohol are one thing people run to in order to try to slake that inner thirst, an anesthetic of sorts for life’s disappointments and pains. There are other false gods that promise salvation but don’t deliver. Back up to vv3-5: “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 man is an idolater— has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

               Sexual immorality and impurity and obscenity are just not fitting for God’s holy offspring. Adultery can wreck you; Proverbs 6:26 [KJV] warns, “For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread...” Strike THAT off your resolutions list! Instead, people should be seeing and hearing THANKSGIVING coming from us, our contentment at having Jesus inside.

               There are ‘coarse’ sins and ‘refined’ sins – drunkenness and coarse joking would fit in the former, more obvious category; but Paul also mentions a sin that is less obvious, can seem more refined and be concealed, that is, greed. Our capitalist economy (and some prosperity-gospel preachers) even seem to applaud and celebrate greed. But Paul lumps it in with sexual immorality and impurity all the same, categorizing them ALL as “idolatry”. See likewise Col 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and GREED, WHICH IS IDOLATRY.”

               Isn’t it a bit strong to equate greed with idol-worship? Jesus warned in Mt 6:24, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Lk 12:15,34 “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions...For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” God loves us and wants us to love Him in return, for Him to be our treasure – not any competitor, regardless how shiny.

               People’s New Testament commentary notes on Eph 5:5, “The covetous man gives his heart to the object of his greed rather than to God, and hence is virtually an idolater.” In terms of the way of Jesus, “I am learning to love God and to love others” – so don’t let love for money mess up either of those relationships.

GRATITUDE GIVES BACK

Every morning on her way to work in downtown Chicago, Pam would see a heavyset, middle-aged woman in a shabby coat soliciting spare change in front of an old brick church. The lady always greeted people with a smile and a pleasant "Good morning." Each day, as she passed her, Pam would put some money in her bag. This went on for about a year. And then, she was gone. Pam didn't see her for several weeks. She wondered what had happened and hoped that she was alright.

               Then, she was back again, standing in front of the old brick church. As Pam approached her, she reached into her purse for the usual donation, but the woman stopped her. She said, "Thank you for helping me all those days.I just want you to know that you won't see me again.I've got a job, I came here today to say 'Thank you' to everyone who had helped me along the way." She then reached into her bag. She had been standing at her old spot waiting, not for a handout, but for the people she recognized so that she could give each of them a doughnut!

             That’s a bit like how it is between us and God. He has graced us with the gift of salvation, forgiveness through His Son, indwelling us by His Spirit, our eternal Companion and Counselor. We have so much to say “Thank You” for! This coming year is a fresh gift from Him, pregnant with opportunities to live as His dear child and make the most of the moments we can be His ambassadors to others who need to hear this Good News. Let’s pray.