Exhortation - April 07



Readings: Ephesians cbs. 5 and 6

It could be said that, when we come to remember the death of our Lord, we celebrate the forgiveness which God has offered us through him; and as we forge a link between Ephesians 4 and the chapters read today we are introduced to this characteristic, which we are bidden to adopt as being like our heavenly Father. In the 32nd verse of that chapter Paul says: “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Surely he is saying to us, ‘Be as ready to forgive an injury as God for Christ’s sake forgives us.’
Let us then acknowledge our faults one to another and repent of them. If we do this, if we diligently follow this Divine counsel, it will directly secure peace in our own hearts, harmony will prevail in every family, and there will be wellbeing and unity in our ecclesia. And of course God never commands what He has not seen to have the most pointed value for us in our present state, as well as for our future good. He does not merely tell us to forgive, He commands us to do so, and He makes our expectation of mercy exactly conditional on our own hearty imitation of His merciful kindness.
Why, then, do we not glory in His commandments, and even rejoice in His prohibitions, when He bids us put away all bitterness and wrath and anger, with all malice? Why indeed? The flesh is still with us, alas, and we have to concentrate with diligence to apply ourselves to this work of our lives in which we are seeking to subdue ourselves to the glory of God. Surely God seeks in us a holy community. He requires it. It must be separated unto Him or it cannot become His habitation.
This properly demands from each of us a life of dedication and separation to His will, under the necessary influence of His promised grace and help. Look at Ephesians 4.13: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (or mature) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Fully developing our potential, varying in each one of us, but capable of improvement up to that point by this necessary and promised grace to help in time of need. Now the standard set here in this sublimely beautiful letter would stagger us as men of flesh, were it not that He is able to make all grace abound toward us. It is His will, then, that we are well-instructed in His Word, that we become wise and enlightened in our understanding as to what His will is. To remain undeveloped in this knowledge of Him places us at the mercy of the scheming and subtle innovator lying in wait to deceive us, for false disciples still arise in our midst. Such who are neglecting their Divine education are likely to be “tossed about with every wind of doctrine.” There is safety only in the sound scriptural learning that we have to hand in the Holy Volume.
Let us all turn every means of acquiring this to the best possible account. We must never forget that God has secreted His wisdom in a great volume of incomparable literature. He bids us read and re-read it with fervent and loving desire. We see the need to study it with reverence and affection. God says. Do this and become truly wise, and it will endow you with salvation. Now surely this is an honours degree indeed. To labour together in this, edifying one another and thence the whole body to the honour of the Head, is the highest possible achievement. It will give glory to God in the highest, and produce even now goodwill among us all.
So we are introduced in this exceptionally beautiful and rich epistle to the first verse of the next chapter, appropriately reading as follows:
“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.” In this simple phrase God expresses His tender regard for us. We see here the hidden requirement. It is so subtle that we can miss it. The original indicates that we are really to ‘personate’ God, to be like Him. This is the simple quality so hard to attain because of the guile of the flesh, this quality of God-likeness, or godliness. It is simply—in another word—a case of imitating God, and His dear Son who has done that precisely. So then we are exhorted by the inspired Paul to develop our mind like unto God’s.
He then says: “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us,and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” Our sacrifices, what are they? Our willing offerings of time, of resources, of anything we might have to call our own. These will he the only means, so we shall see, in which we can express our gratitude to God for His unspeakable bounty to usward. We know that we cannot acceptably approach Him in worship without bringing a personal sacrifice, something done in the love of Christ.
Our offerings in His service in a way operate on two inter-locking levels. There is that timely, practical ‘cup of cold water’ to one in need; but it can also be a drink of living water, the water of life from this well of great depth, that refreshing of the soul that we can administer to the thirsty, or even the perishing. They both work together and they are both really most practical. Let us not look at one as mere theory and the other as practical. Let them both operate together. Let our lives oscillate gently between these two poles. Life hangs here.
God has expressed Himself as well pleased with such worship. He has expressed approval and pleasure with offerings which are, after all, of His own appointment. He wants us to live like this, to think like this, to behave like this.
Well now, after the things to be done come the things that we must not do. Verse 3: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient:
but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. & not ye therefore partakers with them.”
Covetousness—that love of wealth, linked as it is in days like this with all the degradation that afflicts this generation like a consuming plague. It must not enter our community. There must be no uncleanness here in word or deed, no scurrilous talk, no ridicule that holds up another to contempt, no chaste words tuned to convey base or offensive meanings. Paul says in a rather artless phrase: “They are not convenient.” We might paraphrase: They are utterly improper, and ill become the tongue of any who profess also to magnify God.
We live in an age of modem communications which seek to persuade us that every vice is now innocent, or at worst the unavoidable frailty of human nature. But God says “No”, and will soon say “Enough of this.” We realise therefore, from what we have read in the 6th verse, that it is for these things that the burning anger of God will fall heavily upon the children of disobedience. Our fellowship, our partaking, is with the things of purity and the love of Christ. It is not with them. We cannot partake of their affairs.
We might remind ourselves that this letter was sent to a city of renown which honoured the prostitute goddess Venus, who has in turn given her name to those diseases which scourge the promiscuous society. Look at that city with its philosophers and lawyers, its noble men and haughty women, as they stride before us as we cast back in reflection to a proud city decked and adorned with great buildings of classic proportions and of great human beauty. But these men, these respectable people, upheld this abominable system. The same corruption is with us today. The same evil things seek to break down our doors and by the inventions of man can now steal through locked doors and closed windows and inject the unfruitful works of darkness, which will dance their attendance at our fireside. How? By the flick of a switch, if we will allow it. When the things of shame become the base currency of entertainment we are nearing world’s end, and the children of disobedience will not be there to behold the smouldering desolation that God will make to ectinguish this abomination and impurity.
Now we come to verse 11. After having said “proving what is acceptable unto the Lord,” the apostle continues: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” That means what it says. We understand that word ‘fellowship’ very well in our community. It is a healthy thing that we do. So we know what it means in this context. We are therefore “rather to reprove them.”
Look at the next verses: “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” This book is the illuminator. This starches out what is right and what is wrong. This tells us what God abominates and what He approves. We see it to be what we know it to be—our only trusty guide as we move forward in a dark place, waiting for the Day-star to anse.
Now, then, we are asked, we are exhorted, verse 14, we are called with a clarion to “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” What averse! What a ray of sunshine on a misty, gloomy morning. We have light in our dwellings whilst we have such wonderful living things to think upon. These are the things by which we steer our course, these are the stars that guide us. These bright points, illuminated, shining forth from the page, become beacons. They guide our careful conduct. Look at verse 15: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
When we live according to this pattern and high standard we exemplify the principles that we say we believe in. Let us match the profession of our faith in Christ’s teaching with corresponding conduct, or our adversaries may say to us ‘Your doctrines are good and holy, but not your lives.’
Now this phrase in verse 16, “redeeming the time,” is very profitable for a moment’s reflection. It is buying it up, in effect making up for lost time. This is a paradox in a way, but our eternity depends upon present, fleeting time. Time is for us opportunity written large into all our ways and days. If we are not fools but wise we seize it, we buy it all up, we deal in it, it is our proper currency. We see it as flying, so we snatch every moment of it, improving by it and in it steadily. What are we doing? We are using these fleeting days preparing for the Kingdom of God. That’s all. But what does that mean? Just this, that we have to spend this time and use this moment of opportunity in times which are dangerous in themselves, days of subtle temptation, not only to the old but particularly to the young. Only the vigilant and diligent have any reasonable hope of keeping their garments unspotted in these conditions.
Our middle portion lays out the duty of the watchman to warn. It also shows perfectly the willingness of God to accept the penitent man or woman who wishes to amend their ways. That’s what we are here for, for who does not want to do better in this coming week than what we did last week? We can never rest satisfied.
So, then, verse 21 says: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Not in the fear of man, you notice, but “in the fear of God.” This is surely a most timely injunction for today. How, in view of this simple verse, “submitting yourselves one to another,” how then shall we insist on our own selfish indulgences, condemning ourselves, maybe, in what we allow? Can we everaffordto say “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for the answerfrom the Book is “Yes, we are,” and therefore we consider him in the liberty of conscience which we are privileged to have. On all matters where doctrine and practice are not involved we are here told to give way to each other, and let peace prevail and let love rule in our midst. This is to promote our brother’s welfare, with a tender regard for his sensitive conscience. He may be offended in what we permit ourselves. We are accountable for him.
Now look at the closing words of the chapter. Is this timely? “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.”
Well, this teaching is being challenged again today in a manner not seen or as widespread in any other previous period of history. This foundation teaching, which comes to us early in the Scriptures, in Genesis 2, was first challenged in modern days by the suffragettes. This teaching of God which we have read carefully together is now reversed by the pathetic and ludicrous antics of Women’s Liberation. Whether they know it or like it, God has established the Divine pattern of the marriage union in Genesis, and the breakdown of marriage in our own day has been coeval with this clamour for women’s rights.
Laws and Acts of Parliament to make new laws are the order of the day, and the folly of it will be more manifest in what remains to us of our period in the world. From this passage in Ephesians alone no brother will be on his part overbearing or dictatorial. The whole delicate balance of marriage in Christ depends on mutual acceptance of these Divine arrangements. We .‘ould like to stress that again. It is the willing, mutual acceptance of this Divine command upon which the balance of marriage depends.
These Divine ideas, which are given to us constantly through the Word, are the basis of happy, successful marriage, which in its turn brings each partner with help and comfort to the Kingdom. But if each should keep telling the other of the lapses of their respective roles, in the mistaken hope of promoting this perfect and desirable relationship, it will become counter-productive. This is a shy flower. It will only bloom when the rights of the cases are not demanded. Only when these graces are accepted and freely given and freely received, and the forgiveness with which we began the exhortation administered, equally with sensitivity and understanding, only then will this marriage flower in the fear of God.
Well now, we have travelled a varied road here. We have been led by the apostle through very many real, pressing, practical problems. Our success in all these things really depends upon an expression in chapter 6,10. This high standard would oppress us and deter us were it not for words like these: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” What, then, is that? This is the comfort with which we shall close our exhortation, because this letter embodies and enshrines the beautiful prayer of chapter 3,16, which we believe Paul is echoing in the verse we have just read from chapter 6.
Let us examine, then, in a little more detail this prayer of the apostle in chapter 3,16. We are talking about the need of the power and might of God to make us strong, to enable us to conquer. We are speaking of the everlasting arms which bear up those in trouble, which comfort the afflicted, which bring hope to the sorely tried heart. So Paul has said in this verse: “...that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.”
You notice that words pile on words. They are sublime, They are Divine. Here is the way to God’s help. Each word is grace from heaven. Each word drops as the gentle dew. We need to catch the living force and the spirit of this prayer. The spiritual energy for the conflict is before us here. It is available. The inward man is nourished by Divine influences. The bread from heaven has been sent to sustain us. He is our wisdom, he is our peace, he is our necessary righteousness.
Look at verse 17: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Verses so charged with the Divine energy as almost to defy translation. The depths as well as the heights are here reached. Language itself bends under the weight of Divine thought expressed. If this prayer is inspired—and it is—then every petition is a divine promise upon which we hang, the promise which inspired Paul to pray to God for this power and might to strengthen him and sustain him. This great God, our Father, to whom Paul made the prayer, is that same Deity who intends to bestow just what He has promised.
Verse 20. We read in the 18th verse, that we have got to be able to grasp it, to comprehend it. We can all do this. Now that word “able” is echoed again, and it comes now on the other side in this verse: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Can you get beyond that? Can you reach any higher than that? No need to strain for it. Let us relax. Let us in faith collect our thoughts and settle ourselves with the consolations of Christ, because He has promised that this power worketh in us. This is that which will guide us to the Kingdom. Without it, all could be desolation and ruin for us; but with it, all is success, provided we are able to comprehend what it is that God has promised.
No wonder, then, that Paul suitably ends this beautiful passage:
“Unto him be glory in the ecclesia by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” So let it be, my dear brethren and sisters:—H. Crawley

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