Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth).
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Lent is a penitential season. The Sundays during Lent are not part of Lent itself, formally, but they echo the general emphasis of the season. In specific, they tend to preach holiness, or sanctification. Our Epistle today follows that trend. You can hear it from the very first words of the text, "Therefore be imitators of God." You can hardly call for greater sanctification than to ask someone to imitate God, who is absolutely and perfectly holy.
But this command to imitate God is both simpler and more complex and difficult than one might imagine at first glance. Paul is writing by inspiration, and the exhortation is not 'to be good to one another', but to conduct our lives in the bright light of the love of God - which means; first, the love God has demonstrated toward us, and secondly, in the love which we have in return for His great love to us. The walk, or the way we live our lives in that light, is what Paul refers to as "the fruit of the light". And so, we make that our theme, this morning, the fruit of the light.
The message of these verses begins with the Gospel. The first words are Law, because they instruct us as to how we are to be - we are to be imitators of God. But the explanation of what that Law statement means is found in the Gospel, and the motivation for doing what is commanded is to be found in the Gospel as well. In that sense, these words are not aimed at unbelievers. Unbelievers would have no way of relating to them or understanding them. In order to grasp their meaning, one must know and believe the love of God which He poured out on us in Jesus. "Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, and offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."
Jesus told His disciples, shortly before His crucifixion, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life in the place of his friends." He then demonstrated that love by laying down His life in place of ours, bearing our guilt and our sin to the cross, enduring the of the passion, and dying in our place so that we might have forgiveness, and eternal life, and salvation. The word of Paul for "sacrifice" originally meant the sort of sacrifice that one saw at the altar of Israel - the "slaughter sacrifice" which required the shedding of blood and the death of the lamb offered for the sacrifice. They then would burn some of the sacrifice on the altar, and Scripture speaks of the aroma of the sacrifice as pleasing to God, and as reminding God to forgive is people.
Jesus' death on the cross in our place was that "slaughter sacrifice". Unlike the lambs of old, Jesus was not burned, but He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to plead our cause before the Father, and ever stand before Him as the Reminder to forgive His people. It is in the sense of the reminder that the sacrifice has been made that Paul describes Christ as a fragrant aroma. But it is this great, self-sacrificing love which redeems us and makes us the beloved children of God which is to be reason for our love for God - "We love because He first loved us" - and is to move us to imitate God.
When Paul writes that we are to "walk in love," he is intending that we should walk in our love toward God. The foundation of our lives and how we live them is to be the marvelous and overwhelmingly large love of God toward us. We believe, and so we know and experience by faith the love of God, and it is that love, and that salvation, and that tremendous price paid to redeem us, that moves our hearts to shape our lives around our love for Him who gave Himself to rescue us from death and hell. Paul writes, "for you were formerly darkness," meaning you were without God and lost in sin and justly condemned to trouble and pain and death and hell, "but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light." That walk, that conduct, that way of being in this world for the sake of the love of God towards you, is what Paul refers to as "the fruit of the light".
Because we have been rescued and redeemed from sin and evil, and because God has not only saved us, but claimed us as His own and proclaimed to all of creation that we are His children, we imitate Him in love toward Him. That is why immorality and impurity and greed do not belong among us. If we live immorally, we witness to the world that God is immoral - which of course, The Greek word for "immorality", here, is "porneia". We get the word "pornography" from it. It means sexual immorality, and it includes adultery, and prostitution, and homosexuality, and the like. We cannot connect God to immorality - and He has been clear that love has no connection to such acts. Impurity is any sort of uncleanness. If we can call it "dirty" we know it has no place in our lives. Greed is either worship of something other than God as god, which is not possible for those who love our Savior, or it is doubt in the goodness of God and His will to provide for us, which is a species of unbelief - so greed is also not proper.
Paul tells us that such things "ought not even to be named" among us - by which he means to say that we should live our lives so that there is not even ground for suspicion of such things among us. Because we know and believe that God has loved us so deeply, we love Him by willingly giving ourselves to holiness and purity and humility, that our love and trust in Him might be clear - to Him and to those around us.
Paul illustrates for us what this walk in love is like. He says that "there must be no filthiness or silly talk or coarse jesting", saying that such things are "not fitting" to God's holy people. This means that the dirty story, the ribald joke, the suggestive double-entendre, are the world's things, but just do not belong among God's saints. It is not fitting, in the words of Paul. Neither is silly talk. The Greek translated there means "a quick return", which means a quick wit, the fast come-back, the sharp response, and in the context of the passage suggests salacious remarks, suggestive cracks, and low humor. That is certainly underlined by the inclusion of the term "coarse jesting." The glib 'Robin Williams' sort of humor that balances on the edge of decency and immorality is to be shunned by the ones God calls His "Holy Ones."
Admittedly, having grown up in the same culture as all of you, one has to wonder what there is to talk about, when you eliminate the unfitting and inappropriate stuff of our common conversation. The answer is right there in our text, "but rather giving of thanks." Our conversation is to be filled with confessing God's goodness to one another, and sharing in the giving of thanks for all His love and goodness to us. Of course, that means that His love is the center of our lives, not our fun, not our pleasures, not our jobs, not our families, not even our health or our feelings about anything. Our lives are to be built on God's love for us, and built with our love and thanksgiving to God.
Sounds impossible, doesn't it? I admit that when I hear myself preach these words, I am accused by my failure and my carnality - that means by how much this world and my pursuits in it take center stage in my life. I am not saying "you should be more like me," I am saying that we should be more like Christ. We should take God at His Word, and believe that issues of faith and of the Gospel are life-shaking and world-changing, and utterly significant to every single man or woman alive - whether they know it or not. What we cannot sense with our flesh, because it is dead to so much of the things of God, we can hear with our ears.
And God has purchased righteousness and life for us at the cost of His Son, in the coin of the agonies of the passion and of the cross. He has given us Christ's righteousness and filled us with His life everlasting. Nothing else in this world or in this life is worth losing sight of Christ and salvation! Yet that is what can happen if we allow the ways of the flesh to become how we walk in life. Paul argues for what he calls "walk(ing) in love" by reminding us of what we know - "that no immoral person, or impure person, or covetous person" - because covetousness is a form of idolatry - "has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ." "This you know with certainty." So Paul urges us not to permit anyone deceive us with empty words.
Empty words would be those words that tell you it is okay. Empty words are those that say that these things are too small to worry about. Empty words are those words that excuse that which God reveals to us as the cause of His wrath falling upon the "sons of disobedience." That means that God lets people here and now experience troubles and sorrows and pains because of these sorts or behaviors. Why are sexually transmitted diseases epidemic in America today? Why is AIDS such a widespread plague? Why does immorality spiral down to depravity, and depravity into self-destructive behaviors? The wrath of God comes upon those who refuse to know Him, but choose to live in open immorality and impurity.
Does that mean that your troubles come because of these things? No. Not necessarily, and not specifically. Remember, these troubles come upon the unbelievers, who still live in the service of the sinful flesh. This is not how God's children live, and so they do not suffer these troubles on this account. Your troubles come from the corruption of the world around you, and God's people often are called on to suffer, in order to show others the hope that is in them and the glory of God and the righteousness of faith - but the child of God never tastes the wrath of God, only His blessings and love.
And you are the children of God. "Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light." That walk produces what Paul calls "the fruit of the light", which is our sermon theme - and the topic about which I have been speaking this morning. "The fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth." You have the light, for that is the light of Christ. Paul says, "but now you are light in the Lord" So give thanks, and live your life from your love toward God who has loved you in Jesus Christ, and you will bear the fruit of the light.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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