Saint Paul tells us, “Be imitators of God, as dear children.” What better example to mimic than God? The life and obedience of the Son of God stand as signposts and landmarks upon which we orient ourselves. So Paul in the next breath says, “Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us.” There is the example.
A problem here is our tendency to imagine what love is and then attribute it to Christ. “Well Christ would never do such and such, because He is loving.” Or, “You’re supposed to love your neighbor, so do this thing that I imagine is loving.” If left to our own imaginations, we naturally come up with all kinds of human rules in place of the commandments of God. But the pages of holy Scripture set forth the pure Law of God, without the taint of human imagination.
Today we hear that fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness should not even be named among the saints. The more nit picky among us may respond, “Didn’t Paul just name these things? How can he say that it should not be named?” Of course, that is not really the intention. He is saying that these vices should not come up in conversation as problems found among us. In other words, it is okay to mention them as a warning so that we avoid these awful transgressions. No hint of them should be found among the saints of God.
What a great name that is! “Saints of God.” It sounds so grand, and perhaps arrogant, in our ears. But that is the influence of Roman Catholicism, which says that only the very best of the best, the cream of the crop, are saints, as opposed to us poor regular people.
But in Scripture, the word “saints” refers to the holy ones. We are the saints who are holy, not in our own works, but in the works of Christ. He lived, obeyed, died, and rose. So we are holy. This is a wondrous reminder from Paul, and good to repeat. Who could do enough to be counted holy in himself? None of us. Yet we are declared holy in Christ, and possess eternity and the promised inheritance, the new heaven and the new earth. Only someone who already holds these rewards in Christ can then set his hand to truly do good works. No thought of reward or earning. Who can earn more than what the holiness of Christ bestows?
Thus we imitate our Lord. We are grateful for His works and want to be like Him, our elder Brother. So we, set free from the shackles of sin and self-righteousness, freely do good works.
Paul sets before us here iniquities to avoid. Fornication and uncleanness are mentioned together to emphasize that all forms of sexual immorality are to be avoided, both obvious fornication, and also subtle lusts in the heart. We fight these because they are unfitting to us saints.
We do not always win. Who can stop a sinful thought? They are never quite extinguished in this life. Yet we fight on.
Shall I name the various sexual impurities in our culture? There is not a great need to go in depth. They are usually very obvious. Do not sleep with someone if they are not your spouse. Save sexuality for the marriage bed. Do not engage in homosexual activities or support them. Do not view pornographic materials. Do not harbor lust in you. So many things to entice, all the while our culture wants you to think that there is nothing wrong with these actions and thoughts.
Also do not say, “If I only think it and do not do it, then it is not a sin.” Christ disagrees. If you lust after a woman, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart. So do not be proud if you have not actually committed full-fledged adultery, yet think many unclean things.
On the other hand, if you are committing full-fledged adultery, STOP! Turn away from your sin and tear your heart in sorrow, and come find forgiveness. God is gracious, no matter how big the sin may seem. But if you go on living in sin, do not think that God will be merciful forever.
Covetousness also follows. Here the heart is again accused. Just by desiring what belongs to our neighbor, we commit sin. God showers many blessings on us to overwhelm us with His love. Yet our twisted hearts must desire more. Do not let coveting lead you to lure others to you from another relationship, in employment or marriage or anything. Be satisfied with the people and property our Lord gives. Trust Him since He knows what is enough.
Paul goes on to various sins of speaking: filthiness, foolish talking, crude joking. Of course, humor in itself is not bad, but is a gift from God to lighten the heart. Yet humor so easily leads to sinful, coarse language. God did not give sexuality to be used as a punch line in a dirty joke. Is there some innocent humor to be found in this area? Perhaps. But as saints we should not try to find how close we can get to the line where innocence turns to guilt. We should instead try to get further away from sinful talk.
These are also difficult areas. Who has not spoken foolishly at some time? What even IS foolishness and how do we avoid it? God dedicates several books of Scripture to teaching wisdom: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and some other bits of Psalms and others. Yet we so grudgingly absorb these concepts. On the other hand, some people think that they have swallowed all of wisdom whole, but there is no such person except the One.
So how to avoid foolish talk? Perhaps the best way is to avoid dangers. Do not walk along the edge of a cliff because you might fall down. In the same way, do not use language that you know leads to danger. That is foolish talk. So carefully train yourself to recognize when talk can quickly turn to sin. Particularly when your or someone else is talking about a person behind their back, the conversation will soon or has already turned to gossip. Be on guard in such moments and try to avoid letting your tongue wag out of control, since it is such an unruly and rebellious piece of flesh.
Paul also says that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. This should lead us to tremble with fear. Who has not coveted? Who has not, even if they avoided fornication, held unclean thoughts or words? Yet Paul does not mean that anyone who has ever done such things is going straight to hell. No, those who live in such lifestyles, who indulge and do not resist, are dangling over hellfire. Those who excuse or wink at sin are courting disaster.
DO NOT BE ONE OF THEM! Be filled with the fear of God so that if you slip into these habits of sin, you quickly turn away in repentance.
And if you see a brother or sister caught in a sin, go to them gently and help them get out. What better work could you do than helping a person avoid damnation? If they take offense at your words, do not let it cause you sorrow, if you can. Love demands no less than that you try, even if they will not listen.
But as for listening, guard your own ears against empty words, that is, false teaching. It is so seductive because the wolves may look so pretty and friendly. They may seem spiritual, and indeed they may follow most of Scripture. Yet there is some leaven that slips in with their teaching, and a little leaven can be devastating. In other words, do not think that 95% correct is enough in matters of doctrine. Accept only 100%! Any less and you risk deadly harm. This may mean investigating the confession of someone whom you hear. It may mean diligence and caution that appears unseemly to our lazy, indiscriminate world. Ignore them, and you be careful.
For you are light, who once were darkness. Not just “in the light” or “illuminated by the light.” You are light in the Lord. You are filled with Christ who is the Light of the world. You contain Him. Light spills out of you to others, whether in good works you do or in the Word on your lips which is a lamp unto our feet. The light in you can shine on others to bring them into the light.
As people who are light, live like light. That means following the Spirit, who guides us in goodness, righteousness, and truth. This takes work to know what really is good and righteous and true. It is not easy to know. Following feelings is not truth. Following my own human rules is not the righteousness of the light.
Be light, both in the faith you have received and in your walk. Your faith grows as you receive the light in this place. You receive more and more of Him who is the Light. Your feet are trained to follow the right path so that your actions are light.
If you are discouraged because you feel like you are living in darkness, well, that is accurate too. Your old heart is still full of dark thoughts and words and actions. When discouraged, come back to the light. During Lent, I especially encourage you to come to private confession. Admit to God, through me His tiny servant, that you have done and spoken and thought darkness. Then He will shine into your ear, again through the unworthy slave which is me. He shines His Son in His bright, shining absolution. He forgives the darkness by overwhelming it with His Light.
The Spirit guide us to live in the light, and avoid the darkness. Amen.
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