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—EPHESIANS 5:6-21.—JUNE 28.—
AS implied by the selection of the Golden Text, the International Sunday-School Study styles this a Temperance Lesson. We shall not, however, treat it particularly from that standpoint, as we do not consider that such was the apostolic thought, except in the sense that temperance and abstinence from evil in any form are the inculcations of holy Scripture for all who have named the name of Christ. Thus the Golden Text properly sets before us that there is one spirit of the world and another spirit of the Lord; one a spirit of error, the other the spirit of truth. We are no longer to walk in darkness as others—in sin, in rioting, in drunkenness, in debauchery of various kinds; the Christian course is the very reverse of this, for he has turned his back on all these experiences and is walking in the light of the lamp, toward the things that are perfect, toward the things set before him in the divine Word and plan. Instead of needing alcoholic spirits for his refreshment he has the Spirit of the Lord, the holy Spirit, which exhilarates; it overcomes the spirit of gloom and fear, it does for him much more than alcoholic spirits could do for the natural man in the way of blotting out unpleasant memories and bringing in happiness.
The Epistle to the Ephesians is one of the grandest books of the Bible. Deeply spiritual it appeals thoroughly only to the consecrated. Its central thought is the New Creation; that the justified by a consecration of their justified humanity, when accepted of the Lord, are begotten of the holy Spirit to be New Creatures in Christ. For such, old things have passed away—earthly hopes, earthly aims and ambitions; their earthly rights have been surrendered, and instead of them, heavenly prospects have been received by faith and are waited for, with the expectation that they will be received in the First Resurrection. The first part of the book of Ephesians relates to the theory, the philosophy of the change from human to spiritual, from humanity to membership in the New Creation; the last chapters of the book point out to us the effect of this change, not only upon the sentiments of the New Creature, the new will, but also the effect of the change upon the mortal body, which the new mind is supposed thereafter to hold in check, to govern, to control with more and more decision and ability as it grows stronger in the Lord and in the power of his might. The New Creature is to keep the old creature, the body, under; to keep it dead, buried. Our lesson relates particularly to this phase of the subject—the New Creature's battle and victory and its preservation, which is dependent upon the maintenance of its rule over the flesh.
The opening words of our lesson (v. 6), "Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience," should not be understood to signify that God's wrath comes because of vain words. The things which bring the wrath are mentioned in the preceding verses (3-5), fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, ribaldry; for, as the Apostle explains, those in whom these characteristics are dominant, or those in whom the characteristics are sympathized with, can have no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words on this subject, telling you that such things are natural, proper, excusable. They have indeed become second nature to many of the fallen race, but if any who have become New Creatures in Christ love the unclean things, sympathize with them, desire them, or jest about them, they are far from the condition which is becoming to saints. Such a mental attitude on their part would imply that they had either never been begotten of the Spirit of holiness or else they were returning again like a sow that was washed to wallow in the mire. These things are characteristic of the children of disobedience, but not characteristic of the children of obedience. The Apostle says elsewhere, Such were ye; but now ye are washed, but ye are justified, but ye are sanctified through the Lord Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 6:11.) In our lesson he exhorts, "Be ye not, therefore, partakers with them," with the children of disobedience; for ye were once in darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.
He proceeds to show how the children of light should walk, saying, The fruit of the Spirit, wherever it is found, is goodness and righteousness and truth—therefore, the holy Spirit never prompts to badness, unrighteousness, untruthfulness. And whoever has [R4189 : page 183] received the holy Spirit, whoever has been begotten of the Lord as his child, will want to prove, to demonstrate, to ascertain thoroughly what is acceptable unto the Lord; what the Lord will be pleased with, not merely what would not merit severe punishment from the Lord, not merely what the Lord would wink at and not take serious offence from, but far beyond all this! Whoever properly has the spirit of a son must desire to know the Father's will and delight to do it, and that will is in all purity, goodness, righteousness, truth, honesty. The influence of this determination of the New Creature to please God, to do his will, will signify that his life, that his heart and so far as possible every act and word of his will be in accord with goodness, in accord with the principles of righteousness which God represents—in accord with truth.
We are responsible not only for what we ourselves may do and think as New Creatures, but our responsibility goes out beyond ourselves to the brethren, to all who in any sense of the word come under our influence. Obscene jesting certainly is to receive no encouragement, to provoke no laughter, but rather to call forth a gentle, loving rebuke. Brother, Sister, let us set our affections on things above—let us walk in the light, let us think of and discuss whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good repute. Let us put away from our conversation and from our thoughts everything that would be defiling and ensnaring to ourselves or to others. Failure to reprove is a measurable endorsement of the wrong. A word in season—how good it is, how helpful! But it is equally important that the word of reproof be wisely and lovingly given, otherwise it may do harm where we intended good; as the Scriptures say, "Speak the truth in love."
"It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret"—that are done in the dark. The Apostle's intimation is that the whole world lieth in darkness, and in the wicked one and in sin, and that the Lord's people of the New Creation have accepted his leadership in the opposite direction; that they are children of the light and should walk accordingly in the light, and that they should lift up the light of truth; that they should allow the holy Spirit to shine forth for the reproving of the world, for the reproving of darkness, and for the setting up of a standard of righteousness in harmony with the Lord's example.
The Apostle here reminds us of the prophetic statement, "Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." This should be our attitude toward all who are still unregenerated. The world lieth in the wicked one, in sin, in darkness. Instead of having fellowship with them in the works of darkness, instead of sharing in their foul jesting, we are rather to reprove them and to direct them according to the above Scripture, to awake from their stupor, from their sleep, to recognize conditions from their true standpoint, and that, getting awake, they should realize that they are sinners; that the wage of sin is death, and that the tendency of sin is downward—and that they should rise from the dead, should separate themselves from the world, not only so far as their conduct [R4189 : page 184] is concerned, but so far as their conversation and their sympathies are concerned, that all these should be turned toward the Lord, toward the truth, toward the light. It is to those who thus separate themselves from the world and its spirit that the Lord has promised to give light, a little and a little more and a little more, for the path of the justified, the path of those following in the footsteps of Jesus, will shine more and more until the perfect day.
The Christian's walk of course means his course of conduct, including thoughts and words and acts. The Apostle indicates very clearly what this work or course of the Christian should be, outlining it in seven different ways.
(1) The New Creature should walk not according to the course of this world, not according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience. (Eph. 2:3.) This is the walk of the world, the walk of evil-doers, the walk of the children of wrath; it is the very opposite of the walk of the children of the light.
(2) The New Creation should walk in good works—"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them."—Eph. 2:10.
(3) The New Creation should "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called." (Eph. 4:1.) Their vocation is the very highest of all; they are the representatives of the Lord and Master; they bear his name, and should seek in everything to glorify it and never to dishonor it. What we do, what we say, what we think—in fact, even general appearance and deportment, and where we are seen, all reflect more or less upon the great King, whose ambassadors we are. Our vocation is that of servants of God, and no earthly avocation should be permitted in any degree to hinder or abridge the influence or the service which we have undertaken as children of God, as joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord, prospective members of his Bride class, his Kingdom class.
(4) The New Creation are to "walk not as other Gentiles walk." (Eph. 4:17.) We are not merely to refrain from the sins and gross immoralities of the natural man, but we are to allow this principle or spirit to pervade all of life's interests. We are to refrain from following foolish, worldly fashions, from being influenced by a worldly spirit; we are to have the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of a sound mind to direct us in our joys, in our sorrows, in our wedding celebrations, in our funeral services—in fact, whatsoever we do we are to do to the glory of God and are not to be influenced by the spirit of the world, but contrariwise are to set a proper example for the world in all matters—in gentleness, kindness, patience, faithfulness to the Lord and to duty. The walk of the world is on the broad road; the walk of the Church is on the narrow path. As we progress in Christian experience, we find this path getting farther and farther away from the broad road which the world is traveling, and whoever tries to keep pace with the world will in many respects be apt to find himself leaving the narrow path or otherwise disadvantaging himself as a New Creature.
(5) The New Creation is to "walk in love." (Eph. 5:2.) Their words, their deeds, everything with which they are connected, is to be governed by this law of the New Creation—love. "Love is the fulfilling of the Law." "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." In compliance with this law of love and our Lord's glorious example, the Apostle says we ought to so love one another as to be willing to lay down our lives for the brethren. We should be ready to lay down a few months, a few years; we should be ready at any time we can find an opportunity of service for a brother, especially along the lines of his spiritual or higher interests as a New Creature. This spirit of love is to control our conduct with all; we are to love our neighbors and seek to do them good, to serve their interests. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor," would not take advantage of his neighbor to cheat him, to injure him in any manner. Love would not prompt its possessor to speak evil of his neighbor, but would lead to a remembrance of the Scriptural injunction, "Speak evil of no man." Love would do this from principle, because it is right; but more than this, Love ultimately takes such an interest that the brother exercising it does not wish to do anything that would be harmful to another's interests, to his welfare, but rather to do something to his honor and blessing. Love, progressing as we walk in it, ultimately brings us to that blessed condition where we can love our enemies and be glad of the privilege of doing good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us.
(6) The New Creation are also instructed to walk as children of light; their course in life is always to be with respect to the things that are just, pure, loving, noble, kind, the things that are in harmony with the divine character and Word, the things that prove to be of greatest blessing to neighbors and to friends. As children of the light every day and year will see progress; their light will be shining more and more clearly and accomplishing the greatest good; they will not be ashamed of it, but will set it on a candlestick, where it may give light to all in the house, to every member of the household of faith. "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven."—Matt. 5:16.
(7) The New Creation should "walk circumspectly." (Eph. 5:15.) This word circumspectly signifies to look carefully all around at every step. The Christian cannot be a careless liver, and as he looks around him and realizes the various pitfalls and snares, not only will he seek to make straight paths for his feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but additionally he will seek divine aid and counsel and guidance that he make no mistakes, that every step in life's pathway will be such as will have divine approval and glorify God in his body and spirit which are God's. This circumspection of our walk as New Creatures is the more necessary because our Adversary, the devil, is specially on the alert to ensnare us; and our tests are permitted to be the severer as we come nearer the goal of character. We should walk circumspectly also because we profess to be of the New Creation, begotten of the holy Spirit and not of the world, but separate from it; and because our lights so shining more or less reprove the world. Therefore the world, instead of sympathizing with us, hate us, and watch either to see what fault can be found with our walk, or to stumble and trip us, [R4190 : page 185] sometimes from malicious impulse and sometimes from sympathetic reasons; as the Apostle Peter, when speaking to our Lord, said, Far be it from thee, Lord, to thus sacrifice thyself and die. To walk circumspectly is to take note of these various hindrances and stumbling stones and pitfalls; to hearken to the instructions of the Lord's Word and to the leadings of the holy Spirit; and thus to walk carefully; and in so doing to develop the characters which are most pleasing to our Lord and Head. The Apostle says this circumspection is necessary in order to our walking "not as unwise but as wise." There is a wisdom of the world which is foolishness with God, and there is a wisdom with God which is foolishness to the world. The wisdom of God is to be ours, and we are to exemplify it in all the affairs of life. Hence the faithful, the New Creatures in Christ, should be the most exemplary, the most wonderful people in the whole world, the wisest in the management of their affairs, the wisest in the government of their children, the wisest in their eating, drinking and dressing. Not that the world will always approve, but that the end will justify the course which the Lord's Word directs, and which the wise of the New Creation, walking circumspectly, will take.
This signifies buying back the time, as though the time were already mortgaged. And this is so; the cares of this life, its necessities, the customs of the world, our fallen tendencies, all would absorb every hour of life in the things pertaining to this life, whereas as New Creatures our new hopes and aims and efforts are properly centered upon things above, the heavenly, the King's matters. Where may we obtain the necessary time wherewith to study and to refresh ourselves in rehearsing the blessings, the promises and favors which are ours as New Creatures? And where may we obtain the time for telling these good tidings to others? If we allow the spirit of the world to direct us we shall have no time for any of these things and shall fail, but as wise and not as foolish children of the Lord, we will see and appreciate the greater importance of the heavenly things, and be ready to sacrifice our earthly interests and customs and ambitions in favor of the heavenly. Thus we may redeem or buy back the time that we had previously spent for worldly things, that we may henceforth spend such time in the interest of ourselves and others of the New Creation and in the service of our Lord and Master, to whom we have consecrated our all, which we find to be so little over and above the things necessary to provide honestly for the life that now is.
How many of the Lord's people are fools! How many allow the spirit of the world so to enter in as to hinder them from appreciating the real wisdom and the proper course, the proper walk in life! It is time for us to cease this foolishness of trying to do everything just as the world does it and to be everything that the world will approve! It is time for us to determine that by the grace of God we will be popular with our Father in heaven, whether or not it makes us unpopular with everybody else in the world! It will be sweeter far eventually to hear his voice saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," than to have the well done of the world and its applause, and to come short of the glorious blessing to which we have been called!
Instead of intoxication with the spirit of the world and its ambitions, its craze for money and for show and outward adornment, we are to be so filled with the Spirit of the Lord, that our chiefest joy, our chiefest blessing, will be in giving thanks to the Lord for his goodness, in maintaining a fellowship of heart with him and then additionally having fellowship one with another, with those who are in the truth, in the Lord. We are to speak one to another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, thus making melody in our hearts to the Lord. The Lord's people are not to be morose, sullen, unhappy, always in tears. This is not the will of God concerning them; they are on the contrary to be continually rejoicing, full of gladness, the basis for this to be their faith in the Word of God, which they all continually eat and are nourished by, together with their fellowship with the Lord, which will continually be a ground for praise and thanksgiving; and additionally, their fellowship with one another, which will be more sweet than any earthly or selfish fellowship; more precious than any sensual relationship, the exhilaration of the new mind continually growing stronger and more God-like, and seeking to build up one another in the most holy faith and character-likeness of our Redeemer. The Apostle says that we are to give to God, even the Father, thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; thanks for the trials, thanks for the clouds as well as for the blessings and the sunshine; thanks for matters that seem to be adversities, knowing that God is able to make all things work together for good to them and has promised to do so, and that the entire matter of needs and welfare are in the hands of our Redeemer, who is too wise to err and too loving to be unkind, and who will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able. Well then may we rejoice!
We are exhorted also to submit ourselves one to another in the reverence of the Lord, not to be dictatorial, not to be too self-assertive, not to be anxious that our will should be done on earth or in heaven, but rather desirous that the will of the Lord should thus be done, and that we may be looking to note his leadings and providences in and through others as well as through ourselves, and especially to note the instructions in his Word.
"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him."—Isa. 52:7 .