2008-04-06 Ephesians 5.3-7 Imitators of God (Part 2)
This is a difficult passage. And a few weeks ago, when I was planning ahead, I thought I knew what I would preach. But through the grace of God, He’s changed me.
In the last couple of weeks, something has changed. My understanding of God has shifted, become truer. I believe I finally am starting to know and understand God. And that is humbling to admit, for I’ve been trying to communicate something of God to you for almost four years now, and I’ve been so wrong.
Will you permit me to share my experience? I’m breaking all the rules for preaching by talking about myself. But I think it is necessary in order to help you understand where I am coming from. Hopefully, through God’s grace, we’ll all catch hold of this vision of God, the true God, and it will transform our lives!
What I’ve come to understand, and this is so obvious to so many of you. Most of you will probably just smile and acknowledge something you’ve discovered long ago, is that God is worthy of glory simply because He is God!
God is glorified, God will be glorified, and God’s glory is neither diminished nor increased by my behaviour. This is hugely significant! Because if God’s glory is dependent upon what I do, or if circumstances in my life change, then there must be something wrong with God, and the passage, “The Lord has mercy on whom he has mercy”, just doesn’t sound comforting.
When Moses, confronted by God in the Burning Bush, asked God for God’s name, this is what God said. “I Am who I Am. Tell them, I Am sent you.”
God is who he is! God has always been and God will always be! God doesn’t change. God is perfectly glorified, and is worthy of all glory! Angels bow before him! Creatures sing praises to His name eternally. They have wings that cover their eyes because though their sole purpose is to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” they are not able to look at him! They cannot behold His glory!
Last week I talked about Moses seeing the tail end of God’s glory. Afterward His face shone, it reflected, it radiated God’s glory! And the people of Israel asked Moses to veil his face. They could not stand to see God’s glory. This week, I came across the Apostle Paul’s words concerning this matter and I’d like to read them to you right now!
I’m going to read all of 2 Corinthians 3, because it is very important. It describes exactly what I’m trying to express.
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
That is a bit of what I’ve experienced these last few weeks. I’ve beheld God’s glory, and the veil has been removed!
That is my prayer for you! That you too, if you haven’t seen it already, will be able to see it. That is my prayer for ministry, that I might, week after week, declare and proclaim the glory of God!
And this is why it is so vital; this is why it is my job! If we do not comprehend God’s glory, then all our striving is for nothing! For, if we think we can add to God’s glory, then we elevate ourselves to too much importance! Or if we think that our sin, or our mistakes can actually reduce God’s glory, then we’ve also failed to realise that God is perfectly glorified already!
The first one leads to works righteousness, and the second one leads to total despair.
But is it enough to comprehend God’s glory? Well, yes, that’s the start. But even the demons comprehend and believe, and shudder. Some will still be veiled, even if they see God’s glory!
There is more, we have to embrace God’s glory! We have to see it, see God, and completely desire God! Seeing God and His glory is acknowledging no other allegiance. It is always seeking God and God’s glory in every moment of life!
And that has profound impact on our daily living!
I’ll tell you why this is so. This is so incredible! When we are completely overwhelmed by God’s glory, we see the world differently. We see ways in which we can experience that glory, we see opportunities to give our lives over to God, to turn away from selfishness and turn to serve God and others!
This is how it plays out in life. If I had written this message three weeks ago, I would have been speaking very loudly about how horrible we all are. It is true, apart from Christ we are nothing, but in Christ we’ve received everything, so that’s not the focus anymore.
No, the focus is God and God’s glory. As imitators of God, as God’s glory reflectors, we seek to do things that will give God the greatest glory, not because we feel we ought to, not because we believe we can actually give God more glory, it’s not as though he’s glory deficient and needs our activities in order to bolster Him.
No, we seek to do things that will give God the greatest glory simply because we can! Simply because we want to! Simply because, in Christ, it is the most natural thing to do! We find our most satisfaction in life when we are glorifying God!
Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient to God. His whole life on earth, He never sinned at all! One day, when Jesus was chatting with an adulterous woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria, the disciples pressed him to eat some food. Jesus replied, “I have food you know nothing about.” Jesus was referring to doing the work of God the Father! Jesus, obediently doing what He came to earth to do, had everything he needed! He found His greatest pleasure in doing His Father’s will.
John Piper understands this. If you have access to the internet, go to www.desiringgod.com. There’s also a link to his website on our blog.
We find our greatest pleasure when we behold God’s glory! We find our greatest pleasure when we live in the way God has called us to live! Yes, Jesus Christ suffered during his time on earth, he suffered in every way as we suffer. He faced persecution, suffering and death. He told his disciples that they would have to suffer as he did. And they did. They drank from the same cup.
But what was it that enabled Jesus to go forward? What made the disciples able to follow Jesus? How could they just give up everything they knew, how could they give up the stuff they had?
It is because they had seen the glory of God, and in comparison, everything else paled.
Have you seen the glory of God? Has the veil been lifted from your eyes? If so, then you know that there is nothing greater in the world! Nothing greater than God, and if we put anything ahead of God, or even alongside God, then we make God a cuckhold.
Are you familiar with that vulgar term? I don’t use it frivolously. I’m not trying to shock you. I’m trying to underscore the seriousness of turning away from God once you’ve beheld His glory!
Are you not familiar with the prophecy of Hosea? God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute. He did. She cheated on him. He became a cuckhold. A cuckhold is a man whose wife has cheated on him. God told Israel that they were cheating on Him by worshipping other Gods. The point of that story wasn’t the behaviour of the Israelites, but what their behaviour was doing to God! It made a mockery of Him and His glory!
But Hosea remained faithful to his wife, and eventually she became faithful to him once again.
In Christ, God has revealed His glory, and has enabled us to be faithful.
So, when, in our passage, Paul says, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or 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.”
What is Paul getting at here? What was the sin that the Israelites were most guilty of committing? It was idolatry. We read God’s Law this morning, what was the first commandment? “You shall have no other gods before me.” What’s the reason for that? It is not only because God brought them out of slavery, but because there is no other god besides God!
The apostle Paul compares idolatry with sexual immorality because we are united in Christ, united in the same way a man holds fast to his wife, the two become one flesh. We who are in Christ, have become united with Christ, like a marriage! Christ, through the Holy Spirit, lives in our hearts! We are joined together with Him!
So, if we turn from God in our marriage, if we turn toward anything impure, if we lust after and are greedy for anything else, we’re guilty of cheating on God!
How can we guard our hearts? How can we guard our relationship with God? What shall we do? Shall we do as the Pharisees did, put new and convoluted laws in place, to prevent sinful activity? No! Such laws have the appearance of wisdom, but they are not wise!
Paul gives us the answer in our passage. The key to living a pure life is thankfulness.
Why thankfulness? Thankfulness demonstrates that we’ve acknowledged the gift we’ve received, and furthermore, we’ve realised that the giver is greater than the gift.
Permit me to go off on a short tangent. In this day and age, we totally focus on the gift instead of the giver. I myself have been guilty of this. I’ve suggested that the reason we believe in God is because we want to be saved from hell. The reason we believe is so that we’ll get eternal life! These are reasons, but they are not the right reason. The reason we believe in God is because we know that he gives us these gifts!
The giver is greater than the gift! What do you look forward to most, when you think about everlasting life? What appeals to you about heaven? Is it being able to see your loved ones? Being free from pain and sorrow? I know some of us suffer continuous pain. Is it being free from sin and addiction?
Those are all good things, things worth looking forward to. But you could just as easily be describing any religion. What is different about Christianity? What is different about the Christian heaven? Yes, Christ is there!
Our whole focus is Christ. The Apostle Paul got this! He said he desired to know Christ, that to live is Christ, that death is gain, death is the removal of that veil, that dirty window that separates us from seeing Christ clearly! That’s the focus of heaven. The book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ! The prominent figure in that book is not Satan the anti-Christ, it is not about barcodes on our foreheads. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ, so that we will understand what will happen when we go to heaven. Our greatest desire is for God!
Now, how does that desire translate into thankful living? How does that make us faithful people, faithful sons and daughters, faithful husbands and wives?
Having apprehended the greatest glory possible, we then look at what we have with thankfulness. We give thanks to God for our lives. We give thanks to God for our families! We give thanks to God for simply being who He is, we give thanks when things are going well, and we give thanks and praise even in pain and sorrow, because God’s glory is what it is, it doesn’t change especially with our circumstances.
So then, in light of God’s glory, we realise that everything we have is a perfect gift from God!
Your children are beautiful, precious gifts from God, regardless of their behaviour, whether good or bad. Your spouse is a precious gift from God! In thanksgiving to God for His gift to you, honour and cherish your gifts! Be faithful to God, seek God’s kingdom first, and all these things will be added unto you! All these things will be appreciated. But unless you appreciate God, you will not appreciate the things in your life, you will be searching for satisfaction in one thing after another. You’ll sleep around, you’ll lust after different things, you’ll try to get stuff, you’ll fill your mind with crap, stuff that your mind was never meant to have in it.
Instead, behold God’s glory! Revel in it! Marvel at it! Find your true happiness in it! Be filled up!
But also be warned. Unless our lives are full of God’s glory, unless that is our focus, we will not gain heaven. Heaven is no place for those who cling to earth. Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ gains it. Don’t cling to the stuff of this world as though it is the most important thing! God is the most important thing!
Be careful of those who preach a different Gospel than the one you’ve heard this morning. Their message sounds like the truth. But if their focus is on the stuff of earth, then their message is a lie! If they preach anything other than the glory of God in Christ, then they are leading people away! Do not be deceived by them! They will turn you away from God with their empty words! Their message sounds like the gospel but it is not! Jesus Christ himself told us to store up treasure in heaven, not on earth! Don’t believe them.
Examine your hearts! Are you living for stuff on earth? Where is your heart? Is it with God? Are you living for God? Are you seeking His glory over everything else? If not, then you need to start! True satisfaction, true life will result!
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (2 Co 3:1-18). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.