Conforming To God’s Will

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CONFORMING TO GOD’S WILL

Ephesians 5:8-20

Coping with the expectations of others is often difficult.  The government expects us to be good citizens and pay out taxes. Society expects us to live and act responsibly, and to make a positive contribution to life. Our family expects us to live in such a way as to honor the family name, and not to dishonor it. Our friends expect us to be ourselves and to be the kind of friend they can love and depend on.

Coping with all of the expectations life thrusts on us can be overbearing at times. Often, in an attempt to deal with expectations, we may take drastic measures to deal with it. Years ago, Otis Redding, shortly before his untimely death, sang about sitting on the dock of the bay. He sang,  “I can’t do what ten people tell me to do, so I guess I’ll remain the same.” However, many people don’t remain the same as they deal with life’s expectations.

Dr. James Dobson, the eminent Christian psychologist and pastor, says that marital infidelity (adultery) by marriage partners is partially caused by either partner wishing to be free of the pressures of the straight life. They participate in illicit sex to lessen the pressure of what they perceive to be a burden, when, actually, in doing so they bring a greater burden on themselves – the burden of guilt.

Even worse is the number of young people who commit suicide because they no longer can deal with all of the expectations placed on them by their parents, school, their peers, and even their church.

None of us can escape the expectations thrust on us as we try to live as responsible persons. Paradoxically, while adults, Christian or not, try to lessen the burden of expectations placed on them by committing adultery, they become even more responsible for their actions, and for the pain and hurt they cause their spouse, children, and family and friends.

Yet – and this is a lesson every generation needs to learn anew – no amount of expectations placed on us justifies sinning. This is true especially for the child of God. We can never justify sinning, regardless. Being a Christian doesn’t guarantee we’ll not give in to the pressure of over expectation, and sin against God, others and ourselves. When we choose to ignore God’s will concerning fidelity in marriage, and commit adultery, we bring on ourselves a burden a thousand times heavier than before.

Present statistics regarding this problem in the church are shocking. It exposes a greater problem for the church, and for the kingdom of God. Giving in to the temptation to commit adultery, or do drugs, or alcoholic reveals the struggle many of God’s people experience trying to be children of light. If those who call themselves God’s people fail to live righteously before God and other people, what hope is there for those who do not know Christ Jesus?

The battle against sin must first be won in the church before it can be won in the world.  

This is what Paul is getting at as we read these verses that are stacked with one ethical admonition after another.  Using the dichotomy of light and darkness, Paul seeks to convince us that actions that are part and parcel of the world of darkness cannot exist within the church without judgment. The apostle Peter wrote about this in his first epistle.

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (read 1 Pet. 4:17-19)

Friends, the world evaluates the church on the basis of its member’s actions. We who are the church cannot escape God’s and the world’s expectations of us. We must be willing to suffer the pain of self-denial every day in order to continue to do good, if the world is to take God and His will seriously.

I don’t know if it’s true, but someone said that once while Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, someone asked him, "What would you do if you suddenly learned that you were to die at sunset today?" He replied, "I would finish hoeing my garden."

Whether we  like  it or not, we who are the church can’t escape God’s expectations of us, or the world’s expectations of us. God expects us to live the righteous life He commanded us to live, regardless.

The French philosopher and writer, Albert Camus, once spoke to a group of French churchmen. This is what he said.

What the world expects of Christians is that they speak up against evil in such a way that not the slightest doubt (about what they mean) can exist in the heart of the simplest man. The world expects Christians to speak out clearly and to pay up personally.

This leads to the question, “What’s required of us as Christians to conform to the will of God?

Consider with me four aspects of what it takes to conform to God’s will.

1.    Use your mind.

 

No one can conform to God’s will who doesn’t ­­­know what God’s will is. Being ignorant of God’s expectations of us is never an excuse.

How many of us here do not have a Bible? If you don’t have one, see me following the service and I’ll give you one. How many of us can’t read the Bible? (You don’t have to tell me, if you can’t read.) We can help you get into a class where you can learn to read and understand the Bible.

In verse 10, in the New American Standard Bible, Paul writes, “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Learning is why God gave us a mind. As the sign says, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” but refusing to learn what pleases God, so as to do it, will lead to our living in darkness, not knowing what God expects of us, and to God’s judgment.

There are two types of learning that are required in order to conform to God’s will. They are study and experience.

Study

Often the best way to learn right behavior is to observe wrong behavior. But this is difficult today in the secular educational system, where moral confusion exists, where what was once considered wrong behavior is taught to be right, and vice versa.  Yet, for the Christian, ignorance of what’s right and wrong is no excuse. We have the Bible. Scripture teaches us the mind and the will of Christ.  You must study the Word of God. There is no substitute.

Experience

Experience is said to be the best teacher. That’s not true in every situation, because some people’s minds are numb. Still, if your mind is sharp and clear, experience can teach us a lot.

My pastor friend, Dan Sellers, had such an experience once when he and his family went to see his son play a high school football game. (His son, Glenn, was the starting quarterback.)

Dan said that while watching the game and rooting for their team to win, three grown men were in front of them, and were at least “three sheets in the wind.” Their daughters, Kim and Missy, were with them, and Dan and Faye, Dan’s wife, became alarmed and offended when the men’s language became extremely offensive, and their attitudes toward the referees became threatening.

Dan tried to hold back his anger, as Faye, his wife, helped him. Finally, at halftime, Dan told Faye and the girls they were going to change seats. As they were leaving, Dan turned back to the three men and calmly said, “I want to thank you guys for acting so stupid tonight. My daughters received the best lesson in how human beings should never act that they could’ve received anywhere!” Then they left. Did the men change their behavior? Hardly. Their minds were darkened. But Dan? Listen to Scripture. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery, Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (5:18) Dan did what pleased the Lord, for the Spirit was in control of his life.

Who, or what, is in control of your life?

Here’s are a few useful guidelines that we can find useful by in helping our minds conform to God’s will.

First, we must be willing to think. God made us thinking beings, and he guides our minds as we think things out in His presence.

Second, think ahead and weigh the long-term consequences of alternative courses of action. Often we can only see what’s wise and right, and what’s foolish and wrong, as we consider the long-term issues.

Third, we must be willing to take advice. There are people who know what the Bible teaches, who understand human nature, and who know and understand our strengths and limitations better than we do. Seek them out.

Fourth, we must be willing to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. We must ask ourselves why we believe a particular course of action will be right, and make ourselves give reasons.

Fifth, we must be willing to “wait on the Lord." When in doubt as to what to do, do nothing, and continue to wait on God. 

If we use our minds in these ways, we’ll be more likely to learn how to conform to God’s will.

2.    Break with darkness.

 

The Bible teaches clearly that light and darkness are more than just opposites. Light and darkness actively oppose each other. “What relationship does light have to darkness?” Or, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

 

John the apostle, according to the NIV translation, says in 1:5, concerning Jesus, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Darkness is ignorance. Darkness blinds. Darkness limits vision. Darkness causes us to stumble. It causes us to act unwisely, or foolishly.

Making decisions in the dark can lead to some regrettable consequences. Back in the days before electricity, a tightfisted old farmer was taking his hired man to task for carrying a lighted lantern when he went to call on his best girl. "Why," he exclaimed, "when I went a-courtin' I never carried one of them things. I always went in the dark." "Yes," the hired man said wryly, " and look what you got!" 

Paul says, “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” In other words, reveal your break with darkness by the lifestyle you live.

Let me mention four practical ways we reveal our break with darkness.

When we forgive each other.

God’s will is that we forgive, just as He has forgiven us in Christ.

I worked in tobacco with a second cousin while in high school. He was the dirtiest mouth of any person I’ve ever known. He also was as ignorant of God as a church mouse. One day I accidentally ran over a couple of stalks of tobacco with the harvester, and he cussed me until he was blue in the face.

That night I complained about it to my dad, and threatened to quit. My dad told me, “Sharkey (that was his nickname) is so stupid he doesn’t know how to talk any other way. Just forgive him and move on.” (cf., v. 4) I did, and we never had another problem.

When we walk in love.

 

It’s God’s will that we love each other as Christ Jesus has loved us.

 

In 1 John 3:17, we’re told, “If anyone had material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Those who live in the light, or better, who are light, see people’s needs, and out of love act to meet those needs, as they have opportunity.

I saw an interesting tee shirt at Choral Festival. A lady was wearing one, and on the back it had a red heart, about 5” high. Inside the heart were these words: “Love blindly.” I knew what she meant. Love is blind when it comes to people and their needs. It simply meets them. Love sees clearly, even in the dark.

There’s another way we reveal our break with darkness.

When we walk as children of light.

 

Paul exhorts us to “live as children of light.” Jesus told us to let our light shine, and not hide it. When light floods our soul it enables us to see and know God’s will, and to see it so well we can do it completely.

 

When we walk as wise people.

 

In everything Paul says, he’s talking to Christians. In exhorting us to walk as wise people, he’s telling us that we’re foolish when we profess to be people who are light, and yet do what those who live in the darkness do. We’re foolish when we convince ourselves that God’s wrath will not burn against “the sons of disobedience.” We’re never to be partners with them (v. 7) because light and darkness can have nothing to do with each other. They’re opposed to each other.

3. Live in the light. 

 

Those who live in the light are by nature light. And because they are by nature light, as light they make everything visible.

Paul reveals our nature as children of light in four places in this text.

    • V. 14. “For it is light that makes everything visible.” As light, we expose the darkness for what it is, and diminish its effects.
    • V. 9. “For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” That’s self-explanatory.
    • V. 12. “For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” When the children of light are around, the shame of what those who live in darkness do is revealed.
    • V. 13. “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” When children of light come around, the light is so bright that, even if the darkness tries to destroy it, it’s impossible to do so.

When I’m reminded of this truth, my mind always goes back to the days in our country when blacks struggled for equal rights.

One of my seminary professors was friend to a pastor in Alabama during those days. He was white, and yet his view of how God’s people were to treat other people was informed by the light. For that, he paid the ultimate price.

You see, he had taught his children to love others, regardless. So his daughter invited one of her black classmates home to play. That night, the pastor’s home was bombed, and he, his wife, and his little girl were burned to death.

The church grieved terribly, and the community was awakened to the deep darkness around them. Rather than continue to hate and retaliate, as the extremists did, the church reached out even more. Strangely, no one else was bombed.

The church called a new pastor. They placed a picture of their martyred pastor in a prominent place in the church. My seminary pastor said, “That church will have many more pastors in its history, but there’s one pastor who will live on among them forever.”

So it is, and so it will be, when we live as light.

4. Rejoice in the Spirit’s life-giving presence. (vv. 19-20)

 

These sure are dark days we live in. People still are killing people. Churches, even ours, are having to battle the forces of darkness in their own camp. It’s having more of an effect on us than even we realize.

Have you heard about Chippie the parakeet? The story appeared in the Galveston newspaper. A Galveston, Texas housewife had a pet parakeet named Chippie. The woman, however, made some terrible mistakes with Chippie. There are just some things that you don’t do with parakeets!

While vacuuming the carpet one day, she decided to clean out of the bottom of Chippie’s cage with her vacuum. MISTAKE NUMBER ONE.

The phone rang and she turned to answer the phone with turning off her vacuum cleaner. YOU GUESSED IT. Sssssp! Chippie got sucked through the tube and into the canister. MISTAKE NUMBER TWO.

She dropped the phone, shut off the vacuum cleaner, and opened the canister. There was Chippie – feathers ruffled, dirt all over his little body. He was stunned but alive. She rushed into the bathroom, BIRD IN HAND. MISTAKE NUMBER THREE. She held Chippie under the faucet and turned it on full blast.

Then she spotted the hair dryer. MISTAKE NUMBER FOUR. She turned it to “hot” and “high.” The blast of hot air did the trick, but it nearly finished poor Chippie.

The next day a reporter called back to check on the bird. “How’s your poor parakeet?” he asked. She said, “Well, Chippie doesn’t sing any more. HE JUST SORT OF SITS THERE AND STARES.”

Is that you? Can you relate to Chippie? Some of us may feel as though we’ve had your own cage vacuumed. We’ve been sucked up into the dirty bag of life, held under the faucet, and hit with a blast of hot air. And you don’t sing much anymore. You just sort sit there and stare! Yep! That’s just about the way some of us look!

The answer as to how to dispel the darkness hasn’t changed one iota. We’re to “be imitators of God” more than ever before. We’re to live pure lives. We’re to learn more and more how to please God. We’re to have nothing to do with the children of wrath.

We’re to be filled with the Spirit. Children of light who are filled with the Spirit “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” They do this simply by conforming themselves to the will of God.

We’re to sing songs from the heart. Rather than moan and grown over the evil done in the dark, children of light “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” They “sing and make music in (their) heart(s) to the Lord.” (v. 19)

Finally, we’re to give thanks to God in everything. “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 20)

 

This verse has caused even some children of light to scratch their head in wonder. But maybe the following story will help us understand it.

In Budapest, a monk goes to the rabbi and complains, "Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?" 

The rabbi answers, "Take your goat into the room with you."  The man in incredulous, but the rabbi insists. "Do as I say and come back in a week." 

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before.  "We cannot stand it," he tells the rabbi. "The goat is filthy." 

The rabbi then tells him, "Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week." 

The monk returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, "Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there's no goat -- only the nine of us." 

If we would only consider how difficult life becomes when we allow darkness to reside in our house, perhaps we’d be much more grateful that the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shines in our hearts. “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Amen. 

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