A good, righteous and truthful communityJuly 15, 2018, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Ephesians 5:6-14) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Ephesians
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service
Title: A good, righteous and truthful community
Date: 15th July 2018
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Does anyone know what happened to the 12 boys and their coach who were trapped in the caves of Thailand【1】 They were all saved. What if I were to tell you that just as they were rescued and were exiting the cave, one of them tried to go back into the cave? You might be horrified. Is he mad? It took so much effort and sacrifice to rescue them. Why would anyone go back towards certain death? It is unthinkable that anyone would choose to go back into the darkness after being rescued into the light. That of course didn’t happen with the Thai boys and coach, but brothers and sisters, you might be shocked, such a foolish action describes many Christians. For many of us who have been saved, the way we live our lives is as if we want to go back into the cave. This is why Paul had to remind and warn the Ephesian Church. He had described God’s great act of salvation in the first 3 chapters. What God did for us, the amount of effort and sacrifice, was even greater than the rescue of these children. To stretch the metaphor, it was as though the Thai children were not just rescued from the caves, but there was also a scholarship and a housing grant prepared for them. That is the level of God’s grace. God’s salvation is not just a past event. There is a full and abundant life well prepared for us. But imagine if after all that is done and prepared, you forsake all that and go back into the darkness instead. Paul the pastor cannot let that happen to his church. Me too.
I am given a calling to make sure that none of us will ever return into the cave. And I think the most difficult part of my responsibility is that some of us perhaps don’t even appreciate our salvation. You don’t feel that you have just survived a near death experience. Maybe you don’t even feel like you were previously in the cave. I call that “sleeping Christians”. The early church has a worship song in verse 14: 14 “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This worship song describes the transformation from death to life. Your resurrection from the dead is like a person who has been awoken from a deep sleep. We were previously dead in sin. But by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, we can be alive in a new self (Ephesians 2:3-5). Each and every one of us needs to go through this awakening transformation. So the worship song says, “Wake up!” If you have never felt this transformation, then it is my job to tell you, “Wake up!” The Chinese have an idiom “living a life as if you are drunk or dreaming” (醉生梦死), and it means to live a life in a blur state. If you have never experienced this awakening, I would be sincerely worried. Because it would mean that you are still sleeping. And this is sadly true for many people even throughout their entire life. They do not know what it means to be alive. They go through the motions of life until the day they die (生老病死). It is as if they slept through their entire life. Christians can also be sleepers too! 14 “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Brothers and sisters, how do you know if you are awake, or you are still sleeping and dreaming? Paul used another familiar analogy to spell out the difference. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. The difference between awake and sleeping is that you will shine, because you are light. Brothers and sisters, are you shining?
Before I can continue to talk about shining, I need to cover what is darkness. You need to know what the cave is like, then you can know whether you are inside or outside the cave. Paul described darkness in this way in Ephesians 4: 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. Darkness has to do with willful ignorance and rebellion against God. And you let your desires dictate your behavior. Paul described the outcome of such lack of control as “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31) It is normal to have feelings, even negative feelings. But it is a different matter if you let it consume you. This is the same with erotic feelings. Paul focused on sexual sins in Ephesians 5:3-4. Paul said such sexual sins are so bad, 12 it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.
There was a deception, a theological lie, during the times of the early church (Ephesians 5:6-7). There were those who believed that your soul and your body were separate. Your soul would be saved by God, and so it didn’t matter what you did with your body. Paul denied such theological lies, and declared that God would judge such sins. Today, this version of theological lies is no longer in fashion. But there are lies of other forms. There are those who equate God’s blessings with materialism. Give to God and God will bless you back even more. Yet Jesus said in Mark 8: 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? On such matters of our physical bodies and our possessions, let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with material things, just as how there is nothing wrong with feelings and emotions or sexual desires, because God has created all things beautiful. But in our enjoyment of God’s creation, we must remain obedient to God’s word.
If we listen to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and submit to God’s will of kindness, compassion and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32), we can be “like God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24). God’s word must be in control, instead of letting our feelings and desires take control.
I have talked about the darkness. Now I want to say what is shining. My Chinese name is Siow Hwee晓晖. Siow means daybreak 破晓. Hwee means rays 春晖. I like to think that my name Siow Hwee means rays of the morning sun. It’s a meaningful metaphor for me. Lately, I’ve been going on early morning walks by the Singapore River. Usually when I’m walking outside in the hot and humid Singapore, I’ll walk in the shade. But in my morning walks, I do not feel the need to avoid the morning sun. The morning sun rays help to break the chill and darkness of the night; and it comes across as warm and beautiful. I don’t know if I will ever live up to my name. But I hope that one day I will. I hope that when I step into a room, or when I enter into a situation, I am like the rays of a morning sun. Not in the same way as a celebrity who captivates all attention, which might perhaps be too blinding for some; but in a way that makes people feel warm and hopeful, in a way that makes people continue walking, in a way that dispels the bitter and lonely night. This imagery should not be my aspiration alone. I believe this should be the aspiration of every follower of Christ. Every follower of Christ should shine like the morning sun.
In verse 10, Paul said: “find out what pleases the Lord”. For me, that implies a learning process. You need to learn how to shine like a morning sun; no one is born with it. If you do it just right, then you will bear fruit of the light which “consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” (Ephesians 5:9) Lately, I have been buying fruits regularly from a reliable fruit seller. This fruit seller will teach me a lot about each fruit. If you slice up the soursop and put it into the freezer, you can slowly eat it for a month. I learned how to deseed and eat the troublesome pomegranate. I learned which fruits I need to put in the cooler, which ones I need to leave outside. For each kind of fruit, you have to decide the level of ripeness you like. Then you determine the ripeness through colour, touch and smell. If you do it just right, you get to enjoy the best fruits.
I hope you will all join me in bearing fruits for Jubilee church. If we all learn to do it just right, if we learn to shine properly, this will become a community of goodness, righteousness and truth. I can understand sometimes why we choose to stay in darkness. We are insecure about ourselves, and we are afraid of rejection from others if they see who we really are. Maybe we tried to be frank, but others felt offended instead. And so we retreated back into our cave. But darkness is not a choice for the new self. It is the way of death. The more superficial you are, the more you will be alienated from others. The more you hide, the more you will cease to exist. You float around like a sleeping Christian. I was once like that. I hoped I could disappear into a crowd, and nobody would know I was there. But by the grace of God, he gave me a new self. In this shepherd role, I must shine. But I don’t know how. You might also share this same anxiety as me. Pastor, you want me to shine, but how do I shine?
Then I remember it’s not me, but Christ that lives in me. So I slowly learn how Christ shined. How is Jesus the light of the world? He stepped into a world of darkness. When Paul described darkness as “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31), I saw all these happening in Jesus’ life. But little by little, I saw that Jesus spoke only the truth. Jesus brought kindness to the blind and the lame. Jesus controlled his negative feelings and desires, because his only dependence was God alone. He fought his temptations all the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Then he said, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
So I know it is also possible with all of us, we can shine like Christ because we are a new self that is in union with Christ. 14 “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” When you speak the truth, people will respond with the truth. When you do good to others, others will learn how to be good to others. And when you stand up for righteousness, others will take courage from you to stand up too. Before the #MeToo movement, nobody would imagine that those big name celebrities could be brought down to face their shameful deeds. When Paul said, “11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them”, that sounds almost too difficult to execute. But we are now grateful to the first few women who shined the way. They were the leading lights that allowed others to say #MeToo.
This is the same way we can transform our community. By that I mean that you must have the courage to do what Christ did. First, wake up. Then, step out of the cave. Then light up the world with Jesus Christ. It doesn’t mean that we are perfect. I am still learning. First, I learn to say Hi to unfamiliar people. Then I learn to say “how are you doing?” Then I learn to listen. Then I learn to say “I don’t know the answer, but I will pray about it for you.” I hope that’s how I can become a morning sun to some of you who are feeling chilly and dark. Sometimes my efforts turn out wrong, and instead of goodness, righteousness and truth, I hurt people instead. But I know the way is not to go back into the cave. The way is forward into the light. Just like learning how to prepare the delicious fruits, fruits of the light also take perseverance to get it just right. I believe that you can also be a morning sun and shine in your own way, with the spiritual gift that God has given to you. Some of you are gifted in hospitality, some of you in comforting. As long as you don’t give up trying, you will learn to bring warmth and light to people, and yield goodness, righteousness and truth. I hope one day when people step into Jubilee church, they will come back again and again. They will say, “wow, that was a good, righteous and truthful community.” God is shining there. That will be my home.
That’s the story at the Garden of Eden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a good tree, like all other trees. Eve saw its fruit and recognized that it was good. (Gen 3:6) But the key is whether we choose to remain and abide in God.
Ephesians 5:6–14 (Listen)
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”