Monday, August 14, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 5:15-20

[Each week, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since most weekends, our Bible lesson is one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson
15Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

General Comments
1. For background on the book of Ephesians, see here.

2. This passage is a segue to a section of Ephesians that presents a household code. Such codes appear in many of the letters found in the New Testament. They delineate the ethical or moral obligations of people relative not only to the households in their primary residences, but also in the household of faith, the Church.

3. Moralizing, as the world usually practices or talks about, is an entirely different matter for Christians. The Christian moral code is something that Christians voluntarily embrace not in order to win points with God, but because they're grateful that in Christ, God has already won eternity for them, because Christ is living in them, because they know Christ has made them a part of an eternal family, the Church, and because they know that doing things Christ's way puts their lives on an optimal path.

In his first chapter on Christian morality in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes:
...a Christian is not a man [sic] who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin again after each stumble--because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out. [Thus crucifying the old sinful self and enabling the new God-self to rise.]

That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or--if they think there is not--at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.

And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being "in Christ" or of Christ being "in them," this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating in them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts--that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body...
If you've been paying attention to these "passes" at the Biblical texts over the past several weeks or to the messages based on Ephesians, you can see how much what Lewis writes here resonates with this New Testament letter. The Church is the Body of Christ, a living organism attached to and dependent upon Christ for its life, an entity composed of all of us. The mission and purpose of the Church is fulfilled when all these individual cells healthfully work together and live together in love and cooperation.

If you want to know why the Church can sometimes be so ineffectual and off-putting to the world we are called to reach with the Good News of Christ, you need look no further than this fact: There are too many Lone Ranger Christians, too many who think about "Jesus and me." Christianity isn't a me-faith; it's a we-faith. Every indivdual person is unique and special in the eyes of the God Who made us and died and rose for us; but every individual is part of a big redeemed family.

In this passage and others, Ephesians calls us to live out this revolutionary new life of love and mutuality, of interdependence and the sharing of our gifts for the good of the Church internally and the mission of the Church externally.

More on this passage later in the week, I hope.

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