2nd Sunday After Pentecost June 10, 2012
1 John 3:1-9
8, 294, 408, 53
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.
There is an ancient saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Have you heard that before? It means that a person should speak and act like the people of the place he is visiting — adopt their customs and practices in order to “fit in.” Is this what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some”? (1Corinthians 9:22)
Paul spent a lot of time in the heathen city of Rome where he gained many souls for his Savior. In order to gain these souls for Christ, did Paul “do as the Romans did?” Did he engage in the sinful pleasures for which this city was so well known? Did he worship at the heathen altars or gag himself after a large meal so that he might delight his taste buds and eat some more? Did Paul live like the citizens of Rome in order to fit in with them? Hardly! Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written from Rome. In the first verse of our text he admonishes them to BE IMITATORS OF GOD!
Ephesus was the Rome of the eastern world in those days. Christians in Ephesus were tempted every day to walk with the wicked just as we are. Paul speaks to all from prison in Rome. He reminds us that since we have been loved by God as His dear children, we are to be imitators of God. Since we’ve been loved by Him we are to imitate that love in our own lives in faithfulness to Him.
“Christ also has loved us!” When Jesus handed Himself over to His captors in Gethsemane, He was also willingly giving “Himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma.” [v.2] Since Christ was perfectly acceptable to God as our holy Substitute, His sacrifice brought forth a sweet and fragrant aroma to the holy God. We sinners were made acceptable to God because of Jesus! This is the motive which the Holy Spirit uses to call forth our love for God.
How can we, who were made to be God’s beloved children through the sweet-smelling sacrifice of His Son now return to a life that is stinking with the vile odor of immorality? On the contrary, Paul says, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” [vv.3-4]
As it was in the ancient Roman world, so it is also in our own society. We recognize the sexual sins of all kinds, greed, and covetousness that are so common in our country. Through the words of the apostle Paul, God forbids us to take part in such sins. More than that, He says: “Let not these sins even be named among you, as is fitting for saints.” [v.3] In other words, such sins are to be so far removed from us that not even a suspicion or hint of them could be found among us.
Neither, says Paul, is there to be any use of our tongues for the purpose of telling filthy stories, indulging in silly, spicy conversation, or even making those witty, but suggestive remarks which the crowd finds so amusing. Such use of the tongue is not fitting for the believing saint! Brethren, watch out for that pleasant drink that loosens the tongue to sin against your God! Rather let us give thanks with our tongues, which is the proper work of God’s holy ones.
Be imitators of God since you know where spiritual filthiness leads. Sins of immorality in deed and word are so common we may become dulled to the damnableness of them. We may fall into the “everybody does it” gutter! Let’s be warned, dear friends, that who we are can be finally determined by what we keep on doing with ourselves! Therefore we ought to be very careful not to be stepping into the gutters of this world.
Along with the Ephesians, we also know for certain both from our consciences and from the Scriptures that the sexually immoral, or unclean, or the covetous man whose god is material gain have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God! [cf. v.5] The negative here is absolute: not a single one of these who live in sin is an heir of Heaven!
Still there are those who defend such immorality and greed. Sin will always have plenty of public defenders who will say things like: “Hey, it’s a free country! Its my life to do as I please.” “No one will find out!” “Everyone’s doing it!” “It’s the only way to get what I want.” Paul calls these kind of arguments “empty words.” Such words would lead us to believe that there is no divine judgment against those who live in sexual immorality, or who make material gain their god. But Paul tells us that “because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” [v.6]
Do God’s dear children by faith in Christ want to listen to the “sons of disobedience” as they walk through this life? Do we want to give up our inheritance in Heaven in order to suffer the wrath of God with the wicked? Certainly not!
That’s why Paul says, “Do not be partakers with them.” [v.7] Don’t be their partners in sin. Don’t support or encourage them. God punishes all such people. But more than that You are light in the Lord. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” [vv.8-10]
It’s our calling as children of light to test every word and action before it is spoken or done. We are to determine whether it is pleasing to the Lord, for “He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light!” (1 Peter 2:9). Paul reminds us in this text that we are different. For while the light of the sun shines on everyone, only the Christian by faith in Jesus possesses the light of God’s Son within him!
What is that psychology of darkness which so often works on you and me so that we “hide our lights under a bushel basket”? (Matthew 5:15). Is it the fear of being called a “goody two-shoes” for refusing to partake in the sin of another? Do we want so much to fit in?
Yes! This is kind of thought that bullies us into hiding our lights in the world. The children of the world, the sons of disobedience love to boast: “I’m no saint”—as if being and doing right before God is some kind of curse or disease! But they only want to continue doing as they please! To them being a “saint” is boring, dull, and unattractive; it’s no fun being a saint, they think! But you, my friends, along with every believer in Christ, you are saints. No less than 8 times Paul speaks in this letter of “the saints” who make up the Church of Christ. These are the called members of His body of which Christ is the Head.
Saints are called by the Gospel—called to God out of the world—when the message of forgiveness in Christ works faith in the hearts of sinners. The difference between the life of the worldling and the believing saint begins at conversion. In Ephesians 2 Paul tells us that we all were “once dead in trespasses and sins” along with the rest of the world. But God, because of His mercy and love, “made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in connection with Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:11 ff).
If by the love and mercy of God, you and I, who were once dead in our sins and separated from God, have now been made alive together with Christ through faith, then we are truly saints We are “holy ones” (a literal definition of “saint) because of Jesus, and we are even now, seated in Heaven with Christ! That’s how God our Father views us in Christ—as if we were now seated with Him in Heaven!
May we then find grace through our Savior’s forgiving love, so that we do not imitate the sinful world around us. Since we are in the heavenly company of our Savior God, let us walk in a manner worthy of our high calling as saints. Let’s be imitators of our God! O Lord, grant us your enabling Spirit, to your glory. Amen.
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