Vol. 10 — No. 12 March 23, 1969
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.)
In Christ Jesus, who loved us so that We might be able to walk in love, Fellow Redeemed:
Our text gives us an opportunity to examine once again the effect that God’s love for us in His Son is to have upon our daily way of life. Stated differently the text shows the relationship between salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus and Christian living according to the norms and standards that our God has set. Taking a broader view the text reveals both the difference and the connection between the two great halves of the church year.
The first half of the church year is the festival part. Its chief theme is CHRIST FOR US! It carries out this great theme by stressing the great acts that the God of our salvation has done for us to make that salvation a reality. The Advent theme emphasizes God’s promise to send a Savior for fallen mankind. Christmas proclaims the fact that God was faithful and did send His Son as the One who would save His people from their sins. The Epiphany season reveals the Son in action—manifesting by word and deed that He is, indeed, the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God. Then comes the Passion season. We see the Son emptying Himself of His divine power and majesty and humbling Himself even unto death upon the cross, for He was determined to give His life a ransom for many. Easter means victory for us over sin, death and Satan, for He was raised again for our justification. Ascension sees Him returning to His heavenly glory to prepare a place for us. And on Pentecost He sent us “another Comforter” to lead us to know and believe on Him. Thus the entire first half of the church year continuously emphasizes and proclaims the great theme of CHRIST FOR US!
Then comes the long summer and fall Trinity season with its message of CHRIST IN US! The emphasis shifts from the righteousness of faith to the righteousness of life, from what God has done to what we should be doing and how we should be living. But let no one imagine that CHRIST FOR US and CHRIST IN US are two unrelated themes. Quite the contrary! They stand rather in a cause and effect relationship. There could be no CHRIST IN US without the CHRIST FOR US. Without CHRIST FOR US Christian living becomes mere superficial morality rather than Spirit-created sanctification. In the midst of this Lenten season we have before us an epistle text which teaches the proper relationship between CHRIST FOR US and CHRIST IN US and proclaims the anticipated effect of CHRIST FOR US in our daily living. We can express the message of St. Paul in this way—
“Be ye therefore followers—literally, imitators—of God, as dear children.” God is love. We are to copy that, we are to imitate that in our lives. “Walk in love,” the Apostle pleads and exhorts. But now notice—the Apostle doesn’t let that exhortation hang in mid-air. He becomes specific. Right here is the difference between the “new morality” and the morality that the Scripture teaches. The modern generation of church goers has learned at least one Greek word, agape—the word for love. The “new morality” is “agape morality”—motivated, guided and controlled by love. That sounds wonderful, so biblical—until one realizes that man, not God, is to set the norms and standards of that love. Man, not God, is to decide how love acts and reacts. Man, not God, becomes the measure of love. This is not biblical, but anti-biblical. St. Paul didn’t stop with his exhortation, “be walking in love.” No, he continued by setting divine standards and norms for such walking in love: “But fornication, and all uncleanness…let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.” Fornication is prostitution in all its forms. Uncleanness is here sexual uncleanness in its every manifestation. But notice that St. Paul does not go into detail or specifics. The Bible knows of no “yellow journalism’ or “literary exhibitionism.” The divine guidelines for the proper relationship of male to female are stated, here in the negative, elsewhere in the positive. Application to the customs and mores of the times is left to the reader. In the days of St. Paul fornication and uncleanness enjoyed the general approval of society as natural expressions of biological forces inherent in the body. Today agape or love is used to give respectability and social approval to pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relationship. Some of the revolutionary demands for liberty and freedom at our colleges and universities take the form of demands by Hale students for the right to be in women’s dormitories and women to be in male dormitories at any hour of the day or night. Playboy magazine uses every available means to promote the cult of nudity and to cover it only with the cloak of biblical approval. We are assured that God created Adam and Eve naked and that they “were not ashamed.” Gen. 2:25. So why should any one ever be ashamed of what God created? Do we not rather have divine approval for the cult of nudity as it finds expression in movies, stage shows, on college campuses and on the pages of innumberable magazines? But the next chapter reports the very first effect of sin in this way: “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” Gen. 3:7. Today natural shame is being systematically destroyed by the efforts of modern vested interests of uncleanness.
This is the world we live in. The forces of fornication and uncleanness assert themselves powerfully in our society. We are to withstand their influence. We are to swim against the stream. We are to battle the tides of the majority and of increasing public approval. From whence is the motivating and enabling power to come? Paul leaves no doubt in our minds. He wrote, “Be ye therefore followers or imitators of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness…let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.” Christ loved us. Christ gave Himself for us as “an offering and slaughter-sacrifice to God for an odor of sweet smell.” These words have as their background centuries of bloody sacrifices that prefigured the events that we are reviewing in the Passion History. His love for us motivated Him to give Himself in such a bloody manner for us. That love is to be the motivating spiritual energy in us that moves us to walk in love in every male-female relationship. No one can simultaneously have the image of the cross engraved on his heart and fixed in his mind and at the same time surrender to the sexual lusts of the flesh and of the eyes. If we fail to love according to the norms and standards that our God has set in every one of our male-female relationships, it is because we have forgotten or turned aside from His love for us.
Love for us is to motivate also love—
Not only should no fornication nor uncleanness be named among us, but also “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient.” The standards and norms of love for members of the opposite sex also govern actions and conversation. Any and every indecency or nastiness are forbidden. All filthy stories, also wittiness or the off-Color remark or salacious quirks are simply not proper for a Christian.
If these standards would be or could be generally enforced, many people would have little or nothing to say and many entertainers would be seeking other employment, also the modern script writers and novelists. In society in general the fellow or gal with an unfailing supply of off-color stories seems to be the hero of the coffee break or the life of the party. No child of God is to seek or enjoy such notoriety. Our conversation with those of our own sex and those of the opposite sex is to be proper—not judged by standards set by society, but judged by the norms set by our God. In discussing these things with confirmation-aged children we advise them never to say anything that they would be ashamed of saying in the presence of their mothers and fathers. We adults should never permit anything to pass over our lips that we would not want to say in the presence of our Lord. And lest we forget—He is always present.
What does St. Paul suggest as a replacement for indecent actions and off-color and salacious stories and remarks? This—“but rather giving of thanks.” He doesn’t urge us to talk about the weather or about politics or about sports. No, her urges the giving of thanks.
Do you observe how Christ’s love for us is to motivate every expression of our love? Without Christ’s love for us we would and could be nothing other than slaves of lust and sin. It is Christ’s love for us, worked out during the years of His life on earth by His perfect fulfilling of every demand and prohibition of the law and by His voluntary enduring of punishment for our violations of the law, that has made us free from the chains of sin. Is this not cause for thanksgiving? Is not a Psalm or a hymn stanza or a spontaneous utterance of thanksgiving in the home or in conversation with others more fitting and appropriate to our standing as beneficiaries of Christ’s love than filthiness and off-color jesting? The answer is obvious.
Christ’s love for us is also to motivate our love—
Paul linked “covetousness” with fornication and uncleanness. Having and possessing are generally considered signs and evidences of success. It is also true that having and possessing and enjoying are distinct blessings of the Lord. Scripture nowhere teaches us to despise material blessings, but Scripture never fails to warn of the dangers connected with having, possessing and enjoying these things. It is so easy for the person who has to be had, for the one who possesses to be possessed by the very things he has and possesses. Enjoying things can become a religion, a way of life. Getting can easily become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. The pleasure seeker can easily become the victim of his pleasure-seeking.
This very passage of Paul contains a solemn warning, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” This is strong language. The covetous person, the person for whom salary and wages, automobiles and sports, luxuries and security are the chief aims and goals in life, is called an idolater. Whether he is willing to confess it or not, whether he is even aware of it or not, he is worshipping mammon. How can an idolater have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God? That’s out!
Yet children of God like to deceive themselves as well as children of this world. Sometimes children of God go to great length to amass a formidable amount of argumentation and proof to justify themselves and so deceive themselves. St. Paul was acquainted with the flesh of man. He knew of Satan’s wily efforts to get Christians to appeal to their flesh to defend fornication and covetousness. That is why he warned, “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” Be not ye therefore partakers with them.”
We are not to join the ranks of the majority who stand condemned and will one day experience the wrath of God to its fullest. We are to be imitators of God. We are to walk in love. We are to be ever thankfully reminded of Christ’s love for us. That love for us is to motivate a response of love in us—in every relationship and in every area of life. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.