August 19, 2018

Don't Be an Idiot!

13th Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  Proverbs 9:1-6

Second Lesson:  Ephesians 5:15-20

Gospel Lesson:  John 6:51-58

Sermon Text:  Ephesians 5:15-20

In today’s world, people get offended at the drop of a hat. So we tiptoe around and make sure we don’t say/do anything that would bother/fire up someone. This annoys me for many reasons, but the biggest is that when we talk this way, often the point we’re trying to convey gets lost because we’re worried about offending them. But at times bluntness is necessary, esp. in spiritual matters. With that being said, here’s our sermon theme: Don’t Be an Idiot! Before your feathers get ruffled, realize I’m not calling you an idiot. I’m simply encouraging you (and myself) to not be one. Why not? Being an idiot is never a good thing, but it is dangerous in matters of faith. And in that matter, what is an idiot? Hopefully you noticed throughout the service so far the emphasis has been on wisdom – godly wisdom. That wisdom is praised in our Proverbs lesson.  People fail to show wisdom as they turn from Jesus in our Gospel lesson. To reject God’s wisdom in his word, to turn from it to follow someone or something else - that is idiotic.  That is something idiots do.  And none of us want to be one of those.

So what should we do/be instead?  Paul tells us in our text. A bit of info to get the full point of our lesson...  The Ephesians had not been Christians their whole lives. Most were recent converts.  But by God’s grace, they were now part of the fold.  Good pastor Paul speaks to this throughout the letter. In chapter 1, he addresses them as members of God’s family, which they are. In 2, he backs that point up by reminding them Jesus did his work for all, including them. In 3, he talks about the new life they have as believers due to all this. And in 4, he calls them to stay united and keep maturing as one body. This makes sense. “You’re with us and we’re with you.  Together we are the body of Christ.  Keep growing and keep maturing.”

Now we get to our text.  Thus far, Paul mainly focused on what the people came to believe – God’s grace, Jesus’ forgiveness, their unity as believers, etc.  Now he turns the attention to how that faith shows in their daily lives. He starts with this: “Be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise.”  What’s he saying? “Don’t be idiots!” What would being an idiot mean? Exactly what we said before. Paul tells them not to be unwise but to be wise. Prior to coming to faith, the people were unwise - spiritual idiots. They either bowed down to some false god their minds imagined or they bowed at the altar of self, thinking it was all about them and they could do as they pleased. Either path led directly away from God and all the benefits of being part of his family. To do either would be idiotic.  Paul warns them about that and calls them to be wise.

What does being wise mean? “Make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  To waste the day thinking only about self, to run after worldly things, to collect money and stuff as if they can do anything about their real needs is idiotic. As Paul says, the days are evil. He knows they’ll be pulled toward these things because that is what people without faith are pulled to. So he tells them to take advantage of each day/situation, and to live out lives of faith with purpose.

What is that purpose?  After reminding them again to not be foolish/idiots, he says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” Surely he is talking about not getting all lit up and, with our defenses down, making foolish, idiotic choices, but there’s more to it than that.  In other letters, Paul talks about keeping one’s spiritual head. To think only about this life – enjoyment, pleasure, partying – means all our focus is here. When that is the case, foolish, idiotic choices are often made.  Paul warns against that.  He knows it is a temptation for them because that is the kind of life the Ephesians used to live.

What should they do? “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Essentially, “Live as the believers God made you. Fill up with spiritual stuff, not worldly junk.” 

What does that mean?  That means they speak as believers – quoting the Bible for encouragement or singing hymns to comfort. Being filled with the Spirit means they know the truth of Christ’s work and victory, and it brings joy to their hearts.  And being filled with the Spirit means they are overflowing with thanks.  The Ephesians knew what they were and where they had come from.  They had gone from darkness to light, from being orphans to being adopted.  For all this, and for the grace God showed all of them in doing this for them, whatever they do was to be done with thankful, appreciative hearts.

So we’re all on the same page, here’s what Paul is saying in a nutshell. “You’re a loved and forgiven member of the family because of Jesus’ work for you. You’re part of the body of Christ, so let’s keep growing together and maturing. Don’t run after things of this world and make foolish, idiotic choices. Keep your focus on your Lord and use the tools he’s given to build one another and yourselves up in faith.”

Now, imagine that instead of being called Ephesians, this letter is entitled West Bendians. If Paul sent it to us today, would he say anything different? Aren’t we loved, forgiven members of the family? We are. Isn’t that due to Jesus’ work for us?  It is.  Are we also part of the body of Christ (we are) who need to keep growing/maturing (we do)? Don’t we need a reminder not to run after worldly things but to make wise choices and keep the focus on our Lord and his will?  We do.

So, with all this being true, have you been an idiot? Have I? Remember what an idiot is in spiritual matters. An idiot makes choices based on what the world says or what feels right in his heart.  Think about this past week.  Can you say all your choices have been wise, God-centered ones?  Can I say I did not make idiotic, self-serving choices when it came to words I spoke or things I watched? Can we say we never strayed over the line of temptation and did what we wanted to do instead of God’s will simply because we wanted to do it?  Can you, can I, admit we made some idiotic choices last week?

An idiot in spiritual matters has messed up priorities. Paul clearly says in setting our priorities, we are to make the most of every opportunity and serve God. Again to last week. Think about your priority list those seven days.  What were the top ones?  Maybe they were what are in general good things – work hard at a job, provide for the family, spend time with family and friends.  But if those are at the top of the list, that is idiotic.  We need our Lord far more than any of that, and only our Lord can do for us what we need more than anything else – forgive us, comfort us, and love us. But don’t we have to admit that sinful priorities were on last week’s list also? Too often, didn’t we put ourselves – our comfort/praise/enjoyment – on top of the list?  In doing that, Pandora’s Box was opened to any temptation under the sun. And, we broke the 1st Commandment as we tried to kick Jesus off his throne as king of our hearts. Sound wise to you?  Doesn’t it instead sound very, very idiotic?

An idiot in spiritual matters feeds on all the wrong things.  Paul calls believers to feed on God’s Word – Psalms and songs based on God’s Word. We just talked about this last week.  How much of our plate is filled with good, godly stuff, and how much of our plate is piled high with the junk food the world offers? How much time do we spend seeking attention from the people around us?  How much energy do we exert trying to make a name for ourselves and impress others for pride’s sake? How much effort do we put into being comfortable, having all that life offers because then, we think, we will finally enjoy life and find some peace?  Last week, did we make the wise choice and feed regularly and extensively on the good stuff God offers, or did we make some idiotic choices and stuff ours face at the buffet of garbage the world sets before us?

One more.  An idiot in spiritual matters shows no appreciation.  He either assumes all he has just fell into his lap or thinks somehow he deserves these things. Either way, he does not recognize God as giver and thus isn’t thankful. Last week once more. Think about all the blessings God piled on you. There are so many. But how often did you say thanks last week?  How many times did I drop to my knees, overwhelmed at how fully I’ve been blessed? Paul said to always thank God for all this. Did we do that, which would be a wise choice, or last week were we idiots, taking the stuff but failing to thank our Lord?

Again, I’m not calling you an idiot. But we can’t deny over the past week we’ve done very idiotic things. It’d be better to say we did some sinful things, which are by definition idiotic.  There is no better word for it. To make choices that run contrary to the will of the one who created and saved us, who set parameters down for us for our own good - isn’t that idiotic? To chase after fame, fortune, pleasure, and enjoyment as our highest priorities even though none of that can soothe an aching conscience, bring us peace, or comfort us as we face hurdles - isn’t that idiotic? To take gifts God gives us and chow down on them like animals without recognizing they’re from his loving hand - isn’t that idiotic? It is. I’ve done it. So have you.

What do we need?  Quick story. At a job I had while at Sem, our boss wanted us to mow the lawn. I noticed the mower was low on fuel. I saw a can that looked like a gas can, so I filled it up. 10 seconds after starting it, it died. Why? Instead of gas, it was kerosene. I don’t know much about engines, but I know kerosene won’t make it run and will in fact destroy a motor. I made an idiotic choice. What did I need?  Marvin, my boss’s dad, an awesome fix it guy. He emptied the kerosene, cleaned out the engine, and put gasoline back in it.  I needed someone to fix the problem I created by being an idiot.

Who is our spiritual Marvin?  Who covers over the times we’ve been spiritual idiots?  Jesus. We’ve filled our spiritual tanks with all the wrong stuff that needs to come out.  Jesus did that. All the idiotic choices, wrong decisions, and sins we committed, he emptied from us, and emptied it upon himself. That is the truth of the cross.  Your sin, my bad choices, the failures of all who ever lived fell on him. All this is because of his amazing beyond words love. But he beyond just emptying us, he also filled us up. That is Paul’s point in this letter. In bringing us to faith, God covered us with Jesus’ holiness. He put  his Spirit in us. He gave us hearts that know, understand, and believe the truth of all that Jesus did for us and all that it means. We are, as Paul said, family. Jesus’ work was done for us. We’re members of the body of Christ. We are because Jesus filled us.  He emptied the bad, and loaded us up with the good. And in doing so, he removed the idiot label from us.

Where do we go from here? Let’s say after Marvin fixed my mistake, I started mowing.  I ran out of gas again.  Would it make sense for me to refill the tank with kerosene?  That would truly be idiotic.  We’ve been emptied of the bad and filled with the good.  What do we do now?  Back to Paul.  We make wise choices.  We take every opportunity to fill ourselves up with the good stuff.  We keep level heads when it comes to priorities and how we spend time and money.  And in all this, we give thanks to the God who saved us and still blesses us in every way possible. Easy to do? No. Our sinful hearts are always trying to get us to make idiotic decisions.  But as we rely on our Lord and work together as the body he created, he builds us up to say no to the idiotic and yes to the wise. No to the world, yes to him.  No to temptation, and yes to his will.  We don’t face the choices, these decisions as idiots.  We face them as children of God in whom the Spirit of God dwells.

So, sorry to be so blunt.  But sometimes bluntness is necessary.  May God bless us that we are not idiots as we head from this place and begin our week.  May he instead bless us that we are the wise, Christ-centered, Bible-believing Christians he has made us.  And may that show in that all we do, we do in thanks for what he has done for us.  That is not idiotic.  That is the wisest thing ever.  Amen.