Friday, December 27, 2013

An Imitation of God - Part 2

(Yes. It's been more than a month since my last post.)

(I'm sorry.)

Now, it's time to jump into part 2 of this series.

We're staying in Ephesians 5 pretty much the whole way through. My previous post covered verses 1-2 and established both the name and the vision of this series of blog posts - "an imitation of God."  If you have a moment and haven't read that first set of thoughts, go ahead and stop by this post to get what will hopefully prove to be a straightforward foundation for what I'd like to muse over in this post and the ones to come.

After stressing the importance of imitating God in every area of our lives, Paul moved on to point out specific elements that should *not* be found in the life of a believer seeking to emulate the holiness and love of God. Let's contemplate verse three for starters, where Paul explicitly states three "no-no's" of the Christian life:
"But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints..."
Fornication? Uncleanness? Covetousness?

What is this, a Biblical revision of Shakespeare?

Some definitions may help to clarify the meanings of these words suffering from disuse, because, let's face it - we don't go around using these words in everyday conversation.

First of all, let's look at "fornication."  (Oh yeah, we're going there.)

Merriam-Webster defines fornication as "consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other." Other Bible versions translate the Greek word πορνεια (pronounced "por-ni'-ah") as "sexual immorality," "immorality," and other similar terms. Basically, the term references any sexual relationship outside of the covenant bonds of marriage.

Please. We're Christians. None of that going on here. We don't do things like that, remember?

The Barna Group suggested in a recent survey that 5-6% of churchgoers (Protestant and Catholic) find that their greatest temptations revolve around immoral sexual behavior. Granted, 5-6% may not seem that much, but the survey also commented that sexual temptation is one of the struggles people are least likely to admit to. Also, percentages tend to downplay the true size and scope of an issue; while 5-6% may only translate to 5 or 6 people in a group of 100, this number grows with the size of the group. Pretty soon, the 5 or 6 have grown to hundreds and thousands.

Bottom line? Christians struggle with this "fornication" too. Our contemporary churches and coffee-laden focus groups won't eliminate this battle between the flesh and the Spirit, and in reality, no one is immune to a crash-and-burn in some form or fashion - or so Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1-:12-13,

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.

Next up: "uncleanness," here we come. That one isn't so hard to tackle; I mean, hit the pause button and think about what it means. If something is "unclean," then it's dirty. If it's dirty, then it's in need of a good cleaning. If it's in need of a good cleaning...

You get the idea. Images of your dog or bedroom may come to mind.

This Greek word, ακατηαρσια ("ak-ath-ar-see'-ah"), can refer to something that is unclean in either a physical (e.g., grease on your shirt) or moral (e.g., an adulterous affair) way. It's going against the grain, against the way God designed life to work, and it's about as attractive to Him as the mess your new puppy made in his crate last night.

Is your nose starting to wrinkle a bit? Mine is.

Finally - "covetousness." Someone who is covetous is "marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another's possessions; [has] a craving for possession." (Thanks again, Merriam-Webster!) πλεονεξια (you knew this was coming), when translated to its bare bones of meaning, comes out to the adjective many of us associate with the little green-eyed monster: greedy. To be plagued by covetousness is to need more and more and more; you're compelled by your cravings to the degree that you will do just about anything to obtain the object of your desire. 

Okay, yeah, you're right. No need to go there. Never mind the materialism plaguing our churches: bring your neighbor to church and earn an entry into a drawing for a TV (kiddos, get a game console if you convince Albert from next door to join you at Sunday School!). Never mind our straining and striving and chasing after that prized spot on the morning worship team, the leadership core, or the event management. 

Because, my word, we don't have to worry about covetousness.

Well-intentioned sarcasm aside, I hope you've taken note of these three moral pitfalls that Paul addresses. Why? 

Because I want to point out a pivotal phrase.
"...let it not even be named among you..."
Some versions of the Bible translate this phrase a bit differently, and I think the New International Version hits the nail on the head:
"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity..."
Not even a hint.


You see, we Christians like to regulate our morality by explicit acts. If you went all the way, then that's it for you. But hey, if you only went a little bit of the way - if you only dabbled in a specific sin without actually committing it - then no worries. After all, we're not legalists here; let's not chuck that amazing grace out the window.

No, indeed. Let's not. But let's also not forget the standard that grace calls us to: holiness. Realizing the implications of Paul's challenge to the Ephesian believers is a staggering proposition, and one that I'm sure I don't grasp fully. Not even a hint? Not even a suggestion? Not even a flickering thought? Really?

No. Not even so much as a shred of a suggestion of immorality or impurity for the flesh to feed upon.

For believers who would seek to live a life representing the holiness of the Lord to this disintegrating culture in which anything goes, the implications of holy living dictated by Ephesians 5 are radical. Stupid-sounding, perhaps. Irrational, in some cases.

(Just like willingly offering yourself to be beaten and mocked and crucified on a cross in the most brutal, humiliating manner possible for people who would continue to spit in your face for thousands of years. Because, of course, Jesus never did anything radical or stupid-sounding or irrational in the eyes of arrogant man seeking after remnants of lost immortality.)

This passage calls us to seriously evaluate every aspect of our lives and bring each corner into the light of God's truth. For many of us, it won't involve breaking off adulterous relationships or deleting the pornography from our computers (although for individuals struggling in those areas, such action absolutely should be taken). Instead, it will involve a scrutiny of our entertainment: will the music we listen to, the movies we choose to watch and the television we view, match the declaration of hearts committed to radical holiness - the ultimate rejection of even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity? This kind of examination will not only involve explicit sex scenes or lyrics, but inappropriate language and humor - hints - that foster impurity.

Obedience to Ephesians 5 will demand a stern evaluation of our words, our thoughts, our hearts' desires, because as long as the command of Ephesians 5 is neglected, as long as we dance around sin before a God Who abhors all forms of sin (Psalm 119:28), we will be living only a fraction of the life we were created to live, and the world will have very little reason to seek the hope that lies within our hearts.

So I ask you, as I ask myself: are there any forms of fornication, uncleanness, or covetousness you're tolerating in your life? Any subtle hints of impurity lurking about? Any thought that is not obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)? Those questions can be hard to answer. Believe me, I know. I still struggle to answer them honestly, knowing that my answer will most likely show a heart not yet fully surrendered to His glory and will demand a change in my life that, quite frankly, I really just don't want to have to make most of the time.

Why bother, then? I think Paul knew we would ask that question, and so he preceded this weighty subject matter with the two verses we looked at in the previous blog post, giving his answer: "...because you are His dear children." 

We're children called to reflect the heart of our Father, demonstrating His worth to this lost and dying world. We do it because we love Him. We do it because He's worth it.
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