Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:10a “Proving. . .”
Having concluded a parenthesis (v. 9), Paul returns to the thought of verse eight. To “walk as children of light” requires moral discrimination. “Proving,” a word from the chemistry lab, referred to the testing of metals to verify identity, determine quality, and check purity. By applying acid to a sample and watching the results, a chemist was “proving” the metal.
Believers are to put their deeds to the test. Every action must be put in the crucible of proof. A Christian’s whole life is a lab in which we do analysis. We weigh deeds, ponder actions, analyze behavior in light of. . .
Eph. 5:10b “. . .what is acceptable unto the Lord.”
This overriding principle applies to all the Christian walk. Each step is to be determined by a serious evaluation of what pleases the Lord. Motives and actions must be weighed in light of His smile. All that matters is pleasing God. Each choice is governed by a prior determination, to please God, not self. Ultimately, our behavioral decisions are made in advance, if this pleases Christ, cling to it, if it displeases Jesus, reject it at once.
When pleasing God is the overriding principle of life, cold harsh duty is transformed into the joy of doing a beloved’s will. Love lightens the burden of obligation. My dad was once comforting a man who had to care for his bedridden wife. The man objected, “She is no burden. She is my wife.”
Rather than thinking of ourselves as having to obey impersonal laws, we should be seeking to please a personal will. God’s pleasure is our supreme law and ultimate delight. The only adequate response to Calvary is to freely and gladly enthrone His will atop mine. “For the gift of a Whole Christ, I give my whole self to Him” (Maclaren), and do so joyfully.
Eph. 5:11a “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of
darkness,. . .”
Because spiritual light gives blessing and life, they who walk in it are granted the privilege of bearing “fruit” (5:9). Sadly, many do not allow the light to shine in them. Thus, their life-styles bear no “fruit.” Sin is “darkness,” a dead thing whose manifestations cannot properly be called “fruit.”
Sin definitely produces results, but not the type a person wants to harvest. Bitterness, disgrace, pain, shame, despair, remorse, regret–these are the results of sin, and they do not deserve the title “fruit.” Paul would not tarnish the word by using it to describe rubbish. He chose instead the stark phrase “unfruitful works” to describe this production of barrenness.
Sins bring no glory to God, no edification to others, no peace to self. They yield no gain, no blessing, nothing pleasant or profitable, and are of no use to mankind. People commit sin, expecting benefits. Sinners are convinced it will yield positive results. This is the attraction, the lure, the bait, the hook, of evil. However, sin does not match expectation, and is never as enjoyable as anticipated. Sooner or later, people who commit deeds of darkness learn they made a big mistake. Nothing of worth is gained in the long run by sinning. Whatever profit sin pretends, it leaves in its wake a preponderance of losses which its meager pleasures cannot counterbalance.
Sin is hurtful, and should be avoided, if for no other reasons, for practical considerations alone. In morality, the theological perspective comes first. Sin is wrong and should be avoided because it displeases God. We do not hesitate, though, to bring in the practical. Life verifies Christian theology. The benefits of moral rectitude are an important argument in its favor, and the devastation wrought by immorality argues against sin.
Despite this irrefutable truth, “unfruitful works of darkness” are present everywhere we look. Even when seeking to concentrate our thoughts on our own walk as children of light, we cannot remove from our consideration one obvious fact–we are surrounded by people walking in darkness.
Believers are not isolated and insulated from the darkness. We live not in greenhouses, but in society, in a realm yielded to darkness. Satan is “the god of this world” (2 C 4:4). Believers are ever faced with the dilemma of determining to what extent we interact with the world. Are we to identify ourselves so closely with it that we lose our identity? No, we are in the world, but “not of the world” (JN 15:19). Are we to become hermits and withdraw completely from the lost? No, though not of the world, we are “in the world” (see JN 17:11-18).
The correct stance is somewhere between these two extremes, and our text can help us find the proper balance. Note, first of all, that our verse refers to the “works” of darkness, not to the workers themselves. We do sometimes have to avoid sinners to escape sin. It is sin for a believer to marry an unbeliever (2 C 6:14). Many a godly parent has seen years of their training dissipate because a son or daughter married outside the faith.
Believers must also avoid partnerships, alliances, and memberships which put a Christian’s stamp of approval on the wrong policies of a group. Saints should avoid locations and haunts where unbelievers have predetermined that the very purpose of that place is to promote things contrary to the light. We certainly do not need to go to taverns, bars, brothels, adult bookstores, etc. for entertainment. One can easily and quickly be contaminated by the world. J.B. Gough said, “I would give my right hand tonight if I could forget that which I have learned in evil society.” When I was pastor near Blytheville Air Force Base, a pilot who belonged to my church told me of an incident which deeply affected him. Some pilots were sitting in a room talking of sordid things and looking at indecent pictures. The believer was not taking part, but one of the men threw a pornographic magazine in his lap. He saw the picture on the cover only for an instant, but said the image remained emblazoned on his memory for months. “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 C 15:33).
We readily confess, in certain situations we need to withdraw from the lost, but this truth is not the focus of our text. The primary emphasis of our verse is found in the word “fellowship.” What has to be avoided is “fellowship” with deeds of darkness. “Fellowship” involves communion of heart, agreement of spirit. One has “fellowship” with deeds of darkness when they are tolerated, made light of, or dabbled in. For sure, a believer should seek to avoid sinning as if some terrible plague were in the air, for it is. Bypass sin as you would avoid contamination from a fatal pestilence.
Believers should neither marry nor enter into detrimental alliances with unbelievers. A Christian should avoid the haunts of darkness. Saints should not tolerate, make light of, or dabble, in sin. However, “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” does not preclude our associating with the lost in the daily routines of life.
Jesus did not isolate Himself from sinners. He ate and drank with publicans, sinners, and Pharisees. He socialized with them, mixed with them. Paul, at the end of our present text, will tell us to “reprove” deeds of darkness. The command itself implies verbal interactions with the doers of these deeds. The Bible permits us to eat and visit in an unbeliever’s home (1 C 10:27). It is okay to do business with the lost (1 C 10:25). Political involvement, even under a wicked government, is allowed. Joseph served under a pagan dictator in Egypt, as did Daniel in Babylon. Romans 13, which commands submission and payment of taxes to government, was written when Nero was Caesar. Government does not get worse or more corrupt than it was then. We are not to isolate ourselves from the lost.
The purpose of our text is to make us see that when we are interacting with the lost, we must never do anything which implies we are condoning their evil. Jesus mingled with the masses, but did it in such a way that people knew He neither participated in nor approved their sins. Sinners knew He loved them, but also knew He did not like their evil ways.
Maintain contact with the lost for their good and salvation, but do not condone their sins. Talk about sports, politics, economics, science, but if a lost person crosses the line of spiritual propriety, change the subject. Make it obvious we do not approve. It is hard to know where to draw the line, but we have to do it. We just have to do it in such a way that we let them know we accept them, we love them as persons, and that our greatest concern is for the hurt they are bringing upon themselves.
We have to have contact with the lost to be their light. We cannot aid them if we do not interact with them. The wounded man in the ditch was helped not by the priest and levite who “passed by on the other side” (LK 10:31-32) of the road, but by the Good Samaritan who touched him. We cannot divorce ourselves from society. We have to be ethical light at work, at school, at play, at the store, wherever we are. Our Master prayed unto the Father, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (JN 17:18). The world is our mission field.
Eph. 5:11b “. . .but rather reprove them.”
These words reveal how the Church is to respond to the sins of the culture around it. “Them” refers to “the unfruitful works of darkness” (5:11a). Paul is bringing us face to face with the role we are to fill in the midst of a lost society. Our Lord said believers are to be the light of “the world” (MT 5:14), not of the Church. We are to influence our culture. A church is to be an uplifting force in the life of society. “Christians should be, as it were, the incarnate conscience of a community” (Maclaren).
To understand our task, and to accurately define our role in society, it is critical that we make sure we understand the definition of the word “reprove.” The verb means to seek to convince by means of evidence. The term always carries an argumentative reference, and means to question, to confute, to disprove, to debate, to seek to prove another person’s position wrong. The same word is used to describe the Holy Spirit’s task, “He will reprove the world of sin” (JN 16:8). He seeks to expose and to refute, to reveal sins for what they really are, and to convince sinners to forsake evil.
To “reprove” is not a popular activity in our culture. Ours is an age and society which increasingly bows down at the altar of unlimited tolerance. Anything goes. Anyone who tries to make a moral judgment or an ethical pronouncement is deemed neanderthal. If one calls any activity an abomination to God people look at the spokesman as if he were the missing link. To some in our culture, the one thing not tolerated is intolerance. The latter has become the ultimate taboo. “Live and let live” is the theme voiced abroad. I see us moving toward such an open society that almost every conceivable vice is legal, legitimatized, and highly visible.
This cultural hyper-tolerance makes our task as Christians difficult, but we can never abdicate our role to “reprove” the sins of the world. For believers, there are two problems with adopting society’s mindset wholesale: we cannot adhere to it and at the same time please God or help others.
Whatever the culture thinks, believers must please God at all cost. Christians never have the luxury of being neutral and passive about evil. We are never at liberty to connive at sin, or to be casual in its presence. “A dumb Church is a dying Church, and it ought to be; for Christ has sent us here in order, amongst other things, that we may bring Christian principles to bear upon the actions of the community; and not be afraid to speak when we are called upon by conscience to do so” (Maclaren).
It is never enough to silently abstain from evil. We do need to lead pure lives and display consistent moral conduct, but must add to godliness oral moral reproof. Without doubt, our first duty toward the darkness is to shine in it. Holiness in everyday living is our mightiest weapon, but it is with the voice that we wield it effectively in battle. A voice converts that which is passive into a dagger which penetrates deep into enemy territory.
Whatever the culture thinks, believers must help others at all cost. We must speak up and “reprove” sins, not only to please God, but also to help others. Fellow Fundamentalists, hear this well. Our goal is not merely to blame or to censure. Our task is to “reprove,” which includes the meaning of seeking to convince and to convert. Our ultimate objective is to win people, not arguments. We are not to use the Bible as a billy club.
I readily confess, it is at times hard not to be disgusted and downright angry. Our first reaction is often to do a knee-jerk, to reprimand, to condemn, to denounce. We need to feel anger in order to stimulate us to action, but must seek to leave it behind when we come to doing our duty of reproof. Try not to show disgust, or be severe. The latter is what the Pharisees did. They were the ones who curled up their noses in disdain.
Our purpose is to redeem, to help, never to crush and destroy. Our task is to show people the error of their way, for their sake. We rebuke in order to convict, to convince, and to convert. We should humbly–emphasize humbly–seek to produce correction in the lives of others. Without “holier-than-thou” attitudes, without prying as detectives or spies, we need to try to foster improvement in the lives of others.
We want to help people, to be of benefit to others, but this does not mean our efforts will be automatically appreciated. Sinners usually do not like reproof. They want their vices to be deemed virtues, and want us to leave them alone, but we who are in the light must never give up trying to help those in the darkness. We never do someone a favor when by our silence we make a sinner feel he or she is a fine person. Never humor a tumor. It is no act of love to know another person’s peril and not to warn.
To “reprove” properly requires us to be loving, to be cautious, to be wise, and to do our homework. Our approach to the culture must not be merely to denounce evil, but to provide irrefutable evidence which proves the misery and fallacy of sin. We want to reveal the perils of evil in such a way that people are led to abandon their sinful ways.
To “reprove” requires us to appeal to people’s understanding. We are to reason with them on their level, in terms they can comprehend. When discussing behavior with a lost person, we cannot use as an argument, God is upset, the Bible says, my church teaches, etc. God, Scripture, and the Church have sway with us, but hold no authority to the lost. What we have to do is deal with facts, talk about studies and polls which have been done, speak of research findings, converse about personal experiences. Our advantage as believers is that the Bible way is always the best way. We have the light. When the facts are known, our position will be vindicated.
We need to do our homework. When we speak against alcohol, we must be able to speak with authority about its effect on homes, on businesses, on health-care costs. When we speak against gambling, we need to have our statistics before us. It is not enough to speak of the Protestant Work Ethic. We must state facts about its adverse effect on crime and how addiction to it destroys homes.
When we tackle pornography, we cannot simply quote the Bible and expect to carry the day. We must have statistics and studies which show how pornography produces demeaning attitudes, and dehumanizes women and children. I have long said pornography could be ended in this country if women en masse took it on as a women’s rights issue. In fact, the overall moral tenor of any society is determined by women. Men as a group are hopelessly depraved. Women are a culture’s only hope.
When we talk about sex outside marriage, it is not enough to quote, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” We need to know about the growing number of HIV cases among teens. We need to be able to speak with authority about STD and about the problem of teen pregnancies.
When speaking with the lost about conduct, believers also have the advantage of being able to talk with authority about the root cause of problems. We talk not only about their sins, but also about their souls and their spiritual danger. We can speak of their relationship to God. For instance, we can speak to the alcoholic not only about an addiction to alcohol, but also deal with the inner emptiness which can be filled by knowing God.
We must do anything and everything we can to point people to a better way of life. One thing is sure, if we do nothing, floodgates will be opened to filth. We must at least try to stem the tide. “The devil has no more cunning way of securing a long lease of life for any evil than getting Christian people and Christian churches to give it their sanction” (Maclaren). Why did slavery last as long as it did? Because the Church spoke with a divided voice. Why is abortion still a curse upon our land? Because the Church speaks with a divided voice. Why has gambling made an astounding resurgence in recent years? Because the Church speaks with a divided voice. In the United States, when the Church speaks with a clear, consistent, united voice, the rest of the nation follows. We still have potential power and influence, if we will exercise it. If judgment rains down upon our land, be not surprised if much of the blame rests with the Church.
In many ways, these are exciting days for the Church in our country. These are the kinds of times which test our mettle. Evil deeds surround us, but we are not to sound a retreat, or to hunker down in a defensive posture. The Church never needs to curl up into a fetal position.
When Christ came from the grave, He left an example for His followers to imitate forever. We are not a defeated people, we are a victorious army, ever taking the initiative in our spiritual warfare, totally unintimidated by the evil deeds around us. Our Lord said He would build His Church and the gates of Hell would not be able to prevail against it (MT 16:18). He assumed His Kingdom would ever be on the offensive, attacking the bastions of evil. The Church must be aggressive to “reprove” forms of sin. To do anything less is to deny what God has called us to do.
Ephesians 5:12-14 Introduction
Believers are to “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness (5:11). By means of evidence, we are to seek to convince sinners of the error of their way. Verses 12-14 tell us why we are to “reprove” sins–first, they are shameful (5:12); second, they need to be unmasked (5:13a); third, to reveal is the nature of light (5:13b); fourth, to awaken sinners from death (5:14).
Eph. 5:12 “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which
are done of them in secret.”
We need to “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness because they are shameful, sometimes too disgraceful to discuss. Some acts are so repulsive and sordid that they “should be sealed off not only from contact, but even from conversation” (MacArthur). Our task is not to give sordid particulars of deeds of darkness. Beware the “curiosity which feasts itself like flies on foul corruption” (Edgar, in Pulpit Comm.). Some details should be buried in oblivion. Otherwise, we may be guilty of enjoying sin vicariously from a distance, or of teaching others how to commit the sin we reprove.
Merely to hear of what sinners do should make our cheeks blush. Believers are not to be naive or overly prudish, but should be ashamed to describe in detail certain sins which wicked people are not ashamed to do.
Christians must seek to maintain a proper and delicate balance. We should be marked by a holy bashfulness, but at the same time must be willing to discuss evils enough to “reprove” them. A particular evil may be so bad that it causes us to blush in embarrassment, but we may also find ourselves forced to deal with the contamination in order to contain it. It is better to grapple with disrepute while it is cloistered in a closet than to deal with it after it proliferates into the public. Just be careful not to unduly violate modesty when reproving a sin. Expose only enough about it to be rid of it. Discuss it only to the extent proper reproof requires. When possible, refer to sins by name, but try to avoid describing them in detail.
Sin is a shame, and our duty is to put to shame, if not to silence, the deeds of darkness. We should delicately “reprove” evil, seeking to convince sinners to be ashamed of their own sins. Shame is a first step of repentance, and the fact a sinner commits an evil “in secret” may indicate a continued capacity for shame. An old proverb says, “Night has no shame.” Let us “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness. Fill the sinner’s night with our light that he might thereby be filled with a proper sense of shame.
Eph. 5:13a “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by
the light:. . .”
We need to “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness because, secondly, they need to be unmasked. “All things” refers to the evil, secret practices discussed in verse 12. “Made manifest” means to make visible or known what has been hidden or unknown. When we “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness, we unmask them, expose their true colors, and reveal them for the grotesque and harmful creatures they really are. When we drag sins out of the dingy corners where they lurk, and shine the light of truth on them, they are seen in all their ugliness. “The best way to rid society or the world of any evil is to drag it out into the light” (Barclay). Once revealed for what they really are, some sins die a natural death.
“The Assyrians had a belief that if ever, by any chance, a demon saw himself in a mirror, he was frightened at his own ugliness and incontinently fled” (Maclaren). A sinner who comes face to face with his own sins and honestly analyses them, will have a similar reaction.
Some sense no need for repentance and forgiveness because their own sins have not been unmasked, exposed for what they really are. No believer has been willing to reprove them in a one on one, eye to eye, discussion. Sinners cannot know the sinfulness of sin unless they are told, and sometimes this telling has to be individualized, tailored to their specific situation.
In person to person settings, we must ever seek ways to gently and lovingly reveal the true awfulness of wrong deeds. Sins need to be unmasked. “To make such ways of living attractive they must be cloaked up in a deceitful glamour” (Gore). Someone must counter Satan’s propaganda. Once stripped bare and revealed in its true colors, sin is repulsive.
Sins hate light, therefore let us cast our light upon them. When a sinner known to us steals away to a “secret” place, seeking to hide what he does not wish to avoid, may our reproof echo in his mind. Secrecy gives sinners courage, and takes the edge off their shame. They think what is hidden will go unpunished. Being unseen by others makes them safe and secure, and for the present out of gunshot. Thus, before they slither away to their hideaway, while they are yet in our presence, we must never be ambivalent about sin, or leave any doubt as to where we stand.
Believers are not ultimately held accountable for what the lost do “in secret,” but we are responsible for speaking light into their darkness. Whether they agree with us or not, they must be forced to face the fact that their deeds, no matter how secret, cause dreadful consequences.
If we ignore the known sins of people around us, they probably will continue in their “secret” sins, proceed to even worse crimes, and experience ever more fateful judgment. The more a sin is committed, the sinner becomes more secure in it, and more addicted to it. We must seek to interrupt this cycle, for “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15), and Christians do not want people to die, especially in their sins. We appeal to sinners–come out of secrecy and sin. Take more concern to get sins pardoned than hidden. He who hides his sins shall not prosper; but he who confesses and forsakes them shall find mercy (PR 28:13).
Eph. 5:13b “. . .for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.”
We must “reprove” the unfruitful works of darkness because, thirdly, to reveal is the nature of light. To “make manifest,” to shine and reveal, is the inherent business of light. Christians are called light (EP 5:8), but are unworthy of the title if we do not shine in the midst of a dark world.
Only light can “make manifest,” reveal reality. We believers truly are the world’s only hope. Nothing but light can brighten and conquer darkness. There will be no conviction of sin unless our light shines upon it.
“May God use us to make sin appear sinful” (Strauss), and may He keep us mindful of our ultimate objective. We want a sinner to feel shame, not to feel bad as an end in itself, but to cause change. “Shame is one of the influences by which the light conquers a soul from darkness” (Barlow).
We must shine, whether or not this illumination leads to reformation. We can cause sin to lose its hidden character, to let it no longer belong to darkness in the sense of being unknown or unrevealed, but once this is accomplished, the next step is left up to the sinner.
A sinner whose deeds are exposed faces the moment of crisis. He is forced either to come to the light or to run into deeper darkness to hide from the light. One has the awful freedom to run away from the light.
The rich young ruler came to Jesus, thinking all was well within. Jesus, though, reproved him, and revealed to him the truth about his inner priorities. The young man thus brought face to face with crisis. He knew what Jesus had said was true, but loved his sin too much to leave it.
In my first pastorate, on an Easter Sunday morning, I saw a man come to the moment of crisis with a level of conviction which I have never seen paralleled again in my ministry. The light had shone upon his darkness. His sins stood revealed. During the invitation, with head bowed, he clutched to the pew in front of him so tightly that his knuckles turned white. He made the wrong choice. He ran from the light. Later that same week, he was electrocuted. I helped preach his funeral. It was tragic.
Since people are free to accept or reject the light, let us believers shine a light which is not only bright, but also attractive, enticing, and charming. We seek not only to expose sins, but also to woo sinners. When Jesus walked among us, Pharisees were repelled, but acknowledged sinners were drawn to Him like a magnet. Something about Him was attractive.
By the life we live, and by the words we speak, we need to give people a glimpse of something better than anything they have ever known before. Most unbelievers think the Christian life is dull. God forgive us for walking around looking as if we were baptized in vinegar. Our lives should be filled with joy. Believers have what the world is looking for, and should put it on display to whet unbelievers’ appetites. The old saying is, you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink. Someone quaintly added, true, but you can give him salt pills to make him thirstier. Believers are “the salt of the earth” (MT 5:13), and should live in such a way that lost people are made thirsty for Jesus, the water of life.
If by our lives and lips we are not bringing people in darkness to the point of decision, of crisis, then what are we doing? Why be called light if we are refusing to shine? “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (MT 5:14-16).
Eph. 5:14 Introduction
We should “reprove” unfruitful works of darkness (5:11) because, first, they are shameful, often too disgraceful to discuss (5:12); second, they need to be unmasked, revealed for what they really are (5:13a); third, to reveal is the nature of light (5:13b); fourth, it can cause sinners to be saved (5:14).
Eph. 5:14a “Wherefore he saith,. . .”
We do not know who the Apostle is quoting here. In the Greek, the three clauses in verse 14 form a rhythmic, metrical triplet. This poetic format has led some to assume Paul was quoting a familiar Christian hymn. This possibility is reinforced by the fact Paul was at this time thinking about “hymns and spiritual songs” (5:19). Whatever the source of this quotation, it helps enforce the need for reproof by revealing a possible, positive effect which can result from a faithful and loving admonition.
Eph. 5:14b “. . .Awake thou that sleepest,. . .”
Whenever we reprove anyone’s vices, let us include a proclamation of the Gospel as a call to salvation. Always remember, our objective, ultimately, is to win people, not arguments. Even as we expose sinful deeds, we must point out to sinners the only way of escape. We must seek to convince the lost they are asleep, in need of being awakened.
The lost person is a sleeper, living in a dream world, in a fantasy land of make-believe, unconscious of the real world, of the way things actually are. Living solely for this day and age, the lost are dreamers focused on illusions, things which are not ultimate reality. This world is passing away (1 J 2:17). Its pleasantries are fading, but the lost fancy them to be the real thing. Unbelievers are busy about trifles, while overlooking great concerns and eternity. They labor over things of this world, but are asleep to divine things.
The lost person is a sleeper, living in a false security. Sleep gives one a sense of security–the body essentially relaxes all safeguards. One is insensible to danger. People can even walk in their sleep and be totally unaware of any danger. When I was a teenager, a friend of mine sleep-walked across two city streets. The lost are also sleep-walkers, able to move around and do things, but sensing no danger. Thinking all is well, they sleep away in the very presence of an offended God. They are like a sleeper who is dreaming he or she is in paradise, while at the same instant the bedroom is on fire. The sinner refuses to contemplate Judgment Day, Hell, wrath to come. Whether one believes in these things or not has no bearing on their actual existence. If everyone quit believing the sun rises, it would rise tomorrow anyway. In the same way, disbelief in future judgment does not negate its actuality. Despite this, the lost continue to sleep in a stupor which leaves them mindless of the tragic destiny to come.
The lost person is a sleeper, living in spiritual indifference, no sense of guilt or need or dependence, no conflicts with sin and temptation. Unbelief is a sleep of unconcern, a state which neglects self-examination. The sleeper often takes precautions to keep from being awakened, and bolts the heart’s door against unwelcome messengers and intruders.
The lost want their spiritual bed soft and warm, and the devil obliges them. He is the one who rocks their cradle. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 J 5:19). Unbelievers are asleep, but Satan is certainly awake (1 P 5:8), seeking to keep sinners asleep. Hugh Latimer called Lucifer the busiest bishop in the kingdom. Christians may not be influencing the lost, but the devil is. He visits them, talks to their inner man, and stays after them day and night, seeking to keep them asleep.
Satan is very effective. His sleeping pills produce an enjoyable sleep. It vexes lost people to have their spiritual slumber disturbed. When sinners hear the truth, they are not always happy, but who would not wake others when a house is on fire? The devil is busy, believers must be, also. We are the lost nappers’ only hope. Believers need to blow a morning bugle call. The thief is pilfering while people sleep. Their houses are on fire. Bad seed is being sown in their fields. Let the reveille sound forth, Awake!
Eph. 5:14c “. . .and arise from the dead,. . .”
To convince us that the sleep of the lost is more than an inconsequential or harmless slumber, Paul heightens his metaphor to describe it as a sleep of death. Sleep can be dreadfully dangerous, as when a driver falls asleep at the wheel, a walker becomes drowsy in a blizzard, a sailor dozes on the mast, or a sentinel falls asleep on guard duty. These deadly sleeps picture the sleep of the lost. Unless this death be broken, one falls into “the second death” (RV 20:14), the death which never dies. Spiritual and physical death are horrifying enough, but everlasting death is a thought almost too dreadful to contemplate, a fate too terrible to gamble on.
Mixing the metaphors of death and sleep, Paul gives a well-rounded view of lostness. Death highlights an unbeliever’s impotence. A corpse is helpless in itself, powerless, with no inherent ability of self-resuscitation. The dead can perform no function of the living. The lost are incapable of doing works which satisfy God, no hungering and thirsting after righteousness, no sensitivity to God’s Word, no desire to follow God’s leading.
On the other hand, in this lifetime, spiritual death is as a sleep which can be broken. Sleep implies a listless state which can draw to an end. Sleeping implies the presence of some form of life. The lost are not dead as a rock is. Some form of natural life is in them. In a lost person, their lower nature is awake, but their best part is asleep. Their truest self is drowned in the things of time, and insensible to the things of eternity. However, this best self can be awakened. God made sinners able to do one spiritual thing–to be saved. There is a mechanism in place which allows the sleeper to respond, to be awakened by the voice of the Gospel.
God ordained that in His very summons itself there is awakening, quickening power. His voice is thunder in the ear of the sleeper, and lightning in the heart of the dead. God would never mock people by telling them to do what they cannot do. All the Bible presupposes a person’s ability to obey God’s voice, and when this happens, the result is glorious. . . .
Eph. 5:14d “. . .and Christ shall give thee light.”
Sleeper, not only is there something worth rising from, there is also something worth waking up to. Those who respond “shall” have light. This blessed consequence in an unbeliever can result from a believer faithfully manifesting light and reproving darkness. When believers do what they are called to do, Christ will bless their efforts and shine on people in darkness. As we speak boldly in the midst of moral cemeteries, some graves will open and the dead shall come forth. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (PS 126:5-6).
If we “go,” some will “come.” This week I attended a meeting about the simultaneous “Here’s Hope” revivals Southern Baptist churches plan to conduct all across our country next year. The speaker, Paul McClung of our state office, shared valuable statistics on soulwinning. Surveys show that when we try to share the gospel with lost people in the USA, an average of one in four listeners will let us present the whole plan. This percentage has long remained constant. However, of these one-fourth who hear the whole presentation, an interesting change has happened in recent years. As late as 1987, just seven years ago, tests were showing that of this one-fourth, one in ten would accept Jesus and pray to be saved. In other words, for every forty times one tried to present the gospel, one would be saved. This one-in-forty was the “etched in stone” statistic I grew up with. Now, however, something amazing and wonderful is happening. Of the one-fourth who listen to the whole gospel presentation, now one in four are being saved. This means for every sixteen times we try to present the gospel, one will be saved. Why this increase in receptivity to the gospel? People have had a generation and longer of trying many other options which have failed. People are seeking for something that works, and the gospel works.
Believers, the sounds of eternity are crashing against the walls of this world’s mortality. Think of it. Eternity. People lost forever. All the sleepers will eventually awake, either by conviction or condemnation. Let us seek to make it the former, rather than the latter, option. Criswell tells of a freight train which one morning at 6:00 pulled into the town of Gans OK. The engineer blew the whistle over and over and over again. The townspeople surely wondered why at 6 a.m. someone was making that much noise. At 6:04 a terrible tornado swept the town and destroyed it. The lost want to stay asleep, but we, as their only hope, must seek to rouse them.
Unbelievers, Christ has stood at some of your heart doors so long that the hinges have become rusty. Cobwebs cover the door-frame corners. Now is the time to open to Him. It is worth the effort. Talmage told of a John Holland, who in his dying moments, swept his hand over the Bible and said to his wife, “Come, let us gather a few flowers from this garden.” It was night, and he said, “Have you lit the candles?” When she replied, “No,” he said, “Then it must be the brightness of the face of Jesus that I see.” Come, sinner, to the light. It is the brightness of the face of Jesus you see.
Eph. 5:15a “See then that ye. . .”
These words connect our text to what has just been previously said. If we would seek to reprove others, we had best look to ourselves first. “Physician, heal thyself” certainly applies in this situation. Before we reprove the sins of others, let us reprove the sins of self.
As believers, our conduct must be above reproach. We live, as it were, on the stage of a crowded theater, watched by God, angels, fellow Christians, and unbelievers. We know the latter audience is Paul’s main concern here, as the parallel passage in Colossians (4:5) specifies, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.” Our conduct should wow the world, flabbergast the lost. Unbelievers should have to stand in awe of our lives.
Conservative Christianity continues to be demeaned often in our society. In fact, it is about the only bigotry sometimes deemed “politically correct” in our present culture. One of our public universities recently had a guest lecturer speak on the dangers of the religious right. (I would rather be in the religious right than in the religious wrong.)
Though our society in general tends to think negatively of us en masse, receptivity to the Gospel, on the individual level, seems on the rise. This underscores an important truth. No matter how negatively the culture thinks of us as a group, individuals within the society are hard pressed to disavow the positive influence of a flesh-and-blood example of a godly life lived in their presence. There is a comeliness in loving, gentle godliness.
You and I can, by the beauty of our individual lives, be a beacon wooing those around us to Christ. God has put on us the same honor that He put on the star of Bethlehem. We are guides to Christ.
Eph. 5:15b “. . .walk. . .”
Here, for a fifth and final time, the word “walk” is used in this section of Ephesians (4:1-6:9) which deals with Christian behavior. Paul has told us to “walk worthy” (4:1), to “walk not as other Gentiles walk” (4:17), to “walk in love” (5:2), to “walk as children of light” (5:8). Verse 15 gives a fifth admonition regarding our habitual conduct. We are to walk. . .
Eph. 5:15c “. . .circumspectly,. . .”
The word, taken from Latin, literally means, “all around looking, in every direction watching.” The idea entails being on the alert, as if one is walking in a dangerous place. For Christians, this world is a spiritual mine-field. Within us, we have slippery hearts. Beside us, we have to be careful with whom we walk, lest we be led astray (1 C 15:33). Around us, the world is filled with temptations, pitfalls, quagmires, traps, and snares. We have to be careful about where we put our feet down. G. Campbell Morgan said we need to be like a cat who walks carefully among pieces of broken glass embedded in cement on the top of a security wall. Only by being extremely careful is the cat able to maneuver without cutting itself. Believers, step warily, “circumspectly,” looking in every direction.
We are not “to see a demon behind every bush.” As Henry Blackaby says, if we blame Satan for every problem in life, we leave no room in our theology for God to test us. At the same time, though, do not go to the other extreme, and think the devil is nowhere. Spiritual warfare is real.
It seems as though we live on a chessboard, hardly able to move back and forth without wondering how we shall be attacked. One reason I gave up playing chess is that it forced me to think too much. Living a holy life also requires huge amounts of concentration, but I am willing to give it my focused attention because godliness is a goal worthy of mental exertion.
The deeper Christian life is never accomplished by accident. “No guidance is promised him which shall dispense with patient watchfulness” (Moule). Our security is in watchfulness and prayer. In Gethsemane, Jesus told the disciples, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (MK 14:38). My dad always loved to quote the saying, “Proceed on your knees.” Another applicable old proverb is, “Make haste slowly.” We go forward, we have to proceed, we must make haste, but we should do so prudently.
Step guardedly, like a tight-rope walker. If we believers take but one step awry, we can fall, and there are no safety nets to catch a fallen testimony. Tread gingerly, as we would if negotiating one of those high steel beams construction workers walk on. I can hardly bear to watch when they do that. I know I would be extremely cautious if I were trying to do it. Christian living is as precarious. It deserves our undivided attention.
Closely watch the parameters within which we are to regulate our lives. The Greek word “akribos,” translated here as “circumspectly,” literally means to live exactly, by the rule, according to a set norm. Believers are to maintain strict conformity to a standard. Even as we embrace the Bible’s promises, also grasp its precepts. Walk by the rule God gave us. Christianity is not a broad plain in which we walk at large without restraint or limit. We enter “the strait gate” and walk the “narrow” way (MT 7:13-14). Pursue a steady course without diverting to one side or the other.
Eph. 5:15d “. . .not as fools, but as wise,. . .”
Within the lines of Christian duty lies the only wise way of life. The ancients said, all roads lead to Rome. True, but not all roads lead to Heaven. Some imagine they can believe anything they wish and still make it to Heaven, but only one road leads to Heaven, the same road which in this life yields the nearest thing to Heaven on earth. Wisdom resides in Christ.
The ability to make right choices and live life aright is one of the gifts given to Christians in salvation (1:8). Unbelievers do not understand the deepest truths of life. Melzar helped Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but never even pretended to understand their desire for holiness before a righteous God (DN 1:14). The lost and the saved hold to vastly different world-views, the former foolish, the latter wise.
“The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (PS 14:1). The lost foolishly live without reference to God, either as theological or practical atheists. A believer, on the other hand, wisely is obsessed with thoughts of God. It is “the” fact of life, a truth which never escapes him or her. When I left for seminary, Grandpa Marshall’s parting words to me were, “Son, I believe in God as much as I believe you and I are standing here.” To him God was the most important essence of life.
“Fools make a mock at sin” (PR 14:9). The lost foolishly deem sin a minor matter. They see it as nothing to fear, and yet it is one thing worth fearing. Since unbelievers are wrong in their thinking about God, they are also wrong in their thinking about the perils of sin. This week I saw on TV an interview with a teenage homosexual prostitute who sells himself to men in San Francisco each night. Being HIV positive, he is going to die, yet continues his trade. When asked if it did not bother him to be doing this while dying, he replied, “Death is only a dream.” Not true! For those outside Jesus death is a nightmare! The lost are foolishly blind to spiritual consequences. Wisdom begins in the fear of the Lord (PR 1:7).
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (PR 12:15). Being wrong about God and the gravity of sin, the lost begin to deem the handling of life as something not beyond them, a matter they can figure out on their own. As a result, the lost person becomes his own god, his own authority on life.
Unbelievers see themselves as sharp enough, shrewd enough, having intellect enough, to master life on their own. They lean totally on their own mind, depending solely on “its own rude guesses” (Parker) at life’s puzzling problems. The believer, though, has wisely learned it is never enough in life to know facts and skills. Something else is needed–wisdom to apply them rightly. The Psalmist (119:59) wisely says, “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies” (PS 119:59). A wise person understands he needs guidance from above, for it is possible to be a genius without being wise. Even if a lost person does admit a need for outside help, he or she turns not to God, but to others. The lost thus often follow the path of least resistance, the road of public opinion. Christians should not automatically go along with the crowd. We are not to do things because everyone else is doing it. We take direction from above. We are expected to follow the wisdom of God (3:10). It is ours and can be activated by asking it of God (JM 1:5). We need to take advantage of this privilege, for it is possible to do even a right thing in a wrong way. One can do a good deed in such a way that it causes more harm than help. Severe virtue repels and rouses resentment. Some have the spiritual gift of clobber.
“Thou fool” (LK 12:20), said God to the man who thought only of bigger barns, being obsessed with a lust to “eat, drink, and be merry.” The lost are foolishly addicted to the things of this world. They worry more about what is in their earthly bank than about what they have stored up in Heaven. They show more concern for their physical bodies than for their immortal souls. Christians wisely live in light of another age and time. Limner, the famous artist, was known for spending a vast amount of time on individual works. When asked why he felt a need to be so exact and meticulous, he replied, “I paint for eternity.” Do we understand we live for eternity, not only our own, but also the eternity of others? The everlasting destinies of others are affected by the way we live. In this light, we can never live too tediously, too exactly, too “circumspectly.” I plead with you, do not disgrace our faith, and thereby turn others away from it.
Eph. 5:16a “Redeeming the time,. . .”
“Redeeming,” a commercial term taken from the marketplace, refers to buying. “The time” is not a reference to hours and minutes, but rather denotes a fit time, an opportune moment. The Greek word points to a critical period, a special possibility, a fleeting chance which will soon pass.
“Redeeming the time” thus refers to buying up an opportunity. The metaphor pictures a wise bargain-hunter who is shopping for a scarce, valuable commodity known as “the time.” The shopper, showing keen business acumen, recognizes the right moment to buy. He knows to grasp the opportunity, to buy it while it lasts, because it will soon slip away.
Paul’s meaning in the phrase “redeeming the time” is well conveyed in Horace’s ancient, yet still popular, phrase, “Carpe diem,” “Seize the day.” The thought is also illustrated in Mordecai’s immortal words. Learning of Haman’s edict to destroy the Jews, Mordecai knew immediately who was their only hope. He sent word to his cousin, Queen Esther, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (ES 4:14).
Our present text, taken in context, is Paul’s way of saying we must make the best use of every opportunity to shine as light in the midst of a dark world. Opportunities of turning people to light are few and far between. We must be ever alert to recognize and catch teachable moments.
If lost people ask about certain moral and ethical issues, pursue their interest. Continue the discussion by letting them talk a lot. Ask questions of them, guide them toward spiritual contemplations. Take an interest in their lives. When they have troubles, go and offer sympathy, and try to help in some practical way. Out of this may grow the opportunity you need to win someone to Jesus. “Sickness, accident, death, misfortune, all these things are constantly happening to people and there we find our opportunity. When their hearts are tender, let us be there and let us be ready. Redeem the time, buy up the opportunity!” (Lloyd-Jones).
Even in the secular realm, people recognize the significance of opportune moments. Plato said, “If a person lets the right moment for any work go by, it never returns.” Napoleon said, “There is in every great battle a ten to fifteen minute period that is the crucial point. Take that period and you win the battle; lose it and you will be defeated.” What is true of physical combat is also true of spiritual warfare. There are critical moments in which the battle for an individual’s life may be won or lost forever.
Once to ev’ry man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
‘Twixt that darkness and that light. (James Lowell)
There are special times when we can take care of business in the commerce of the Kingdom of God. “Every godless man is an opportunity for godly men. Godless men come into contact with godly men in the economy of grace in order that they may pass under the influence of their godliness” (Morgan). In special moments of sensed receptivity, we must seize the day.
Unfortunately, “life is full of too-lates; that sad sound that moans through the roofless ruins of the past, like the wind through some deserted temple” (Maclaren). An ancient Greek statue depicted Opportunity as a man with a large lock of hair on the front of his head, no hair on the back, and wings on his feet. The wings on his feet caused him to fly by swiftly. The forelock gave people the chance to seize him as he passed by. The baldness in back meant once he was gone, none could lay hold of him.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. (Shakespeare)
Since these truths matter in the secular realm, how much more important it is to acknowledge the seriousness of opportunities in the spiritual realm.
It might help if we try to see the big picture. Wise use of opportunities is part and parcel of a larger stewardship, the wise use of all our time. Time is not man’s property. It belongs to God. We are merely stewards of it, and must give an account for how we use it. Whenever Ignatius heard a clock strike, he would say, another hour is past that I have to answer for.
Jesus understood the stewardship of time. He filled His days with deeds of spiritual significance. Mark (1:21-35) described one day in particular which gives an idea of what Jesus’ daily schedule was like. One Sabbath Day, He taught in the synagogue, and healed a man with an unclean spirit. He then went to Simon’s home and healed his mother-in-law of a fever. At sunset, “all the city was gathered together at the door.” The townspeople brought to Him their loved ones who were sick and possessed with demons. After this busy day, Jesus was up the next morning “a great while before day” in order that He might find a solitary place and pray. Time belongs to God. We must be wise stewards of it.
Time’s supreme importance is enhanced by its connection with eternity. Time, a section carved out of forever, serves as the seed of eternity. Time defines the limits within which the work of salvation must be done. Everlasting destinies are determined within the confines of time. It is the chamberlain who opens or shuts forever the door to the Kingdom of God. In perpetual motion, like a mighty river, time ultimately bears everything into the boundless ocean of eternity, where consequences never change.
Thus, though time is precious in and of itself, its most valuable moments are those which present us with spiritual opportunities. These fleeting moments of everlasting destiny are the flower of time, the golden jewel, the rich diamond which gives time its greatest value.
These opportunities to share light in someone’s darkness are extraordinary gifts from God for which we are held to a special accountability. If misspent, precious moments to witness for Christ are lost, possibly never to return again. They must not be allowed to slip through our hands. Act immediately when the Holy Spirit opens a door of opportunity.
Capture present moments. Past moments are honored in the halls of nostalgia, future moments are relished in halls of wishful thinking. Present moments are deemed dull and trivial, but they matter. One moment in time can open the door to eternity. At such times, the moment is not measured by the tick of a clock, but by the deed we crowd into it.
Penetrate darkness whenever and wherever we can. “Work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (JN 9:4). Someday the swinging of the pendulum will cease. There will be no clocks in Heaven. Moments matter now. Seize the day.
Eph. 5:16b “. . .because the days are evil.”
Paul challenged the Ephesian Christians to redeem the time because the society in which they lived was morally bankrupt. The whole present age is evil (GL 1:4), corrupted by its god, the devil. We must snatch from his hand those moments which yield themselves to holy and pious purposes.
Be neither surprised nor exasperated by the unfriendly environment surrounding us. Expect it. I remind us of God’s description of His people in Song of Solomon 2:2, “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” Thus God sees our situation. The world around us is thorny, prickly and irksome. In the midst of dreary, drab thorns, God sets His Church, the lily, a gorgeous flower. In God’s eyes, the ugliness of the thorns serve merely to enhance the beauty of the flower.
In our text, note that the reason Paul used for arduous toil, others use as an excuse for indolence. In the face of overwhelming evil, some give up and surrender. There is, in this world, a natural tendency away from the true path, and toward corruption. One thing the times pull us toward is discouragement. We can easily adopt a position of fear and defeat.
Perception makes all the difference. Adam and Eve were given everything, with one exception (GN 2:17). Having been denied one thing, they felt cheated, and sinned. Joseph was given everything, with one exception. Having been denied one thing, he saw it as a reason to be loyal (GN 39:9).
How we view our situation matters. What some see as a reason to quit is presented by Paul as a reason to work harder than ever. God would never have us lose hope and sing the blues in utter despair. “Courage will never sit down and utter its dirge in the hour of darkness” (Morgan).
The way to slow evil’s advance is to attack it. “Redeem the time,” take every chance to fight moral decline in our era. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).
Paul was not naive. He understood the pressure we are under, but expected us to resist and to overcome it. The obstacles erected against us are numerous and menacing, but our spiritual weapons are “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
We neither know nor show the extent of our power till we face and defeat a formidable opponent. “Hard and evil times, indeed, bring opportunities of a special value. . .because they have a great intrinsic worth. Nay, more, hard times, sorrowful times, times of temptation and difficulty, are themselves opportunities of pre-eminent value. Then, if ever, we have a chance of showing of what stuff we are made, of testing and proving the sincerity, the genuineness, of our religious life” (Cox, in BI).
Our present day demands and rewards a vigorous faith. When morals at large are this corrupt, Christians have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the value of upright conduct. “The very things that make it hard to be a Christian are the things which enable us to shine” (Morgan). The deeper the darkness, the more conspicuous the light as it shines. We presently have opportunity to make a strong moral impression on the world.
Some who have influenced history most were ones who had to shine in the midst of deep darkness. Elijah stood firm and unshaken among a people almost totally given over to idolatry. As much for, as his culture was against, the true God, he made an impact for godliness, thereby proving, “The Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few” (1 SM 14:6).
We need to heed David’s advice, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers” (PS 37:1). A dark cloud of doom once settled over Rome. Hannibal had invaded the land. The Romans were humiliated, forced to see their Imperial City under siege. When things looked their worst, the Roman Senate, to show how little disturbed they were and to show they regarded Hannibal’s deeds as mere bravado, put up for public auction the very spot of land on which the general’s tent was erected. Their plan was a master-stroke of genius. The purchase of this land by a senator gave heart and hope to the people. The senators knew the enemy would never set foot within the city, and that very soon Hannibal would have to retreat in haste–which is exactly what happened. When the victory seemed to be in the hand of the foe, these men wrested it out of his hands, and won an inspiring moral victory.
Let me encourage you. I do not know what the future holds for our country, but I do know Satan and his kingdom have been defeated. “Be of good cheer,” Jesus said, “I have overcome the world” (JN 16:33). We can have victory in “the world,” the very quarter where Satan’s “tent is erected.” We can lead a holy life in the midst of whatever perversion he throws our way. Obadiah stayed true in Ahab’s court. Believers dwelt in Herod’s house, and in Nero’s palace. Daniel stayed true in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.
Believers, never be obsessed with numbers, and never be destroyed by what appears to be a hopeless situation. No matter how evil the times become, let us be found courageous, faithfully redeeming the time. “Stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13, NASB).
Eph. 5:17 “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what
the will of the Lord is.”
“Wherefore”–because the danger is so real, and the evil so bad–be sure we know where we stand. Make sure we are launching our assaults against evil on sure footing, from a valid base of operations. If we would be accurate in word and deed, we must first be accurate in thought.
In any vocation, success rests on well chosen and well kept rules. Every great artist, writer, or athlete owes their success to certain principles of action to which they adhere. What is true of these pursuits is true of our quest to impact our culture. We must closely adhere to the principles whereby we regulate our lives, and must choose those guidelines wisely.
Do not deem our own mental faculties or the counsel of others as infallible. Our guide must be “the will of the Lord.” To know His will, be alone with Him often, pray without ceasing, and know His Word, the Bible.
Nothing is more valuable in daily living than to have fixed principles to guide us. We need convictions, and one settled conviction for sure is of inestimable value–nothing good can result from anything which is against “the will of the Lord”; the only blessed, safe, true, and right life is one which absolutely follows “the will of the Lord” as revealed in the Bible.
Paul’s counsel in our text is needed today. If not a Bible-Christian, one will not be a survival-Christian. The world is polished, smooth talking. The only way to resist its tidal wave of filth is to have our feet firmly planted on bedrock, and for Christians, bedrock is the Bible. The blessed man, the one strengthened and nourished by God, delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates in it day and night (PS 1:2). “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word” (PS 119:9).
I fear we often take the Bible for granted. Ironside once asked a crowd of 500 Christians how many had read the entire Bible at least once. Only two raised their hands. He said, “I was ashamed to have the devil see it. I was so thankful that there were not a lot of sinners to see it. They would certainly say, “Those Christians do not value their Bible very much.””
Ironside tells of an open religious forum which took place in Chicago. Clarence Darrow defended atheism, three others defended Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism. The latter three spoke first, telling why they believed as they did. Darrow responded, “Gentlemen, I have been very much interested in one thing. I notice neither Protestant, Catholic, nor Jew ever referred to the Bible. Evidently they no longer value that so-called Holy Book as they used to do.” He then declared he was an atheist because he had no use for the Book they had not even mentioned. Darrow was wrong in his theology, and died pleading for mercy from God, but he had one thing right–the Book is the essence of our faith. We have no sure rule to walk by but the will of God as revealed in Holy Writ. We must be willing to stake our lives on it. Oh! that we could say with Job, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (23:12).
The secret of Methodism’s early success can be traced to the handful of men who banded themselves together for godly living in the midst of evil prevailing all around them. Giving each other mutual support, love, and accountability, they agreed to regulate their conduct strictly and rigidly by Bible rules. This unshakable resolve “made Methodism a power; not a new retreat and home for recluse spirits and souls sick of sin and of the world; but a new source of blessed influence in a dry, cold age; a mighty agent for the revival and regeneration of a Christianity that had fallen upon, and, alas! yielded itself up to what were, truly evil days” (Candlish, in BI).
One reason we are losing the day in our own culture is because the Church is not speaking with conviction. It has been said the puritan age was an age of conviction whereas ours is an age of opinions. A conviction implies “case closed.” An opinion is open ended. For instance, conviction says it will abstain from sex until marriage; opinion says the same thing, until Mr. or Miss Right comes along. The Church often sends to our culture mixed signals, spouting human opinions rather than godly convictions. A proposal calling for fidelity for married people and sexual abstinence for single people was narrowly rejected by a body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at their recent 206th General Assembly. Gay and lesbian activists had attacked the plan as unfair. If the Church cannot speak straightforwardly for marital fidelity and sexual purity, what can we talk about? “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (PS 11:3)–nothing but watch the superstructure collapse as they seek to re-lay the foundations.