Friday, February 4, 2011

Carpe Diem: Ephesians 5: 15-18

(This sermon can also be found in audio format at

“Carpe Diem,” Seize the Day—a phrase made popular by a movie a few years ago, and particularly in St. Louis, by a local radio personality. Carpe Diem—it is a good phrase, an appropriate exhortation, especially for the children of God. Seize the day. But how do we as God’s people, do that?  Hear now God’s word.

Ephesians 5:15-18
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

A movie scene depicts a lawyer driving home late at night who seeks to bypass a traffic jam, and in the process finds himself in a rather unpleasant part of Los Angeles when, to his horror, his expensive car breaks down. The attorney phones for a tow truck but before it arrives a gang of five tough guys threaten him with considerable bodily harm. The tow truck driver arrives just in time and begins to hook up the car; the gang protests by waving their gun, but in response the driver says, “The world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. And he is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off.  Everything is supposed to be different than what it is here.” Do you agree? If so, you agree with the scriptures, look at the end of verse 16, the days in which we live are evil. The world is infected by sin. You watch the news. You read the papers. You have you own experiences which tell you that this is so. We live in evil days. Everything is supposed to be different than what it is here. How then should we live in these evil days? How do many choose to live with this reality? 

Many choose to escape, even Christians. Look at verse 18. Do not get drunk with wine. It might interest you to know that this is a command to stop an action that is already in progress. Apparently many in the church were getting drunkreminding us yet again that the New Testament church wasn’t any more perfect than the church todayChristians were getting drunk. Why? Why do people get drunk? It is a very effective way to escape the pressures and stresses of the evil days in which we live, for a time. Eventually, the effects of the alcohol wear off and all the problems you were trying to escape are still there. This is what leads many to a life of alcoholism, as more and more frequently one turns to alcohol to escape and precisely because it fails, the person tries again and thus the noose grows tighter and tighter around ones neck. Alcoholism is fundamentally not a disease. It is at the core, an attempt to escape the realities of life that has enslaved a person. This escapism can cover a variety of activities: drugs, sexual promiscuity, pornography, it can even cover activities which are not inherently wrong: shopping, eating, working, watching television, the Internet, you name it.

Yes, even behavior that is some instances is perfectly OK, can, because of our desire to escape, be turned into something that is destructive. Indeed, verse 18 teaches that such escapism leads to debauchery, dissipation, that is, an activity that leads to destruction. Some of you know from experience in your own families the destructiveness of alcoholism. It destroys not only the alcoholic, but dramatically impacts the lives of those around him or her. While I can understand the desire to get away from the evil that is around us, escapism will ultimately, in the end, only bring greater misery, as what we think will provide relief only brings destruction.

Some may choose to deal with the evil that is around us by trying harder, getting your act together. This would be an incorrect application of verse 16. Here we are taught that we must make the most of every opportunity, verse 16. Some of you may have heard the exhortation, “redeem the time.” This is a phrase that elsewhere refers to Christ redeeming us from the law, thus carrying with it the idea of salvation. How can we redeem the time in a saving sort of way? How can we seize the day? Wherever we are, whatever it is we are doing live for Christ in the world. If you are waiting at the red light, or in the checkout line, if you are speaking to your neighbor or in a meeting at work, redeem the time; take advantage of every opportunity to live for Jesus Christ. We are to do this precisely because the days are evil. Precisely because the world needs Jesus we are not to escape, but to go out there and make a difference.  But if you are not careful, you will make the mistake of trying to do this on your own. This is tragic of course because there is not just evil out there, there is evil in here.

This past Monday I was in McDonalds. Jim and I were coming home from his basketball game around 7:20. Neither of us had eaten yet so we were both hungry, very hungry. For whatever reason the food was not particularly fast this evening at McDonalds. The two people in front of us had each ordered a few cheeseburgers and yet it seemed to take forever. When I placed my order, I was told, it will be just a minute. Actually it was about 10 minutes; we had now been in McDonalds for over 25 minutes and next I was told the French fries were going to be 15 more seconds. Since I had already learned that a minute is actually ten, I quickly calculated that 15 seconds was actually going to be 2.5 minutes. I was growing impatient. But here was an opportunity to live for Christ, to redeem the time, to seize the day. What did I do? My frustration boiled over, with disdain on my face I said, “I am watching the clock.” What made it even worse was that my son was with me. What kind of example was I setting for him? His own father, who is, of all things, a pastor, did not control his own temper. I had failed. Failed miserably to make the most of every opportunity, to redeem the time. I had instead contributed to the evil of the evil days. Has something similar ever happened to youwhen you realized that you just really blew it?  Many of you have tried so hard to do what is right and you are tired, discouraged in your faith, maybe you berate yourself, “When I will I grow up and become a Christian?” Maybe you are even on the verge of giving upcarpe diem, seize the day - forget about it! Perhaps this is whyyou have been trying to serve in your own strengthtrying to get you act together to be more determined to do what God wants in these evil days - for many the frustration builds to the point of going back to option number one and choosing to escape everything.

Instead, we must choose to live by the Holy Spirit. Be filled with the Spirit, verse 18. Rather than depending on alcohol or some other escape mechanism, rather than relying on our own self hard work and determination, we must depend, rely and be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. There is much confusion on the role of the Holy Spirit today, it is important to understand that being filled with the Holy Spirit does not refer to a second once for all experience or “blessing” as it is called in some circles. The language here clearly points to that which is an ongoing need for the children of God, a day by day need for the empowering of the Holy Spirit that we would redeem the time, seize the day and live for Christ. Therefore children of God, this side of heaven, you will never reach the point where you can say at long last I am done being filled, I am full, I have now arrived. The command is there every day, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Oh, but friends how easily we overlook this and think, “I can do it.” When we do, God, because of his perfect love for us gives us a McDonalds experience to show us, “No you can’t eitheryou need me more than you know.” It is God’s desire that we would hunger and thirst in desperation for the Holy Spirit.

Notice too that this command is passive: it does not say fill yourself with the Holy Spirit, but rather be filled with the Spirit. This is what God does, this is His work. Do you hear this?  Do you?  Living in the United States we like to think that we can manage everythingif you just do things a certain way, you will get the desired results. If you listen to much of the teaching on radio and TV you might come to the conclusion that indeed if you follow a formula you will be able to control the Spirit. Not so. The Spirit, Jesus says, blows where it willsthe Holy Spirit is not manageable, the Holy Spirit is God. If you are going to seize the day, to live for God in that traffic jam or on that business trip or when you are disciplining your children, you can only do so by the power of God the Holy Spirit, who is sent according to the will of God the Father. Therefore your position and my position must be every day one of humility, in coming to God with open hands, every day, saying, Lord, fill me with the Spirit today, that I might live for you in all that I dothat I might redeem the time and seize the day. Let us pray.

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