There are two more weeks, counting this one, in our journey together through Ephesians, and we’re continuing in the section that Deacon Chris two weeks ago called the Therefore: the second half of the letter. Everything in the first half, Ephesians 1-3, is trying to help us grasp the extent of God’s action Jesus and to begin to receive the benefits of his work. Everything in the second half, Ephesians 4-6, assumes that we have grasped what Jesus has done for us, have received it, and are now grounded in it as the root of our identity and the meaning of our lives, and then it says, “So, given that, now what?”
There’s always room to take in more of the first half, of how what Jesus has done grounds and defines you, of course – but Paul is assuming here in the second half that his readers are in Christ already and thus already have a new force motivating them and guiding them. So none of what Paul writes is general advice that you could just follow regardless of whether you are a disciple of Jesus or not. No, all the “therefore” sections of Paul’s letters are essentially a picture of what the life of Jesus looks like as it works its way out in those who are rooted in it, those in whom he dwells. Your roots are in Christ, his life is living in you, therefore….what does it look like?
We’ve already seen answers to that over the last two weeks, and here Paul focuses in a specific way. What does it look like as you become someone who has received what Jesus has done and are letting him live his life in you? I want to point out three things this passage tells us that looks like. It looks like priorities, it looks like being filled with the Spirit, and it looks like joy.
First, it looks like priorities. “Making the most of the time,” as Paul says. If you have set Jesus Christ free to live his life in you, your habits and behaviors will naturally begin to gravitate towards him, because he is what the human heart is made for. Every human hunger and every human thirst points ultimately to him. As Jesus takes his rightful place in your life, your priorities begin to shift to align with his – how you spend your time, your energy, your money.
I remember talking once to a woman who came from an extremely wealthy family. She had been brought up more or less in the Episcopal church, and had continued attending with some regularity, along with doing all the pleasing and glamorous things a woman of her class does (or has done for her) in life. We were sitting in her multi-million dollar home, and she was telling me how her favorite thing in life used to be jetting off to a particular elite boutique resort hotel where she was waited on hand and foot by a team of staff, and how much she had loved feeling so important and powerful. She even mimicked herself saying “All I’ve ever wanted is for everybody to treat me like a queen.” The day I was talking to her was about 10 years after, as an exhausted young mom, she had knelt on the floor of her kitchen and said, “Jesus, if you are real, show me.” And he did. And ten years later, she was telling me about this glamorous pampering that she used to look forward to with every fiber of her being and saying, “I can’t believe I used to care about that kind of thing.” Jesus had changed her priorities, how she used her money and her time and her energy.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but I think there are many of us following Jesus who now can shake our heads at something we once prioritized and say, “I can’t believe I used to care about that kind of thing.” If God is your God, he changes what you care about from the inside out. So you might find it a useful exercise to look at the changes in who or what you prioritize. This summer, has your heart been drawn more to BBQs or to Bible study? This season, are you beginning to see less of your budget dedicated to Cubs or Cardinals games and more to charitable donations? Over the past year, has the balance between time spent in prayer and time spent on cable news or social media started at least tipping in the right direction?
These are just diagnostics. It’s a free country. You can worship anything you like, but I do recommend evaluating what you’ve been worshiping lately as revealed by your actual pragmatic priorities. Look at your check register or your financial software, look at your calendar, look at which apps on your phone get used daily. They will tell you the truth. Worshiping Christ who dwells in you will gradually create a life that’s reorienting itself to match up with God’s priorities. A life that, as Paul puts it, “makes the most of the time.” Because we don’t have forever. We may not even have tomorrow. In Christ we get set free to put first things first.
So the truth of Ephesians 1-3 being expressed in you looks, first in this passage, like priorities. Second, it looks like being filled with the Spirit. Paul makes a cheeky contrast here. He says, “Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” It’s as if he thinks we are going to be under the influence of something, so it had better be a good influence. Be filled with the Spirit. Now we do use that language, filled, sometimes, don’t we? We say “I was watching some videos from that rally and people were chanting racist slogans and they seemed so filled with hatred.” “That group he joined filled his mind with fear and suspicion.” Or we say “She’s so full of herself she can’t even listen.” All of those metaphors draw on the idea that people can be filled with something that brings out the worst in them, that draws them away from their complex and beautiful humanity and into something simpler and darker. Which, as Paul points out here, alcohol can do, or drugs, or any other compulsion. These days, too, in the polarization that surrounds us, there seems to be a high risk of people letting themselves be filled with ideology, with these sort of ironclad belief systems that sweep everything in front of them – whatever happens, it’s just one more example of why we are good and right and everybody else is evil and wrong. Ideology.
How different all those kind of fillings, which engage the powerful dynamics of sin, are from being filled with God, who opens not closes the human mind, who enhances not diminishes our capacity to love across barriers, who makes us more and more our true human selves, rather than less and less. And did you notice that being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t just about you? It immediately gets set in a community context here. Because God does that too – he reconnects us with each other in Christ. Which is the other thing being in Christ looks like – it looks like shared joy. The most natural thing Paul can think to compare it to is group singing. He writes, “Be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do you see how this overflow of joy and thanksgiving is both an individual thing and a community thing? The roots are in your own connection with Christ, which creates an undercurrent of adoration as the background music of every Christian’s life. You may not be singing to him out loud, but the melody of love is going on in your heart. And eventually, at a bare minimum every Sunday at Mass, all these individual currents of joy become a group work of art, a chorus or a symphony.
You see how what starts as something between me and Jesus Christ ends up as something that involves all of us together, and eventually touches all of life – Paul just says “everything.” If I am letting God bring forth in me the qualities and the identity and the gifts and the areas of focus he desires, and the other members of my community are letting God bring forth in them the qualities and the identity and the gifts and the areas of focus he desires, together we will generate a unified holy project that only he knows the true secret of. Together he will make us what he’s looking for to do the work he wants done, here at the corner of State and University.
So the quality of your discipleship affects the whole. There’s no way it can’t. If you are rooted in the life of Christ, your whole community feels the effects, consciously or unconsciously. If Christ’s life in you is coming out looking like better priorities, like being filled with the spirit, like shared joy, his work in you makes a difference for us all. Or if you skip over getting grounded in Christ, over Ephesians 1-3, that, affects everyone here. if you haven’t made it to the shaping part, to the therefore, to Ephesians 4-6, that fact too makes a difference for us all. And For all of us who are in community together, your obedience, your love, the depth to which you are rooted spiritually, the extent to which you let Christ change you -- all of that affects the whole.
So look, if all that is true… Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.