Living by the Spirit’s Power

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Ephesians 5:15-20 

This morning’s passage is a continuation of last weeks, when we talked about what it means to be children of light. Paul spends much of his time in his Ephesians letter reminding us that as Christians, we are called to be different. We have been set apart by God, and chosen by HIM to be his representatives to the world. And while that can be a scary, and sometimes an overwhelming calling, Paul also reminds us that we don’t have to face it alone. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us… to give us strength and wisdom… and to help us mature as followers of Christ. 

This particular passage that we are looking at today, it’s not what I would consider to be a popular passage in our current culture. The message that it conveys is not one that is typically well received in a culture that glorifies living in the moment, enjoying the here and now, and doing what is fun or what feels good. But it is for those exact reasons that I think it is so important for us to look at this passage. It’s so easy to glean over scriptures that stretch us, or that make us feel uncomfortable, or that call on us to do things that we know are going to be difficult or challenging. As Christians, we can’t allow ourselves to fall into that trap of only focusing on the parts of scripture that are easy, or fun, or that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. But it is only by focusing on these tough passages that we equip ourselves with the tools necessary to live a righteous, Christ-centered life. And the entirety of Paul’s point here is that we don’t have to try to live that righteous life on our own. If we will just submit to the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be provided with all of the insight and strength that we need to live a life that sets us apart and helps us to be righteous followers of Jesus Christ. 
 
Paul starts his message by giving us a warning: Be careful how you live. He says don’t live like fools… But rather, live like those who are wise. But what does it mean to live as someone who is wise, as opposed to someone who is unwise? Wisdom is a topic that is covered extensively throughout the Bible. Remember back in the Old Testament when God offered Solomon anything he wanted, and Solomon asked for wisdom? That is the quintessential example of wise living. And what was God’s response to Solomon? He said I will give you wisdom more than any man that has ever lived or ever will live again. What’s important here is that wisdom isn’t something we have to work to attain. It is given freely to us by God if we will just seek it. When we think of worldly wisdom, often we think of elders and philosophers… people who have attained a higher understanding through life experience and contemplation. But through the example of Solomon, God shows us that we need only ask for wisdom, and it will be given unto us. And what’s more, this Godly wisdom far outweighs any earthly wisdom we could hope to attain, both in the depth of the wisdom, and also in its application. Living like those who are wise means seeking God in everything we do… Looking for his hand in our lives… listening for his guidance in all situations. And trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to provide that guidance to us. 

Paul follows that up with another challenge to us: Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Now while Paul was writing this 2000 years ago to a group of believers in Ephesus, the relevance couldn’t be more obvious in the here and now. We live in a very challenging time. I would argue that our world is more divided now than it has ever been in the past. Countries continue to fight with one another over borders and political differences. Ideologies have come up against each other in violent clashes. Extremism has taken hold in so many places around the globe. Our nation grows more and more divided every day, as those on the right and those on the left actively seek out ways to discredit or to gain an upper hand on their political adversaries. Families are torn apart by addiction and divorce. More and more children are being raised by aunts and uncles and grandparents because of the disfunction that they’ve experienced within their immediate families. Wild fires are ravaging parts of the country. Floods and famines consume other parts of the nation and the world. Earthquakes and hurricanes and volcanic eruptions threaten communities and ways of life. I think we can all agree that these are challenging times in which we live. But Paul implores us here to make the most of every opportunity we have in the midst of these challenging times. So what does that mean for us? What is the practical application for making the most of every opportunity amid struggle and turmoil? That’s a question that can be answered in a million different ways. But I think the most important thing for us to remember in order to make the most of every opportunity is that, no matter what the situation is around us… no matter what hardships we might be enduring, or what battles we might be fighting… God is with us. God loves us, and he is guiding us every step of the way. So to take advantage of every opportunity means to recognize with joy that we have the protection and the guidance of the almighty. But I think we also need to recognize that not everyone can say that. Not everyone has heard and accepted the love and the grace of God. So in order to take advantage of every opportunity, we must keep our eyes open to ways that we can help those in need, and to show them the love and the support and the guidance that God provides to all of us. 

There’s a song by Matthew West called “In my own little world” that I think speaks to taking advantage of every opportunity better than anything I could say myself. The song starts out “In my own little world it hardly ever rains…I’ve never felt hungry, always felt safe…I’ve got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet… In my own little world, where it’s population, me.” Later on in the song though, the situation changes a little. “Stopped at a red light, looked out my window… Saw a cardboard sight that said help this homeless widow… Just above the sign was the face of a human… I thought to myself God what have I been doin?” This is the point in the song where he had a decision to make. He could either continue in his own little world, feeling confident and secure, knowing that he was taken care of… Or he could reach out a hand and help another human being in their time of need. Which choice do you think he made? Which choice would you have made? Well he finishes the verse: “So I rolled down the window and I looked her in the eyes… Oh how many times have I just passed her by? I gave her some money and I drove on through… In my own little world, now it’s population, 2.”   

 

Taking advantage of every opportunity causes us to look outside of the blessings we have been given, and try to find a way to share those blessings with others who haven’t had the same experiences as us. And by trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, those opportunities will begin to present themselves in ways that are more evident. And by continuing to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will have the strength and the courage to take advantage of those opportunities.

Pauls next challenge to us is found in verses 18 and 19. “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.” This isn’t something that I’ve shared with very many of you here thus far, but I have had a personal bought with addiction in my own life. There were a number of years where I found myself at the mercy of alcohol and other substances to the point that I alienated myself from family, friends, and most importantly, God. I found myself behaving in ways that, in retrospect, didn’t make sense at all. My focus was on the wrong things. I wasn’t going to church. I wasn’t reading the Bible. I wasn’t spending time with my family, or looking for ways that I could better myself or my community. Unfortunately, we probably all know someone suffering from addictions. And we see the devastation those addictions have on their lives. Relationships ruined. Jobs lost. Homes and families ripped apart. Alcohol has a powerful effect on the mind and body. It causes us to act in ways that are irrational, and often outside of our own control.

But I think this comparison by Paul is so accurate. Because what if we allowed ourselves to become addicted to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives? What if we became so “drunk” with the word of God, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, that people began to notice a change in our behavior? Paul says that we should be filled wit hteh power of the Holy Spirit, and because of that we should sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and make music to the Lord in our hearts. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a much better kind of addiction than the one I put myself and my family through for those few years. And that’s exactly what God wants from us. He wants us to embrace the Holy Spirit, and to become intoxicated with its power… He wants us to let the Spirit work in us and through is in such powerful ways, that our words and actions often times don’t make sense to people who haven’t experienced that same spiritual power in their lives. And I can tell you this. As someone who has lived on both sides of that track, living recklessly through the power of the Holy Spirit is infinitely more rewarding than any short lived intoxication that can be experienced by any man made substance. When I gave myself over to the power of the Holy Spirit, I watched as my entire life was changed. My work life became better. I began to see opportunities that ultimately led me into ministry. I began to embrace helping members of the community, reaching out to them to try and give them the same salvation that I had been given through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what Paul wants for each of us. And that is what GOD wants for each of us. If you haven’t already, I beg you today to give yourself over to Christ, and to letting the power of the Holy Spirit work in your life. I guarantee you that you will NOT be disappointed by the change you see in your life.

The last thing Paul says in this scripture is “Give thanks to God for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not thankful for the years of my life that I gave away to addiction. But I am ETERNALLY and INFINITELY thankful for the power of the Holy Spirit to work in my life… To release me from the bondage of that addiction, and to deliver me into a new life as a servant of Jesus Christ, and of God almighty. I’m thankful to God that through the power of the Holy Spirit, I have healed wounds with my family. And I’m thankful that, because of that same power of the Holy Spirit, I am able to stand before you today, changed, and healed… With a new focus, and a new mission… As a new man, who tries every day to live by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We don’t have to do it alone. We CAN’T do it alone. So give in to the Spirit’s power. Give into the joy and the renewal of the Spirit’s power in your life. Give in to the wisdom the Holy Spirit longs to provide to you. Embrace the power of the Holy Spirit to help you make the most out of every opportunity. And remember to ask God, each and every day… to help you live by the Spirit’s power.


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