Be’s of the Bible, Part 7

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There are many “be’s” in the Bible, and so far we’ve covered six of them:

• Be Holy, because God is holy, 1 Peter1:15, 16
• Be Perfect, or mature, 2 Corinthians 13:11
• Be Still, and let God be God, Psalm 46:10
• Be Sober, keep your eyes open, 1 Peter 5:8
• Be faithful, even in hard times, Revelation 2:10
• Be clean, or pure, Isaiah 52:11

Each of these “be’s” is a direct command.  None of them are suggestions. They are not casual statements but imperative directives from the Lord. They represent what God wants us to be or to become. Our lives as believers would be so much easier if we would only live as God wants us to. So many blessings hinge on our obedience to these “be’s” and others, because there are many, many more “be’s” in the Bible. Our final “be” is found in Ephesians 5:18 –

Don’t drink too much wine, for many evils lie along that path; be filled instead with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him. (Ephesians 5:18. TLB)

Of all the “be’s” we’ve looked at in this series, this is arguably the key one. This “be” might be the most essential, because when the Holy Spirit pervades your whole being, you will be in the presence of the Lord continuously and He will give you the strength and the desire to “be” all the things He wants you to be.

Let’s take a look at the context of this final “be” in Paul’s great letter to the Ephesians.

Historical/Spiritual Contexts

As you know, there were no chapter divisions or verses in the original manuscripts of the Bible. Usually it’s best to ignore them, especially the chapter divisions. In Ephesians, while there may not be chapter divisions, there are definite “sections” that contain topics or themes Paul wanted to cover. Our “be” verse, 5:18, is part of a section that begins back at 4:17, which begins this way –

Let me say this, then, speaking for the Lord: Live no longer as the unsaved do, for they are blinded and confused. Their closed hearts are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds against him, and they cannot understand his ways. (Ephesians 4:17, 18 TLB)

So at the beginning of this section, Paul wanted to make sure his readers understood that what he was about to tell them came from the Lord; they weren’t his ideas. Christ Himself was the authority behind the things he was going to write. Paul was no mere moralizer here, he wrote his letter, and especially this section, under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was the Lord’s spokesman. This is important to take note of because some of what the apostle wrote might have been a little hard for some of these Ephesian church members to swallow. But this is why the great doctrine of inspiration is so vitally important!

The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone. (2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 TLB)

The Ephesians were urged by Paul to stop living like Gentiles, which the Living Bible refers to as “the unsaved.” The church at Ephesus was full of both Jews and Gentiles but was surrounded by a heathen, pagan, Gentile population. So this advice was timely for this congregation but also prescient. It’s definitely applicable to the church as it exists today. The Ephesians were not to walk as Gentiles – that is, their lives should not have been conformed to the standards of the pagan world around them, but should have been marked by the new life they received in Christ. We’re not in Ephesus, and we’re some 2,000 years removed from when Paul wrote this letter, but we’re in essentially the same situation as the Ephesians were. We’re in a church that is surrounded by a godless, corrupt, morally confused culture and there’s always the temptation for us in the church to adopt the characteristics of the world around us instead of manifesting the characteristics of Christ. This was a big concern of Paul’s and he wrote about to another church –

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you. (Romans 12:2. TLB)

The problem with copying the ways of the world (the ways of the Ephesian Gentiles), is that you are copying the ways of people who are “blinded” and “confused”; people who, as the Greek suggests, are full of pride yet devoid of purpose; people who are living aimless lives, going nowhere and accomplishing nothing of lasting value. These “unsaved people” in Ephesus may have been smart and intelligent people. We all know non-Christians whose minds are full of highly developed thoughts; who have acquired great amounts of knowledge, but they are spiritually ignorant. And that’s the problem. Because the unsaved don’t know God, they don’t acknowledge Him and they have no spiritual understanding. That’s dangerous because we are spiritual beings and we live the life God wants us to live by the Spirit. Those who live apart from God are in a state of utter spiritual darkness. So much so, in fact, they can’t comprehend the evidence for God all around them.

For the truth about God is known to them instinctively; God has put this knowledge in their hearts. Since earliest times men have seen the earth and sky and all God made, and have known of his existence and great eternal power. So they will have no excuse when they stand before God at Judgment Day. Yes, they knew about him all right, but they wouldn’t admit it or worship him or even thank him for all his daily care. And after a while they began to think up silly ideas of what God was like and what he wanted them to do. The result was that their foolish minds became dark and confused. Claiming themselves to be wise without God, they became utter fools instead. (Romans 1:19 – 22. TLB)

That’s the Lord’s estimation of those who don’t know Him. So why would we as Christians think it’s a good idea to copy what they’re doing? Why would we want to bring their ideas and lifestyles into the church of Jesus Christ? That’s Paul’s point here, and it’s a negative one.

But then we get to the first couple of verses of chapter 5 –

Follow God’s example in everything you do just as a much loved child imitates his father. Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave himself to God as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, for Christ’s love for you was like sweet perfume to him. (Ephesians 5:1, 2. TLB)

That brings us to the positive side of Paul’s admonition. It’s never enough to stop ungodly behavior, it must be replaced by godly behavior. The first sentence, “follow God’s example in everything you do,” brings to mind another “be” –

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48. TLB)

The Greek of verse 1 is preferable to the Living Bible’s “Follow God’s example,” because it reads “be imitators.” Interestingly enough, this is the only time in the whole New Testament were we are told be imitators of God. Some people may think imitating God is an unreasonable ambition, yet it really isn’t. Christians are born again as God’s children. We are partakers of His divine nature. We are objects of His love and compassion. Surely we ought to be manifesting a “family likeness!”

In particular in the matter of loving one another, we should do what Jesus did. This wasn’t the first time Paul admonished people to love each other. It was a common refrain for the apostle because loving other people doesn’t come easy for most of us because it’s not natural. It’s preferable to ignore people we don’t know than it is to love them. Christian love is all about action, not thinking. It’s not necessarily Biblical to run around declaring your love for strangers, but it is Biblical to do good things for them. That’s what Biblical love is. That’s the love that God has for sinners –

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8. TNI)

God didn’t just say that he loved us, He demonstrated that love in a way that would mean something to us. That’s how we are to live. The love God demonstrated and the love we should demonstrate is agape love – the self-giving love that asks for nothing in return and that wishes only good to whom is is given. Agape love is not a love that is native in man. God puts it there by His Spirit.

While in prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

No one knows what love is except in the self-revelation of God. It is only the concrete action and suffering of Jesus Christ which will make it possible to understand what love is.

Bonhoeffer is right. Only Christians are capable of understanding, experiencing, and manifesting true love. Those outside the church can’t because, as we already learned, the unsaved are incapable of grasping spiritual truths and realities. So, the love they experience and give is a pale, shallow version of the love Christians experience and give.

This is yet another good reason to NOT walk like the world but rather imitate God! Imagine if all Christians actually took Paul’s admonition seriously. No believer would want to wander back into the world! And sinners would be clamoring to get what we’ve got!

The Spirit makes it possible

The temptation for Christians to be worldly is great. Worldliness has been a problem that has plagued the church for 2,000 years. It’s not easy to live righteous, holy, and obedient lives. The Christian can’t let life just happen to him. Like an earlier “be,” “be sober,” we need to live life with our eyes wide open.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15, 16. TNIV)

In order to live wisely, we need what James referred to as “wisdom from above.” We need God’s wisdom. In fact, wisdom is a derivative of faith in God, all we have to do is pray and ask God for it.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 TNIV)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17. TNIV)

That kind of wisdom doesn’t come from a college education or from the latest self-help book and course. It comes from the Lord and it’s for the Christian, all he has to do is ask for it. As we live wisely, we will “make the most of every opportunity.” Without knowing the context of this verse, we’re left asking, “Opportunity for what?” Paul had been writing about imitating God and not the unsaved, especially in terms of our our behavior and how we treat one another. The wise Christian, then, looks for ways to: (1) live righteously – he isn’t caught of guard, wondering what’s right or wrong; he knows because he’s looking for ways to live like Jesus did; (2) love each other with God’s love. Paul acknowledges that they days are evil – love and righteousness are in short supply and what people desperately need is an accurate representation of Jesus Christ, both inside the church and outside.

And that brings us to seventh and final “be” in this current series:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit… (Ephesians 5:18. TNIV)

This is not a verse about abstaining from alcohol and it’s not a verse about being baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is the most practical verse for living righteous lives because it tells us how: we live righteous lives, imitating God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian doesn’t look to the things of the world to meet his needs, because, like getting drunk to feel good or forget about your problems, the things of the world never deliver what they promise. The wisdom of the world always comes up short. The Christian needs more. He needs what the Spirit can give him. That’s why this “be” is so essential, “be filled with the Spirit.” The present tense of the imperative verb tells us that being filled with the Spirit ought to be our continuous state – a continuous obligation. Nowhere in the Bible are believers commanded to be baptized in the Spirit or indwelt by the Spirit. Both of those things are done for us by God as part of our salvation experience and when we desire a deeper walk with Christ. Yet, here, we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit.” What does this mean? Christians are always in possession of the Holy Spirit simply by virtue of their faith in Christ. So what is Paul getting at? Simply this: To “be filled with the Spirit” is to allow the Spirit to control you and to influence how you live all the time. Alcohol, and anything of the world, may help you temporarily; may energize you for a while, but all the things of the world will let you down and lead you in the wrong direction. That’s why you need to be continuously filled with and led by the Spirit.

“Be filled with Spirit” is not a suggestion; it’s a command that will make living the Christian life not only possible but a positive experience for you and those around you.

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