Sermon: Making The Most Of God’s Gifts: Being
Scripture: Ephesians 5: 1-2; 8-10
Date: August 27, 2017
We have been talking about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and what he says about the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to each one of us and I thought before we go any further we might want to get to know Ephesus a little better. While Paul probably wrote this letter to the Ephesians from a prison in Rome, during his journeys he had spent the longest time in Ephesus then he did anywhere else. Up to three years altogether. In Paul’s day Ephesus was one of the busiest port cities in the world. That meant that ships from all over the known world docked at Ephesus nearly every day, bringing goods into the markets where persons from all over the region would come to shop. Ephesus also became a popular port for ships to remain during the stormy winters and the great influx of sailors led to the development of some rather unsavory businesses to cater to the needs of sailors. There were many drinking establishments in Ephesus. And high above the city, overlooking the marketplace and drinking establishments, and visible for many miles was the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world, and the center of the Temple Prostitution Cult. It served as a beacon to all those ships at sea. And so it was into Ephesus that Paul came to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that he stayed for three years was not a testimony to his enjoyment of the place, but rather an indication of just how difficult it was to establish the church in such a place. A little akin, I would suspect, to trying to establish a new church in downtown Las Vegas, amid the casinos and other establishments that have earned Las Vegas the nickname “sin city.” But yet, by the time that Paul left Ephesus a church had been established whose witness was strong, even in the midst of such a place. I suspect that this letter that we have in the New Testament was not the only letter that Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus. But it is the only one that has been preserved. It is intended to be a letter of encouragement and assurance – a constant reminder that even in a place like Ephesus the gifts of the Holy Spirit are evident. And so Paul writes about these gifts, these tools, that God gives which enable us to remain faithful and our witness strong, no matter what. So two weeks ago we talked about how we must be ready and willing, open, to receiving the gifts that God has for each one of us. And then last week we talked about how God gives us the gifts in order that we might share them with others, rather than hold on to them. This morning we are going to continue to think about what Paul tells the Ephesians about these Spiritual Gifts and the way Jesus intends for us to handle them.
The great Christian thinker and writer, C.S. Lewis once said this about the church of the 1940’s in England, but I think it still applies to many people’s attitudes about the church today. He said that the model that many have in their minds for the church is the same model we have for secular organizations. That is, we think of the church as an organization that we join. Then we do what members of an organization normally do. We come to meetings and pay dues. Maybe occasionally, we read the organizations newsletter, if we have time. Too often that’s our model for the church. And so we measure church strength and vitality based upon how many members there are and how much dues have been collected. As long as, at the end of the year, the bottom line in membership and finances are good, then we proclaim it a good year in the church. But you know some of the largest churches are the ones that are most dysfunctional as well as some of the wealthiest churches. They have done well in collecting members and dues, but what have they done for the Kingdom of God. C.S. Lewis went on to say that “this is not Christ’s model for the church. Christ’s intent is that His people will be joined to his church in the same way that members of a physical body are joined to that body. (The church) is a living relationship.” Christ’s vision is that the church not be a business or an organization or an institution. Christ’s vision is that the church be a family. His intention was never that we belong to the church but rather we become the church. And so God gives us these gifts in order that we become a part of the family. And that’s exactly what Paul is trying to communicate to the Ephesians. God gives us these incredible gifts not so we can belong to the body of Christ, but so that we can become the body of Christ. And so in this fifth chapter he tells them that God gives us the gifts of the Spirit in order that we might Be imitators of God by living a life of love, just as Christ loves us. In other places in his writings Paul talks about being Christlike. Or becoming like Christ. Last week we talked about God’s expectations that we use or share the gifts of the Spirit we are given. But I think Paul is saying even more than that. I believe he is saying that to truly share the gifts we must become the gifts. That the Spirit does not give to us the various gifts so that we can use them to build up the body of Christ, but rather he gives us the gifts in order that we might become the body of Christ. And when Paul says to the Ephesians “for once you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” he is illustrating this concept through the gifts of forgiveness and atonement. Now stay with me here. You see, in Jesus’s day the day of atonement or Yom Kippur was the holiest of all the Jewish Holy days. On that day, once a year, Jews would bring their sacrifice to the Temple in order to be forgiven for their sins. And the priest would accept the sacrifice and offer the people atonement and forgiveness in exchange. Well, for centuries, going back before the exodus from Egypt the prophets spoke of a Messiah that would bring atonement to the Hebrew people. And these prophecies became more pronounced during the long periods of exile and persecution, times of darkness that the people brought on themselves by their sinfulness and faithlessness. And so the prophets spoke of the great High priest who would receive the sacrifices of the people. The understanding was that the priests of the Temple were the stand ins until the Messiah came. And so on the day of atonement, in addition to the sacrificial animals that the people brought, two unblemished rams were brought to the Priests. One of those represented the sins of all the people. And the priest would sacrifice the ram and spread it’s blood over the temple altar. In the days before the Temple was built it would be spread over the Ark of the Covenant that was carried before the people in their time of wandering in the Desert and as they moved in to the conquest of the promised land. Then the priest would take a piece of a priests robe and soak it in the rams blood and tie it to the horns of the second ram and with all the people following the second ram would be led to the edge of the city and turned loose in the Wilderness of Judea where it would wander for a few days and either be killed by a predator, or fall into one of the deep ravines carved out by the torrential rains, or die of starvation or dehydration. The important thing was that the Ram would carry the sins of the people into the wilderness and die. The second ram came to be known as the Scapegoat because it carried away the guilt of the people. Problem was though that a ram would occasionally survive the wilderness and find it’s way back to Jerusalem. And so several days after Yom Kippur the scapegoat would be found wandering the city streets with the red cloth, the symbol of the people’s guilt and sin, still tied around it’s horns. To the people it said that their sins which they believed had been atoned for had returned and found them out. So what do you do when your sins which you thought had been released forever, show back up in just a matter of days. Well, the Yom Kippur ritual was changed to prevent that from happening. The first ram was still sacrificed and the blood soaked cloth was tied around the scapegoats horns and it was taken to the outskirts of the city and released into the Wilderness. But now there were priests stationed along the path through the wilderness and the Ram would make it’s way from priest to priest the twelve miles or so through the wilderness to a cliff that overlooked the Jordan River valley. Now Rams aren’t real smart and once it saw the water below, all it could think of was how thirsty it was and so to reach the water it stepped off the cliff and fell several hundred feet to it’s death. Sometimes the priest had to help it over the edge. This became known as the cliff of the scapegoat and not only looked over the Jordan valley but also overlooked the community of the Essenes called Qumran where the dead sea scrolls were composed. In fact some of the caves where they found the scrolls were just below the cliff of the scapegoat and many of the scrolls that they found contained the words of the prophets like Isaiah concerning the Messiah and atonement. So what Paul is talking about here is that Jesus the Messiah turned the understanding of Yom Kippur completely upside down because He did not assume the role of the priest on the Day of Atonement as for centuries they had been told the Messiah would. Instead the Messiah became the scapegoat and with the spilling of His blood on the Cross, He became the atonement, the once and for all atonement for all the sins of all the people in the world for all time. The Messiah didn’t just offer atonement, He became the atonement. He didn’t just love people, He became love. He didn’t just offer truth, He became the truth. Remember what He said: the prophets said that the Messiah would show the way, and bring truth and light. But Jesus said: I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Light. You see, what Paul is talking about when He talks about “imitating God” and being Christ like, he doesn’t mean that we should try to look like Christ. He is talking about being like Christ. These gifts of the Spirit that God gives us are drawn from the very character of Jesus. Jesus IS love and patience and kindness and wisdom and when we become the gifts we become like Christ. And we become like Christ by offering ourselves to others. We make the most of God’s gifts when we become the gifts for others.
When Anna was little she wanted to give us a great gift one Christmas but she didn’t have a lot of money to spend. So she put together a coupon book but rather than offering us coupons for items, her coupons were to be exchanged for things that she would do for us. Things like clean the house, cook a dinner, feed the cat, pull the weeds out of the flower beds. Her gift was herself. And aside from the gift of the Spirit it was the greatest gift I ever received.
One pastor tells about Mike, man who had discovered through a course at the church called Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts, that his gift was service. He had taken a spiritual gifts survey and had scored high in the gift of a servant’s heart. But if you asked him today what his spiritual gift was he would tell you that his gift was taking out the garbage. Now most of us probably wouldn’t consider taking out the garbage as a gift, but this man does. And so he stops by a neighbor’s house three times a week just to empty his garbage. The neighbor is physically challenged and can’t do it himself. And so Mike becomes the servant, he IS the servant and he says he receives great joy in fulfilling his gift of service. He says it really felt good when he learned he had the gift of service. It was even the one he hoped he had been given, but he says he didn’t really know the real joy until he became the servant and started taking out his neighbors garbage and in the process developing a relationship with this man who had previously been a stranger. It gave him a chance to witness about Jesus, who had become the servant of all on the Cross. And Mike says he experienced his greatest moment of joy the day his friend asked Mike to help him discover his own spiritual gifts so he could come to know God’s true gift for all people – Jesus Christ. Because you see, when we become the gift, we become like Christ. People see Christ in us. When we become our gifts then we become the person that God created us to be. We become Christ like
To make the most of God’s gifts it’s not enough to just share them when the time seems right. No we must become the gifts that God gives us through His great and wonderful Spirit in all that we are and all we do. It will be then and only then that we will have the wonderful, abundant, joyful life that God intends for you and for me to have. The life that He expects us to be. Is that the life you seek today? Is that why you’ve come. Well I invite you to come and receive, come and share, come and be the life that God intends for you to have. Come and be the gifts you’ve been given. Dedicate yourself to being the gifts that God has given you. Come asking, “Who can you give yourself to today?” In the name of Jesus.