I was walking with my daughter at Major's Park recently and, as we were meandering along the raised boardwalk, I was reminded how one must take care in how he/she walks to keep oneself from falling off into the muck. It was a teaching moment as I showed Ziona that the smart way forward was not to flirt with the edge of the walkway but to walk in the middle; it was not enough just to say "don't fall off the side," rather the way of safety lay in the intentional decision to walk in the middle of the walkway. The Epistle Lesson this Sunday takes this idea of walking carefully and urges us to apply it in our daily life:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:15-20)
This passage places us right in the climax of St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Earlier in the chapter, Paul presented an argument for the unity that is to exist in the church and how that unity is to be maintained through the use of the Gifts of the Spirit. His argument begins with a description of the power and position of Christ wherein Christ has the right to claim everything to be under His feet; He is the One who has authority over everyone and everything and who is the head over the church (1:1-23). Within the parameters of this authority, Christ saved individuals and joined those who were formerly separate (Jew and Gentile) into one New Man (the church), of which He is head (2:1-22). Paul then explains that this unifying work, wherein there is no longer Jew and Greek but one New Man, the church, is a primary component of the Gospel that he preached and was his reason for being, living, and ministering (3:1-21). Furthermore, he explains that the unity of the body of Christ is the rationale for the Holy Spirit's provision of spiritual gifts within the church. These gifts are to be used to promote the continual growth of this unified body of the Church and are intended to support and solidify that unity (4:1-32). The focus of chapter 5, then is to consider how this plays out in one's daily life and begins with an explanation of Christians living imitators of God. As imitators of God, then, we are to avoid certain moral depravities in our imitation of Him (5:1-14).
This Sunday's Epistle reading takes it from there, teaching that if we are to be subservient to Christ, who is the head of the church and who has authority and power over not only the church but over all that lives and exists, and if we are to further Christ’s unifying work within the church through the use of our spiritual gifts, then it is imperative that we are careful how we walk. If 5:1-14 teaches us not to fall off the walkway, this Sunday's passage teaches us how to intentionally walk in the middle of the walkway by way of four directives:
(1) Submit yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than the temptations of the world, “be not drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit”.
(2) Continually devote yourself to the corporate worship of the church, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”.
(3) Recognize your dependence upon God for all things through your expression of thankfulness, “giving thanks always and for everything”.
(4) Respect and honor others rather than imposing your will upon others, “submitting yourselves one to another”.
While the previous verses (5:1-14) show us the negative actions we are to flee as imitators of God, this passage (5:15-21) teaches us the positive actions we are to emulate in our pursuit of this Divine imitation. The Christian life is not just a list of things that we are to avoid and our imitation of Christ is not simply an exercise in avoiding a list of moral failings. Rather, it is what we do do, what we put on, and what we pursue with the time God has given us: submitting ourselves to the Holy Spirit, devoting ourselves to worshipping God in the community of faith, living with thankful dependence upon Him, and respecting each other as fellow image bearers of God. May we seek to actively and intentioanlly imitate Him in this way in our families, in our parish, and in our community.
(as published in St. Luke's Weekly Newsletter, 8/15/18)