We are continuing our summer sermon series on the Early Church. Last week we heard how God directed the missionaries to the west, across the sea, into a foreign colony, down by a river – all for the sake of one woman named Lydia.
Lydia heard the Gospel, believed, and was baptized. Then, she became a partner in kingdom work.
That’s where we pick up. Lydia’s home was now the base of operations for Paul, Silas, and their mission crew.
Today we’re going to see how God worked through their mission work in Philippi to proclaim FREEDOM. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Freedom from Evil
Acts 16:16 picks up the story some weeks later. The missionaries had gone back to the river where they met Lydia. It was a decent place for them to meet with people, preach sermons, and share the message of Jesus. They even started to get a bit of a following -- just not one they wanted: Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:16-17)
A few notes:
This girl was a female slave. Unfortunately, you read that right. It was the 1st century and slavery was very common. Slaves were used to by their owners for housework, for fieldwork, for work down at the local harbor, and for any type of job that could earn the owner some money.
This slave worked for her owners by predicting the future. She read people’s palms. She gazed into crystal balls. She flipped over cards and told them about whether their dreamy new boyfriend was going to end up being Mr. Right.
She was able to do this because she had a spirit.
This was not a spirit of ambition.
It isn’t the type of “spirit” that gets people to work hard and end up on America’s Got Talent.
It wasn’t a good spirit.
It wasn’t the Holy Spirit.
It was an evil spirit.
This might be an undesirable truth, but it’s true nonetheless. Evil spirits are real. The Bible says that they are fallen angels. The devil was the first to fall by rebelling against God. But he wasn’t the only one. Others followed. They lost their godliness. They became evil. They became demons.
And it’s the truth.
Think about it:
If Jesus said he would rise from the dead…And he did.
Then, we need to believe what Jesus said.
And Jesus said that angels were real.
And so are demons.
One of those demons had possessed this slave girl. While this allowed her to do some amazing things like tell the future, it was a wretched life:
She was a prisoner in her own body.
She was influenced by demonic forces.
She was a slave in her own mind.
But not just to the demons! Her owners didn’t care one bit. She made them money! She was their ticket to the fancy new home theater with the 70” HD TV that they wanted. It didn’t matter if she suffered; she made them cash.
But now she found herself a second job. She followed the missionaries around shouting to the crowds: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days…Paul became…annoyed. (Acts 16:17-18a)
That might seem strange. Because if you look at her words, they are filled with truth!
The missionaries were the servant of the God? Truth.
That God is the Most High God? Truth.
They were telling people the way to be saved? Yes, through Jesus.
Why is Paul annoyed at this addition to their missionary team?
Imagine for a minute that someone stumbled into church right now. They reeked of booze. They smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. In fact, they’d been on a booze bender ever since the 4th of July. They made their way to the front. And every time I made a point in the sermon, they lifted their bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, took a swig and shouted: “This guy’s speaking the truth about Jesus.”
Best case scenario? It’s annoying.
Worst case scenario? People leave before they hear the saving Gospel of Jesus.
It was the same thing for Paul. People were beginning to think: “If this Paul guy is associated with that demon-possessed slave girl, then they probably just want our money. It’s another hoax. Time to move on.”
But what could Paul do?
She was possessed by a demon.
She was held captive by the evil spirit.
She was a prisoner in her own body and mind – terrified and corned by a powerful devil.
Paul couldn’t do anything.
Paul said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (v.18b)
“At that moment.”
Not: “After a long period of time.”
Not: “After a struggle.”
Not even: “After a while.”
“At that moment.”
Because “at that moment” Jesus defied Satan.
“At that moment” the demon cowered at God’s power.
“At that moment” the evil spirit went running at the mention of Jesus’ name.
“At that moment” Jesus freed her.
Free from demonic influence.
Free from her owners’ heavy hand.
Free from her life as a sideshow.
She was free.
Here’s the first truth for this morning:
Jesus frees us from the power of evil.
We had an ant problem at our house. On top of the front banister there were hundreds of ants crawling around near our front door and making their home out of rotted a piece of wood. So, I went to the store and looked at pest control options.
There was a poisonous spray.
There was a baited trap.
There was a good old fly swatter, if I wanted to spend the next 48 hours waiting and swatting.
I came home with a little tube of gunk. (Call it “anti-ant gunk”) The directions state to take the gunk, spread it across the area that the ants will be crawling and wait. What happens is that it smells so sweet to the ants that they can’t help but make their way onto it. But then? It’s so sticky they can’t get away from it.
They become trapped.
Evil is just like that.
It seems nice.
Then, it traps you.
The fun of a mildly racist joke that leads to racism firmly entrenched in every conversation made throughout the workday.
The allure of pornography’s next exciting click leading to click number 178.
The pull of greed’s desire for more – even if that greed is standing over me, like a master – forcing me to work more and more and more…
The initial high of a drug. The chemical induced desire to give over all your money for just one more taste.
The feeling of release from letting your rage on your spouse – a moment you’ll need to defend – by releasing the rage all over again.
Evil takes over.
Evil takes control.
Evil leave us as prisoners.
Jesus lived perfectly against evil.
He died innocently for the evil you have committed.
He rose triumphantly after having conquered evil on the cross!
Jesus frees from the power of evil.
Jesus frees YOU from the power of evil.
In fact, Jesus said this:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
And Jesus did set you free.
And you are free.
You are free…
Whatever evil you’re fighting against.
Whatever evil feels like it’s controlling you.
He is your leader.
He is your Savior.
He is your Rescuer.
II. Freedom from Fear
Unfortunately, not everybody was thrilled with the freedom that this young woman was now experiencing. When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. (Acts 16:19)
Because they didn’t care that she was free from the demon that possessed her.
They were losing money!
It might be like a strip club owner that is losing a dancer.
Or a drug dealer that’s losing one of his customers.
Or even a boss that’s losing a worker’s availability to make him more money on a Sunday morning.
Sometimes when you try to abandon sin, people get upset that you’re doing so.
That’s what happened to this girl. Her former employers became angry and they had some weight with the city. They got leaders to listen to their side of the story…
That Paul and Silas had broken their merchandise.
That they had ruined their income.
That they had looted their business.
And the leadership listened.
Paul and Silas were stripped.
They were beaten with rods.
They were flogged.
They were thrown into prison.
And as they were thrown into prison, the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. (16:23) So, he put them into the inner cell. The maximum-security part of the prison with extra doors and extra locks. In addition, he fastened their feet in the stocks. (v.24) They couldn’t even stand up to begin investigating an escape route.
The jailer brushed his hands together:
“That should hold them. I’ve done my job. Nothing can break those bonds.”
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And the other prisoners were listening to them. (v.25)
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
“Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2)
“This is the Day the Lord has made. Rejoice! And be so very glad.” (Psalm 118:24)
The jailer could hear them in the distance:
How could they sound so free when they were so…NOT!?!
I wouldn’t be like that. I’d be terrified.
I already am.
Because if I were to mess this job up, well…
I’d rather just go to sleep rather than consider the outcome of that.
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (v.26)
And the jailer woke up in a panic!
The doors are open!
If those prisoners are gone, then I’m as good as dead.
I won’t see my family again.
I won’t see my kids again.
If the Romans don’t kill me, then that angry mob will.
The jailer threw himself on the floor.
He drew his swords and was about to kill himself…
“Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (v.28)
The jailer stopped.
He sniffled back a few tears.
He recognized that voice. It was the one that had just been singing to God.
He set the sword down and made his way to the jail cells to find the prisoners still there.
His job wasn’t in jeopardy.
His life wasn’t in jeopardy.
A rush of emotion came over the jailer. His eyes were filled with tears of thankfulness as he looked at the men who had a chance to leave the jail cell but remained.
He spoke: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (v.29)
Because I’ve lived my whole life in fear.
I’ve lived my life afraid of death.
Afraid of losing everything.
Afraid of punishment and eternal hellfire.
What must I do to be saved? (v.29)
Paul didn’t state it explicitly.
But it’s implied.
The jailer couldn’t do anything to save himself.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. (v.31-32)
Friends, the same is true for you.
Jesus provides freedom from evil’s power.
But he also provides freedom of another variety.
TRUTH: Jesus brings freedom from fear.
If you’re a dog, the 4th of July must be on the scariest holiday. There are strange people attending backyard BBQs, their owners’ hands turning into sparking things, and loud booms, signifying the end of the world…all night long.
But if you’re a human, there’s plenty to fear as well.
That some terrorist will be part of an Independence Celebration.
That war will break in America – ending many lives.
That the sickness will end in death.
And there’s nothing scarier in the world than our natural spiritual state before God.
We are sinners.
We are guilt.
We deserve death.
And it’s coming for each one of us.
Jesus removed our sins.
Jesus removed our guilt.
Jesus removed our eternal death sentence.
Jesus transformed death from a separation from God and our believing loved ones.
Into an eternal reunion together with our Father and them.
Praise the Lord! There is no reason to be afraid.
Look at the change in the jailer:
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wound. No longer afraid.
He had himself and all his household baptized. No longer afraid.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them. No longer afraid.
He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. No longer afraid of death, because death would not stop him. (v.32-34)
You don’t have to be afraid any longer.
The worst thing that could happen to you in this life, it’s also the best:
Your death means your eternal life. All because of Jesus!
Friends, Jesus means freedom.
Freedom from sin.
Freedom from guilt.
Freedom from shame.
Be free from fear.
Be free from evil.
Because FREE is who you are in Jesus. Amen.
That was amazing!
From what they could see in the back, Jesus had made the bread come out of thin air. He had been feeding them all from what seemed like one never ending basket of food. There’s no way that thing had the thousands of loaves of bread and the thousands of fish necessary to feed the whole crowd stuffed inside of it’s wicker sides.
Jesus had done a miracle.
And, come to think of it, there was probably only an hour or so more before it would be time for late night snack. They could go back into town and use some of their hard earned money to buy few dates to satisfy their late night hunger or…
“…Hey! Do you wanna follow that Jesus!?!”
With Jesus, they’d never be hungry again. They’d never need to walk to the store, beg on the side of the road, work all week long, farm the fields, raise the chickens, or even so much as unpackage the wrapping paper. With Jesus, they could sit back, relax and take it easy. Jesus could provide all that their bodies needed.
Now…if only they could find him...
Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel if God would simply ‘show up’ in your life and take care of all your earthly needs – then you’d be set? Do you ever feel like the most important thing you need is a better job, plenty of food, a new home, the right guy, the right children – more money?
The North Carolina powerball is currently at 50 million dollars. Dream with me – what would that be like? Most of your problems would go away, right? You could pay off your mortgage. You wouldn’t have to work. You could catch up on child care payments. You could get a nice car whose driver side window went all the way up. You could pay for all the doctor bills and appointments necessary at Duke and UNC in order to heal yourself of every ailment that bothers you.
I think it’d be an awesome way to ensure that we break ground on a brand new facility for Precious Lambs tomorrow! With state of the art robot assistant teachers in every room. Each kid could have their own iPad!
If only God paid more attention. He needs to provide more physical blessings for us. Afterall, there is nothing more important than physical blessings…right?
Physical blessings were the reason the crowd searched for Jesus through the night. While he was on the lake with the disciples, they were frantically going through the neighboring towns just like the search party in Beauty and the Beast – “Where is he? Have you seen Jesus? Have you seen my ticket to easy street?”
Take a look at your text. Listen to what happens when finally found him the next day They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” As if they knew, Jesus is going to want us to talk about spiritual stuff. Rather than calling him what we want -- FREE FOOD PROVIDER -- we should call him teacher. It’ll placate his conscience and we’re sure to get some more food.
But Jesus saw right through their plan, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill."
In other words – you guys couldn’t care less that I am the Messiah doing incredible, soul saving miracles. All you care about is your stomach.
Quiz Time. The Israelites thought that feeding their bellies was the most important thing. What body part do you think is the most important to keep healthy?
Take a look at the options below. Then, write down the one that you think is most important to keep healthy.
Stomach --- Brain --- Sex Drive --- Wallet --- Smile --- Soul
Maybe you circled stomach. This probably depends on how your stomach feels. (We could all circle it at one time or another). As long as you aren’t hungry, things are ok. It’s why you get cranky when you haven’t had enough to eat. It’s the reason you work. In your prayer life, this the only thing you ever really ask God for. If you’re a kid, you might have picked this one. There was a young girl not that long ago whom I asked, “What is your favorite part of church?” Answer? The cookies. At least she’s honest.
Maybe you circled brain. If you did, you value education above all else. It’s important to get your kids in the best academic school. That’s the number one thing you look for in a Preschool, an elementary school, a middle school or a high school. It’s why you read the way you do – biography here, science there, dominate all my friends on Trivia Night there – so that I can place my doctorate on the wall there. It’s why you never bring up a bunch of Bible stuff like Creation and the Flood and Jonah inside of a big fish in front of your friends because that would make you look foolish.
Maybe you circled sex drive. Maybe you didn’t cause it’s kind of embarrassing, but a look at your life would certainly make a case that this is most important. You throw out all of your morals for a moment of excitement. You ignore God’s warnings for your soul, because you are too busy listening to the longings of your sexuality. XXX.com is favorite on your computer’s webpage while Biblegateway.com isn’t even highlighted as a “recently visited’ website.
Maybe you circled wallet. (Which isn’t technically a body part so perhaps we should have placed “hip where your wallet or purse goes instead) If you did circle that, then congratulations – you agree with millions of Americans who verbally disavow wealth but secretly think money is the only thing necessary. You love watching your stocks grow. You have an entire shelf of “Get rich quick Books”, but you don’t have any idea where your Bible is. Your least favorite part of the service it the offering because “God better not be asking for my hard earned money."
Maybe…and this is tricky…you circled your smile. “God I just want to be happy.” If you did circle this, you’ve watched plenty of Disney films. Who cares about money. Who cares about food. Who cares about my wallet or my sex drive – just as long as I’m happy. And honestly? Who cares about what God says? My moral compass will consist of “Does it make me happy?” If it does, well, sorry God.
Of course there is only one answer that I haven’t read yet. Maybe you circled it. If so, that's a good answer.
Your soul is the only thing listed that you cannot live without. It is the only thing that lasts forever. It's what makes you -- you. It's what will be judged by God Almighty at the end of your life.
If you wrote down soul, good for you. But don't get too excited. Next I want you to think -- if soul is the most important part of your body to keep healthy -- how healthy have you been keeping it?
If someone looked at your life this past week, would they be able to tell that soul feeding is your number one priority?
If not, repent for the times that you haven’t made it your priority.
It's time to change.
Of course if you are going to start feeding your soul, then you need to know what to feed it. There are plenty of bad options out there. What is the best option for feeding your soul.
Allow Jesus to answer. Let him tell you about the Bread of Life -- the best soul food you'll ever eat.
1) It’s Longevity.
Jesus said, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Have you ever had stale Doritos before? It's such a sad event. They taste stale and kind of soggy. Yuck. That’s why it’s important to look at the sell by date on the back of the packaging – for any kind of food! Imagine if grocery stores never changed their produce or sent things out after they expired - not good.
That’s the problem with anything physical – it will expire. Food spoils. Knowledge fades. Sexual highs last a moment. Money disappears with the change of the ticket tape. Your smile comes, goes, and appears as a fake pleasantry even when you are feeling lonely and empty inside.
But the food that Jesus is offering, lasts much longer than the end of the month. It’s shelf life will outlast the brick and mortar of any store. It even outlasts the pickles down in the cellar of your grandma’s house.
Jesus offers Food that endures to eternal life. As in…it lasts forever. Just like your soul. Which when you die, will continue to live eternally. Either in the joyous, painfree courts of heaven OR the painful, awful, fiery depths of hell. A forever that could start at any moment.
Sounds important, right?
2) It’s Producer
The people are interested in what Jesus has to say, so they respond, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
The people are very interesting in their next answer. They asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’"
In other words – "Maybe Jesus, we’ll believe you…if you make us some more of that FREE bread out of thin air bread!” (At least they’re persistent).
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” Moses wasn’t doing magic tricks by providing manna to fall from the sky in the desert – that was God. Consequently, the bread of life that Jesus was speaking of also came directly from God!
Ever been to a family reunion before? The truth is that some of the dishes at the family reunion potluck are better than others. Grandma made that pie? Delicious. Uncle Bob fried that chicken? I’ll have some. Crazy Aunt Gertrude made that Jell-O with some kind of floaties in the middle? I’ll pass.
The bread of life comes from God! It comes from the only holy, perfect, all powerful, all loving, all knowing, all incredible Being in the universe! He will provide a sweetness beyond Little Debbie, a nutrition beyond the Green Giant and a satisfaction beyond Snickers.
3) It’s Source
Jesus continues and we get another reason this bread is so good – similar to the last one. “The bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
How about that for a factory location? Heaven is perfect. Heaven doesn’t have any sanitation points knocked off its operation. Heaven doesn’t have any bad reviews on YELP. Its customer satisfaction is beyond perfect! Any product from there would be incredible.
I love the Pit. Love the chopped pork, the fries, the fried okra. As far as I am concerned, anything from the Pit is great. At least that’s what I thought. Then, I ordered the BBQ Chicken. It was...ok.
Heaven isn’t like that. It doesn’t disappoint. This bread that Jesus speaks of from heaven – will not disappoint!
Hopefully Jesus’ pitch is working in your heart. It certainly excited the people. 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Their mouths were watering. Their stomachs were growling. I’m sure a few of them even held out their hands.
35 Jesus sighed. “I am the bread of life.
This fits in with what Jesus said earlier. The work of God is to Believe in the one he sent. The food Jesus was talking of wasn’t some kind of food that you at with your mouth and tasted with your lips. It wasn’t an inanimate object.
It was himself. His very being. A being that God had sent for them. A being that would go to the cross to remove their sins. A being that would rise from the dead on a glorious Easter Sunday.
A being that feeds our souls.
When tired? Jesus makes us strong.
When hopeless? Jesus gives us hope.
When sinning? Jesus gives us rebuke.
When guilty? Jesus forgives our sins.
When doubting? Jesus gives assurance.
When facing death? Jesus makes us live forever!
So get up. What are you waiting for? Feast on the bread of Life. It doesn’t come in packages. You can’t buy it at the store. It doesn’t grow in the fields. It comes to you in the Word of God. It comes to you in the Gospel. It comes to you in the message of Jesus your Savior.
Start your day with a balanced breakfast -- a prayer and a bible reading. Listen on your iPhone if you have to. Don't forget the Bread of Life! Amen.
WORTHY OF JUDGMENT.
They were right. She felt the shame. She had been feeling it for months now. Secret rendezvous. Hidden moments. Lies. To her husband. To his wife. To her own children.
Now it was at the forefront. She’d been caught. The secret she had worked to protect was now public knowledge. What would everyone think of her? What would her husband think? What would his wife think? What would her own children think? She wanted to die.
Then, there was a commotion. The men were distracted. Someone was joining the mob.
It was Jesus.
The mob was excited, “Join us! This woman is guilty of adultery. Join us! Let’s give her what the Law deserves. Let’s rid the earth of her.”
The woman shed another tear.
Jesus responded calmly. “OK – why doesn’t the person without any sin, throw the first stone.”
It was quiet. The men looked at one another. They looked at the woman. They looked at Jesus. Then someone threw the first stone…on the ground.
Today we’re going to continue our series on Counter Culture by talking about Purity. The heart of purity is found in the Sixth Commandment. Anyone? “You shall not commit adultery.” Some might call it a no fun commandment. Or that God is a prude.
But God made us sexual beings. God made us to reproduce. God gave us the gift of sex as a special blessing to connect to human beings together in a special way that they won’t connected with anyone else. It’s a lot different than a handshake. It was aimed to seal and connect you intimately to your spouse.
But the greater the blessing, the greater the pain when it is abused. There is pain, hurt feelings, guilt, and shame. (They are a lot worse than when you steal someone’s pencil when they aren’t looking).
And unlike many other sins – this one affects your own body. It changes the chemical reactions in the brain. It reprograms you to have a connection with someone you aren’t married to. It confuses you. It makes you feel icky. It makes you avoid contact with someone else because they make you feel guilty.
God didn’t want you to have any of that. So God made this command for your good. God wanted to protect your purity. I guess you could say, "You shall not cause yourself and your neighbor all kinds of pain, shame, and terrible heartache."
What then does it take to be pure? Let’s discuss definitions.
I. Defining Purity
1) The World’s Definition
When I first started working on this sermon, I thought the best way to define the world’s definition of purity might be: “Do whatever you want.” That’s what we tell each other. It’s what the media preaches. It’s what the Facebook videos with the sappy music teaches us. Just let people feel, love, and do what they want.
Then, a certain Vanity Fair magazine cover came out.
And people had opinions. People like Chris brown. Chris Brown who, in his music, proclaims to have slept with hundreds of women and in his Instagram photos is grinding and twisting against all kinds of scantily clad women, tweeted very negatively about Jenner. In his mind, Jenner was the definition of sexually impure.
Then, Chris went right back to rapping and partying and sleeping around.
Chris Brown embodies the world’s definition of purity. It’s the definition that the Pharisees had. Sexual purity is “not doing the sexual sins that I don’t do.” If that’s the definition of purity, guess what? You’ll always pass! Because you’ll always have not done the sins you have not done.
Be careful that you don’t fall for the world’s definition of purity. It can happen while you watch TV. Suddenly, the TV portrays a homosexual encounter. You look away “That’s sinful! I can’t believe they show that on TV.” Then, you change the channel and settle on the TV show where the nice young detective is falling in love with the burly cop. They aren’t married, but it’s ok...who hasn’t done that?
TIME OUT! Where’s the outrage? That’s a sin too!
But maybe we don’t have the same outrage, because if we did, we’d have to outrage our own sins.
And we don't want to.
So we fall into the trap of defining purity by the world's standards.
2) God’s Definition
Brace yourself for moment. Then, when you're ready take a look at God’s definition of purity in Ephesians 5:3. “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…”
Listen again and write it down. God’s definition of purity means not even a hint of impurity. Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or greed -- because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place!”
If purity were food, God wants his wholly organic! He doesn’t want even an ounce of a contaminate in his selections. He doesn’t want anything, not even a modified Food Starch here OR a bug repellant there to have ever touched his tomatoes.
God doesn’t want any kind of sexual immorality to ever touch his children.
When you compare your life to that definition, how does it match up? Can you really tell God that you haven’t ever had an action, a motive, a word, or a thought that is impure?
If you can’t, if even an ounce of impurity has ever touched you then…you are impure! Remember God's a stickler so even a 1 night stand or 1 explicit lyrics rap song or 1 inappropriate website on your browser history ruins the whole shebang!
Maybe you now understand what the woman was feeling a little better.
She was bracing herself with her eyes closed because she knew her punishment was coming. She knew she was about to face her Maker in all of her sin!
She closed her eyes and waited.
Then she opened her eyes. The crowd was gone. The only thing remaining was a pile of stones and Jesus.
“Did no one condemn you?” he said. “No one sir,” she breathed.
“Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
If you have left an impure life in the past and are seeking his forgiveness, then hear Jesus’ words to you. God’s Word says to you, “Neither do I condemn you.”
How does that work? All who have hope in Jesus purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 Jn. 3:3) It’s just like that children’s lesson we did. God’s power is like Clorox bleach. It destroys and rids our souls of all impurities from before God. It’s God’s promise in Baptism. In your Baptism. Baptism is like God’s permanent divine Clorox bleach that remains running throughout the soul veins of your body. It purifies you from all sin!
Do you believe this? Then you are pure…Live in purity.
II. Why Live in Purity
But you might be wondering – what’s the point? Our world is so sexually driven – it’s everywhere. You get very little judgment for sexual escapades. Guys get a high five and women get a giggle from a friend. Why should we strive for this “not even a hint” definition of purity!?! It’s darn near impossible!
Here are 5 reasons to strive for purity from Ephesians 5.
1) You are God’s Child
Check out verse 1. It says, “Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.”
Did you ever want to be like your parents? I think that’s pretty natural for children. Girls want to wear dresses like their moms. Boys want to throw the baseball like their dads. One of the reasons I became a pastor was to be like my dad.
Spiritually speaking, God is your dad. He’s an awesome role model. He’s holy. He’s good. He’s never evil.
Do you want a good role model? Don’t make it some reality TV star who gets a bunch of girls or that woman from 50 Shades of Grey. Make it your heavenly dad and don’t let even a Hint of Impurity be in your life!
2) Christ Loves You
Verse 2 says this, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…”
Did you hear how much Christ loved you? He was willing to give himself up for you. He suffered extreme pain on the cross so that you won’t have to suffer any pain in eternity.
Porn -- doesn’t love you. That steamy romance author? Just wants your money. That television show? Just wants ratings. Your boyfriend…may love you…but not selflessly…in the moment…he may just want to use you.
Jesus always loves you and has your best interest in mind. Follow him and his direction. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be apart of your life.
3) Lust is Idolatry.
Check out verse 5. “An immoral, impure person…such a man is an idolater.”
Idolatry is a first commandment issue. In it’s simplest form, it refers to worshipping a small statue as a god.
But it doesn’t have to be a small statue. If you run to the internet for relief...if you run to the sights of the gym for enjoyment…if you study your romance novel more than God’s Word – who is really your God?
Don’t worship your own sinful desires. Worship God. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life.
4) There’s No Impurity in Heaven
This is probably the scariest and most difficult reason for a pastor to relay to his people. But it’s also the most obvious reason and I’d be a pretty terrible interpreter of the God’s Word, if I failed to mention this one. Read verse 5 in its entirety: “Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
You’re welcome to object. “No way that’s true.” But verse 6 continues, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such impure things, God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
Brothers and sisters, I want you in heaven. God wants you in heaven. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life.
5) You are Light.
As scary as verse 6 is, verse 8 is filled with comfort. It says this, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” In other words, you were once surrounded by the darkness of sinful lusts. Your lives were filled with erasing your internet browser, sneaking to hotels, making sure no one saw you looking at that magazine in the magazine aisle, and hoping no one noticed that you slept over at your boyfriend's house last night.
But now you know Jesus. Now you know the light. Now you are surrounded by the light of His presence. Now you are forgiven. Now you live for God.
Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life….Live as children of the light.
III. How to Live in Purity
So…how do you do it?
In America, we often approach these issues in the same way: “OK God…How far can I go?” How far is too far with my boyfriend? How long is too long for me to stare at the woman on the side of the road? How short is too short for this sexy shirt I’m wearing? How steamy is too steamy for this television scene I’m watching?
Stop asking how far you can go from God, but how far you can go in serving Him.
How can I stay pure as I go about dating? How can I serve my boyfriend with the way I dress? How can I serve my girlfriend with where I spend the night? How can I serve my spouse with the way I look at the internet? How can I serve my husband with my reading choices? How can I serve my children with the televisions shows that I choose to watch in their presence?
In short – Start asking how can I rid my life of impurity? Ephesians gives us three guidelines to keep in mind:
1) Come into the Light.
Look at what Ephesians says next, “Live as children of light…Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness…Expose these dark deeds. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
Isn’t it true that these kinds of sins often take place in the dark? Or at least when others are in the dark about that? Behind closed doors, when others are away, when the kids are in bed.
Jesus is saying here – stop hiding your struggle. Share it with a friend.
Yes – it’s a scary thought to ask another Christian for help. It’s humbling. But it’s also freeing. Ask someone for help. Ask an elder here. Ask me! Ask for help and---if someone asks you for help, don’t hold their struggle against them. Don’t be the Pharisee – “Ugh, Ugh, you struggle with that?” Don’t belittle them. They are coming to you for help – so praise God they are struggling and help them!
2) Be Wise.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon talks about a time he looked out his window and saw a young man walking down the street. As he was walking down the street, he saw a prostitute waiting for him. King Solomon thought, “Walk on the other side of the street. Get away from her! You’ll be safer away from the temptation.”
Instead, the young man walked right by her. She seduced him. He went with her.
Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be careful, then, how you live—not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
If this is a struggle for you, don’t be foolish. Use common sense. If you struggle when you’re alone, make sure you aren’t alone. If you struggle when you go to the gym, don’t go to the gym. If you struggle with a certain kind of book, don’t get that book at the library. If you struggle with a certain kind of television show, don’t watch that. If you struggle with a certain kind of website, don’t go there. In fact, block it! Use internet software to police yourself. If you are more prone to struggle with all of this when you’re drunk, don’t get drunk. Don’t spend the night alone with your girlfriend if you can’t control yourself.
Be wise and God will bless you with victory after victory.
3) Be Filled with the Spirit.
All of this serving God and struggling against sin takes energy. It's like a battle. An athletic context of divine proportions.
That means you're going to need to replenish your spiritual electrolytes. Therefore, you need to keep yourself hydrated with the time tested, proven, spiritually reenergizing Gatorade:
"Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you want to live a pure life, you need to be filled with the pure Word of God. You need to be filled with his pure law for guidance. You need to be filled with His pure Gospel for the pure comfort of having a Savior who purified you from all sins.
Come back to our Gospel scene one more time that woman had heard Jesus’ precious words of forgiveness. She was filled with the Spirit as Jesus spoke words of forgiveness. She knew of God’s love when she didn’t deserve it.
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
You are not your sin. You are not an adulteress. You are my child.
Jesus changed her identity with one awesome sentence of Gospel.
Hear the same thing that God is speaking to you: You are not perpetually stuck in sin. You are not a sex addict. You are not disgusting. You are not a pornographer. You are not a homosexual. You are not an adulteress.
You are not your sin.
You are God's child. You are loved. You are forgiven.
You are PURE.
Valentine’s Day was a week ago. Many men showed their love with flowers, a nice Hallmark card, some chocolates, maybe even a night out. Some really romantic individual may have spent months collecting photos, downloading music, and editing video software in order to get his love a ‘movie’ about their time together.
Sweet, right? At least, I bet you’d consider him more sweet than the guy watching Olympic curling, drinking a beer, who, when asked about Valentine’s Day, simply says, “Yeah, I didn’t do anything for you, but I did think about you. That counts, right?”
Thinking is not the same as doing.
It doesn’t work in our world to say, “Honey, I thought about picking the kids up from school.” “Boss, I thought about finishing the project before the deadline.” “I thought about getting groceries, that’ll keep you from starving, right?”
Thinking is not the same as doing.
And yet, today Jesus says that when it comes to morality, God views our thoughts to be the same as our actions. In other words:
Thinking wrong is the same as doing wrong.
Look at Matthew 5: 21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall no t murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Again in verse 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
This is not what the world thinks. Society believes that thinking bad things is not the same as doing bad things.
We don’t put people on trial for thinking about stealing.We don’t scold kids for thinking about taking a cookie. We don’t write someone up at work for thinking about touching a coworker inappropriately.
We don’t and (consequently) we can’t. We have no proof about what they are actuallythinking, until it becomes action.
Consequently, because there aren’t immediate societal consequences for thinking, a stigma has developed that “as long as I don’t actually do it, I haven’t sinned.”
In other words: “Yes, I have sinful thoughts. But I haven’t acted on them. Aren’t you impressed, God?”
Society believes – and I fear that we believe – sinful thinking isn’t really sinful at all!
But God says differently. He treats evil thoughts in the exact same manner as evil actions.Take a look at His first example from the 5th commandment. In Matthew 5:21 Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not murder,” and that murderers are subject to judgment, and then in the same breath, anyone who is angry with another will be subject to judgment."
You might say, “Well, this judgment must be different. Death penalty for the murderer, a slap on the wrist for the hater.” But Jesus goes on to describe that judgment in verse 22, “Anyone who says ‘you fool,” will be in danger of the fire of hell!”
God says the same thing about the 6th Commandment sins. He says, “You have heard, ‘Don’t commit adultery.” –That’s having sexual relations with anyone that you aren’t married to in a God pleasing one man and one woman marriage.
Then he says, “If you look lustfully at a woman (or a man, or anyone you aren’t married to for that matter) then, you have committed adultery." The penalty for adultery? Well, it’s so bad that Jesus says, “You’re better off losing your eye than suffering the punishment for lust!”
In other words:
God treats bad thoughts the same way that he treats bad actions! As sin.
Why does God treat them in categorically the same way? From Scripture, I think we see three reasons for this:
1) Bad thoughts lead to bad actions.
In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says this, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” This makes sense. If you do something bad, you have to first think about doing something bad.
1) Bad thoughts lead to bad actions.
This even happened to the great King David. He saw a woman from the roof top of his palace. Instead of averting his eyes, he began to think about her. He began to lust after her. He thought it would be nice for him to sleep with her.
So guess what he did? He acted on his thoughts!
Then, when it came out that she was pregnant. He thought it would be nice to not be embarrassed by his sin. So, he sent for her husband. He tried to get him drunk. He tried to make him sleep with his wife. (This was before the days of paternity test results on Maury.) When that didn’t work, he sent a letter to his general. He ask for this man to be left alone in the fighting. The man was killed and David had committed murder.
2) Bad thoughts ruin relationships.
Another reason that sinful thoughts are treated with hatred by God is that these thoughts ruin relationships! This is why Jesus says in verse 23, “Settle matter quickly with your adversary. Go and be reconciled to him!” Because without reconciliation, hatred will ruin your relationship! It festers. It causes distrust. It prevent relationships from growing. It hardens your heart and ruins a relationship OR stops one from starting.
Lust is similar. It literally, chemically, rearranges your brain’s neurons. Suddenly, you rewire yourself to find sexual happiness, not in your beloved spouse, whom you promised to only have that special happiness with, but with the secretary down the hall, the pixelated image on the screen, or the character written about in a steamy romance novel!
That doesn’t improve your relationship with your spouse. It ruins it! It’s not like it should be and at worst non existent.
Sinful thoughts ruin relationships!
3) Sinful thoughts, are in and of themselves, sin.
This is the biggest reason of all. Sinful thinking is appalling to God. It’s a open rebellion against Him.
And you can figure this out simply by doing some simple math. If A = B, then C.
Sin is nothing more than open rebellion against God. Consider that. When we think contrary to how God would have us think, we are in essence saying, “Get out of here God! You can have and be anywhere in the whole universe, but stay out of my head. I want to think about what I want to think about it. I want some privacy. I want to hate and lust and be greedy without your stupid rules! Leave me alone.”
If we continue to choose our own thoughts over God, he will leave us alone.
But now I'd like you to combine what we've learned from this portion of Scripture with a few thoughts from other parts of Scripture. It is clear from this section that God hates sinful thoughts. It is clear from other portions of Scripture that God also knows all of our thoughts. Jesus revealed this in Matthew 12:25 when he said that people were thinking that he was the devil. (and he was right!) In John 1:48, He impressed Nathan by revealing that He knew Nathan had been under a fig tree across town before coming to meet him. He told the disciples to toss their net overboard, because he knew that a ton of fish would be caught at his direction.
The point? Jesus preached our portion for today on a mountaintop surrounded by people. He must have known that these people struggled with what was common to humanity-- evil thoughts.
So...in math terms again.
And you know what else? As we read scripture here today, we do so as people plagued by the human condition of sinful thought. Yet God hasn’t destroyed us. Instead, he has brought us here today and through the words of Scripture he has warned us! Why?
Because while God thoughts were filled with hatred for sinners, at the same time, his thoughts were consumed by an even greater thought:
“God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In other words, his thoughts were consumed with love for humans…for you.
But God didn’t sit back on his divine couch, pop a can of Pringles and simply say, "I am thinking about how much I love you." No way! God actually acted on it.
To put it simply: Jesus thought it was better for him to die than for you to.
This means that God, in Christ, forgives you for your hate filled thoughts. It means that God, in Christ, forgives you for your lust filled thoughts. It means, that God, in Christ, forgives you for all your evil thoughts!
And thank God Christ knows all your thoughts! This is scary at first, because you can’t get away from his knowledge, but the comfort is that he didn’t miss one of your evil thoughts. God won’t do an autopsy of you before letting you into heaven, where he says, “Ooops. We missed a lustful thought for his high school classmate in the upper corner of his heart. Guess he can’t go to heaven.”
No! Jesus knew all of your sin –even your thoughts – and he died for all of your sin – even your thoughts. He didn't miss paying hell for even the deepest, darkest, most awful secret thought that you might have.
What an awesome thought! What an awesome action! What an awesome love!
May this love motivate you to act–against thought sins. Instead of continuing in your evil thoughts, do what it takes to prevent those thoughts!
If hatred, go and talk peacefully to the one you hate. Go reconcile with your brother. Go speak kindly to your sister. Get what’s bothering you onto the floor (and do it peacefully). Do what it take, however hard, in order to not have hatred in your heart.
If your problem is lust, then cut out what causes you to lust! Put a filter on your internet. Cancel the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Stop paying for cable. Put all of your steamy romance novels into the recycling. Do what it takes, whatever it takes, to not have lust in your heart.
Now you might be thinking, but if I don’t have this hatred what will I filled my thought life with? If I don’t have this lust, how will I go on? What will I think about?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is God-pleasing, my brothers, think about such things.”
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing nobler, purer, more lovely, or more God pleasing than the work of our Savior Jesus Christ. Fill your hearts and fill your thoughts with him – the one who filled His thoughts with you.
This is my prayer for you this week and always. Amen.