A Unity Like No Other
A Fear Like No Other
Charles Harrison Mason (1864-1961)
- Born to freed slaves in 1864 near Shelby County, TN, but having moved to Plumersville, Arkansas, Charles nearly died of tuberculosis and was miraculously healed of the disease. After that experience, he consecrated his life to God and was baptized, ordained, and licensed to preach in the black Baptist church at fourteen years of age.
- In his preaching, Mason focused on holiness and sanctification, emphasizing a Spirit-led life and personal holiness. Because of this teaching, he and another minister, Charles Price Jones, who taught the same beliefs, were ordered to leave the Baptist church.
- The two men started the Church of God in Christ Fellowship of churches.
- To mention this historical black Christian leader is not to endorse the held belief of the Church of God in Christ denomination that you must be saved and experience a separate baptism of the Holy Spirit, manifest in speaking in tongues. Instead, I want to focus on the reality of a godly leader who ordained more than 350 white Pentecostals throughout MS, TN, AK, FL, LA, AL, and GA. One writer notes, “where local congregations of the Church of God in Christ were founded, black and white saints worked, worshiped, and evangelized together in an interracial fellowship.”
- Yet, in 1914, because of racism, white members of the Church of God in Christ separated and formed a white denomination called the Assemblies of God.
- But Charles Mason continued to preach and to proclaim the gospel that “God’s church is made one, of every nation, tongue, and people that are upon the face of the earth,” that “the church is the body of Christ” Eph 1:22, that “Christ is the head of the body, the one church (Eph 4:4-5) and that “God rules in one faith and one Lord and one baptism.”
- For Charles Mason, the unity proclaimed in Ephesians was God’s vision for the church, and no matter the earthly realities, they could not negate the truth of the gospel. To speak the language of unity in the midst of a nation filled with racial division was, in a sense, to speak another language… speech that contradicted the prevalent separatist discourse of the time.”
While not identical to 1914, we continue to face division – politically, racially, and medically around COVID – whether restrictions or vaccines.
But the church is called to speak a different message – a message of unity – the same message Charles Mason proclaimed – the same message Paul proclaimed in Ephesians, to which we turn this morning.
I highlight the Church of God in Christ and mention the Assemblies of God this morning because the passage we consider today contains a favorite verse by each.
Misunderstood, I believe the verse only further divides us as the people of God – but rightly understood, it unifies us both in holiness of living and in hunger to be Spirit-filled.
Please turn to Ephesians 5:15-21.
Verse 21 contains a key truth for us today, and that is this – we are to fear Christ.
- Fear is one of those words that we most use to speak of something we dread and want to avoid
- Some people fear heights
- Some people fear going to the doctor
- Some people fear speaking in public – okay, most people fear speaking in public.
But in this passage, we are not being called to avoid Christ but to honor, revere, and respect, deeply.
Here is the truth that I want every one of us to walk away with today
- We must honor Christ above all else.
I want you to be convinced of your need to do this for the rest of the sermon.
We must honor Christ above all else…So we won’t waste our lives
See it in the text – Ephesians 5:15-17
- Paying careful attention implies awareness
My simple mind can only understand apple devices, and because that is what many of you use, I want to do a little awareness training.
- If you have an iPhone, go to settings, then scroll down to screen time and select it.
- You can immediately be aware of how much time you averaged on your phone in the last week.
- But if you want to pay careful attention, you can click “See All Activity” and then be able to see exactly how many hours and minutes you spent in each app.
- You see, the more aware you become of the details of how you are spending your time, the more you can consciously make decisions to do something about how you spend your time.
- Does your Screen Time report suggest that you are Honoring Christ? Does it suggest that you are making the most of the time? Does it suggest that you are living, not as unwise but as wise?
- Notice I am not trying to be legalistic, suggesting that a certain amount of time should be your cap because it is my cap. Notice I am not suggesting that if you are on social media more than you are on your Bible app that you have a problem.
- I am simply speaking to you God’s Word – “Pay careful attention, then, to how you live – not as unwise people but as wise – making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
That leads us to the next reason that we must honor Christ above all else.
We must honor Christ above all else... because that IS the Lord’s will.
See it in the text – Read Ephesians 5:17-21
Paul says, “understand what the Lord’s will is,” but this is not like Curly in the movie City Slickers who tells Mitch, “Do you know what the secret of life is? This.” To which Mitch says, “Your finger?” Curly continues, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and the rest don’t matter,” which leaves Mitch saying, “But what is the one thing?” to which Curly responds, “That’s what you have to find out.”
Seriously, this really is how we treat the will of God – as some elusive mystery that we hopingly guess at and call it faith.
That is not what God does. This entire letter of Ephesians reveals the will of God for your life. This entire Bible reveals the will of God for your life. The 2% of your life that is not explicit in the Bible – the name of your future spouse, what city you will live in, whether to take the job or not – that 2% of the unknown out to be guided by the 98% we can know. Your spouse should love God. They should possess the character, conduct, and care of Christ which is clearly outlined in the Bible. They should love the church. They should serve and honor you. I can’t tell you his or her name, but God has told you exactly what they should be like.
Let’s work backward from verse 21 to see how this unfolds and how explicit the will of the Lord is
- Submitting to one another in the fear of Christ
- One scholar said this submitting to one another that it is a voluntary yielding to one another in love.
- The best way to condition yourself to yield to one another in love voluntarily is found in verse 20 – giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Gratitude is one of the most liberating pursuits a person will ever experience
- Top professionals are coached to discipline themselves to write down 3 things they are thankful for daily.
- You see, I am much more likely to voluntarily yield to you if I am thankful for you and thankful for our church.
- But how do we cultivate this liberating practice of giving thanks always for everything? Verse 19 – by speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord
- In short – by constantly reminding each other of how much we have to be thankful for
- KLUV, LifeSongs, Ricky Draper - they help us learn songs that we can sing and quote, but what about the front end of that verse.
- The most powerful songs are the ones most Scripturally saturated, the ones most theologically robust, the ones most doctrinally accurate – Rick, thank you and your incredible team for training us to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with our hearts to the Lord.
- But how do we get to a place where we really live out verse 19 – by praying and asking the Father to fulfill verse 18 – “to be filled by the Spirit.”
- At this point, I want to come back to my introduction in having mentioned that for some in the Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God, his verse – verse 18 – is a favorite. Please hear me – what I am about to share is not an endorsed interpretation of either of these denominations but is instead an interpretation I have both heard and seen here in New Orleans. The line of thinking goes this way – in the warning to not get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but instead be filled by the Spirit, many have taken the liberty to say – “We don’t get drunk on wine, we get drunk on the Spirit.” Such then becomes a rationale for falling out, running around, swinging from the chandeliers. But notice, by simply reading the next verse – verse 19 – Paul explicitly tells us exactly what he means it will look like to be filled with the Spirit. We are thus reminded of an important principle of the need to read Scripture in context. The verses around a single verse often form an argument, a story, or a big idea.
- And the big idea here is that we must honor Christ above all else, 1) so that we won’t waste our lives and 2) because doing so IS the will of the Lord.
and finally, we see that
We must honor Christ above all else... because the ripple effect of doing so is exactly what we need.
See it in the text starting in verse 22 (read 22-33)
So much could be said here and expounded about marriage, but we can’t separate marriage from this reality that it is only when we honor Christ above all else that our marriages thrive the way God intended
- I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people take issue with verse 22 – the call for wives to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord. Most people don’t realize that if you have a problem with what verse 22 says, then you have implicitly have a problem with verse 21 because the verb of verse 21 is the verb for verse 22. Hear me carefully here – in Greek, there is no verb in verse 22. The way we translate verse 22 uses the verb from verse 21. More literally translated, verses 21 and 22 would read like this:
- “and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your own husbands as to the Lord.”
- The same voluntary yielding to one another in love that we should demonstrate and experience in the church is to characterize Christian marriages.
- Someone unwilling to read further might think, “really, this pertains to wives, not so much husbands.”
Brothers, the call to you as a husband is to love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. In other words, your love for her will certainly include voluntarily yielding in love. Still, it is to supersede that manifestation of love and instead mirror the self-denial of Christ, not only in the ultimate act of love on the cross but even self-denying moment before that one.
- Consider Jesus, who even when wanting to be alone, to think, to pray – many of you men can understand that – many of you women can understand that – but often when we see Jesus being described as being alone, withdrawing to pray, it is followed with statements like “and when his disciples found him they said, “everyone is looking for you.”
- Yet Jesus continued to go to the people, heal their diseases, feed them, cast out demons, and proclaim the Kingdom of God.
But Paul doesn’t stop with a simple What Would Jesus Do challenge; he substantiates the actions of Christ as having great significance in the life of the church. This means that the self-denying love of a husband should not be done just as a means of gaining awesome husband standing or notoriety – it is a means to something more – namely, sanctification.
- Look at verse 26 – sanctify her – husbands, as Christian husbands, your self-denying love for your wife is towards the end that your wife will be more holy.
- How is that? Because of Christ in you! When she sees you denying yourself, even though you are tired, even though you have worked hard all day, just as your wife has even though you would like to sit down and watch TV or read a book, you set aside those things to serve your wife, to wash the dishes, to help with the laundry, to care for your children, to talk through an issue – and at the end of the day you exhaustedly collapse in your bed and sleep well because you have voluntarily yielded in love to your wife and her requests for help, and you have done so in the manner of Christ, and what she has experienced in those moments of Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowering self-denial and love is Christ in you – and it changes her, it draws her, it deepens her respect for you; it solidifies her devotion to you – just as Christ captures the heart of the church.
But notice he also, in verse 26, tells us the means of this sanctifying work of Christ – the Word. Husbands, are you serving your wife with the Word? When you make decisions that impact your wife and children, are they decisions in accordance with and in light of your pursuit of God’s will in His Word? Do you share what you are reading or thinking about in God’s Word with your wife? Do you read the Bible to your family? There is no right way to do everything, but there is one essential ingredient – the Word! Just as we as a church must be Scripture-fed, so must your marriage if it is to thrive.
I hope to come back to this passage in a sermon series on marriage because there is so much here to consider and apply, but I will sum it up in this way – your marriage will thrive as you honor Christ, as revealed in the Word.
Paul leads this passage by establishing the church as the training grounds, the primary arena in which we are to fear Christ, honor Christ, demonstrate the deepest respect for Christ. And as we do, FBNO, the ripple effect begins to spread, Paul says.
- First, it spreads into our marriages – that is why it is important to note how verse 22 depends on verse 21 for its verbal aspect. Paul has not left the church and now shifted to talking about marriage – he is simply helping you see the ripple. “Follow the ripple,” he says, “as it naturally moves into your marriage, transforming the way you see and treat and serve one another.” “Keep following the ripple,” he says again in verse 1 of chapter 6. In honor, respect, and fear of Christ, children in Christian families are to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right.
Paul then speaks to fathers again in verse 4, again in fear, honor, and respect of Christ, reproving them not to exasperate their children but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord – in others words, “fathers, model and teach your children what it means to fear Christ. Let them see it in your marriage, and let them see it in your parenting.”
- Parents, mothers and fathers, your child should see Christ in every aspect of your parenting. “Chad, are you saying we are just supposed to let everything slide and just be all lovey-dovey all the time?” Your question reveals your ignorance of the Word of God. And that ignorance is your own fault – don’t blame the preacher, don’t blame your work schedule, don’t blame your dislike for reading – take responsibility for not knowing what Christ is like and how you might reflect and reveal Christ in your parenting by first taking responsibility for having never cultivated the habit of reading the Bible. I speak those words in love – the love of a brother and pastor to every person in this room, but most of all in my love for Christ and my desire that He be honored in this church, just as He is worthy of honor in my life, my marriage, and my parenting.
But Paul does not stop following the ripple only to marriage and parenting; he then follows it right out the front door and into the world. Part of the Roman world was slavery. A few comments are in order today concerning slavery in the first century.
- First, it was not chattel slavery as existed in America, but it could be just as oppressive and cruel. That said, because the first-century Roman slavery institution is distinct in many ways from what transpired in America, we need to be mindful of how we compare and contrast them. In other words, we need to be careful that we compare apples to apples rather than apples and oranges.
- Second, we need to acknowledge that we are in a very critical stage of true healing and conciliation in our country concerning race, so passages like this one can easily offend, result in careless words spoken, or lead us to jump to conclusions that are not accurate.
- Third, it was as normative and prevalent in the first century. To say it was normative is not to say it was right, but simply that it touched and impacted most lives.
- Fourth, we want to see Paul deal with slavery in a way that he doesn’t. Likely, when you read these words, you want to hear Paul say, “And masters, set your slaves free and repent of the sin of slavery.” But we, as Christians, must not forget that these words are not simply the well-intended words of a man named Paul; they are the actual words of God. Instead of saying, “Oh Paul, if only we could have given you what we know now, we could have prevented you from looking so poorly to our modern eyes.” The Lord is no fool, and the Lord is good.
You see, first of all, notice that in each of the three groupings that Paul applies the ripple effect of honoring Christ, he starts with the party that would have most often been mentioned last – his audience would have expected him to address husbands first, but he first speaks to wives. Fathers would have expected to be addressed first, but children are spoken to first. And masters, because of their status, would have expected first address, but Paul first looks to slaves and elevates them in a completely foreign way in his day.
- In fact, look, beginning in verse 4, how much space Paul devotes to addressing slaves and what he says of them.
- He instructs their actions as slaves but anchors it in their humanity by saying “heart” and “soul” – in the first century, as in the 17th century, slaves were often treated as less than fully human. But God’s Word spoke a counter-cultural voice of human dignity.
- In verse 7, he calls them slaves of Christ – you know who else he calls a slave of Christ? Himself in Phillipians 1:1. Paul is saying – we are the same. We both are servants, bond-servants, slaves to Christ. No distinction between us.
- In verse 8, he says that they will one day receive a reward from the Lord. In the worlds of slavery in which men and women are dehumanized, slaves have nothing coming to them, because they are soulless, not different than an animal. But in front of masters, Paul speaks to slaves and says, because you have a soul – something he says explicitly in verse 7, you will also stand before God, and the good you do in this life as a Christian brother or sister will have a reward. A slave may have been poor in this life, but a payday was coming.
- But then, and this is one of the most confrontational to the culture at large statements that Paul makes in the new testament, he speaks boldly and concisely to masters, and he transfers ownership of every slave to Christ.
- See it in the text – “because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”
- Paul overthrows slavery on the only ground strong enough to hold a new institution indefinitely – that in Christ, there is only one Master, and we are all his servants, which gives us all unity, a true, eternal-and-today unity.
You see, the great Gospel truth is this: we were all slaves to sin – the same word used here until Christ sets us free. But in setting us free, it transforms the institutions we occupy in this life.
- Our freedom in Christ transforms the institution of the church as we submit to one another in fear of Christ.
- Our freedom in Christ transforms Christian marriage institutions as wives submit to husbands and husbands give up their lives in service to their wives.
- Our freedom in Christ transforms the institution of the family as children obey parents in Lord and Fathers raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.
- Our freedom in Christ transforms the institutions of this world in which we find ourselves as we conform our thinking and actions according to the Gospel.
For as Paul says in Romans 6:17, “17 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over, 18 and having been set free from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.
So let me ask you a question – does your life suggest you are a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness?
- If righteousness, then spend time asking God to examine your life and bring to mind any parts that are not consistent with the truth that Jesus is Lord.
- If sin, then know this – there is only one who can set you free. His name is Jesus, and he died to set you free from sin. But he also rose from the dead, so in setting you free, He assumes full responsibility for your life and everything about it. This is good, for if we tried to use our freedom apart from Christ, we would only become entangled in sin once again. Will you trust Christ today?