Ephesians 6:19-20

Sermon preached on June 13, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Two weeks ago former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper announced that they were separating after 40 years of marriage. They announced it in an e-mail message. They said,

"We are announcing today that after a great deal of thought we have decided to separate. This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together, following a process of long and careful consideration."

I don't know what happened to the Gore's and I don't want to criticize their marriage. I hope they reconcile and have another 20 or 30 happy years together. It only takes one person to ruin a marriage and there are often innocent people who get divorced through no fault of their own. But I do want to criticize the content of their announced separation. One thing that I noticed about the announcement was that it used terms that hide and disguised what was really going on. There was nothing about how they were breaking their marriage vows. In the marriage ceremony one makes some of the most important promises of one's life. In marriage a person promises to love and support, for better or worse, in sickness and health—till death do us part. Marriage vows are sacred. According to Jesus, it's not the minister or other official who performs the ceremony who joins the two in marriage—but God Himself. In Matthew 19:5–6 Jesus said,

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh'?
So they are no longer two, but one.
Therefore what God has joined together,
let man not separate."

When a person walks away from a marriage (without biblical reasons) they're breaking both their promises to their spouse and to God. They're sinning against God. In Malachi 2:16 we read,

"'I hate divorce,'
says the LORD God of Israel…
So guard yourself in your spirit,
and do not break faith."

And in Matthew 19:9 Jesus said,

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife,
except for marital unfaithfulness,
and marries another woman
commits adultery."

But instead of putting their breakup in such terms, instead of telling it like it really is, the Gore's used positive terms like, 'mutually supportive decision' and phrases like, 'following a process of long and careful consideration'. They evaded and denied the real issues involved.

But what surprised me even more was the media commentary on marriage that the Gore's split brought forth. In the Faith section of The Washington Post, reporter Sally Quinn began her article on the Gore's split this way,

"Rejoice. Al and Tipper have split up… Not only should we respect their decision, but in some ways we should rejoice in it."

She didn't say that because she hates the Gore's. Quite the contrary, she seems to like them very much. She went on to talk about some of the positive things about splitting up, how it can mean freedom and happiness. She writes,

"Tipper had been the good wife for 40 years. Now it is time for her."

She goes on to disparage the traditional view of marriage. She wrote about the traditional marriage vows,

"Given the normal span of our lives these days, such a vow is totally unrealistic."

A writer in the British online newspaper, The Telegraph agrees. Julia Smith writes, (The 40-year itch: divorce in the later years, By Julia Llewellyn Smith Published: 05 Jun 2010)

"The change may in part be due to people leading longer and healthier lives," she says. "It is simply unrealistic to expect many couples to remain together for 40 or 50 years."

In The Wall Street Journal Jeffrey Zaslow brought up how anthropologist Margaret Mead argued that marriage,

"was designed for a time when people died in their 40s and 50s, after raising children together."

Smith in the Telegraph says of women,

"Many have gone back to work and have a wider view of the world. They think, 'This marriage may have been what I needed at 25, but it's not what I need now.'"

A columnist for the New York Times writing about the Gore's split noted that she wrote a book about marriage. She said, (The 40-Year Itch" By Deirdre Bair, Published: June 3, 2010)

"For my book, I interviewed 126 men and 184 women who divorced after being married 20 to 60-plus years. And what surprised me most was the courage they showed as they left the supposed security of marriage. To them, divorce meant not failure and shame, but opportunity." "Many stories ended with some rendition of, 'It's my time and if I don't take it now, I never will.'"

Notice the words that use to describe those breaking their marriage vows: 'courage', 'opportunity', 'my time'. Another commonly used word was, 'freedom'. The phrase 'finding myself' was also high on the usage list.

These commentators not only praise the breakup of marriages, but they also tell you that the outcome will be good, positive. Blair continues,

"No matter whether they had spent years gearing up for divorce or decided on the spur of the moment after one minor disagreement too many, few had regrets."

Another says, (Smith in the Telegraph)

"After 37 years of marriage, Sue Plumtree, from Richmond, Surrey, left her husband five years ago… 'As for me, I'm the happiest ever.'"

Smith in the Telegraph also tells us the story of Nicola Ellis. She writes,

"Ellis is enjoying a new lease of life… 'if there's no love left between the two people, you are wasting what few days you have left on this planet. If you are in an unhappy marriage, I don't think you can be the kind of person who is much use to anyone. My granddaughter says, 'Granny, you're so different now, you are so much happier. You are not trying all the time.'"

Betsey Stevenson of the University of Pennsylvania acknowledged sadness in the Gores' announcement, but suggested that we should celebrate,

"how much optimism they have for the rest of their lives."

In all of it, there's no acknowledgement of sin, no acknowledgement of wrong, of the hurt that may be involved, of the damage to the children, of the sin against God's law. Not only do they not acknowledge those things, they deny them. They tell you that often abandonment of your spouse will bring you good, that your life will be better for it. They deny what God says in Malachi 2:13–14.

"Another thing you do:
You flood the Lord's altar with tears.
You weep and wail because he no longer
pays attention to your offerings
or accepts them with pleasure
from your hands.
You ask, 'Why?'
It is because the Lord is acting
as the witness between you
and the wife of your youth,
because you have broken faith with her,
though she is your partner,
the wife of your marriage covenant."

One of the things that the world doesn't want us to do today is to call sin, 'sin'. Today's society is all about freedom, and although they don't come out and say it, what they mean by that is freedom to indulge in the particular sin that they want to indulge in. They don't want to hear what they're doing wrong. They don't want to hear that their sin will lead to misery and their doom. Woe to those who try to tell them so.

It's been that way in the past too. In Isaiah 30:10 the prophet wrote about the people of his day.

"They say to the seers,
'See no more visions !'
and to the prophets,
'Give us no more visions of what is right!'
Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions."

Jeremiah the prophet was threatened with death when he told the people what the Lord said. They said to him, (Jeremiah 11:21)

"Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD
or you will die by our hands—"

So how are we Christian to respond to the wishes of our society? What are we to expect from pastors and other Christian leaders as we face the growing distain for God's Word?

The main thing that Paul tells us is that

the gospel is to be proclaimed fearlessly.

Paul wrote,

"Pray also for me,
that whenever I open my mouth,
words may be given me
so that I will fearlessly make known
the mystery of the gospel,
for which I am an ambassador in chains.
Pray that I may declare it fearlessly,
as I should."

Paul used the word 'fearlessly' twice to emphasize that the gospel is to be presented boldly, without trepidation. As Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7, (ESV)

"for God gave us a spirit not of fear
but of power and love and self-control."

Then in chapter 4 of 2 Timothy Paul wrote, (1-5)

"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and in view of his appearing and his kingdom,
I give you this charge:
Preach the Word;
be prepared in season and out of season;
correct, rebuke and encourage—
with great patience and careful instruction.
For the time will come when men
will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires,
they will gather around them
a great number of teachers
to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away
from the truth and turn aside to myths.
But you, keep your head in all situations,
endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,
discharge all the duties of your ministry."

Paul told Timothy that it didn't matter whether the audience was friendly or not, whether they wanted to hear it or not—he was to preach the Word. The context there mentions correcting, rebuking and shows that Paul is telling Timothy to preach the 'whole counsel of God', including the parts that stress the absolute necessity of repentance. Timothy was to preach that people needed to turn to Jesus and to turn from their sin in order to be in saved. As Paul wrote in Hebrews 12:14

"without holiness
no one will see the Lord."

It's a very sad fact today that many preachers today have stopped preaching the whole counsel God. Some of the emphasize 'positive thinking' and other soothing doctrines, but they have either entirely eliminated repentance from their preaching or downplayed it so much that it's essentially not a part of their preaching.

But the gospel encompasses the whole counsel of God. We see this in Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:24–27. He talked about how he was ready to die for the gospel rather than stop preaching it. He said,

"But I do not account my life
of any value nor as precious to myself,
if only I may finish my course
and the ministry
that I received from the Lord Jesus,
to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
And now, behold, I know
that none of you among whom
I have gone about proclaiming
the kingdom will see my face again.
Therefore I testify to you this day
that I am innocent of the blood of all of you,
for I did not shrink from declaring
to you the whole counsel of God."

The gospel includes the whole counsel of God. That's what the world needs to hear. Preachers and Christian leaders are to preach it fearlessly. That's the first thing.

But what is perhaps surprising here is that

Paul asks for prayer that he would declare the gospel fearlessly.

Time and again Paul had risked his life for the gospel. He had proved his love for Jesus and His gospel. So it may seem surprising that Paul requests prayer for this.

But this is not surprising if we remember that we are all human and that apart from Jesus we can do nothing. (John 15:1-5) Paul needed continual help in this regard.

Fear is a great problem for Christians.

The very fact that the apostle Paul asked for the Ephesian Christians to pray for him in this regard shows this. I mean, if the apostle Paul was concerned that he needed help to do that, we need to take it very seriously. Fear in a great problem. Peter loved Jesus but fear contributed to him denying Jesus.

The world hates the gospel and there's a good chance that they'll hate you if you tell them about the gospel and its implications. John the Baptist told Herod that it was not lawful to have his brother's wife. John was beheaded because of it. Jesus was perfect and the world hated Him. As we read in John 3:19–21,

"This is the verdict:
Light has come into the world,
but men loved darkness instead of light
because their deeds were evil.
Everyone who does evil hates the light,
and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."

In Matthew 10:22 Jesus said,

"All men will hate you because of me,"

Jesus also said that a servant is not above his master, if they accused Him of being in league with Beelzebub, how much more would they accuse us.

I've said many times before that some churches are a mere seven years behind the world in accepting the things that the world accepts. It doesn't matter what the sin is, divorce, homosexuality, abortion—seven years after society accepts them these churches accept them. Why do they accept the sins the world wants them to accept? At some point fear played a part.

Churches and Christian leaders all over the world are giving in to fear. Paul felt that fear. He asked that the Ephesian Christians would pray for him that he would proclaim the gospel fearlessly. If Paul needed prayers, how much more do your pastor and other pastors and Christian leaders need it.

They need the courage to proclaim the whole counsel of God. They need the courage to call sin, sin. Pray that they Christian leaders not give in to fear.

Another reason you should pray that Christian leaders declare the gospel fearlessly has to do with the nature of the gospel.

There is something about the nature of the gospel that it demands that it be presented a certain way. Paul asked the Ephesian Christians to pray that he would declare it fearlessly,

"as I should."

The gospel is not a human message, but the message of the Almighty God to the lost world. Paul refers to himself as,

"an ambassador in chains."

Charles Hodge writes, (Ephesians, p. 394)

"An ambassador is one through whom a sovereign speaks… The apostles, as sent by Christ with authority to speak in his name… proposing the terms of reconciliation and urging their acceptance…"

The gospel has the authority of God. There is nothing like it in the world. It is the only thing that has the power of God for salvation. As such it demands to be preached boldly.

Christian preachers are to be like David before Goliath, like Moses before Pharaoh, like Peter and John before the Sanhedrin. Nothing else will do. The nature of the gospel being from God demands it.

Christians, always expect this from your leaders. Always pray for your leaders that they may be bold with the gospel. How important this is.
Charles Spurgeon was once asked, (Sinclair Ferguson, Let's Study Ephesians, p. 189)

"What is the secret of your ministry?"

Spurgeon's reply,

"My people pray for me."

There's no substitute. Could the sorry state of the church today be because Christians haven't been praying for their leaders?

This also means that

you ought to be praying that God would raise up a generation of young preachers and Christian leaders who will not be afraid of proclaiming the truth as they should.

For the past few decades our society has been on a downward spiral. Who is going to call it back to righteousness? You all have your part to do. But a great portion of that work belongs to Christian leaders, pastors, teachers, evangelists. There are some great Christian leaders today.

Albert Mohler, Franklin Graham, Charles Colson, Mark Driscoll, J.I. Packer, John Stott and others stand up for the gospel.

What we need is that God would raise up a new generation of leaders who proclaim the gospel fearlessly.

The third thing we see from our text is that

the gospel must be proclaimed in the power of the Spirit.

What did Paul want for his ministry? He wanted God to guide him. Paul wrote,

"Pray also for me,
that whenever I open my mouth,
words may be given me
so that I will fearlessly make known
the mystery of the gospel,"

Paul needed words to be given to him. By this I do not believe he was asking for new revelation from God, but rather that he would be able to speak words of boldness, words that were clear, words that were effective. Pray for Christian leaders is this regard. They don't need human wisdom, but rather the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, for those of you who aren't Christians.

You have seen the fearlessness and boldness of some Christian leaders. With some of them that's unmistakable. You can't miss it. Make sure that you don't miss the counterpart of that.

Why are the fearless? It's because they are handling a divine message. They are God's ambassadors.

Listen to the message. Let their message penetrate your heart. Let the truth of Jesus fill your mind and heart. Ask Jesus to save you. Go to Him. Turn from your sins and find eternal life in Jesus. May God give you grace to do so.