Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Days Are Evil

The last request of the Lord’s Prayer is, ‘And deliver us from evil’. That seems an especially appropriate prayer these days as we look around us. There is so much that is evil, and it seems that it is becoming even more evil. Just to take one area, consider how much change there has been when it comes to some basic notions like marriage and gender. There has been much change in these things and not for the better.

This morning we’re going to take a look at evil. It’s just a fact that we are going to be confronted more and more by evil. And while that will make life more difficult, it will also give us opportunities to win some over from the evil that has captured them. But in order to do that we need to understand this evil. My goal this morning is to make a little progress in that task.


Listen.

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. Ephesians 5:15-17

Paul writes to those first century saints and tells them that the days are evil. I think that reading this can be very encouraging to us. One temptation that we need to be aware of, and to be sure to avoid, is the temptation to panic. We see the evil around us and how it is mounting ever greater. It is too easy to see it and react. ‘Things are out of control. Evil is winning. What’s going to happen to us?’ To be sure, there is evil today. But bear in mind that there was evil back when Paul wrote these words. In fact, the Spirit has labeled the whole time between Jesus’ first and second advents as ‘this present evil age’. [Galatians 1.4] And no wonder, since ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’. [Ephesians 6.12] There has always been evil, and there always will be, until Jesus returns. That’s when evil will be utterly destroyed - but not before. So, don’t panic. Don’t even be surprised. Evil is a part of our very broken world.

Here’s one thing to do instead of panic or surprise. We should mourn. We should mourn when we see evil do its foul work. We should mourn for those who are afflicted by evil in whatever form it takes. They were created for better things. But we should also mourn for those who do the evil that afflicts others. I’m not suggesting that they are somehow innocent. But they also were created for better things. One important response to evil is our sadness.

Here’s a second thing. There is an aspect of evil that I really want you to understand. Evil is subtle. Because it is, it’s easy to miss what’s really going on. And that is a big part of our problem with evil. We just don’t see it very clearly. So, it’s important not to underestimate its subtlety.

Think about the serpent’s conversation with Eve at that tree. He didn’t say, ‘Eve, you should declare your independence from God and join me in my rebellion.’ Now, that’s actually what he wanted. But he didn’t say it that way. Instead, he simply asked what seemed to be an innocent question. ‘Has God said?’ He’s just asking a question, right? But there was evil lurking in the question - hidden away, beneath the surface. And it worked. What did Eve do as a result of that question? She began to think about the tree independently of what God said about it. And that was her declaration of independence. The serpent won. Evil didn’t start with the first bite. It started with that first question.

Evil resides hidden beneath the surface of things, things that look innocent. We need to understand this. Evil is subtle.

So, consider marriage, a major area of conflict these days. Where is the beginning of the evil that causes such confusion about marriage? Let’s work through some questions. Is marriage something that is good? Absolutely. But why is it good? Well, there is much to be enjoyed when someone is married. There are great pleasures in marriage. Well, then, why would you deny the joys of marriage to those two people just because they’re both men? Don’t you want them to enjoy life also? Don’t you want them to be happy, too? Where’s the beginning of the evil in this? Most focus on the issue of homosexual marriage itself. But the evil here is much more subtle. Evil actually wins the argument in the answer to the earlier question, the question about why marriage is good. The biblical answer to that isn’t about our enjoyment. The biblical answer has to do with how two married people can serve their Maker better together than apart. But once the answer is given in terms of our pleasures, our benefits - which, sadly, is how many Christians think of it - then the argument is lost. Evil has won. It is more subtle than what most understand.

Or consider education. Again, let’s work through some questions. Is it good to educate children? Certainly. And why are we to do that? What is the goal that we are to have for educating children? Now, once that question is answered, it doesn’t really matter how you answer the practical question, ‘How should we educate children?’ Today, there is quite a bit of discussion on the ‘How’ question, the different methods of education. But that is the wrong question to focus on. The important question is the ‘Why’ question. It’s just like the issue of marriage. If the ‘Why’ question for education is answered in terms of ourselves, in terms of the benefit to the children, then evil has already won the argument about how it should happen. But the battle can be won if the ‘Why’ question is answered in terms of God’s benefit.

There are lots of these kinds of issues where focusing on what actually is the important question is just missed, and since it is missed evil wins. So, should people be free? Sure. But what is freedom? And what is it for? Do we want people to believe the Gospel? Absolutely. But why do we want that? What goal are we aiming at? Is it good for people to enjoy a good life? Sure. But what’s a good life? And what is it for? The real battle in these areas and others is not on the surface. Evil is much more subtle than that. If we don’t understand the subtlety of evil, we will always lose the battles.

Now, let’s take all of this and connect it to the rest of that Scripture I read to you.

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.

There is a command here about how we are to walk. We are to pay close attention to how we live. And why is that? It’s because the days are evil. Now, if we are going to be able to obey this command, if we are going to be able to be very careful how we live, we’re going to have to understand something. We’ll need to do a good job of understanding evil, especially the subtlety of evil. Failure here will make us live like Eve who was not careful, who was fooled by the subtlety of the serpent and failed badly. So, you see, neglecting to work at understanding evil better is simply not an option. No one can say, ‘Well, I’m not into figuring out things like that’. Failure to work at this will result in disobedience. It will result in being what that Scripture labels as ‘unwise’ or even ‘foolish’. We all need to work at understanding evil, and especially its subtlety. It’s a matter of obedience.

So, how do we work at this? What are we to do? Do we all need to spend time examining all those arguments that favor new ideas in our society and become experts in such things? No. Some of us are called to do that, but not all. Not even most. But our text does tells us one thing that we all need to do.

… understand what the will of the Lord is.

And we’re back to the issue of understanding God. What’s He up to? What’s important to Him? What are His goals - both short-term goals and long-term goals? How does He plan on achieving those goals? This is understanding the will of the Lord, something that we all need to be working at. It is as we make progress here that we will make progress in dealing with the evil of our world. How else can we come to know evil and see it where it hides, unless we come to know better the God who hates evil and will one day destroy it? It is in understanding what is good and true that we will be able to identify what is evil and false. We need to know God.

So, how do we get to know God better? We need to spend time thinking about Him. Let me illustrate what I mean by using last week’s pastoral prayer. It started out with this:

Father, You have been so good to us in allowing us to get to know You. That, after all, is the heart of the Gospel, that we are able to get to know You. But there is so much about You that we don’t know. And so, we ask that You would make it possible for us to get to know You better.

And then, I prayed about these qualities of God: His power, His holiness, His wrath, His compassion, and His wisdom. What if you took some time and thought about the idea of, say, God’s wrath? What if you connected that with some particular Scriptures you’ve encountered where God’s wrath showed up? And then, what if you took all of that and responded with your own prayer to know God better in terms of His wrath? That’s one way of getting to know God better.

Now, doing this sort of thing will take time. Sadly, the response that people so often give is that they just don’t have the time to do all of that. And do you know why they say that? It’s because they’ve been fooled by the evil that is hidden in that response. They’ve missed the subtlety of evil. It’s just like Eve and that serpent.

There is much evil in our day. And it includes more than just issues of marriage and gender. One very large reason for the great influence of evil in our day has to do with what is happening in the Church. So many in the Church have been fooled by the evil. They focus on the wrong things. Oh, those things certainly are terrible things, and they need to be dealt with. It’s just that they’re secondary things. The important questions aren’t being noticed and dealt with wisely. And, as a result, evil is winning. So, for the sake of your own souls - after all what the evil one is really after isn’t a new definition of marriage. He’s after your souls. Remember Eve. So, for the sake of your own souls and for the sake of our mission to change the world, be careful how you live. Be aware that the days are evil. Understand what the will of the Lord is. And do what is necessary so that you can respond wisely.

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