This passage from Ephesians is the story of my faith, or at least, I hope to make it the story of my faith. For there was a time that I was taken in by all sorts of religious smooth talk, and I hung around people who knew the religious sales lingo all too well.
They spoke words that were religious, yet unbiblical, but words that my itching ears wanted to hear: “Only people who think and believe like us are God’s children”; “God only wants us to only help those who are willing to help themselves”; “God wants us to love the sinner but hate the sin”, which was also interpreted, “We should love others, but we don’t have to like others.”
Now, this did keep me out of trouble. It kept me from hanging around or friending anyone who did not think like me and worship like me. And it also kept me from doing anything to help the poor in my community or anyone outside of my church.
The faith instilled in me was personal and private. It was something I possessed, clung to, an exclusive ticket to an eternal home. It was about personal peace and eternal security. It was something that kept me from immorality. And immorality was always limited to personal sin, especially the big five (I know you thought they were 10, but we good Baptists had 5): “Do not to drink, dance, smoke or chew or go with girls who do.”
My faith was always controlled, moderated, tempered, I later learned, watered down. It never challenged the status quo, never disturbed the peace, never questioned why women did not preach in church, or even take up the offering. It never asked why the living quarters for migrant workers in my farming community looked so bad or why all migrant workers were black.
My faith was kept trucked away, wasting away in the dark. Faith was something that we only did on Sunday morning between the hours of 10 and 12. Although going to church often seemed like a waste of time, as I spent many of those hours nodding, sometimes actually napping in my pew, I was taught that this was what made God happy.
But here in Ephesians, Paul is telling me that my faith was actually making God furious. My faith was not merely sleeping in a pew. My faith was dead in the pew.
Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light!
So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!
17 Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.
18-20 Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ
Now, like every good Southern Baptist, I knew not to drink too much wine. But I never learned that I was supposed to replace the wine. I never knew I was supposed to drink from the Spirit of God and become God-intoxicated. I did learn that these are desperate times, and my faith involved singing hymns, but only singing hymns to be heard only from behind the stained glass; Not singing and dancing in the streets in the light of the day like some public drunkard!
This passage reminds me of a story from second book of Samuel.
After David led a great army to get possession of the Ark of the Covenant to return it to Jerusalem, David and his army were so overcome with what was going on that they engaged in festive rejoicing and dancing. They were seized by what James Newsome, New Testament professor of Columbia Seminary calls “a spirit of prophetic ecstasy.”
The scriptures say that David sang and danced before God “with all his might.” He sang and danced before God with all that he had and with all that we was. David was God-intoxicated.
And when you become God-intoxicated, so filled with the Spirit of God, you will most certainly disturb the peace and face opposition it.
When David and his wife Michal arrived home from the party and began preparing to turn in for the night, David, if he was anything like me, was probably hoping to hear some words of affirmation from his wife. Something like, “Honey, you were so wonderful today. As I listened to you sing and watched you dance in the streets, you just don’t know how proud I was of you! You danced your heart out! And why shouldn’t you have, you brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem where it belongs!”
However, the words David hears are something like: “David, you looked like a drunken fool.”
Perhaps David did act like an intoxicated fool. Uninhibited and unrestrained, he lost all self-control. Seized by “a spirit of prophetic ecstasy,” David held absolutely nothing back. David surrendered to the Spirit which had filled him.
David danced, charged by the rule of God. David danced, electrified by the justice of God. David danced a dance of total self-surrender. David danced, holding nothing back. David danced giving all that he had and all that he was to God. And there was absolutely nothing personal or private about this dance. This dance caused a scene. This dance created a fuss. It got people’s attention. It challenged the status quo. It disturbed the peace. And Michal despised David for it.
This is what happens when one drinks huge draughts of the Spirit of God. This is what happens when one becomes God-intoxicated. There is no way to control it, moderate, temper it. There is no way to conceal it. There is no way to regulate it to two hours on a Sunday morning. When one becomes drunk with the rule of God, the love of God, one’s feet will inevitably move to the dance of the gospel, and one will be despised for it.
The dance of the gospel is a dangerous dance. The dance of the gospel is a disturbing dance. The active affirmation the rule of God does not set well with the Michals of the world.
The dance of personal, private piety are easier steps to follow, aren’t they? The message of false prophets watering down the gospel of Christ as nothing more than a little dose of “chicken soup for the soul” is much easier to swallow. If we just get ourselves right with the Lord, if we pray right and live right, if we are good moral people, if we don’t drink, smoke or chew or go with girls who do, then God will bless us and one day send us to heaven.
The dance of the gospel is radically different. The dance of the gospel are steps to the beat of a different drum. If we get right with the Lord; if we pray right and live right; if we lose all inhibitions and all restraint; if we completely surrender ourselves to the rule of God; if we love others as Christ loves us, unconditionally, unreservedly; if we question the status quo, if we disturb the peace; if we dance to the beat of this drum, then we will invariably get some push-back.
That’s a good question for all of us who are attempting to follow Jesus, is it not? “In your walk with Jesus, are you getting any push back?”
The answer should always be yes, for the dance of the gospel is a dance of self-surrender to a radical beat. It is a beat of sacrifice. It is a beat of selflessness. It is a beat of self-expenditure. It is a beat of a scandalous love and of an offensive grace. And to world, as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, if we let go and dance to this beat, we are certain to look like fools. And as Luke warned us in Acts chapter 2, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, we may be accused of public drunkenness.
We will be called drunken fools when offer our friendship to a poor woman in a nursing home who can offer us nothing in return.
We will be called drunken fools we spend valuable time volunteering at the hospital, serving lunch in a soup kitchen, building a handicap ramp for a stranger who may never use it, spending a week repairing homes in West Virginia, spending thousands of dollars in Nicaragua, or visiting someone in prison.
We will be called drunken fools when we offer love and forgiveness to our enemies, when we give the shirt off our backs to complete strangers in need.
We will be called drunken fools anytime we love anyone with the self-expending love of Christ—whenever we love someone without inhibitions, without restraints, and without reservations.
We will be called drunken fools when we continue to challenge the status quo, question immoral systems of injustice, and disturb the peace.
For the Michals of the world despise this dance. And they will do everything in their power to stop this dance.
We have all heard their voices: loud echoes which discourage such dancing. “Don’t get too close to him. Do not give your heart to her. You will be sorry. They will only let you down.”
“Don’t love that man. He has done absolutely nothing to deserve it and will never reciprocate.”
“Don’t love that woman. She is too needy. She never does anything to help herself. She will demand too much.”
The voice of Michal say: “The system is not that broken. The poor get what they deserve. Most minorities have it pretty good in our country, and they are the real racists. Public education is not worth fighting for. Healthcare is not a right.”
The voices of Michal say: “Keep your faith private, moderate. Keep it between you and God. Don’t stir up trouble. Just sit on a pew and look forward to going to heaven. Sing behind stained glass. Don’t worry about missions. Don’t worry about your neighbor. Don’t waste your time giving yourself away to strangers. Loving like that is crazy. It is too risky. It leads to too much pain.”
However, there is another voice, a voice heard by David: “These are serious times, so let’s drink large draughts of the Spirit, until we are all God-intoxicated! Let’s sing and dance in the streets with all we have.” It is a voice which says: “Dance! Hold nothing back. Give yourself away. Surrender yourself to the beat of the heart of the gospel. Love. Love honestly and deeply. Love courageously and graciously. Lose yourself. Empty yourself. Pour yourself out. Question the systems of injustice. Challenge the status quo. Disturb the peace.”
Will this love cause pain? It will cause enormous pain. But the joy of God which will consume you will be so immense the suffering will be well worth it.
Garth Brooks once sang a song entitled “the dance.” There’s a line in that song that goes, “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to have missed the dance.”
Dancing the dance of the gospel will inevitably bring pain. However, never truly following in the steps of Jesus to avoid that pain is never really living. There is no joy being a wallflower on the wall of life or being a Sunday morning pew napper.
So, let us wake up from our sleep and rise from our coffins. Let us drink huge draughts of the spirit of God, and let us dance! May the First Christian Church go out and dance in the streets of Farmville, Greenville, Winterville, Tarboro, Pinetops, Wilson, Fountain and Pikeville and have seizures of prophetic ecstasy! Be warned, we will look like drunken fools, and we will suffer for it. But the immense joy of God, the joy of abundant life, now and forevermore, is well worth it.