When dirty or racist jokes are told by a person claiming to be a Christian, when women are demeaned by sexual harassment in the church, or when the immorality and impurity of the surrounding culture seeps into the church, then believers have failed to heed Paul’s warning in Ephesians 5:1-6, said Criswell College President Barry Creamer.
“Before you were saved you valued certain things. Then you came to Christ begging him to change you,” Creamer told the messengers gathered at Criswell during the SBTC annual meeting. “Unfortunately, we get to the point, very often, we just go back—[while] doing ministry—to exactly the same kind of stuff we’d been doing, the same stuff as if we never had Christ to begin with.”
The pattern is all too familiar, and pastors are not immune to the temptation of it, Creamer said. So he urged pastors to remember who they are: God’s “dearly loved children” who are also loved by the Messiah. Sandwiched between those truths of God’s love for believers, Creamer noted, is God’s call for his children to imitate him and “walk in love.”
And that love has an aroma. Just as Christ gave himself as a fragrant sacrificial offering, Christians are to do likewise. The people of ancient Ephesus, familiar with the aromas emanating from the sacrifices burning in the temple of Diana, understood Paul’s metaphor. Jews who had spent any time in the temple would also appreciate the comparison.
The human senses, like smell, can trigger memories, good or bad. Creamer told of staying in the home of another family years ago, and while using their shower, he popped open their shampoo bottle.
“Immediately I was in Pompano Beach, Fla., as a 13-year-old. It was the weirdest thing,” he said.
The shampoo’s aroma vividly brought to mind a decades-old family trip. In his mind’s eye he saw the beach, the seagulls and tacky 70s-style shorts. Likewise, he said, as pleasing as Christ’s fragrant sacrifice is to God, so too should the living sacrifice of Christians be to the lost.
“If people are going to smell holiness—God on us—it’s going to come rushing in on them only if it is love,” Creamer said.
Imitating Christ, as messianic figures, is an essential part of ministry. Creamer said, “What we are commanded to do if we are going to imitate Christ is give our lives up for the very people who are trampling over us on their way to finding God.”
Slipping back into the life from which they had been saved—giving no distinction between the “dearly loved children” and the “sons of disobedience”—should be unthinkable. Christians are to hold each other accountable, even, if necessary, purging from the congregation professing Christians who refuse to repent of ruinous sin, he said, citing 1 Corinthians 5.
Also, hearing and repeating off-color or racist jokes should be unheard of in the fellowship. And drawing attention to a resolution passed just an hour earlier, Creamer called on the pastors to admit that women of the church have been demeaned and even abused, sometimes by men claiming to be Christians.
So what’s wrong?
“We say, ‘I am a Christian. I love God. I am obedient to him.’ And Paul said, ‘Are you?’” said Creamer. “Love would guide your ministry. It’s what would come out of your mouth. It’s what would come out of your behavior. It’s what would come out of your self-sacrifice. It’s what would come out of your willingness to give up everything so that others—even if they’re trampling over you—can come to the Lord.”