We’ve been talking about the Church. What does the Church do? The Church gathers. And the Church scatters. And what does it do when it scatters…what’s the best thing we can do for our fellow members when we’re away from each other?
Grow up into Jesus Christ.
In short, this will mean change. We should expect to be transformed from our old way of being human to someone in line with Christ our Head…truly bearing the image of God.
The metaphor for change that Paul employs is that of dressing and undressing – which is not implying that we’re supposed to change just externally.
But the point of the metaphor is the deliberateness of our change. We are to deliberately re-think our behavior, and from the inside out: what is motivating us, how we think…. We’re to be renewed in the spirit of our minds.
So Paul encourages the Church toward transformation that is mainly internal – – although it will of course show up on the outside too.
In our paragraph this morning, Paul is going to provide specifics for this putting off and putting on. He’ll tell us what to put off and what to put on. And why.
Church, what can we do for each other while we’re away from each other? Grow up into Christ. Deliberately put off the old humanity and put on the new humanity that has Christ as its Head. What specifically does that look like? Well, let’s listen:
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
V. 25 – Don’t lie, but tell the truth. Because we as the Body of Christ are inter-related, and a lie from one – whether that be a lying tongue or a lying life – living a double life, resetting browsers, indulging in white lies, skimming from the top – reverberates through the community and is corrosive for all.
V. 26, 27 – Don’t allow your anger to cross the line into sinful anger. But put on self-control over your emotions. Don’t allow your anger to extend beyond the sunset. Because uncontrolled and unresolved anger is a great instrument for the Devil. Hearing this reference to the Devil in the context of Ephesians, we infer that uncontrolled and unresolved anger is a major unity-busting weapon of the Devil.
V. 28 – Don’t steal, don’t be lazy, don’t take shortcuts. Put off all that. But put on diligence. Work hard. Working hard has always been counter cultural. We’re in an era of deep-seated laziness. I wonder if all this identity questioning and sexual weirdness comes about because people are fundamentally bored…have too much time on their hands.
Word hard, not so you can live big. But so that you’ll have something to share with the needy. I don’t know if you watched that Fred Sanders sermon I sent out the other day, where he quotes from a famous John Wesley sermon: Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.
The first needy people we take care of is our own family. 1 Timothy 5: 8 – But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Though beyond our household you’ll find plenty of others with needs. You’ll need resources to supply those needs, and those resources will come from hard work.
Though you don’t need much before you start giving. I read somewhere about this experience of the old Methodist Missionary, E. Stanley Jones as he was preaching in a small town:
“At the schoolhouse I was invited to stay with a man and his wife, and when I arrived I saw that there was one bed. The husband said, “You take the far side.” The he got in, and then his wife. In the morning we reversed the process. I turned my face to the wall as they dressed, and they stepped out while I dressed. That was real hospitality! I have slept in palaces, but the hospitality of that one-bed-house is the most memorable and the most appreciated.”
V. 29 – Paul returns to our speech – that must be a problem!. Put off talk that disturbs or breaks down relationships, that harms reputations. But rather think about how to be constructive with your speech.
So far the pattern is easily discerned: put off and put on. V. 30 is a break in the pattern. That it starts with “and” connects it with the previous verses. If we lie in our words or in our life, if we allow anger to settle down on us, if we are selfish in our laziness or our work, if we practice noxious, harmful speech (no matter how subtly), we thereby grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
I hope when you hear “grieve” you don’t imagine the Holy Spirit pouting with his lower lip out in the corner. Rather, by mentioning grieving the Holy Spirit, Paul is reminding us that the Holy Spirit is working closely with our inner life. Yes, this salvation of new creation in Jesus Christ is personal from start to finish, brought about by no one less majestic than “the Holy Spirit of God.”
God the Father plans our salvation before the world is founded (1:4); long ago He thought through and assigned each one of us particular work (2:10); God the Son comes and preaches peace among the Body of Christ (2:17); the Spirit strengthens Christians in their inner man with faith (3:16); the victorious Christ gives gifts so that His church grows up into who He has made them to be (4:7) – – summary: all along the way God Himself is working on this human project that has at its core a unity among believers.
And Paul says – by your lying, stealing, cheating, backbiting – don’t frustrate the Holy Spirit of God as He works on you and the Church. The point being, your life is not just or even mainly your own project…you are God’s!
Paul adds that we’re sealed by this Spirit. What identifies people as being in Christ, destined for inheriting the world to come? Answer: The Spirit Himself is the marker, the badge, the label that designates us as “in line for redemption.”
Let’s expand that statement – the Spirit who is working in us to put off and put on certain habits of mind is Himself the designation that we are on our way to being redeemed.
So then the thought is: why would we, for instance, by laziness and selfishness and dribbles of gossip act as if the Spirit hadn’t marked us, that we weren’t in line for redemption? Why would we by our habits of thought deny what the Spirit is building?
V. 31 – Paul returns to the general topic of anger – that also must be a problem! If we are aligned with what the Spirit is doing as He takes us into the day of redemption, we’ll put off bitterness – holding onto past offenses. We’ll put off wrath and anger – both the emotional outbursts and the settled fury that comes out in coldness and distance. AKA “Silent treatment.”
We’ll put off the out of control shouting of clamor. We’ll distance ourselves from slander – talking poorly about others or otherwise diminishing people in other’s eyes…especially when they’re not around. And finally, Paul throws in “malice” as a catch-all for any sour, harmful, de-humanizing mindset or attitude or stance or behavior toward someone.
V. 32 – Rather, we put on kindness – actively doing good to people no matter what. Considering, and then following through on how to make life more bearable for someone, even someone who doesn’t like us. Adding goodness or flavor or efficiency to someone’s life. Taking time with people. Good manners. Friendly. Kindness is the opposite of coolness or indifference or neglect. Interested. This is the trait Peter has in mind when he tells husbands to live with their wife according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7)
And tenderhearted-ness – the other day Liesel was looking for a movie to watch and I recommended “Old Yeller” to her. A couple hours later she came up to me, her eyes streaming tears, “why did you have me watch that?” She told me a couple of nights ago she cried while reading the book, The Yearling, a story about a little fawn.
But Paul doesn’t say we’re to be tenderhearted about animals. He means tenderhearted about people, especially difficult people. Choosing to make allowances for people because you’ve thought through their situation. You sympathize with people in their sinfulness, in their finiteness, in their churlishness, through the various seasons of life. Not a self-pitier or cynic or a scold or given to snark but rather earnest and generous in your evaluations. Patient.
And forgiving one another – this is an action but also a general attitude toward people who wrong you: ranging from overlooking a multitude of sins to being ready to forgive someone to actually extending forgiveness when someone admits wrong.
Here’s another break in our putting off and putting on pattern. And it’s the same kind of thing as before: We’re given another rationale for changing our habits of thought and spirit.
Why would you intentionally choose forgiveness? Or perhaps a better question, how can you? Where do you find the resources to genuinely forgive people who have annoyed you for a long time. Who’ve dismissed you? Ignored you when your life was hard? Mismanaged you and held you back? Broke a major trust? Hurt your children?
Because, Paul says, God, in Christ, forgave you. Because the Eternal Father, at the cost of the death of the Eternal Son, forgave you. You find the strength to forgive others out of the strength of the current of mercy flowing from the Death of Christ.
In fact, in light of Christ’s death for us, not forgiving others makes no sense at all. Imagine this scene:
Tim’s stalled on 83 in Ellington going south during a busy hour. And he had forgotten his cell phone at home. Another driver sees Tim’s stalled car and pulls into the parking lot of LuAnns. He gets out of his car and walks to the stalled car. ‘Let’s get you off the road at least. I’ll push and you steer.’ They get the car over to the parking lot. Tim borrows the cell phone of the other driver and calls up the tow company to take it to the service station. The guy waits with Tim for the truck to arrive. The guy says to Tim, ‘let me give you a ride home – Where do you live? Manchester. Where do you live, Tim asks? Here in Ellington, I was just about hoje. I can’t ask you to do that! No problem. And then the next day the guy on his way to work in Somers drives the opposite direction to Manchester, picks up Tim and drops him off at the service station.
The next week Tim is driving his repaired car in a tight street in Hartford and the guy in front of him stops and puts on his blinker – he’s going to back up and parallel park along the curb. Tim has to wait five seconds. He lifts up his hand in the universal signal of ‘you terrible person’ and on the way by he shakes his head in disgust at the parallel parker.
Don’t be Tim. After being forgiven and befriended in big ways. Pass on the warmth and love. You’ve been forgiven. Forgive.
And when we’re told to forgive, forgive thoroughly!
I heard the story of an Army private who was a Christian, who had the habit of reading his Bible and praying in the barracks. A fellow soldier found what he considered this ostentatious display of spirituality very annoying, and was always ragging on him. One afternoon after they had been out on a muddy march he got especially infuriated as the guy was reading the Bible. He picked up one of his muddy boots and threw it at him. Thud, and mud flies everywhere…
The next morning that angry guy found his shoes neatly tucked under his bed, cleaned and polished.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21.
5: 1 – In this way of kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness, you imitate God, as children loved by their father would naturally imitate him. V.4:24 – in Jesus Christ, we’ve been re-created after the likeness of God the Father. This Father of yours sends rain on the just and the unjust. He provides all with oil and wine that make the heart sing. He’s kind, generous to all. So be like God, your heavenly Father.
5: 2 – Finally, Paul brings us back around to Jesus Christ and love and worship –big things. Here, the point again is giving us the grounds to put off the old ways and put on the new.
We’re not in Adam anymore. We’re in Jesus Christ. And Jesus, the Head over our new humanity, walked in love. Thus, we in Christ in keeping with our identity should continue in Jesus’ love.
The world needs this love.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.
And what does that love look like? Well, that’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time:
Truth telling. Controlling your emotions. Working hard so to share with others. Helpful speech. Keeping the uglies out of your spirit. Kindness. Tenderheartedness. Forgiveness. Commitment to relationships even when we’ve been shrugged off or picked over or attacked.
And there’s no limit to this commitment. Paul reminds us: Jesus walked in love…all the way up to giving up His life for us. Greater love has no man this this, that he lay down his life for another (John 15:13). In reminding us of the costly love of Christ, it’s implied that for us, also, living this way, loving this way, putting off and putting on, might very well be costly.
Let nothing stop you from loving people. And certainly not your feelings of not wanting to love them. Ok, you feel like holding onto bitterness. Ok, you don’t feel like working hard. Ok, it’d be easier to lie. Ok, you want to write somebody off. Push through!
And the rigor that we bring to bear to love in just the way described is an act of worship to God. I think that’s what Paul means here: Christ loved and it cost Him His life but that costly gift was a fragrant offering to God. Christ died for people who are selfish, spend their lives largely apathetically, think of church as a boutique looking to suit their needs, generally Christians don’t ever come around to behaving worthily of Christ’s death. And yet God knows and treasures what He went through, accepts His labors and pains as a great sacrifice of worship.
And so with the costly sacrifices of our composure and time and effort etc – an offering to God. Though no one else appreciates it, by our love we are glorifying God, which is what we were made to do. In other words, it’s worth it!
Ok, let’s conclude this sermon. And let do so by saying something provocative: this sermon probably won’t help you.
Soren Kierkegaard spoke a parable:
There is a town where only ducks live. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down the main street to their church.
They waddle into the cathedral and squat in their pews. The duck choir sings and then the duck pastor comes and reads from the duck bible.
He encourages them, “Ducks, God has given you wings! With these wings you can fly! With these wings you can rise up and soar like eagles! No walls can confine you, no fences can hold you. You have wings and you can fly like birds!”
All the ducks shout “Amen.”
And then they waddle home.
With a passage like this, it’s easy for us to imitate the ducks. Agree with everything the passage is saying but then leave, unchanged.
Because this passage is easy to agree with. Merely affirming these virtues as indeed virtuous, and these vices as those that truly should be left behind, isn’t hard.
And look, it’s not unique to believers to say that truth telling, working hard, sharing, controlling our emotions etc are things to strive after. Almost everybody in the world thinks this.
Though we are given a unique motivation for putting on these habits – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s huge!
And thus, we shouldn’t just agree with these virtues and vices, but commit to genuine change. Paul doesn’t say in v. 17: I insist that you think differently than the world about virtue. But rather, I insist that you put these things into practice to a degree and in a depth that the world doesn’t do.
I remember a few years ago reading a memoir of Rene Fleming, the opera singer. She described being in university and heading into the practice studio building. She would go down the halls and hear clarinets, pianos, other instruments and then she’d find an empty room and go in and practice. Practice for 2-3 hours. Practice the intricacies of breathing; practice rendering the Italian words properly; all that work and still years away from being on the big stage.
Brothers and sisters, this is a passage that requires practice. Attention to detail. A lot of thought. Taking just one of these points about working and giving: What if I don’t feel like working? I’m lazy – how can I learn to work hard? What kind of work should I do? How do I know if I’m working hard? How many vacation days should I take? Should I give to my church or my family first? Church or neighbors? Church or foreign missions? Should I give to someone who isn’t working himself?
Not to mention the task of sifting through your mental habits and identifying bitterness, sullenness, coldness. All takes work!
Passages like these are crying out for thought, conversations with your spouse, conversations with fellow Christians…away from the Gatherings. Prayer. Reading Christian books that are specific to these topics. Thought. Conversation. Prayer. More of the same. Detailed assessments. Deliberation.
Do not, DO NOT say – well, I understand the flow of thought and I agree with all that so I guess the sermon worked. The sermon hasn’t even started to work! This is the work the Church does while away from the gatherings. So say no to waddling!
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