Well, we are nearing the end our journey through Ephesians. If you imagine the letter of Ephesians is like a house, Paul built the foundations for us in chapter 1, reminding us of the Spiritual blessings we have been given in Jesus – that even before the beginning of the world, God had you and me in mind, he chose us to belong to him, to be numbered among his children – the foundation of this letter should be the foundation of our identity – we are children of God, beneficiaries of his lavish grace. His wonderful prayer in that chapter is that it would dawn on us just how much God loves us and the reality that there is nothing – not even death – that can get in the way of his love for us. At the beginning of Chapter 2, Paul adds to this foundation of our identity by telling us all about grace. The undeserved favour we receive from God, that though we are dead in our sins, God has acted to save and redeem us, he has created us for a purpose. The second half of chapter 2 and into chapter 3 Paul builds on this foundation by giving us a picture of the new community that God has, through Jesus, called into being – where, despite the reality of hostility and division that humanity can create, which we’ve seen unfold before us with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in these past couple of weeks where one country is now almost totally isolated from the global community – despite our human tendency toward division, Paul paints a picture of the new community God is calling into being … a community characterised by love and reconciliation, by unity. He points out the huge work of reconciliation God has done in bringing together Jew and Gentile, spelling out just how remarkable it is that Gentiles, formerly outsiders and enemies of God have been brought into his family. Realising that on our own it’s almost impossible for us to grasp the realities that he’s been telling us, to accept this love and to live out this vision of a united community, free of division, Paul prays a prayer for us that we would be given power from God – power not in the sense that we see it displayed, but he power to grasp God’s love for us and then to allow that love to overflow for others, especially when hatred would be the easier course. This prayer is, if you like, the structural beams that hold up the whole structure – we need this power from God for the whole house to stand. Then, as Terry explored last week, we see in chapter 4, the walls of this building are formed when we live out this unity – each of us is a brick in God’s house, but we are all different, given unique personalities and talents from God which he’s calling us to use to serve the church and God’s purposes in the world – for the whole structure only really works when everyone plays their part.
So, this week, we continue our building with the roof, as Paul begins to unpack for us the practical implications of what it means to live this life as those who would dwell in this house, as those who identify as members of God’s household. Paul has spent so long in making clear what our identity in Christ is, and now he moves on to the nitty gritty. Actually, he began this at start of chapter 4, which we saw last week, where he says, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” (v.1) and then begins with things that concern our character … humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity, peace – not unlike the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians.
The first of chapter 4 focuses on the church’s unity, and the second half focuses on the church’s purity. It begins with a second exhortation, not dissimilar to verse 1.
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord,
There are two things here – what we read here isn’t merely advice, but rather it is instruction. The second thing is that Paul doesn’t rest on his own authority but that of the Lord – the phrase “in the Lord” could be rendered, “in the Lord’s name”. In other words, Paul is saying this is serious stuff. The first clear application for us today is that it matters how we live our lives. God cares, God sees and knows. So, we need to wake up and pay attention.
So, what does he insist?
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
Clearly the Gentiles – or pagans as they were at the time – were involved in some pretty dodgy practices, and the Christians who had come to Christ out of these religious cults, were tempted to carry on with some of these practices. If you remember, Ephesus was a centre for the worship of the goddess Artemis, a fertility goddess. You can imagine the sort of practices that might have been going on – or maybe you shouldn’t!
Anyway, Paul is saying that although the pagans are carrying on with these practices, indulging in impurity, giving into greed, because of their ignorance, the Christian believers have been enlightened, as he points out in verses 20 – 24 and therefore they should be expected to live differently. His words are even stronger in the NRSV:
20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus.
Clearly here the Christian believers have been part of some sort of programme – discipleship school, if you like, where they’ve learned about not only about Christ but about the Christian way of life. We may protest and say, didn’t Jesus teach us about grace and the answer is, of course, yes, but he also taught us about the way we are called to live. The entirety of the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the greatest set of teaching ever set down, is all about our lifestyle. God gives grace freely, but he also expects us to walk in obedience. Those who receive new life in Jesus are called to reflect that new life in the new lifestyle that they live …
22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
In the same way that a prisoner takes off his prison clothes when he walks free and puts on normal clothes, we are to do the same, clothing ourselves with the new self – so that we look more like Jesus in both our attitudes and actions.
Paul then unpacks this further over the rest of chapter 4 and the whole of chapter 5. We’ll be focusing on these over the next couple of weeks, and we’ll see that this covers the whole range of the Christian life – the words we speak, the things we think, the actions we take with our body, the way we manage our households.
Before we unpack these individual examples, it’s worth noting that there are three features common to each of them, as John Stott explains.
“First, they all concern our relationships. Holiness is not a mystical condition experienced in relation to God but in isolation from human beings. You cannot be good in a vacuum, but only in the real world of people …
Secondly, in each example a negative prohibition is balanced by a corresponding positive command. It is not enough to put off the old rags; we have to put on new garments. It is not enough to give up lying and stealing and losing our temper, unless we also start speaking the truth, working hard and being kind to people.
Thirdly, in each case a reason for the command is either given or implied, indeed a theological reason. For in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles doctrine and ethics, belief and behaviour are always dovetailed into one another.”
So, this week we look at the first 5 of these …
- Don’t tell lies, but rather pursue truth (v25)
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body.
This is straightforward and hopefully uncontroversial. Don’t tell lies. Moreover, be those who pursue the truth, who call out falsehoods when we see it. As followers of Jesus we should be known as honest, reliable people whose word can be trusted – not just within the church, but by the wider community. Why? Because truth builds up the church and lies tear it down.
- Don’t lose your temper, but rather ensure that your anger is righteous (vv. 26-27)
26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
Anger itself is not a sin. I think many of us have felt anger at the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces over the past week or so. It’s a natural human emotion. In fact, as John Stott argues, “there is such a thing as Christian anger, and too few Christians either feel or express it. Indeed, when we fail to do so, we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil.”
There is such a thing as righteous anger. Do we get angry enough at the evil that’s around us? Or are apathetic, desentised even. Perhaps we need to wake up and take action.
Paul does acknowledge that anger can breed sin. Let’s make sure that our anger isn’t motivated or fuelled by our own pride, malice, a willingness to see others hurt, or a wish for revenge. And he also acknowledges that anger can cause damage in relationships. Never go to bed angry – it’s a good rule, especially for married couples or those in families.
- Don’t steal, but rather work and give (v.28)
28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
God calls us to be fruitful and be generous, to be givers rather than takers.
- Don’t use your mouth for evil, but rather for good (vv.29-30)
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Our words matter. Let’s be those who build each other up, speaking words of grace and healing rather than hurt. When we hurt others, it grieves the Holy Spirit, who lives and dwells within us.
- Don’t be unkind or bitter, but rather kind and loving (4:31–32)
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We are to put away things such as bitterness, rage, anger, quarrelling or being overly argumentative, malice – the will to hurt others. Instead we need to be characterised by kindness, compassion and forgiveness – remembering that we forgive because we know what it is to be forgiven. We are to act in grace towards one another.
Paul concludes this section by summarising …
1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
In short and in conclusion, we are to live like Jesus, walking in his ways. It’s a tough call and quite frankly, it’s beyond us, in our own strength, which is where God comes in. In verse 23 Paul speaks about being transformed in the renewing of our minds. It is God who brings about this transformation and renewal, but with our cooperation. We have to be willing to change and give the Spirit space to do his work and he will.
I’m going to finish with some words from Tom Wright;
So what Paul is urging the young Christians is that they allow this teaching of Jesus to have its full effect in their lives. Now that they are ‘in Christ’, they have the responsibility, in the power of the spirit, to take off the old lifestyle, the old way of being human, like someone stripping off a shabby and worn suit of clothing. It may have become comfortable. You may be used to it, and even quite like it. Familiar old clothes are often like that, and brand new ones often feel a bit strange. But if you want to live as a new person in and for the king, the old suit of clothes has to come off, and the new one has to go on.
It’s the mind and heart that matter. If they learn to recognize the deceitful whisperings, to name them and reject them, the first vital step to the new way of life has been taken. ‘Be renewed in the spirit of your mind’ (verse 23): that’s the secret. If the heart is right, it’s time to get the mind right. Then you’ll have the energy of will-power to bring the behaviour into line. Off with the old, on with the new!