BCP Trinity 19 : Ephesians 4:17-32
A young civil servant was anxious about his first day working for the Foreign Office in Austria. He had to go on his first official function and decided that a stiff drink would help his nerves. After he had downed his fourth he certainly felt more relaxed. Arriving at the function he was a little giddy but soon started to enjoy himself. There was magnificent music and a speech in a foreign language that sounded very uplifting. Suddenly he saw a magnificent creature sitting in front of him. She had a fabulous red dress with sparkling jewels, the like of which he had never seen before. He was enjoying himself so much he decided to be bold and ask for a dance to a rather familiar piece of music that had just started. His request was quickly turned down. He was not going to take no for an answer easily and asked why. The reply came, 'Firstly you are drunk and it is a disgrace. Secondly, you are not at a ball but a church service. Thirdly, the tune you claim to recognise is 'All things bright and beautiful'. And finally, I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna'.
The clothes that we wear can tell others something about who we are. In today's epistle Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to put off their former way of life and to put on their new self. Like changing clothes from scruffy gardening gear to our best suit.
Already in Ephesians we have seen how we have been saved by grace, a free , undeserved gift from God. We have seen how Paul prayed for the Ephesians to grasp the full extent of God's love for them. Last week we saw how the church is to be united, everyone working together to build the church up.
This week we will examine two foundations and two practices.
We have the foundations, what our lives were and are built upon. The Practices of the Old and New self flow from the foundations. Jesus' told a parable about building a house on a rock or sand. This referred to the need to build our lives upon his teaching. So what we do points to our foundations. We are to build our lives on the foundation of Jesus' teaching.
In verse 17 Paul is very strong and insists that the Christians in Ephesus must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. In referring to 'Gentiles' Paul is not just talking about those who are not Jews but those who are not Christians as well. This way is futile, or 'good for nothing' as the New English Bible puts it.
Paul outlines what this futile thinking involves. A darkened understanding. A failure to respond to Jesus, the light of the world. Light reveals and exposes things. Some people prefer the dark. Others just need someone to point them to the switch !
They are separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. This failure to accept Jesus leads to separation from God. The Bible calls this hell. This arises not only out of ignorance, but by a hardening of their hearts that leads to a refusal to even consider the claims of Jesus.
19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
Leprosy attacks the nerves in people, leading to an important loss of feeling in, say the hands or feet. So someone with leprosy may not notice that they have a blister on their foot, this becomes an ulcer which becomes infected and spreads to the foot bone. This can lead to a loss of toes or even part of the foot.
The old self has lost all feeling, so it vainly throws itself into things that will it thinks will provide a substitute. This results in this continual lust. We see this in the world with people's attitude to money, possessions, sex, and power. None of these will provide the love and security that God can.
Outside St. George's Church, Newcastle was a sign that reads, "No Go, No peace. Know God, know peace". Verse 20 is transitional. Showing how the old self can become a new self. This new self involves, 'knowing Christ'.
21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. If people are going to know Christ they must have heard of him. If someone is gong to hear, someone else has to speak. This reminds us that we all have the duty and the joy of telling others about Christ. This involves our words and deeds. Our deeds must be consistent with what we profess to believe, as we see from today's reading.
Truth is to be found in Jesus. Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one can come to the Father except through me'. He is the truth. Therefore, we need never be afraid that the Christian faith will not stand up to close examination. He is the way and the only way to God.
We are taught in him. That teaching is to be found in the Bible. It is applied to our lives through the work of God, the Holy Spirit, who unites us with Jesus, and with one another. We need to come together to share fellowship.and to be taught about Jesus and the way that he wants us to live.
I don't know if you have ever seen one of these television 'make-over' programmes. These involve taking someone with their normal clothes, hairstyle, and, perhaps makeup, and transforming them with designer clothes, a new hairstyle from Nicky Clarke, and, for the ladies, help from a professional make-up artist.
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
We are to consciously reject the old way of life, ruled by selfish desires. Our minds are to be renewed through the work of God's Holy Spirit. We have a new reason for living. We are to put God and others before ourselves. We are to consciously put on this new self, like someone deliberately discarding their old clothes and carefully putting on a designer suit. This will result in a transformation. In these 'makeover' programmes the person may look different, but, underneath the posh frock, make up, and re-styled hair you still have the same person. The outside has changed but the inside is the same. With the Christian faith we are changed invisibly, from within, first of all, and this will lead to visible changes. Verse 24 says we are created to be like God, that is to say, to be like Jesus, in true righteousness and holiness. Holiness, here refers to being free from contamination. Righteousness is referring to doing what is right, obeying God's perfect will.
From verse 25 we now see what this means in practice. The visible evidence of an invisible transformation. How we should act as Christians.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. Falsehood is not just lying but includes deception as well. For example, telling someone only part of the truth so that they will get the wrong impression. Unfortunately I can think of people over the years, who would call themselves Christians but have lied and have tried to deceive. I find that sad. Sad because it is difficult to trust someone that you know has lied to you. Sad because you wonder who they are trying to deceive, and why they cannot face up to the truth.
Ah, but we are only to speak truthfully to our neighbour, we could say. Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan to show that everyone is our neighbour. That even a Samaritan, separated by Jews by generations of hatred and suspicion, was a neighbour.
If the requirement to speak truthfully is required to neighbours, how much more is it required to fellow Christians. Fellow members of the one body.
On the way home from the church our drunk civil servant found himself walking by a lady. Looking at her he said, 'You've got a big nose'.
'And you are drunk !' she replied.
'I may be,' he retorted, 'but I will be sober in the morning.'
Our use of truth should not be used as an excuse to say hurtful things, as we will discover when we examine verse 29.
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. This draws on Psalm 4: 4 : 'In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.'
We know from Jesus clearing the Temple that there is a place for righteous anger. Is anger sinful? No, though it can certainly lead to sin. This is talking about unrighteous anger springing from anxiety, which proves especially troublesome on sleepless nights. The Psalm suggests that, rather than venting our worry in outbursts against others, we should examine our own heart. Paul applies this verse to difficult personal relationships. Correct Christian conduct will stop the devil getting in to wreck people's faith and dividing Christians.
It is God's job to judge and ours to be forgiving and generous. Reading from verse 29 onwards we must assume that there were some relational problems that divided the church at Ephesus. But in verse 28 Paul mentions another.
28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
The antidote to hands being active in stealing is for them to be active in working. Rather than depriving someone of something that is rightfully theirs, it gives the worker the chance to give something to someone in need. When God blesses someone he also gives them a responsibility to use wisely what has been entrusted into their care.
As Christians we have a duty not to steal. This is an everyday activity for some people who rob their employers of time, items from work, fiddle expenses, use office machinery and phone lines for personal use, evade tax, and so on.
We also have a duty to use out tongues wisely...
The U.S. General Robert E. Lee was speaking in the highest terms to the President about a fellow officer. Another officer drew Lee to one side afterwards and asked him why he was so complimentary about this officer who hated Lee and would use any opportunity to malign him. 'Yes', Lee replied, 'but the President asked me what was my opinion of him and I gave a true answer. He did not ask me about his opinion of me.'
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. Some people try to bring others down, perhaps because of their own insecurity. Our security comes from our relationship with God, not from belittling others. The antidote to unwholesome talk is conversation that builds others up depending on what they need. The aim is to benefit others, not to bring them down. So we need to listen to what people are saying in order that we can find words that will help them.
If we hear people saying something that is untrue or malicious about another Christian we should correct this, perhaps sharing something that is positive about the person who is being talked about. This might not be popular or easy, but it will certainly make an impact for the gospel on people who are not Christians.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. The Holy Spirit lives within every Christian. So if one Christian opposes another this grieves the Holy Spirit. Just as a parent is distressed when their children fight and quarrel, so it upsets the Spirit of God when his children fall out.
We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, like an official seal on a document denoting that we have been set aside for a special purpose. This is the start of the Christian life. The end of it, in one sense, is the day of redemption when everyone will be judged. Christians who have lived the new life in word and deed will be rewarded on this day.
Verses 31 and 32 say that bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice is to be replaced by being kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other. The motivation for this is that God, in Christ has been kind, compassionate, and forgiving to us. 32 ' just as in Christ God forgave you .'
Let us commit ourselves afresh to putting off the old and putting on the new. Maybe we need to confess to God times when we have not spoken the truth, or said things that we should not have. After a few moments of reflection I will lead us in a prayer.
After each line I will say, 'Creator God', and we all respond, 'I want to be made new.'
By putting off the old life, and putting on the love and knowledge of Jesus, Creator God, I want to be made new.
In my standards of honesty. Creator God,
I want to be made new.
In the control I have over my anger. Creator God,
I want to be made new.
In every word that comes from my mouth. Creator God,
I want to be made new.
In my generosity to others. Creator God,
I want to be made new.
In peace and in kindness, in compassion and forgiveness, Creator God,
I want to be made new.