Year B Proper 14; Ephesians 4.25 - 5.2 (John 6:35,41-51)
Ephes. 4.25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 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. 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. 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. 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. 5.1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
( John 6.35 Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 41 At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 42 They said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I came down from heaven'?" 43 "Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered. 44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." )
We have all seen the sign "Under new management". It infers a change in the service, the attitude, a better product. The idea is to stop existing customers from leaving, to reassure those who were happy that it hasn't changed that much, and to attract new ones.
Paul was writing to Christians. By definition a Christian is someone who is under new management. 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.
The image Paul is giving is of someone changing clothes. Taking off selfishness and deceit, putting on Godliness, righteousness and holiness. This is to take place by a mind renewed by the Holy Spirit that will change the believer's attitude. 5.1 tells us we are dearly loved children of God and that we should imitate him. Earthly children imitate their parents, so should heavenly children.
Paul is very practical in what this means. I would like us to look at one aspect of behaviour that occurs in the gospel and epistle for today. Speech.
In the gospel the Jews grumbled because Jesus said that he was bread from heaven and they thought they knew all about him. They put a label on him, Jesus son of Joseph whose mother we know, too. He didn't come from heaven but Galilee! They made up their minds without examining the evidence. They dismissed Jesus by putting a label on him, relegating him to a thing, not a person.
We can do that sometimes. Put a label on someone and dismiss them, robbing of their dignity and standing, making ourselves superior to them. Jesus referred to this in the Sermon on the Mount when he equated someone who calls a fool to a murderer, Mth. 5.21ff.
The Jews grumbled about Jesus. In the Old Testament God's people grumbled after they had been delivered from the slavery of Egypt and God had provided them with manna in the wilderness. In the New Testament they are grumbling because Jesus had given them physical bread before he delivered them from of sin and death.
The Israelites wanted meat in the wilderness, so God gave them quail (Numbers 11) but he was angry with their ingratitude. Paul warned the Corinthian Christians not to grumble or they would face judgement (1 Cor. 10.10). The antidote is to look at what God has done and is doing, not to look to our selfish desires and to covet.
In the epistle Paul encourages Christians to change, to "put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body."
Even those who have followed the Leveson Enquiry in a superficial way will have deduced that truth is a very slippery and subjective subject for some.
Lying involves more than saying something that is known to be untrue. It can include exaggeration, flattery, cheating in sport or on an income tax return, making promises that you do not intend to keep, making up excuses, disclosing a confidence, and selective memory loss.
The Bible says that liars will not be able to enter God's kingdom ( Rev. 21.8 ). A Christian may lie, just as he/she can sin in other areas. However, this is talking about habitual lying. This shows that someone is a child of Satan, who is the author of lies, and not a child of God ( John 8.44 ).
Christians are to lay these things aside. To say sorry, to God and, perhaps the person they have lied to. To ask God and, perhaps, the wronged person for forgiveness. To ask for God's Holy Spirit to help to follow Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. Jn 14.6.
Christians are called to stop lying and do something positive instead. Putting on truth. Our whole being should radiate truth. Yet, our human nature can be very deceptive. It will fight against what God's Spirit is doing in us.
I don't know if any of you followed the trial of John Terry for racism. Although he was found not guilty, it became clear that some footballers are guilty of terrible abuse, anger, & hatred.
Putting on truth is not a licence to tell everything we know, for example, divulging a confidence. Neither is it permission to tell people what we really think about them. Later on in this passage Paul encourages talk that builds others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen, v.29. When we tell someone what we think of them it may only benefit ourselves, in a temporary warped sort of way.
We are part of the one body, the church, with Christ as our head. The head directs the body. Jesus is the truth so, as part of his body, we should be true to him and ourselves. We should also be true to one another. If we harm other parts of the body, other believers, we do wrong. Some disturbed people self-harm. We should not harm other believers with our speech. This will grieve God's Spirit who lives in every believer, v30. Just as a parent is upset when their offspring quarrel and fight, so our loving heavenly father is grieved when Christians engage in bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, slander, along with every form of malice, v.31. Paul writes that believers are to get rid of these things, in the way that a discarded soiled garment is taken off and burned.
For every taking off there is a putting on.
Take off lies, put on truth.
Take off unwholesome talk, put on talk that will build people up and benefit them.
Take off bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Put on kindness and compassion and forgiveness.
Verse 15 says that we should speak the truth in love. We are to live a life of love (5.2) imitating God the Father and Jesus. He offered himself sacrificially to God for us. We are to offer up our lives in gratitude as living sacrifices (Rom 12.1).
Louis Cassels (1922-1974) "Obey... take up your cross... deny yourself... it all sounds very hard. It is hard. Anyone who tells you differently is peddling spiritual soothing syrup, not real Christianity. And yet, in a strangely paradoxical way, it is also easy. With every cross that we lift in obedience to Christ comes the strength to carry it. It is always a package deal."
God has been so gracious to us. He calls us to be gracious to one another. It is difficult. We will all fail at times. But God will give us the forgiveness and the grace we need to live, and speak for him.
This week I read this story that illustrates a grace and forgiveness that I can only aspire to.
Revd Arthur Bowler, who was a church minister in the United States wrote this.
"I watched intently as my little brother was caught in the act. He sat in the corner of the living room, a pen in one hand and my father's brand-new hymnbook in the other.
As my father walked into the room, my brother cowered slightly; he sensed that he had done something wrong. From a distance I could see that he had opened my father's new hymnal and scribbled in it the length and breadth of the first page with a pen. Now, staring at my father fearfully, he and I both waited for his punishment. And as we waited, there was no way we could have known that our father was about to teach us deep and lasting lessons about life and family, lessons that continue to become even clearer through the years.
My father picked up his prized hymnal, looked at it carefully, and then sat down, without saying a word. Books were precious to him; he was a clergyman and the holder of several degrees. For him, books were knowledge, and yet he loved his children. What he did next was remarkable. Instead of punishing my brother, instead of scolding or yelling or reprimanding, he sat down, took the pen from my brother's hand, and then wrote in the book himself, alongside the scribbles John had made: "John's work, 1959, age 2. How many times have I looked into your beautiful face and into your warm, alert eyes looking up at me and thanked God for the one who has now scribbled in my new hymnal. You have made the book sacred, as have your brothers and sister to so much of my life."
"Wow," I thought. "This is punishment?"
The years and the books came and went. Our family experienced what all families go through and perhaps a little bit more: triumph and tragedy, prosperity and loss, laughter and tears. We gained grandchildren, we lost a son. We always knew our parents loved us and that one of the proofs of their love was the hymnal by the piano. From time to time we would open it, look at the scribbles, read my father's expression of love, and feel uplifted.
Now I know that through this simple act my father taught us how every event in life has a positive side - if we are prepared to look at it from another angle - and how precious it is when our lives are touched by little hands. But he also taught us about what really matters in life: people, not objects; tolerance, not judgment; love, not anger. Now I, too, am a father, and, like my dad, a clergyman and holder of degrees. But unlike my father, I do not wait for my daughters to secretly take books from my bookshelf and scribble in them. From time to time I take one down - not just a cheap paperback but a book that I know I will have for many years to come, and I give it to one of my children to scribble or write their names in. And as I look at their artwork, I think about my father, the lessons he taught me, the love he has for us and which I have for my children - love that is at the very heart of a family."