Ephesians 4:25-32 (ESV):
“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.”
We have been working through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and today we arrive at end of chapter four. In this section we learn more about what it means to live a Christian lifestyle. Christians are people who live truly alternative lifestyles. We are the ones, today, who are truly counter-cultural. In a day where everyone is embracing the unrestricted expression of self-rule, we are the ones who want to follow God’s rule for the good of others. So we are the new rebels.
The driving principle in the latter part of Ephesians chapter four is to be done with the old way of life and to press on in the new way of life – put off the old, and put on the new.
This principle applies first to your identity as a person – you are no longer outside the people of God and walking in the darkness of the Gentiles, but now you are part of God’s people – the people he loves and has chosen to reconcile to himself.
Our new identity then leads to our new lifestyle – our identity in Jesus now shapes our actions. Now we have a new way of life, and that way of life is the natural outworking of who we have now become.
Yet for all of us the pull back towards the old way is so strong.
So the Apostle Paul takes a couple key areas and tells us how we put off the old way and put on the new way. The whole ideas is that of substitution. You know, at McDonald’s you can say – instead of fries I’d like to substitute a garden salad – not that any of us do that – but the idea is you take out one thing and put something else in it’s place.
And that right there – taking of evil habits and substituting them for holy habits – is the key to growing as a follower of Jesus.
There are three key areas of Christian maturity that the Scriptures address here: destructive speech, theft, and anger. Or I suppose you could say, the tongue, the hands, and the heart.
“…having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (25) And, “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” (29).
These are very important things to consider. Rather than speaking deceptively – and those are words that will always lead to problems, division, and friction between people – we are to speak truth – and the truth is what builds people up. If we are people who constantly lie then we are essentially hiding who we are from people – we never get to relate to each other as we really are.
Notice here that healthy speech is speech that fits the occasion. We are to speak truth – but not every truth needs to be spoken all the time – there is a time for everything and learning wisdom means knowing when to bite your tongue and when to unleash it.
Notice also that good words are words that give grace – what does that mean? It is like I was saying two weeks ago – we need to encourage one another with the grace that is in Jesus. Reassure one another of the goodness of God and his work in our lives. Remind one another of who we are as sons and daughters of God. Essentially, we need to speak the gospel to one another.
A months ago my wife did this. I was feeling so down with sin – my sins – the sins of others – and she spoke to me the most encouraging and gracious words. She reminded me of who I was as a Christian and a man of God. This very thing, I am tempted to say, is the reason the church exists – we need other Christians to speak God’s life-giving truth to us. And we need to do it in return.
Does your speech lead to the benefit of others? Does it make them feel encouraged, blessed, strengthened? Or does your speech lead to corruption – does it create rot and stench like a decaying fish?
“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.”(28)
Now here is a good verse for young people. When I was a young kid I was a thief. I stole things – little things like candy and coins. But I was a thief and there is no denying that. One of the ways God grabbed a hold of me was to show me that I needed to repent of stealing.
So, following the same principle of taking off the old and putting on the new, then what do you do? Use your hands to work for the good of others. I want you to see that the Bible is a very hands-on book. There is a lot to think about in this book, but ultimately the Christian life comes down to your hands. Use your hands to serve people – like many of you did in the kitchen this past Sunday. Use you hands to work for the common good. And then when you acquire wealth – and generally-speaking everyone who learns the importance of working with their hands will acquire wealth – then you can share that with others and you can give sacrificially to important things, like the ministry of the church for instance.
One of the best things that ever happened to me when I was a teenager is an older lady in the church hired my brother and I on Saturdays to do yard work for her. We did TONS of different things for her. We chopped firewood. We stacked firewood. We weeded. We mowed the lawn over and over and over. We tilled soil. We mulched. We pruned trees. We landscaped and edged her lawn. We turned the compost over in her composting system.
And the thing we did most of all was killed Hogweed.
Her property was on a small river and the river carried this weed that grew fast and spread through the lower, moist ground by the water’s edge. And Hogweed was nasty. It grew up into a big stalk and if you touched it, it would burn your skin. The poison it left on your skin was activated by sunlight and so then it would blister up every time the sun touched it. So we had to wear big coveralls and then go out and chop this stuff down and kill it right at the root. We did this for days and days and days.
The point of me telling you all this is that I hated a lot of this work at the time. But I have come to look back on it with a real thankfulness. It is exactly what I needed. Good, honest work with my hands. I want to encourage all of you to find some honest work with your hands to do in the summer and in the years ahead. Even people planning to go into acting, or teaching, or writing, need to find some work to do with their hands. Construction, landscaping, tree-care, washing dishes, installing drywall. Whatever. The point is to be able to give to those in need – in both the work itself and in the profits from the work. And also you can save for your future education or training so you can use that training to contribute to others in an even greater way.
What skills might you learn this spring and summer? What will you do with your hands to contribute for the good of others?
Now look at what the Scripture says about your heart – anger.
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.” (26)
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (31)
What do you think the Bible means here when it tells us to be angry?
Did Jesus ever get angry?
Why did he get angry?
When Jesus was angry in the temple he was angry about what God was angry about – injustice. Jesus was angry along with God. This is what the Bible means here. We are to get angry, not when someone personally offends us, but when we witness things that personally offend God.
Some of you maybe remember last year I told you of a time I got really, really angry. I saw one man punch another man and left him unconscious and bleeding on the side of the road. I was so mad at that guy. I went on a vigilante rampage. My wife and I helped the guy who was injured and then left him with some other people as the ambulance came. Then I followed him in my car, while talking on the phone with the police, for like four blocks until I lost him.
That is an example of godly anger. And many of you probably have righteous anger over things that you see in the world. You are angry about poverty. Or social greed. Or issues around the world here women are taken advantage of. Be angry, the Bible says – but don’t fall asleep dwelling on all of it. Let it go when you go to bed. Don’t let anger continually fester indefinitely because the devil can use that against you and against others.
Anger is like fire – it’s easy to light but very hard to put out. And it does great damage.
But if I am honest – and if you are honest – we are often too quick to get angry about things that personally upset us. So the Bible says get rid of bitterness and slander and malice. Bitterness is when we just get so deeply jaded towards people because they have hurt us – and then eventually we lash out against them in return. Let that go. Be done with that. Slander is when we try to destroy another person’s reputation behind their back because we are so mad at them. Don’t do that – let God take care of people who wrong you and don’t try to beat down their reputation. Malice – malice is when you deliberately and intentionally hurt someone. You make a choice to make them hurt. Be done with that.
Then the general command is given not to grieve the Holy Spirit – and also to be kind, tenderhearted towards one another and forgiving, just as God forgave. That is how this passage ends.
That is the new life – it involves your tongue, your hands, and your heart. And it is the life of joy. It’s not always easy, but it is the good life and it’s the life that Jesus invites us into as we learn to follow him.