Summary: If we want to build strong relationships for a strong church then replace old habits with new. Replace lying with the truth, anger with peace, stealing with sharing, hurtful words with helpful ones, and bitterness with forgiveness.
An executive was plagued by a strange disease that caused splitting headaches and ringing in his ears. He first went to an ear, nose and throat specialist who corrected his deviated septum, but the condition grew worse. He consulted an ophthalmologist who performed delicate optic nerve surgery. Later, a dentist did a root canal, but still the man had no relief. He finally sought a world-famous brain surgeon who said the only other case he’d seen like that had been fatal within a year.
The man was despondent. He decided to quit his high-paying job and spend his retirement money on whatever he wanted. He had always longed to indulge himself with custom-made shirts and suits, so the first thing he did was find a top-rated tailor. As the tailor was measuring him for shirts, he called out the numbers to an assistant. “Sleeve: 35 inches. Neck: 16½ inches.”
“Oh no!” said the executive. “I’ve always worn a 15-inch collar. You’d better check again.”
The tailor did and again measured 16½ inches.
The executive responded, “But I insist you make it 15 inches, because that’s what I’ve always worn.”
“Okay,” said the tailor, “but don’t blame me if you get splitting headaches and ringing in your ears!” (Sandra Wilson, Released from Shame)
Sometimes, we look for the cure in elaborate and expensive treatments when all we have to do is change our clothes.
That’s the way it is with the church, the body of Christ. The church in America is sick with at least 80% of our churches in decline or not growing at all. Well, the cure is not some elaborate and expensive program. NO! The cure may be something as simple as changing our clothes, our spiritual clothes (so to speak).
Ephesians 4 describes a healthy, growing church, building itself up in love when each member does his or her work. The problem is many of those church members have retained some old habits which hinder the development of strong relationships for a strong church. Like putting on an old comfortable shirt, they keep doing what they have always done and wonder why nothing changes.
So what are we to do to build strong relationships for a strong and growing church? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 4, Ephesians 4, where God shows us what to do, and you’ll see it’s as simple as changing an old, comfortable shirt for a new one.
Ephesians 4:17-19 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (ESV)
If we’re going to build a strong, healthy church, then we must stop doing what we used to do as unbelievers. We can no longer live selfish and greedy lives “giving ourselves up to sensuality” (vs.19). We can no longer be willfully “ignorant” of the things of God (vs.18), and we can no longer behave in the “futility of our minds,” pursuing worthless and empty goals (vs.17). No! If we want to build strong relationships for a strong church, then we must put off those old habits like we would take off a dirty, smelly shirt.
After mowing the lawn, I come into the house dirty, sweaty and smelly. Do you think Sandy (my wife) wants a big hug and a kiss at that time? No! I have to take off the smelly, dirty clothes and take a shower before she’ll let me get close!
That’s the way it is in most of our relationships. Sometimes our old, dirty habits get in the way. They keep us from getting close to people. But if we want good, strong relationships, then we must take off the old habits. We must shed our old attitudes and actions like dirty clothes, and we must put on new habits. We must clothe ourselves with new attitudes and actions.
Ephesians 4:20 But that is not the way you learned Christ! (ESV)
Not learned ABOUT Christ, but learned CHRIST! If you are a believer, you have Christ dwelling within. His character permeates every fiber of your being. You have learned Christ internally!
Ephesians 4:21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus… (ESV)
I.e., assuming that you have heard and responded to the Gospel, that you have put your faith in Christ who died for you and rose again. Assuming that you have done that, you have learned Christ, which teaches you…