Sermon by Rev George Hemmings.
Over the last three weeks, I’ve been to three weddings. They’ve all been very different, but they’ve all presented the same challenge – What am I going to wear? The first was Ellen and Jamin’s wedding. I thought I was pretty safe and had my outfit all figured out. But then, that morning I realized that the tie I had planned on wearing was gone! I’d forgotten that I’d lent it to someone!
The next wedding, which was later that same afternoon posed the same problem. It was an outdoors wedding, and the invitation said ‘More smart than casual’. Who knows what that means! I decided to wear the same suit, without changing a thing. However, when we arrived it was clear I’d misjudged things. I was clearly overdressed! I think I was even more dressed up than the groom! Slowly over the afternoon the jacket came off, then the tie, then the sleeves went up.
Working out the right thing to wear is difficult sometimes isn’t it? Getting it wrong can be embarrassing, or worse. I have to say, that as much difficulty as I had working out to wear, Sarah had a bit more trouble and had to borrow dresses. But she looked stunning!
In the passage we’re looking at today, Paul gives us some fashion advice. He’s concerned that we dress the right way. But as we’ll see he’s not so much thinking about our material clothing, but how we clothe ourselves. Paul starts out by telling us what not to wear. We’re not to ‘dress’ like those around us;
Eph. 4:17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live,
The Christians at Ephesus had been Gentiles.
2:11at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Like us they weren’t of Jewish heritage. But now, in Christ, they’d been brought near, included in God’s people. So in mentioning the Gentiles here, Paul’s now referring to those who remain outside of God’s people, outside of the church, outside of Christ. Paul warns us that we’re not to live like we used to, like those around us still live. He’s calling us to be counter-cultural in our lives.
For those around:
17live, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.
Back in chapter 1, Paul had prayed that God
may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened.
He prayed that the church would grow in the knowledge of the hope, the riches and the power of God. He prayed that the church might become enlightened.
But those around them had become darkened. Their minds were shut off to God. And it wasn’t just an intellectual darkness. They’d become alienated from God and the life He wanted for them. They were ignorant of God, of his love and his desires for them. Paul says this was because of their hardness of heart. They’d shut themselves off from God, not wanting to let him in to their lives.
The result was obvious in how they lived. Verse 19 could be translated as callous. They’d become insensitive and hardened. So they couldn’t see, or didn’t care, that they’d fallen into licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Paul says this is the way the world around us is dressed. There are some areas in our society were this is very obvious! But the reality is that whenever people choose to live their own way, no matter how ‘religious’ or ‘good’ they might be, they’re doing just this!
This is not how to dress! This is not how to live! Paul is very emphatic in verse 20! This is not what we’ve learnt in Christ! We’ve learned a new way! We’re to be dressed differently, if indeed you have learnt about Christ!
Paul’s not just talking about knowing the facts about Jesus life. He’s says we’ve not heard ‘about him’, but were taught in him! Last week we looked at Matthew 28. Remember the mission that Jesus gave his disciples? They weren’t just to tell people about what Jesus had done, but to make them disciples, followers of him. They were to teach them to obey everything that Jesus had said! We know him in a relational way, knowing how he wants us to live.
So we’ve been taught to put off the old and put on the new.
We’ve been taught to put off the old corrupted, deluded self, and to be renewed in our minds, clothed with the new self. We’re to take off the old man and put on Christ.
On Friday Sarah & I drove to Sorrento for a wedding. After a long drive in the sun, I was a bit hot and sweaty when we arrived at the place we were staying for the night. After I’d cleaned myself up, there was no way I was putting on my old clothes for the wedding! Instead I put on a new, clean outfit! It’s inconceivable that we would want to go back to living that way, just as it’s inconceivable that we would want to put on old clothes again!
Well, what does our new outfit look like? Paul begins describing it from verse 24. When God created humanity, he made us in his own image. But we know that in disobeying him, that image became marred and broken. But the new self is again created in his likeness, in true righteousness and holiness. We’re to put that self on.
Paul goes on to describe what that looks like in more detail in 4:4:25-6:9. He goes into the intricacies of what this new outfit looks like.
Firstly, Paul says we’re to put away all falsehood, and instead to speak the truth in love. It’s no surprise he says this, as the truth is in Jesus and we’re in him. And as we heard last week we’re to speak the truth in love in order to build one another up. If we’re united in Christ, how can we lie to one another? Falsehood destroys fellowship. Lies poison our communication and make trust impossible. One writer has put it, ‘a lie is a stab into the very vitals of the body of Christ.’ So instead, our words must be truth.
More than just not lying about personal motivations or actions. More than lies I might tell about what I’ve done, or what someone else has done. For, truth is in Jesus. So I think we’re also to be speaking the truth about Jesus to one-another. We’re to keep each other on track in our faith, reminding each other of who Jesus is, what he’s done and what he wants from us. Lying about our selves might destroy trust, but if we’re lying about God, about Jesus then we’re lost!
So it might mean saying, ‘you know what, I think you might be wrong about what you just said.’ It might mean joining a small group to build up relationships so we can speak the truth, in love, to one another. So we can keep each other accountable in what we believe and say.
This leads to Paul’s next description of how we’re to live. We’re to get angry! It’s strange because in a few verses, we’re told to put away anger. Indeed, often in the New Testament the instruction is not to be angry. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that being angry with our brother or sister is tantamount to murder! Why then does Paul say ‘be angry’?
It all comes down to the three qualifications that follow:
• We’re not to sin in our anger
• We’re not to let the sun go down on our anger
• We’re not to give the devil a foothold
Be angry - but do not sin. We need to be on guard that our anger doesn’t come from spite, jealously, malice, from our own sinful desires or thoughts. We need to be careful there’s not a sinful or selfish element to our anger! What is God angry with? Sin and unrighteousness.
The second qualification is one we often hear at weddings. It’s sad that I only heard it at one of the three I’ve been to recently. It’s that we shouldn’t go to bed angry, we shouldn’t let the sun go down on our anger. That’s not to say that it’s OK to be angry right up to sunset! Or that you pick up an extra hour of angry time with daylight savings! (or that people in Greenland get to be more angry!)
No, it’s a warning not to dwell in our anger. We shouldn’t let it fester or simmer away. If we do it won’t be long before it consumes us.
Finally, we’re not to give the devil a foothold. How happy Satan must be when we’re angry with each other! We’re to be growing together in love. That’s simply impossible if we’re angry with each other!
If we are to be angry, it’s to be angry like God. Angry at sin and unrighteousness. And we’re to be slow to anger, but quick to forgive. We must remember that God took the first step in dealing with our offences against him. He didn’t dwell in his anger, but through his great love for us, sent his Son to die for us that we might be forgiven.
Paul’s third instruction is that thieves should stop stealing. In a society without welfare, social security, those in need would resort to stealing in some fashion or another. But now, they should find honest work, and work hard! Hopefully none of us here are thieves. And I know that everyone here does work very hard indeed.
But notice we’re not just to work for ourselves? It’s also so that we can provide for those in need! Our wealth isn’t just ours alone. We’re to work hard, in order to care for our family, our church family! It was great to see the community doing just that over our opening weekend. To see people giving so generously to the Foundation Gift Catalogue. The final tally has been creeping up, so that we’re now over $21k. It’s a great testimony to how we as a church are willing to give up our wealth to meet the needs around us.
Paul returns to our mouths, when he says that our words are to be those that build others up, not tear them down. Jesus says in Matthew 12 that all our words come straight from the heart, and that we’ll also have to give an account for every careless and stray word we utter (Matthew 12:33-37). Likewise James points to the power of our tongues in James 3:1-12;
5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
Evil talk here could be that which is rotten, dishonest, unkind, vulgar, or anything that we say that hurts our hearers. It’s easy for our little comments to be critical. But does that build up the others? Is it helpful to gossip? To bring something to another’s attention?
Paul’s concern here is that our words be used to build one another up, not tear each other down.
but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
Over all this Paul says we’re not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Back in chapter 1, right in first sermon, looked at how the Holy Spirit has been given as a sign and seal of the promises that we have. God’s Spirit dwells within us. How much must it grieve God when we sin? When God’s hard work within us is undone?
What’s more the Spirit is at work uniting us in Christ, as Paul said earlier in chapter 4 – we have unity in the Spirit. How much must it grieve God when we tear each other apart? When we dismantle what he has assembled? When we work for disunity? Our lives are to be lived pleasing to God, not distressing him!
Verses 31-5:2 summarises these instructions. As we take off our old clothes, we’re to put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander and all malice. The list works from the inside out, but all are things that will tear apart our unity. They’re to have no place among us as a church, were we’re seeking to be built into one body, marked by unity and purity.
Instead we’re to be clothed in love, being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving.
We’ve heard in this sermon series of how we’re now in Christ, that on the last day, God will look upon us and see him instead. On the last day, instead of George Hemmings, with his long list of sins and failings, God will see his Son, Jesus Christ. I’m clothed in Christ now. The same is to hold true in this present age. When people look at us, they shouldn’t see you or me. Instead they should see Jesus Christ. We’re his representatives in the world. We’re to imitate God, so that when others see us, they see him.
As we live as a body, we should help each other to be well dressed, to look our best. Let’s be dressed to impress – impress the world that God is our God, that we are his people, that we are Christ’s body!
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