Summary: In Christ we are made new, which means our lives must be lived differently. Each day we are faced with choices, and we must choose the way of life that reflects Christ.
One of the writers in The Upper Room Devotional this week shared a question he had run across one day in his own devotional time. “What did your hands do today?” It’s a fantastic question, is it not? So much better than the typical, “How was your day?” or “Did you have a good day?” That question, “What did your hands do today?” it actually makes you stop and think. First, you have to remember all that your hands did, and then you have to acknowledge whether the work of your hands was useful or wasteful; whether it was uplifting or harmful.
We have a choice every day about how we will spend our time, about how we will go about our work, about how we will interact with the people with whom we come into contact. And what we hear from the writer of Ephesians this morning is that, as Christians, there are certain qualities that should be reflected in our life, there are certain choices we should make that reveal our faith in the living Lord. Living into our call involves certain ways of being; specifically, behavior that enhances relationships and enriches Christian community. Last week, we heard from the beginning of chapter four and the call to unity. As we continue our look at Ephesians this week, what we have before us now are the particular practices that help us achieve such unity in the body of Christ.
Now, we may easily assume that what we have before us today is a list of rules. But that’s not the case, which is made clear in the very opening of this passage when it says we are to “[get] rid of lying.” The same idea is expressed a few verses earlier, “change the former way of life,” the writer says. We have this new covenant, you see, which requires of us a new life; the “old ways” are no longer acceptable. Jesus Christ has come and brought a new order. As a result, the writer is now making the point to his readers that believers are to strip away the old self so that we too are made new in Christ. Thus, the works described here in this passage are not merit badges we are trying to earn, or boxes we are trying to check on a “to-do list”; rather, they are marks of our new life in Christ. These actions and behaviors are signs of Christ’s work in our lives.
First, the letter says, we should “[get] rid of lying” and speak the truth to one another. Also concerning our speech, the writer tells the Ephesians that evil talk should not come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up. Again, the ultimate aim here is building up the body of Christ, “we are parts of one body.” Thieves should give up stealing, and instead they should work honestly, “using their hands to do good” so that they will have something to give to the needy! “What did your hands do today?” Every day we have a choice. Certainly, as those saved by Christ, our lives should reflection the new life we have found in God, but whether that ultimately happens or not is entirely up to us. We have to choose to put away our human nature. We have to choose to tell the truth, to encourage others with our words and actions, and to use our hands to do good work for the Kingdom. If we don’t consciously make that choice, then we will very easily find ourselves slipping back into the “old way” of life, disconnected from the body of Christ.
In fact, our constant connection to our Lord is so important that the writer next tells us not to “make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy.” Basically, that’s a roundabout way of saying, “Don’t sin.” Just think for a moment about how very easy it is for us to slip into our old habits, to be swayed by the culture around us. Have you gossiped this week? Are you holding a grudge against someone? Have your hands been idle? Have you been angry? Have you spoken harshly to someone? These are the “old ways,” you see. These are characteristics of our lives before Christ. What did you do today? In all things, we are to put aside our former selves and behave like the new persons we are in Christ.
The final imperative of this passage relates to anger. The topic of anger comes up at different intervals throughout this section. We are instructed to put aside all bitterness, malice, anger, shouting, and slander. We should not let the sun set on our anger, nor should we dwell in our anger such that we hold grudges or in a spirit of vengefulness are led to sin. When our anger is selfish or uncontrolled, it becomes a sinful and hurtful thing that tears down and rips apart the body rather than building it up. We have to make better choices.