In our study last week we took a look at Ephesians 4:17-19 and we heard Paul tell the followers of Jesus, in Ephesus, that they “must no longer live like the Gentiles do.” He insists on it. He’s adamant. He’s uncompromising. He’s fully aware that the people who will hear his letter read are Gentiles and yet he tells them that they are no longer to live like the Gentiles who populate the city of Ephesus. It wasn’t their ethnic background that concerned Paul, it was the fact that unbelievers live and think in a way that is contrary to the thinking and way of life of those who have been delivered, claimed, and redeemed by God. In verses 17-19, Paul described the characteristics of the Gentile way of life.
• Their thinking is futile, empty.
• Their hearts are hard towards the things of God.
• Their understanding, comprehension, is darkened toward the things of God.
• They are separated from the ways of God.
• They’ve lost all sensitivity towards God and given themselves over to sensuality.
• They plunge head first into every kind of impurity and beg for more, more.
These were the characteristics of the unbelievers in Ephesus and Paul insists that the Gentiles of Ephesus who had surrendered their lives to Jesus no longer live according to these principles and practices. As soon as Paul describes the ways of the unbelieving Gentiles he writes,
20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 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. (Ephesians 4:20-24 NIV)
These five little verses of Scripture provide for you and me some of the greatest counsel in all of God’s Word. If you are a follower of Jesus and you want to know how to exchange your old ways for His way of living life then this lesson is for you. If you are a follower of Jesus and you want to strengthen your daily walk with the Lord then this lesson is for you. If you are a follower of Jesus and you want to learn how to more fully experience the presence of God in your daily life then this lesson is for you.
In verses 20-21, Paul uses three verbs that open up for us a world of learning. The words I want us to take a look at this morning are “know,” “heard,” and “taught.” Each of these words are really taken from the classroom. The first word that we are taking a look at is found in verse 20, and in the New International Version of the Bible it is says, “know.” The Greek word that is translated “know” is “μανθάνω” (manthano) and it means “to learn, to increase one’s knowledge, to learn by use and practice.” Let me show you a couple of other places in the New Testament where the word appears. First of all, turn to 2 Timothy 3:14 with me and let’s read together. Paul writes to encourage Timothy by telling him about imposters, evil men, and their deceitful ways. Then Paul writes,
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV)
Timothy came to “know” Jesus because he was taught from the Scriptures by his mother and his grandmother. The second example that I want us to take a look at is found in Titus 3. Titus was ministering on the island of Crete. Crete was a tough place to minister. It was rough, there were teachers who were leading the people astray, and in Paul’s letter to Titus he writes,
12 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Tit 1:12 NIV)
That’s not Paul’s estimation of the people of Crete—that is how one of their own people described them. Set in the middle of this kind of environment was the church of Crete, filled with the followers of Jesus, and being led by a man named Titus. Paul wrote to Titus and instructed him as to how he was to instruct his people. Paul writes,
14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. (Titus 3:14 NIV)
Set in such an environment where the people are “liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons,” the followers of Jesus are to “learn” to devote themselves to doing what is good.
In our Scripture for today Paul told the folks in Ephesus that they are to no longer walk like the Gentiles, they are to no longer live like the Gentiles, and they are no longer to think like the Gentiles because they had “learned” Jesus.
Let’s take a look at the final two words that point us to the idea that we are enrolled in the School of Jesus, sitting under the tutelage of the Master Teacher, and learning the most wonderful Subject in the history of the world. In Ephesians 4:21, Paul writes,
21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. (Ephesians 4:21 NIV)
The New International Version of the Bible says, “Surely you heard of him…” but in actuality the word “of” is not in the Greek text. James Montgomery Boice writes,
The point is not that we have heard of Christ but rather that we have heard him speak. How so? How have we heard Jesus? The answer—thought this is perhaps also a bit baffling—is that we have heard him in Scripture, particularly as it has been expounded to us by preachers of the gospel. I emphasize preaching because this is the way the Ephesians, to whom Paul is actually writing, must have heard Christ. As Paul preached Jesus, they heard Jesus himself through Paul’s exposition. (Boice, James Montgomery. Ephesians. pg. 160-161.)
I can’t speak for any of you, but God has certainly used Bible teachers in my life to enable me to “hear” Jesus. There have been a few times during the past 20 years that someone would come up to me after worship and say, “I felt like you were talking to me this morning.” I’m quick to let them know that it’s not me.
There is a powerful story in Acts 16:13-14 that illustrates what James Montgomery Boice has written. Let me share it with you. Paul was on his second missionary journey when he and his friends sailed across the sea and arrived in modern-day Europe where they began to teach the Good News. In Acts 16, we learn that it was a Sabbath day when Paul and his friends went outside of the city of Philippi and down by the river to pray. Take a look at verses 13-14 with me.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (Acts 16:13-14 NIV)
God opened Lydia’s heart as she listened to what Paul had to say and it changed her life. I need to make something very clear for you and me. Simply having someone who is able to teach the Bible to us and having the ability to hear doesn’t mean that we will “hear” Jesus. Lydia “applied” herself to what was being said. The King James Version says, “she attended” to what Paul was saying. The very same Greek word that is used here is used also in Hebrews 2:1 where we read,
1 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1 NIV)
Are we really listening? Are we really paying close attention to what is being said? You can’t help but hear about Jesus if you live in Oklahoma City. He’s everywhere. Flipping through the radio…He shows up. Scrolling through the channels on the TV remote…there He is again. Driving down the street we see signs filled with His sayings, signs inviting us to church, and signs informing us about what His people are doing in our city, but are we really listening?
I ask that question because I know all too well the opportunities that can be missed if we aren’t paying close attention. I went to school in Duncan, OK. I attended class most every day. I graduated with my class, not at the top of my class, but with my class—the Class of ’79. I went to college and had to take “Basic College Math 101” because I couldn’t do the work that was required in higher level courses. I graduated from college and went to Seminary. The week that I handed in my first assignment, an essay, I was stopped by the Professor and called into his office. He pointed out that I couldn’t write a complete sentence. He insisted that I take an undergraduate English course so I could learn how to write. I had graduated from high school and college, but I didn’t learn much of anything. Why was that? It wasn’t because I didn’t have good teachers. It wasn’t because I didn’t have ample opportunities to learn. It was because I “heard” what was going on in class, but I didn’t “attend to” what was being said, I didn’t apply myself to the opportunities that were right before me.
You need to know that I’m not proud of that at all. I wasted so many opportunities to gain a great education, I blew off so many lessons that were placed right in front of me, but I have to tell you that there is an even greater tragedy that is going on today. The great tragedy that I’m speaking of is the missed opportunities that you and I have to sit at the feet of Jesus, to “learn Jesus,” to listen to Jesus, and to be taught the truth of Jesus that pertains to all of life. We are inundated with opportunities, but are we really listening?
Like the teachers who were willing and able to teach me the subjects that they knew so well, there are Bible teachers that God uses to teach us, but they are not the only means of our hearing Jesus. One of the other ways that we hear Jesus is simply by reading God’s Word. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been reading God’s Word and a verse jumped off the page at me. It applied to me, it was a truth that I needed to know, needed to learn, and I knew that I was hearing Jesus. Do you know what I mean? Of course you do.
The final word that I want us to look at is also found in Ephesians 4:21 where Paul says the followers of Jesus were “taught in Him.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his wonderful commentary on Ephesians, writes,
What does the Apostle mean? He not merely mean ‘taught in the doctrine concerning Him,’ because he has already said that; this is an addition, meaning that we have been taught in union with Him. In other words, the teaching about which he is speaking is not a detached kind of teaching. To hear Christ and to be taught in Christ means that you are no longer an outsider, you are in Christ. That is why this kind of teaching is so different from every other kind of teaching carried on in the world. A man can lecture to you on history, or poetry, or on science, or anything else, and of course the whole time there is this detachment, not only as between the people listening and the one who is speaking, but between those who are listening and even believing what is taught and the truth itself; you are not in it. But the meaning conveyed to us by Paul here is, that if you have heard Christ you are in Christ, and so you are learning from the inside. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Ephesians 4:17-5:17: Darkness and Light. pg. 113)
We, who are the followers of Jesus, do not read the Bible like it is some kind of textbook assigned to us so that we can gather facts in order to take a test and get a passing grade. No, we read God’s Word, we sit at Jesus’ feet, to learn like a young child learns from his or her mom and dad.
My 3 year old grandchildren love their mom and dad. They don’t wonder if their mom or dad loves them, they live in their love day-in and day-out. Kellen and Macy eat because their mom and dad provide for them, when they hurt they find comfort in their mom and dad, and when they have questions they turn to their mom and dad for answers. They are being instructed, taught, as they grow and mature in the context of their mom and dad’s world. The older they get the more their world will expand and there will be other voices that seek to “teach” them. At that time it will be imperative that they have “ears” for their mom and dad, that they be willing to continue to learn from them as they point out the perils and pitfalls that await them. My grandchildren are insiders, they are part of the family, and they are being given the best their mom and dad has to offer them. And so it is with us, the followers of Jesus. You who are followers of Jesus, you who were once far away, are no longer alienated from God. You have been forgiven, you have been redeemed, you are have been made a child of God, and His desire is to share with you and me His truth as it pertains to all of life. John MacArthur wrote,
The truth…is in Jesus and it leads to the fullness of truth about God, man, creation, history, sin, righteousness, grace, faith, salvation, life, death, purpose, meaning, relationships, heaven, hell, judgment, eternity, and everything else of ultimate consequence. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 175.)
The greatest truth that we can ever learn, the truth from which all other truth flows, is the truth of what God has done on our behalf. Before we can ever rightly assess who we are, what we are, and where we are going, we must first know what God says. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 4:22-24 so I can explain what I am talking about. Paul writes,
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. (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV)
It would not be too difficult to read this passage of Scripture and come to the conclusion that Paul is telling the folks in Ephesus, as well as every other follower of Jesus, that they need to “put off” their old self and “put on” their new self. To read it simply as a directive—Just do it! If you were in a Bible study and someone asked, “What do you think this Scripture means?” you would probably hear something like, “We need to get rid of our old way of doing things and do things God’s way.” Although that would be the predominant answer you would get, that’s not what Paul had in mind when he wrote this sentence. Let me show you why it is so important for us to understand just what Paul was reinforcing to the folks in Ephesus.
The verbs used by Paul which are translated, “put off” and “put on” are in the “past tense,” it is a completed action. God has acted on our behalf through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Let me show you two other places in the New Testament where Paul writes about the “old” and the “new” self. First of all, turn with me to Romans 6. Let’s take a look at verses 6 and 11.
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:6-11 NIV)
God freed us from our old self when Jesus was crucified on the cross so that we are no longer slaves to sin, slaves to our old way of doing life, any longer. We are to count ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God. The second Scripture that speaks about our “old” and “new” self is found in Colossians 3:9-10. Paul writes,
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:9-10 NIV)
Before we come to know Christ, lying is our very nature. Those of you who have children, you didn’t have to teach your kids to lie. You didn’t sit them down and say, “When you find yourself in a pickle then lie like a dog to get yourself out of a jam.” No, you have to teach your kids not to lie. Why is that? It’s because we are born corrupt, we are born tainted through and through with sin, and we can’t deny it. Here in Colossians, Paul says, “Don’t lie. Remember that you are not your old self any longer. You have been made new!” God has acted on our behalf. He has broken the power of sin’s stranglehold on us, He has set us free to serve only Him, and He has given us a new power to live the life He has called us to live. We are to live what we are. We are free from the shackles of sin in order that we might live for the glory of God! We need to constantly remind ourselves of the truth that Paul shared in Galatians 2:20. Paul said,
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV)
For those who are “in Christ,” for those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, the “old” is gone and the new has come. Now, we are to live out the provision that God has provided for us. God’s Word tells us,
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)
We don’t lack the tools or smarts or character or potential to live the life that God has called us to live. God has provided for us everything we need to live the life He has called us to live through our knowledge of Him who has done all of this on our behalf. If this is true, and it is, then why do we still limp along? Why do I still struggle to be what I know I am in Christ? Why do I struggle to consistently walk the walk that God desires for me to walk? Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells a great story that I think helps us understand.
After the Civil War and the liberation of the slaves in the South, some of those who had lived as slaves all of their life kept forgetting that they were now free men. They kept living and behaving exactly as they were before their freedom had been signed into law and announced to the masses. They were still living in fear, they still saw themselves as servants, and they were still waiting for the word of their master for them to act. The Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln stated that they were no longer slaves—it gave them their freedom. That was their legal status. With the stroke of a pen they had been translated from slaves to free men, positionally. The former slave was no longer a slave; he was the same man, but his status had been forever changed. The slave that he once was, was now dead, gone forever, and he was now free. All of this was true, but the same man, out of habit and practice and custom, continued to go on living as if he was still a slave. So what do you do with a man like that? Well, if you care for him in the least, you tell him, “Put off the slavery! You are no longer a slave! You are a free man; live as a free man, stop living as a slave, stop behaving as a slave, you are free! Be what you are!” Now that is exactly what the Apostle is saying here. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. pg. 123)
This is a powerful illustration for those of us who are in Christ, but still living as if we were slaves to sin. We spent years living life as we wanted to live, doing what we wanted to do, and where did it get us? Our lifestyles demonstrated that we were nothing more than slaves—slaves of self-indulgence, slaves of personal preoccupation, slaves of self, and the things that we desired were killing us. Slowly but surely killing us. Then the day came when we heard the Good News! We learned that God loves us, that He created us for more than we were experiencing in life, and He gave His Son to die in our place so that our sin might be forgiven and we could be reconciled to God. Oh, what great news! I will never forget the day that I, like Lydia, really heard those words and they made sense. Joy flooded my soul! I was overwhelmed by the love and mercy of God. I wanted to know Him more than I ever wanted to know anyone, but it wasn’t too long before I found myself living just like I had been living before the Good News came. I heard God speak to me through His Word, “That’s not the way, don’t walk in it!” Over and over again God’s Spirit has come to remind me to be what I am, to live the life that has been provided for me, and to walk in His steps and not my own.
If you belong to Jesus then you need to know that He will never leave you alone. When you start to get off track He will remind you of who you are and whose you are and He will urge you to be what you are. We need to stay in the classroom of Jesus my friends. We need to learn Jesus, be taught by Jesus, and never look to any other Teacher. I’m sure you’ve heard this message many times in the past, but this morning may be the first time that you have really “heard” it, the first time you have “attended” to it. If so, then don’t put off what you need to do right now, come to Jesus.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 24, 2012