The last time we were together, and studying Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, we talked about the innate need within each of us for change. Believer and unbeliever alike sense that there is something more to life than what we are experiencing. The desire for change is something that believers and unbelievers share in common, but the root of the desire and the motivation for change between the believer and the unbeliever are vastly different.
For the unbeliever the driving motivation for change in one’s life is the need to quiet the gnawing uneasiness, to fill the void, that we sense within us. This uneasiness, the sense that something is missing, the yearning for something new, something different, is a trait that I find to be pervasive in humanity. We seem to never be satisfied. We long for something “new,” something “better,” and something that will satisfy. St. Augustine, who sought all kinds of ways to quiet the uneasiness in his own soul more than 1600 years ago, wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” That leads me to the root of the desire and motivation of the believer in his or her own life.
For the followers of Jesus there should still be present within every heart and mind a persistent desire for change, but the desire and the motivation are altogether different. The desire for change is rooted in what God has done, and is continuing to do, on our behalf. Let me show you what I am talking about. In Romans 8:29, Paul wrote to the believers in Rome,
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29 NIV)
God has saved us, He has redeemed us, He has freed us so that we might “be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” Our desire for change is rooted in what God has done and what He continues to do. The followers of Jesus know that God is at work within us, to change us from what we are into what He desires for us to become. What is it that He desires for us to become? He desires for our lives to reflect the very life of His Son Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth and encouraged them with these words.
18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV)
We are “being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory…” What an amazing truth! Where does this transformation come from, how does it work? If you take a look at the Scripture then you will see that the transformation comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in your life and mine. We are being conformed, no longer to the ways of the world, but to the life of our Lord and Savior. We are being transformed, by the work of the Holy Spirit, into the likeness of our Lord and Savior. Our desire and motivation for change is rooted and established in these essential, fundamental truths found in God’s Word.
When a person surrenders their life to Jesus, and learns from God’s Word what God has done and what God is continuing to do, then the only valid response is to yearn, passionately yearn, to become more like Jesus. I don’t know of any Scripture that better illustrates this for us than Philippians 3:10-12. Listen to passion flowing from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:10-12 NIV)
Do you see the glaring difference between the reason and motivation for change for the unbeliever and the follower of Jesus? As we continue our look at Ephesians 4:25-32 we will see the difference even more clearly. Let’s read our Scripture together.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32 NIV)
We find in these verses five changes that God desires to bring about in the lives of those who are followers of Jesus. The last time we were together we made our way through the first three. Do you remember what they were? Let me list them for you so I can refresh your memory. First of all, we are to put off lying and speak the truth to one another. Second, we are not to allow our anger to lead us into sin. Third, as followers of Jesus, we are not to take what is not ours, but rather we are to work hard so that we have resources to help those who are in need.
You and I have to remember that we are part of the Body of Christ; we are part of the community of called out people who are called to live in community with the people of God. We are not here for ourselves, for our own gain, or simply to focus on our own relationship with God. We live, grow, and function within the Body. The more we are aware and concerned for the whole Body of Christ the more we are going to grow in our own walk with the Lord. I mention that to you for two reasons: First of all, in the Church, there seems to me to be an emphasis in our day on the individual. The mindset of many Christians today is a “me-and-Jesus” mindset. When we lose sight of the Body of Christ, our place and purpose within the Body, then we miss out on so much of what God desires for us. The second reason I want to highlight this for you and me is because when we take this teaching from Ephesians out of context, remove it from its place within the Body of Christ, we can very easily turn this important lesson for the Body of believers into nothing more than lesson in morality. Paul is not nearly as concerned with lessons in morality as he is in the health of the Body. For the Body of Christ to function as God intends we need to speak the truth and not lie to each other, we need to not allow our anger to tear the Body of Christ apart, we need to work diligently so that we might help our brothers and sisters in need rather than stealing from one another, and we need to watch our mouths. That is what Paul is saying in Ephesians 4:29. Read it with me.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
No Unwholesome Talk. Speak to Bless and Build Up.
We must ask, “What is unwholesome talk?” That seems like kind of a subjective, nebulous statement doesn’t it? What is “unwholesome” for a shipyard worker or a sailor might be quite different than what is unwholesome for a kindergarten teacher or a librarian don’t you think? I was listening to Sports radio this past week when the talk turned to coaches who had been fired. The discussion turned to Mark Mangino, the former coach of the University of Kansas football team. The radio host said, “Mangino got fired because he cussed too much and he was too hard on his players. He’s a football coach!” I’m sure most people who were listening said, “Amen!” but Paul would disagree. God’s grace is extended to people from every walk of life. Paul was a tentmaker, Peter was a fisherman, Matthew was a tax collector, Lydia was a merchant who sold “purple goods,” and David was a shepherd and a king, but He called them all to a new life. He called them to transform them and that is the same reason He has called you and me.
The Greek word that is translated, “unwholesome,” means, “corrupt” or “corrupting.” In the New Testament it is used to describe fruit that is rotten and it’s also used to describe rotten fish. In Matthew 7:17-18, Jesus said,
17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:17-18 NIV)
In Matthew 13, Jesus told a parable to teach people about the Kingdom of God. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a net that is let down into the water to catch all kinds of fish. Listen to this.
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. (Matthew 13:47-48 NIV)
The word that is translated, “bad,” is the same Greek word as “unwholesome” in Ephesians 4:29. Whether it is fruit that is rotting, fish that is rotten, or words that we speak that are unwholesome they all have this in common—they are not good for anything. We are to speak words that build others up and never speak words that corrupt or tear down. Reading this Scripture reminds me of something James wrote in James 3:3-10. Listen to this.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. (James 3:3-10 NIV)
Our little tongue is a huge problem is it not? I can remember when I was a kid growing up in my mom and dad’s house. There would be times that I would speak before I would think. My mom would say, “You better watch your mouth!” I’m no longer a child, but my mom’s words still hold true. Is there anyone here this morning that has control of their tongue? Frank Gaebelein wrote,
Tongue control? It will never be achieved unless there is first of all heart and mind control…when any Christian comes to the point of yielding to the Lord—in full sincerity, cost what it may—control of his thought life, the problem of managing his tongue will be solved, provided that such a surrender goes deeper than the intellect and reaches the emotions and will. For the Bible makes a distinction between mere intellectual knowledge of God and the trust of the heart. (Gaebelein, Frank. The Practical Epistle of James: Studies in Applied Christianity. (Great Neck, N.Y.: Channel Press, 1955), pg. 80-81)
The only way that we will ever gain control of our tongue, and use it as God desires for us to use it, is to relinquish control to the power of the Holy Spirit who resides within us. As we learn these truths found in God’s Word and we seek to apply them to our lives we will see the Spirit of God enable us to live out what we are learning.
I want you to notice something that is very important. It is not enough to simply stop using “unwholesome” words, hurtful words, demeaning words, and foul language. Paul says we are to use words that are “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This is something altogether different than merely changing the way we speak. This is changing the way we live our lives. To speak words that are “helpful for building others up according to their needs” requires us to get our thoughts and eyes off of ourselves and become a student of those around us. What is the need of your friend, your family member, your co-worker? In our Bible study on Wednesday night there was a lady present who told us that she was in a gathering of people this past week and she let it be known that she was going through a divorce. One of the ladies present said, “You just need to get over that!” Were those words beneficial to the woman who is hurting because of the breakup of her marriage? Not even close. For us to live out this important truth we must become sensitive to the needs of those around us and prayerfully seek words that will benefit them.
Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit.
I mentioned to you earlier that what separates believers from non-believers when it comes to desiring change in our lives is that believers desire change because of what God has done and what He is continuing to do through His work to conform us to the image of His Son. When we resist God’s work, when we continue to walk in the flesh, rather than the new life provided for us in the Spirit, then we “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” That’s an interesting phrase isn’t it? That is the phrase used by Paul in Ephesians 4:30. Paul writes,
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30 NIV)
The Greek word for “grieve” means “to cause sorrow, pain or distress.” To think that my actions, my anger, lying, stealing, or unwholesome words spoken to someone can cause the Holy Spirit to be filled with sorrow is an overwhelming thought. If we take this verse seriously then when we sin what we should be most concerned about is not that we have done something wrong, but that we have caused the Holy Spirit to be filled with sorrow over our actions.
This is such a foreign thought to many of the followers of Jesus today because we talk about the Holy Spirit as if He is some kind of impersonal force. If you listen to some Christians they will talk about God the Father and Jesus the Son and Savior, but when the topic of the Holy Spirit comes up then will often times talk about “It.” God’s Word teaches that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior that the Holy Spirit comes to reside within us. Paul wrote,
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-1 NIV)
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just come into our life to “chill out” or “hang out” with us because we are followers of Jesus. God sends His Spirit to dwell within us for a purpose and the purpose is to teach us, remind us, convict us, and even to intercede for us in prayer. Let me give you an example. Jesus, as He was preparing to go to the Cross, reminded His followers of things that He had taught them while He was still with them, but then He said,
26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26 NIV)
The Holy Spirit is given to us, resides within us, not only to teach us and remind us, but also to intercede for us in prayer. Now that is mind-boggling to some of you so let me show you where I’ve come up with that thought. Turn with me to Romans 8:26 and let’s read together.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26 NIV)
Have you ever been in a situation where you truly didn’t know what to pray? I’ve not only been there, but I can assure that I, and you, will be there again and again. That shouldn’t unnerve us because what is the promise that we’ve just read? The Holy Spirit is interceding for us.
So, all of this is simply to show you that the Holy Spirit isn’t some impersonal force or some unknowable “It.” He is a Person, the third Person of the Trinity. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says,
But we must realize that He is a Person! You cannot grieve an influence, you can only grieve a person. You cannot hurt a power, you can only hurt a person. He can be disappointed in us. A principle cannot be disappointed, it is only a person who can be disappointed. And here, I say, is one of the most vital and important things for us ever to grasp, that we are in this relationship to the Holy Spirit; if we are Christians He is in us, He dwells within us! Wherever we are, He is! (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Ephesians 4:17-5:17: Darkness and Light. pg. 269)
Replace Bitterness, Rage, and Malice with Kindness, Compassion, and Forgiveness.
In our last section of Scripture that we will look at this morning we see that it is out with the old and in with the new all over again. This time Paul, in a way, takes us back to the second change that God desires to bring about in the lives of all believers. He says,
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV)
The six negative attitudes and behaviors are to be replaced with the three positive attitudes and behaviors. “Bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice”—how can any of these attitudes and actions contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ? “Bitterness” is that attitude that permeates every aspect of a person’s life. John MacArthur says, “It is the spirit of irritability that keeps a person in perpetual animosity, making him sour and venomous.” (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 190) Bitterness is an inner disposition that clouds every aspect of a person’s life. Eventually, the inner bitterness will flow out into rage and anger. “Brawling” is also translated as “clamor” or “harsh words” in other translations of the Bible. The word literally means, “to shout” or “an outcry of strife.” When folks get heated the volume and tone of the discussion goes from a conversation to an all-out shouting match. “Slander” is the same Greek word from which we get our word “blasphemy.” “Malice” is a catchall term used to describe all manner of evil. We are to get rid of these things and instead practice kindness, compassion, and forgiveness towards one another.
Why does Paul emphasize these changes? Is it simply because he wants God’s people to be good, solid citizens in Ephesus? Hardly. Remember that this letter was written to a church, just like Britton Christian Church. Can you imagine the benefit to the Body of Christ in Ephesus, or in Oklahoma City, if all of God’s people lived out this lesson? The church would be strong, the Body would be healthy, individuals would be built up and blessed, and a watching world would stand up and take notice that God is in our midst!
If these benefits weren’t enough, Paul adds to his teaching, “just as in Christ God has forgiven you.” God has set the standard for His people. As He has done for us we are in turn to do for our brothers and sisters. Anything less than this is unacceptable. When it is difficult to forgive someone I must remember how God has forgiven me. When I lack compassion I must be reminded of the compassion that God has shown towards me. When I don’t feel like being kind I must remember the kindness God has offered me time and time again.
I’ve got news for you. As much as the world yearns for peace, unity, and cooperation it will never, absolutely never, take place. What is unavailable and unobtainable for the world is nothing less than the perfect will of God for His people. Where does it begin? How can we experience this kind of unity, mutual blessing, and cooperation? It begins at the foot of the Cross. When you and I surrender our lives to Jesus, seek Him with all of our hearts, follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of God’s Word, then and only then will we experience this wonderful blessing. Won’t you surrender your heart to Jesus this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 22, 2012