We are in the middle of the year so the thought of New Year’s resolutions are the farthest thing from our minds. As the weeks and months rock along the thoughts of “change” will begin to creep in. It happens every year. You and I will watch the evening news and they will talk about how to experience a new you in a New Year. There will be articles written about how to improve our relationships, how to get fit and healthy, and how to have a financial makeover in the New Year. There will be lots of folks who sit down to make out lists of the things they want to change. Some will develop a plan and others will simply hope that it happens. A few months down the line, a few pages into the new calendar, and the hopes and hard work will either be paying off or long forgotten.
What it is about us that yearns for something more, something different? What is it about us that desires change even if we aren’t willing to put forth the effort that it takes to experience change? There are really two different motivating factors that I see at work. First, for all people, there is an innate uneasiness within us that is unsettling. We are not happy with who we are, with what we are, or with what we see deep within ourselves. It seems like we are wired to desire something more, something different than what we are currently experiencing. We can’t seem to put our finger on what’s missing at the time can we? We just know that something is not right within us. I’ve heard some say, “If I only had more money,” but that wouldn’t do it because some of the most miserable people I’ve known have been some of the wealthiest people I’ve known. They’ve traveled the world, owned the latest, best, and biggest, but none of it filled the void that gnawed at them day and night. The missing piece isn’t intelligence either. Some of the most tormented folks I’ve known have been some of the brightest, I.Q. wise. What is “it?” We explore, we dabble, we seek out someone or something that looks like it might be able to satisfy us. We find “it” and “it” seems to satisfy for a time, but then that gnawing emptiness returns.
So, the first motivating factor for desiring change, for experiencing something more in life, is to quiet the uneasiness within us, to fill the void that we sense within us. This first motivating factor is pervasive, it seems to be innate within humanity, but the second motivating factor is unique among a group of people who have been set apart, those who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life. The motivating factor for desiring change and experiencing more in life for the followers of Jesus is this: We want our lives to bring glory and honor to God and we want to experience the abundant life that God desires for us to experience in this life. Jesus said,
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)
Our living the new life that we have been called to live, that we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to live, is not for our recognition, but it is for the recognition and exaltation of the One who has loved us, saved us, and empowered us to live a new life. If that is our sole motivation in living the new life then we will also experience the vacuum, the void, that persistently gnawed at our soul being quieted, no, replaced by a deep peace that comes from walking with the Lord. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Ephesians 4:25-32.
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)
For those who are in Christ it is imperative that we constantly remind ourselves that we are no longer what we once were. What we once were is not what we are. Not only do we need constant reminders of that fact, but the followers of Jesus throughout time have needed the same constant reminder. That is why Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and reminded them by saying,
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV)
Now that we know what God has done in our life, for our benefit, Paul gives us five examples of what walking with the Lord looks like as we live in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s take a look.
Put Off Lying and Speak Truthfully
The remarkable thing about lying is that most all of us know beyond a shadow of a doubt that lying is destructive and despicable and yet there is not one person in this sanctuary who has never lied. Lying is despicable when we are the victims of lying, but then we turn right around and use lying as a tool to achieve our desired end in any given situation. We use lying to benefit ourselves, to get us out of a jam, and to make ourselves look better than we really are. Paul urges us to get rid of lying and in its place to put on truth.
Lying is a destructive force that undermines relationships in a home, workplace, or church. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
Think of it like this: How can there be fellowship if there is lying? It is the exact opposite to true fellowship, is it not? What makes fellowship possible is trust, mutual trust, mutual reliance, a feeling that you can trust one another, and therefore you can speak, and speak freely and openly, one to another. But the moment the element of lying comes in, fellowship is destroyed: you are no longer free; you do not know how much you can believe, or what you can believe; you do not know how much you can trust the other person. And if fellowship is broken, you are in a kind of police state in which everybody is spying on everybody else. You say, I wonder whether so-and-so really means that; I wonder whether that is really true. In this way fellowship is destroyed. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Ephesians 4:17-5:17: Darkness and Light. pg. 222-223)
Whether a person is a follower of Jesus or not, we would all agree that lying undermines and destroys relationships…all relationships. But, for the follower of Jesus, there is an even greater motivation to put away lying and to speak the truth. The greater motivating factor for putting away lying is that it is totally contradictory to the very character and nature of God.
In Numbers 23, there is a wonderful story about how Balak, the King of Moab, tried to get Balaam to pronounce a curse on God’s people. Balaam couldn’t do it. The Lord had spoken to him and told him that His people were blessed and not cursed. Balak told his men to offer Balaam money, lots of money, if only he would curse God’s people. Now, that should do it don’t you think? There is nothing that will get us to reconsider the truth like a pile of money. In Numbers 22:18 we read,
18 But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God. (Num 22:18 NIV)
All of the money in the world couldn’t get Balaam to curse the people that God had blessed. All of the money in the world couldn’t turn Balaam from the truth. Balak was furious with Balaam so the Lord gave Balaam a message to deliver to the king.
19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19 NIV)
When we lie we not only damage the relationships that we have been blessed with by the Lord, but more importantly, we betray the very character of God, the One who is Truth. We who are His people are to embody His very character. We are called to be merciful, not so that others will see us as nice people, but because He is mercy. We are to be forgiving, not because it is the right thing to do, but because He is the Great Forgiver. We are to speak truth one to another because He is Truth.
In Your Anger Do Not Sin
Paul’s words, to most of us, sound really odd. When we think of anger we think of the outbursts and explosiveness that we’ve both witnessed and exhibited, and we know in our hearts that God was not honored when a furious barrage of hurtful words was aimed at the victim. Let’s take a look at what Paul said to the people of Ephesus. He wrote,
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. (Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV)
Paul says, “In your anger do not sin.” That leads us to believe that there is anger that is not sinful. What kind of anger could this possibly be? I think we can get a good idea by taking a look at Jesus’ life and learning from Him. The most well known instance of Jesus becoming angry was when He was at the temple. There were merchants and money changers who had set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles. The merchants had invaded the worship space of the people and Jesus would have none of it. We can read about it in Matthew 21:12-13.
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'” (Matthew 21:12-13 NIV)
Jesus was concerned for the holiness of God and the opportunity for the people to worship Him. He didn’t become angry because of the injustice that He faced in life, but He did become angry when others suffered injustice. The money changers had moved in as squatters on the worship space of the Gentiles. They were turning holy space into a marketplace and Jesus wouldn’t stand for it.
There is another story, in Mark’s Gospel, that tells us that Jesus became angry. Mark tells us that when Jesus went to the synagogue there was a man with a shriveled hand present. The man with the shriveled hand wasn’t the only one present; there were also Pharisees there who were looking for an opportunity to trap Jesus. These were the most religious people in the city and yet none of them were looking to comfort the man with the shriveled hand. They were too busy looking to trap Jesus to see the need of the man in their presence. So Jesus had the man with the shriveled hand stand before everyone. Mark tells us what happened next.
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Mark 3:4-5 NIV)
Jesus was angry. He was angry at the religious leaders because of their stubborn hearts. Jesus wasn’t just angry at the Pharisees, He was also “grieved, distressed, filled with sorrow” over their hard, stubborn hearts. The religious leaders had a great opportunity to help someone in need, they had an opportunity to learn of God’s ways, but they were so wrapped up in preserving the law that they missed God.
Do you see the difference between what made Jesus angry and what most often makes us angry? We get angry when we are done wrong. Jesus got angry when others were done wrong and when God’s character was maligned or mocked.
Experiencing anger is a natural human emotion. Some folks are more laid back than others, but everyone gets angry at times. The important thing for us, as followers of Jesus, is to get angry about the things that God is angered about and to resolve the anger when it comes. We should never allow our anger to linger. Paul says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…” What does this mean? It means that we are not to allow anger to linger and morph into bitterness, grudges, and hatred towards someone else. We must deal with our anger and the best way to deal with it is to give it to the Lord. It is not our place to seek vengeance. Paul wrote,
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NIV)
We need to remember that all of these instructions are being given to men and women who were in the Body of Christ; they were the community of called out believers. We are members of the Body of Christ, we are part of the called out community of followers of Jesus, and we are called to live together in harmony, peace, forgiveness and love. When we get cross ways with one another and anger begins to knock at our hearts and minds then we must give our hurt feelings and frazzled attitudes to the Lord or we will witness the unraveling of the Body. Unbridled, unchecked anger will never lead us to a deeper walk with one another. James wrote,
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)
Stop Stealing and Work So That You Can Share
The third change that a new life in Christ should bring about is the change from taking what doesn’t belong to us and using that energy to work diligently with the gifts the Lord has given us. Stealing is another one of society’s ills that the vast majority can agree is destructive in so many ways. John MacArthur writes,
In some large stores up to a third of the price of merchandise is used to cover theft losses of various sorts. Intentional overestimating, falsified cost overruns, and outright embezzlement are rampant throughout business and industry. Padding expense accounts, reporting more hours than were worked, failing to report income to the IRS, and other such deceptions are accepted as normal by many people. To them, stealing is simply a game in which getting caught is the only cause for regret or shame. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 186)
The eighth Commandment tells us, “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15 NIV) Stealing, like lying, is one of those acts that most everyone would say is despicable and destructive and yet most people steal. That probably shocks most of you. You are indignant because you’re certain that you are not a thief. Really? Have you ever taken things that belonged to your employer? Do you work less than a full day? Have you ever cheated on your taxes? Have you ever withheld from God what belonged to God? In Malachi’s day, God told Malachi that His people were robbing Him. You can read about it in Malachi 3:8-10.
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:8-10 NIV)
We are to stop stealing from God and from others. That is a statement that most in our society can agree upon and yet, for the followers of Jesus, there is a greater motivation for using our energy to work hard rather than to steal. James Montgomery Boice writes,
Here the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian outlook is most evident. For Paul does not say, a many secular thinkers might say, ‘Work hard, because that will build self-esteem’ or ‘…because then you will be able to buy things you want and enjoy the good life.’ He says rather, ‘[because you will then] have something to share with those in need.’ There are people who have nothing because they will not work for it; they do not deserve handouts. But there are others who, through no fault of their own, genuinely have needs. Who is to help such people? Not the world, not really! The world is out for itself. The poor must be helped by Christian people who work hard precisely so they will have something to give to those in need. (Boice, James Montgomery. Ephesians. pg. 169)
As a follower of Jesus, I am to use the gifts and abilities that the Lord has given to me to work hard at what He has gifted me to do. People in general work hard so that they can make more in order that they can have more. As followers of Jesus, we are called to work hard in order to have more so that we can give more. Do you see the stark contrast between the followers of Jesus and the general population of people?
The sad reality is that this biblical truth is not being practiced by most of those who call themselves followers of Jesus. Study after study has shown that the more a person makes the less they give to the Lord’s work. How can that be? I don’t work hard so I can simply have more. I work hard so that I can give more. Connie and I have found great joy through the years in being able to help those in need. It is a blessing to be able to help others, but in order to help others I must have something to offer them in their time of need.
We’ve been following Paul as he has been teaching the folks in Ephesus to take off their old clothes, their old way of life, and put on their new clothes, the new life that God has provided for them. This is the new life that God has freed us to live, empowered us to live, and now we need to walk it out.
Next week we will continue our study by taking a look at the fourth and fifth articles of our new suit of clothes—getting rid of those old garments of rotten speech, bitterness, rage, and malice and exchanging them for kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. It’ll be a lesson you won’t want to miss.
Before we leave here this morning I’ve got to ask you to examine what you’ve worn to church this morning. I’m not talking about whether you wore a dress, suit, or blue jeans. I’m talking about whether or not you are still walking around in those old tattered threads sewn together with self or whether you are clothed in Christ. If you have been clothed with Christ then put Him on full display. Let His light shine through you. Speak truth. Live in the light of His truth. Refuse to compromise the truth of God. Let His reconciliation cover over the cracks in your relationships caused by anger. Stand up with courage for those who suffer from injustice. Work hard so that by doing so others might see the difference in you, isn’t you at all, but it is Jesus working through you. Work hard, earn a good living, not so that you might lavish yourself, but so that you might have more at your disposal to help those in need. What a blessing these reminders are to you and me. If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord of your life then I pray that today is the day you will recognize your need for Him. Won’t you come forward and give Him your heart this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 8, 2012