October 22, 2017
Is there any hope for the world of humanity? There is hope. But that hope will not be found in a government or philosophy. It will not be found in modern science or a large scale humanitarian movement. The only hope for this world is found in the God of Israel who raised Jesus from the dead, and who is calling out from the world a people for himself. Jesus said that he is the light of the world. And he also said that his followers are the light of the world.
Currently the hope of this world is seen in the life of the church. And this means that either a local church is an example of this hope or not. Last week we looked at Paul’s strong urging to put on the new self. In 4:25-5:2, Paul describes what that will look like. In 5:1-2 Paul summarizes this way of living by urging us to be imitators of God. And that is where I want to begin this morning. Christians are to imitate God by walking in his love shown to us in Christ.
I. SPEAK THE TRUTH. 4:25
In Eph.1:13 the gospel is called, “the word of truth.” In 4:15 we are to speak the truth in love. In 4:21 we read that the truth is in Jesus. In 6:14 we are to put on the belt of truth. Living a with-God life immerses us in truth. And so we must live truthful lives of integrity. In v.25 Paul tells us to literally put away the lie.
We all know what this means. And at the same time we all know how to complicate the meaning. Must I always tell the whole truth? What if someone’s life is in danger? What if telling the truth gets me or someone else in trouble? What if a person is not able to bear the truth? These are good questions.
So let me immediately say that there may be times when it is not appropriate to tell the whole truth. Sometimes people want information they have no business knowing. Or it might not be the appropriate time for sharing the whole truth. What we must not do is lie. It’s possible to lie by telling some of the truth. In these cases it is better to say, “I am not at liberty at this time to share that information.” Or a person may be too young to handle the whole truth. Parents do not usually go into great detail about human sexuality when their young children ask questions. But their answers must be truthful. In other words we must maintain our integrity at all times. Paul says, “Speak the truth.” And If you are ever in a situation in which you believe you must tell a lie for the greater good of saving someone’s life, and you tell the lie, you should also seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We must not be cavalier with the truth.
For some people, lying is a way of life. They have told so many lies that they don’t even realize they are lying. When this happens they begin to lose hold of the truth. One lie leads to another.
Now speaking the truth begins with being honest with ourselves. We may not always know the truth about ourselves, but we must pursue it. Sometimes we just don’t want to admit what is true about ourselves. When someone is addicted to a substance and says, “I don’t have a problem,” they are being dishonest with themselves. Sometimes we bury pain, hurt, and anger deep inside and we do not tell ourselves the truth because it is too painful. Jesus said that the truth is what sets us free. When Jesus, who is the truth, comes to live in us, he will always pursue the truth because that is how he sets us free from the lies that hold us in bondage. Integrity begins with ourselves.
And you notice that for Paul telling the truth is very important for our relationships in the church. After all, we are members of one another. If the love of God has been poured into my life and if I am seeking to walk in love then I will desire to speak the truth in love. Love rejoices in the truth. It is not always easy to speak the truth in love, but this must be our goal. We must try to speak to one another as we would like to be spoken to. With love!
II. AVOID ANGER. 4:26-27, 31
Now maybe you are thinking, “Wait, Paul doesn’t say, “Avoid anger,” in these verses. He says, “Be angry and do not sin.” In fact, some think that Paul is talking about righteous anger, the kind of anger that Jesus had when he cleansed the temple. When we see injustice and the mistreatment of others we may feel anger because we know this is wrong and people’s lives are being destroyed. This is righteous anger.
I don’t think that Paul is referring to righteous anger in these verses because there is nothing in the context that would lead one to see righteous anger here. Instead I want to suggest that Paul is just recognizing that anger is a powerful emotion that all of us experience. The emotion of anger is not in and of itself sinful. But anger can be so powerful that it easily and quickly leads us into sin. The reason I am saying, “avoid anger” is because of v.31. There Paul writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
The reality is that it is very difficult to not sin when we become angry. In fact, James writes, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” What happens when we become angry? Some of us yell and say hurtful things, giving others a piece of our mind. Some of us use curse words. Some of us may hit or break things. Some of us go into a slow burn, give a person the silent treatment, or avoid them all together. Some of us try to get even. Some of us carry anger around in our hearts for a long time. Maybe we are angry at our parents or a sibling, a spouse or a friend and we won’t let it go. Because we have this residual anger all the time, it doesn’t take much to bring anger out in our lives. Dallas Willard used to say, “There is nothing that can be done with anger that cannot be done better without it.”
If we have a short fuse, it will be challenging to deal with our anger. But all of us must come to terms with our anger. For some this may require counselling. Here Paul tells us to let go of the anger before the sun goes down. Do not go to bed angry. To allow anger to fester is to give the devil an opportunity, a foot hold, an open door into our lives.
As Christians we are seeking to imitate God by walking in his love shown to us in Jesus Christ. When we find ourselves becoming angry it is a signal to begin asking ourselves, “What is going on in me? Why am I feeling so angry?” It is the time to ask the Lord to help us. If we respond impulsively we can do great damage. One might argue that Moses experienced righteous anger when he saw his fellow Israelites being oppressed. But Moses killed an Egyptian. Even righteous anger can cause great harm. So we need to address our anger and try to process it with someone. Anger is generally rooted in self-centeredness. If we hurt someone in anger we must humbly apologize.
III. PURSUE HONEST WORK. 4:28
When you stop and think about it, these gentile believers had come out of paganism. If you can steal something and get away with it. Why not? In fact many people are like this today. People think nothing of stealing from their employers. And shoplifting is an ongoing problem. A 2008 Columbia University study of more than 40,000 Americans showed that it’s not the least among us doing the most thieving. “Shoplifting. . .was more common among those with higher education and income, suggesting that financial considerations are unlikely to be the main motivator,” the researchers concluded.” When there is a natural disaster or riot, we see looters carrying off merchandise on the evening news.
Now this should not be a problem for us as Christians and I trust that it isn’t a problem for you. Rather I want to call our attention to what Paul says in v.28. The thief who becomes a Christian is to go to work. He or she is to get a job and do honest work with their hands. Why? Well, it is the right thing to do. But Paul sees another reason. When a person works they are actually able to help others in need. Rather than stealing from people, they can share with people. Just as Jesus lovingly gave himself up for us, so the one who works can give to others in the Love of Jesus. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.”
IV. BUILD ONE ANOTHER UP. 4:29-32
There is a lot in these verses. But I want to focus in on v.29 which refers to our speech and v.32 which calls us to be kind. As I read v.29 I am reminded of Jms.3:10, where it says, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Here Paul refers to corrupting talk. The word refers to decayed, rotting fish or fruit. It smells awful and can make you sick. It is useless and has no value.
Surely this has to be one of the most difficult areas for everyone. It is difficult for us to refrain from saying things that are destructive and hurtful. This is most apt to happen in our homes when we are with our families. And of course it happens in the church as well. It happens wherever we feel comfortable and can be ourselves. Some of us are impatient. Some of us have to always be right. Some of us will not apologize. Instead we cast blame. Some of us are experts at making snide, cutting remarks.
Jesus was not like this. We don’t hear Jesus saying to his disciples, “Man you guys are a bunch of losers.” He doesn’t say, “What an idiot.” He didn’t use the word, “moron.” He did not belittle people in order to make people feel small. But nor did Jesus just say nice things to his disciples. Jesus spoke appropriate words for each situation. His words were life giving and gracious.
Notice Paul’s standard for choosing our words. Paul tells us to say only “such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion.” We must try our best to speak words that are helpful and timely. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Our words need to be encouraging and constructive. Our words need to flow from hearts that are overflowing with love for others. We are to speak words that give grace to those who hear. In other words, we are to be a means of God’s grace to others. In this way our words are sacramental. They convey grace. And when we fail, which we do, we need to humbly apologize. We don’t want to tear people down. We want to encourage people and build them up in Christ. One more thought: good intentions do not justify unkind words. We must do our best to choose our words carefully. The words that come into our mind need to be filtered through the love of Christ.
In v.32 Paul tells us to be or, more literally, to become kind to one another. The word has the idea of pleasant, suitable, benevolent, and useful. We are to be tenderhearted or compassionate. We are to freely forgive each other just like God in Christ has forgiven us.
Now who doesn’t want to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving? And yet this is difficult. Like the old poem says: “To dwell above with the saints we love that will be glory. But to dwell below with the saints we know, well that is another story.”
Who can be like this? Only someone who regularly fills their mind and heart with a picture of Jesus, will be able to become like him. Only someone who regularly considers the sacrificial, self-giving love of Jesus as the model for their life will be able to become like him.
As many of you know, I like to make crosses out of wood. We have a cross hanging in just about every room of the house. I find the cross to be a continual reminder of Jesus and my life with him. Men and women, we need to be reminded all the time that his life is our life and that our goal is to become like him.
In Mt.24:12, talking about the last days, Jesus says, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” These are difficult days for the church of Jesus Christ in the United States because we are seeing the church being pushed out onto the margins of society. The power that the church has enjoyed is diminishing. Our goal as Christians is not to fight in order to regain that power. Having power was never Jesus goal for the church. Our goal is to imitate God by walking in his love shown to us in Christ. If we are going to impact the world for Christ it will require that congregations display the kind of life Paul is describing in these verses. Our power for offering hope to this world comes through the Holy Spirit as we live the new-self life of Christ. Amen