Ephesians 4:17-5:12 – New Clothes (7/6/15)
One of the biggest questions we ever face in life is, ‘What am I going to wear?’ It might be a question you’ve never had to think about, but most of us face it every day. On ordinary days it’s bad enough, but it’s made worse when we have to dress for a special event, like wedding or a funeral, or a party. Getting it wrong can be embarrassing, or worse. A few years ago Sarah and I went to a friend’s wedding, were the invitation said ‘More Smart than Casual.’ What do you wear for that? What is more smart than casual? Well, when we turned up, it was obvious that I’d gone too smart and not casual enough! I think I was even better dressed than the groom! So quickly my jacket came off, then my tie, then my sleeves were rolled up, until I was more appropriately dressed!
In the passage we’re looking at today, Paul gives us some fashion advice. He’s concerned that we dress the right way. But as we’ll see he’s not so much thinking about our material clothing, but how we clothe ourselves in our words and deeds, in our thoughts and actions.
Paul starts out by telling us what not to wear. We’re not to ‘dress’ like those around us, ‘17Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live.’ Remember, as we saw back in chapter 2, the Christians in Ephesus had been Gentiles (2:11-12). But now, in Christ, they’d been brought near, included in God’s people. Now they’re no longer Gentiles. So Paul’s warning is that we can no longer live as we did before we were in Christ. Nor can we live the way those around us live. Paul’s calling us to be counter-cultural!
There’s a reason we not to live like the rest of the world. Back in chapter 1, Paul had prayed that the church would grow in the knowledge of the hope, the riches and the power of God. He prayed that the church might become enlightened. But those around us: ‘17live, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.’ Their minds are shut off to the things God. It’s not just an intellectual darkness. They’ve become alienated from God, ignorant of his love and his desires for them. They’ve hardened their hearts, shutting themselves off from God, not wanting to let him in to their lives. In fact their hearts aren’t just hard they’re calloused. They’re more than happy not living the way God wants. There are some areas in our society today where we could say Paul’s spot on. We might point to those who seem happy to abandon themselves to lust, greed, or impurity. But the reality is that whenever people choose to live their own way, no matter how ‘religious’ or ‘good’ they might be, they’re abandoning God!
Paul’s very emphatic in verse 20, this is not how we’re to live! We’re to be dressed differently, if indeed we have learnt about Christ! If we know God, if we love him, we’re to live a different way. So we need to take off the old and put on the new. We need to put off the old corrupted, deluded self, and to be renewed in our minds, clothed with the new self.
Imagine you’ve been working out in the garden all day, or cleaning out some dusty cupboards. Now it’s time to come inside and get cleaned up for dinner. After you’ve had a shower are you going to put on the old clothes again? No! You’d put on a new outfit. Or at least I hope you would! If we’ve been forgiven and cleansed by Christ, it’s inconceivable that we would want to put on old clothes again, that we’d want to go back living how we used to.
Well, what does our new outfit look like? Paul begins describing it from verse 24. When God created human beings, he made us in his own image. In disobeying him, that image became marred and broken. But the new self is again created in his likeness, in true righteousness and holiness. We’re to put that self on. Paul goes on to describe what that this new self looks like in more detail in the following verses.
Telling Truth not Lies
Firstly, Paul says we’re to put away all falsehood, and instead to speak the truth. As we heard last week we’re to speak the truth in love in order to build one another up. If we’re united in Christ, how can we lie to one another? Falsehood destroys fellowship. Lies poison our communication and make trust impossible.
But I want to suggest this morning that what Paul’s talking about is more than just telling lies about ourselves or others. Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’ The truth is in Jesus, and now we’re in him. So I think we’re also to be speaking the truth about Jesus to one-another. We’re to keep each other on track in our faith, reminding each other of who Jesus is, what he’s done and what he wants from us. Lying about our selves might destroy trust, but if we’re lying about God, about Jesus, then the core of our unity is lost!
That means each of us needs to work on knowing what the truth is. We need to press on reading God’s word, maybe even studying it together. That might mean coming along to KYB on Tuesday, or our Wednesday communion service where we’re having a simple Bible study. Small groups are a great place to build relationships, and to study God’s word so that we can speak the truth, in love, to one another.
Next Paul tells us to be angry! Which seems strange, because in verse 31 he tells us to put away anger! And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that being angry with our brother or sister is tantamount to murder! Why then does Paul say ‘be angry’ in verse 26? It comes down to the three qualifications that follow.
The first qualification is ‘be angry but do not sin’. We need to be on guard that our anger doesn’t come from spite, jealously, malice, from our own sinful desires or thoughts. We need to be careful there’s not a sinful or selfish element to our anger!
The second qualification is one we often hear at weddings. New husbands and wives are advised to not go to bed angry. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger Paul says. That’s not to say that it’s OK to be angry right up to sunset! No, it’s a warning not to dwell in our anger. We shouldn’t let it fester or simmer away. If we do it won’t be long before it consumes us.
Finally, we’re not to give the devil a foothold. How happy Satan must be when we’re angry with each other! It’s impossible for us to grow together in love the way God wants us to, if we’re too busy being angry with each other!
If we are to be angry, it’s to be angry like God. Angry at sin and unrighteousness. We’re to be slow to anger, but quick to forgive. We must remember that God didn’t dwell in his anger, but through his great love for us, sent his Son to die for us that we might be forgiven.
Working to share
Paul’s third instruction is that thieves should stop stealing. In a society without welfare or social security, those in need would often have to resort to stealing. But now Paul says, they should find honest work and work hard! Hopefully none of us here are thieves. And I’m sure that we’re all hard workers. So this aspect of being well dressed shouldn’t be a challenge.
But notice for a moment that we’re not just to work for ourselves? It’s also so that we can provide for those in need! Our wealth isn’t ours alone. We’re to work hard, in order to care for our family, our church family! We wouldn’t be great witnesses to the world, if we ourselves are well fed, but there’s need within the church.
Taming our Mouths
Paul returns to our mouths, when he says that our words should be used to build each other up and not tear one another down. In Matthew 12, Jesus said that all our words come straight from the heart and so we’ll have to give an account for every careless and stray word we utter. Likewise James points to the power of our tongues in James 3:1-12.
Evil talk here could be that which is rotten, dishonest, unkind, vulgar, or anything that we say that hurts others. It’s easy isn’t it, for our littlest comments to be critical. Instead we need to think before we speak. We need to ask ourselves, is what I’m about to say going to build up others? Is it going to give grace to those who hear?
Not Grieving the Holy Spirit
Over all these other instructions, Paul says we’re not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Back in chapter 1, right in first sermon, we looked at how the Holy Spirit has been given as a sign and seal of the promises that we have. God’s Spirit dwells within us. How much must it grieve God when we sin? When God’s hard work within us is undone?
And as we’ve seen since then the Spirit is at work uniting us in Christ. How much more must it grieve God when we tear each other apart? When we dismantle what he has assembled? When we work for disunity? Our lives are to be lived pleasing to God, not distressing him!
Be the Best Dressed
Verses 31-5:2 summarises all these instructions. As we take off our old clothes, we’re to put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander and all malice. The list works from the inside out, from our hearts and thoughts, to our words and actions. All of these things will tear apart our unity. They’re to have no place among us as a church, were we’re seeking to be built into one body, marked by unity and purity.
Instead we’re to be clothed in love, being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving. We’ve heard in this sermon series of how we’re now in Christ, that on the last day, God will look upon us and see him instead. On the last day, instead of George Hemmings, with his long list of sins and failings, God will see his Son, Jesus Christ. I’m clothed in Christ now.
You might not realize this, but that’s part of the significance of what I’m wearing now. It’s so that when you look at me, you’ll be reminded that this is how God sees you. Clothed in white, washed clean in the blood of the lamb.
Not only is this how God sees us, it’s how the rest of the world should see us too. Not that I’m recommending you walk around town in white robes! When others look at us, they shouldn’t see you or me. Instead they should see Jesus Christ. We’re his representatives in the world. We’re to imitate God, so that when others see us, they see him.
As we live as a body, we should help each other to be well dressed, to look our best. Let’s dress to impress – impress the world that God is our God, that we are his people, that we are Christ’s body!