THE PRINCIPLES OF NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.
The passage we looked at last time was contrasting the old life before faith in Christ with the new life of faith in Christ. Paul talked about having put off the old self and put on the new self.
Very often the kinds of clothes a person wears gives an indication of the kind of person they are. Often people with special functions wear special clothes. Soldiers, nurses, police officers and fire-fighters wear uniform – judges and other legal people wear robes and wigs – When I left the army I took off my uniform and I put on my civvies. My new role required new clothing.
In a similar way it is the same for Christians – we are a new creation in Christ – and because of our new life in Christ there needs to be a new lifestyle. That change that has taken place on the inside needs to have an out working in our behaviour and attitudes. This is why Paul begins v.25 with the word ‘Therefore…’ He is doing what he so often does, moving from elevated theological thoughts down to the everyday outworking of that theology in our relationships with people.
Holiness and purity is not some mystical other worldly experience that we often associate with canonised saints. Theology and practice, belief and behaviour are two sides of the same coin and should never be separated. Godliness and purity are to have their outworking in every day practical situations. Showing kindness, love and concern; being honest, hard-working and generous. These are the things by which to judge Christlikeness.
In the following passage Paul is going to give us some concrete examples of how this new life we have received must be lived out day by day. In all of them he gives the negatives that need to be avoided and the positives that need to be pursued.
Let’s have a look at the examples Paul gives under the following 6 headings:
- NOT LYING BUT TRUTH-TELLING.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. (NIV)
Ever since the fall of mankind and sin entered the world, lying has been part of human behaviour.
ILLUS.: Cain and Abel – after Cain had killed Abel God asks him where Abel is. “I don’t know.. “he replies. He knew exactly where Abel was.
The purpose of lying is to deceive and Satan is the archetypal liar – He is the one who lied to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And thus for a Christian to continue a life characterised by lies is to follow the Devil pattern. A person who continually follows a pattern of lies and deception shows himself to be a child of the Devil and not a child of God.
John 8:44 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (NIV)
Lying covers a whole host of things – it is not simply direct falsehood but includes things like exaggeration, flattery, betraying a confidence, making false promises.
Maybe one of the most common forms that Christians fall into, often without thinking – and I know that I have been guilty of this – We say to someone in need, “I will pray for you.” – and then promptly forget or most often were not really interested enough in the person’s problem to pray anyway. In which case don’t promise to pray for the person!!
Lying and deception is so much part of life that we accept it as the norm. If everyone was truthful there would be no need for legal contracts – Imagine what life would be like if politicians always told the truth!!
Jesus said, “I am the Truth!” and as Christians we are “in Christ” and therefore need to reflect the character of Christ – truthfulness is a Christians characteristic. Paul is not simply suggesting that we avoid lies but that we actively pursue truth-telling.
The Christian community should be known as honest and reliable and a people who can be trusted. Sadly this is not always the case – we have all hear stories of people who trade under the Christian banner and whose practices are sometimes anything but Christian. Such things should not be.
The reason Paul gives is that we are not only neighbours in a general sense but we are related to each other as family. He brings us back to the fact that the church is the body of Christ. If we are going to have true fellowship there needs to be trust and there can be no trust unless it is based on truth. Lies destroy fellowship BUT truth strengthens it.
Does this mean that we are required to tell everything we know?!! Not at all! Truth-telling is not in opposition to keeping a confidence or a legitimate secret. We should never withhold information with the purpose of misleading.
ILLUS.: Like the ship’s Captain who entered into the Log every third or forth day that the 1st mate was NOT drunk today. The first mate was dismissed. The Captain failed to enter that the 1st Mate was sober every day.
- NOT SINFUL BUT RIGHTEOUS ANGER.
Ephesians 4:26-27 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. (NIV)
It is quite clear from the Bible that there are two kinds of anger – one that is sinful and one that is not.
ILLUS.: Jesus was very angry when the people used the Temple of God in Jerusalem as a market place. [Matthew 21:12]
Clearly there is good anger – maybe in the world in which we live Christians need to be more angry and not so complacent and apathetic. If evil aroused Christ’s anger surely it should arouse ours. Should we not be angry when we see children being abused or neglected – when the poor are exploited by the rich – — God hates sin and his people should too. Yes, God is loving and kind but he is also angry with sinners – maybe if we had a better view of God’s holiness and sin’s awfulness we would feel more of the kind of anger that God feels instead of being indifferent to so much.
God’s anger is always righteous but human anger is not always righteous therefore Paul gives three qualifiers:-
- do not sin – anger that is sin is that which is self-defensive and self-serving. A kind of selfish anger that is vindictive, spiteful and held in a spirit of revenge.
- do not let the sun go down on your anger – even if we are justifiably angry it is all too easy for our anger to sour and to degenerate into resentment. Paul does not, of course, mean that if you live in the Arctic Circle where the sun does not set in the summer that you can be angry until the summer ends! NO! The meaning is clear – do not go to bed angry – do not allow your anger to fester and become a barrier to fellowship. ILLUS.: If this is true anywhere then it is true in marriage – You get into bed and turn your back on your spouse and pretend to be asleep – sort it out – it is usually pride that hinders us from saying “I am sorry”.
- do not give opportunity to the devil – the devil knows that there is a fine line between righteous and unrighteous anger – if he can move us over the line and provoke in us hatred and resentment and thus disrupt and destroy fellowship then he will. He says “Go on, you are in the right, you can be angry – that person should not have done that – don’t go and sort it out . Just remember what they did and don’t get too close to them so you can’t get hurt again…..” Don’t allow Satan to use you for his own ungodly purposes.
- NOT STEALING BUT SHARING.
Ephesians 4:28 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. (NIV)
Stealing has become endemic in our society – shoplifting is very high – pilfering by staff is a great cause of loss to companies
ILLUS.: When I worked and Sotherbys the workers used to leave the workshop in the evenings with an amazing array of stuff – wood – paint – fittings etc…
This was in response to the bosses making huge amount on share options.
Stealing happens on a grand scale between companies – inflating prices – hiding costs .. there are many ways. Employers are guilty when they exploit their workers – low pay and long hours for the vulnerable. It happens with employees – over claiming on expenses – using the work telephone etc.. more than is allowable – using work time for personal things ……
ILLUS.: the father who complained to the school that his child pencils etc. had been stolen “It is the principle of the matter, not the cost of the pencils etc., I get those from work!!”
For many today stealing is simply a game in which getting caught is the only cause for regret or shame.
The situation is Paul’s day was similar – slave and servants stealing from their masters and masters exploiting their servants thus he urges them to stop stealing and to share.
It is God’s plan that those who are able to work should do so. Now we know that there are times when some can not work – maybe they are ill, maybe there is not work, maybe they are too old …. Those who are able to work should do so in order to help those who are in need.
We are fortunate in this country to have a social security system but I fear that it has made the Church somewhat complacent in her social responsibilities.
For many in our society and also in the Church the purpose for working harder and harder is to get more. BUT Paul’s injunction is to work hard in order to share with those who are in need.
In our selfish materialistic society Christians should be setting an example – May God help us to do so!!
- NOT HURTFUL BUT HELPFUL SPEECH.
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. (NIV)
The ability to communicate is a gift from God – we are made in the image of God and because God speaks we can speak. Speech is one of the things that distinguishes us from the animals – cows moo – dogs bark – birds sing but it is only people who speak!
The word used for “Unwholesome” is sapros that means corrupt, foul – it was used to describe rotten food. It refers to all those things like profanity, dirty stories, vulgarity etc. It also includes gossip, negative criticism, speech that breaks down rather than builds up. These things should not be part of the Christian’s speech.
Of course none of us are perfect and God is working with all of us – and we must not expect a young Christian to behaviour like a mature one. We come to Christ as we are and then he begins to change us – God understands where we are coming from.
ILLUS.: My college Prof. when working on a shop floor led a rough character to the Lord who prayed for the first time “God thank you for what you have done for me you are a bloody good guy!”
God understands that and I am sure that such a prayer pleases him far more than some pious platitudes utter by a sanctimonious do-gooder!
Jesus taught the speech was of great significance because the words we speak reveal what is inside of us.
33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
We need to be careful how we speak because God will hold us to account on the day of judgement.
36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. (NIV)
James warns of the power of the tongue – it has power to do immense good and immense evil. Words can cut you down – I have seen children wither when a parent has said “You stupid child”
What a delight when people use words to encourage and edify. “Well done!” “I am praying for you”
The wisdom of the proverbs is very perceptive Proverbs 12:18 18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (NIV)
A helpful test before we speak – especially about other people – “Is it true, kind and necessary!”
- NOT GRIEVING BUT PLEASING THE SPIRIT.
Ephesians 4:30 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (NIV)
This is one of many verses in the scriptures that indicate to us that the Holy Spirit is a person – the HS is HE and not IT. He has a will, intellect, feelings, he can teach and guide and give new life. He can also be lied to, insulted, tested and blasphemed as well as being grieved.
Paul is constantly aware that behind the actions of people there are invisible forces at work. That does not mean that we are not responsible for our actions – we are! We can never say “It is not my fault, the devil made me do it!” Paul has already warned about giving no opportunity to the devil [v.27] and now he urges us not to cause the HS pain and distress by attitudes and action that are incompatible with the life of a Christian.
By pointing out that we are sealed for the day of redemption, Paul is touching the beginning and end of the Christian life. Our whole Christian life is the product of the HS’s work. He convicts and convinces of sin and the need of salvation and brings us to God. Then he is the one who keeps us “sealed” until the work he began at our salvation is culminated in our safe arrival into eternity – when our redemption of both body and soul will be complete. There will be no more aches and pains – no more sorrow – Paul will have a new body and will be able to run and jump and raise his arms in praise to God!!
Until that time we are to the HS is working to make us like Jesus – therefore he hates disharmony and lies and impurity. Thus Paul urges us not to grieve the Holy Spirit.
Paul now continues with more guidelines on how NOT to grieve the HS.
- NOT HARMFUL BUT HOLY ATTITUDES.
Ephesians 4:31-32 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. (NIV)
Paul is in many ways summarising what he has just said above. Let me simply describe these attitudes that he lists.
- Bitterness – The intent of this word is a brooding resentment – A person who has always got a chip on their shoulder about something. This is sometime true of elderly people – that is why it is so refreshing to greet someone who in spite of life’s pains is not bitter.
- Wrath – wild outbursts of passionate rage.
- Anger – similar to wrath but instead of wild outburst a smouldering internal hostility.
- Brawling – describes the kind of people who are easily excited and start shouting and screaming and raise their voices in quarrel. If that is how a Christian family behaves then their neighbours are not going to be drawn to their faith.
- Slander – [from the word blasphëmia] it means speaking evil about other people – usually behind their backs. ILLUS.: Ethel Barret has a lovely cartoon in her book on James – Two people on the telephone and the one says to the other “Mary isn’t home right now, would you like to leave a rumour!”
- Malice – is an attitude that wishes and maybe even plots evil against other people.
It is bad enough when these attitudes are manifest in society at large but when they are evident in the Church God’s heart is grieved and his name is dishonoured in the community. God never condones in the believer what he condemns in the non-believer!!
Do you have attitudes towards others that you know are not right? Has someone irritated you to the point where you now avoid them? Has someone hurt you and now you hold a grudge against them? If there is someone in the fellowship that you have fallen out with – sort it out because if you continue to harbour these harmful attitudes it is not only yourself you are harming BUT also the fellowship and you are hindering the Spirit’s work in your own life and in the life of the church.
In place of these harmful attitudes we need holy ones that are characteristic of Christ himself. They way we treat others should be a reflection of the way God has treated us in Christ. He has been kind and compassionate and forgiving towards us – he has not treated us as we deserve to be treated.
He expects us to treat each other in the same way. Just as children copy their parents so we, as God’s children, are to copy our heavenly Father thus demonstrating that we are his children.
Of course we can’t be perfect BUT that does not mean that we can’t improve and become more and more Christlike – we can, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit in us as we co-operate with him and seek by his enabling power to follow Christ and be like him.
PRINCIPLES OF NEW LIFE IN CHRIST
Ephesians 4:25 – 32
Christian life characterised by Ê
- Not lying but truth-telling [v 25]
- Not sinful but righteous anger [v 26-27]
Ä do not sin
Ä do not harbour anger
Ä do not let the devil in
- Not stealing but sharing [v 28]
- Not hurtful but helpful speech [v29]
- Not grieving but pleasing the Spirit [v30]
- Not harmful but holy attitudes [v31-32]
wrath | instead
anger | kindness
brawling | compassion
slander | forgiveness
malice | Christlikeness