Title: Rules for Grateful Living Part 1 (Eph 4:17-32)
By: Bert Amsing (1992)
This morning we have had the privilege to witness the baptism of Daniel Clay. At the same time, we have officially welcomed Bob and Elizabeth Clay into our church. Daniel is now part of the Covenant and the whole family is part of our fellowship.
In the first part of chapter 4 of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks about what it means to be part of the Fellowship of the Saints. He talked about the need for Unity as well as diversity. But it was all rather General. Here in our passage, Paul starts to get into some details about what life looks like in The Fellowship of the Saints.
This is not a word of the Lord just for the Clay family but for all of us in the fellowship. Baptism reminds us all of the times when our own children were baptized. We know that baptism makes no sense if none of the parents are truly Christian.
A large part of what it means to be a part of the Covenant is that we see, as children, examples of godly living in our own parents, our teachers, and our friends, who make up our fellowship.
Therefore, let us all listen carefully to Paul as he gives us the details of what godly living looks like. Our children are depending on us to get it straight.
Paul Begins by saying in verse 17, “so I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.”
The Christian life is not just a matter of getting the doctrine right, it’s a matter of lifestyle, a lifestyle that arises and grows out of right doctrine or beliefs. Paul “insists” that a godly lifestyle be the hallmark of every Christian fellowship. He insists “in the Lord” with all the power of his apostolic office. This is to be taken seriously and the Church must also insist that godly living be the normal lifestyle of its members.
After all, you don’t really want to live as the Gentiles do, as non-believers do, do you?
Listen to Paul’s description of the lifestyle of non-believers. It sounds like people living in the twentieth century. How do these non-believers live?
Paul says they live, “in the futility of their thinking.” Their lives are futile. Their work is futile. They’re thinking, their view of life, and their understanding of reality are futile. Some people know it and some don’t. Futility, worthlessness, lack of purpose and meaning, this is what cause people to drink, use drugs, commit suicide, or be entirely selfish and dedicated to pleasure. Why not? After all, life is futile. Futility is not what we want to pass on to our children.
Paul says that “their understanding is darkened.” They have a haze in their minds. They can’t put the “two plus two” of life together. The puzzle does not fit. They don’t see the light. They don’t see the truth about the world and God.
They are “separated from the life of God.” They wouldn’t know what the life of God was if it hit them between the eyes. If they see a hint of the life of God in us, they laugh and ridicule or they ignore it and are not interested. Their minds are dark, their lives are a far cry from Godly living and they are ignorant of it all. They don’t even realize it.
But just before we begin to feel sorry for them, Paul adds a whole other dimension to the discussion. He says that all of this is due to “the hardening of their hearts.”
We, humans, are just that way. We would rather be kings of our own futile, common, darkened lives than children of the life of God. When God speaks through creation or through his word, they turn their backs and plug their ears, and hardened their hearts. It’s a matter of pride and rebellion. Half of them wouldn’t be caught dead in church and the other half are just too busy or not interested.
The longer they ignore God, the more they entrench themselves in ungodly living, the worse it gets. Movie stars, the rich and the famous, they’ve all proved it over and over again. The more they give themselves over to sensuality, the more they lose their moral sensitivity. They commit moral suicide over and over again until their seared conscience no longer functions.
Paul says two things happened at that point. On the one hand, they become creative in their sins wanting to try every kind of impurity. And yet on the other hand, not finding the satisfaction they need, they have a continual lust for more.
Not everyone is that far gone. Paul simply gives us a picture of where many people logically end up when their hearts are hardened towards God.
Is that the kind of lifestyle we want our kids to imitate? Remember the old saying, “more is caught by our kids than taught.” Even as good church-going people we ought to be careful that our own lives are rooted and established in Christ. The greatest gift you can give your child is to deepen your own relationship with God. They will catch godly living from you much better that way.
Paul says, “you, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him, and we’re taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”
Simply put, Jesus Christ never lived that way, nor did he teach that way. If we are disciples of Jesus we will put off that way of life and have our attitudes toward life made new by the teaching of Jesus Christ and we will put on a whole new lifestyle, a whole new character, that is truly holy and righteous like God is.
What exactly does true righteousness and holiness look like?
It looks like Jesus! It acts like Jesus! It has the same priorities as Jesus had!
Okay but sometimes we need some practical advice as to how to deal with certain sins we might be prone to. Does the Bible give us any help there?
Paul certainly does right here in this passage. He talks about a number of things that we have to struggle with, and he gives a godly solution and reason for it. It’s not a complete list but it is helpful.
First of all, lying.
Some of us are notorious liars. We manipulate the facts to put ourselves in a better light, to hurt someone we’re angry with, to gain an advantage in some way. In some circles, lying is expected and people would think you were lying even if you were telling the truth. Paul insists, and our children expect, that we will put off falsehood and learn to speak truthfully. After all, we are part of the same body.
Some of us have notorious tempers. Paul quotes from Psalm 4:4 to say, “in your anger do not sin.” Sometimes anger is legitimate.
We ought to get a bit more angry at the sin in our life, we ought to be a bit more angry at the injustices that evil people do to one another, a bit more anger at abortion-on-demand, a bit more anger at the exploitation of the poor sometimes by our own governments, a bit more anger at ourselves for our weakness for material things even though great numbers of people die every day because they don’t have the basic necessities of life.
Anger at our justice system, anger at our soft approach to drunk drivers, anger at the glorification of violence and sex on our TVs. Anger that should motivate us to do something about it instead of sitting on our duffs in our comfortable pews.
But not all of our anger is righteous anger.
Most of it is rather unrighteous and tainted with sin. Paul’s advice is to deal with it quickly. “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Not only won’t you sleep very well anyway, but if you don’t deal with it quickly, you probably won’t deal with it at all, and bitterness and resentment will take root and choke your godly lifestyle. Don’t let the devil get a foothold in your life. Say you’re sorry and mean it. Kiss and make-up. Pay the damages. Swallow your pride. Deal with it.
Some of us are notorious thieves. Whether it be the change from Dad’s pockets or pencils from work, whether it be actual money or time that belongs to the boss. Whether it be someone else’s car or her ideas, it’s all stealing. Paul seems to speak here of the common thief that finds it more productive to steal for a living than to work.
Interesting isn’t it that Paul gives us one reason for working as “having something to share with those in need.” Rather than stealing, share. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” or take for that matter.
Some of us have not yet learned to clean up our language. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth. Obviously, this takes some discipline. Unwholesome talk can be dirty language or clean gossip. The point is that it tears down rather than builds up. It does not benefit people.
Paul summarizes by saying, “do not grieve the holy spirit of God.” Godly living is not just a matter of dos and don’ts. It’s a matter of learning to live with a holy God. He wants to walk with you through life in true holiness and righteousness. Sin drives him away, love and godly living bring him near.
Finally, Paul gives a last piece of general advice. You can go to an expensive psychologist and he will tell you the same thing. Paul does it for free. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” These things only give you ulcers and heart attacks. They corrupt the soul and make you miserable.
The only solution is the power of God in your life which can help you to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other. Every time you feel the beginnings of bitterness, God can help you to forgive. Rage and anger can be turned into compassion. Brawling and slander can be turned into kindness by the power of God.
Let forgiveness affect every relationship you have. Christ died for the sin against you that you’re so angry about. The one who causes you to be bitter sins also against God. God is ready to forgive, are you? Do not grieve the spirit of God by refusing to forgive and give your hurt over to God. He understands whether anybody else does or not. There is power in godly living because we are living with God we are not on our own. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the details of the godly life.
It would be good for us to spend some time studying the practical advice Paul gives in a number of different places. Every week we should measure our lives to see whether they are truly holy or not.
Our children depend on it, and it is our duty to our covenant family. Even grateful lives need rules and guidelines. Even Christian freedom needs direction.
What legacy will you leave your children or the children of this church that look up to you? None of us can hide.
What legacy will Bob and Liz leave for Daniel?
A legacy of love I am sure and a legacy of godly living as well.