Putting on your Church Clothes 2

Maarch 4th, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

 Ephesians 4:29-5:4

Make no mistake, you’re different! When you became a Christian, believing all the claims of Christ – that He is God’s Son, who died and rose again, and who forgave your sins – you became different, with a new identity in Christ. It’s from that new identity, Paul tells us should result in new attitudes and behaviors we are to “clothe” ourselves with “taking off” anything else.

Last week we put on honesty, resolution, and generosity. This week we add encouragement, forgiveness, and thanksgiving. These aren’t just nice ideas, but the only way we can be “imitators of God.” So, get ready for some Spring cleaning, so that we are fully dressed in the Christ-like characteristics He desires for our good…because He loves us!

Three Additional Pieces of Clothing for the New Self in Christ
I. Encouragement: God bless the encouragers…in our families, our jobs, and in this church! Don’t speak words that tear down or cause damage. These are the type of words that are “rotten” by nature, good for nothing. Do speak words that are beneficial, constructive, and good for something. Even difficult words–given lovingly–can encourage and edify another. Harmful words grieve the Holy Spirit causing him to withdraw–an effect we never want to lose.
II. Forgiveness: When we are mistreated, or in conflict, Paul says to respond like Christ, giving out better treatment than we get from others. Any other response may begin with a general attitude of bitterness, but by nature, escalate to a flash of rage, a vengeful anger, a shouting brawl or cussing out! Better to stop before any response tempts you to further escalation. This means to seek grace instead of justice, to release instead of keeping score. For when we forgive, that is when we are most like God.
III. Thanksgiving: Give thanks for the gift of sex! Sex was given to us by a loving, generous, faithful Creator who has our best interest at heart. As Christians, we are not to abuse it, not even to joke about such matters, but we are to be thankful. (More on why next week!)

Think about it, God’s provision is for our good. All these things: honesty, resolution, generosity, encouragement, forgiveness, and sex within marriage are all God’s gift to us! Christians are called to walk in these ways—displaying the gospel to all by our actions according to our identity in Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1. How are words rotten like a “squeaker” fish – good for nothing? Name a time when certain words moved you to a positive thought or action. Or, vice versa.
  2. God was first to encourage and forgive by loving us through his son Jesus. How does this loving act motivate your responses?
  3. Which of these three traits (or garments) are easier to “put on” or “take off” for you? Explain.
  4. Share an example when your identity in Christ stopped an “escalation” in your response to a conflict. In what way did you sense the Holy Spirit moving?  
  5. If we feel we have grieved the Holy Spirit, what should be our first response? Why is this act so important?
  6. Discuss how we “put on” these traits and “take off” the old. What does that process look like in your life right now? How can we as small group members help each other in this process?
  7. (Yes, our pastor discussed sex in church!) What culture may consider outdated, is not as God says in his living Word. Explore how God’s provisions are intended to give us life.

Introduction

We are continuing today in our study of Ephesians 4-5 called “Walk this Way.” We are in the middle of a three week section of that study where Paul is telling us to put on our “Church Clothes” – not the physical clothes that we wore to church today, but the attitudes and actions that we as Christians should put on and clothe ourselves with as a result of our new identity.

When you placed your trust in Christ, whether you knew it or not, whether you felt it or not, your whole identity changed. It may have seems like a small thing to you, when you chose to say “Yes, I really do believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for me and rose again. Yes, I really do believe that he can forgive my sins, and I want what he has to offer.” Maybe that didn’t seem like a huge decision to you. Maybe you made that decision as a child or you’re not even sure when you made it. Or maybe it did seem like a big decision to you!

But either way, that simple decision to trust Christ changed your identity completely. You became a Christian. You became alive to God in a way that you never were before! You became a member of a new family! God’s Spirit began to live inside of you. You came under a New Covenant that we just celebrated in the Lord’s Table a covenant with continual grace.

Your identity changed! So much so that the Bible says “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away. The new has come.” Your identity changed! That change is meant to work its way through your whole life from your identity – to your thinking, to the way you talk and act! It may have seemed like a small decision, but it brings big change.

It’s like my daughter Elisabeth. In March of 2012, she made what seemed at the time to be a small decision. I can still remember the moment. I was watching Kansas play NC State in the NCAA Tournament, and the game was almost over. When Elisabeth, who wasn’t watching the game because she didn’t care at all about sports, came down. Said she had checked her email and that she got accepted at UNC Chapel Hill. I was glad for her, but it didn’t seem like that huge of a deal. I remember thinking “Oh, that’s nice! You’ll get a good education there. You’ll enjoy your four years.” Little did I know that on that day something major happened. Elisabeth’s identity changed. She became a Tarheel!  I saw that change work itself out as I saw my baby girl go from this (picture 1) to this (picture 2) to this (picture 3). I saw her identity, her thinking, her behavior, her clothing all change! She went from not knowing or caring about sports at all to singing the Alma Mater and screaming at the refs on TV and knocking on wood any time anyone said anything positive about UNC. It’s scary! Some of you wonder why I sort of cheer for UNC. It’s because I’m afraid not to! What seemed like a little decision had a big impact!

Paul’s saying that’s the way it is with us. With our decision to trust Christ, our identity changed! In today’s passage, Paul is telling us how that identity should show up in the thinking and behavior that we put on, that we clothe ourselves with as Christians. Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4:29-5:4.

Now as we come to this passage, let me remind you that this is sermon two in this passage about our church clothes. Last week, we noted a couple of things about this section of Ephesians that we are in. First, we noted that in this section Paul follows a very strict pattern: He always gives us:

  1. A Don’t – something that we are not to do, something that we are to take off
  2. A Do – something that we are to do or put on
  3. A Reason that helps us understand why we should do it

So there’s always that pattern. Secondly, we noted that in this section Paul is going to discuss six different areas, six things that should characterize us as Christians, six traits that we should clothe ourselves with. Last week we looked at the first three of these six things: honesty, resolution and generosity. With each of these, we looked at the Don’t, the Do and the Reason.

Now this week, what we are going to do is this. We are going to look at the remaining three items on Paul’s list.  On the first two, we will look at the Don’t, the Do and the Reason. On the last one, we will look at the Don’t and the Do, but we will leave the Reason for next week.

If that confused you, that was for the process people. The rest of you, don’t worry about it. Let’s just get into today’s passage! So let’s read Ephesians 4:29-5:4. Remember, Paul is halfway through the six things we are to clothe ourselves with. He’s already told us to:

* Take off falsehood and put on honesty

* To take off sinful anger, and put on resolution

* Take off theft and put on generosity.

Now he tells us this:

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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Get rid of (or literally “take off”) all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

– Ephesians 4:29-5:4

Let’s talk about these last three attributes or characteristics that we are to put on as Christians.  Paul has told us to put on Honesty, Resolution and Generosity. Now he continues and the first thing. He tells us to put on:

Encouragement

Paul says this:

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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

– Ephesians 4:29-5:4

Now once again we can see that Paul is following his pattern: There is a Don’t here, and a Do, and a reason. Let’s look at the Don’t first. Paul says:

Don’t Speak Harmful Words

Don’t speak words that tear down, don’t speak corrupting words, don’t speak discouraging,  damaging critical negative words. Don’t speak them. Your identity has changed, so you can take that type of speaking off, like you would take off an old shirt (winter coat!)

Paul says don’t speak harmful words. The word Paul uses in his original language is the word “sapros.” It’s translated different ways. The New International Version, which I just read, has “unwholesome.” Some translations say “corrupting” or “harmful.” The word actually means “rotten” – like bad by nature, not nice. This is the word used in the gospels, when Jesus said “A bad tree, a rotten tree, can’t produce good fruit.” It’s the word Jesus used in a parable called “The parable of the great fish net” where Jesus says “They threw the bad fish away.” The idea is that this is a nasty fish. It’s not just that it’s gone bad. It’s that it is bad. It’s a fish that nobody wants. It’s not good for anything.

When I went to Zimbabwe a few weeks ago, I got to go fishing on the Zambezi River with my friend Phil. I knew that trip was coming up. I looked forward to it for weeks! What I was pretty sure we would catch is this: (Fish Slide 1) This is a tilapia, like you get at restaurants. They’re good to eat!  I thought we would catch this (Fish slide 2). This is a tigerfish. They’re fun to catch, because they fight really hard! But the river was super-muddy, so what I caught was this (fish slide 3).

This is what is called a squeaker. It’s a nasty little fish. They only get about this big. You can’t eat them. They’re dirty. Most of the ones I caught were gray, but there was one that was black and a couple that were a nasty, jaundiced yellow color. Some were missing an eye. They don’t fight hard. The only thing they are really good at is stabbing you when you try to take them off the hook,  because they have these super-sharp, barbed, slightly poisonous spines in their fins. Squeakers are bad, nasty, unwholesome fish. Nobody really wants them.

Some conversations are real squeakers. They’re unwholesome. They really don’t do anyone any good. They just tear people down. Some words are squeakers – gossip, criticism, complaint,  provoking words, dividing words, murmuring, negative conversations that spread division or discouragement or strife in your church or your workplace or your home. Paul is just saying  “Christians. Don’t do that. Live out your new identity.” The Don’t is “Don’t speak harmful words. The Do is this:

Do Encourage

Do speak words that are beneficial! Paul says “Speak words that are helpful for building others up.” The word he uses here is “domeo.” An “oikos” was a house and domeo means to build something up, so it literally means speak words that build the house. The idea is just that these are constructive words! These are words that are good for something! Words that build up. That edify.  They are beneficial words.

That doesn’t always mean “Words that make people happy.” Sometimes building other people up means having the difficult conversation. Sometimes we have to say hard things to build people up.  But whatever we say must be said lovingly. There’s a time to speak difficult words, but that time is not most of the time. Most of the time we should be encouraging others. Do encourage!

I want you to hear me very clearly. God bless the encouragers! If you are one of those people who frequently speaks words of encouragement, may God bless you! You are the unsung heroes of the church! I’m serious! When we get to the end of this thing and we all stand before the Lord, I think he’s going to have some special and unexpected things to say to those who spoke words of encouragement and to those who spoke words of discouragement! But God bless the encouragers!

Harvard Business Review published a study where they went into a large company and they tracked the success of 60 teams within that company. They looked at how much money they made,  at customer satisfaction, and at the way the team reviewed themselves. Some were very successful. Some were not successful at all. Do you know what the single greatest predictor of success was? The ratio of positive to negative comments that the team made to each other. The most successful teams averaged about six positive comments to each negative comment that was made. Middle of the road teams averaged less than two positive to each negative. The least successful teams made about three negative comments to every encouraging comment. Encouragement matters! God bless the encouragers.

Let me say we have them at this church! I am so thankful for the encouragement that I have received from some of you over the months and years. Many times you spoke a word of encouragement that, unbeknownst to you, was perfectly timed. In fact while I was working on this sermon, I had a funny thing happen. I was working on this point on the importance of encouragement, and this text pops up on my phone from Ricky Tharrington (one of our leadership team members). It just says “Time for Coffee today?” I thought “Uh-oh, is something wrong?” Before I could respond, he texts back “Lots of good stuff. Wanted to share.” I called him up, and he said “I just wanted to encourage you!” I said “Guess what sermon point I’m working on right now Ricky, for once you are a positive sermon illustration! How did you know?” He said “I guess the Holy Spirit is alive and well!”

Blessed are the encouragers in our families, at our jobs, in this church. Who do you see here today that could use some encouragement? Make up your mind that you are going to speak to them before you leave today. The Don’t is “Don’t speak harmful words.” The Do is do encourage. Now the reason is this:

Because harmful words grieve the Holy Spirit

Paul says “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. To grieve someone means to make them sad, to hurt their feelings deeply, like when we experience grief for a loved one. Think of the sadness we feel when we suffer a great loss. We grieve. Think of the sadness you have felt when someone spoke words to you that devastated you, words that let you know they really didn’t want what you have to offer. That grieves us!

Do you know what makes the Holy Spirit grieve? Divisive talk. Disunity. Because the Spirit is the “One Spirit”. Remember that? There is one Spirit. The Spirit is the One who baptized us all into one Body, no matter what our language, or ethnicity, or gender, or age, or nationality is one Body. The Spirit is the One who gave us Spiritual Gifts that are complementary. Paul says he “Gives them as he wills.” They are meant to work together, so that when we are all together and all doing our part, amazing things can happen.

The Spirit has worked hard to lay the groundwork for our unity, to make us one. So he takes divisive talk, harmful words, very, very seriously. It grieves him. It causes him to withdraw from a church’s gatherings.

We don’t ever want that to happen here at Perry Creek. I’ve had more than one person come into our worship service and say “I actually feel God’s presence when your church is gathered here in this gym.” We don’t ever want to lose that.

We don’t want to speak harmful words. We want to encourage. So the first thing Paul tells us to put on today is Encouragement. The second thing is:

Forgiveness

If you were here last week, Paul brushed up against this issue when he talked about anger and not letting the sun go down on your wrath. Now he’s going to deal with it in detail. Look at:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

– Ephesians 4:29-5:2

Now we can see that this issue of forgiveness runs from 4:31-5:2. Because Paul is following his pattern again, he gives us a Don’, a Do and a Reason:

* The Don’t is in verse 31: Don’t take revenge

* The Do is in verse 32: Do forgive

* The Reason is in verse 5:1-2: Because we are most like God when we forgive

Let’s look at these: Like I said, the Don’t is:

Don’t Take Revenge

That’s how I would summarize the Don’t here. In verse 32, Paul gives us a long string of words. He says. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. When I first read that like so much in this chapter, it just seemed like a big list of unrelated bad words. Like Paul was just randomly drawing bad words out of a hat and forbidding them! So I couldn’t see the rhyme or reason for this list.

But then I read someone who said “No all the words on this list actually fit together. They all relate to retaliation, and each one escalates.” It’s an escalating list of ways that you would respond to mistreatment or conflict.

Maybe you have one of those in your home or marriage an escalating response. I once heard about a married couple that had not had a fight in 60 years. Finally, someone decided to interview them and said “What’s your secret?” The Husband said “Well, while we were on our honeymoon,  we decided to go horseback riding. While we were riding, my wife’s horse stumbled. She got off, and looked the horse in the eye and said “That’s one.” Then it stumbled again. Same thing she said “That’s two” Then later the horse stumbled again, and she got off the horse and pulled out a gun and just shot it.  I said “Have you lost your mind? That was a perfectly good horse!” She turned and looked me in the eye and said “That’s one.”

Maybe you have one of those lists in your home. Look at what Paul says. It’s hard to see the way the New International Version has translated it, but this is an escalating list. He says get rid of or literally “take off.”

  1. Bitterness, which is a general attitude of unforgiveness
  2. Rage. The word is actually “thumos,” which means a sudden flash of anger – flying off the handle
  3. Anger or Wrath. This is “orge” – a more long-term, vengeful state of mind.
  4. “Brawling” or actually clamor. It means shouting.
  5. The New International Version has “slander,” but the word is actually “blasphemeo” (blaspheme). I think it means here just cussing someone out.
  6. Lastly, take off all malice any ill will, any vengeance of any kind.

You can see that there is this kind of escalating list. It’s like a Defcon chart! What Paul is saying is put away your vengeance, put away your retaliation, put away the attitude behind it, put away the little moments and big moments of anger. Put way the shouting. Put away the cussing. And if I missed anything, put it away too! Just put away all malice. You don’t need it. It’s not going to help. You put it away.

Paul’s message to us is simple. Please hear me, husbands, wives, parents, children, Christians. He’s saying “Don’t take vengeance.” Stop keeping track of all the wrongs your spouse has done to you. Stop trying to get even in big and little ways. Stop the fighting. stop the scheming. Stop the bitterness. That’s who you used to be, but now you have a new identity. Don’t take vengeance, but:  

Do Forgive

Do forgive one another. Paul says:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

– Ephesians 4:32

Paul uses three terms – kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. They all relate to giving out better treatment than we get from others. Paul tells us to be kind and compassionate to one another. That’s so important, isn’t it? I once saw a great quote I’ve never been able to figure out who originally said it, but it is this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That is so true. The everyday people in our lives, the guy who sacks our groceries, the girl who fixes our coffee, our grumpy neighbors, the person next to you in church today. If we only knew the burdens they were carrying, we would be much kinder.

Paul says to forgive one another to let things go. That’s what the normal word for “forgive” in the Bible means. It means to release something, to let it go instead of seeking punishment. The word that Paul uses here means to give someone grace when they mistreat you, rather than giving them justice. Paul says to freely forgive. Don’t use any of the trap-doors we normally use when we talk about forgiveness. I’ve often heard people say “Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting.” I’ve heard people say “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we are reconciled.” Both of those things are true,  but sometimes when we say that, what we’re really saying is “I don’t really want to let this go. I want to get a little bit of vengeance for it.”

We have to forgive. We have to forgive people who have wronged us in irritating little ways and people that have wronged us in big devastating ways. People who have broken our hearts, people who have abused us. We have to forgive them. Maybe you would say “But you don’t understand he really, really hurt me. He meant to hurt me. It will cost a lot to forgive. Why should I forgive rather than take revenge?” The answer is simple. We should not take revenge, but forgive because we are most like God when we forgive. Paul says:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God

– Ephesians 5:1-2

Do you know do you realize what God did for you? God is a God who couldn’t overlook your sin. He couldn’t just pretend that our sin, our disobedience, our rejection of him didn’t exist. His nature is such that he has to demand payment for rebellion and sin. He has to demand a price. But he loved you. He loved you with all of his heart. So he gave that which was most precious to him, the life of his own Son, so that you could be free completely free, no trap doors, no halfway forgiveness. He forgave us when we didn’t deserve it. That’s the way God is. We are never more like him we never look more like his children than when we freely, powerfully, greatly forgive.

When we were in Zimbabwe a few months ago, one of things we got to do when we were on that fishing trip with our friends, Phil and Anita, was just hear their story in detail. They were driven violently off their farm a couple of years ago. So we sat down and said “Just tell us what happened, my friends.” Anita told us how they had been besieged for weeks and how the situation got worse and worse.  She told us how the night before they were driven off some guys had tried to trick Phil into coming outside so they could shoot him in the dark. But he miraculously slept right through it.  She told us how that morning, when he came to the door, four guys had jumped on him, and he had thrown them off, how they finally got him down and put handcuffs on him, and threw him in a truck, and drove him away.

So now, here is Anita. She’s just been involved in this violent scene. They are dragging her husband away and driving off, and she literally doesn’t know where they are taking him or whether she will ever see him alive again. Then she said in the midst of that chaos four guys came into the house and started to go through her stuff. I said “What on earth did you do?” She said “I don’t know how I did this, but I went to each one of them and laid my hands on them and I prayed for them.” She forgave them. Do you have any idea how proud I think Anita’s heavenly Father was of her at that moment? Do you have any idea how much Anita looked like Jesus in that moment? We are never more like God than when we forgive.

We should put on (1) Encouragement, and we should put on (2) Forgiveness. Now there’s one last thing we should put on, and it is:

Thanksgiving

Actually not just thanksgiving, but a special kind of thanksgiving. I’ll explain what that means in just a second. As we look at this last item, we’re just going to look at the Do and the Don’t. We won’t look at the reason today, because when Paul gives the reason for this last item it is going to go for the next ten verses. It’s going to develop into reasons for doing all of this,  so we’ll look at that next week. Look at what Paul says:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

– Ephesians 5:3-4

So the last area that Paul mentions here is sex. In contrast to the last point, it’s pretty easy to see what he’s getting at in these verses. The Don’t is Don’t abuse the gift of sex. Paul starts by saying “Don’t do anything that God forbids. He says in verse 3 “There must not be a hint of sexual immorality, or impurity or sexual greed.” The three words he uses there – immorality, impurity and greed – pretty much cover any kind of sexual misbehavior. God tells us in Scripture that sexual acts of any kind – of any kind – are only to occur in the context of marriage as an expression of love.

Paul demands that here, but he goes further. In verse 4, he forbids obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking. In other words, Don’t participate in immorality and don’t glorify it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t joke about it. He insists on it. He says there must not be even a hint of that among Christians.

We may hear that and say “Yeah, but that was Bible times! Our society is different. We are sexually liberated. Surely, Paul wouldn’t require that of us!” But he would. Ephesus the city he is writing this letter to was famous for the Temple of Artemis or Diana. She was a fertility goddess, so there was a great deal of temple prostitution and immorality involved in her worship and in Ephesus. Ephesus had as did much of the Graeco-Roman world a reputation for loose morality. Paul still says “Don’t engage in immorality physically, verbally, or mentally. Don’t abuse the gift of sex.” If you know your Bible, that’s not a shocking Don’t. That’s part of the ten commandments. That’s not surprising. But what is surprising is the Do here. Paul says:

Do give thanks for it

By “it,” Paul means one thing – sex.  Look at the context. The Don’t here is all about sex: Don’t misbehave sexually, don’t even joke about it. Then Paul says “Rather, do give thanks.” Just like in all five of the other things, we are to put on the Do is about the same thing as the Don’t.

That means that Paul is telling us that rather than coloring outside the lines, rather than engaging sexually with someone other than our spouse, rather than talking about it and joking about it, we should give thanks. Thanks for the gift of sex within marriage which was given to us by a loving, generous, faithful Creator, who has our best interest at heart. Think about it. If we would only keep sex where God says to keep it, we would enjoy it. There wouldn’t be any disease and every child would start out with two loving parents. It’s for our good. Because of that, we can be thankful.

That’s what I want us to see about all these things that Paul is telling us to put on. Whether it’s honesty or resolution or generosity or encouragement or forgiveness or sex within marriage, it’s all God’s gift to us. It’s all good for us. It’s all a part of our new identity in Christ.

Because of that, we should recognize our true identity and change our thinking to align with it and clothe ourselves with good loving behavior. We should put on our church clothes.