Putting on your Church Clothes

February 25th, 2018
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

 Ephesians 5:25-28

As Christian believers discover their new identity as new creations in Christ, they grow by continually discarding their old self (like old garments), and obeying the transforming power of God’s Spirit. (Ephesians 4: 22,23) As a result, they live more in their new self (like putting on new garments), daily becoming more like Christ Himself, “doing the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do”. (Eph. 2:10)

Paul tells us that there are six ethical areas in Christian relationships (and ultimately all relationships) where we need to live out our new lives in Christ, and this sermon will discuss three of them in Paul’s pattern of what not to do, what to do, and why we should do them. (Ephesians 4:25-28)

May we live in the new clothes Christ died to give each one of us.

Three Pieces of Clothing for the New Self in Christ

  1.  Honesty:  We are to “put off falsehood”, including dishonesty, deceit, misrepresentation, covering up, embellishing the truth, blaming others, making excuses, etc. We are instead to “speak truthfully”, which is basic to all relationships. We do this because “we are members of one body” where what hurts one of us, hurts us all. (Eph. 4:25)
  2. Resolution: Paul tells us “in your anger do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Being sinfully angry here means there is a rightful time to be angry, but we need to be careful that we actually resolve our anger lovingly as soon as possible, even if we continue to disagree. Unresolved anger gives the devil a place to work. (Eph. 4:27)
  3. Generosity:  Believers are to stop any stealing, such as: taking other people’s stuff or withholding from God or others what is theirs, cheating on taxes, etc.  To the contrary, we are to work hard not only to provide for ourselves and our families, but so that we “may have something to share with others”. (Eph. 4:28)  

Our identity is already changed through Christ’s death and resurrection for us, but we just need to live out that identity, as a new creation, by turning to Jesus Christ with faith and listening to/obeying His Spirit’s guidance day by day.  (Eph. 2:8-10)  Jesus, as our Source of transformation, calls us not to “be good for goodness’ sake” but to be good because we are all part of the same body, His body. We are to be good to each other….because of the goodness we have received from God Himself.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it possible to “put off falsehood”?  Isn’t it just a part of everyone’s sinful nature?
  2. Most of us have experienced the pains that anger can inflict on ourselves and others. Perhaps that is why many avoid conflict. Have you ever experienced true anger resolution?  What did it actually look like?
  3. Have you ever been around “Christian Scrooges”?  Have you seen or experienced generous Christians? Describe.
  4. Our culture, specifically the middle class, values hard work.  Is this any different from how God values hard work?  Have you ever worked hard so that you can share?
  5. How is Christ is the source of the transformation of our old thinking and old behavior?
  6. Is there a place for will power or self discipline in our New Self?

Introduction

When I was a kid, there were some things I really didn’t like about church. I didn’t like it, because it could be boring. You had to sit still for a long time. You couldn’t talk to your friends during the sermon. One of the things I hated most was a rule that my parents taught me from the time I was little-bitty. If you’re going to go to church, you have to put on your church clothes.

You couldn’t wear your favorite sweatshirt to church. You couldn’t wear your comfortable jeans. You couldn’t wear your tennis shoes. If you were going to go to church, you had to put on your church clothes – your shiny shoes, your fancy pants. You had to tuck your shirt in. They might even make you wear a jacket or tie! The church I grew up in took this very seriously. Later in life when I became a Sunday School teacher, I had to promise – I think I might even have had to sign something – that said I would wear a suitcoat every time I came to church. They took it seriously!

But I hated it. Here is one of my earliest church clothes pictures. Notice I am smiling sweetly, but the reason I am smiling sweetly is that I screamed and cried about wearing Church Clothes until they gave me the tiger and the gun! I grew up and had Calvin. I gotta say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Here’s Calvin in his church clothes. You can tell he’s not super-comfortable! He called them “handsome clothes.” He would beg “Mom, please, please don’t make me wear my handsome clothes.” I found the rule to be true no matter where I went. Even in Africa, African churches in the cities were quite nice. But if you went to the village, some of the church buildings were very basic. There were dirt floors, and chickens walking up and down the aisle. But you still had to put on your church clothes! That’s why I knew that the crowning achievement of my life, the fulfillment of my calling, would be to return to America and start a church where I could preach in Jeans! No church clothes!

Today we are going to look at a passage in Ephesians where Paul tells us to put on our Real Church Clothes. When I say that, I’m not talking about literal clothing. I’m not talking about something you just put on on Sunday Mornings. Rather these are the things that we as Christians should put on as part of the Church, as part of the Body of Christ.

Last week, Paul talked about a change that occurs in our identity in Christ. If you were here in the passage we looked at, Paul said that every one of us as Christians has been exposed to two  competing identities. Paul said there was an Old Self, which is who we were before Christ came into our lives, and a New Self, which is the new you that was created when you believed in the gospel the story of Christ and asked Christ into your life.

Paul said that each of these identities has a way of thinking and a way of behaving that comes from them. Paul taught us that if we are Christians our true identity has changed. We are now a New Person that belongs totally to Jesus! But he closed the passage by saying that as a result of that, we need to take off the thinking and behavior of that Old Self and to think the renewed thoughts of the New Self and to behave according to that New Identity.

So now in today’s passage and actually over the next three weeks what Paul is going to do is give us specific examples of the thinking and behavior that we are to put on as God’s people. He’s going to tell us to put on our Church Clothes! In the next three weeks, Paul is going to give us six  things to put on. Today we will look at the first three. Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4:25-28. This is a short, relatively simple passage about the thinking and behavior we should put on. The three things we’re going to see today are three very different applications of our New Identity. Each one is almost like a separate sermon. They are three very useful applications. I think there’s something here for each of us no matter who we are.

Let’s just read the passage. We are going to focus on just four verses, verses 25-28 today. But let’s start our reading back at verse 22 of Chapter 4. Paul says this

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. 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.

– Ephesians 5:22-28

Before we jump into this passage and these applications we are going to look at in our passage today, let me start by just making a couple of observations about the larger unit that we are in, in Ephesians, that we are going to be looking at over the next three weeks. Just to help us understand what we will be looking at in these passages.

First of all, note that there is a pattern here. This unit that we are going to look at over the next three weeks covers a lot of material. It runs from Ephesians 4:22 all the way through to 5:17. When you first read this unit it just seems like a random jungle of commands. It just feels like one unrelated instruction after another. You might have felt that when I read the passage today you’ll really feel it, if you read the rest of the passage, feels like a hodge-podge of commands.

There’s actually a very distinct pattern to these verses. Paul discusses six specific examples of how we are to live our life, six ethical areas: truth, anger, possessions, speech, kindness and sex. As he discusses these areas, he follows the pattern that we saw last week in the beginning of the passage I just read. In the passage, Paul says “Take off your old self and put on your new self with renewed thinking.” In each one of these six areas, Paul is going to follow that pattern. First, he’ll tell us what to take off what not to do. Then he’ll tell us what put on what to do. Then, third, he’ll tell us why. He’ll tell us the renewed thinking that will lead us to the right way of acting. So there’s a very clear pattern here.

The second thing you need to know is that the commands Paul is going to give us all revolve around Christian relationships. Paul is not just telling us to “be good for goodness’ sake”! He’s telling us to be good, because we are all part of the same body. We are to be good to each other,  because of the goodness we have received from God. What Paul says will most directly apply to our relationships in the Church. But what he says will ultimately apply to all our relationships.

So there’s a pattern here. These commands all connect to relationships. That’s a little bit about this larger unit in Ephesians. Now let’s look at our passage. Paul’s going to give us three pieces of church clothing, three things we are to put on in our relationships with each other. The first one is this:

Honesty

Paul begins this passage with what is one of the most basic pieces of instruction he could ever give with regard to relationships. Look at what he says:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

– Ephesians 5:25

Paul tells us to be honest. Now notice what Paul is saying here. Notice that he follows the pattern that we just noted. There’s a “don’t do,” there’s a “do,” and there’s a reason given.

First, Paul tells us what not to do. What we are to not do is lie. We are to take off falsehood, like you would take off a garment that you don’t need any more, like we were told to take off the old nature. We have changed identities. Now Paul tells us to take off pieces of thinking and doing that relate to that Old Self.

The first piece Paul tells us to take off is falsehood of every kind – dishonesty, deceit, pretense,  misrepresentation. We’re to take that all off. All of it. Paul is saying Christians take off your old dishonesty. You know that piece of thinking that you picked up out there in the world that tells you to cover up and not admit your flaws? Paul tells you to take that off. You know that mindset that says “Put yourself out there. Exaggerate. Embellish to make yourself look better, because that’s what everyone else is doing?” Paul says you can take that off. You know that strategy that says “When you feel blamed, you should respond by making excuses or blaming people back?” Take it off. That part of you that says “I’m OK. I can do life on my own?” Listen, you don’t need that here. Take it off. The part that comes to church and wants to say “I’m a very religious person.  Jesus is all I think about, and I don’t ever struggle with lust or jealousy or anger”? Feel free to take that off. You don’t need it. It’s not going to help you here. It’s going to hurt you. Paul says take it off. We are to take off falsehood of every kind.

Then, secondly, Paul gives us the positive and tells us what we should do. What we should do is “Speak truth to our neighbor.” We should tell the truth. Now earlier in this chapter, Paul talked about speaking the truth in love. Obviously, that’s his intention here. It’s not just that we speak random, unfiltered truth to each other. You probably shouldn’t greet someone at our church by saying “Hi! Boy, that outfit makes you look ten pounds heavier than you did last week!” Paul wants truth, but truth spoken in love!

Truth is an obvious starting point when you give instructions about relationships. Truth is basic to all things. In Chapter 6 when Paul lists the Christian’s armor, the things that protect us from spiritual harm, does anyone know which piece he starts with? The belt of truth. The belt was what all the other armor hung from. Truth is basic.

If you think about it, you can see why truth is so basic, especially with relationships. Truth is the basis for trust. Truth describes the way things really are. Truth is reality. If your relationship is not based on reality, what is it going to be based on?

If you ever counsel with Kelley and me, there’s something you’ll hear us say in our very first session. In the first session, we always go over the ground rules. One of the ground rules is this: “You don’t have to answer every question. It’s fine if you’re not ready, but if you answer a question it has to be the truth.”

Because if we’re not telling the truth, we can’t really help each other, whether it’s in the counseling room or in small group or in the church! Think about it. If you’re not being truthful about who you are, you can’t even really receive encouragement. If you’re not truthful about who you are and you’re just putting on some pious or super-competent façade, then when people affirm you, you won’t really be able to receive it. You’ll just think “They’re just affirming that façade I put on. If they knew the real me they probably wouldn’t love me.” My point is truth is basic to relationships, so it makes perfect sense that Paul would start here.

Paul says: Don’t lie. Take off falsehood. Then he says DO speak truth to your neighbor. Then at the end of the verse, he gives us reason why: the thinking that will enable us to do that. He says “for we are all members of one body.”

We all belong to the same body. We are linked together, for all eternity! That means what hurts one of us hurts all of us. When you withhold the truth about yourself, when you put on a façade, or when you withhold the truth about others, when you refuse to speak loving truth into their lives,  the body is harmed. It’s diminished. It’s less than Christ made it to be. Paul tells us not to do that.

Let me ask you a question: Can you imagine how much good could be done in the body of Christ if people just lovingly, judiciously spoke the truth?  How many times have you had a struggle in life a temptation or a deep hurt  where you feel all alone, like you are the only one who’s ever struggled with that. Then, someone finds the courage to admit to you that they struggle with the same thing.  Suddenly, you are not alone! You are encouraged! You start to believe that you can actually make it through the pain, through the temptation, all because someone decided to speak the truth in love.

How many times have people in the church been hurt by Christians who decide not to tell the truth? Maybe they want to hold onto a piece of turf or defend a position, so they twist the truth or refuse to see the truth or make unjust accusations. It can really do damage.

I remember about the second year of my Youth Ministry, I had a man who had been a Christian for years just fabricate a lie and tell it about me to get me in trouble, All because he didn’t like my position on the King James Bible. Luckily, I had a youth worker and a Pastor who caught it and dealt with it. But I thought “What are we doing here?” He could have done serious damage.

Christians, we are called to be people of loving truth. It’s good for us. It’s what builds the body up. So the very first thing Paul tells us to put on is Honesty. Now the second thing we need to put on – I had a little bit more difficult time trying to name – but I’m going to call it

Resolution

We need to resolve our conflict our issues our anger with each other. Look at what Paul says:

In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

– Ephesians 5:26-27

Now, notice once again that Paul uses the pattern we’ve noted here He gives (1) a Don’t (2) a Do and (3) A reason for what he has told us to do and not do. The Don’t is don’t be sinfully angry. The Do is do resolve your anger or your conflict (don’t let the sun go down ). The Reason is that not resolving the issue gives the devil a foothold.

Let’s look at these one at a time. First the Don’t is: Don’t Be Sinfully Angry. Now, if you’re like me when you hear that, it raises one gigantic question and the question is this: What, exactly, is “sinfully angry?” When is anger sinful and when is it not? A husband and wife were talking one day, and the husband said “When we fight you never get angry. You always stay so calm. How do you do it?” She said “When I’m angry, I clean the toilet.” He said “How on earth does that help?” She said “I use your toothbrush.” Is that sinful anger? Yes, it is very sinful!

But seriously, when is anger sinful and when is it not? When is it right, and when is it wrong? I think a lot of times, we’re not clear on that. It’s a little fuzzy! To be honest, at times the Bible seems a little unclear about that. With something like stealing, the Bible is pretty clear: Don’t take stuff that doesn’t belong to you. With sex. It’s pretty clear: Keep it in your marriage.

But with Anger, sometimes it seems a little fuzzy! On the one hand, James says “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger for man’s anger doesn’t work God’s righteousness.” Jesus said “Anyone who is angry with his brother is in danger of judgment.” So on the one hand it seems like all anger is wrong. Just don’t ever be angry!

But then if you read your Bible, there are times when Jesus is angry. In Mark’s gospel, it tells us that Jesus was angry with the Pharisees, because of their hardness of heart! There’s another time when Jesus takes some cords and makes a whip, and drives the moneychangers out of the temple. That seems a little angry! The Old Testament has a whole lot of anger going on there. God is angry. The prophets are angry. Moses gets angry. So it’s kind of confusing, isn’t it?

Let me add to that and say that this passage is confusing! Most translations sort of smooth this out. They have something like “In your anger, do not sin” or “If you become angry, don’t sin.” In other words, it sounds like Paul is saying “Now listen, we all know anger is bad, but if you absolutely have to be angry don’t get really angry because that’s sinful!” But that’s not what he’s saying! In the Greek, this verse actually has two commands. The second one is “do not sin,” but the first command is this: “Be angry!” That is literally what Paul says here: (1) Be angry! (2) Don’t sin!

What is Paul saying? I think he’s saying this: There is a time to be angry. Anger is not always evil. Anger can be more than just sin.  Anger is something God gave us. It has a purpose. Anger can be a warning light. It often signals injustice. I know many times in my own life the first sign that something wrong is anger. I’ll feel frustrated, but don’t really know why. If I sit down and think it through, I often find that that anger, which seemed to come from my gut, is a sign that something is not right.

Anger can give us strength when we need it. When I used to work commercial masonry construction in the summers when I was in college, there were a lot of things that were really hard to do. There were times when I needed to move stuff I wasn’t strong enough to move. You know what I learned to do? Get mad! Then I could move it. That may be a third grade response, but anger gave me physical strength.

It can also give us emotional strength. I think of people who have experienced a very controlling or interfering or even abusive family situation. Sometimes when these people grow up and start to establish their own life and family, they go through an phase where they are really angry. It may last for months and months, and it’s not a fun time for them. But they need that anger. It gives them the strength to stand up against the wrong and establish a healthy pattern of relating. So Paul says there is a time to be angry: Be angry. And Paul says there is a time not to be angry: Do not sin.

There are times when anger is sinful, when our anger is based on pride or jealousy or ego. It’s always wrong. When our anger is vengeful, when we want to make people pay a price for the wrong they have done to us or others, it’s always wrong. That belongs to God. When our anger is a way of life, when we have learned to use anger to control the people around us so they don’t inconvenience us, anger is always wrong. Anger, any anger no matter how justified it was when we started, becomes wrong when we hold on to it for days and weeks and months and years. That angry resentment that just radiates from us, because we have unresolved anger in our hearts. That’s wrong. That’s why Paul gives us the “Do” in this passage. The “Do” is: Do Resolve Your Anger. Paul says “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” What he’s saying is: “Finish it!” When you have anger or frustration, when there is conflict in a relationship, resolve the issue as soon as possible.

It’s OK to have anger. Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary. There is no healthy marriage, no healthy long term relationship, that doesn’t have conflict and anger from time to time. Anger is not always wrong, but you have to finish it. You have to work through the issue. Conflict should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

One of the questions that Kelley and I often ask when we’re counseling couples, trying to help them in their marriage is this: When you were growing up, how did you know when a fight was over in your family? That’s a really good question: It’s an important question for healthy, god-honoring relationships.

We sometimes hear a lot of unhealthy answers. Some people say “We were never allowed to have any conflict in our family.” That’s not what Paul is talking about. There is a time for anger. Some people say “The fight was never really over. There was always this low-level relational warfare going on in my family.” Again, that’s not what Paul is talking about. We can’t really affirm each other if you’re always at war with each other. Some people say “There would be a big explosion,  then everyone would scatter to their rooms. Then two hours later you came out and you had to pretend like nothing ever happened.” Still that’s not what Paul is talking about. When he says “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” he doesn’t mean ‘pretend you’re not angry.’ He means deal with your conflict. Resolve it. Resolve your anger.

Husbands, wives, parents, kids, please resolve your anger. Don’t let it develop into long-term resentment and bitterness. Resolve it. Sometimes the resolution is “You’re right and I was wrong!” Sometimes it’s the opposite! Sometimes the resolution is “We still don’t see eye to eye on this one thing, but are absolutely for one another. We love each other.” Sometimes resolution is “I don’t know exactly how it happened, but we talked and talked and somehow our hearts became aligned, and now we’re OK.”

But we have to resolve it. The reason we have to resolve our anger is: Because unresolved anger gives the Devil a place to work. Paul says “Don’t give the Devil a foothold”. Guys, I know it’s hard to work through conflict and anger. It can be so hard, but we have to do that to the best of our ability as soon as possible.

How many Christians have been sidelined, have been neutralized, in the Battle, because they have unresolved conflict in their marriage, in their family, in their church? How many Christians are living a life of spiritual poverty, because they can’t forgive, can’t reconcile, can’t resolve their anger. Unresolved anger is one of the places that Satan does his best work. We have to resolve our anger.

So Paul has told us to put on honesty. He’s told us to put on resolution. Now there’s one last piece of church clothing that we are going to look at today, and that is:

Generosity

Look at what Paul says:

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.

– Ephesians 5:8

love what this verse tells us about the Christians in the early church. They weren’t perfect people! Many of them were poor. Some of them had lived outside the law. Some had been prostitutes or violent people or thieves. They were welcomed into the church and transformed by the gospel.

Notice that Paul follows our three steps. He has a “Don’t,” a “Do,” and a reason. The Don’t is simple enough: Don’t Steal. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you. Don’t take other peoples stuff. Don’t cheat on your taxes. Don’t withhold from God or from other people what is due to them. Don’t steal. Stealing probably would have been more tempting for Paul’s readers in Ephesus than it is for us. They probably didn’t have the material resources that most Americans do. Life was more basic. They didn’t have an orderly, technologically-savvy police force like we do. There was no CSI: Ephesus. So theft was probably more tempting for some of them. But still Paul says: Don’t steal.

Then he says: Do Work. Work with your own hands, Meaning not so much “do manual labor” but rather “Do an honest day’s work!” He actually says not just “work” but “work hard!” The term Paul uses means to work to the point of exhaustion. Work hard!

Now here’s the thing. Many of us would say “I’ve got this one down! This is one piece of Church Clothing I definitely have on! I don’t steal and, at my job, I work hard! I work long hours to the point of exhaustion”

That’s good, but notice the reason Paul gives in this verse. It’s not just so you can provide a good living for your family. It’s not just so your kids can go the best schools. It’s not so you can retire early with a fat 401K.

He says “Work hard so that you will not only have an honest living, but so that you will have something to share with those in need.” He says that even to people who live at a basic level to people who used to feel that the only way for them to get by was to steal. Work hard so you can be generous. Work hard, so that you can share with others who are in need with others who might feel like they only way for them to get by is to steal.

We’re going to stop there today, but as we go to prayer, I want you to notice the source of the great transformation that Paul is calling for here. He calls us to be different, very different from what we used to be. He calls us take off falsehood and put on truthfulness. He calls us to take off sinful anger and put on resolution. He calls us to take off theft and put on generosity.

The source of all this is not ourselves. It’s not our willpower or self-discipline. The source is not fear. We’re not doing this, so that we can make it into God’s kingdom. The source of this change is Christ, Christ teaching us through his word, Christ for us in his death and resurrection, Christ around us in his body, Christ in us in the presence of his Spirit. If you remember from last week,  through Christ our identity that has already changed. When we placed our trust in Christ, we became a new creation. Now Paul is simply telling us to live that out – to put away the old thinking , the old behavior, and to put on the new thinking, to put on honesty and resolution and generosity, to live out the new life that we already have in Christ.