Ephesians 4:17-5:20


Ephesians 4:17-5:20
St Augustine’s, Neutral Bay 9/6/13
Craig Roberts
Good news & bad news
*For the person who thinks the Bible is just full of kill joy rules, telling us all the things that we can’t do. I have good news – there are 10 ‘thou shalt nots’.
For the person wanting a practical sermon, without theology or any thinking about God. I have good news – there are over 30 practical commands in this passage.
But I also have some bad news. For the person wanting proof that that Bible is only full of prohibitions, of which there are 10 in this passage, they are overwhelmed by more than 20 positive encouragements and commands. And for the person who just wants a life coaching session with a couple of tips for life without any God talk, every one of the commands for good living in this passage is grounded in what God has done in your life and in what he is doing in the world. So in among these 30 or more commands, we are going to do some thinking about God.
But first, some thinking about the 2 sorts of people in the world:
Believers & unbelievers
those outside the body of Xt and those who are a part of it
those alienated from God & those who know him as Father
Christians and those who God is calling into a relationship with himself
*Our passage begins with Paul telling the Ephesian in v.17 Xns that they must no longer live as the Gentiles do. He’s speaking of unbelievers. * And he pulls no punches, he says
Their thinking is futile
They are darkened in their understanding
Separated from the life of God
they are ignorant and have hard hearts and have lost all sensitivity
He’s not saying unbelievers aren’t intelligent. Many are brilliant in their own fields and in their own ways. *But their lives and endeavours will ultimately be marked by futility. Like if in a new land release –a person builds their dream home, landscapes an amazing garden, puts in a pool, even makes part of his home available as a community drop-in space. But the following week it gets bulldozed, because he never bothered to find out that the masterplan required something different in that place. An unbeliever is like that man, with no room for worship and service of the King of Kings in his life, no gracious submission to The Masterplanner, so all he worked for, evaporated like a morning mist. That’s what’s meant by the futility of their thinking.
*Further, their understanding is darkened. There’s nothing good about darkness. We see it in Star Wars. * Princess Leia got a white outfit, but * Dark Vader, the Evil Emperor, even their henchmen wore black, and the music was that foreboding march. When we read about darkness in the Bible, we’re supposed to have a similar feeling. *

But the crunch here is that unbelievers are* ‘separated from the life of God’ because of the *hardening of their hearts. Conjures up images of callouses and a complete loss of feeling and sensation that has come through persistent rejection of God’s truth.
*v.19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, * with a continual lust for more. too much is never enough. This squares with knowledge of how the pleasure centre of the brain works.
It’s a pretty brutal assessment of those who are not Xns.
*v.20, Paul turns to Christians, those who we saw last week are part of the body of Xt, each one doing its work to build up the body. He describes their coming to faith as a process of hearing of Jesus, being taught about him and finally coming to know him in an alive relational sense. The image that Paul uses in this paragraph to describe becoming a Xn is changing clothes. **
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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
A Xn is someone who, v.23, has a new attitude in their mind, above all else, a change of mind about Jesus. Paul’s previous sentence describes how the Ephesians came to know Jesus. First they heard about him, then they learned more about him until they entrusted their lives to him. Paul is using the language of the school here. You heard, you were taught. It’s a school.
Most schools these days offer students a dazzling array of elective subjects. But in addition to choosing from Latin, Swahili, interpretive belly dance and whatever else is on offer, there are core subjects which every student must take. In Eph 4, we get taken to school.
We get taken to this school and the contrast is drawn between the old self and the new self. The old self – life alienated from God, Jesus is marginalized, you’re outside the body of Xt, and the new self – life lived inside the body of Xt, reconciled to God, Jesus at the centre of your life.
That change in ‘the attitude of their minds’ is what leads a person to want to put on the new self, and when that happens, a new set of clothes is required.
Its as stark as moving from the clothes of darkness to the clothes of light. * I don’t know anyone over the age of 18 who stays in their PJs all day. PJs are clothes for the darkness, but when the light of morning comes, * you get up and put on your daytime clothes. During the day, you should have nothing to do with your PJs, they have no place in daytime life. When the light dawns, you put off your clothes of darkness.
Through the rest of our passage, contrasts are drawn between things you put off and things you put on. That’s what this school is about, but this school is like none you’ve ever been to. Every school tells students to work hard. Proper preparation prevents poor performance. So work hard, apply yourselves, put in the hours, burn the midnight oil. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be deemed good enough for whatever it is that comes after the school you’re enrolled in. If you perform, you’ll get in.
But this school is nothing like that. In response to hearing about Jesus and being taught about him, you were taught to put off your old self, … and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Our new self, with all its attitudes and emotions is * CREATED. Your new self is created.
This school is not about moral transformation, or trying harder to be a better person. That is the school of legalism. Your new self has been created by God for you to become like him in righteousness and holiness. You need this. Heb 12:14 says there is a holiness without which no-one will see the Lord. But God makes this for you. That is his gift to you. This is the school of grace. As you come to Jesus, God makes you new. That’s why Jesus spoke of being born again. That’s why Paul back in ch.2 spoke of us all starting dead in our sins but being made alive in Christ. Do you remember 2:8-10 it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.
What are these good works? Let me show you 3 contrasts in our passage. They are very practical, and unlike our sermons from the past 2 weeks, the practical cash value of this passage doesn’t so much involve things you might do in and around church, they are far more personal. I’m not going to cover all 31 commands, I figure a 31-point sermon won’t help anybody, so I’m going to skip over treasures in this passage – I’m not going to touch on what it means to give the Devil a foothold in your life, I’m not going to dwell on greed being defined as idolatry, nor on the claim of v.5 that a greedy person has no place in God’s Kingdom, or on the command for us to expose what Paul calls ‘fruitless deeds of darkness’.
Instead, I want us to dwell on our words, our actions and our attitudes. What we say, what we do and what we think. So buckle up, this might get uncomfortable as we think about putting off the old self and putting on the new.
* What we say
* v.25 …each of you must put off falsehood
* v.29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths
Remember your old way of life, before the gracious work of God in your life, your old self was corrupted by its deceitful desires, so its no surprise that falsehood comes so easy to us. And not just things that are untrue – and I point out that next month we’ll be doing our tax returns. Put off falsehood. And let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth. When the conversation turns abusive, vulgar, slanderous or contemptuous. Do not join in. If you don’t feel able to turn and transform the conversation into something helpful, walk away. Just walk away.
Jesus used the same ‘unwholesome’ word to describe a tree that bears bad fruit and so is cut down and thrown into the fire.
So put off falsehood and unwholesome talk and instead* v.25, speak truthfully, and * v.29 only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. What we say should not undermine, betray or belittle someone else. We should speak the truth and those things that are helpful for building others up. Last we saw that a mark of Xn maturity is speaking the truth in love, and we should be getting with God’s program of building up the body of Christ, that is, the church, which is, groups of individual Xns. Put off falsehood, and speak truthfully – because you have been created new by God.
What we do
***v.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. I don’t think this is a prohibition against being a lawyer or investment banker. Rather this taking off the old and putting on of the new actions actually speaks to an attitude. Do you live to get, or do you live to give? The thief lives to get, without working for it. If you are living a life of the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness, then there will have been a fundamental transformation in your worldview. You no longer see yourself at the centre of the universe because you have come to know Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, in all his risen power and glory; and you’ve been touched by the wide, long, high and deep love of Christ. As a result, you know he is at the centre of the universe, not you, and because you have been forgiven and are loved, you want to forgive and love in response. So you no longer live to get. You know that your value and worth can never be measured by an investment balance. You are set free from that futile trap, to serve others, and you are free to give.
Because you’ve been transformed from the inside out, and you know that you are already seated with Christ in heaven and that is your home, you can sit a little loose from what you get for your work. You are able to share with those in need. And speaking of doing your taxes next month, check out Anglicare’s tax deductible fund for helping people in need, and also our own tax deductible fund – a portion of which goes to Anglicare each year. Don’t live to get, live to give. And not just your treasure, your time and your talents as well.
Another contrast between the old self and new self is what spirits we put into ourselves.
*v.18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.* Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Have a drink of wine by all means, but Xn, a good rule of thumb is to stay alert and in control enough to drive a car. 0.5. Know your limit and stick to it, because getting drunk leads to debauchery. Paul doesn’t just have sex on his mind here. That word in 1C described behaviour which shows a lack of thought for the consequences of an action. It pushes you to live for right now, and not for tomorrow. We do see this in extra-marital affairs prompted by too much to drink. People thinking only of now without regard for the morning, or the effect of their actions on others.
If you say your home is in heaven and eternity is your horizon, how can you think only of today? The alternative to this short-term thinking is to Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Relax, *being filled with the Spirit is not a call to abandon rational thought or start crying and hugging each other.* Its nothing like that because v.18-21 are one long sentence, with 5 words explaining what being filled with the Spirit looks like.
Speaking, Singing, making music, giving thanks and submitting. That’s what being filled with the Spirit looks like. The work of the Holy Spirit in your life is to bring your focus onto God the Father through Jesus, and lead you into patterns of relating that build other people up and serve them. The work of the Spirit promotes relationships between individuals and their God and Saviour, and between individuals and each other.
Incidentally, that was the brief we gave to our architects before they came up with plans to redevelop our site here. We asked for a facility that would promote relationships between individuals and their God and Saviour, and between individuals and each other. We want our physical structures to complement the filling work of the Holy Spirit. More on that another time.*
Being filled with the Spirit means we’ll speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We will be encouraging each other with God’s Word as we speak to each other and as we sing to God in the presence of one another. So we keep reading the Bible and singing when we meet together.
And we are, v.21, to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. The person who has been made spiritually alive in Christ knows where they fit in the universe, they know their identity, worth and value are secure in Christ, and so they are set free to submit to others, not to lord it over them but serve them. More on that in 2 weeks’ time.
What we think
*The Christian life means a new way of speaking, a new way of acting and thirdly, it means a new way of thinking. A new attitude.

*v.31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
We’ve all known people who seem only to be happy when they’ve got an axe to grind, or better still, someone to hate. Get rid of that attitude. Every last shred of bitterness in your life – let go of it. Take it to the foot of the cross and leave it there. Get rid of it, along with every form of ill-will toward others. Instead, *v.32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We’ve also all known people who are kind and caring. They never hold a grudge. They are just very attractive people. Its not an effort to spend time with them, in fact you want to. As opposed to the v.31 person. Its no accident that people who are living in accord with God’s good plan for life are living lives that we want a piece of.

Our time is gone. I would have loved to preach a 31-point sermon today, but if I had, I’m sure we would have missed seeing the forest for the trees. We would have come away thinking that the school of Christ is the school of working harder under the law, instead of seeing the Xn life as starting with grace. But I don’t want to let you off the hook.

Its my prayer that 1 of the things we’ve covered today has struck a chord with you more than the rest. Maybe its what you say, maybe its something you do, maybe its an attitude that you know needs to change to be worthy of the new self who God has created you to be.
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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

For those with smart phones, take it out, *go to your calendar/diary/task app and create an event or reminder with that one change you want to make in your life. And make it repeat every day.
It could be that you are troubled by unwholesome talk at work – set your reminder for 8:30am every day, to remind you that God calls his people to speak truthfully, and only what is helpful for building others up.
It could be that you’re drinking a bit much of an evening – set your reminder for 6 or 7pm, to remind you every night to instead of being filled with wine, be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Or it could be that you’re finding yourself increasingly angry & bitter – set an alert each day to remind you to be kind and compassionate to everyone.

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