Dos and Don'ts of Community
Children, you may be dismissed to your services at this time. And the rest of us will turn to Ephesians 4:25-32. We’re continuing our study on community; and this week, we’re going to consider some dos and don’ts of community. Let’s begin by reading the text (Ephesians 4:25-32).
One of the pitfalls that I as a preacher have to avoid is neglecting to give specific, practical instruction. It’s very easy as a preacher to talk a lot about theology but never really answer the “so what” question, “What does this message mean for my life?” I’m glad that the apostle Paul didn’t do that! Today, we’re going to study a passage in which Paul applies a whole bunch of theology in some very simple, practical ways.
But before we consider the individual points, I want to give you a quick summary of the context. And I think the easiest way for me to do this is by piecing together three “walk” commands in Ephesians 4-5. The first “walk” command is found in Ephesians 5:2 (5:1-2). So according to v. 2, believers are to “walk in love.” Jesus said in John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Ephesians 5:2 picks up on that thought when it says that Christ gave Himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering. And we are to love one another in that same way. Also, when we do this, we’ll be pleasing to the Father, just like Jesus was pleasing to Him when He died on the cross. And we should want to please God because He loves us so much.
The second “walk” command is found back in Ephesians 4:17 (4:17). “Don’t walk like the rest of the Gentiles walk.” Paul says, “They’ve given themselves over to lewdness and uncleanness... but you—you’re saved! So put off the old man (those things you used to do before you got saved) and put on the new man (which stands for new, Christ-like habits).” We used to sing a song in children’s church when I was little, “The things I used to do, I don’t do them anymore. There’s been a great change since I’ve been born again!” Now, ironically, when a child gets saved, those changes don’t seem to be as drastic. But when a person gets saved as an adult, he goes through this whole process of shedding old habits and building new ones. That’s what Paul is talking about. So not only, “Walk in love,” but also, “Walk in love by putting off the old man and putting on the new man.”
The final “walk command” that I want you to see is found in Ephesians 4:1 (4:1-6). In my Bible, there’s a heading on this section that reads, “Walk in Unity.” One of Paul’s main emphases in Ephesians is unity! So when we fast forward to today’s passage, we’re going to see that all of the practices Paul condemns are, in one way or another, “unity killers”; whereas all of the practices he commends are “unity builders”! Let’s see if we can add this concept of unity to the summary we’ve been building. “Walk in love by putting off the old man and putting on the new man for the sake of Christian unity.” The passage that we’re going to look at today brings all three of these thoughts together.
TRANSITION: I hope that makes sense. Alright, let’s take a look at Paul’s five points. Number one, speak the truth (v. 25).
Speak the truth.
The Greek words behind the phrase “putting away lying” can be translated literally, “having put off the lie.” Most commentators and versions take that as an imperative and translate it, “put off lying.” But I think it makes more sense to think of this as a reference to conversion. In other words, “Since you have [already] put off ‘the lie,’ let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.” You might think of Romans 1:25, in which Paul says that unbelievers “exchanged the truth of God for the lie.” So what Paul is doing here is reminding us that when we got saved, we did a worldview exchange. We set aside our old way of viewing the world and began to see life through the lens of Scripture. We began to see life through the lens of Jesus Christ.
So now we’re perfect and we never struggle with telling or believing lies, right? Wrong! We struggle with that stuff all the time! That’s just part of being a Christian. We’re new creatures in Christ, but there’s still a lot of the old nature that clings to us. So like we’ve already seen, we’ve got to put off the old man! We’ve got to put off lying and speak the truth.
“Speaking truth” to one another is not just about telling the truth. It involves rehearsing God’s Word to each other. There are some of you who come to church regularly, perhaps help move chairs or serve in the nursery, and make small talk with other people. But that’s about it. You’ve been saved for a while now, but for whatever reason, you’re just not very comfortable talking about spiritual things. Can I just tell you? This verse is meant to give you a spur in the side. You cannot fulfill your God-given role in the church without opening your mouth! That doesn’t mean you have to teach, but all Christians, regardless of spiritual-giftedness, have the responsibility to speak truth with one another. How do you do that? Well, you have to be intentional in your private conversations. Don’t just talk about sports or guns or the kids—talk about the Bible and about what God’s doing in your life! I remember when my dad encouraged me to begin talking to my friends about spiritual things. I was probably in about sixth grade at the time. It was a little bit awkward at first. But it’s not too bad if you just start with a basic question like, “So, what have you been reading in your devotions?” Or, “What has God been teaching you lately?” You will be amazed at how simple questions like that can open up very fruitful conversations! I’m so thankful that my dad encouraged me in the way that he did. Because many of my friendships were deepened and strengthened and at least one of those friendships remains till this day and continues to be a source of grace in my life. So today, I’d like to pass on the blessing by encouraging you to speak truth to one another.
Of course, the “don’t” side of this command is that you must not lie. That means that everything you say should be consistent with reality in general, and with God’s Word in particular. All of us need to guard our lips carefully. We better not exaggerate in order to make ourselves look better or get what we want, and we better make sure we don’t say anything that contradicts Scripture. And by the way, I don’t say that strongly because I’ve got this mastered. I say that strongly because I need the kick in the pants, as well. It is so easy to lie or bend the truth! We have got to be careful! There is nothing that will break down unity and trust in a marriage or in a church like lying. So please! Tell the truth.
That’s the command. But now notice the reason behind the command. Why are we supposed to speak truth? Because we are members of the same body! That’s Paul’s shorthand way of referring back to the principles he already discussed in vv. 11-16. Don’t worry, I won’t try to unpack that passage right now, but I would like to give you three points to help to bring out the connection between the command, “speak truth” and the principle, “you are members of one another.”
First, believers are part of the same body. Within the church, there is organic unity (we’re one organism) but functional diversity (we all play different roles). If you heard Pastor Kit’s sermon three weeks ago, then it should be a review.
Point number two: when I speak the truth, I help other people; when I speak falsehood, I hurt them. This should be somewhat obvious. God speaks the truth to us because He loves us and wants to help us. Satan, on the other hand, lies to us because he wants to destroy us! So, if we want to help people, we’ll speak truth to them, like God does. If we want to hurt people (which hopefully none of us do), we’ll lie to them like Satan does.
So let’s just think about this. If we’re all on the same team, and speaking the truth helps you, then speaking the truth also helps whom? It helps me! And on the flip side, if speaking falsehood hurts you, then you else does it hurt? It hurts me, too! That brings us to point number three: I can’t lie to you without hurting myself, nor can I speak truth to you without helping myself! Your interests and my interests are directly related!
Oh that God would grant us this kind of vision of the church! It would absolutely transform the way we treat one another! Imagine that you’re a crew member on board some kind of an air force plane. (Some of you are in the Air Force. I apologize ahead of time for the fact that this illustration may be entirely unrealistic, but I think it will still be helpful.) So, you’re a crew member on this plane, and you guys are engaged in an intense mission. But in the middle of the mission, the pilot makes a mistake. Now, you were already having a bad day, and this just pushes you over the edge, so you get mad and you punch him in the face. Now what are you up against? Trying to complete the mission with an injured pilot! In other words, “Congratulations; you just greatly diminished your own chances of success, perhaps even survival. Why don’t you just punch yourself in the face next time? You might actually be better off that way.”
All of us would look at that story and agree, that guy is a fool! And yet we do the same thing we fail to speak truth to one another. You shoot yourself in the foot! Cut off your nose to spite your face! Brothers and sisters, do you realize that we’re all in this together? Do you think that way? For your own sake and for the sake of the rest of us, please! Fulfill your obligations to the team!
By the way, the thought process I just talked about can be applied to the other four points, as well. In fact, we are going to see that that’s the case with each of the motivations Paul lists. Every time you’re bitter against another believer, or you steal, or say something unkind or inappropriate, you’re not just hurting that believer; you’re hurting the whole team. And since you’re on the team, you’re hurting yourself, as well.
TRANSITION: So point number one: “speak the truth.” Point number 2: “be angry.” Ephesians 4:26 is a verse that has generated a lot of discussion. Why on earth would Paul command us to be angry? Is that even what he’s saying? Let’s take a closer look (v. 26).
Some people take the first part of the phrase as a concession: “If you’re angry (or, ‘when you’re angry’) do not sin.” The only problem with is that Paul could have said that if he wanted to. But he didn’t. Instead, he used an imperative verb: “Be angry.” So what do we make of this? Apparently, anger is not intrinsically sinful. It is possible to be angry for the right reasons! Of course, that shouldn’t surprise us, because the Bible says that God Himself is angry! He’s angry at sin and sinners!
Some things should cause outrage! In fact, if they don’t, that’s actually a really bad sign! If someone is hurting my wife or my girls, and I’m like, “Eh, whatever,” what does that say about my heart? It shows that I don’t really love them! Or if someone is dragging God’s name through the mud, and I’m not bothered by that, it shows that my heart is cold toward God. We should never go, “meh” when God’s name is attacked or people are mistreated.
But on the flip side, we all know how destructive sinful anger can be. Every day, people all over the world die as a result of sinful anger. It is one of the most destructive forces in the world. That’s why Paul balances the command, “Be angry,” with the command, “Do not sin.”
I think we all realize how easy it is for anger to degenerate. The longer we hold onto anger, the uglier it becomes. And the uglier we become. That’s why Paul’s admonishment here is so, so helpful. Because he gives us a check valve to prevent our anger from degenerating. What’s the check valve? Deal with it before dark. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Talk to the person, give it to God, pray; but whatever you do, do not nurse your anger! Do not run the audio or video over and over again in your head. Do not work yourself up by gossiping to others about the situation. Do not lie in bed at night and stew. John Piper says that when we nurse anger, it’s like we’re sucking on a candy. You put that lollypop in your mouth, pucker your face, and suck. And as you suck, you feel yourself becoming more and more angry. And it’s actually addictive. You like it. But it’s also all-consuming. It destroys your capacity to feel just about any other emotion. You can’t be happy! Because your angry! And what you don’t realize is that that lollipop is toxic. With every suck, more and more of its poison is seeping into your system. And little by little, it’s killing you. And you don’t even know it.
I have here a helpful list of ways to distinguish righteous anger from sinful anger, by John Piper. We don’t have time to read it this morning; but I printed off several copies, and I’ll just leave them here on the pulpit so that after the service, you can come pick one up, take it home, and meditate on it during your personal Bible study and prayer time.
So that’s the command: “Be angry, but don’t sin.” Now take a look at the motivation in v. 27 (v. 27). The word “place” in that verse means “opportunity.” You’ve all heard the phrase, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground”? Paul says, “An angry heart is the devil’s playground.” Satan loves to exploit sinful anger. Instances of unresolved anger in the church are like little fissures. Little cracks. Satan loves to get his fingers into them and pull us apart. But not only does Satan use sinful anger to destroy the church, he also uses it to destroy individuals and to discredit God’s name. In the last chapter in Ephesians, Paul talks about the importance of putting on the armor of God in order to defend ourselves against the wiles of the devil. But when you cherish sinful anger, you do just the opposite. You actually open yourself up for Satanic attack! So once again, for your own sake, and for the sake of the rest of us, please! Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath!
Stop stealing and work hard (v. 28).
There had been many people saved in Ephesus, which is a wonderful thing! But whenever you have people getting saved, they tend to bring their baggage with them into church! That’s not a bad thing! It just means that there are certain sins you have to deal with, and help people through. One of those sins in the church at Ephesus, was stealing. We don’t know exactly what was going on. Maybe there were shop keepers who were using dishonest weights. They said you were getting a pound of flour, but really it was just three quarters of a pound. Or maybe there were poor Christians who were stealing from the shop keepers or even from other wealthy Christians! We don’t know for sure, but we do know that it was a problem, because Paul addresses it.
As I’ve lived in the High Desert for the past 3 years, one of the things I’ve noticed about our culture is that theft is very common. Have you noticed that? I actually got those vibes right away. We were unloading our U-Haul at church and loading it back into Rick Seaman’s trailer to store at his house until we were able to buy a home, and someone (it might have been John Sevilla) held up one of my gun cases. And he said, “What’s this?” I said, “It’s a gun.” And everyone was like, “I don’t think you want to leave that in the trailer.” You can keep it at my house, in my safe. And I’m thinking, “Wow, does Rick Seaman live in bad part of town? Why wouldn’t my stuff be safe in his trailer?” But I’ve come to find out that no matter where you live up here, theft is an issue. And so, it’s very possible that there’s someone here today who struggles with stealing. And if that’s you, let me say to you first of all that you’re not alone. Other Christians face this temptation. But second, let me say to you that in order to get victory over stealing, you must establish habits that oppose the heart sins associated with this sin.
First, replace laziness with hard work Paul goes after the laziness that is often at the heart of theft. He says, that the former thief is to “labor, working with his hands what is good.” You won’t get victory over the stealing until you deal with laziness! That’s why it’s so important to establish the habit of hard work. Because the habit of hard work will train your heart in the opposite direction. Parents, let’s take note of this. Let’s work diligently in order to train our children to be hard workers. And let’s make sure we teach them that no matter how much they want something, it’s never okay to take what’s not theirs.
Second, replace selfishness with generosity. Paul says that we are to work hard so that we have extra to give to the person in need. Do you see how that represents a complete paradigm shift? This person goes from a total lack of concern for others to a heart that says, “You know what? I’m going to put in some overtime so that I can help out that needy family at church.” He goes from seeing only his own needs to recognizing the needs of others. His selfish heart is being transformed into a servant’s heart. If you’re going to get victory over stealing, you must develop empathy and sacrificial love. And one of the ways to develop those character traits is to establish the habit of giving. There are lots of ways for you to give to people in need! Of course, that’s what the church benevolence fund is for. But you can also give on your own! In fact, one of the funnest things to do with money is to give it away. To buy a really nice gift for the missionary. To put some money in an envelope and sneak it into your friend’s Bible. Some people like to do the old “green handshake.” (That’s not snot, by the way, it’s cash.) Be creative! You will have more fun giving away money than you ever had stealing it! And parents, as we teach our children how to handle money, let’s not forget to teach them how to give it away.
TRANSITION: Paul’s fourth point has to do with our speech (v. 29). Point number five: “Replace rotten speech with wholesome words.”
Replace rotten speech with wholesome words.
The word “corrupt” in v. 29 literally means “rotten” or “unwholesome.” There’s a lot of hype these days about eating healthy, isn’t there? Just a simple walk through the grocery store reveals an astonishing list of labels like, “organic,” “non-GMO,” “gluten free,” “dairy free,” “no artificial preservatives,” “low fat,” “sugar free,” “no high fructose corn syrup,” and the list goes on and on. Of course, those labels remind us that lots of people in our society are very concerned about eating wholesome foods. And most of them are ladies, right? What would we do if we didn’t have moms? It would be like, “Dad, can I have ice cream and potato chips for dinner?” “Ya! That sounds good! Just make sure it’s peanut butter ice cream so you’re getting some protein in there.” Right? Let’s talk for a minute about rotten food. Moms, how many of you would consider feeding your child a piece rotting meat for dinner? There are some foods that just smell really bad when they’re rotten. You sort of cautiously crack open that Tupperware to check on the broccoli and whew! Right? Try serving that up on a plate for your guests, and see if they stick around for dessert! None of us would do that! And yet some of us consistently serve up a course of rotten or unwholesome words to the people we claim to love the most!
We do this in variety of ways. We complain, we criticize, some of us belittle our wives or our children, some ladies gossip or slander others, perhaps we use inappropriate humor, or profanity, or we take God’s name in vain—there are so many ways we can sin with our tongues! The thing about sinning with your tongue is that most of the time, other people hear you, and they’re affected by what you say. If you consistently serve them rotten meat or even just potato chips, their spiritual health is going to suffer!
But of course, Paul lists an alternative. Instead of rotten, unwholesome speech, we’re to employ good, edifying words. The word “edify” means “build up.” Just like a conscientious mother carefully plans her family’s meals so that her children grow big and strong physically, we ought to carefully select words that help those around us to grow big and strong spiritually.
The word “necessary” in v. 29 means that our words ought to meet needs. Do you talk primarily as a means of self-expression? Or do you talk in order to meet the needs of others? I was convicted about this recently as it relates to my Facebook use. It occurred to me that sometimes I’ve use Facebook merely as a forum for publishing my own thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Like “Listen to this profound thought I came up with!” or “Here’s how I feel today,” or “Look at me and my cute kids!” And it occurred to me that that’s not godly! When I post on social media, I should put myself in the shoes of the person reading my post and ask myself the question, “How will they respond to this? Will it help or hurt them spiritually?” It takes effort to be purposeful like that, but it’s so worth it when God uses your words to bless others!
The final phrase in v. 29 is amazing. Carefully chosen, edifying words impart grace to the hearers. God can use your words as a means of grace in somebody else’s life. Isn’t that exciting? Christian, when you purposefully select wholesome words, you are actually building something. Not a physical building that you can see with your eyes, but you are building up a person who has eternal significance, and you are building up this church. That’s the positive motivation. But there’s also a negative motivation given in v. 30 (v. 30). When I give way to rotten, unwholesome speech, it grieves the Holy Spirit. Why is that? I think it’s because the Holy Spirit is the agent who produces unity in the church. That’s what Paul says back in 4:3 when he refers to “the unity of the Spirt.” So when a member of the church sabotages the unity that the Holy Spirit wants to produce, He is grieved.
Of course, why should we care whether or not the Holy Spirit is grieved? If you’re not a believer, you probably don’t care. But as believers, we recognize that the Holy Spirit is the one who seals us for the day of the redemption. In other words, His presence with us guarantees our future glorification. And besides that, He is our comforter. He is the one Jesus sent to be with us and strengthen us here on earth. How ungrateful it would be for us to grieve Him! By the way, the Holy Spirit is not just grieved by unwholesome speech; he’s also grieved by all of the other sins listed in these verses.
When we compare vv. 27 and 30, we see a contrast between the Holy Spirit and Satan. The Spirit is at work to build unity in the church; while Satan is at work to tear it down. And when we sin against each other, on the one hand, the Spirit is grieved; and on the other hand, Satan is happy, because he gets an opportunity to exploit the situation. So suddenly, something as small as a little feud between two church members takes on cosmic significance! It’s not just two ladies gossiping about one another! It’s the Holy Spirit pitted against the devil himself! Brothers and sisters, we must take these things seriously!
TRANSITION: That brings us to Paul’s fifth and final point: replace anger with a spirit of grace (vv. 31-32).
Replace anger with a spirit of grace.
In case you thought that Paul was too easy on sinful anger in vv. 26-27, he really goes after it here! Verse 31 lists four synonyms for anger. First you have “bitterness.” I think we all know what that means. Then you have “wrath,” which is probably more of the explosive “blow up” kind of anger. Then you have “anger,” which is probably more of the slow simmering “clam up” kind of anger. Then you have this word “clamor,” which is really interesting. It literally means “shouting.” It seems to refer to the kinds of heated shouting matches that angry people can get into.
All of us tend to burn a little bit differently, don’t we? Some people are like gasoline—they just explode. Others of us are more like Avocado wood, we burn slowly for a long, long time. But whether you’re more of a “clam up” person or a “blow up” person, there are words in this list that describe your sin tendencies. Paul says, “Put all of it all away! Get rid of all of it! None of it is worth saving! And get rid of the malice or “ill will” that’s behind all that anger, as well.” None of God’s people should bear ill will towards anyone. We should want nothing but the best for everyone we know.
So that’s what we’re supposed to get rid of, but now what are we supposed to replace it with? First, replace malice with kindness. Instead of harboring ill will toward someone, do something kind for him or her. Invite them over to your house! Bake them a batch of cookies! (Now if any of you get cookies from someone else at church this week, you’re going to be suspicious!) But seriously, pray for God to warm your heart, and then do something nice for that person. You will be amazed at how God can use that simple act to change your attitude. Second, replace anger with compassion. One of the reasons that conflicts often get blown out of proportion is because we never stop to consider the other person’s point of view. We need to learn to “walk a mile” in the other person’s shoes. Paul calls that being “tenderhearted.” And it’s a vital ingredient for harmonious relationships. So instead of focusing on how that other person has wronged you, try to imagine how he or she feels. What kinds of struggles is he going through, and in what ways could you help?
So replace malice with kindness, replace anger with compassion, and finally, replace bitterness with forgiveness. The word that Paul uses to describe forgiveness can literally be translated, “Be gracious,” or, “Show grace.” “Show grace to one another, just like God showed grace to you.” I’m sure that some of you listening to this sermon have someone in your life that you are really struggling to forgive. Maybe it’s a parent. Maybe it’s a former friend or co-worker. Maybe you don’t have contact with the person anymore. Maybe the person isn’t even alive! But that bitterness sure lives on in your soul. You may cover it up for a while; but then it returns to rear its ugly head. Can I plead with you right here at the end of the service? Please, get help. Come talk to me! Talk to Pastor Kit! Talk to some other godly mentor who can help you through this struggle. Because if you don’t deal with this, it will destroy you. And you won’t be the only one, either. Whether you intend to or not, you will take others down with you. So once again, for your own sake, and for the sake of the rest of us, please! Deal with your bitterness!
You might be thinking to yourself, “How on earth am I supposed to forgive that person? Pastor Kris, you make it sound too simple—it’s not simple!” I know it’s not simple. But the good news is that you have a wonderful example. The last phrase in v. 32 is so extremely important: “even as God in Christ forgave you.” The sin that was committed against you—no matter what it was—pales in comparison to the sin you committed against God. I know that may sound crazy, but it’s true. If you have a hard time accepting that, you probably ought to spend some time meditating on sin and praying for God to humble you If you feel the weight of your sin, then you are well on your forgiving others. People who appreciate God’s forgiveness find it much easier to forgive others. However, if you do not feel the weight of your sin, then you’ve got serious problems in your relationship with God, because Jesus said, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Christian, you have no other choice! You must learn to forgive!
Isn’t it a joy to think about the fact that God was gracious to us? That’s Paul’s theme in the first three chapters of Ephesians. God was gracious to you! And that’s why we’re here this morning, isn’t it? It’s because God, “who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” I don’t deserve that. You don’t deserve that. That’s why it’s called grace. And that same grace that God has given you, He calls you to give to others.
I’m sure there are people listening to this sermon who have not experienced God’s saving grace. If that’s you, we’re praying for you. We’re praying that God would open your eyes to see the wickedness of your sin and the danger that your facing. But we’re also praying that He would help you to grasp the beauty of grace. That you would understand the way in which Jesus functioned as your substitute on the cross, and that you would cry out to Him for forgiveness and salvation. If you’ve never done that, I would invite you to come talk to me or Pastor Kit after the service. We’ll be standing at the doors, and you can just let us know that you’d like to talk about how to be saved. We’d be glad to drop everything and talk with you.