A New Set of Clothes Audio
If you haven't been here for the full six weeks of sermons on Ephesians, you missed out on a lot, But we don't want you to miss out so let me fill you in on the story so far. We've been discovering the amazing secrets of God's plan, prepared before the beginning of time, brought to fulfilment through Jesus Christ and now awaiting its conclusion. This plan was that God would restore humanity to the way we were meant to be. He'd restore our human nature, restore our human relationships, bringing us to unity under Christ, as part of his body. What's more he'd do that by creating a people for himself, a family in fact, that draws its identity from God himself. He'd do that by adopting us as his sons and daughters, joint heirs with Christ to the kingdom of God.
We discovered that God has done this by sending Jesus Christ to take on human flesh and in that human form to die and rise again; that God has raised Christ to sit at his right hand in the heavenlies. What's more he's also raised us from death and incorporated us into Christ. So we too have been raised with him and have also been seated with him in the heavenlies.
But that lays on us an enormous responsibility doesn't it? With privilege always comes responsibility. The heir to the throne may want to kick up his or her heels and just have fun, but in fact they need to prepare for the time when they'll take over as king or queen. In our case we already have a position of great responsibility. We're ambassadors for the king, that is, ambassadors for our father. In the previous chapter we saw how the Church is meant to show forth to the world, and to the spiritual forces in the heavenlies, the wisdom of God. And how will we do that? As we saw last week we'll do it by demonstrating the unity that comes from being the children of the one true God; from being a family united in Christ. We'll do it as we grow to maturity, as each member does their part in building up the whole. And today we discover more of how we can show God's wisdom and glory to the world. How? By imitating God, as beloved children; by living in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
We all know how children love to imitate their parents. They walk like them, they talk like them, they sit like them. They want to be like them. For a while at least. And hopefully the patterns, the habits and attitudes they pick up are good ones. So too, we need to imitate God our Father in the way we act towards others.
Notice though, that what God wants us to do is quite counter-cultural. In fact even in Paul's day it was counter-cultural. He says you're not to live the way the Gentiles do; not to live the way the world around you lives. Look at how he describes those among whom the Ephesians are living. They're darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.
These are very religious people, mind you. They regularly go to one of the many temples in Ephesus to offer sacrifices. Remember when Paul was there he caused a riot because the silversmiths were worried that their trade was being undermined by this new religion. People had stopped buying the silver shrines that they used to give offerings to Artemis. But this religious observance of theirs arose from ignorance, from their understanding being darkened. As a result they were alienated from the life of the true God.
I wonder did you see the article the week before last about Francis McNab, the minister at St Michael's Collins St. He's decided to set up his own religion. He's decided we don't need a God like you or I might worship. He says, "Until 1900, people believed in heaven above, earth, and hell below. We have given up that idea. He's no longer the God up there, an interventionist God. We can all feel a presence beyond ourselves and are trying to get in touch with the presence better than ourselves. It's trying to bring a more humanitarian understanding." He goes on to say "Abraham is probably a concoction, Moses was a mass murderer and Jesus Christ just a Jewish peasant who certainly was not God. In fact, there is no God, in the usual sense of an interventionist deity - what we strive for is a presence both within and beyond us."
I know it sounds judgmental but I'd say that sounds like a man who's darkened in his understanding, and alienated from the life of God because of his ignorance and hardness of heart. And sadly he's just one of many, though it's most sad because he claims to be a minister in the Christian Church.
But listen to how Paul continues. "They've lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity." If that was true in Ephesus, it's even more true today. I'm old enough to remember when people tempered their language because a woman was present - or even a man if they knew he was "religious". But these days women's language can be as crude or more so than men. I remember TV shows being taken off the air because of a hint of sexual activity. Now anything goes. And the cruder it is the more popular it's likely to be. But that's not how we're to live. If we're to imitate our father we'll show the exact opposite of that sort of behaviour. We'll turn our back on the sorts of ways the world acts and learn a new way of behaving.
In fact he uses a very visual image doesn't he? He says put off your old self and clothe yourself with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
You've just come in from working in the garden, your clothes are covered in dirt and manure and bits of weed and your wife says to you, "You've earned a treat. Let's go out to dinner." It's actually a treat for her, but we'll ignore that thought. What do you do? You know you couldn't possibly go the way you are. So you go into the bathroom, take off your filthy clothes, have a shower to clean yourself up, put on a clean shirt and trousers and you're ready. And how do you feel? You feel like a new man don't you? Ready to enjoy an evening out with your wife!
That's what he says we need to do as Christians. We're to put off the old way of life, the old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts.
Notice there's a message for us here: when we point out the immorality of our world, we're included; we suffer from the same failings as everyone else. We too have bodies and minds that are corrupt, that are darkened in their understanding. Without the Spirit of God we too would be doing all the things he criticises in the world around him.
But we're to put off that old self, to be renewed in the spirit of our minds and clothe ourselves with the new self; a new self, notice, that's created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Just as your shower washes away all the dirt and muck from your gardening so Jesus Christ has wiped away all your sin and restored you to righteousness and holiness. God has remade us in his image, according to his likeness.
Now if it were just my effort involved I wouldn't have a hope of imitating God. I'm far too weak to keep that up for any length of time. But God has given me his Spirit to remake me, to change me into his image again. So there's some hope for me after all. But if I'm to show this new self to the world, what do I need to do? What sorts of things should I concentrate on?
He says "25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another." It can be a dangerous thing to speak the truth, can't it? People don't always want to hear it. They'd prefer to live in ignorance or under an illusion than face the truth of their shortcomings. And who are the people who are most likely to tell you the truth? It's your family isn't it? Your husband or wife, your parents or your children. And they can tell you the truth because they have a relationship with you that's based on love and trust.
Well what sort of a relationship do we have with one another here at St Thomas'? Are we truly brothers and sisters who love each other? Have we built up a level of trust with one another that allows us to be honest with one another? Do we know one another well enough to know how to speak the truth in love? Let me suggest if you can't answer yes to that question with confidence then you need to do something about it. Get to know the others in the congregation. Organise your own Sunday lunches like the winter lunches we organised for you last month. Invite someone over for afternoon tea. [Bill and I aren't the only ones you should be getting to know over cups of tea or coffee.] Then maybe we'll be manage to build relationships of trust, built on truth and integrity.
The next thing he says is "26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil." Now this is a tricky one isn't it? Lots of us were brought up thinking that anger was a bad thing. We were told we shouldn't get angry at our brothers or sisters. If we lost our temper we were punished or at least made to feel bad about it. But here he is, telling us to be angry. Well, the truth is, there's a lot in this world that we should be angry about. Jesus was angry at the money changers in the Temple. He was angry at the Pharisees who made rules that stole the joy of life from people. God was angry with the rich and powerful who took advantage of the weak and helpless. So it's OK to be angry about the right things. But just remember the next bit: "Do not sin." When you feel yourself getting angry, remember your own sinful nature. Remember that you're a fallible human being who sometimes gets things wrong. Make sure you haven't misunderstood something. Make sure you're not overreacting. Make sure you're not just responding to some subconscious button that someone's just pushed. And when you do get angry, don't let it take over. That's the point of not letting the sun go down on your anger. If you hang on to your anger, if you let it sit there, it'll fester away and do you more harm than the original offence.
I meet so many people who are holding a grudge; and have been for many, many years, some of them. There are still people around Broughton Rd who are angry because the vicar closed down the drama group back in the 70s! There are people who won't darken the doors of a church because they're angry about something that happened years ago. Sometimes they're angry with whoever did that thing and sometimes they're angry with God. But whoever it is, their anger is a killing thing. It kills the joy of life. It kills their relationship with other people and more importantly with God. So get it out of your system. Don't give the devil any opportunity to get at you.
He speaks to those who have been converted out of doubtful backgrounds. He tells those who were thieves to stop it; get a job and work honestly with their own hands. And notice the motivation for this work. This is the reason all of us should have for earning a living: so we have something to share with the needy. You may have thought you were working as hard as you do to pay off a mortgage, or to save enough to be able to apply for a mortgage, or maybe to put your kids through a private school, but God says we're to work so we can share with those who have less than us.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths. I mentioned earlier how far our community standards have fallen as far as the sort of language people use is concerned. And I have to say that this seems to be as much an issue for Christians as it is for non-Christians. I hear a lot of evil and crude talk coming out of the mouths of Christians. I'm not sure that many people take notice of the criterion here for choosing their words. He says only use those words that are useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. I don't think most swear words give much grace to those who hear. Sometimes they may be funny, but they're rarely gracious.
Notice that such behaviour grieves the Holy Spirit. Why is that? Well, the analogy he's used of putting on the new self gives us a hint I think. How does this new self come to be? How do we get to put it on? It happens when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, doesn't it? The Holy Spirit brings this new being into existence as he begins to transform us into God's likeness. So whenever we revert to the old self, the old ways of behaving, the Holy Spirit is grieved because at that moment all his good work is being undone.
No we're to get rid of the old ways of acting: bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, and malice. That's the way we used to act. That's the way non-Christians act. But it's not the way we should. And if it is the way you act then repent, put that sort of behaviour away from you. Instead show the character of God in the way you behave towards others: be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. It's sort of come full circle at that point hasn't it? This is where we started. If that's how we behave towards one another then we will trust one another. We will have relationships built on love and trust that allow us to safely speak the truth to one another.
And so we come back to the core idea: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." The core motivation for all Christian behaviour is the desire to be like God. It's not fear of an interventionist God, of a God of retribution, as Francis McNab caricatures it. It's love for a loving Father. We behave like children who've experienced the love of their Father and respond to that love with love for him and for the rest of the family. We imitate Christ who as the firstborn Son gave his life as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God so we could become part of his family.
What are we to do in response to God's love? "Put away our former way of life, our old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23and be renewed in the spirit of our minds, 24and clothe ourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."