Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century. On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon's orphanage. It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself. Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit. The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town. People flocked to Parker's church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal. "I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead." The crowd was delighted. The ushers had to empty the collection plates three times. Later that week there was a knock at Parker's study. It was Spurgeon. "You know Parker; you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved; you have given me what I needed.
How often as Christians have we had the opportunity to use these words: “You have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved; you have given me what I needed.” In order to say words like these to someone who has hurt or wronged us, we need to have forgiving hearts and power over our anger. This is exactly what Paul is getting at in our passage this morning. As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace,” we are now well and truly into the second half of Ephesians. We have shifted our focus from grace-filled benefits to grace-filled behaviour, which leads to spiritual unity, maturity and a new life in Christ. Paul spoke to us last week about taking off our old prison uniform of sin and putting on the new suit of Christ. This spiritual transformation must be evident in a believer’s life. Paul tells us this transformation is seen in three stages, which is Godly Conversation, leads to Godly Conduct and is evidenced by our Godly Character.
1. Godly Conversation vs. 25, 29
Paul says that the first stage of Godly transformation is evidenced in our conversation. He says: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body vs. 25.” As Christians, our lives are to be guided by truth. We must have the highest ethical and moral standards. We are to be transparent in all that we say and do. When I began my studies at seminary, one the first things they taught us was the virtue of transparency in the life of both ministers and all believers. Our lectures told us “people will not believe the truth you preach unless they see it evidenced in your life.” This is what Paul is getting at right here; as believers, we have learned the truth is Jesus. His truth has become our truth, for Christ says in John’s Gospel: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me 14:6.”
We must live out this truth in our lives so that people will believe our message because of our methodical pursuit of living out this truth. We all know falsehood or lying means to intentionally mislead someone, or to slander someone’s character. Often we are liberal with the truth and sometimes we think a little white lie won’t hurt. Yet those lies or rumours can break down unity within the church. Often we unintentionally tell a lie, but this is simply because we haven’t cultivated a culture of rigorously telling the truth in all situations. But often even telling the truth can hurt or harm someone if not told with compassion. Therefore, our motive for always speaking with those inside and outside the church must be love.
This is why Paul says: “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 vs. 29” This text parallels James chapter 3, when looking at the use of the tongue. James teaches us that the tongue is a restless evil which can set the whole body on fire. The tongue must be used to build up, and not to break down. The word “corrupting” in the Greek means rotten fruit. Remember the saying, one bad apple spoils the bunch? This is what Paul has in mind. How often do we speak negatively about others in the church or grumble about things not going our way? All this breaks down unity in the church, and when the outside world looks at us, they ask how can this Jesus that they claim to believe in, be good? We must continue to speak the truth in love. Frank E. Gaebelein wrote: “Tongue-control? It will never be achieved unless there is first of all heart and mind control... When any Christian comes to the point of yielding to the Lord – in full sincerity, cost what it may – control of his thought life, the problem of managing his tongue will be solved, provided that such a surrender goes deeper than the intellect and reaches the emotions and will. For the Bible makes a distinction between mere intellectual knowledge of God and the trust of the heart.”
2. Godly Conduct vs. 26-28
Having taken the first step and pointing out that we need to have Godly Conversation, we now come to the second step or stage of this transformation. “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 vs. 26-27.” If you remember last week’s sermon, we recalled that Jesus equates anger with murder. However, here Paul says, “In your anger do not sin” because the emotion of anger is not sinful. In the Old Testament, God often becomes angry with the Israelites. Jesus became angry when he saw how the traders had desecrated his Father’s house, by turning it into a den of thieves. But there is a difference between righteous anger and wrathful anger. Our anger is often to do with our own self-esteem, pride, feelings, and self-image, instead of being angry at injustices. Paul says that we should not allow our anger to fester, and to go unchecked, rather it should be dealt with as soon as possible. That is why he says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”. The longer we take to address our emotions, the more of a foothold they seem to get in our minds and lives, and the more likely we are to sin. This gives the devil licence to run riot in our lives. Let me challenge us all, to make it a priority to deal with the anger issues in our lives, so as not to give the devil a foothold.
The last piece of advice relating to conduct which Paul gives us, is this: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need vs. 28.” What Paul has in mind is the breaking of the 8th commandment, in which God set up the right for us to own personal property, and this is the primary focus. I am reminded of what my Pa often says: If a person can lie, they can steal. This reminds us that stealing isn’t just localised to stealing property. If we don’t spend time with God, or do not bring our gifts and talents to Him, we are stealing from God. If we don’t use the talents, time and resources we were given by God, we are stealing from ourselves. If we consistently turn in poor performances at work, or arrive late and leave early, we are stealing from our employers. If we run our own businesses, we steal if we overcharge on products or services. If we damage another person’s reputation, we are stealing from them. Paul clearly tells us to stop this behaviour and to change. This change should not just be a selfish one, so that we can take care of ourselves. Rather it is to benefit those around us, in our church and community, so that we are able to help those in need.
3. Godly Character vs. 30-32
We now come to the final stage of the spiritual transformation that Paul says must be evident in our lives. Godly conversation and conduct should ultimately lead to Godly character. This transformation is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. Paul says that we should “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption vs. 30” by our sinful conversation and conduct, because by this we break down the Christian body and are unable to witness to the world. The Spirit of God gives evidence that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith and that we serve God. Remember the Holy Spirit is firstly the Spirit of Revelation. He reveals the will and Word of God through the Bible. And through faithful teaching of the Word, he builds up the kingdom of God. We should be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, allow Him to illuminate the Bible for us and to work in our hearts by allowing Him to refine our speech and reform our conduct.
Paul ends with a clear contrast which shows us what true Christian character is. He says: “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 vs. 31-32”. Bitterness is the result of anger which has festered and hardened the heart. All the other sinful attitudes that Paul mentions are a part of this process. Bitterness is the devil’s playground. The world often makes us bitter and angry. We think only about ourselves and take offence at any provocation. In a world where trust is so often betrayed, Paul calls on believers to love uncontrollably, live unselfishly and to give tender-heartedly, because all of this reflects a Godly character. This shows that we have put on the new clothes of righteousness in Christ. We have to forgive those who wrong us, accidently or purposefully, not for our own sakes or theirs, rather to bring glory to Christ who died to purchase our forgiveness and to ransom us from our sins.
There are many reasons to work on this process of transformation in our lives. Montgomery Boice reminds us that Paul has spoken about the Holy Spirit in this passage. He says that it is the task of the Holy Spirit “to mould us into the image of Jesus Chris and who is grieved if that is not happening. It is as if Paul is saying, ‘Act like Christians, for God’s sake. And by God’s power as well”.
There is a story about a little girl who, on the way home from church, turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, the Preacher's sermon this morning confused me." The mother said, "Oh! Why is that?" The girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. Is that true?" "Yes, that's true," the mother replied. "He also said that God lives within us. Is that true, too?" Again, the mother replied, "Yes." "Well," said the girl. "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?"
My prayer is for each one of us, that God might show through us in the same way as the little girl stated. So that the Lord’s Godliness will be reflected in our conversation, conduct and character.