Last week Pastor Becca preached on a reading from the book of Ephesians. I would like to continue that today. I gotta tell ya, I love the book of Ephesians. It is rich with good stuff – stuff that is at the very core of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
One of the neat things about Ephesians is that it can be neatly divided into two almost equal parts. In the first three chapters the Apostle Paul lays out certain truths about Christianity that we all need to pay attention to. In the second three chapters he describes how Christians ought to live. So the first half contains truths that state, “Here is what we believe,” and the second half gives answers to the question, “How then shall we live?”
I want to suggest to you that the first three chapters are dripping with grace – you know what grace is, right? – God’s undeserved love and favor. By grace, God forms us – his church – into a holy community. By grace we are adopted as sons and daughters into this faith community. All the while, Paul wants us to know that we have this grace as a gift because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The second half of this letter focuses then on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It focuses more on lifestyle – on choices – attitudes and actions. And you can’t miss the transition between the first half and the second. You can’t miss it. Paul begins the second half of this letter with these words: “I therefore…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Wow! That sounds like a pretty tall order. You want me to live a life that is worthy? Worthy of the call to which I have been called, huh?
What I want you to see today is that Paul is urging the church at Ephesus – and therefore encouraging us too – to move towards maturity. In other words – as Pastor Becca told us last week – Paul wants us to grow up! – to become more and more like Christ in our thoughts – in our words – and in our actions.
And that is a process. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not something that’s automatic. It is a process. And it is a process that I would hope all of us would be involved in. And if not – well I just want you to know that it’s part of my job – it’s part of Pastor Becca’s job – to encourage you to grow up – and to learn what Christ-likeness means – and then to actually put it into practice.
So I don’t care how old you are – or how long you’ve been a Christian – you never outgrow your need to keep on growing – to keep on learning – to keep on becoming all that God wants you to be. Because there is a real danger – a real danger – when followers of Jesus Christ get too comfortable. It is possible to get too comfortable with this thing called faith.
So I guess a key question I could ask you today is, “How are you doing? How are you doing in your walk with the Lord? How have you changed – how have you grown – what difference has faith in Jesus Christ made in your life? Are you spending time with other believers? Because, let me tell you, your growth in Christ is going to happen most often when you are in the company of other Christians.
So the first half of Ephesians is just dripping with grace – grace that was lavished upon us. Grace that was given to us in baptism. So if the first half of Ephesians is full of grace – then the second half – again – answers the question, “How then shall we live?” Now that I am a baptized – adopted daughter or son – how then shall I live?”
Glad you asked. Our reading today from chapter 4 of Ephesians – gives us a slice of what that looks like. Easy to read. Easy to understand. Not always so easy to do.
Some of the stuff he talks about is pretty much common sense. These are the things we teach our children – and if we’re not –well, we ought to be. But here’s his list:
- Don’t lie.
- Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
- Don’t make room for the devil.
- Don’t be taking things that don’t belong to you.
- Don’t let evil talk come out of your mouth. You know! What did your mother or father say to you when you were a kid? Watch your mouth! Oh! Your parents didn’t say that to you? Oh, they did! So I wasn’t the only one?
Listen!In addition to the things I just told you, there are six vices that Paul wants us to put away.If you’re asking the question today, “How then shall I live,” here are a few things to stay away from: bitterness; rage; anger; brawling; slander; and malice.
Wow, that’s quite a list! Almost sounds like Paul has someone in mind. Some cantankerous so and so.
Let me tell you an old story about a cantankerous, crabby old man. His neighbors avoided him. His four boys moved away from home as soon as they could. You get the picture. His poor wife stood by him, but it was not easy.
One night he went to bed and just slipped away.
His four boys were called in. What should they do? “He was hard to live around,” one of them said, “and no one could get along with him, but he was our pa. We owe him a decent burial, out in the meadow beyond the field.”
So they went out to the barn and found some boards and made a casket, and put the old man in it. They put the box on their shoulders and carried it out past the barn. As they passed through the gate, one of the boys bumped into the post and this caused them to drop the box. The casket broke open and the cantankerous, crabby old man sat straight up.
He was alive! He had only been in a very deep . . . sleep!
Well, life got back to normal. He lived two more years, just as ornery and mean, cantankerous and crabby as ever. The boys could go back to their homes, but his poor wife had to stay and put up with him.
Then one night he went to bed and just slipped away . . . this time for good.
His four boys were called in. What should they do now? “Well,” said one of them, “he was hard to live around, and no one could get along with him, but he was our pa. We owe him a decent burial, out in the meadow beyond the field.”
So they went out to the barn and found some boards and made a casket and put the old man in it. They put the box on their shoulders and started out of the house. And as they did, their mother, the old man’s wife said sternly, “Boys, when you get out by the barn . . . be careful going through that gate!”
That cantankerous old man should have read our lesson for today, which says: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
How then shall we live? Well, there IS a better way. Listen to a second list Paul gives us. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
These I think are the things – as disciples of Jesus Christ – these are the attitudes and the behaviors that we value. And yes we’re going to mess up on these. But when we mess up, God forgives us. He picks us up and keeps us going.
And one last thing. We all have a picture of what a cantankerous person looks like. The person we don’t want to be around. The person we don’t want to be. So I think we can agree – the cantankerous man or woman model is not a model we want to follow. The good news is that Paul offers us a different model – a better model. He says, “Be imitators of God…”
In other words –be imitators of Jesus Christ. What I tell you all the time – learn what it means to be Christ-like. As I told you two weeks ago, learn to love as he loved, to show compassion as he showed compassion, to forgive as Jesus forgives.
That’s the gospel! That’s the good news! We are drawn to God –we are drawn to each other – not by cantankerous, loud angry words – but by words of love and forgiveness. By actions that come from love and forgiveness.
So how then shall we live? Now that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, how then shall I live? There is an answer. Listen once again:
31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.