Other sermons in this series
You might not think much of some of the people sitting here with you this morning, but I wonder if you could imagine a church full of people who don’t have the first clue. About Christian living.
Where they actually need to be told the kind of Christian living basics you’ve maybe taken for granted all your life. Ideas of right and wrong that have kind of been hard wired into your culture. That they don’t share.
Imagine sitting on a Sunday morning in a church full of keen brand new Christians. Who have grown up in a world where anything goes. And now they’ve come to faith in Jesus. And their parents never told them that stealing is wrong, because the principle is you take whatever you can to get ahead.
And nobody ever told them that their word was their bond. Because in their world, you say whatever you need to say. To get what you want.
That’s the church in Ephesus. As Paul writes to them this letter.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE
And this morning we’re going to see the ultimate payoff of the question we’ve been teasing through the series, who do you think you are. Because Paul’s point is, you’ve got to realise who you are as God’s people. And then change – to live like it.
The metaphor he uses is, you’ve got to dress yourself in a way that fits your new identity.
Some people have nightmares where you turn up to school and you find you’re still in your pyjamas.
Paul says, it’s like that.
Paul says, you new guys… you’ve been invited to join God’s holy people. So how about you dress for the occasion?
The word Gentile that you’ll see in the passage is the standard Jewish word for anyone non Jewish like us. In a city like Ephesus in Turkey, it’s most of them. People from a background of idol worship and temple prostitution. And everything else that goes with it. Which means they’ve got some re-thinking to do.
As they metaphorically change their clothes, as they transform their outside behaviour, to match who they now really are underneath.
And the change of clothes Paul’s proposing, it’s actually calling on us to look radically different from our own world in the way we do life. In the way we do integrity. In the way we do marriage. In the way we don’t do money and greed and ambition.
Let’s dive in. Ephesians 4 verse 17, Paul says, “so I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking.”
You might have thought that way. You might have lived that way. But it’s got to change.
He says look back at your mates. “They’re darkened in their understanding, and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”
The lights are off. In the understanding department. Their hearts are hard. But here’s the thing. Yours aren’t. You’ve changed.
Verse 19. He hasn’t finished. Having lost all sensitivity, they’ve given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
Just do what you feel like. That’s sensuality. Whatever you love doing, just do it. Because love, according to the promo for married at first sight with Australia’s first arranged gay marriage on a reality show, because love is the purest of emotions. So how can anyone say it’s wrong?
Well the thing is when you stop to think about it there are all kinds of love that are wrong, aren’t there? All kinds of loves you can mix up and misplace. It’s wrong to love your car like you love your mother.
I’m going to go out on a limb here.
It’s kind of wrong to love your dog like you’d love your kids. They’re not actually fur babies. They’re pets.
Marry whatever you love. See, that’s sensuality. None of it’s wrong, because you just do what you feel like. It’s the sex craziness we live in the middle of, it’s the satisfaction craziness that we live in the middle of; it’s the consumer craziness all around us. It’s the drive to be comfortable that saturates our western society. We live in a culture that’s all about relentlessly satisfying our senses. And we’re so easily caught up in it.
“So I tell you this, says Paul, and I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do. It’s time to start living like the saints. Because you’ve joined them.
Which is what Paul says to complete the thought down in chapter 5 verse 3… and I promise it’s the last time I’ll say this, but it’s the usefulness of the older English translations that used the word saints to refer to the original Jewish Christians that were the first to come to faith; and now we Gentiles have joined them.
“No longer live like the Gentiles do,” but down the page in 5 verse 3, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s Saints.”
See, that’s why they’re going to have to put on a whole new way of life.
They used to be Gentiles. And now they’re saints. So they need to start… living like it. Which is exactly what you were taught, he says, when you came to Jesus. Weren’t you? That the gospel doesn’t just offer forgiveness from sins and an excuse for more sinning. But a whole new start. A whole new identity. A whole new answer to the question who do you think you are.
Surely, he says; back up to verse 22, Surely 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, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Friends, if you’re dabbling with the idea of Christianity and you kind of think it’s okay except you might have to change and that puts you off; let me tell you it’s all about change. It’s all about a new start. A new attitude of mind. That plays out in new kinds of righteous living.
New attitudes. New ways of living.
It’s all about being a new creation. A new you.
I mean, if that’s not what you want, what are you here for?
Because that’s ultimately what we’re on about. Taking off the old. Putting on the new.
A whole new dress code. Which I want to suggest as you look through the piles of ties and socks and shirts and dresses that Paul’s pulling off the rack in the next 30 or so verses have got a few common threads. Not that they’re all checks and stripes. But some characteristics that bring the wardrobe together.
Here’s the first one.
MODELLED ON JESUS
And it’s important that you notice before we dive into all the dos and the don’ts of Christian living; here’s where it’s coming from. It’s modelled on Jesus.
Verse 20; we just skipped over it.
That Gentile stuff, keeping going like that says Paul, “That’s not however the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ. And were taught in him. In accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”
It’s hearing about Christ that brings the change. And should have already.
Or verse 32. The model’s so clear.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
There’s the model.
Or 5 verse 1. 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.
Got the drift? This is a fashion trend that starts with sacrificial Jesus. Who gave himself up for us. As a model of us walking in the way of love and giving ourselves up for one another.
Or 5 verse 13 and 14. Everything that’s illuminated becomes a light. Which is why it is said, Wake up O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Which means you see that you then become a light of Christ. Out of the Gentile darkness. Into the light of Christ. To be a light.
MOTIVATED BY THE SPIRIT
It’s all modelled on Jesus. And secondly, it’s a life change that’s motivated by the spirit.
Which is why in 4v30 we’re not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom we’ve been sealed for the day of redemption.
God’s Spirit has got ambitions for you. And astonishingly will be saddened; if you’re digging your heels in.
Which is why in 5 verse 18 instead of being drunk we’re to be filled with the Spirit and sing; in verse 19; songs from the Spirit that are full of thankfulness that comes right from the heart. Giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In contrast to their Gentile friends all around them back in verse 18 whose hearts are so hardened.
See the difference Jesus brings? See the transformation the Spirit brings? From hearts dark and hardened. To lit up by Jesus and full of thankful songs.
Modelled on Jesus. Moved by the Spirit. That’s where it starts. Which for these first Gentile Christians in Ephesus was going to mean a whole new way of living. A whole new outfit. Now that they understand who they are in the body of Christ, they need to live it out.
There’s more. So let’s see how it’s meant to play out.
BEST FOR THE BODY
Because a key part of our new style is we’ll constantly be wanting to do what’s best for the body. Which is the idea we met last time earlier in the chapter.
Therefore, says Paul, verse 25, because Jesus has given you a whole new sense of identity, therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour.
Paul says, put it off. Be scrupulously truthful. Why? Get this. Because, he says, still in verse 25; because, we’re all members of the one body. I mean, why would the hand lie to the head? Or the toe to the finger? We’re all in it together.
I reckon there are all kinds of subtle ways our culture rewards dishonesty. I noticed the other day there’s a new code of practice for the banking industry. I gather if you work in the industry you pay a yearly subscription to say you’re working under their code of ethics, and I guess you’ll get a certificate to put on your office wall. I don’t remember it exactly, but when I heard them talking about it on the radio it was stuff like, our word is our bond.
I mean, if that’s their new code of ethics. What was it before? In Ephesus, the place where they’ll hand themselves over to sensuality and they’re full of greed, they’ll say whatever gets them ahead.
But not in the body. Because we’re in it together.
Same logic with stealing in verse 28.
Get rid of it. Verse 28. Take it off.
And instead, put on your work clothes so you’ve got something to share. Notice how absolutely opposite of stealing that is. I’ll take from you to make me more comfortable. Becomes the new clothes of I’ll work; to make you more comfortable. I’ll get a job not for the satisfaction it gives me; but so I’m the sort of person in a position to share with someone else who’s in need. In the body.
It’s astonishingly different, isn’t it?
Same in verse 29 with unwholesome talk. Talking people down. Gossiping. Doing verbal damage. I heard about a church the other day where there’s a small group of women; and between them they’ve almost ruined the church. Just by their words.
Take it off, says Paul. And instead, put on words that build up instead. Words that are weighed according to how much they’ll help before you even say them.
Read it yourself. Verse 29:
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.
If you’re going to stop stealing and work with your hands for the sake of the needs of other people, you’re going to weigh your words the same way. Building others up according to their needs.
It’s the same wording he’s used before about building up the body. Do you get that? Are you doing that?
There’s more in the old wardrobe to get rid of. Verse 31.
Get rid, verse 31, of all bitterness, rage and anger and brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
Now anger was there before, back in verse 26.
In your anger, do not sin. Which seems to be saying if anger sneaks up on you by surprise, and that’s inevitable sometimes; keep in mind that the sin that follows it is optional.
Bite your tongue, he says, deal with it before dusk, and don’t give the Devil anything to work with. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. It’s a popular old proverb, and here’s where it comes from.
Anger. Bitterness under the surface.
The fights. The bad feeling.
Anything that divides the body. Instead of building it up.
Paul says, our dress code is always going to be doing what builds up the body and doesn’t divide it.
Here’s another characteristic of the Christian dress code. And it’s radically different from the world around us. Which is becoming more obvious every day.
And I want you to notice the first two words, because the problem is that sometimes we Christians in a world that differs on this stuff, we’re heard to be trying to make rules for everyone else that we don’t even stick to ourselves. And we’ve got a reputation for being fixated on sex.
Look at his words.
Among you, says Paul, there mustn’t even be a hint of sexual immorality, or impurity, or greed. Because these just aren’t proper for God’s holy people. For God’s saints.
Number 1, notice how greed gets dropped in right beside sexual immorality. And impurity. And it is kind of odd, isn’t it, that you seem to get Christians publicly campaigning on sexual morality in a way you don’t get Christians publicly campaigning on greed.
But here’s the point. Among you. Says Paul. Among you as God’s people. There’s got to be a clear difference in this stuff.
And tragically so often there isn’t. And so now there are royal commissions about it.
Funny, the world actually expects us to be different in this stuff. And it makes headlines when we’re not.
The Northern Territory Sports Minister, back in June. Caught up sending sexually explicit videos to a female constituent. The media called him “a married Christian and father of three with a deep commitment to his local church.”
It’s news. Because it just doesn’t correlate. Sexual immorality. Impurity. It’s not who we are.
Paul says take off the old, put on the new.
Which might mean for you turn off. The computer. The video. The Internet.
Do something definite. Cut short the relationship that you know is heading the wrong direction.
Do it fast. Don’t wait until it gets messy. Get some help. And put it off.
In this, says Paul, we’re meant to be incredibly different to the world around us. And that’s going to be more and more evident. Hopefully in a good way. As things like marriage are progressively redefined to take out the commitment. To eliminate any service and sacrifice. To eliminate gender distinctions.
People should be able to look at us when that stuff doesn’t work, and see a radical difference.
Which has actually been happening since the very earliest days of Christianity. Listen to this. From a second century Greek letter. It’s addressed to a guy called Diognetus, and it says this…
… the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe… they live anywhere, they by and large live like the people around them.
… and yet, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life… every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.
They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.
Maybe sometime soon we’ll be the only ones. Who live like that. A different people. Because unborn and newborn lives are safe with us. Because we share our food. But not our marriage partners.
PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ
It’s all about what we’re going to put on. And what we’re going to take off.
A friend of mine was on holidays in London. He turned up to meet friends at the famous Ritz hotel. There he was, in his jeans and his T-shirt and his Reeboks.
He didn’t get past the door! The doorman said, I’m sorry sir; proper trousers, proper shoes. And a tie.
Look, there’s even a sign like that at the Arana Leagues club.
Paul says, you Gentiles are joining the saints. God’s historic people of blessing. So dress for the occasion. Take off all this stuff that’s so typical of the world. Forget the fact that everybody else is doing it. Because the stuff the world’s doing just isn’t proper for the saints of God.
Get rid of your obscenity and coarseness. Get rid of foolish talk. It’s out of place.
And put on kindness.
Put on compassion.
Put on forgiveness.
Put on love.
Put on self sacrifice.
Put on sexual purity.
Put on honesty.
Put on sharing.
Put on words of encouragement.
Put on thankfulness.
And don’t be fooled by thinking it’s okay just to turn up in your old gear that doesn’t fit who you really are.
Chapter 5 Verse 6, he says, Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. So don’t be partners with them. The reality is, God’s judgement is going to fall on things like dishonesty and immorality and impurity and greed. So why would you want to flirt with it.
Because Paul says, you were once darkness. But now you’re not. You were once darkness. But now you’re light. So live like it. In all goodness. Righteousness. Truth. Find out what’s pleasing to God. And do that. And have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.
After all – who do you think you are?
Now maybe you’re a Christian who’s been fooled the same way. I mean, it’s almost an odd thought. Like I said, Paul’s writing this letter to a church full of people who need to be told not to lie to each other. A church where if you leave your phone on the seat, the person in the row behind’s likely to nick it. A church where they actually need to be told to cut out swearing at each other.
Might be the same with you.
I mean, at least at MPC we’re more or less polite on a sunday.
But what are you like in the car on the way home? I wonder, how different are you to the non-Christians you work with?
At the level of sensuality. Of pleasure seeking. On the level of what you do with your money. On the level of your language in the workplace. On the level of gossip. On the level of honesty? On the level of web porn. Are you different? Or not?
And most important, does the difference start from the inside? Right from who you think you are, as part of the people of God. Who’s joined the saints.
Look I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say if we’re going to be an outreaching church, if we’re going to go into our next 90 years still calling on people to follow Jesus… it’s no stretch of the imagination to say you’re going to find yourself in church sitting next to someone who’s got absolutely no background in what Christian living even looks like. Assumptions about right and wrong that have in the past been hard wired into our culture. That are now going and going and gone.
Get used to it. And learn to be patient.
If you are a person like that; if that’s where you’ve come from – you might be here today with no Christian background. And we love that.
But don’t be surprised if there’s change involved as you learn what living as part of the people of God looks like. Don’t for a minute think you just come into the church and keep going as you are. Don’t for a minute think there’s any point in saying, but the rest of the world thinks different to you Christians. Of course it does.
So what do you need to change. This week. Today?
What are you wearing. That’s embarrassingly old fashioned?
A bit of anger to take off? And gentleness to put on maybe? I’m working on that one all the time.
A bit of sexual impurity to take off?
I don’t know what it is you need to be taking off, but keep at it. Chat with me or with Kim if you need some personal encouragement.
But do it now. Do it today. Do it rejoicing with the power of the spirit. Do it because of who you really are.