Read Ephesians 4
We could spend a few weeks on this chapter talking about Gifts from God, many enumerated herein. We could talk about those who follow Jesus, the church, being the body of Christ and being called to unity.
We are one in the Spirit and we are one in the Lord. We are one in Christ Jesus.
We sing those words frequently and they bring us much assurance and encouragement. It is wonderful to know that we have been equipped with special gifts to help us produce good fruit. It is encouraging to know that we will not all have the same gifts but we will all have a contributing place in the body of Christ.
We should all be encouraged to know that the body of Christ is our family. We don’t need to covet each other’s gifts and talents and unique abilities. We need to discover and discern how God has equipped us to contribute and when and where we need to lean on others in the body of Christ.
Diversity of gifts and unity in the body are a divine model. We seldom it right. Sometimes we get close. Sometimes we get a taste of what it is to live in a family of faith.
For the moment, let’s save the larger discussion on Gifts of the Spirit and Unity in the Body for another time; and let’s dive into growing in grace.
Growing in grace only begins with salvation. You receive the free gift and begin this course called discipleship. Once we have begun this course, we are to be different from the world.
Paul would say take off the old self—that’s the person conformed to the image of the world; and put on the new self—that’s the person being made in the image of God.
To understand Paul, and even some other parts of the Bible, we need to understand a paradigm or model that we might call all ready done/in the process.
Are you made in the image of God? Are you being made in the image of Christ Jesus? Are we there or not? The answer is “yes!”
Has God made us in the image of himself—which surely includes Jesus—or are we on our way to being made in that image?
The answer once again is just “yes.” Yes to both. We are made in his image and on the way to being made in his image.
We will see more of this all ready done/in the process thinking from Paul as we navigate his letters. For now, understand that what we will discuss forthwith falls within the framework of discipleship—following Jesus as those who accept him as our Lord and Savior and Master.
We are blessed with salvation, equipped with special gifts, and designed to work as one body with Christ as the head. Now what?
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
I love the phrase, speaking the truth in love. I use it a lot. Frequently, I use it beyond its original context but within the author’s intent, I think.
We should consider the original statement and intent. First, Paul is writing to members of the body of Christ. These are disciples. We are disciples.
He gives them and us a starting point for growth. It is truth. We must speak the truth to each other, not to hurt, but to grow in God’s grace.
Truth spoken to other believers should have the potential to produce growth.
Now I have shared with many of you on occasion that in the course of my life I was accused of being tactful twice; however, you should note that I was acquitted on both counts. Being just blatantly honest comes naturally to me.
But the direction here is to speak the truth in love, and the “in love” part means that there is potential for growth in another believer.
There is another condition if we want effectiveness. I meet with people all the time who come looking for money. Trust me, I do speak the truth in love with them and I seldom expect much growth. Why?
Because most of the time, I am meeting with someone who is not much interested in being a disciple, much less growing in grace. Their focus is just fixing the immediate problem and not growth.
Many are saved. The gift of God is for all and many have accepted it, but so many do not want to follow Jesus, live by God’s wisdom, or make any sort of productive changes in their lives.
I speak the truth in love and fully believe that I am called to do that, but Paul’s counsel is to a body of believers that want to truly follow Jesus. They want to grow in God’s grace.
If you have spent any time studying God’s wisdom, then you will note that the fool or the foolish are not much interested in correction or growth.
This counsel is for members of the body of Christ who desire to grow in God’s grace. With truth as our foundation, we are much less vulnerable to what Paul described as the schemes of the world, these cunning and deceitful ploys to lead us away from God.
While we do not live under the law for our salvation; that does not mean that there are not some good guidelines for godly living that we should strive to go by.
In general, metaphoric terms we are told to put off our old self and put on the new one.
Here we go again with this all ready done/in the process thinking. We know from Paul’s second letter to Corinth that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
In this letter, Paul is saying that we need to be a part of making this new creation. We are to put off the old self and put on the new self. This is growing in grace and there is a whole lot of participation for us.
We are to get rid of falsehood and put on truth.
We are to get rid of vulgar speech and put on encouragement in our speech.
We are to get rid of corruption and deceit and unclean desires of our hearts and put on God’s righteousness that we know in Christ Jesus. You might have heard it as put off corruption and put on incorruption.
We are to get rid of coarseness and put on gentleness.
We are to get rid of arrogance and put on humility.
We are to get rid of words that tear down and put on words that encourage.
We are to get rid of selfishness and put on unity.
We are to get rid of futile thinking and put on a renewed mind.
We are to get rid of darkness and put on light.
We are to get rid of unsavory pursuits. If you have been stealing to make a living, stop it. Get a honest job. OK, let’s keep with the parallelism here. Get rid of being a thief as your livelihood and put on employment.
We are to get rid of bitterness, rage, brawling, slander, and malice in all of its forms and put on kindness and compassion and forgiveness.
Paul even throws in an OBTW in his forgiveness counsel, just as Christ has forgiven you.
Take off the old self and put on the new self. Stop living in the darkness and live in the light.
Stop living just for ourselves and bear with one another in love.
It’s not like once we have been saved that we have no guidelines at all. Paul gives the big metaphors and general guidance as well as some specifics.
Paul makes a special note here in the area of anger.
Remember James counsels us to be slow to anger. Perhaps anger is not something that has to be completely purged from our system, but we are admonished not to let our anger lead to sin. A little inductive reasoning might tells us that by itself, anger itself is not a sin.
Anger is an emotion that we have all surely experienced.
Paul is saying, master you anger so that it does not become your master for you are being made in the image and likeness of your Master.
Jesus had some righteous anger. Remember that he turned over tables and made a whip to run off those who made his Father’s house a den of thieves. They made it into a commercial zone instead of a house of prayer and worship.
We should note that Jesus was not quick to anger. He had been in the temple when he was 12 and now some 20 years later, he lets loose his anger.
Our counsel is not to let anger get the best of us. We must not let it lead us to sin. The Message says it this way.
Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.
Other translations say, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
Going to bed while you are still angry makes for a bad night’s sleep and is not in keeping with putting on the new self.
You might not be able to resolve the issue that led to the anger but you can put the anger to bed before you turn in. We must not hold onto anger and weaken our defenses against evil and the Evil One.
Paul says don’t give the Devil a foothold. Give it a few weeks and we will get to putting on the full armor of God. We have to get to and through marriage first in this letter, but for now, do not call it a night if you are still wrestling with anger.
You may have unresolved issues but don’t let anger govern in your life.
Remember that you have some help. The Holy Spirit is walking with you all the time. The body of Christ is your family and is available to encourage and counsel you.
Within the body of Christ are some with special gifts—evangelists, pastors, teachers, and many more. Paul’s list here is not an exclusive listing of all gifts.
The body of Christ is equipped to help you grow in grace. You are to help others as part of that body.
So what is it to grow in grace? Let’s start with not letting the sun go down on our anger. It’s a good model.
Sometimes it saves the day.
But must we apply this model only to anger?
What if we have vulgar language? Should we not do something to improve that before the day’s end? We may not eliminate a lifetime’s vocabulary in a single day but we could take a few steps in that direction.
If you are a thief or engaged in other criminal activity, that might just be something to give up before you go to bed tonight. It might take you more than a day to find an honest job and you can get unemployment if you quit your thieving job, but you should give it up now nonetheless.
If we are mean spirited or malicious or bitter, we need to work on that today. It doesn’t go on our to do list. It is not something that you do when you get around to it. Don’t let the sun go down on your bitterness.
If you have been saved by grace and faith and have decided to follow Jesus, put on the new self before the sun goes down.
We are a new creation and we get to put on the attributes of that newness every day. First we need to rid ourselves of some old habits and old ways and even old thinking.
There is a saying that seems to have been around for almost 500 years without any certainty on who said it first, but it bears repeating here.
There is no time like the present.
God has made us in his image and preserved us for all eternity; yet, each and every day we are called to grow in grace and become more and more like Jesus.
We still have a lot of work as far as putting on the new self goes. It is a certainty that we will get there because God as he spoke through his most prolific letter writer says we are already a new creation.
But we still have lots to do and there is no time like the present. Let’s do all that we can to put on the new self today. And as far as those things that belong to the old self, let’s cast them off before the sun goes down.
Paul gives us lots of theology in his letters, but in this part of his letter he challenges to work on our lives. This is part of discipleship. This is growing in grace.
our salvation is not at risk in our conduct and behavior but our conduct and behavior should stand in stark contrast to most of the world.
Paul says, “Let’s work on that. Let’s do it today. There is no time like the present.”
Don’t let the sun go down on your anger or anything else that you know you need to work on that you could do something about today.
I have been talking a lot about connecting the disconnected, connecting with other congregations and denominations, and reaching the lost. Let’s take a week and focus on ourselves and grow in grace.
Let’s work on ourselves this week whatever that may mean to you.
· Our worship
· Prayer time
If you don’t know what to work on, you might ask someone within the body of Christ who you trust to speak the truth in love to you.
Why on earth would I ever do that? Why would I ask someone else what I need to work on?
Because you want to grow in grace. We know that challenge and support working together produce growth. We want to grow.
Why did people read Paul’s letters when he consistently challenged them?
Because they wanted to grow. They knew salvation and wanted to grow in God’s grace. I think that we do too.
Let’s take off those old clothes and put on the new, and let’s do it today. We can at least take some steps in the right direction today.
Let’s not let the sun go down on us today until we have grown a little in God’s grace.
There is no time like the present.