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Live, Love and Behave Like Jesus

Date: May. 9, 2021

Author: Bob Henkins

Ephesians 4:17-32

Key Verse: Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there. I am thankful and blessed to have a wonderful mother. This might be one of the few things that most of us in America can agree on these days. Our country seems to be more divided than ever. Just look at the 2020 presidential election results. Trump had more than 74M votes, more than any other candidate in history. And he would have won except that Biden got more than 81M. I’m not promoting either side; I’m merely showing just how divided our country has become. Tensions are high between political groups, racial groups, social and economic groups and everywhere you turn this group is criticizing that group while that group despises this group. We are blaming each other and pointing fingers. America is like a powder keg just waiting to explode. It has gotten so bad that even a virus, a pandemic, has become political, where simply wearing a mask can start a battle. How did our nation get to this point? How did we end up here? The crumbling of our nation is caused by the deterioration of our unity as our love for our neighbor dwindles our anger and resentment rises. We want to blame others, but we must look inward because the root of this problem starts with us and our relationship with God. For without a life sustaining relationship with God, we do not have the strength to maintain our love for one another. And as more people walk away from their faith, wickedness will increase and the love of most will grow cold (Mt 24:12).

The loss of civility is probably not the joyful Mother’s Day message you hoped to hear, however, we can learn a basic principle from our mothers: their unconditional love of us which I believe was given to them by God. Through today’s passage St. Paul gives us basic instructions for how Christians should live with one another, basically we need to have a mother-like heart. A mother, even when she is most frustrated with her child, never stops loving them.

From last week’s passage we learned that there should be unity in the body of Christ, that is the church should be united as one. But as we know, what “should be” is often very hard to attain. So, in this section St. Paul gives us some practical instruction on how to carry it out. Let’s begin with verses 17-18, “17 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. 18 They are 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.” Right from the beginning of our passage Paul is pushing his readers to follow his instruction. He is insisting on it “in the Lord.” He’s using the power of Jesus’ name because to Paul this is important, and he want to impress it upon his fellow believers. If they ever hope to have unity among them, they can no longer live as unbelievers. Now the text here says Gentiles but remember that Paul was writing this letter to a gentile church, so in a sense he's saying you can no longer live as you once did. He’s not acting like the Judahizers trying to force them to stop being gentile and become a Jew, rather they have to act like believers not unbelievers.

Paul says this because there is a difference in the way that believers and unbelievers think. These verses it tells us that unbeliever’s thinking is futile and their understanding is darkened. Futile is defined as being incapable of producing any result, it's ineffective and useless. So, futile thinking means that we don’t have any discernment. And darkened understanding is the inability to grasp truth of God because we are void of the light. It’s like a continual condition of absolute spiritual darkness. There is no divine spark, no ray of hope, no burst of sunshine from God, because we are not just in the darkness, we ARE darkness. Ephesians 5:8 makes it clear: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” People without Jesus are the absence of light. They are unholy, depraved, slaves of sin and dead in sin. All they can do is sin because they are in deep and utter darkness, without the light of truth. 1 John 1:5-6 tells us, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” God is light and we, before Jesus, are darkness therefore we are on opposite ends of the light spectrum. And it’s not simply that we’re on different ends of the spectrum, but if we claim to be in the light, but live like darkness, then we are at best liars and at worst self-deceived. We can’t claim to be light, or anywhere near the light, if we walk in darkness.

There is a link between futile and darkened thinking, and it comes from not thanking or glorifying God. Romans 1:21 tells us that, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Here again we see that those who do not glorify God, those who rebel against Him, become futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts (understanding) are darkened. Futile thinking combined with darkened understanding leads to continued alienation from God, ignorance of the truth, and a hard heart. God and his word and ways are strange to them. God’s wisdom is viewed as foolishness and his command to be righteous and holy is not only impossible but doesn’t even interest them. This is the quintessential sin. This is what happened to Pharaoh. He knew about God but didn’t glorify or thank God and hardened his heart toward God. (Ex 4:13) People in this state are cut off from God with no source of life. They are running on battery and their time is running out.

Paul continues in verse 19. “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” Here we see the progression of a life that has been cut off from God. It’s like the destination in our GPS keeps changing randomly and it keeps saying, “Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating,” and we don’t know which way to go. What kind of life is this? It’s the life of a leaf in the wind, the life of a withered branch, or a fruitless fruit tree that will be cut down and thrown into the fire. It is the life of an enemy of God. Once we have been cut off from God, it is a slippery slope that will take us further and further away from God. First, we’ll lose all sensitivity and become numb. We've already become numb to so many sinful things they don't affect us anymore. There is so much sin that is just become the norm and accepted by society even though it’s wrong in the sight of God. This kind of reminds me of Lot when he was living in Sodom. “and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)” (2 Pe2:7) And once we lose that sensitivity and have become numb, we lose our inhibitions and we’re able to give ourselves over to all kinds of sensuality and every kind of impurity. To connect to Dan’s previous message, but in a little different direction, in the beginning God gives us training wheels to help us stay upright and go the right way. But God will not hold us hostage, he gives us free will to do what we want. And eventually, he takes off those training wheels and we are free to go where we want. We can either grow spiritually to become like Jesus or we can grow sinfully. Then after we give ourselves over, God gives us over. Romans 1:24-25a tell us, “24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...” (Rom 1) And if we project this out to the end verse 19 ends with “and they are full of greed” I picture this as being insatiable, unquenchable, there is no self-control and never enough. The first time you do it you are excited and get a rush. The second and third time are more enjoyable because you know what to expect. Maybe you begin to push the boundaries because you need a little more, eventually over time you need a lot more just to get to the same place. At first, we’re satisfied with a little, but the longer you do it, it becomes a habit, a destructive one at that, it’s like death by 1000 papercuts. People living without God it becomes about pleasure seeking, hedonism, but in the end it's never enough, you always need more. It's like gambling, or addicts, always needing more more more pleasure. This reminds me of King Solomon, who was one of the wisest, richest, and most power men of his time, said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2 10:11) How meaningless is life without God?

In this next section Paul reminds us of what we were taught. Take a look at verses 20-24. “20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” As Christians, we should be taught, as well as teach, according to the truth of God. The Bible should be the foundation of our life. When God made us, he gave each of us our own specific purpose and mission for our life. Here we’re reminded of a previous verse that we studied “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). God created us to do good works not just enjoy ourselves. This is the truth of God. Jesus told his disciples, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32). The truth is our old self is corrupted, we should not be tempted to go back to live like we did before we became believers. Sin temps us and deceives us like an addiction that we can’t control. Not only do we need to have new actions, but a new way of thinking. Our mind is the steering wheel of our life, we need to make a conscious effort to control it otherwise we will go with the flow. The old school way was “change yourself,” but the new school way is “accept yourself.” Many times, we like to use the excuse, “That’s how I am, that’s how I was made, that’s how I think, I was born this way,” yet this doesn’t make it right. We can’t use this as an excuse. Even if we think we can’t change it, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. In Christ, we should have a desire to be transformed, to be like Christ. In reality, we can’t change ourselves, but we can have the desire to be changed to be like Jesus. We shouldn’t just give up and give in to the old self. Because when we are in Jesus, we can accept ourselves and desire for Jesus to change us. We can accept, repent and strive to do better. We were created in the image of God, (Ge 1:27) and he wants us to live and act like God. That is to live according to what is right and good. To be holy, separate from the way of the world. To do this we need to put off your old self and desires and live with a new attitude living like Jesus. Live according by the truth, no deceit, only truth righteousness and holiness.

The curious case for mastering sin. Let’s take a look at verses 25-28. “25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 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.” As believers, we should avoid being false in any way, speak and act in truth. We should behave like this with everyone, but especially with fellow believers. We should treat them as beloved family members. Not only are we part of our neighborhood body, but we are part of our Christian body.

We should not let our anger/emotions drive us, act with reason. If we let our anger get the best of us, we lose control. “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (2 Tim 3:2) The image of sin is your steering wheel, you can direct it. Sin can give the devil a foothold into our life. This reminds me of when God spoke to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:7) each of us, me and you must rule over our sin. (v27) Personal sin is usually due to our evil desires. However, Satan can use our sins, especially those like anger that are against others to bring about even greater evil, such as divisions. When we are divided, or alone that is when we are most vulnerable then Satan can attack. The devil is clever, and he will try to divide and concur. Drive a wedge between angry people and when they are cut off, he will attack. There is a footnote for verse 26 and it is Psalm 4:4 which says, “Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” From this we can take instruction to search our own hearts every night to root out our sin and confess it to God. Be humble before God and ask for forgiveness. I’m also reminded from verse 26 that we shouldn’t let the sun go down before we resolve our conflict with one another. Don’t go to bed angry because you never know what can happen overnight. This hits me deeply especially with what’s going on in my life at the moment.

In summary, Paul urges us to speak truthfully, don't get angry or steal but be useful and help others. We should stop doing what is wrong and do what it right. If we steal, stop it. According to Exodus 22:3, those who steal should make restitution and if they can’t pay back what they’ve stolen, they should be sold into slavery. God wants us to love one another, not take advantage of each other, but share with those in need. It is not enough to stop but we must do good. The former thief now helps those in need.

You know that your words matter right? Take a look at verses 29-30. “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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Similar to stealing with our hands, comes unwholesome talk with our mouth. It is not enough to stop negative speech, but we should build others up. And this doesn’t mean just reciting generic motivational speeches, which aren’t bad, but should be according to what people need. This means we need to invest in others, get to know them, understand them, their specific needs and build them up. Be shepherds of God’s flock. (1 Pet 5:2)

We think of the Holy Spirit as more of an “It” than a “Him.” But according to Scripture, the Holy Spirit is not only God, but He has a will, a personality, and can even be offended. We are sealed together with the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus as our Savior. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit when we believe. (Jn 15:26) It’s like being handcuffed with your spouse who does things you don’t like. What if your spouse committed adultery and you were right there with them, you would be grieved by them? To grieve the Spirit is to act out in a sinful manner, whether it is in thought only or in both thought and deeds such as: by living like unbelievers (4:17-19), by lying (4:25), by being angry (4:26-27), by stealing (4:28), by cursing (4:29), by being bitter (4:31), by being unforgiving (4:32), and by being sexually immoral (5:3-5). Don’t grieve the HS by doing these things because you are bound to him. Your words matter. You are accountable for what you say. Don’t harbor anger or malice it’s a poison.

Looking at all this what is Paul’s conclusion, it’s basically, be kind, compassionate, and forgive. Take a look at verses 31-32. “31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” In order to have unity, we have to start with getting rid of the negative. We have to get rid of the actions that grieve the Holy Spirit. This is just the beginning point because without doing that we will still be in darkness and not even consider going to the next step and that is embracing the positive by being kind and compassionate toward others. This usually isn’t a problem for us if others are kind and compassionate toward us. But if they are not, that’s when it becomes difficult. And this take us to the final step which is forgiving others. We usually only have to forgive someone, when they’ve not been kind toward us, but have done something to offend or hurt us, when we have been wounded in some way. But that can be the some of the most difficult things to do. Being kind, compassionate and forgiving is the basic Christian attitude, which is the result of being forgiven in Jesus, so that we can give to others what has been given to us. The key here in verse 32 is “just as in Christ God forgave us.” When you look at it from God’s point of view, we were so much worse to God, we rejected him and his ways, we chose darkness instead of his light and yet he forgave us. It is like the woman caught in adultery, Jesus didn’t condemn her, he simply said go and sin no more. What a humbling experience it is. We are not as good as we think. We have very high opinions of ourselves but in the sight of God we are sinners, and proud ones at that. We think that we’ve done nothing wrong. If two people are in conflict, and neither will budge or back down, the conflict will never end. Someone has to be the more mature person and humble themselves and forgive the other. And that is what God did. He sent Jesus to die for our sins and pay the price for our redemption. Jesus came to give us life though giving his life on the cross and while on the cross he cried out, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” that forgiveness brought about real change. Forgiveness bridges the gap and mends wounds. If we try to be kind and compassionate toward others without experiencing God’s forgiveness it will be like our mother telling us to be kind to people. We love because God first loved us. (1 Jn 4:19) IT REALLY is because God forgave us, so we should forgive others. We should stand down, and not be on edge, because if we don’t it’s like we are spitting in Jesus’ face.

Personally, I have had a difficult time forgiving some people in my life. I became bitter because of incidents that happened at work. After a while my bitterness turned to anger, and it burned inside of me. It is so hard to let go, even to this day it still lingers and stings. But holding on to it didn’t do any good for me, it only tore me up inside, sometimes causing me to lose sleep and become anxious. I felt life I was wronged and there was never any resolution. But this passage tells me to forgive them, because it’s what Jesus gave to me, so I should also give it to them. But it’s hard, I need that constant connection to God, to humble me, and remember what he did for me, then I can do it for others. And yet, it is still hard to forgive. We need a daily connection to God in order to be able to maintain it. We need to have a mother-like heart, so that even when we are most frustrated with others, we can still live, love and behave like Jesus and build the unity in our family, fellowship, community and nation.

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