Be the Body- Held to a Higher Standard

Ephesians 4:17-5:21

Common English Bible (CEB)

 

The old and new life

17 So I’m telling you this, and I insist on it in the Lord: you shouldn’t live your life like the Gentiles anymore. They base their lives on pointless thinking, 18 and they are in the dark in their reasoning. They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts. 19 They are people who lack all sense of right and wrong, and who have turned themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed.

 

20 But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ. 21 Since you really listened to him and you were taught how the truth is in Jesus, 22 change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. 23 Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit24 and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.

 

25 Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor[a]because we are parts of each other in the same body. 26 Be angry without sinning.[b] Don’t let the sun set on your anger. 27 Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil. 28 Thieves should no longer steal. Instead, they should go to work, using their hands to do good so that they will have something to share with whoever is in need.

 

29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. 30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.

 

Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.

 

Sexual immorality, and any kind of impurity or greed, shouldn’t even be mentioned among you, which is right for holy persons. Obscene language, silly talk, or vulgar jokes aren’t acceptable for believers. Instead, there should be thanksgiving. Because you know for sure that persons who are sexually immoral, impure, or greedy—which happens when things become gods—those persons won’t inherit the kingdom of Christ and God.

 

Nobody should deceive you with stupid ideas. God’s anger comes down on those who are disobedient because of this kind of thing. So you shouldn’t have anything to do with them. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. 10 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, 11 and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. 12 It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. 13 But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. 14 Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper![c] Get up from the dead,[d] and Christ will shine on you.[e]

 

15 So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly. 16 Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times. 17 Because of this, don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will. 18 Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways:19 speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; 20 always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ.

Christianity is a very public kind of religion. Time and time again, Christians tend to put themselves in the midst of the public dialogue, and this goes back all the way to Christ himself. Jesus notoriously did most of his work, his ministry, out in the public. Only a few times do we see him in the confines of an official religious building, and when we do see Jesus there, Jesus can’t help but get kicked out as soon as he gets a chance to speak, doesn’t he?

Like, when he was in his hometown, in his synagogue, and he read from Isaiah, proclaiming that he has come to release the captives, give recovery of sight to the blind, liberate the oppressed, and usher in the day of the Lord. The people liked that bit. But then he kept on talking. He kept talking about when Israelite prophets came and helped out not the people of Israel, but non-Israelites, outsiders, and even enemies. It was clear that he came not for just the Jews but for the whole world, and people didn’t much care for that message. They promptly tried to throw him off of a cliff. Jesus lived the gospel in the public sphere.

Or how about the time he went to the Temple in Jerusalem, another religious building, and when he came into the temple he saw the money changers, and the commercialization of the house of God and he could not keep silent about the great injustice they were doing in his Father’s house. He got a whip of cords together started whipping the businessmen in the temple, overturning there tables and smashing up their wares, screaming “You have turned my father’s house into a den of thieves!” I imagine that after that little episode, Jesus didn’t stay in the temple much longer. Again, Jesus lived the Gospel in the public.

Do you see!? This is why we can’t have nice things!

Jesus was most comfortable preaching his message outside the comforts of the halls of religion, and instead favored the fields, the roads, the deserts, the mountains, the gardens, the wells, and all manners of places in the public. Jesus knew that the word of God was meant to be heard by everyone and so he spoke to everyone and anyone he met. Jesus had a public message, but it wasn’t a popular message, and it didn’t fit anyone’s preconceptions. Jesus called people to take a good look inside yourself, and realize that your life and all that you have done in it has been all about you. It’s been self-centered, and self-gratifying, with very little attention paid to your fellow woman and man.

Jesus preached that we were a wicked and selfish generation, and he called us to repentance for our sins and instead turn to God, and the best way to find God is in the faces of your neighbors. The thing is, when your life has this Godward orientation, you need to live according to a higher standard. God’s going to hold you to this, but so will everyone else who knows you are a believer. When you are a disciple, that means you have a discipline. When you are a member of the Body of Christ, people know it, and they’re going to hold you to an even higher standard because you aspire to be a little Christ, a Christian.

This is the fifth week in our exploration of the letter to the Ephesians, in which we’ve been trying to figure out what it means to be a member of the body of Christ, the church. We’ve learned already that we’ve been chosen out of love to be a holy body, that we’ve been saved by grace, and that salvation comes from Christ who gave of himself so that we may love others. We’ve learned that we’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit, and have been given the power to do the will of God in a harsh and unforgiving world. Last week, we started digging deeper into what those three theological statements mean, as an impact to our lives. Because we’ve been chosen, saved, and empowered, we’ve also been equipped for ministry to the Gospel, to the church, and most of all to God almighty, who commands us to love our neighbor. This week, Ephesians turns to personal ethics and morality, and important topic to tackle indeed.

At the beginning here, he’s honestly quite urgent, and insistent. He just spent 4 chapters pretty much explaining that God loves everyone, the walls have been torn down, and love conquers all, right? Well, the truth is sooner or later the rubber hits the road, and if you accept all the love and grace God gives you, you’re going to have to admit that you can’t go on living like you used to. This is where that whole image of Christ freeing us from prison makes sense. In the film the Shawshank Redemption, the character Red talks about how if you spend too much time in prison, you begin to get institutionalized. Your brain changes its shape, and you get accustomed to living in a prison, and it doesn’t hit you until you leave prison. People treat you differently, and it’s really hard to get used to living like you’re not in prison anymore. The harsh truth is that a lot of people who get out of prison wind up committing crimes to get back into prison so the world makes sense again, or the commit suicide because they can’t cope anymore.

This is the Ephesians wake-up call. We can’t live like we’re Gentiles anymore. We aren’t ignorant anymore, because we’ve been shown the light. At the core of this light is that we can’t live selfishly anymore. In almost all of Jesus’s teachings, that is something comes up again and again. Without Christ, our tendency is to live and look out for our own self-interest. Everybody’s looking out for number one. The sad fact is that living like this to the extent that we do it is destructive, not only to ourselves but to the community. So Ephesians lists the things we do that are either self-destructive community destructive.

Now before I go on, I want to make this one thing clear. This list is not designed to shame you. It’s not. And I hate when preachers use this list, and lists like it, to make people feel bad about themselves, or as a threat.

Not at all what we’re going for here.

This list was made out of love, love that builds up and makes better people, more faithful people, more loving people. So I’m not going to sugarcoat this list, but I am going to say that this is not a passage made to shame, but made to teach, how to live a life defined by grace.

First, we need to stop the lying. Lying is a community-destructive activity. Ephesians tells us that after we stop lying, we need to tell the truth to one another, and I don’t know about you guys, but often at times, the truth hurts. It really does. We don’t like to hear the truth, and we really don’t like to tell the truth. But that’s what Jesus calls us to do. Ephesians is telling us that Jesus taught us better. We need to tell the truth. Moreover, we need to see the truth. We need to educate ourselves, and see that there is evil in this world, evil we can’t ignore, and it exists even in our very own community. As much as I focus on love and peace, there are going to be times when doing the loving thing doesn’t feel very loving. Like confronting someone in your family, or one of your friends, or a coworker about a problem, like drugs, or alcohol addiction, or gambling, or even abusive behavior. We make excuses and we lie to ourselves, and we pretend it’s going to get better. We need to be honest with each other, and honest with ourselves. Only then can we let healing begin.

When we do these things, we also need to not sin in our anger. It’s okay to be angry. It’s a natural emotion, and even a therapeutic one. But we need to not sin in our anger. We need to seek non-violent solutions to our problems. Anger does not need to lead to violence, or shame, or harm. Anger can let healing begin, and it’s good advice he gives, not let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t let anger fester and rot you from the inside out. Examine your anger, and find out peaceful ways of releasing it. Don’t let anger become rage and hate. A lot of good things have come from people who were angry—it’s how all major social reforms in this world get done!

Watch your language. That’s a tough one, but an important one. Think carefully about what you say, because what you may think is a perfectly innocent statement can come across as a hateful one. Whoever came up with the phrase “Sticks and stones my break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is a dirty dirty liar liar pants on fire. Words hurt. Words hurt far more than we give them credit for, and when we don’t realize that words hurt, that’s when we do the most damage.

Here’s another tough one, one that gets a lot of press, but I think in the wrong way. We should abstain from sexual immorality—but not because sex is a bad thing. Sex is a good thing, and can lead to great happiness and new life. It’s the most intimate, emotional bond you can have, and that’s why we need to be careful with it. When the bible talks about sex, it usually does it to talk about faithfulness. Be faithful to your marriage partner. Be honest, and don’t be frivolous about the bond you make with someone when you have sex, because when you don’t take sex seriously, mistakes happen, and those mistakes affect not only you but the whole community. There’s a lot at stake there. Sex is a good thing, but it’s a thing that needs to be approached responsibly.

Above all, respect one another. Respect is a rare commodity these days isn’t it? I think we could all do with a little more respect for one another, and respect for the community. Christ has led us out of darkness into the marvelous light, and in doing so has set us apart from other people so that we can be a light to others. We can bring light to the world by just being respectful, honest, just, and compassionate.

We are called to be public about our faith—not to bash others in the head with it, but to pick each other up with it. To serve, not to shame. We can take these long moralistic laundry lists and make them into a weapon of hatred, or we can take them, learn from them, try our best to live by them, and hold each other in the community accountable to them out of love, not out of superiority. We can’t live like we used to anymore. As the body of Christ, we have to aspire to something more. Something greater. Something more meaningful. It takes honesty. It takes respect. It takes faithfulness. It takes love to do all of these things. But remember, we’ve been empowered for this ministry, for service and for life.

We’ve been held to a higher standard of living, a standard of living that is thoroughly embodied in at the table of grace. All are welcome, and all are loved. Remember, when you partake of the body and the blood, it is so that we can be the body redeemed by the blood. So when we come to the Lord’s Supper, let’s remember that we are the body of Christ, and as members of that body we can partake in the redemption of the world, for the glory of God.  We are called to live by a higher standard, and that because of that, we are the body of Christ.

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About grantimusmax

Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He is also a commissioned elder in the United Methodist Church, and Senior Pastor at Hemphill First United Methodist Church and Pineland United Methodist Church. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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