Wearing The Body Armor (Outdoor Service)
The Lonely Place is Not the Happy Place
It’s a love hate thing, it really is. We love being with others and yet we hate what can happen to us when we are with people.
None of us want to be alone. We don’t do being alone well. We were never meant to see ourselves as loners.
We are social creatures by nature and thus we love being with other people, either one-on-one or in groups.
This gathering here is a great example of what I am talking about. Doesn’t it feel great to be among friends and among people who are warm, friendly and welcoming?
Groups come in all shapes and sizes. This is a group gathering today as is your family, your circle of friends, and the neighbors next door or down the hall as are the colleagues at work, fellow students in the classroom or the group (fill-in-the-blank) that I hang with.
For some of us we love the hustle and bustle of big group gatherings and for others of us it’s more the intimate one-on-one with a close friend or two.
Regardless of the setting, we are social creatures meant to be among people.
In fact, if there is anyone that hears me this morning and is feeling alone, lonely or with no one near by, we invite you to join us.
Ours is an open ended group where the doors are always open and the porch light always on.
Yet having said that, be careful when you come in because we are not a perfect bunch. We can sometimes be prickly with sharp edges where people can get hurt or injured.
This is the rough and tumble of our family.
We don’t mean to be that way but we are not perfect and sometimes something can be said, a wrong look given, or an invitation not extended that can feel hurtful.
In fact, let me tell you that there is no perfect church on the planet. We are a group of people who come from various walks of life and are trying to work it out in close proximity with each other.
And for all the talk of love and forgiveness you will hear, sometimes the reality on the ground doesn’t match the rhetoric.
I told you this was a love/ hate thing. We love the fellowship and the feel of belonging but hate it when we get hurt by others.
When we do, the answer is not to recoil back into the shell or isolation because the lonely place is a terrible place.
So that is not the answer, since no one has ever been happy coiled back inside an empty shell.
The lonely place is not a happy place. It’s not the answer to when we get hurt.
Bubble Wrap for The Heart
So if not that, then what is the answer? The answer is bubble wrap! That’s right, bubble wrap! That’s how Paul finishes off his letter to the Ephesians. He talks about ‘bubble wrap’.
He doesn’t use those words. Bubble wrap didn’t get invented until 1957 (long after Paul walked the earth). But what you find in today’s passage is, for all intents and purposes, bubble wrap.
I’m not sure if you realize that the two guys who invented bubble wrap were Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavaness and that it was totally by accident that they invented bubble wrap.
What they did was sealed two shower curtains together creating a smattering of air bubbles, which they then tried to sell as wallpaper.
Needless to say, it didn’t sell until a couple of years later. Its use in protective packaging was discovered by IBM, and from then on it took off and has become this world-wide phenomenon we call bubble wrap.
We use bubble wrap all the time. Anytime you want to protect something you bubble wrap it, right?
A picture frame, glassware or anything fragile that can break easily, just bubble wrap it.
Of all the things that are fragile and can break easily none is more fragile than our heart.
How many songs have been written about a heart that breaks and about the thousand pieces of a broken heart needing to be picked up yet once again?
There is no way around it. You cannot have true community nor be in deep relationships without making your heart vulnerable. You are going to have your heart on your shirtsleeve.
You cannot be in the family of God, or in any other family for that matter, without opening up your heart.
The risk you take in opening your heart is that your heart can be broken.
Sharing our lives and opening up our hearts means taking on the risk of a broken heart. There is always the chance that someone will hurt you.
The answer is not to stay in isolation, because remember the lonely place is not a happy place. The answer is to bubble wrap your heart!
That is how Paul suggests the Ephesians would survive when things go south or sideways in the relationships they were in.
Remember that today’s passage from Eph. 6 is stated within the context of what was said immediately before the passage and also of the entire book.
The immediate context was within the primary relationships of spouses, parents, children, coworkers and students, teachers and bosses, and the many other close encounters of the family kind where things can go sideways.
The wider context of the book was how to get along within the family of God when things can go badly.
Within those contexts, and all others where you are in close proximity with others, bubble wrap your heart.
That’s what Paul means when he says: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Eph. 6:10). That’s his way of saying bubble wrap your heart.
Literally it means, “clothe yourself with strengths as one puts on garments.” Kenneth Wuest.
Layers and layers of clothing will have the same effect as bubble wrap. While we do the wrapping up (no one is going to do this for us; no one is going to wrap us up) it’s not our wrap we are using.
While we are to “be strong” or wrap yourself up, it’s to be in “the Lord and in his mighty strength” instead of our own strength, ability or wherewithal.
God provides the bubble wrap, but we are the ones who wrap ourselves in it. So what does God’s bubble wrap look like?
The Body Armor
Paul says it looks a lot like a riot police officer’s uniform made up of the things like a badge, nightstick, boots, bullet-proof vest and a helmet which Paul calls truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation.
Talk about a body armor. I love how The Message translates today’s passage. Have a listen:
“And that about (bubble J) wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life.”
God’s bubble wrap consists of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation. Let’s have a quick look at these.
1. The Belt of Truth
The first one mentioned is truth. Be wrapped up in truth, honesty and integrity.
In fact, the idea is one of a belt in which everything gets tucked in so that when you walk or run you are not getting tripped up.
Let there be nothing about your life that can get you tripped up. No fakery, two sidedness or skeletons. Nothing that can come back to bite you. Everything about you is honest and truthful. You don’t have a secret life.
That’s the kind of honesty that will protect you when accusations and innuendos come your way.
You say: “I don’t have that kind of honesty, I do have secret things and skeletons.”
Remember what I said about whose bubble wrap this is? This is God’s truth and honesty.
If you give God your secrets, failures and sins, He will forgive you, wash them away and give you a single-minded heart so much so that you can say “That may have been me at one point but that’s not me anymore. I have nothing to hide. God has forgiven me everything.”
So come to God for the belt of truth. The second one is the breastplate of righteousness.
2. The Breastplate of Righteousness
Truthfulness and righteousness go hand in hand since both have to do with integrity.
They called the breastplate of righteousness the heart protector and even today security personnel the world over wear the bulletproof vest to protect vital organs.
Sometimes our legitimacy and very existence gets called into question. How good to know that we can stand on the uprightness and integrity of our character, not because we are impeccable, but because we hide behind the impeccability of Jesus.
He is our righteousness. He has covered all my sins and flaws. He gives me a right standing before God where it matters the most.
In the natural, I may well be exposed to every accusation but by coming to God I find that Jesus is my bulletproof vest of integrity.
3. Shoes Studded with the Gospel
With the belt and vest in place, I now put on the right kind of boots that give me grip when I need it the most.
There’s nothing like shoes with a great grip. Great for tight turns, quick turnaround’s, or just overall stability.
You’ve got to stay on your feet all the time. Don’t trip up and don’t lose your grip, especially when someone throws a curveball at you out of left field.
Who hasn’t been hit with a nasty surprise right out of the blue? In moments when caught off guard, how good to know you are still standing. Didn’t flinch, no flicker of doubt.
It’s the kind of thing old Abraham did when it was said of him: “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” Rom. 4:20, 21
Not blinking in the face of a nasty surprise is possible by having a good grip on the Gospel.
That’s why it says: “With your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Eph. 6:15
If we are not sure of the Gospel, not sure of what Jesus has done for us, not convinced that he has made us honest and given us integrity then we become susceptible to doubts, misgivings and fear as we get bowled over by life’s many curveballs.
There is an absolute rock solid steadiness that comes from embracing the Gospel of Jesus. It’s like wearing a great pair of hiking boots.
4. Shield of Faith
The next thing is the plastic shield: “Take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
I am sure you have seen these shields and how they can protect people, usually in times of severe social unrest such as rioting or looting.
A person can just hide behind them and in their day these things were more like the impenetrable body armor we see in Sci-Fi films than the plastic shields of today.
In fact, one poor soldier counted 220 darts sticking out of his armor when the dust settled, and that in the day of the fiery arrows.
Imagine all those arrows and not a single one burned the poor chap down.
220 arrows, can you imagine that? How many arrows have you taken? Have any of them hit a raw nerve inside you?
Have you ever been singed a little with cynicism? Ever end up smoldering away at the point where you’ve been hit? Ever seen someone go down in flames? Not a nice thing at all.
So let me ask you: Can’t let go of things? Is forgiveness a little hard? Hanging on to old wounds? Things festering away inside?
If so, then you need the shield of faith, my friend!
What is that, you say? It is that which not only deflects the arrows but extinguishes the fire that’s in them.
It’s the shield of faith with the optimum word being “faith”!
This is not a generic kind of faith that merely believes in God, but an active faith that gets pressed into every attack that comes my way and smothers the accusations and lies.
You can have that kind of a faith, friend. This won’t fall into your lap like manna from heaven, but is the result of God opening up the truths in the Bible in such a way that you can smell the counterfeit and the lie a mile away.
For every lie, accusation and negativity stands a shield of faith that will give you the truth with which to smother the lie.
The more you know the truth of God’s Word, the more you can raise up the shield of faith.
5. The Helmet of Salvation
So you have your shield, vest, boots and belt. The only thing missing is the helmet.
A soldier’s helmet is not a fashion statement or something that pretties up the soldier, but it’s meant to protect head and brain.
They say the greatest struggle is in your head and the battlefield is your brain. You rise or fall by the thoughts you think.
There is something about what someone says about you that can fester in your brain for years and years.
Someone says something amazing and it swells up your head; someone says something negative and hurtful and it deflates your head.
Words have a way of lingering on in our head and hence the need for the helmet of salvation.
Salvation speaks of having been saved and coming into a safe place, away from danger and all alarms.
This is a deep belief and conviction that I am saved, a child of God, with nothing separating me from the love of God and that I am one of God’s special children.
With that kind of deep conviction we become immune to the doubts, half-truths and wannabe’s of what once was.
That is our body armor and bubble wrap!
Come In and Pick Up Your Body Armor!
So come out of your cocoon and shell as you join us in our family here today.
Come in, not as a guest or an outsider, but as one of us. Come in, not as a foster child or adopted child, but as somebody born in.
Every one of us was born into God’s family as a child of God. You can be that today.
As you come in, be sure to pick up your bubble wrap so that in the rough and tumble of who we are you don’t get caught in the crossfire or by friendly fire but instead you grow and you thrive as you come into your destiny!
Come on in!
Living It Where It Matters The Most (Outdoor Service)
The reason we are outdoors is to say to anyone that hears our voice that our church family loves to see new people come in.
We are not a family that has closed ranks but are welcoming of anyone to come and check us out and become part of us, if they so wish.
It doesn’t matter who someone is or where they have come from, there is room at our kitchen table for one more person. There is enough stew in our pot to feed one more mouth.
The only thing is that the only way to come into our family is to be born into it just like every one of us here.
You mean to tell me that every one of you in this family has been born into it? You bet we have. It’s the only way to be a part of our family.
Don’t get me wrong, we would welcome you as our guest but to really enjoy the family feeling, that sense of belonging and being totally part of a rambunctious family is to be birthed into it.
Not only would you be part of our family but you would also discover how the God of this Universe is also your Father in heaven with you as his child.
When you are birthed into God’s family not only do you inherit a ready-made family that loves you and cares for you, but you also have God become your Father.
You can call it what you may – born again, second birth, birthed into – the idea is the same and that is you can become a child of God with a family around you and a God above you as your Father.
I don’t want to get into great detail in terms of how that happens except to say that Jesus makes it possible and the Holy Spirit leads you through the process of being birthed into God’s family.
All you need to do is open your heart toward it and reach out in faith to God and the result will be that you will be a full fledged member of the family of God just like everyone one of us here!
That’s why we are here outside this morning. We want to throw the doors and windows wide open and say to anyone who hears us that we want you in God’s family of which we are a small chapter near the corner of Vine & Scott.
That was the first of three points Paul made in the Letter to the Ephesians, namely that the family of God is open for whosoever will! That’s what Eph. 1 was all about.
Let Them Come In!
The second part of the letter was really meant as an internal memo to the existing family to make sure to welcome the newcomers and make room at the kitchen table for whosoever was coming in.
This is another reason we are outside today. This is about us saying we are making room and shoving over to let you in.
We’re saying that this is not really our family but God’s family, and that whosoever will is welcome to join us.
If we were closed we would stay indoors. If we wanted this to only ever be for us we would never unlock our doors and instead circle our wagons around the campfire while showing the world our backs.
So us being here today says we want you to join us. That’s what Eph. 2 and 3 were all about.
Then the last part of the letter starting at Eph. 4 is all about how to get along in the rough and tumble of this rambunctious family.
If you thought you came into a perfect family then you need to think again. In fact, if anything, you coming in only adds to the rough and tumble of who we are.
But do not despair, since that is the Father’s plan. The whole point of coming into the family is that we would learn to get along and thus grow up as children of God.
There is a wonderful passage in I John that beautifully captures the three stages the transition from infancy to maturity that the Father wants for all of us.
Using the descriptors of children, young men and fathers, the passages cycles us through the stages of personal development:
I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
Much of what you find in the latter part of Ephesians deals with moving through these stages. It sees us growing up in the family of God, where we take on the nature of our Heavenly Father as seen in the daily interactions with one another.
Because I tell you that living in a family as diverse and different as we are, means you are going to bump up against things that are just going to rub you the wrong way.
Your ability to get along and even thrive in this diversity and melting pot means you have moved from infancy to maturity.
So Ephesians dedicates entire passages to what should and shouldn’t be in the family of God. Things such as:
And indeed it is impossible unless you are born into the family of God with a brand new nature empowered by the Holy Spirit.
There is no way that you can have honest and truthful speech that builds others up, a lack of anger and rage, the desire to earn an honest living, a commitment to being gentle, harmless, compassionate and forgiving while committed to sexual purity, without this brand new nature empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The most important thing that you are hearing me say this morning is that you need to be born a second time.
Let me reach way back into Eph. 1:5-7 to show you this:
“In love the Father predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
While Paul uses the word ‘adoption’, his definition of adoption is what we mean by second birth. This is much more than adoption. This is more like being born into.
In our second birth we not only have redemption or release from the old way of life but also moving forward with forgiveness for every time we fall back into the old ways.
Say it with me one more time: “In love the Father predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
So you are welcome to be birthed into our family and it will be the greatest miracle of your life. All you need to do is reach out to God in faith.
Once you are in our family then you have the wherewithal to live up to the reputation you now have as a child of God.
My Wife, My Sister
That brings me to my third point this morning namely where do we live out this new way of living? This benign, harmless life - where does it happen? In what setting and context?
Where does honest and truthful speech that builds others up take place?
Where does a lack of anger and rage, or the desire to earn an honest living, or a commitment to being gentle, harmless, compassionate and forgiving while committed to sexual purity take place?
I can tell you it’s not going to be in a room full of strangers nor on that first date. Nor will it be with your friends, since your friends are people that you chose and like.
This is not going to happen on a Sunday morning when everyone is on his or her best behavior.
This new way of living will be hardest among those whom you do not get to pick and choose but are thrown into close proximity with and in some of the most pressure filled situations.
So this will not be among your friends or among those that you brush up against such as strangers, acquaintances or people that you barely know nor will it be when you are feeling your best such as on a Sunday morning or while on vacation.
Instead the rubber meets the road when we are thrown into close proximity among those we do not get to choose.
Who is that, you say? Who do we get thrown in with no choice on our part?
“Yeah but I always have a choice”, you say. Really? There are going to be some people who will always be in your life over which you have no choice.
Some of them will come and go, for sure, but while they are there you have no choice but to be with them. Others will be with you your whole life long.
So who are these people? In Paul’s day he was thinking about those who had come into the Ephesian family of God who were in relationships with others over which they had no control.
In first century culture it was people such as husbands, wives, parents, children, masters and slaves that you find mentioned in Eph. 5 and 6.
Paul’s point is we should practise this new way of living among those who are in our life whom we did not get to choose.
Who is that for you and me in the 21 Century? It’s still our spouses, parents, children and anyone else in our families. We don’t get to choose our families and they will always be there.
In addition to that, the 21 Century equivalency of masters and slaves is anyone that you go to school or work with.
It’s actually anyone in close contact that you do not get to choose. You can figure out who that might be.
It can even be the guy on the road pushing your buttons. It can be the boss, the teacher, the co-worker, the annoying neighbor down the hall, the crazy in-laws, the raging ex, the extended family and certainly your immediate family.
That’s where we live out this new way of living.
What that sounds like in modern English is what we find in The Message translation of the Bible:
25 What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. 26-27 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.
28 Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.
29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
31-32 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
3-4 Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly.
Impossible, you say! There is no way that I can ever life like this. You don’t know what my (fill in the blank) is like (my ex, my boss, my neighbor, my spouse, my parents etc.)
It may well be impossible if you are still in the old family with the old nature and the old way of living at work, but let me tell you that if you are born into the family of God you will receive a brand new nature and with it the ability to live this way.
So in first century Ephesus it meant that wives could submit to their husbands and husbands could actually love their wives. They could love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy instead of treating wives like chattel, as was the custom.
It meant children could obey their parents and that fathers did not need to exasperate their kids, as was the custom.
It also meant slaves could obey their masters with respect, fear and sincerity and serve whole heartedly while masters could treat their slaves with respect, sincerity and no favoritism.
That’s what it looked like within that context. What that looks like in your context among those you are thrown in with, you need to figure that out.
All I know is that this new way of living that is now possible consists of these characteristics:
If you still say impossible then I invite you to experience this new birth that gives you the ability to begin to live like this.
If you have this new life and its still not happening for you then don’t beat yourself over the head as you realize that growing up is a process that takes you:
Not only will you come into a brand new family with an amazing new Father but you will also receive a new nature empowered by the Spirit and with it the wherewithal for this new way of living.
Already in the family of God but still not quite there yet?
Don’t despair but open your heart to the work of the Spirit as he moves you from infancy through adolescence toward maturity!
Father of Lights
It must have been an amazing metamorphosis to behold. The change from dark to light must have been astounding.
It would be similar to how God created this beautiful blue planet from nothing. How he took the void and make earth.
It would like watching the creepy caterpillar become a soaring butterfly and the slimy creature inside the egg become a beautiful bird soaring toward the heavens.
Except it was with humans that this happened.
It could have been anywhere the world over, any city any time but it happened to be in the city of Ephesus around the middle of the first century.
But like I said, it could have been anywhere anytime from the bursting cities of Asia to the sophisticated places of Old Europe; from the plains of Africa to the tropics of Central America all the way to those who live near the corner of Vine and Scott in St. Catharines.
The metamorphism was amazing to behold. What happened in Ephesus was nothing short of a miracle.
Ephesus was the sewer of humanity in its day. It was the place where you would escape to if you wanted not to be noticed and known; it was large enough to be anonymous and far enough from home to go unnoticed.
The transiency of the population was incredible, with people constantly coming and going as a result of the being at the crossroads of commerce and shipping.
New sailors were arriving by the hundreds, being serviced by a willing population. Hucksters were looking to make it rich quick. Crime was rampant. Bribery was the game of the day.
‘What happens in Ephesus stays in Ephesus.’ That’s how people lived their lives, with predictable consequences of ruined and addicted lives and an incredibly high throwaway rate.
In many ways it was the least likely place to see any good emerge.
Who would have thought that the caterpillar would become a butterfly, and the slimy thing inside the egg a beautiful bird?
Who would have thought that from the riffraff of the Ephesian wasteland would come an avalanche of people so radically changed, cleaned up and set free that it can only be described as second birth?
Second birth. Second chance in life. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The ugly frog becomes a charming prince.
Who would have thought such a thing was possible? That those who were broken, at their wits end and with no hope, would end up shining as the stars?
Who would have thought that the drunk would become sober, the addict would become free and the lost become found?
Second birth. Second chance in life. Born again. With hundreds, if not thousands, coming into the family of God, with one story of redemption more amazing than the next.
Who would have thought that such a thing was possible? But there it was in places like Ephesus; and here it is in places like St Catharines.
The promise in God’s Word is that the caterpillar can become a butterfly, which is why I love the language of Eph. 1:
“4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[b] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.”
From Darkness to Light
By the time Paul gets to Eph. 5 this great miracle is still very much on his mind, as he reminds those who have experienced the forgiveness of their sins when they were birthed into God’s family, how profound that metamorphism really was:
“For you were once darkness but now you are now light in the Lord.” Eph. 5:8
You could not state it in more extreme contrasts than this, since nothing is further from the darkness than light.
The contrast between the before and after cannot be more extreme. You were once darkness but now you are light.
Like night and day; from absolute darkness to absolute brightness.
Not only were they in darkness but they were darkness, and not only are they now in the light but they are light.
The contrast could not be more vivid. You have not only come into the family of God; you are the family of God.
You are not a guest, nor a visitor or friend but you are family. Not a foster child nor an adopted child but a legitimate born-again child of God with all the rights and privileges.
That is how radical second birth is. This is what happens when Jesus comes into your life and forgives your sins.
In fact, Eph. 5:8 goes on to call us “children of light” for that is what we are.
This is a radical transformation. We are not just children in the light but we are children of the light. Not only does light shine on us, but light shines from us.
The light of God in us is radiating from us. That’s radical, folks!
Anybody want this today? Anyone sick of the darkness that swirls around like a murky bog looking to swallow you up?
You can become a child of light today. Everything about you can change in a moment.
The work to accomplish that has been done. All you need to do is say yes to Jesus today and you will be born all over again into the family of God as a child of light.
Children of Light
So for those of us who are children of light Paul says for us let our light shine: “Live as children of light” (which is why we are out here on this Sunday morning).
We need to realize that this is not an impossible task. If the light of God is within us, then it’s just a matter of releasing that light into everyday life.
Letting your light shine in everyday life is what it means to mimic our Heavenly Father for he is the Father of Lights as John said: “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (I Jn. 1:5). That’s why we let our light shine.
Then our older brother – the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ – who made our spiritual birth possible by placing the light and forgiveness of God inside of us is also full of light in a way we will never be: “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12).
That’s also why we let our light shine.
So when you come into God’s family, you are coming out of a world of darkness and into a family of light.
There is light everywhere. It radiates from our Father, it radiates from Jesus, and it is reflected in the lives of many of our brothers and sisters in the family.
Light is streaming on you. You are bathed in light. So, low and behold, this light is also inside you.
A little light has come into you and already now your eyes are ablaze with the light.
This is the Family Light. You are part of the Family Light. Everything about this family is about light.
So let this light that is all around you and inside you begin to grow, as more and more deeds of darkness inside you are dispelled and pushed out.
That’s what “Live as children of light” means.
The Light of God has Dawned.
The question becomes what is that light like? What shape does it take? What does its beam look like?
That’s where it gets interesting!
This is not a light like any other lights. It’s not physical. It’s not an earthly light. Nor is it some weird metaphysical light like you see in the movies.
The beam of God’s light is actually very noticeable and comes to us in ways that we can understand it, see it, and behold it.
You say but how? How can I spot the light of God? What does it look like?
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).” Eph. 5:8-9
God’s light is a threefold prism consisting of goodness, righteousness and truth.
That’s the light that has dawned in us. That’s the light that is to grow, stretch and expand pushing out the old life of darkness.
Goodness, righteousness and truth. What are these?
Literally, this means being full of good deeds toward others. Having the wellbeing of someone uppermost in our mind. Wishing someone well and having only good thoughts about the other.
It’s being consumed with the good of another person where you only want to bless them and wish them well.
It also caries with it the idea of generosity. A very generous spirit toward someone else always believes in the best of someone.
Not stingy, critical, harsh and unrelenting. There is no mean-spiritedness in goodness but always love and forgiveness.
It never pays back evil for evil, never retaliates but always forgives. It’s being benign and as harmless as a dove.
That, my friends, is goodness. If you are a child of the light, then that’s the first beam that shines on you and radiates from you.
The second beam is righteousness, as in right living in every day life. This is right living where you do the right thing.
There is no fraud in this beam; no ripping anybody off, no shortcuts taken, no grabbing for what is not yours nor promoting evil or that which is wrong.
This beam of light is about doing the right thing and standing up for what is right.
This beam does not whitewash the wrong nor minimize deeds of darkness nor does it rationalize bad behavior or bullying.
It calls a spade a spade and stands up for what is right. Right living all the time.
The third beam in this light is truth.
This means speaking truthfully, living honest lives. Standing up for what is truth, exposing the lies, the half-truths and deception.
Not only honest speech but also honest lives. Lives of integrity, genuineness and honesty.
No hidden agenda, no double standards, nothing up your sleeve, no hypocrisy but instead sincerity and integrity.
A three-fold beam of goodness, righteousness and truth.
When I first encountered the Father of Lights, I encountered a very generous Being who had my good in mind and was good to me all the time
A Being of righteousness who poured right living into me and made me stand up for everything that is right.
And a Being of truth who exposed all my fraud, deception and fakery that was within my heart and brought about a singularity of heart with a strong desire to truth telling and living.
That is the light that came to be within me and that’s the light that’s itching to grow, expand and radiate goodness, righteousness and truth from me in brighter and stronger ways.
This Little Light of Mine, I Am Going to Let It Shine
Of course the challenge is to let that light grow in me, to increasingly dispel all the residue darkness of what I used to be.
Now that I am a child of the light, I want that light to shine in every aspect of my life.
The darkness was so prevalent before, that it permeated every fiber of my being from my thoughts to my attitude, emotions, deeds, words and reactions.
Everything was immersed in darkness and was in fact my DNA.
Now that God’s light of goodness, righteousness and truth has come, I want it to shine everywhere – into every hidden nook, cranny and crevice; every crawl space, every corner and every closet.
Let your light shine, Lord. And the more the light shines, the more I become like the Father of lights.
So I do what Eph. 5:10,11 tells me to do:
“Find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
Of course this doesn’t mean going on a witch-hunt. This is not about exposing the darkness within others but exposing the remnants of darkness within me.
You see, though the light has dawned and it’s increasingly inside of me, I don’t want to fool myself into thinking that there is no darkness at all left and that every hint of darkness has been wiped out.
So this is exposing the deeds of darkness inside of me, which is what Paul, meant when he said, “Find out what pleases the Lord”!
It’s being on the hunt for residue of the deeds of darkness listed in Eph. 4& 5:
To do that, to leave the old life of darkness and come into the rays of goodness, righteousness and truth, we are told to do two things that are essential and that is: “Be very careful how you live,” (Eph. 5:15) and “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The first has to do with paying close attention to what pushes your buttons and sets you off. Be very careful how you live.
We all have trigger points. If something is a temptation to you, then don’t go there. If you know that you are going to be weak in the knees, then don’t even entertain it.
Use your common sense and stay away from situations and places that plunge you back into darkness.
That’s what it means to be careful how you live.
Hand in hand with this is this idea of “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
In fact, this is what it says, “Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” instead of having “unwholesome talk come out of your mouth.”
It also says, “Sing and music in your heart to the Lord’ instead of “bitterness, rage and anger” being in your heart!
Did you notice how much of this has to do with our speech?
Do you realize how our speech and words indicate what is in our heart?
Do you realize how much our mouth is the gateway of our heart?
Do you realize how much the deeds of darkness is given away in what we say, how we say it, the way we say it and to whom we say it?
I am not only referring to foul words but also angry words, spiteful words, mean words, hurting words, deceptive words and gossipy words!
All of these are the words of the yucky cocoon and the slimy thing inside the egg.
The only way to banish these remnants of darkness is by being filled with the Spirit.
The more we are filled with the Spirit of God the more our speech and eventually actions will reflect the light of God within us.
So open your hearts to the Holy Spirit so that we can live as children of light as we find out what pleases the Lord!
Spitting Image of Dad
My Dad, My Hero
When did dad stop being your hero? When did you first notice your dad’s flaws and shortcomings? When did you first realize that dad was far from perfect and that the ideal we had of him as little ones he could not live up to?
For me it was somewhere around 11 or 12.
Certainly for the first ten years of my life my dad was my
everything and my hero.
He was this strong protector who was always there when I needed him. He was a teller of jokes and lover of God. This man would do anything for his boys, his “buwe”. This man was taller than any of us and always stood by our mom.
This was a man who would take us camping, on long walks or take us along on his jobsites or farm chores.
My dad, my hero. That was who he was in the first ten years of my life.
But then something shifted. I can’t recall any specific events, but at some point I began to notice his flaws and failures (I will spare you the details).
The day came when he wasn’t that tall and invincible anymore. In fact the day came when I towered over him and saw him for the smallness that my juvenile and immature mind saw him to be.
To my shame, I have to admit that for me it took decades to shake this thing away from me. My brothers had a far easier time honoring and respecting our dad than I did.
Then when he died, he died too young and too fast for me to have had my final words with him. I’m not sure that I would have been in the place where I could have seen him for the hero that he truly was throughout his life.
Now in my 50’s I have come full circle. What I wouldn’t give to have my dad around! What I wouldn’t do to hear his guidance and wisdom. He would be 78 today had he lived beyond his 63.
I would tell him what a hero he was in taking his family from a little village in Germany to Toronto when he was 37 and his boys were 13, 12 and 10.
To go to a place far from his beloved home and family among a people whose ways he didn’t understand and language he never did learn. And in doing so, to provide his boys with the chance to come to know Jesus and have the opportunity to make something in life.
My dad, my hero. For those magical years, those first 10 years, he was the man whose feet walked the ground I worshiped.
Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery
I’m not sure if we ever imitated or mimicked him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did. He was our hero.
Speaking of imitating and looking like someone. The older my brother Tom gets the more he looks like my dad. To look at Tom is to see my dad. He has very similar features, and more of his personality than I have. I have too much Olbrich in me to ever look like my dad, with Tom having way more Rausch in him.
You know what they say about imitation, don’t you? It is the sincerest form of flattery, meaning it’s flattering to that person when someone intimates them.
That brings me this morning to the One I really want to imitate.
The one who is my superhero and who has never disappointed me or let me down, and that is of course none other than my Heavenly Father.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I want flatter my Heavenly Father by mimicking his every move.
What would you say if I were to tell you that there is nothing our Heavenly Father would love more than to see us be imitators of him and that to be in his family means to become little imitators of Him.
This is what Paul unwraps for the Ephesian family. While it’s amazing to see so many born into God’s family, Paul doesn’t let it sit there. He doesn’t want thousands of babies whose stinky diapers need constant changing.
Paul’s dream for the Ephesian family is that they would all grow up by becoming imitators of their Heavenly Father.
The Mimic of God
The key verse in today’s passage is Eph. 5:1 “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love”
The word therefore becomes a key word because it links this idea of being imitators to what was just stated in the passage. This all had to do with how the Father was wanting us to live our lives:
“You were created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his 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 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 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. 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.” Eph. 4:24-32
The word therefore in Eph. 5:1 brings the idea of being imitators of God back to this list of do’s and don’ts and does so in a very nice and precise definition of being imitators of God.
Therefore literally means in one word as if to suggest the extensive list of do’s and don’ts can be summarized in one word: imitators.
To live out Eph. 4:24-32 is to imitate God. The word imitator comes from the Greek word mimetai from which we get the English word mimic.
You know what it means to mimic someone? Do as he does. Speak as she speaks. Act as he acts.
Our Heavenly Father’s greatest desire is that we would mimic him in every way. To act like him, to think like him, to react like him, to speak like him and to do like him.
He wants us in his spitting image. What an outrageous claim to lay upon our lives! For us to be like him. That when you see us, you see him.
No wonder the Expository Bible Commentary calls this “a staggering conception”!
Do you realize that very few fathers would want their children to become like them, and that a good number of kids also don’t want to become like their dads?
Too many mistakes, too many things done wrong, too many missed opportunities.
In fact, how many times do fathers look at their own mistakes as they push their kids into opposite directions hoping for no repeat of past failures?
But not so with our Heavenly Father. He is perfect in all he does with no regrets and would never say “do as I say and not as I do” nor “learn from my mistakes”.
Our Heavenly Father who is perfect in all he does says to us: “What I really want is that you mimic me. My dream for you is that you would become just like me.”
With him as a perfect Heavenly Father, who wouldn’t want to imitate him? He is perfect. No skeletons in his closet, no unkind word ever spoken, no regrets, hypocrisy, mistakes or failures. None.
It gives us an incredible desire to want to be like him, right?
Part of this desire certainly is because he is worth imitating, right?
But there is more at play than that. Somehow when we were birthed into the family as sons and daughters, his Holy Spirit settled into our hearts.
There is something about my new nature empowered by the Spirit that makes me want to be like Him.
Then as I look around the family of God and see all my older brothers and sisters – not older in years but in maturity and God-likeness, and I see the Heavenly Father in them in how they react and talk and treat others - makes me want to be like them as they are like Him.
On top of it all, to have received what we called last time an education of the heart makes this desire irrepressible and me incorrigible.
With God pouring his grace into my heart, which in turn helps me change the way I think and the way I live, makes me realize that I can grow up and be like him in every way.
So when I hear the Bible tell me: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” everything inside me says yes! Not only do I want to mimic him but I actually can.
I really want to be like him. Every fiber of my being yearns to be like Him in everything I do. The question is what does that look like?
What Does it Look Like?
We had a man who attended our former church along with his wife. A retired guy from GM who came to church dressed to the nine’s. Suit, tie and polished shoes every Sunday.
At the time, he and his wife used to bring their two grandkids to church with them, with little James no older than maybe five or six. Little James obviously loved his grandpa, for he mimicked him in almost every way. It was almost comical to see little James wear his little suit like his grandpa with a little tie and little dress shoes all polished. Even his hair was slicked back just like Grandpa. To see little James was to see Grandpa.
Is that what it means to mimic our Heavenly Father by how we look and how we dress? Can we say to see me is to see God? Does it come down to our physicality with us looking like little James?
I think not. It’s rather doubtful that we are to mimic our Heavenly Father with our outward appearances, since none of us have even seen him.
Even if we could, we wouldn’t be able to see him since God is spirit and has no physicality in that sense to him.
We can never physically look like him, which is actually a blessing in disguise because it means this is not about how we look but how we are on the inside.
It forces our attention away from physicality to the issues of the heart, which are by far harder issues than slipping into a suit on a Sunday.
So if we can’t look like him with our physicality, then what does it mean to mimic him?
You know God by his actions and deeds. To know him is to see his attributes and characteristics. Never once is it about how God looks.
So in the Scripture, there are verses such as: “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,” (Ps. 86:16) and “You are kind and forgiving, O Lord, abounding in love” (Ps 86:5) which reveal his loving character.
These are the things we are mimic. The very attributes Paul outlines in Eph. 4 and 5, which if we live these out make us mimics and imitators of God.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” (Eph. 4:32) – sounds pretty familiar, huh? The very things said of God elsewhere in the Scriptures. You want to mimic your Heavenly Father, then be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other!
On the flip side, the things we are not to do as outlined in Eph. 4 also means to mimic him by abstaining from these.
So when it says: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice” (Eph. 4:31), it does so because there is nothing about our Heavenly Father that would suggest such behavior.
Our Heavenly Father does not carry around bitterness, rage, anger or brawling. Nothing about him says that and nothing that a mimic of God would ever entertain.
In fact, much of what Paul writes about straddling Eph. 4 and 5 provides various behaviors that our Heavenly Father is not. To mimic him means to stay away from what He is not.
Since our Father is pure and innocent, therefore “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 holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” Eph. 5:3-5
Since our Father never lies but always speaks truth, therefore “each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor.” 4:25
Since our Father handles his anger very well, therefore “in your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” 4:26
Since our Father never takes what’s not his and always enjoys the fruit of his own labors, therefore “he who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his hands.” 4:28
Since only wholesome, uplifting talk comes from our Father’s mouth, therefore “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.” 4:29
This is how you become a mimic of our Heavenly Father, friends!
Living a Life of Love
Although these are attributes and characteristics that touch on many aspects of our human interaction, all of these can be boiled down to one word and one concept.
Everything that God is, everything that God does and everything that motivates God comes down to one word which is love.
If there is one thing God is more than anything else, then its love. The three most powerful words in the New Testament are “God is love.” (I Jn. 4:8)
Listen to John’s words: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I Jn 4:7-8,11-12
This is why when Paul tells the Ephesians to mimic God he says, “Be imitators of God therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love.” Eph. 5:1
Living a life of love is what God wants for us more than anything else in the world.
I love the clarity Paul brings to this in I Cor. 13. It is ‘no nonsense’ and cuts through everything as he lays it all out.
He says it doesn’t matter how passionate you are nor how gifted you are nor even how sacrificial you are but how loving you are.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (I Cor. 13:1). Who cares how much passion you have and much you can speak in tongues; if you don’t have love its only noise.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. “ (I Cor. 13:2). Who cares how gifted and talented you are; if you don’t have love you are nothing.
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. “ (I Cor. 13:3). Who cares the monuments you have built and the suffering you have endured, if you don’t have love you have gained nothing by it.
You want to please your Heavenly Father? Then mimic his life of love. What does that look like?
This is what it looks like: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.” I Cor. 13:4-7
In fact, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Cor. 13:13
Mimic your Heavenly Father by living a life of love!
Living The Grown Up Life
Proud of My Kids!
I have to tell you this morning that I am incredibly proud of how our kids turned out.
I don’t talk about our kids often and would certainly never brag about them in front of them, but I have to tell you that there is nothing more satisfying for a parent than to see their kids become responsible adults living productive lives.
Our son is a police officer, and our daughter is a social worker.
These each have their own families, in their own homes, and raising children. Our youngest is a young woman in a career as a medical lab tech, singlehandedly paying down her own mortgage.
It brings a tear to my eye, and makes my heart happy.
I realize that many things could have derailed this, and no doubt there were rough patches along the way, and I am sure a few more bumps will be up ahead, but what makes the heart of any parent swell is when a child grows up well.
In many ways that is Paul’s dream for his Ephesian family. Up until this point his main concern had been with everyone getting along, making room, moving over and allowing newcomers at the kitchen table.
Starting with today’s passage in Eph. 4:17, there is a definite shift of winds.
Living Worthy of the Calling
In fact, if you have a NIV Bible, then you will notice two headers in Eph. 4. The first section is called Living in the Body of Christ and the second section starting is Living as Children of Light.
If living in the body of Christ is all about getting along, then living as children of light is all about living as responsible, mature children of God who live up the name they now bear.
Speaking of living in the family of God, let me reach way back to Eph. 4:1 where Paul says: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
This is all about living up to the calling they now have as children in the family of God.
In other words, they now carry God’s last name and thus needed to reflect his name by getting along, which was Paul’s point in that first section when he said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” (Eph. 4:3).
So, up until this point in his letter, that has been his main focus.
Having made his point, Paul now focuses on his second thought, namely that they would mature into responsible adult children who reflect well in their actions and deeds the name they bear.
“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Eph. 4:1
Living worthy of the calling we have received as children of our Heavenly Father means not only getting along with each other, but also each one of us becoming more and more like our Father in action and deeds.
Take a look back at Eph. 4:13 where Paul takes about how the family of God is “built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Notice the double themes of getting along and then growing up when he talks about “reach(ing) unity in the faith” and “becom(ing) mature”!
Life of Purity
That’s what Paul has in mind when he talks about a life worthy of the calling.
Up until this point it was about unity and getting along, and now it’s about reflecting his nature and character as we mature. This is a definite shift of emphasis:
“Having urged the Christians to cultivate unity, he now urges them to cultivate purity. In shifting the topic, Paul also shifts his focus. In discussing unity, his focus was on the Christian community. In discussing purity, his focus will be on the Christian individual” Richard Peace
With purity, the focus shifts away from community and toward the individual.
You see, while unity happens within the community, purity and maturity happens within the individual.
Becoming mature is what our heavenly Father wants from us.
This is the equivalent to us taking great satisfaction in seeing our kids grow up to be responsible, well-adjusted individuals who are making a positive contribution to society.
Way back when God first spotted us long before the creation of the world that’s what he had in mind: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless.”
He wanted us someday to be holy and blameless.
Just like we know what that looks like for our kids so our Father knows exactly what that it looks like to him, which Paul then unwraps in this passage:
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.
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. 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.
Wow, talk about bringing it into everyday life! In fact, Paul spills over into the next chapter:
1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 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.
3 But 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 holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
This is what it means to honor the name we now bear by living up to his dream for us.
I want my son to live a certain way, and also my daughters to live a certain way. God wants the same from us.
For me it has less to do with success or standing and more about character and lifestyle. It matters less to me that my kids make more money than me, or achieve a level of material success, than it does that they have a solid character and promote justice and righteousness in society.
The same is true of our heavenly father. When we speak of His destiny for us, it has less to do with what we have achieved, than it does with what we have become and the character of our heart!
Nothing in Paul’s list includes accomplishments. What does it matter what buildings you have built, what organizations you have supported and what deeds you have accomplished, when your heart is barren and you don’t reflect the gentle character of Jesus in your everyday dealings.
So back to what Paul laid out in terms of right living. So let me ask you:
Paul sets this up in a way that we don’t have much choice in the matter, or any excuses, when we stand before our Lord.
“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” Eph. 4:17
Paul insists on this, did you notice that? And if he does, should not we as well?
Should we not call out bad behavior? Should we not draw lines in the sand and say you can’t get away with this here?
We will not tolerate lying, gossip, nor an angry and mean spirit.
Unforgiveness is not an option here and neither is bitterness and rage. Bullying is not allowed.
Sexuality immorality, as any sexual activity outside of marriage, is not what we want to see.
None of this reflects the Father whose name you now bear. In fact, Paul calls these practices living as the Gentiles do which is like saying that is how we lived before we came into the family of God.
The Gentile family lies, tears down, bullies and rages. The Gentile family does not forgive nor forget, is foulmouthed and treats sex as a casual recreational activity.
The family of God on the other hand is kind, compassionate, forgiving and walks in the way of love.
Right Thinking, Right Living!
Lest you think that this is impossible, that there is no way that I can live this way, Paul outlines step by step how we can come to this place of holiness, purity and love.
It isn’t just an impossible demand from a harsh taskmaster of a father but provision is made for everyone of us to live up to the name we now bear.
Notice the connection between living and thinking in Eph. 4:17 “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.”
This is hugely important and is in fact the key to this entire section!
Paul links living with thinking, both negatively within the Gentile family, and positively within our own family.
Living and thinking do go hand in hand. The way we think is the number one influencer on the way we live. You think right, and you will live right.
Lyman Coleman wrote: “Paul emphasizes the connection between thought and behavior. He hammers home his point that Gentiles live as they do because their thinking is a mess. Right thinking does matter if a person is get on with right living.”
Clearly there is a connection between right thinking and living.
It would be totally unfair if we were to tell people to live a certain way, without pointing out right living as the result of right thinking.
In fact, even telling people to think right without outlining how to think right is also unfair.
Right Heart Condition
It’s never enough to tell someone to think right unless you outline how that is done which is exactly what Paul does in the next verse:
“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.” Eph. 4:18
Let’s unwrap this a little. Notice first of all, that those in the Gentile family are “separated from the life of God.” That is how they live their lives and with predictable outcomes.
Then notice the connection between living that way and their thinking: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God.”
So again, the connection is clear between the way you live your life and the thoughts you think. Nothing new here; it’s the same as in the previous verse.
What’s new is the connection between living your life because you think a certain way, and what goes on in your heart:
“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.” Eph. 4:18
This ignorance of their minds and darkening of their understanding resulted in a terrible way of living one’s life:
“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.” Eph. 4:19
All of it is “due to the hardening of their hearts.”
The heart affects the thinking, which in turn determines the way we live our lives.
Let me connect the dots for you on this one.
If we are going to insist that someone lives a life worthy of the calling received as children of God, then we need to realize that right behavior is a very long process that originates way back in the hearts of people who live that way.
Everything about us begins in the heart. This is why Proverbs calls it “the wellspring of life”, where the issues of life flow out affecting the way we think and eventually the way we live our lives.
And so, to tell someone from the Gentile family to smarten up, try harder and live better, is not only unhelpful but will also bring about frustration and self-condemnation.
Look at what Paul says next: “That, however, is not 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.”
Eph. 4:20, 21
It’s not how you do it. You don’t try harder. You don’t become more disciplined. This is not about you!
The way to change your life so as to reflect the family of God we now belong to, means being made new in our hearts and minds and then putting off the old self while putting on the new self:
“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.” Eph. 4:22-24
This talks about where second birth happens. It doesn’t happen in your lifestyle choices, nor does it happen in your thinking, but it happens in your heart.
This is what renews your mind and allows you to put on the new self and thus making positive lifestyle choices.
An Education of the Heart
We are going to wrap it up in a moment, but before we do I need to unwrap vs. 20-24 in terms of understanding the process that happens in your heart which can only be called the education of the heart.
First of all, take a look at vs. 20-21: “You however did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him according to the truth that is in Jesus”
This almost sounds like an education. In fact, look at it through the lens of a spiritual education.
He literally enlightens us by providing us with an education of the heart!
That education of the heart changes the way we think about things, and eventually the way we live our lives, which is the point he makes in vs. 22-24.
“You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self”
When Jesus changes our hearts we will know how to put off the old self with it’s Gentile behaviors, we will know how to renew the attitudes and thinking of our minds and we will know how to put on the new self with its behaviors worthy of the calling we received as a child of God.
Every time we open your hearts to Jesus, He continues on the education of our hearts.
This is not something that happened only once, the first time we opened our hearts to Him, nor at our second birth, but a continual opening of the heart toward Jesus.
This is how Jesus continues His educational work of renewing our minds, which will allow us, walk worthy of the calling we have received and the one whose name we now bear!
Overcoming Sibling Rivalry
There’s nothing like peace in the home; everyone getting along, everyone minding their own business, no one is bickering or squabbling, with everyone on speaking terms and happy.
Isn’t that just about the nicest thing you can imagine? To have a home that is a haven of tranquility and peace is a wonderful thing.
So why would you wreck that by treating your kids differently?
Why have a set of rules for the one that you don’t have for the other? Why give different gifts when you know it causes problems?
We do it all the time. Don’t tell me we don’t do that. Who dresses their kids all the same? Who buys their kids identical toys? We don’t even treat them the same.
We may pay different attention to some, we may handle each child differently, and we may even discipline differently depending on the child, right?
We certainly try to steer them into different educational and career opportunities as well, don’t we?
So why do we do that? Not to be mean spirited, nor to play favorites, that’s for sure.
Most of us make distinctions between our kids because we actually have the best interest of the child in mind.
After all, we know how each child is wired differently and thus requires a tailor-made response that is unique to that child and different from the others.
Thus the cookie cutter approach doesn’t work.
My dad certainly raised each of us three boys differently. I never felt that he made decisions that applied to all three but that he had this uncanny ability to make each of us feel very special in who we were.
I loved the fact that my dad treated me special. The funny thing is that my brother Uwe would have said the same thing and the same I am sure with my brother Tom.
My brother Uwe passed away a couple of years ago and my mom reminded me not too long ago that my dad would always take Uwe with him to his jobsites.
I had no recollection that dad did that probably because it was no big deal to me. I probably would not have enjoyed helping dad on the jobsites anymore than Uwe would have hated being dragged along.
The truth of the matter is that Uwe and I were two completely different people, and we still have no idea where Tom came from and how he fit in J.
I suspect the same is true for most of our families.
So we suggest different extra curricular activities and sports, we will keep the leash at different lengths, we will attempt to steer them into different educational experiences, and engage each one differently.
All of that because we know our kids’ strengths and weaknesses, and thus we customize our parenting so that each of them has a fair chance at success in life.
Consequently, we are constantly assuring our kids that we are not playing favorites nor that we mean to be unfair when it seems as though each child is treated a little differently.
Now, I know that some of you may be thinking that you shouldn’t treat kids differently and that they should all have the same clothing, haircut and responses from their parents.
I would suggest that this is actually a lazy way of parenting since it’s the easiest option. A far more challenging way of parenting is to tailor each response to where a child is at and where it needs to go.
After all, isn’t that how our Father in heaven does it with us? I certainly don’t feel as though I am one of two billion.
In fact, many times I feel as though I am the only child of His that matters to him, which I suspect every one of us feels.
So if our Father relates differently to each one of us then why would we not want to do the same thing with our kids?
Each One Different From the Other!
In fact, this family dynamic that I just described to you is also true in the family of God, which I would suggest is the point of Eph. 4:1-16.
Think about it for a moment. On the one hand God creates this family and tells us to make sure that we get along well within that family.
Paul says: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Eph. 4:1
In fact, Paul says to do your utmost in making sure you get along with others in the family: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” vs. 3
Even as Paul reminds them that they’re in the same family, have the same Father and are all brothers and sisters: “There is one body and Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” vs. 4-5
In fact, so concerned is Paul that God’s children get along that he even shows them how: “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love”. vs. 2
So, on the one hand, God creates this family, puts all of us into it, tells us to make sure we live in harmony and even shows us how we can do that.
But then, on the other hand, what does God do but treat each of us differently by giving us different gifts, talents and abilities!
Take a look at Eph. 4:7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.
Notice the phrase “each one of us”, for this suggests that when God looks at his family he does not see us as one collective hive but very much as individuals and as “each one of us”.
We are not one of many. This is not the Borg Collective. We are not 7 of 9, but fully individualized, unique, different with each of us in a special relationship with our Father.
“To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (vs. 7), meaning his interactions and dealings with each of us is personalized and different from the other.
No two of his children are treated the same, no two are engaged by Him in the same way, no two receive the same gifts and abilities.
While its true that “grace has been given”; which as Skevington Wood points out means, “that within the body of Christ, each family member enjoys a share of God’s grace”.
Yet each one receives a different share and slice of that grace which is suggested in the phrase “as Christ apportioned it”.
He has served up different portions of his grace with no two receiving the same amount.
“The distribution of grace, and so the distribution of grace gifts is in Christ’s own hands and apportioned as he decides.” Wood
And it’s Eph. 4:8 that paints the picture of how that happened: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
This is the Christ’s triumphal procession from the grave on the day of his resurrection. As he rose in triumph, he not only led the procession of the captives who were freed but also gave gifts to his people.
In other words, it was Christmas Day in heaven. He handed out his manifold gifts among his many children.
Lists of these gifts can be found scattered among the pages of the New Testament in places such as Romans, I Cor., Eph. and 1 Pet.
In fact, in 1 Cor. 12 you will find how diverse and different these gifts truly are: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” I Cor. 12:4-6
All of these are determined by God: “He distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” I Cor. 12:11
What that means is that the family of God ends up so diverse that its more akin to a human body than a family: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” I Cor. 12:12
Many Gifts and Many Parts
While diversity may be our strength, it can also be our weakness.
Our Father treating every one of us differently and tailor-making his gifts to fit exactly who we are, can lead to all kinds of rivalries and jealousies.
Think of your children for a moment. Was there ever a moment where one of your kids looked with envy at the Christmas gifts of their siblings and made it clear that they were more interested in what their sibling got than in what they themselves got?
“Why did he get that and I didn’t?” or “I don’t like what I got, I want that she has!” or “Look at how much better my gift is than yours,” and so on.
Unfortunately, the same thing can happen in the family of God as well.
You need to realize that our Father doesn’t give gifts based on maturity but despite of it.
When immature children of God get their hands on the gifts of God, some of the same jealousies, pride and resentment we see among our kids can also be seen within the family of God.
“Why did he get that and I didn’t?” “I don’t like what I got and I want what she has.” “Look at how much better my gift is than yours!” “You should have the same gift I have,” and so on.
That sort of thing happens all the time and when it does, it’s actually a sign that people haven’t grown up.
You see, whereas kids can squabble and fight over each other’s gifts, adults applaud each other’s gifts.
Whereas kids can be jealous over each other’s gifts, adults marvel at how appropriate and meaningful someone’s gift is.
Whereas kids can boast and brag about the gifts they received, adults express delight at how great someone else’s gift is.
That’s the difference between someone who is grown up and someone who is not. The same thing occurs in the family of God!
If someone thinks that only their gift is important, or that all should have their gift, or they should hang out only with those who have the same gifts, then how is that any different than what we see kids do?
If someone refuses to applaud the gifts others have, even though different from their own, then how is that any different from what kids do?
If someone doesn’t like their gifts or thinks that their gifts are nothing compared to the gifts of others, then how is that any different from what kids do?
If you think that sort of thing doesn’t happen, then you need to take another look at what was happening in the Corinthian church:
“15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” ….. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” 1 Cor. 12:15-21, 24-25
So if you are a foot, then don’t go looking down on those who are the hands, or think that the foot is all that matters in life or hang out only with other feet. How is that the body of Christ? How is that the family of God?
A healthy family of God is where many gifts are celebrated with each person secure in who they are and what they have received; linking arms so that across the manifold diversity would be a strength that is not easily broken.
I love a diverse, manifold family of God where the gifts, talents and abilities of all would not only be welcomed but be celebrated.
Wow, what a strength that would give to the family of God!
Committing to keeping the unity within incredible diversity is what Paul outlines in Eph. 4 when he says:
“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3
This is how we come to the place of being able to see how our diversity is actually our strength and a sign that we are growing up children of God as Paul says in Eph. 4:14-15:
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there… Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”
And growing up is what this is all about.
Listen, we have come into the family to become mature children of God as seen in our ability to celebrate our diversity and see how each talent, gift and contribution actually makes us strong.
Just like if there is only a bunch of ears, it would no more be a body than if in the family we all look the same, think the same and have the same interests and passions.
Paul says that, “The whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Eph. 4:16
It’s obvious that growing up is what being in the family is all about.
Just look at our own families – as much as we enjoy our children, the whole point is that they grow into mature, responsible and well-adjusted adults, right?
Everything we give to them and do for them is geared toward that goal.
The same is true with our Heavenly Father. Yes, we are His children and we will always be His children but He desperately wants us to be mature children.
His dream is each of his children would “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
So He works on each of us, molding and shaping us, preparing us for works of service, which for each one of us looks a little different from the other (just like it does with our own kids).
As you see Him working on your brother’s life, don’t be jealous or resentful, because he is also working on your life.
And as He works on your life, don’t become proud or arrogant thinking the important work is only happening in me because He is also doing significant work among all the family members.
Are you hearing what I am saying this morning?
Many Tutors and Nannies
There is one more thing I need to see in the passage before we wrap up, because you may be wondering what do the pastor and teacher types mentioned in Eph. 4 have to do with what we are talking about?
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph. 4:11-13
So who are all these guys and what’s their role in all this?
It’s true that we only have one Father, and that there is only one first-born Son who has made all this possible, and only one Spirit who works among us. But, we have many coaches, cheerleaders, tutors and governesses, whose only job is to help build the body of Christ up so as to reach spiritual maturity.
In fact, in 1 Cor. 4 Paul calls these guys guardians and he mentions that some of them were more like fathers than guardians: “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” I Cor. 4:15
These people are to work among the family, at times as a teacher, referee, guide, nanny and the cleaners of messes.
These are the “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” Paul has mentioned. In fact, you can easily link these people to the reference made to the gifts Jesus has given the family. These people are certainly God’s gifts among you.
So don’t bite the hand that feeds you! Be thankful for the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers and welcome their work here.
In fact, let’s open our hearts and welcome these gifts in our midst.
Let’s declare that we want the apostolic gifts here, we want the evangelists here, and we welcome the prophets in our midst.
We want all the guardians and tutors heaven can send! We want all the help we can get.
We want to be fully equipped “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph. 4:12-13
So we say bring on the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers!
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