Ephesians 4:25-32 Words that build up
Sunday, August 31, 2008 – Opening Day for a Week of Prayer!
Words that build up
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.
Ephesians 4:29 NIV
During the previous three weeks, we have been examining Paul’s teaching from his letter to the church in Ephesus, focusing on the 4th chapter. Today, we will complete the chapter, setting us up for next Sunday when we will look at the chapter as a whole, though, so far we have always attempted to keep the whole in mind as we examine the parts.
In the 4th chapter of Ephesians, Paul has outlined for us a strategy for how a local church family is able to grow and build itself up in love. His strategy calls for a very intentional focus on Jesus Christ, the owner of the team. Therefore, I am urging each of us to recommit ourselves to Christ as our highest and most valued priority. I am challenging everyone of us to take control of our calendars so that everyday and every week of our lives reflect that Jesus Christ truly is our Lord, the Head of His Church.
Paul’s strategy also calls for a very intentional effort to maintain the unity of the team by expressing support and encouragement at every turn and in every situation. It is Christ who has put this team together. As a result, all of us are brothers and sisters and are called to humbly serve our Lord side by side in worship and evangelism.
Because of this truth, I unashamedly am challenging New Heights to an even higher view of the local church than we may presently hold. For I believe the Scriptures tell us that it is through the local body of Christ that our love for Christ is given the best opportunity to develop and be employed. It is in the context of a local assembly of believers where our faith is best lived out, not in isolation from the world, but in its most effective impact on the world.
For I am convinced that faithful, obedient, loving Christians, who are committed to the mission of a local church that is faithfully serving Christ, have the greatest potential for impacting the unbelieving world that surrounds them. And thus, I hope to persuade you through the truth of Ephesians 4 and through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the truth to your life, that there is not one thing that you would want to commit yourself to more than to Christ, to His Church and to His work in the world. And Paul is giving us a strategy to make that happen right here at New Heights Christian Church.
From our first message the focus was on the importance of the team being unified around the One who brought us on to the team. We heard from the Apostle Paul how important it was that we always bear in mind that it was through God’s mercy and grace that each of us were placed on the team. So, anytime we are tempted to withhold love and forgiveness from another team member, we need to remember on what basis we, ourselves, were made members on the team. It wasn’t because of our own righteousness. It was strictly on the merits of Christ’s righteousness.
The thrust of the message two weeks ago was that as owner, Jesus has appointed a team of coaches to train, equip and prepare the entire team for works of service that will build up the whole team to be effective in bringing others into a saving and sanctifying relationship with Jesus Christ.
Last week, we saw, nearly too vividly, that our past still tries to pull us back into its grip and beckon us to return to the lifestyle we left behind. Thus, it is important that we are committed to take full advantage of being members of a united body of believers, making certain that we are keeping our focus on living in Christ and that we are in a healthy relationship with our coaches and the fellow members of our team.
Last week I issued a challenge in the form of two questions. I am re-issuing that challenge this morning. Those questions are in your bulletin as an insert.
So far in this 4th chapter of Ephesians, we have been urged to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. That calling includes being patient with one another and being committed to maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Thus this question: (1) Are you committed to maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in this local portion of the larger body of Christ?
In the middle of the chapter, Paul describes the purpose of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. They are to equip the saints for the works of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Now very practically speaking, I need to know if we’ve got a deal here or not.
Paul says something terribly profound in verse 16, that with the equipping comes the responsibility of every member of the body to function properly or do his or her part in order to make the body grow and build itself up in love. That sure sounds to me like the striking of a deal between the saints and the pastor-teachers.
So, the proposal that I am making is this: If you indicate to us, the elders of this church, that you want to be equipped for works of service so that New Heights Christian Church will be built up and that after being equipped you will do your part so that New Heights is built up in love, then, we, the elders, will meet with you personally or in small groups to design a course that is mutually agreeable so that the equipping can begin and the building up can happen. So, the second question is, (2) do we have a deal?
At the conclusion of this service, if you are led to answer and sign the bulletin insert, would you please give the bottom half to an usher, elder or put it in the offering box. Lord willing, I will respond to you early this week.
Here in chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul is urging us to remember our calling as members of Christ’s body and to live lives worthy of that calling. Here is Paul’s opening statement: Ephesians 4:1 (NIV)
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
What does a “worthy” life look like? (4:1) Essentially, Paul has been painting a partial picture of the worthy life in this chapter. Here are three highlights stated as resolutions from an obedient follower of Christ:
1. vv. 2-6 I will work to protect the unity that the Holy Spirit creates. I have bound myself to peaceful unity through a disposition of humility, patience and forgiveness.
2. vv. 14-16 I will speak words of truth with the goal of strengthening the hearers’ relationship with Christ and their relationship with fellow Christians.
3. vv. 14-24 I will always examine my own teachings and the teachings of others in light of God’s Word so that love, humility, righteousness and holiness flourish in the church and so that deceitful scheming, deceitful desires and the hardening of hearts can be prevented.
So far, those are portraits of a worthy life that is fulfilling the calling that God gives His followers.
Let’s see if the concluding verses of Ephesians 4 adds another portrait or simply reinforces these that have already been presented.
Ephesians 4:25-32 (NIV)
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.
This text that we look at today gives us an important opportunity to understand the vital necessity of studying a text within its context. The opening verse makes the point. V.25 We rightfully conclude from these words that to not speak truthfully to our neighbor, to withhold truth from a fellow member of the body of Christ, we will injure the whole body in some way, as a result. If I know that someone has stolen your cell phone and placed it behind the rear tires of your car in the parking lot and I don’t tell you as I have ability, I have failed to put off falsehood and failed to speak truthfully to my neighbor.
But, without the larger context, it is also possible for us to arrive at some conclusions that would be nearly as injurious as the failure to obey these instructions.
Let me illustrate. Were one to construe by Paul’s instruction in verse 25 that we should always tell everyone in the church family whatever factual thought that happens to be on our minds at the time, I believe we would be wrongly applying this verse. If the factual thought that is residing in my brain at this moment happens to be that a certain person recently failed to live up to my expectation, broke a promise to me and I am looking for supporters of my plot to take revenge, then that so called truth is not what Paul is speaking of in verse 25. How do I know?
I believe I can give 3 answers. First, has Paul already given me instructions about what I should do when someone fails to live up to my expectations and even breaks a promise? I only have to go back to verse 2 when Paul says: be patient, bearing with one another in love to know that I must filter all my grievances through a disposition or attitude of love and patience and forbearance. Plotting revenge would be unacceptable for me as a Christian.
Second, what I am experiencing within my own thought processes may be suffering from a significant lack of information or even possibly a lack of remembrance. My thought processes may even be faulty. How many times have we come to a false conclusion simply due to our own forgetfulness? “I am so upset with you for not showing up for our dinner engagement last night? What kind of friend are you, anyway?” - “But, friend, I believe we agreed to have dinner together next week, not this week.” - “O, I’m sorry. I forgot to check my calendar. I was so sure it was for last night. Please forgive me.”
You see, immediately before verse 25, Paul stated in verses 22-24, 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. If I am living according to my former way of life it is quite possible that the factual thoughts that I am entertaining are shaped and corrupted by deceitful desires. Paul says, my thoughts need to be made new through a new attitude that is being bathed in righteousness and holiness. We may have jumped to a wrong conclusion prematurely and to speak our wrong conclusion will likely do more harm than good.
Thus, Paul is not saying that we are to consider every factual thought residing in our brain as being truthful. Some of our thoughts may actually be corrupted data because they were filtered through deceitful desires.
Third, Paul’s instructions in verses 15 & 16 highlight the mission assignment of our words. As Christians, our words have been tagged with an assignment. Look for that assignment in these instructions:
Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The first part of the mission assignment of our words is that they be truthful. Paul affirms that in verse 25, the verse we are looking at. The second part of their mission assignment is that our words are to be spoken in love. That love does a work of filtering what comes into our brain and does a very important work of filtering the conclusions that are formed within our brain. The third part of the mission assignment for our words has to do with the goal they are to accomplish. As Christians, our words are to assist Christ’s body to grow up into Christ. That is to say, the words that we speak should result in other members of Christ’s body to become more tightly bonded to Christ as our head and for our fellow members to be more tightly bonded to each other.
Therefore, my spoken words need to be words that build up the receivers together in Christ. I am not free to speak words that do not fit the mission Christ has given us, that is, to do our part to build up the body of Christ. Paul reaffirms this conclusion in verse 29.
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.
Now I believe there is something even more important that Paul is saying in this text. The truthfulness Paul is speaking of most certainly is the truth of Scripture, not the facts, data and opinions that are residing in our brains. The truth of Scripture is what needs to be spoken without falsehood and spoken in love. Surely there is a personal application for our conversations between members of Christ’s church, but the primary thrust is how we handle the truth of Scripture.
This is an important point. The primary thrust of Paul’s instruction to put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor is how we handle the truth of Scripture.
We live at a time when we are experiencing serious encroachment of the world into the church which challenges the authority of the word of God for being the shaper and transformer of our thoughts, attitudes and actions. We are under a great deal of pressure to conform to this world. It is quite natural to want to be liked, especially by the power brokers in our community, state and nation.
Thus, if the truth of Scripture may be painful to hear or may not be appreciated, we will be tempted to not speak it or reformat it so that it is less offensive to the hearer. Now, clearly Paul does not mean we are to be abrasive or insensitive when speaking the truth of God’s word to people, believers and unbelievers. Winsomeness is most always appropriate. Gentleness and humility are required of those who speak the truth. Paul said back in verse 15, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him.
There is an ancient proverb that says, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Therefore, we must do diligence to try to be convincing when we speak the truth. So, when we suspect that speaking the truth may be very hard for the receiver to hear, we must come humbly, gently, even in brokenness to make our appeal and to present the truth.
Interestingly, Paul is not giving us an alibi to not speak or to distort the truth just because we are fearful that the receiver may not like the truth. But, he is saying we must do it in love.
Now, when this interaction takes place, it is possible that either or both parties could become angry. But Paul says neither party should linger long in their anger.
The application of Paul’s instructions regarding anger is broad based and applies to any harboring of anger.
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
If you are living with anger in your soul, if you have allowed anger to go unresolved for over a day, if you have archived your anger from any number of prior incidents in which you were hurt, offended or ticked off, my dear friend, you have opened the door of your heart to the enemy, you have set out the welcome mat for the devil to take up residence in your soul, you have prepared a guest room for the author of destruction and no matter how pretty he looks or what nice clothes he wears, be assured of this, he will steal, kill and destroy your life and do great damage to those around you.
Seriously, in good conscience, a true believer in Christ cannot, must not, provide a home for anger in his heart. Righteous anger is transformed into constructive action and is works to heal and restore. But, no anger is righteous when it turns us into angry people.
When I hear of someone in our church who has given in to a temptation and done damage to his own soul and hurt members of his family, I am angry. But, if that anger doesn’t quickly transform into constructive action with a motivation to heal and restore, I am only opening my own life to the very same enemy who stole righteousness from my brother.
Withdrawal is not the solution to anger either. To say, because you offended me, because you dishonored me, I am going to sever my relationship with you, that is like saying, I’m going to cut an arm off from the body to which I belong.
So, here is the body of Christ. Each of us is a member of that body. You may be an arm or a toe, an ear or an eye, a tongue or a leg. Maybe you’re a kidney or a lung. Whatever the part, you are vital to the body. God has placed you in the body to build up the body.
So, what happens when a body part detaches itself from the body? It’s not a pretty picture. Yet we do that when we allow anger to isolate us or even separate us from the body.
Paul calls us to examine the truth of God’s Word and let that be the arbitrator of our disagreements and resolver of our anger. For of greater concern than the reason for our anger is our failure to convert our anger into constructive and healing action. That failure can lead to serious destruction.
The good news is that as we fulfill our calling as members of Christ’s body, the whole body will be built up into maturity and the unity of the Spirit will be maintained in the bond of peace. That’s the body we all want to be part of. That’s the body we ARE part of.