Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
How many of us has played the Pokemon card game before? Basically a player starts with a deck of 60 card which you will play against other players. As you progress as a player, you will collect more powerful card to add into your playing deck according to your strategies. One way to collect more powerful cards is to trade with other players. There’s a website online where you can check the current price and decide how you trade cards. You can pay money to the other player to obtain the card, or you can trade cards of similar or higher value. Trading involves giving up something that you have in order to gain something that you want.
If you grab a handful of sand, how much do you think it is worth? As an Industrial Engineer in an Electronic Assembly Factory, I oversee several production lines and design processes that turn sand: ugly, worthless and useless in the hands of any man, into some amazing and expensive speakers that play pleasing music to our ears. Of course, they are rather expensive for our taste in Malaysia. Ephesians 4:17-24, as with other parts in the same book describes a transformation in the way we carry ourselves.
Paul first distinctively identified two exclusive groups, referring them as “They” and “You”, so that Christians may understand that we are called to be set apart, to be distinguished from another. “They” are not us, “They” are not our identity. “They” are confused, full of darkness, ignorant, stubborn and rejected the ways and life of God. “They” have given themselves up to the pursuit of their selfish desires, lustful pleasures, greed and unholiness. We must not act like “Them”.
Instead, “You” are now children of God and you have a new identity. Paul tells us to look at Jesus as the standard of true holiness. We are called to learn from the example of Christ and to be like Him. “You” must take away “your” old self, which is like “Them”, and change into the new self, which is like God, righteous and holy.
But that doesn’t mean that this transformation is instantaneous. It doesn’t happen in a snap of fingers the moment you say your Sinner’s Prayer. Paul describes putting on the new self of the likeness of God as an ongoing process that takes both effort and time. Many of our unbelieving friends misunderstand that being a Christian means you are instantly “holy” and expect you to live according to their measurements of a “good” Christian. And many of us can get very discouraged when our friends say things like “Christians should act like that one meh?!” What they don’t understand is that Christians are not instant saints; in fact, we are people who realise that they are terribly trapped in sins and needs help. It’s like realising that our T-shirts are dirty and needs a change of fresh one. However, putting on a new self is not as easy as taking off that dirty shirt and putting on a new one. To transform raw material in my factory into a fine quality speaker takes at least 8 days before it is on its way to our customer in other parts of the world, which takes another 6 weeks. A Boeing 747, one of the largest airliner in the world, takes a series of processes over the span of 2 years to transform from raw material into a 200 tonne flying machine. Putting on the new self takes times.
|A Boeing 747|
While it takes time to put on the new self, it also means there is a second chance for all of us. It also means that it is possible. In the next part, Paul gave us some tips on how to put on a new self.
1. Trade lies for truth (v25)
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Humans are very good liars. Studies show that in a 10-minute conversation, humans make an average of 3 lies and research found that we are so good at lying, we don’t even realise that we are lying. Lying is so common that it has became a subconscious part of our daily life. To make things even worse, lying in a certain condition, is in fact considered an ideal option. How many of us have heard that it is okay to lie if it is a white lie? The statement itself is a big fat lie.
In a church setting, a common form of lying is found when brothers and sisters put up a fancy superficial front to cover up their brokenness, and it’s made even worse with the invention of social media. Instead of coming to God and to fellow believers in sincere openness about their weakness so that we may allow healing to begin, we snap a fancy photo on Facebook and pretend that life is good and beautiful. Relationships are formed superficially and spiritual growths are held stagnant. Lying cripples the healthy function of a church. We find a prime example in Acts 5:1-11 when Annanias and Saphira falsely declared their contribution to the church. It was a beautiful picture where every family of the church brought their possessions to share, but it was marred by death as the result of their attempt to deceive God. They could have been honest about not giving all their possessions and still get to keep their money and lives, but it was far more important for them to keep their pride. Lying ruined a good picture.
But lying is a characteristic of the Devil. The serpent lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden and had led to the fall of man. One of the earliest act of sin after the fall was in fact Adam and Eve lying to God. There are huge consequences to lying. Haven’t we seen enough destruction of relationships and of nations by lies? Sure, lying can get us out of tough situations easily. We can avoid getting caught for cheating, cover up an ugly scandal, comfort an angry boss, or even get voted into power but it is never a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Lying is nothing but swiping a credit card to buy things with money you don’t have, debt will catch up to us soon enough.
I think without a doubt, we all agree that the effect of lying is devastating and it is a nature of God. Paul calls us to put them away and start being truthful and genuine to our neighbours. As a church we are called to be real to our brothers and sisters. It is when we start being truthful and genuine, we can begin to develop intimate and meaningful relationships with one another that can help to build the church.
2. Trade rage for self-control forgiveness (v26-27)
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.
In the beginning of my journey of faith I struggled with my rage. My desperate need to be in control often pushed me into an uncontrollable rage when things don’t go my way. My sister was particularly a frequent victim of my rage. When my sister ticked me off, with my larger stature I would inflict physical pain upon my sister. To this day, even though the Lord graciously reconciled my sister and I in those matters, I would still regret the things I did in those moments when rage blinded me. In hindsight, I know why I did what I did. In most cases I was too angry to forgive and too proud to apologize.
Paul clearly understands that angry is only natural. God Himself is shown to be angry at times too. In effect, Paul was saying “If you, at any point, had been provoked to anger, be angry. But watch out! Watch out for excessive anger!” Anger in itself is not a sin, but in our fallen human nature, sin follows our anger closely. You see, anger can blind us and too much anger can set ourselves out of control.
Paul calls us to put a restraint on our anger and keep our self-control. Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” And a city that is breached and without a wall is a city that can be easily conquered by her enemies.The devil catches us at those moments when we are vulnerable, sets us on a path of mistakes and sins and takes control over us. Paul reminds us not to give away such opportunity to the devil and gain control over ourselves in our anger. I am pretty sure it is difficult to be angry and not sin. Personally it is tough. So maybe it is better to not get angry at all.
But perhaps the remedy to our anger that causes us to sin is to forgive. A mentor of mine once said that “forgiveness, is to give up our attempt to get even with another person.” If someone has done something to hurt you, to forgive is to choose not to return the hurt and not to demand justice in return. In effect, forgiveness takes more than just saying “I forgive you”. It takes sacrifice and effort to reconcile the differences. Paul instructed us to settle our differences on the same day itself. Matthew Henry commented “If you have been provoked and have had your spirits greatly discomposed, and if you have bitterly resented any affront that has been offered, before night calm and quiet your spirits, be reconciled to the offender, and let all be well again.”
Brothers and sisters, if any of you among us today had been angered and offended by another in the church, I encourage you to settle your differences. If you owe an apology, apologize; if you are to forgive, forgive. Even if it happened long in the past, settle it today, before the seed of anger turn into bitterness and destroy the unity among the brethren. 4 years ago, in Chefoo Cameron Highland, I wrote a postcard to my sister, asking her to forgive me for my acts of abuse in the past. Today, I experience God’s powerful reconciliation and forgiveness in the life of my sister and I and our relationship is better than ever.
3. Trade thievery for honest work (v28)
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
“Stealing is the effect of idleness.” St. John Chrysostom wrote. Many of us will say that poverty causes stealing, put poverty in fact drives people to work. The worst poverty would do to a poor is to beg. But for a person who is too lazy to work, yet too proud to beg, is greatly tempted to steal. We see this phenomena in most drug abusers. When drug abuse cripples their ability to function well and to do productive labour, they resort to steal to fund their addictions.
So in place of idleness that leads to stealing, Paul calls us to occupy ourselves with honest and productive work. Why? Because our God is a productive God. He created the Garden of Eden and commanded man to work it and be productive. And in doing honest and productive work, we keep ourselves away from the temptation to take things that do not belong to us. Besides that, honest and productive work transforms us from a receiver into a giver. Not only does honest work provide for ourselves, it gives us the capability to provide for others as well. Certainly, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” applies here well.
The great news is, as I believe, that all of us are productive and honest. At least in most area, we are able to work and provide for ourselves. Therefore, I encourage us to be generous. Why? Because the Lord has indeed blessed all of us with honest and productive work, and the result of productive work is so that we have something to share with others generously. However, there are also some areas of our lives that we have been stealing from others. I would be the first to admit that I have been using pirated softwares and keeps copies of illegal music. Some of us may have taken something from work for our personal use. Regardless of how small it is, the salvation of Christ is complete, so let us strife to completely rid ourselves of dishonest thefts!
4. Trade filthy words for encouragement (v29)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
It is particularly hard to preach this portion of the Scripture. As a talkative guy, I tend to let my lips loose and has often spoken filthy things. I have a tendency to tell dirty jokes and to cuss. Forgive me for not being the best of a Christian example. Paul particularly warned about such corrupt talk. Filthy and unclean words are generally words that provoke the lusts and passions of others. They are useless and destructive. They spring from the speaker’s corrupt heart and they corrupt those who listen. Jesus said in Mark 7:15 “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
However, corrupting talks are not just lustful and filthy words, but are also discouraging and destructive. The Cantonese people can be a very discouraging and destructive people with our words. My mom used to comment that our mouth are so foul, we curse our own children. These words are so common they somehow became an acceptable norm among the Cantonese speakers. Such discouraging and unhealthy curses are often very destructive and causes problems in the generations to come. Children imitate such behavior and continue to pass on such destructive behavior. Listeners of such degrading names can cause low self-esteem and psychological trauma that affect the mental health of a person.
Instead, Paul commands us that we should abandon such defiling words. As a new man in Christ, we shall no longer breathe words of death, but words of fragrance. Paul says that we should ONLY use words that build up and edify others. Our mouths should breathe life into others. And as we fill our mouth and thoughts with fragrant and edifying words, there will be no room nor tolerance for corrupt words. So today, I would like to encourage Li Xin Baptist Church, to constantly speak words of truth that build up one another, encourage one another. If in any occasion that I speak corrupt words, please rebuke me, gently. Let’s help one another to put on a new self.
5. Trade bitterness for kindness (v31-32)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Back in 2012, I went for a three-week mission in Lenggong, Perak where I first met the Sarah and other members of Li Xin Baptist Church. During that mission, I met this particular lady who was a tough one to handle. Because of her past hurts and betrayal from friends and family, there was so much bitterness in her. Troubled by sickness and lack of mobility, she would come to the coffee shop owned by a brother of the church every day because that’s the only few places that would welcome her. Every time I talk to her, I was cursed and called terrible names. It would be a miracle to find a single complete sentence without a foul word from her. It just seemed impossible for her to be touched and saved by the gospel. But by the amazing grace of the Lord, I was able, not only to be the first to learn of her salvation, but to stand by her side as she was baptised on Christmas Eve 2012.
Today, her life is completely transformed. I still remember telling her that she has to stop smoking and cussing after baptism. She cutely protested and asked for leniency. Today, she has stopped cursing, at least whenever I’m talking to her. She has also quitted smoking. In place of bitter words are prayers and kind words. Her transformation in character became the talk of the town and was a great testimony of God’s amazing grace. When she accepted Jesus as her Lord and her Savior, she traded her bitterness for kindness.
Paul asked us to trade our bitterness for kindness. Any forms of wrath, anger, rude talks, gossips, slanders and even intentions to harm others are not of God. As His children we are to leave them behind because they are natures of the Devil. They belong to “Them”. Instead, be kind to others: gentle and forgiving. Why? Because God is forgiving and He forgave us. Jesus was gentle, and so we ought to imitate Him and be gentle. Kindness, gentleness and love are signs of those who truly follow Jesus because these are the natures of God.
Let us examine our hearts to search for past hurts that breeds bitterness in our heart. Let us surrender them to God and put on kindness of our new self. Let us treat each other with kindness and love, desiring the good of others.
If you cannot remember one thing I’ve have said today, you should at least remember this Rule of Thumb written in v30.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
The Holy Spirit tells us the right from wrong and we know for certain that wrong and sinful things grieve Him. He is a little like a tender mother who constantly wants to teach us to do the right thing, but our disobedience and folly grieves him as one who loves us dearly. In short, we must not indulge in anything that is contrary to His nature. If your conscience is troubled at any point at anything we are about to do today, it is perhaps good to take time to consider if our ways grieve the Holy Spirit.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. It is not without consequences. After all, it is by the Holy Spirit that we are sealed for the day of redemption. Surely we do not want to have Christ turn His face against us when He returns.
Brothers and sisters, what would you like to trade today? Are you willing to give up your old self to God as He gives you a new self? This trading process is not going to be an easy one. It takes time, patience and perseverance. God may be taking you through a journey of struggles and hardship as you choose to give up yourself and to put on Godly self. As we go home today, let’s give ourselves some time to ponder, which out of the 5 things we have explored today is God asking you to work on? Let us ask God for the strength to transform and let us encourage one another as we do so.
Love • Christ • Unity