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Children of Light

Ephesians 4:17-32

Paul has spent the first three chapters telling us of the mystery of the church. He begins the fourth chapter with his plea for unity in the church, based upon our relationships, including the relationship between church shepherds and members. In this section he tells us the secret of being children of the light - the secret of our relationships one to another.

(Eph 4:17-32 NIV) So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. {18} They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. {19} Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. {20} You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. {21} Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. {22} You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; {23} to be made new in the attitude of your minds; {24} and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. {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.

The Dullness of Sin

There is an enduring myth in Western civilization, since the time of the French Revolution. It is this: living a "passionate" life - a sinful life, in Christian terms - is the path to sharpening your intellect. Paul tells us here that this is not so. The meaning is clearer in the translation known as the Jerusalem Bible:

(v19) Intellectually they are in the dark, and they are estranged from the life of God, without knowledge because they have shut their hearts to it.

Timothy Leary in the 1960's gave us the modern version of this. Use drugs, expand your mind. The temptation is by no means original. Sin is supposed to be enlightening. How is it that the serpent tempted Eve? That she would be like God, knowing good and evil! This is the modern myth: that evil is enlightening. Satan, in the person of Mephistopheles, is a man about town, clad in top hat and tails, sophisticated, debonair. Surely this is the life to live!

The hardening is gradual

It is not the life to live. The reason this deception keeps working is that the effects are slow to be realized. The word Paul uses for "harden" is porosis, from which we take our medical term osteoporosis. It means a gradual hardening of the bones. C. S. Lewis had his demon, Screwtape, express it this way:

"The safest road to Hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

The slow but sure hardening can be seen in history as well. In the early days of America even men in the South considered slavery to be an evil. It was a necessary evil, but still an evil. Gradually, it became less and less evil and more and more necessary, until finally it was proclaimed that slavery was righteousness itself, ordained by God for the black man, beneficial to both black and white. (The parallel to abortion, by the way, infuriates feminists whenever mentioned.)

The same effect can be seen in your personal life. A trivial example: ever had a "favorite song?" What happens to it after you've heard it too many times?

The lust is never satisfied

The problem is much like that of a thirsty man drinking salt water. The "cure" for the thirst actually causes thirst. We see this most clearly today in drug addiction. But it can be seen elsewhere. Have you noticed "extreme sports?" We are bored with last week's thrill. Intellectually, it's been done before. The same thing is true in

·         The flesh. How kinky can you make sex? Not the question; can you make it kinkier than last week.

·         The world. How fast can you make the car go? Not the question; can you make it go faster than the last one (or the one next to you on the freeway).

·         Pride. Can you be better than you were last week? Not the question; can you be better than the guy you're competing with - and produce an even bigger triumph this week. Can I move up in the competition?

The problem is: how do you quit?

The Old Man vs. The New Man

Paul gives us the answer to that question. It consists of two things:

·         What you must get rid of - the old man you must put off, or change

·         What you must put in its place - the new man you must put on.

It is important to note that you must do both. A list of "thou shalt not" items is of very little use without something to replace it. Chrysostom argues that the chief benefit of marriage is that it replaces lust. That sounds silly to the modern mind, which is more a reflection on the modern mind than Chrysostom.

Inward and Outward

Paul argues not only for old versus new, but also that we must do things both for the inward and the outward man.

The inward man is approached this way:

·         On the intellectual avenue, it is by hearing and being taught. This means not only coming to Bible fellowships, but listening to what is taught.

·         It is also a matter of meditation on the Word. It is not sufficient to be a sponge in class; you must also ponder the Word yourself.

·         Fundamentally, however, it is a triumph of the mind over the emotions. How strange this must seem to those outside, who see Christianity as an "emotional" decision. Satan attacks many new Christians that way; "It was just an emotional thing, a passing phase. You'll get over it." It is not so. The life of faith is rooted in a sound mind.

Equally, the outward man must be renewed:

·         As your mind affects your actions (which is obvious) so your actions affect your minds. Do you imagine that your habits have no effect on your thinking?

·         Your geography does too. A great vaccine against sin is to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

·         As Bonhoeffer put it, "Only those who obey, can believe." God will not honor a faith which is void of deeds, for that faith is dead.

These methods may be combined by what I call the Balance Beam principle:

·         Is there a requirement on the inner man, the man of intellect? There is a corresponding requirement on the man of action.

·         Is there something the Lord calls upon you to give up as sinful? There is a corresponding thing which the Lord will call upon you to take up as a part of grace.

The Secret of Christian Living

The key verse in this passage is verse 27: "do not give the Devil a foothold." How does one give the devil a foothold?

·         First, by sin. Sin gives the devil the hold on us, for it becomes the little thing he can exploit into lifelong misery.

·         But also by delay - by waiting to do something right, we give Satan a chance to produce mischief.

Specific Examples

Paul now gives us four specific examples of this principle of the Balance Beam.

·         Falsehood. That we should tell the truth in love has already been stated. But Paul here makes it clear that this is a matter of "inside and outside"

·         Inside. We are members of one body. We have a trust relationship with one another. Can a trust relationship survive falsehood? Try lying to your wife and see what pain it gets you.

·         Outside. Stop the falsehood, and replace it with truth. (Note: NOT if you can't tell the truth shut up.)

·         Anger. Of the deadly sins this is one is the most cancerous, for it can eat you up on the inside. You may not have the power to express your anger, but you can nurse your grudge for years.

·         Inside. Don't nurse that grudge. Get rid of it by sundown. (No foothold by delay!)

·         Outside. In your anger (you are going to be mad for a while) do not sin. Control your actions so that you don't create more trouble. As my mother taught me, "Don't do dumb things."

·         Theft. Most of us condemn theft - in the legal sense. But there are many ways to steal, and some of them are legal. I once turned down a summer job that would have had me "sell" encyclopedias. The trick was that I was supposed to represent myself (using my lack of Spanish as a shield) as being from the school board, telling Hispanic parents that they had to buy the encyclopedia for their children. That's theft.

·         Old man. Stop stealing!

·         New man. Get to honest work. Why? Not so that you will have something to survive on, but rather so you can do the positive thing of giving to those who have need.

·         Talk. The tongue is a small thing, which causes big trouble.

·         Old man. The word for unwholesome used here actually means "rotten." It carries with it a sense of corruption. Samples of this kind of talk are available for free on a daily basis in our world.

·         New man. The new man thinks first. Is this speech something that is helpful to the person I'm talking with? Is it something which will help meet their needs (not mine)?

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit

Paul ends this section with a warning. Do not grieve the Spirit. Again, the comparison is between the old man and the new man. Continuing to be the old man grieves the Spirit, for the Spirit is present to convict the world of sin and righteousness, and guide the Christian into all truth. So let us look at one final picture of the old and new:

·         Old man. The old man is filled with bitterness, the nursed grudge. This bitterness is continually fed with new rage and anger. That's the inside. The outside gives vent to this in brawling, slander (the word is diabolos, the same word used for the Devil) and malice.

·         New man. The new man replaces that with kindness and compassion, which are reflections of the inner action of forgiveness.

Do you recall the parable of the unforgiving debtor? The Spirit is grieved when we, the forgiven, do not lay aside the life of "unforgiveness" - a life of nursed grudges and anger. Instead, we should imitate our Lord and forgive, showing that forgiveness in kindness and compassion.

Thus we shall build up the unity of the church, the body of Christ. Indeed, that is what Paul has been talking about all along. The church is the body of Christ; we are His hands and feet, and we should be about His business.

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