There was a simple song sung many years ago which echoed how many of us felt coming from a background in which we had no time for God at all. It was like walking from the darkness into the light. It was like at last understanding the meaning and purpose of life. It was finding a new dimension for living. It was a brand new radical change in which Christ became more important than anything or anyone. The simple words were,
What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, Since Jesus came into my heart! I have light in my soul for which long I had sought, Since Jesus came into my heart!
God has made us as believers to be different from what we were before. That’s what Paul is writing about to the Ephesian believers in 4:20-24. 4:20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. He tells them how the new self is meant to behave.
1). LIVING THE NEW LIFE GOD WANTS US TO LIVE. 4:25-28. Here St Paul gives a series of contrasts between the old life and the new life in Christ.
- Speaking truth instead of falsehood. 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. They may have been “loose with the truth” in their former days but now they had an obligation to speak the truth to one another. Why? Because they belonged to one another in the body of Christ. They had an obligation to be real and honest with one another as fellow members of the body of Christ.
- Maintaining self-control and not giving room for the devil. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. Anger arises naturally when people become aware of fellow humans hurting one another by their words or deeds. There is a such a thing as “righteous anger”. That’s what one wit said about his own anger, “I’m a righteous person so that means when I am angry it must be righteous anger!” It is not as simple as that! Anyone can let their anger get out of control so that they do or say things that God has declared in His word to be sin in His sight. As Paul says in this verse, we are not to let our anger bubble away below the surface and not deal with it (letting the sun go down on our anger). Such an attitude is a recipe for disaster. It opens such people to Satanic attack because they have given him a foothold or an opening in their lives.
- Becoming a Giver instead of a Taker. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. What a turn-around for some of those new converts in Ephesus! Many of them had formerly been used to acquiring their needs through taking the property of others through stealth. Paul now tells than that instead of taking, they should work for their own living and contribute to the needs of others.
In many parts of the world today there are those who feel that society owes them. They have a strong sense of entitlement. They may feel they are entitled to more money from the government or from their employer even though what they want may be completely unrealistic. Or it may be more recognition that they crave, “I demand more recognition for myself (or my relationship)” etc. The new attitude for the Christian believers is not focussed on what the world can do for them. Rather it is on what Christ wants us to do through them as individuals in His world. It’s about doing the will of God rather than our own human will. It’s about making our own personal contribution to this world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s not “about me”, it’s “about Him” and fulfilling His will for us in His world.
2). TALKING THE NEW TALK GOD WANTS US TO TALK. 4: 29-31. Here is another series of contrasts for the new person in Christ.
i). Once corrupting talk, now appropriate talk. 4:29 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. What are the marks of appropriate speech?
- It builds up. The word here (oikodomeō) means to edify or strengthen.
- It is appropriate for the occasion.
- It helps those who hear it. (It gives grace to those who hear the words)
Rotary has a Four-Way Test which asks the following questions of the things we think, say or do. i. Is it the TRUTH? ii. Is it FAIR to all concerned? iii. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? iv. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? These could have come straight from this passage in Ephesians 4.
ii). Once saying what you wanted to say, but now pleasing the Holy Spirit by what we say and do. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. The Person of the Holy Spirit lives within each believer. He is able to make the believer to be appropriate in word and action on every occasion.
I can understand what it means to grieve the Spirit of God by inappropriate speech. Over the years I have counselled hundreds of people who were deeply wounded by what others said to them. Wounding words always wound. Poisonous lips poison the lives of others. Destructive utterances help destroy the physical or mental health of those they are directed towards. Praise God He can bring healing of the effects of all these damaging words.
iii). Once harbouring unhealthy attitudes but now letting them go. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. “Bitterness” in the Greek is (pikria). We were told when we were studying Chemistry that picric acid was named after its acute bitter taste. Bitterness is like some vile evil acid that eats away inside you. The other characteristic of picric aid is that it highly unstable and explosive. It was used in explosives early last century. Many of us have had the misfortune of seeing people filled with bitterness almost explode in anger as they vented their bitterness against other people.
The writer to the Hebrews knew of the destructive power of bitterness and wrote, Heb 12:14 Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. If you are harbouring bitter thoughts towards anyone and expressing them you are a menace to yourself, your family and the places where you live and work. If you express bitterness you are actually defiling others as well. That’s why Paul writes about bitterness, Put it away. Get rid of it before it destroys you and others contaminated by you.
The other trouble with bitterness is that it destroys our sense of reality. As Psalm 73:21-22 puts it, “When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded, 22 I was a fool and didn’t understand; I was an unthinking animal toward You.” Bitterness prevents us from seeing people as they really are. It also badly affects our perception of God Himself.
The other attitudes to go are wrath and anger and clamour and slander and malice. What Paul is saying is that they are inappropriate for the children of God. They don’t have to live that way. They can be like God in His forgiving grace. They are all breaches of love and have to come to an end. They can go, as we repent of them and ask God to help us to become different. There is nothing more pathetic than a miserable, bitter person who spends his or her time going around mouthing things that are slanderous and malicious. Neither is there anything more dangerous than listening to such people and repeating what they said. Bitter people are deceived in their perceptions without knowing it.
3). BECOMING MORE LIKE CHRIST IN OUR EVERYDAY ATTITUDES. 4:32. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave. Now that we are free of bitterness and all those other awful characteristics, how do we behave? Like God and like Jesus who showed us what God is like.
i). A Kind Attitude. The word for “kind” (chrestos) is used in Mat 11:30 to describe the kind or gracious or easy yoke that unites us to Christ, 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus taught that His followers were to love their enemies and to be kind to them because as He said, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (The word is also found in Romans 2:4, 1 Cor 15:33, 1 Pet 2:3.)
ii). A Tender-hearted Attitude. Here is this wonderful word (splagchnos) or in this case (eusplagchnos). The (splagchnos) was seen as the seat of the deepest emotions eg., the liver etc, or as we might say the heart. This word (eusplagchnos) means that which comes from a good heart. We often use it like that, eg., they have a good heart as a way of saying what a kind, gracious person they are. What they are saying or doing is from the heart, from a tender-heart. The only other references is in the context of loving each other, 1 Pet 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do we have a tender heart or a hard heart towards others? God says we need to love our neighbours and also to love our enemies and to be kind to them.
iii). A Forgiving Attitude. Be forgiving like God was in forgiving us in Christ. 4:32 forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Here is the pattern for forgiving others. But how do we forgive those who hurt us? What does it mean to forgive?
Paul uses a different word here for “forgiving”. The usual word is (aphiemi) which mean to let go, to remit, to loose. But this word is even richer. It is (charizomai) which comes from (charis) meaning “grace”. It is used of cancelling the debt in forgiving sins. Eg., Col 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses. It really means to grant freely, to bestow a favour, to give to those who don’t deserve the gift.
When God forgave us He did so because of what Jesus had done for us on the cross and because we asked Him to forgive us. There was nothing we could have done to deserve or earn our forgiveness. But God forgave us in His love and mercy because Jesus made forgiveness possible for you and me by bearing the penalty of our sin on the cross.
4:32 forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. If we are going to forgive in the same way that God has forgiven us then it means these things. We are giving those people who hurt us something they don’t deserve. They could never buy our forgiveness. They could never earn our forgiveness. But we forgive them freely as God forgave us freely in Christ. Following the pattern of forgiveness we see in Mat 18:27, we decide to show mercy to them, (They don’t deserve that.) We cancel the debt they owe us. (They could never pay back the debt they owe us.) We let them of the hook of our unforgiveness and set them free. (They don’t deserve that either but we choose to let it all go.)
The astonishing thing we discover is that when we forgive someone, we ourselves become free. We are released from a wrong bonding to them. Forgiving others opens us up to more healing. It frees us up to get on with the rest of our lives. Unforgiveness binds us in a negative way to the person we won’t forgive. Forgiveness brings incredible freedom to those who do it.
4). Acting On What God Has Commanded Us. Forgiving Others.
As Eph 4:32 and Col 3:13 remind us, forgiveness of others is not an option. It is a command from God. You may say “Well they don’t deserve it. It just makes it too easy for them. Surely they have to suffer for what they did.” Some years ago I was counselling a woman who was a full-time Christian worker. Years before as a teenager she had been assaulted by someone who should have been trustworthy but wasn’t. When I said “For your own healing you need to forgive that man for what he did to you” she baulked and said “I can’t!” I said “Why not?” She said Because I don’t know if he has suffered enough yet for what he did.”
I prayed a quick prayer “Lord what do I do here?’ The answer came as I said to her, “When you came before God and asked Him to forgive you of your sin, did He say, ‘No I can’t forgive you because you haven’t suffered enough yet for what you have done’?” She replied, “No, He forgave me freely and completely because of what Jesus has done for me.” Some time later she said, “I get the message. I’m now willing to forgive the man and to pray a blessing on him.” With many tears she did. But it brought a tremendous release and healing to her life as God set her free. She helped set herself free by forgiving someone she had to forgive for her own healing.
Whom do you need to forgive? Are you willing to follow the principles of forgiveness seen in Mat 18:27, namely i. to decide to show mercy, ii, to cancel the debt they owe you and iii, to let them off the hook of your unforgiveness and to let them go free? That’s what God did for us. We need to forgive in the same way as St Paul has said in this verse.
Because it is often very difficult to forgive, or to know how to go about forgiving someone, I drew up a prayer that might help some people.
A PRAYER. FORGIVING PEOPLE OF THEIR SIN AGAINST US
Thanking God that He has forgiven us.
Dear Lord, I thank You that You chose to show mercy to me in Jesus. I thank You that You cancelled my sins through what Jesus did for me on the cross. I thank You that You make it possible for me to walk in freedom from guilt.
I receive Jesus into my life to be my Saviour from sin and to be the Lord of my life. I thank You for the forgiveness I now have in Him.
Forgiving the other person/people.
I come now before you to forgive that person/ those people who sinned against me.
I want to forgive them in the same way You forgave me.
- I now choose to show mercy to ………………………. and ……….
- I forgive them of these sins……………. and ………. and ……….
- I no longer hold those sins against them.
- I let them off the hook of my unforgiveness as I release those sins and release them.
I pray that You would bless them by bringing them to Yourself so that they too can walk in the freedom of forgiveness.
Praying for God to heal the damage coming from the hurts we received through the sin of other people.
Lord You alone know the damage done in my life because of the sins of those people. I ask that You would heal me of that which You know needs healing, so that I can get on with doing Your will for me for the rest of my life.
Accept my grateful thanks for forgiving me, for healing me and for releasing me to forgive others. In Your mercy show me others whom I might need to forgive so that I can walk in a deeper degree of healing and freedom, and be the more equipped to love You and to do Your will. I ask these things in the precious name of Jesus. AMEN.
Blog No.081. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Sunday 12th August 2012