A Lifestyle That Honours God!
Reading: Ephesians Ch.4v17-Ch.5v2.
Conventional wisdom is an intriguing concept. All of us are exposed to it. Normally, it comes in the form of catchy sayings. We all know many of them. “If you give him an inch . . . he'll take a mile.” “Two wrongs . . . don't make a right.” “If you lie down with the dogs . . . you'll get up with the fleas.” “God helps those . . . that help themselves.” “Cleanliness . . . is next to godliness.” “Don't get mad . . . get even.” Someone improved on that saying by changing it slightly. “Don't get even . . . get ahead.” “When in Rome . . . do as the Romans do.” And finally, there is one I particularly like. “A bull dog may be able to whip a skunk . . . but the fight just ain't worth it.” Riley Wallers Dog New Jersey!
This is conventional wisdom. And while it may truly be conventional, it most certainly is not always wise. In fact, we are not called to live by conventional wisdom. We are called to live by obedience to the Word of God. We must learn to evaluate everything by the wisdom found in God's Word.
Take, for example, the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” On the surface, it sounds like a very reasonable statement. One is encouraged not to stand out too much. If you find yourself in the midst of sophisticated people, then you must act sophisticated, blend in. If you want to be successful, then don't swim against the current. If you go with the flow, you will be liked. At least, that is the way this kind of thinking goes. In fact, this kind of thinking is flawed in many respects. It is flawed because things do not work that way. Most truly successful people are different, and do stand out. It is also flawed because it condones a wicked lifestyle.
It encourages conformity to ungodly standards.
As Christians, we are called to a lifestyle that honors God. We are not called to live like the world. As our text for today opens, Paul emphasizes that fact when he exhorts us to walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk. He was using the word “gentile” to refer to unbelievers. In other words, we are not to live as unbelievers live. We are not to blend in with the world. Though we are in the world, we are not to do as the world does. Our lifestyle should honour God, not reflect the values of our age.
The beginning of greatness is to be little; the increase of greatness is to be less; the perfection of greatness is to be nothing. Dwight Lyman Moody.
Christians have fallen into the habit of accepting the noisiest and most notorious among them as the best and the greatest. They too have learned to equate popularity with excellence, and in open defiance of the Sermon on the Mount they have given their approval, not to the meek, but to the self-assertive; not to the mourner, but to the self-assured; not to the pure in heart who see God, but to the publicity hunter who seeks headlines. A. W. Tozer (1897-1963).
1. The Case For Upright Living! Ch. 4v17-24.
In the first few verses of our text today, we find the case for upright living. The case hinges on A Powerful Admonition and A Persuasive Argument. There is the admonition to reject rebellion (4v17-19), and the argument for renewed righteousness (4v20-24).
The case for upright living is made because the Christian life demands that we follow Christ. It is a call to obedience. Being conformed to Christ, instead of the world, means that we assume the personal responsibility to allow Him to live through us. We can cooperate with His Spirit in that endeavour or we can resist and reject His Spirit Filled Life Style. Here we find the practical application of the glorious truth of the exchanged life. Here we find how we must act as we attempt to walk in the Spirit.
The admonition to reject rebellion begins with a command. It is not merely a suggestion. Paul indicates that this is something he could affirm together with the Lord. The command to us is that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk. In other words, don't live like the world. Don't go back to the way you used to live. That's what the Hebrews were doing throughout that book of Hebrews.
But this is more than simply a command to quit acting in a certain way. This is a description of the nature of this present world system. Notice how he describes it. He speaks of the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding. Their thinking goes nowhere. People who have yet to be enlightened by the Spirit of God are incapable of understanding the truth.
LeRoy Lawson said, “They can't see ahead (they live without vision and purpose). They can't see around or over (their troubles thus defeat them). They can't see through (they are easily deceived). They can't see in (they don't even really know themselves). They can't see up (even God is hidden from their blind eyes).” End Quote!
The nature of the world is that it is excluded from the life of God. The world system doesn't experience the life of God. This is certainly one good reason not to go back and live like the world. The reason the world doesn't experience God's life is because of the ignorance that is in them. The term ignorance refers to a lack of knowledge. It could also refer to a lack of experience. And the reason they lack this knowledge and experience is because of the hardness of their heart. The word-translated hardness was used in a medical sense to refer to stiff joints, as in arthritis. Because of a desire to go their own way, people develop a hardening of the heart. This is the condition of the world. Don't allow it to become your condition, you have been changed!
Because of their condition, they have become callous. If you refuse to follow God, you become insensitive to Him. And because of this insensitivity, people who adopt this worldview have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. In our age, this is an apt description of the lifestyle being promoted. Every sin, which was unthinkable, even a few years ago, is now being promoted as if it is normal. Perversion is masquerading as acceptable behavior, and those who stand against it are somehow labeled as narrow. This is the result of callous, hardened hearts.
If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in character. If there is beauty in character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world. Chinese proverb:
So, we are called to reject the rebellion of living like the world. We are called to reject this lifestyle because we did not learn Christ in this way. Here the argument for renewed righteousness is made. It is made on the basis of the source of truth, which is Jesus, Himself. Because we have come to Christ, we have been enlightened. Because we have come to Christ, we now can understand the truth. It assumes we know Christ. We are the recipients of this knowledge if indeed you have heard and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus. True believers come to know truth because they have heard Christ and have been taught in Him. In this way we learn Christ.
What does Christ teach us? He teaches us the truth. It is the truth about us, others, the world, life, death, eternity, and how to live. And He teaches us the requirements of truth.
The first requirement of truth is in reference to your former manner of life. We are now required to lay aside the old self. The old self refers directly to our former manner of life. The way we used to live is no longer the way we are now to live. We must put this old way of life aside. After all, it served us poorly then, and can no longer serve us at all. In fact, it is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit. It is already corrupt, and is continually being corrupted. It is good for nothing. We must lay it aside. That is the first requirement.
The second requirement of truth is to be renewed in the spirit of your mind. This renewal of mind is a consequence of laying aside the old self. It is dependent upon it. As we turn from the way we used to be, we turn toward Jesus. It is then that this transformation process begins. We experience a metamorphosis of mind. The Word of God becomes real to us, and prayer becomes our lifeline. By the Word of God and prayer, we come to gain the mind of Christ. And from that renewed mind, we live the life of Christ.
The third requirement of truth is that we put on the new self. This new self is fashioned in the likeness of God. This is who we are. This is who we are becoming. We are being conformed to the image of Christ. This new self is like Christ because it has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. The character of this new self is wholly unlike the way we used to live. Righteousness, holiness, and truth characterize this new self, whereas deceit, impurity, sensuality, and greediness characterized our old self.
We see, then, that there is a three-fold requirement of truth. We are to lay aside the old self, and be renewed in the spirit of our mind, and put on the new self. The picture is almost one of changing clothes, with a shower in between. We take off the old clothes, hop in the shower to get cleaned up, and finally put on fresh new clothes. But what are we to do next?
2. The Character of Upright Living! Ch. 4v25-5v2.
The story is told of a little boy who went to the funeral of an atheist. There in the coffin was the man who professed not to believe in God, and, of course, God's heaven. The little boy studied the well-dressed, lifeless figure for a few moments and said, “What a shame. All dressed up and no place to go.” Well, in fact he had somewhere to go but what a place!
Well, Christians are certainly not “all dressed up with no place to go.” There is a good reason why we have “put on the new self.” We are now to begin to live in a new way. Paul turns from his case for upright living to the character of upright living. Here he details the areas of restored responsibility.
He contrasts the way we used to be with the way we should be. The first area is Lying vs. Truth-Telling. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbour, for we are members of one another (4v25). We are to abandon deceit and tell one another the truth. We have already seen that it must be the “truth in love” (4v15), but we cannot afford the luxury of failing to be honest with one another. This is because we are members of one another. To allow one member to continue on a course to destruction hurts us all.
The next area upon which he touches is Sinful vs. Allowable Anger.
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity (4v26-27). Anger is a common human emotion. It is interesting that Paul does not deny that there are times when we will experience anger. What he is saying here is that we must not allow anger to control us. It is possible to be angry and not sin. We keep from sinning by not allowing our anger to continue. We deal with our anger. We are told not to let the sun go down on our anger. Deal with your anger before the day is done. If you do not, you will surely give the devil an opportunity.
The next area of restored responsibility is Stealing vs. Sharing Abundance. Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labour, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need (4v28). There are many ways in which we can steal. We can fail to give our employer a day's work for a day's pay. We can manipulate the system so that we get what we do not deserve. We can be just deceitful enough not to be completely truthful to our advantage. There are many forms of stealing. But we are not to be thieves. On the contrary, we are to work hard, not so we can become wealthy, but so that we can share with those who do not have. Someone said that “those `on the take' will not be `on the give.'“
The final area of restored responsibility is Decayed vs. Edifying Speech. We are to put off unwholesome talk. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear (4v29). Christians are called to stop gossiping and slandering and cursing and to start controlling their speech for the sake of others. We are called to speak words that build up instead of tear down.
These new ways of living have a direct application in right relationships. We now can have a right relationship with God the Holy Spirit. When Paul says do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, he implies that when we fail to live as he has been describing we ought to live, we destroy our relationship with the Holy Spirit. To live like the world is to grieve the Holy Spirit. But to live according to the new self is to make our relationship with the Holy Spirit strong and alive.
To live according to the new self is to have a right relationship with one another. What destroys our relationship with one another? Generally, the things we say. That is why we are told to watch how we speak.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (4v31). If most Christians were to watch what they say and how they say it, our relationships would be more wholesome.
We are exhorted to be kind to one another, tenderhearted; forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (4v32). This is not a suggestion it is a command. It also makes good sense. It is the basis for a right relationship with one another.
The bottom line is that we are called to be imitators of God. A lifestyle that honors God is one that reflects him. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (5v1-2). The highest privilege for any Christian is to be like God. That is our privilege. That is our calling. That is our destiny. We can live our lives in such a way that we hinder and even destroy that privilege. Or we can live our lives in such a way that we cooperate with God's Spirit in allowing Jesus to live His life in us and through us.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller, Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 4.
The supreme test of goodness is not in the greater but in the smaller incidents of our character and practice; not what we are when standing in the searchlight of public scrutiny, but when we reach the firelight flicker of our homes; not what we are when some clarion-call rings through the air, summoning us to fight for life and liberty, but our attitude when we are called to sentry-duty in the grey morning, when the watch-fire is burning low. It is impossible to be our best at the supreme moment if character is corroded and eaten into by daily inconsistency, unfaithfulness, and besetting sin. F.B. Meyer in Our Daily Walk. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 10.