Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil. Thieves should no longer steal. Instead, they should go to work, using their hands to do good so that they will have something to share with whoever is in need.
Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.
Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.
Ephesians sure is hitting home this week! I mean, it feels like you don’t have to look very hard to find evil talk in this world. Watching the news or talking about current happenings with folks or simply scrolling through social media is often enough to find words laced with bitterness, anger, and conflict. If it wasn’t for a few of those same folks also sharing something about their faith, I am not sure we could easily tell if they were Christians or not! I hope we can all agree that words matter, and that’s not just confined to some of our words some of the time. What we say and do is filled with the fruit of what is in our hearts. That fruit can grow from truth and love, but fruit can also grow from anger and hatred just as easily. To bear the right fruit, we must be willing to cast off our old selves and choose to imitate Christ time and time again in all that we say and do to grow peace and truth and love in our communities.
Our verses from Ephesians this week remind us that starting a new life in Christ means we should be living and acting in new ways too. At first, this part of the letter can sound a lot like a new set of rules being handed out, but these verses aren’t about new laws but instead about stripping away the old self. Now, many of us may have been raised in the church and have experienced a transformative moment with Christ, so we might be asking what exactly would constitute our old selves. You see, our old selves consist of the places and pieces of our hearts and minds we try to hold back from Christ. They are the parts of ourselves that we try to hold apart from the transforming grace of God, and even if we do let God in, we hold up a hand and tell God that the Almighty better mind their Ps and Qs because we make the rules here! Our looking at the lessons from these verses this morning is more like making a self-evaluation. We should be asking ourselves, do I see signs that I am clinging onto the old or living into the new? This part of Ephesians explores the kind of marks that should be evident in communities of faith and which are warning signs that we are onto something that leads us away from loving God and loving our neighbors.
A major visible mark of our new lives in Christ is whether we speak truth to one another in this community. We are told not to lie to each other because we are not only neighbors, but we are all part of this interconnected body of Christ. We should no more lie to our neighbor than we should lie to ourselves. We should tell the truth to each other because we are to love one another. Telling the truth does not take the form of just letting our neighbor know when they are wrong because I think people are pretty good about that even without having a new life in Christ! How we tell the truth and what we say matters. Truth in love means being honest to ourselves and about ourselves to one another. It means admitting when we are struggling, when we are sad, and when we are hurting. It means not only being able to tell another how their actions and words have hurt you but having your neighbor listen and accept those honest truths. That’s hard, my friends! Even families aren’t good at being that honest with each other, let alone with friends and neighbors! It almost might be impossible for any one of us, but the good thing is that we are not to do this by ourselves. Honesty and truth in love can only be practiced and found in the communities that support and encourage one another to live this way.
This honesty even applies to one of the most potentially dangerous emotions in any community: anger. In fact, I have seen many wrestle with whether you can be a good Christian and still experience anger! At first, it almost seems like Ephesians is taking this route where anger and Christianity don’t mesh when the letter reminds us in verse twenty-six of chapter four, “Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger.” For many of us, anger seems like a sin in its own right to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible! However, anger is something we must be honest about as suppressed anger and unresolved conflict destroys communities and harms the body. To see what Ephesians is actually saying about anger, let’s explore the verse a little more closely. Verse twenty-six refers back to Psalm 4:4, specifically the version from the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) which reads, “Be ye angry and sin not; feel compunction upon your beds for what you say in your hearts.” Sorry, my copy of the Septuagint is a bit older, so it sounds a bit old fashioned! Being angry and whether that anger is a sin really seems to depend on what is happening in our hearts. What might help is go back even further as Psalm 4:4 depends on Leviticus 19:17 which reads, “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but you shall not incur sin because of [them].” There it is! The danger with anger is that it can lead to hatred forming in our hearts, and that hatred leads to us wishing harm and evil things to happen to our neighbor. I think all of us would agree that there are a lot of things in this world that can make a loving Christian angry! All around we can see oppression, poverty, hunger, sickness, and despair. We can even feel angry when we have been wronged by our neighbor. These things should make us angry! They signal us that things are not right in this world. The great danger is when we hold anger in and don’t say a word. It poisons our hearts and evil talk, slander, shouting, and bitterness become the ways it leaks out into our relationships and into our communities.
When these foul things are the visible marks of the body of Christ, it shows we are not only harming the body but we are also told by Ephesians that we grieve the heart of God! God has marked us as God’s own. We show whose we are by how we interact with one another. How then can we be angry? How can we be honest with one another without it causing us to sin in our hearts? You see, we may reprove one another. We may speak the truth. To keep from sin, to bear good fruit we must speak and act in love. The way to tell the difference is whether our purpose is to build up or tear down. If any of us care more about being right, proving our point, or saying our piece than the way our words and actions show our love of neighbor, then our truth is a foul sludge. That kind of truth makes our God sad. Our words and actions should be a benefit. We should see them bear good fruit rather than bitterness, continued anger, shouting, and slander. When we share our truth in love, we provide a moment for grace to flow and grow in our lives. We allow for the fruits of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to grow in our relations with one another.
Ephesians admonishes us to imitate God and “Live your life with love” by following Christ’s example. Tell me, when someone comes to any of us and shares their honest truth, are our relations then marked by strife and evil or are they marked by love and peace? Now we might be saying no, not here in the Community Federated Church, but remember that the body of Christ goes beyond this part of the body in Thermopolis. There are many Christians the world over! They have many truths to share! When we encounter them, do we dismiss their truths? Do we dismiss their honesty? Is the hallmark of our community to be able to not only be reproved and told the truth in love but to learn from those words? My friends, we have been willing to accept God’s truth that we have fallen short in our relationship with our Lord. We have been willing to accept the unmerited grace from God that showers kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love in our lives. Are we also willing to accept that we have fallen short in our relationships with one another? Are willing to accept that we need a little kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love in our relationships with one another?
How do we get there? How do we get to the point that our relationships and our lives and our words are marked by good fruits from God? How do we avoid the evil talk that is so common in our old lives but should be foreign to our new lives in Christ? We might need to do some hard things. We might need to see where we should talk less. We can be quick with a remark and a retort but slow to really listen and really understand. Perhaps we need to do the opposite and stop to think before we speak and really hear before we respond. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “What kind of fruit will my words bear in their lives?” Make no mistake, all of our actions have consequences and reflect who we are. We have a chance to live in peace and truth and love with one another. We have a chance to show the world what love of God and love of neighbor looks like. We have a chance to imitate God and give this world a chance to meet our Lord and Savior through each of us. The good fruit found in our lives and relationships will be something that gives our God joy and makes way for peace in our community. Let’s start today. Let’s start here and now with each other. Let it start with you and me. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman