Monday, May 21, 2012

Out With the Old, In With the New

In the first part of Ephesians 4, Paul talked about life in the body and concludes with the importance of each body part effectively functioning within the body, helping the body to mature and grow into Christ, our head.  In the remainder of this chapter Paul gives us some practical ideas of how to live in community within the body.

In vss. 17-19 Paul describes the life of unbelievers and challenges us not to be like them.  He has two primary negatives that he shares in relation to the Gentiles, or unbelievers.  The first has to do with their way of thinking.  It is described as futile, darkened, and ignorant.  I suspect that most unbelievers would take offense at this characterization of their thought processes.  But if God truly does exist and has a purpose for me, would it not be foolish and ignorant for me to consider life apart from him; to exclude him from my thought processes?  It would be to some extent similar to trying to plan a trip to the moon without taking gravity into consideration.  It would result in failure and would induce pity in those who knew better.

The second negative is that they have given themselves over to sensuality.  We oftentimes think of sensuality in terms of loose sexual morals.  But it really goes beyond that.    One definition of sensuality is “the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses.”  If you are living in the realm of the physical senses, looking for things that will be pleasing to them, then you are living in sensuality.  If good tasting food, hot cars, quiet and beautiful scenery, music, clothes, beautiful people, etc. are what you are living for, then Paul’s comments in this passage are directed toward you.  We should not live like that.

Instead, in vss. 20-24 Paul tells us to put off that old person, who is living for self and leaving God out of the equation, and to be made new.  We are to be made new in the attitude of our minds, factoring God into the equation and recognizing his place in our lives and in the creation.  We are also to put on a new self, created to be like God, living for him in righteousness and holiness, rather than living for self in sensuality.  The new life we are to live deals with both of the negatives that Paul has described concerning unbelievers, being renewed both mentally and in our conduct.

The remainder of the chapter gives us some clues as to how to live this new life.  Included in this list are admonitions to:

  • Speak truthfully to each other within the body.  If we are going to be a body, we need to be able to trust each other.  And lying to each other will shatter that needed trust.  So why are we tempted to lie?  Seems to me it is mostly because I am either trying to hide something I did, or bring harm to someone else.  And neither of those is desirable for developing close personal relationships within the body.
  • We need to deal appropriately with anger.  Paul does not tell us to avoid anger, but rather to avoid sinning in our anger.  There are times when anger may be an appropriate response to some event or situation.  But we need to be careful how we respond when angry, and we need to deal with anger quickly.  Don’t allow it to fester and build up inside you.
  • Taking from others needs to transform itself into giving to others who are in need.  Stealing is a self first action, while giving is an others first action.  Which is better for life in the body of Christ, or in any other community?
  • Our conversation is another area of concern.  Take the time to listen to yourself.  How often is what you are saying helpful or useful to the ones listening to you?  It seems often that our conversation is ‘talking about’ other people, or something that really has no value.  How much conversation would survive the ‘helpful to others’ filter if we applied it to ourselves?
  • The Holy Spirit is actively at work in the life of the believer.  We can follow his direction, which is pleasing.  Or we can choose to do our own thing, which would grieve him.  This is really very similar to a parent and child.  How often does a child disobey and thus grieve their parent; although that does not make them any less loved, or terminate the relationship.  In a similar fashion, when I disobey God it causes disappointment, but does not necessarily remove me from his love.
  • And finally Paul gives us a list of things to avoid in our interactions as well as a sample of more positive approaches.  Bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander all serve to disrupt relationships in the body.  Kindness, compassion and forgiveness serve to build up those relationships.  If what you are doing or feeling hinders the life of the body, then stop it.  Look instead for ways to build up the body of Christ.

I do not believe that Paul’s list above should be taken legalistically or as a complete set of requirements.  Rather look at it as some general direction that will help us to live as members of the body.  All of these things will help us to live within the body.  But more important than just jumping on these few things is to adopt a new mental attitude and to try and live in a way that would be pleasing to God and helpful to your fellow believers.  Are you willing to subvert your own interests in favor of being a new person in Christ?  Are you willing to do what is best for the body regardless the personal cost?

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