The Body Speaks
Eph. 4:1-6, 22-32
This sermon began with a demonstration. I had two people join me and we were tied together at the wrist, one person's left arm tied to my right arm, one person's right arm tied to my left. Then we tried to work together as one body.
The bonds that tie us together as believers in Jesus Christ are spiritual bonds, not physical. We are united in our belief in the One True God, in our faith and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and our Lord, and in our baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ. We follow the leading of one Spirit and we participate in the one Kingdom of God. But we each have different parts to play. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses, our own gifts, talents and passions. And it takes each one of us doing our part under the direction of the One Lord for the Body of Christ to be effective in this world. We don’t all do the same thing. Last week Pastor Leonard preached about the different gifts that are part of the Body and he spoke about how, early in his tenure here at OCMC he prayed that God would send him people with different abilities and gifts and God said “You have all you need right here, right now.” But he didn’t believe it. You see Pastor Leonard, like the rest of us who were a part of OCMC at that time, wanted to get to the end result of seeing the Body mature and growing and functioning well. We wanted to see the neighborhood transformed and wonderful things happening right then. We had the raw ingredients among us but they needed to be put together and cook awhile before we could enjoy the meal. And I would say, we’ve had a taste of what’s cooking but the meal is still in the oven.
We are still growing. People with gifts and abilities are still coming and joining with us. Vision is still being developed. We still have a lot of work to do and it does take all of us working together to keep the mission of this congregation going forward. And Paul’s words to the Ephesians in chapter 4 give us some good instructions on how to go about growing and living and working together. Beginning in verse 22, we are reminded that, as people who profess faith in Jesus Christ, we have entered into a new life. Our former way of life is described here as being old and worn out. It’s like a piece of clothing that we’ve worn forever and it’s ragged and dirty and threadbare and needs to be thrown out. We can’t wear it any more. We need to put off our old way of life because it’s been corrupted by evil, by desires for what is forbidden by God. Instead we are to put on the new self which, rather than being corrupted, is actually patterned after God. We are to be made new in the attitude of our minds. We are to think differently, to have a change in world view. We are to see through the eyes of God now, to think as He thinks, to view the world as He views it. Our new self which is patterned after God or created to be like God, is fresh, unworn, unused. It is a new self of righteousness and holiness and conforms to the truth that is found in Jesus Christ.
Paul is using action words in this chapter. He’s telling us to take specific action, to put off the old and put on the new so that our lives will conform to the pattern of the righteousness and holiness of God. If our lives don’t look like Jesus, if they aren’t conforming to this pattern, it probably means we still have some old to take off and some new to put on. I don’t know how many of you watch makeover shows on TV but what Paul is talking about is like a spiritual makeover. If we think of a show like The Biggest Loser, where people are trying to lose a hundred pounds or more, it can help us understand what he’s talking about. On the Biggest Loser, people have to stop doing things the old way and do things in a new way. They have to stop eating the old way and eat in a new healthy way. They have to stop being inactive and start exercising regularly. They have to stop believing they can’t change and start believing they can. Then, over the weeks, as they consistently stop the old and enact the new, change happens in their bodies and they lose weight. At the end of the season, they look like new people. The same thing happens to us spiritually as we renew our minds with the truth of God’s word, as we stop following old habits that are corrupted by evil, and as we begin doing those things that originate in righteousness and holiness, as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and rely on His strength and power, we become new creations and we end up looking like Jesus. It’s hard work, just as it’s hard work to lose weight. But that’s how it’s done.
Paul says we are to put off falsehood, deception, lying and instead speak according to the truth. We are to be free of pretense and deceit in our interactions with others. If I had said to my helpers this morning that we were going to walk to the left and then I turned to the right, that’s lying and the result is confusion. They won’t know which way to go and we won’t get anywhere. That’s how it is in the Body of Christ. We are bound together and we need to be truthful with each other so as not to cause confusion. There is a way to speak truth though.
Paul goes on in verses 26 and 27 to talk about anger and he warns us not to let our anger lead to sin. We need to stay on the path of uprightness and honor even if we are angry. We need to seek to resolve things quickly, not letting conflicts or problems go on and on because they will just get worse. We have a spiritual enemy who will take every opportunity to destroy us. We should not give him any opportunity to act against us. The word devil here means slanderer or accuser. How many times when we are angry are we quick to believe the worst about the person we are angry with? I know there are times I get angry with Vandy and I’ll find myself thinking all kinds of bad things about him and then I have to get on myself because I’ve given in to the accuser who is trying to destroy my relationship with my spouse. Maybe you’re thinking, well you have a right to be angry and yes I do. Paul isn’t telling us we don’t have the right to be angry. But I don’t have the right to let my anger lead to accusations and slander and a tearing down of the relationship. That’s the difference. My anger can’t distort the truth.
We are to speak truth to one another, truth that is not tainted by slander and accusations that come from the devil. The truth needs to be spoken in love. In verse 29, Paul tells us to not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths but only what is helpful for building up and promoting growth in the other, according to their needs. Truth may be hurtful at times, but it shouldn’t cause the other person harm. If truth is spoken in love, it won’t seek to harm or do damage to the other person. Instead it will seek to heal and to promote growth. Unwholesome talk is anything that is corrupted by evil. Paul uses the same language he uses in describing the old self. Don’t talk in ways that are corrupt and lead to death. We have to think about the words we use sometimes. And not just the words themselves but how they are being said. If anger, condescension, judgment and other such negative emotions come through our words, the message is probably not going to communicate love and promote growth and unity. Instead it can cause hurt and division.
So again in verse 30 Paul tells us to get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling or arguing, slander and malice. These things are not helpful. They don’t help us grow. Instead, if left to fester, they will divide and destroy relationships. The Body of Christ exists in relationship as the members are joined together to the head, who is Christ, and to each other. We have to get along. My helpers and I this morning found out how hard it can be to try to do something without any anger or malice in the equation. How much worse is it when we are dealing with all these negative emotions as well?
The corruption of the old life must be put away. We think of this most often in terms of our individual lives. It’s not good for my own spiritual growth if I hold on to anger or malice or if I’m lying to people. But it’s also not good for the Body of Christ. Nothing we do as people is in a vacuum anymore once we become believers in Jesus Christ. The health of my marriage has an effect on you just as the health of yours has an effect on me. The health of your prayer life has an effect on me just as the health of mine has an effect on you. We are joined together in the body of Christ. If you aren’t growing spiritually, it can cause me problems too. We don’t think of this though. We tend to think our spiritual lives are our own business between us and God and don’t affect anyone else around us but that’s not good theology. Why do you think Paul went to such lengths to give specific instructions for living in this letter? Because we are bound together and what one does affects the whole.
When my helpers and I were tied together, every move one of us made affected the others. So it is in the body of Christ. The bonds of faith join us together so that the movements of one affect the others. In chapter 5 Paul goes on to write to the Ephesians that there should not be even a hint of sexual immorality among them. Our culture tells us that our sex lives are private and what happens between 2 consensual adults has no effect on anyone. Yet looking at our own society how much are we affected by the sexual mores of others? We can’t listen to popular music, watch a movie or TV show, see an advertisement without being bombarded with someone’s sexual mores. It has an effect. And if sex is so private, why is it on every billboard in America? And why does pornography even exist if sex is private? Our culture is lying to us people. But in the Body of Christ there is to be no deception and no corruption of the old way of life.
Neither is there to be greed. Paul writes in 5:5 “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.” Greed has no place in the Body. Greed leads to all kinds of problems and it separates people from one another. In chapter 4 Paul writes about the person who has been stealing and says he must do this no longer but instead is to do something useful with his hands. Stealing is an unuseful use of one’s hands. It’s dishonorable and unworthy of anyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. You might say that some people steal because they have no other means of getting what they need. I’m not saying that isn’t so. But in the Body of Christ there should be no reason for someone to need to steal. There should be a generosity of spirit among us that those who have will provide for those who don’t have. And all who are able to work and do something useful with their hands will do so, so that the needs of the community are met. Yes, this is an ideal. I know that. But we have to start moving in that direction and we won’t if we are greedy.
When Paul speaks of the person who steals doing something useful with their hands, he is talking about doing something excellent and honorable and distinguished. To me this communicates work that a person can take pride in and that will reflect positively on the Body of Christ. No matter what type of work we do, whatever we produce should be our best effort. We shouldn’t have a work ethic that slacks off. You know I entitled this sermon “The Body Speaks” because Paul writes so much about language here, but he’s gotten into our sex lives, our finances, our work habits. He’s just all up in our business here. Because every part of our lives speaks. It’s not just the words we use or how we say them, it’s all our habits, our lifestyle. They all speak something to the world about the reality of Jesus Christ. This is why he tells us to take off the old lifestyle, put away the old world view that is corrupted by evil and put on a new lifestyle, see through a new world view that is patterned after God. When we do that, we will begin to look like, sound like, act like Jesus. What is it that we are communicating through our lives, as individuals and as a church community?
In Ephesians 5 beginning in the last part of verse 18 Paul says that we are “to be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thanksgiving, praise, joy, these are what we are to be communicating through our words and our actions. Our lives should reflect the reality that we have been forgiven of our sins, cleansed from everything that is corrupted by evil. We’ve been reconciled to God, accepted into His household as His own children. We’ve been made new. Our lives are moving in a new direction and we are now joined together in the Body of Christ. We have hope. We have the promise of eternal life. We’ve been given the very Spirit of God to dwell within us as our source of life and strength. Our lives should reflect and communicate this. We are not alone in this walk of faith. We have the members of the Body of Christ around us, as well as the Holy Spirit within us, and we should be learning from each other, praying for each other, encouraging each other as all of us are in the process of taking off the old and putting on the new.I want to invite the worship team up now to lead us in our closing worship. We can celebrate today because we are bound together in the bonds of faith with one Lord, One God, One Father who loves us and is working out His will in our lives. And we can dedicate ourselves to continue to put off the old self that is worn out and useless to us, and with the help of the Holy Spirit to put on the new self which is patterned after God.