Transformed Living

Reading: Ephesians 4.25-5.2
In the earlier years of my Christian life, I was aware that Church people seemed to separate into two groups ­ the "pray­ers" and the "doers". Put on a Bible study or a prayer meeting and one group could be depended on to be there. Hold a cake stall or a working bee and the other group would predominate.

I do not suggest that this grouping was water­tight then, and thankfully the distinction is not, I trust, as strong now as it appeared to be then.

A couple of days ago I tuned the car radio into the Radio Rhema test broadcast. The song being played said, "All I want to do, Lord, is love you..." I can affirm the sentiment of that song ­ our love of God is far too shallow and selfish. We need to love God more ­ in fact, with our heart, soul, mind and strength. And yet... was there enough of the "doer" here?

A young couple are in love. They decide to get married. They appreciate one another's company. They may well be saying to one another, "All I want to do is love you." But, to prepare well for a marriage, there need to be some very practical aspects to this love ­ decisions to be made about the wedding, about the honeymoon, about where they will live... How will they organise their finances? What about a family? Is there church and/or community service in which they can be jointly involved?

We may rightly say, "All I want to do, Lord, is love you" ­ provided we listen while he says to us, "Beloved ones, love one another as I have loved you. Wash one another's feet. There are others I love who don't know it yet ­ I want them to come into my love too. Beloved ones, I am the Light of the world ­ please don't forget that I am depending on you to let your light so shine before others that they will see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven..."

The importance of really living the Christian life is illustrated in the life of the famous author Mark Twain. Church leaders were largely to blame for his becoming hostile to the Bible and the Christian faith. As he grew up, he knew elders and deacons who owned slaves and abused them. He heard men using foul language and saw them practise dishonesty during the week after speaking piously in church on Sunday. He listened to ministers use the Bible to justify slavery. Although he saw genuine love for the Lord Jesus in some people, including his mother and his wife, he was so disturbed by the bad teaching and poor example of church leaders, that he became bitter toward the things of God.

Transformed Living

Last week we thought about the Church as Christ's Body ­ "Christ gave his life on the cross in order that his Body, the church, might be saved. However, his purpose was not just salvation but to the end that his Body ­ united, gifted, empowered would be functional to do his will in this world. Since he died, rose and ascended to heaven, we (all believers collectively) are the only Body he has here on earth to do his will."

In this week's reading, Paul goes on to talk in a very practical way about the kind of behaviour that should characterise Christ's people.

"No more lying, then! Each of you must tell the truth to one another, because we are all members together in the body of Christ" (v. 25). Since Christ is the Truth, it follows that his people are to be totally truthful. This will be especially evident in all we say to one another.

"If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day. Don't give the Devil a chance" (vv.26­27). Harold W. Hoehner comments, "While believers may at times be legitimately angry (with righteous anger against sin; cf. John 2:13­16), they are not to sin. The way to prevent such sin is to 'keep short accounts,' dealing with the anger before the sun goes down. The reason is that the devil would like to intensify a Christian's righteous anger against sin, causing it to become sin itself. This then gives the devil a foothold (lit., 'a place'), an opportunity for leading that Christian into further sin. Then anger begins to control the believer rather than the believer controlling his anger."

"Those who used to rob must stop robbing and start working, in order to earn an honest living for themselves and to be able to help the poor" (v. 28). We are reminded of the serious words of John the Baptist to the crowds who came to be baptised - "You snakes!" he said to them. "Who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins" (Lk. 3.7,8). We recall the response of Zacchaeus to Jesus - "Listen, sir! 1 will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, 1 will pay back four times as much" (Lk. 19.8).

"Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you" (v. 29). What sort of words do you use?

Two boys on the school playground were discussing a classmate. One of them remarked, "He's no good at sport." The other quickly replied, "Yes. but he always plays fair."' The critical one added, "He isn't very smart in school either." His friend answered, "That may be true, but he studies hard." The boy with the mean tongue was becoming exasperated with the attitude of the other. "Well," he sneered, "did you ever notice how ragged his clothes are?" The other boy kindly replied, "Yes, but did you ever notice? ­ they're always clean!" Every negative observation was countered by a positive one.

"And do not make God's Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God's mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free" (v. 30). In the first chapter Paul wrote, "You believed in Christ, and God put his stamp of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had promised. The Spirit is the guarantee that we shall receive what God has promised his people, and this assures us that God will give complete freedom to those who are his. Let us praise his glory!" (1.13­14)

When we believe in Christ, we are forgiven our sins and receive eternal life. But not only so ­ God lives within us by his Holy Spirit. We belong to God and every wrong word or action grieves the indwelling Spirit.

"Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender­hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ" (vv. 31­32).

A story is told of two unmarried sisters who had such a deep and bitter disagreement they stopped speaking to each other. Unable or unwilling to leave their small home, they continued to use the same rooms and sleep in the same bedroom. A chalk line divided the sleeping area into two halves, separating doorway and fireplace, so that each could come and go and get her own meals without trespassing on her sister's domain. In the black of night each could hear the breathing of the foe. For years they coexisted in grinding silence. Neither was willing to take the first step to reconciliation.

But through Christ God has forgiven us. So all bitterness, passion, anger, shouting, insults or any other hateful feelings are to be replaced by kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness.

The Character of Christ

Putting it all simply: Christ died for our sins. Having come to him in repentance and faith, we are forgiven. We are now children of God. His Spirit dwells within us, gifting us individually and binding us together as Christ's Body to do his will on earth. His Spirit dwells within us to bring about the character of Christ in our lives.

"Since you are God's dear children, you must try to be like him" (5. 1). The character of Christ will grow because of our relationship with Christ. But we are to co­operate with the Holy Spirit's work. There needs to be within us a strong desire to express his character and his will.

"Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us as a sweet­smelling offering and sacrifice that pleases God" (5.2). Joseph A. Grassi notes, "The crowning point of [Christ's] life was the giving of himself as a sacrifice of love for others. Following his way, the Christian walks in love by laying down his life for others, as in 1 John 3.16, 'In this we have come to know his love, that he laid down his life for us; and we likewise ought to lay down our life for the brethren'."

In an article on China in Eternity magazine, a writer recorded this story of Christian love and kindness. "A Chinese cook was put into prison one night. It was bitterly cold ­ about 26 degrees below zero. He had on his padded clothes and a big fur coat. But a heathen man who was later thrown in with him had no wraps at all. The Christian man began to pray that God would get him out of prison.

"While he was praying, it seemed God spoke to him. 'I won't hear your prayer until you've taken off your fur coat and given it to this man who has none.' 'But if I do that, I'll be frozen to death by morning,' the man thought. 'Well, if you don't,' he seemed to hear God's reply, 'this man will be dead before morning.' So he took off his fur coat and gave it to the man and his life was saved.

"Later on at a Christian gathering in Communist China, the heathen man who had received the coat got up and gave his testimony. 'I am here today because a man shared his coat with me in prison'."

People are in need. People are suffering. We are the Body of Christ. The winning of others to Christ could well depend on how willing we are to share our coat.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 10 August 1997
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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