A New Kind of Life 2
A couple of years ago, we were Aubrey and I were in the living room watching the Grammy’s. It’s mostly performances now, with an award given out here and there. And at one point, there was a band on the stage sitting down doing an acoustic set. And they were older guys. And Aubrey looked at me and said, “Who the heck are those old guys?” I said, “Aubrey, that’s one of the greatest, best-selling rock bands of all time! They’ve won 22 Grammys, more than any other band! They’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! They sell out stadiums and arenas all over the world! Aubrey, you don’t know who that is?” And she looked at the screen and listened for a while and said, “No.” Anyone know who it was? I said, “Aubrey, it’s U2!” And she was like, “Oh yeah, I like their music. Wow, they’re old.”
A lot has been written about the spiritual life of that band because they follow Christ. They’re incredibly socially active; more socially active than a lot of people are comfortable with. Because they’re radical. So was Jesus. And Bono, the lead singer of the band, is very outspoken about his faith and about how he views global issues through the lens of his faith. At one point he was asked about his walk with Christ, and about the transformation that has taken place in his life, and this was his answer:
“Your nature is a hard thing to change; it takes time…. I have heard of people who have life-changing, miraculous turnarounds, people set free from addiction after a single prayer, relationships saved where both parties “let go, and let God.” But it was not like that for me. For all that “I was lost, I am found,” it is probably more accurate to say, “I was really lost. I’m a little less so at the moment.” And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.”[i] I love that. “The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me … It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.”
There are those who place their faith in Christ, and he comes into their lives and they are immediately and radically transformed. Becky and I have a friend who’s story is like that. Thirty years or so ago her life was being destroyed by her addiction to heroin. But in desperation she gave her life to Christ and she experienced what she calls a radical conversion. Today she’s thirty years sober. She’s a worship leader in her church, a pioneer in using equine-assisted therapy for both veterans and kids and teens who have experienced trauma, she’s a wife and a mother and a grandmother. She and her husband have biological kids and several adopted kids and if you met her today, you’d never guess the mess that Christ radically saved her from. At some point in the coming year I’m going to have her come and share her story of grace and hope.
But for most people, the transformation isn’t so sudden, so dramatic. There’s usually a noticeable immediate effect when someone gives their life to Christ, but then we get into the messy business of having the Holy Spirit shine his flashlight on the dark places in our hearts and minds, places we haven’t yet turned over to him, and he wants to transform us by cleaning up those places. Even those who have a more dramatic, radical conversion still have a lifetime of growth and transformation ahead. Every one of us is a work in progress. When you place your faith in Christ, your STATUS is immediately and radically changed. You go from being lost to being found. From being separated from God to being reunited with God in Christ. You go from being a “sinner,” one with your sin and united to your sin, to being a “saint,” forgiven and one with Christ, a child of God. But then, for the rest of your life, there’s this learning Jesus thing, following Jesus, being transformed by Jesus, being shaped by the Holy Spirit. God wants to heal us completely from the inside out. The big, obvious stuff. And the less obvious stuff that other people can see but we are blind to. And the stuff that no one sees but its there, and slowly, over time, it’s uncovered.
In Ephesians 4, Paul describes the new life that God has already given us in Christ. In the verses we’re looking at today, he goes from describing that life to prescribing that life, giving us some examples of what that life actually LOOKS LIKE to other people. Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4:25-32.
Now, before we get into the nitty gritty of what Paul is saying here, we need to see something about this text as a whole. Every one of the examples of the new life that Paul gives deal with our relationships with other people. Our new life in Christ, our salvation, is visible to others, and it is evident in the way we relate to others. When I placed my faith in Christ as my savior and bowed my knee before him as my Lord, my relationship with God was immediately restored. I went from being dead in sin to alive in Christ in that instant. So did you, if you have placed your faith in Christ. That work is done. My status has changed from dead to alive. And when I bowed my knee before Christ, the Holy Spirit came into my life and immediately began the work of transforming me to look like what I am, a spiritually alive, forgiven, child of God. But that work won’t be completed until I stand before Christ someday. But the Holy Spirit IS at work in my life, transforming me, and his work in my life is increasingly evident to other people in the way I treat them.
Now, one of the big things Paul mentions is our speech – the way we talk to one another, and that’s what we’re going to look at today. Look at V. 15. We are to be people of truth. We are to live the truth. We live in the light of the truth, who is Jesus Christ. And because of that, we are to speak the truth to one another. Notice that Paul says we have already put away falsehood. What does he mean by that? That in placing our faith in Christ, we have put away, taken off, the ultimate falsehood – life apart from Christ. So having taken off falsehood and stepped into the truth, who is Jesus Christ, we mirror that by speaking the truth to one another. We speak truth in three ways. First, we remind each other, and teach one another the truth of Jesus Christ. We encourage one another in Christ.
Second, we tell the truth. We literally speak truth. I had an opportunity to screw this one up big time this week. Wednesday morning I was down in the youth room getting ready for youth group, and I was messing with the flat screen tv that we have down there. And when I was messing around with the tv and the stereo down there, the tv fell back behind the stereo. I grabbed it and thought I’d saved it. But when I did a test run on a video I was going to show, the screen showed up shattered on the inside. Couldn’t see it through the blank glass, but it had shattered inside. So I went out and got a new one so we’d have something to do for youth group that night, and then I texted Randy Moses, an elder who does a lot of work on our building through the week. And I was so tempted to say “The tv in the youth room fell over and broke. I got a new one. Can this one be wall-mounted so it doesn’t break like the old one?” Would have been TECHNICLLY true right? But I’m insinuating that I just walked into the room and the tv had fallen, aren’t I. And it was wobbly because we couldn’t find the feet for it. Randy knew that. But the meaning I was hoping he would take from it was, “I found it, I didn’t do it.” And that would have been a lie. And I’ve been living in the last few verses of Ephesians 4 for the past week getting ready for this stupid sermon that I’m preaching on Sunday morning, and I know that Paul says that I’ve already put off falsehood, and therefore am to speak the truth to others. So what did I do? I texted Randy and said “I knocked the TV over. I have a new one. We’re good for tonight, but can we get it hung on the wall so the idiot pastor doesn’t break another one?” And then, Because Randy and I sometimes think a lot alike, we went on to discuss wall-mounting tv monitors in a couple of other places around the church for ministry and Bible study use and getting rid of all of our old tube TVs. Speaking truth also means that we are women and men of our word. We do what we say we’ll do. We follow through. We are faithful. We are reliable. We are dependable.
We are to speak the truth of Jesus Christ to one another, encouraging one another in Christ. And we are to speak the truth to one another in just day to day stuff. And then third, speaking the truth can mean being willing to say hard things, when necessary, and in love. Not just motivated by love, but actually spoken in a loving way that can be received.
The great German pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke said “Truth and love are seldom combined in human beings.” Speaking truth doesn’t mean I have permission to be rough, to be a jerk. And speaking in love doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn’t mean we have to agree at all. But I can respect you as a human being even as I disagree with you. And you can do the same with me. There are things about me that Becky doesn’t like and doesn’t accept. There are ways I do things, ways I live, that she doesn’t like and can’t accept. But does she love me? Yes. You can love and cherish someone, even maintain a friendship, and disagree about things large and small, even things that are core to who you are as a person.
Peter and Paul give us a good example of this. Both were apostles in the early church. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends, part of his inner circle of three within the larger group of twelve disciples. Peter, James, and John. Peter had a passion for Christ, worked miracles in Jesus’ name, and eventually died for his faith in Christ. Paul was passionate about taking the gospel to non-Jews, spreading the message of Jesus’ love beyond the boundaries of Judaism. Paul too died because of his faith in Christ. Both were prickly, and could be stubborn and outspoken. Neither was easily cowed by the authorities. Both had strong, fiery personalities. But Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles was hard for a Galilean Jew like Peter to swallow. He got it in principle. He understood and believed that what Paul was doing was right. But he really struggled to bring his own behavior in line with the Truth of God’s movement among those outside Judaism. So when Paul and Peter were together, Peter ate with non-Jews. He shared table fellowship with them. That was something that the good Jews of the day wouldn’t do. But when some of Peter’s acquaintances from Jerusalem, he stopped. And Paul confronted him on it. Now, I’m sure it wasn’t a comfortable conversation for Peter, or for Paul. Because Paul considered himself a secondary Apostle. He hadn’t known Christ face to face the way Peter did. But he knew the truth. And so did Peter. And Peter was not living according to the truth, so Paul confronted him. Now look at what Peter would write to others about Paul later in life: “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Our beloved brother Paul, whose writing are Scripture itself. Peter struggled to bring himself to the place where Paul was. But he recognized the truth in Paul, and considered him a beloved brother, who at one point had the courage to confront him with the truth, in love.
Let’s be honest – speaking the truth is hard enough. Encouraging one another. Being honest. Not embellishing stories or telling “sort-of” truths. Following through. Saying hard things in love. But Paul doesn’t stop there. Look down in V. 29. Not only are we to speak truth to one another, we are also to put off, take off, corrupting talk and instead speak that which builds one another up and gives grace to those who hear it. The Greek word Paul used for corrupting talk, or what the NIV calls unwholesome talk, actually means “rotten, putrid, or filthy,” and it pictures rotten fruit or putrid fish. Now, I love eating fish, and to me, nicely cooked fish smells good. But have you ever smelled rotting fish? Putrid really is a good word for it. This does include obscene language, but it really focuses in on conversation both to and about someone else that runs them down and delights in their weakness. Gossip; slander; bullying speech; there is no room for these things in the life of someone who is full of Jesus.
The ancient church father St. Augustine recognized this truth and hung a sign in his house that said “He who speaks evil of an absent man or woman is not welcome at this table.” It was a reminder to his family, friends and neighbors who shared his table, and to himself to speak to and of others in a way that is beneficial. Not in a way that tears them down. This doesn’t mean we can’t say hard things. Remember, we are also to speak the truth to one another. But it is possible to do so in a way that ultimately builds them up, leaves them with hope for themselves and their growth and performance. Coaches can critique players. Employers can critique and shape employees. Provided that speech is done within the context of leadership and helping the company and its employees improve, and that negative reviews are shared directly with the person involved eventually. Make it your practice to never say something ABOUT someone that you would never say TO that same person directly. And keep confidential conversations confidential. Things discussed between bosses behind closed doors do not need to be shared in the company cafeteria. It’s fine to evaluate people. Leaders need to do that. But it needs to be done in a way that is fair to the person. That means if you’re frustrated with him or her, that probably isn’t a good moment to talk to him or her. Wait until you cool down.
Our relationship with Christ, our new life in Christ, is evident in what, and how, we speak. It is evident in our valuing of truth, and our growth in our ability to speak the truth in love. Jesus himself said “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). I don’t know about you, but my mouth is a huge source of frustration for me. It seems like the things I say, or don’t say, often get me into trouble. This week, I had several chances to lie. To tell half-truths, twisted in a way to make me look innocent. I had chances to speak badly to, or about, others. And at least once, I was able to say “No. I am going to speak truth.” That’s growth. That’s God at work in my life. I do have to wrestle with my bent to use my mouth poorly. I probably always will. It’s frustrating. St. Paul knew that frustration. In Romans he wrote: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). But St. Paul also knew hope, for he also wrote “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). The good news is that God is still at work in me. And if you have placed your faith in Christ, he is at work in you. And God will finish in you, what he started in you. Let us pray.
[i] U2 (with Neil McCormick), U2 by U2 (HarperCollins, 2006), p. 7