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A New Kind of Life pt. 3

A New Kind of Life 3

Ephesians 4:25-32


Several years ago, one of the boys came out to help me stack firewood. While he was out with me he said “Dad, you’re half farmer and half lumberjack. And half minister too.” Now that’s too many halves and may explain why I’m tired all the time. But the truth is I do wear a lot of different hats. Most of us do. I’m your full-time pastor, but I also do some counseling and therapy part time, and every year in from mid-May through mid-July I spend a lot of my spare time shearing llamas and alpacas. In addition to horses, we’ve owned llamas and alpacas for several years, and about ten years ago one of the shearers in our area taught me how to shear. I focus on the smaller farms and herds that the bigger, professional, commercial shearers won’t consider doing. I usually take one week off to shear and then finish the rest up on evenings and weekends.


As a llama and alpaca owner and shearer, there’s one question I’m asked all the time. Can you guess what it is? Yeah, “Do they spit?” Now, the short answer to that question is “Yes, they spit.” But I can promise you that if you’re walking through llama barn at the fair, you will NOT get spit on. If you come out to our house and go out to look at them, even help clean their pen, you will NOT get spit on. They spit only when they really feel threatened, or when you’re physically forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. Now, they do have two kinds of spit. There’s the simple, kind of ptooey that do where they spit saliva, usually to each other when they’re fussing over food. But there’s another kind of spit. See, llamas and alpacas, like cows and sheep, chew their cud. So they wolf down a lot of grass and hay quickly, swallow it into the first chamber of their stomach, and then later, when they’re done, they go lay down somewhere, bring it back up, and chew it up more and then swallow it into the second chamber of their stomach where it continues through the digestive tract. That’s how they digest a diet that is really, really high in fiber, like theirs is. So they can bring stuff up from their stomach really easily. It’s green and gooey and smells bad, and when they’re really upset or afraid, they pull a bunch of that up and spit it at you. Gross, I know. So when I shear them, I use a system of ropes and pulleys to gently lay them down and stretch them out so they can’t fight and get cut when I’m shearing them. Makes it easier on them and easier on me. But they don’t usually understand that, so who do you think gets spit on when they’re being pulled down onto the ground, stretched out, and shorn? ME. That’s who. Lots of them only really spit once a year. At me. And which kind of spit do you think I get? The thick green stuff, that’s right.


It’s really, really dirty work. In fact, alpaca shearing has been featured on the TV show “Dirty Jobs.” I can feel the heat coming off of them as I shear them, so I tend to sweat even on cooler days. And not only do I shear them, I give them their shots, and trim their toenails, and if they need it, I trim their teeth too. So I stick my hands in their mouths while they’re spitting smelly green gooey stuff at me. So I’m sweating. And crawling around on the ground with my hands in their hot wool. And I’m getting spit on. What do you think my clothes look like when I’m done for the day? They’re nasty. The first thing I do when I get home, after putting my gear away, is go inside right to the basement and take those nasty clothes off – and leave them for someone else to wash –  and then I head upstairs for a long, hot shower. But then I do something else. I put on clean clothes. It isn’t enough to just strip off the old and clean up. I have to put on new, clean clothes too. Otherwise, my family, and anyone who happened to drop by, would be in for some really awkward moments, and I’d probably be on the FBIs watch list. It isn’t enough to just take off the old, dirty, sweaty rags and clean up. I have to put something clean and new on in their place.


Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4:25-32. Sound familiar? If you were here last week, it should. It’s the same passage I preached from last week. Paul’s focus in describing our new life in Christ falls in two really big areas: the way we talk, and the way we relate to others. Last week, we looked at Vv. 25 & 29, our speech, the way we talk. This week, we’re looking at the rest of the passage, starting in V. 26. How we relate to others. And Paul starts with a big one: ANGER.


Anyone here ever been angry? Anyone willing to admit that maybe they’ve exploded on someone once or twice in their lives? Anyone ever exploded on someone and wondered right afterward, “Where in the world did that come from?” Anger seems to be epidemic these days. Dr. Emil Coccaro, professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Hospitals, has been studying anger for several decades. He says that many hotheads suffer from Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). Dr. Coccaro is championing a new drug called Depakote, introduced by Abbott Laboratories in 1995. Interestingly, an effort to find volunteers with volatile tempers for the clinical studies has been unproductive. Apparently, few people see their anger as a problem. He said, “The other day I got into a friend’s car and I noticed the visor on the passenger’s side was gone.” “I asked what happened, and the driver told me, ‘Don’t get me started on that. My wife ripped it off.’ I told him these things are hard to rip off, and he told me, ‘Well, she was really angry.’”


Notice though that Paul isn’t forbidding all anger with other people. He says, “When you get angry, do not sin.” The issue is two-fold: what makes us angry and how we express and deal with our anger. What makes you angry? We all get angry, right? Even Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, when asked if she had ever considered divorcing him, said, “Divorce? No. Murder? Yes.”


There are basically two kinds of anger – legitimate anger and illegitimate anger. Anger is the way we respond when we encounter something that we perceive as being wrong. So legitimate anger is anger at something that really is a wrong. Illegitimate anger is anger when I THINK someone or something is wrong, but they really aren’t. So if I found out that my friend chose to drive home drunk last night, I could be legitimately angry with them, right? They put their own life and the lives of every person they encountered on the road in danger. That was really wrong. Jesus showed that kind of anger himself when he turned over the tables in the temple. He became angry with the religious leaders who went after him because he healed on the Sabbath. He even called the Pharisees “blind guides.” There is a healthy place for anger. When I’m working with a counseling client who has been physically or emotionally abused I want to help them to BECOME angry because when they do, they’ll usually begin to take the steps necessary to protect themselves, to get out of the abusive relationship. Jesus became very angry when he confronted sin and injustice – when someone was being taken advantage of, or treated unfairly, unjustly. Legitimate anger is anger over something that would make God angry too.


Illegitimate anger is anger over a perceived sleight or wrong that really isn’t a legitimate wrongdoing. The emotion is the same. It is just as powerful. But it is misplaced. Therapist Gary Chapman calls it distorted anger. Anger over a perceived injustice. The key word there is perceived, but not real. Anger over something that God has no concern for. Drunk driving friend? Yes. Person driving 5 mph below the speed limit? No. It’s a perceived slight. It’s annoying. It’s frustrating. Might be keeping you from getting somewhere on time. Of course, if you’d left earlier. But that’s your husband’s fault, right? See how distorted, illegitimate anger works? It’s anger over something that really isn’t a moral or ethical wrong, and it kind of snowballs on us.


Jesus became angry when he encountered sin and injustice, but he never became angry when he was directly insulted himself. In fact, Peter, who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus with his own eyes, said “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). The problem is that we get it backwards. We become angry when we’re slighted or when someone speaks poorly about us, and we’ve become callous to acts of abuse and injustice. Things that should make us angry don’t, and things that shouldn’t make us angry do.


Anger is kind of like a warning light on the dashboard of your car, signaling you that something is wrong that needs to be dealt with. The key is to not let it fester for too long. Look at V. 27. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, don’t let it lead you into sin. Anger itself is not sinful, but it is a wide open gateway to damaged relationships, to uncontrolled outbursts, to sin. Legitimate anger motivates us to change ourselves, to change our families and our cities, to change our nation, to change the world IF we allow it to. But illegitimate anger can destroy friendships, marriages, families, neighborhoods. Especially when we let it fester. Look down at V. 31. Letting anger fester is like leaving a pot of water on a hot burner for too long. Eventually, something bad is going to happen. Bitterness. Wrath. Anger. Clamor, that’s loud shouting, and not the kind we hear in the stands at a good football game. Slander. Malice. So how do we deal with our anger in a godly way? First by admitting that we’re angry. Most of us can’t even do that. We have to be willing to recognize our anger when we’re angry. And then we deal with anger in the way that God deals with anger. By smiting, right? No. Gary Chapman, in his book Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way, says “God’s response to anger is always to take loving action, to seek to stop the evil, and to redeem the evildoer.” But what if my anger isn’t really legitimate? Use this response: “I’m feeling angry right now, but don’t worry, I’m not going to attack you. But I do need your help. Is this a good time to talk?”[i]


So we are to take off uncontrolled and unnecessary anger. What do we put on in its place? Look down at V. 32. Kindness toward one another. Tenderheartedness, in place of the hardness of heart. And kindness and tenderheartedness lead us to forgiving one another. Friends, your relationship with Christ will directly impact the way you relate to one another within the church, and with others you meet, and know, and love out in the community. But it’s hard to forgive, isn’t it? We get legitimately angry because we’re seeing injustice in some form and crying out for justice. And forgiving seems to be letting them off the hook, doesn’t it? One of the keys to handling anger in a healthy way is to consciously, willfully turn the person and the situation over to God and his justice. In Romans 12:19, Paul says “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” When your anger is legitimate, realize that the person or people will one day stand before God, and they will stand there just like you and I will, either with the blood of Christ having atoned for our sins or without it. We will all either answer for our own sins, or Christ will answer for us, having taken our sin on himself on the cross.


Now, look at V. 28. At first glance, it looks like Paul is just moving on with his list of dirty clothes to take off – stop stealing – but there’s more going on here than just that. He IS saying to stop stealing, to be marked by integrity. But it’s helpful to know who Paul was writing to. In Paul’s day, it was slaves who commonly stole. And they were almost expected to steal. It was considered normal for slaves, the bottom of society’s ladder, to steal. And while even the early church was made up of all levels of society, all classes of people, many were from those lower classes, slaves. That’s why over and over again Paul says that in Christ there is no longer “slave or free.” So who was Paul writing to? To a church made up of a lot of slaves and former slaves. “Let the thief no longer steal.” What St. Paul is really saying is whatever direction your life was going before you placed your faith in Christ, stop going that direction. Placing your faith in Christ leads to a reorientation of your entire life. Take off the life you were living before, and put on the new life that Christ is giving you.


In this case, take off selfish laziness and theft and put on hard work that will be rewarded and will enable you to live generously. Work hard, and honestly, SO THAT you can provide for your own family AND be a blessing to others. You can help meet the needs of those who because of mental illness, or developmental disability, or physical injury, can’t meet their own needs. We are to work hard so that we can take care of one another. Put off laziness, dishonesty, theft and put on honest, hard work and generosity with whatever you do have.


If I were to walk into the house with my filthy, llama spit clothes on, Becky and the kids would probably throw be back outside. But if I take the old clothes off and put fresh clothes on without washing first, what good does that do? Putting on new clothes without showering first would be useless. It might mask the filth beneath for a while, but eventually the stink of sweat and llama spit and whatever else under the clean clothes, will come out, unless I’m scrubbed really well, with some really good, industrial strength soap.


Lots of people see Christianity as a rigid system of do’s and don’ts. And if we focus on the outer clothes without the inner cleaning, that’s exactly what it is. But what God does in our lives starts deep within us, and moves outward. Everything Paul mentions here are things other people can see. He compares our new life in Christ to taking off old clothes and putting on new. “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life …” (4:22). That’s the old, dirty, llama spit and mud clothes; “and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” That’s the new, clean clothes that come from God. So there’s something to take off and something to put on. But between those two phrases Paul says this: “and be renewed in the spirit of your minds …” That’s what God is doing through the Holy Spirit inside of me; cleaning, scrubbing me clean. Removing the filth I know about and a bunch that I don’t even realize is there. And that cleansing leads to a new set of clothes. And that new set of clothes is what people see, what they experience of Christ in me. So I take off anger and dishonest, selfish, lazy theft. And allow God to begin scrubbing me down. And in their place I put on kind, tenderhearted forgiveness, honest hard work, and generosity. Your life was once going this way apart from Christ. But now it is going this way with Christ. So take off your dirty old clothes, and put on the clean, new ones that Christ has purchased for us with his blood. Let us pray.

[i] Gary Chapman. Anger – Handling A Powerful Emotion In A Healthy Way.