October 8th, 2006

Living The Transformed Life

Ephesians 4: 17-32

Pastor Peter Rigby

Grow up! Would you PLEASE grow up and act your age!

Have you ever told someone to grow-up? Maybe someone has directed the “grow up” phrase at you. If you have children, they probably have heard the words from your lips.

If you have been reading through the Bible, you will note that God uses the prophets to express his frustration with the people of Israel. He wants the people of Israel, the people he has brought into existence through his kindness and mercy, to grow up.

In the New Testament, God asks the church, his people, to grow up. The Apostle Paul expresses the sentiment in Ephesians 4: 14,15, 16: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

When you and I say “Grow up,” often they are angry words. The person is not meeting our expectations or not performing up to our desires, or his/her actions or attitudes are inconveniencing us and standing in the way of our own peace. Seldom do we have an understanding of what it would mean to “grow up.” We just don’t like what the other person is doing.

God, on the other hand, has a thorough understanding of what it means to grow up and he has a strategy for helping us grow up. Those who are willing to commit themselves to his strategy will grow up.

What is God’s understanding of growing up? What does maturity look like in God’s eyes?

The measurement is God himself as revealed through his Son Jesus. Look at how Ephesians 5 begins: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

The exhortation to imitate God gives meaning to Ephesians 4: 15 … we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

Christ likeness as a measurement of maturity is also made clear in Philippians 2. We read: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus . . .”

When God says ‘grow up’ to his people, his goal is clear. He wants a Christ like attitude and Christ like behaviour. He wants his people to be imitators of God himself as shown through the life of Jesus. I don’t know about you but I have some growing up to do!

So if that is the goal what is the strategy? What is God’s plan for helping his people take on the image of his Son?

Last week in Ephesians 4: 1-16, we looked at a significant part of God’s plan. It is the commitment to community. Imperfect people attempting to work and worship and minister with imperfect people can get extremely irritated. Our wilful tendencies, coloured by a self-centred perspective, result in inner frustration and even outer conflict at times. So how do we as imperfect people stay engaged and committed to community?

Paul tells us how to deal with imperfect people. He says: “Start with yourself.” We are first called to “be completely humble.” What does this mean? Back off! Stop pointing your finger at the other person. Instead, look at how you may be contributing to the problem. Jesus’ words were to “take the plank out of your own eye” before you try to take the speck out of the other person’s eye. Humility enables us to see the issue from the other person’s perspective. When we see the issue from the other person’s perspective, we will often see how we are part of the problem.

When we act in complete humility, we are more likely to respond with gentleness and patience to the other person. We will bear with one another in love and be more eager to build unity rather than disengaging from community.

Commitment to community provides all kinds of opportunities to become like Christ and to mature in Christ. The hard work of building community knocks off the rough edges and points out the changes God wants to make in our lives to be make us more like his Son.

Too often people separate the call to love one another and have healthy relationships from maturity. We act as if the quality of our relationships has nothing to do with our level of maturity or Christ likeness. Let me emphasize: God’s plan to help us mature is through the hard work of building and maintaining relationships.

Some questions you can ask yourself . . . How many cut offs do you have in your life? How many people are you angry at right now? Why? If you were to be completely humble, as the Apostle Paul urges, do you think your perspective would change? If you were completely humble, would you ask forgiveness or give forgiveness or seek restoration?

The second part of God’s strategy changes the focus but continues to enhance community building. Paul moves us from a strategy of dealing with imperfect people or the failures of others to dealing with our own imperfections and failures. He makes clear that there is a clear demarcation between the way the world acts and thinks and the way God wants us to act and think. God’s Son went through the agony of the cross to liberate people from the destructive thinking and actions of the world.

Look to Eph. 4:17-19. It begins with an uncompromising demand for change. “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.”

Verse 18 tells us why. “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”

What is the result of a hardened heart and darkened understanding? Verse 19 puts it this way: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”

The person who squeezes God out of his/her life with a hardened heart and a darken understanding, loses sensitivity to God. The space in our life created for God is replaced by a hungering for the sensuous. From a biblical perspective, such people indulge in every kind of impurity. The sensuous replaces the spiritual.

Life is a party with the assumption that the bigger the party, the more sensuous the party, the more frequent the parties, the better life is. This understanding of life becomes a substitute for a meaningful and satisfying relationship with God our creator. Often behind the mentality that life is a party there is inner hunger, personal pain and emptiness. Alcohol, sex, and a stimulating environment offer only a temporary fix.

Many celebrities exemplify the party mentality. But I wonder what it is like for them after the party is over and they are alone. Do they ask about the purpose of life? Do they wonder if there is a God and, if there is a God, what he might be saying about life? Or in the desire to escape the realities of life does they begin planning the next activity, the next affair, the next party appointment?

Maybe you are saying to yourself, “Well, that is not me! I am too old” or “I don’t even like parties” or whatever. Although Paul is alluding to the party lifestyle in verses 17- 19, a key idea in the passage is the sensuous in contrast to sensitivity to God. There are many unhealthy ways we move to the sensuous side of our life. How does food and shopping function in your life? What about pornography? Do you have addictions in your life? What role do they play in your relationship to God?

When you find yourself indulging in whatever it may be, what are the lies you tell yourself? “It doesn’t matter,” “I am different,” “Just once more,” “I am going to quit one of these days” or “I can’t quit,” or “I can afford to buy this,” or “I need this.” Where does God fitting into your thinking? If you take time to reflect, I believe you will discover these lies push God away. The process that is taking place is described in verses 17-18. It is called “futility of thinking, a darkened understanding and a hardening of the heart.”

Unfortunately at various times, we all indulge in futility of thinking. At those times God says, “Will you please grow-up.”

We are called to break free from futile thinking. And we can. The truth we learn through Christ is a truth that calls us to live a transformed life through God’s spirit at work within us. According to verse 23, we have been given a new self. Our new self has been created to be like God.

So what does that look like? The rest of Ephesians gives a description. Let me highlight four characteristics of transformed living here.

  1. Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to one another. Why? We are all members of one another. Unity and community building demand truth telling. Sociologists tell us that truth telling is in rapid decline. If a lie will smooth things over or make us look better or enable us to escape consequences, then the choice for many is a lie. But to do so is to compromise our integrity and testimony as one of God’s children. God wants his people to commit to truth telling no matter how inconvenient or how much it may cost us.
  2. The issue of anger. Verse 26 says that anger and sin are not the same things. Unresolved anger, however, opens the door to sin. Paul pushes us to deal with anger quickly. “Do not allow anger to become your companion.” Unresolved anger becomes an entrance point for Satan in our lives. The ultimate expression of anger is murder. Before murder, there are harsh words, cut offs, bitterness, and a variety of negative physical symptoms. Discover constructive ways to deal with anger.
  3. An industrious lifestyle. If we were looking for a slogan we might say, “Work hard, don’t steal.” Hard work moves a man or woman from existing as a person who is dependant on others to a position where he/she is able and willing to help others. The nature of our economy works against this transformational truth. Many find it difficult to find a job that moves them from a taker to a giver. But the willingness to work hard is the starting point. In many situations the willingness to work hard can provide opportunities for work.
  4. The call to leave behind “any unwholesome talk.” What should the goal of our speech be? The Apostle Paul states it clearly: “To build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Have you attempted to build others up this week through your speech? What are the words you have spoken to your wife/husband? What about your child or your friend? Or what about the person who is not present but about whom you are talking to a third party? Were there angry cutting words or helpful words with the intent to build the other person up?

We are called to transformed living. Verse 30 reminds us that God himself is present in our life. When we fail to live transformed lives, we not only hurt ourselves, but also those around us and even grieve the heart of God.

Chapter Four ends in the same way it began, with a concern for community building. The traits that destroy community are listed first. Paul says get rid of them. What are we to get rid of? “All bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”

How are we to act instead? “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

So, how does this message relate to thanksgiving? The call to grow up or to live a transformed life is a call to put our money where our mouths are. It is a call to live the talk. To live the way God has enabled us to live when he made us alive through his Son is to say “Thank you” to God for his love and mercy. To be committed to community building, to put aside the old self and put on the new self is to say to God loudly and clearly “Father, I am so thankful for your love and mercy. I am so thankful for the gift of your son that I will die to the old me which was controlled by ungodly desires. I will put on the new me and become the person you created me to be. Thank you.

Does your life reflect thankful living? Have you taken advantage of the new life that is yours in Christ Jesus and chosen to live a transformed life? Thanksgiving is a great time for a new start!

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