In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
Let’s take a closer look at our passage today:
17 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. 18 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. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
The first half of today’s passage should probably sound awfully familiar. It continues (or perhaps reiterates) the transition between the two halves of the letter. And in the two paragraphs (in English), we can see that Paul is setting up a comparison between the old life (the life of the world) and the new life we are encouraged to life (the life of Christ). Once again, we are hearing God say to us, “[don’t] let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.”
The second half of the passage begins Paul’s specific exhortations of what this new life, this Christ-life, should look like.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
One thing to notice right off the bat is that Paul’s instructions have to do specifically with how we live in community. Remember the emphasis that Paul puts on this idea (unity in the body). He’s repeated this theme over and over in a number of different ways:
(2:14-19) 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility…19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…
(4:1-6) As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
So I want to reiterate the point that we’ve made before that God’s purpose is the redeeming of all of creation, and to create a people for Himself. Or, as we’ve said before, salvation is personal, but it’s not individual.
So Paul’s instruction here has to do with how we live in community – how we treat one another in the church. Now I’m not going to go into detail about each specific instruction, but I do want to make the following point: That Paul’s concern here seems to be about how we are distinct from the world. Now this may not seem obvious because Paul doesn’t seem to really be saying anything radical, counter-cultural, or particularly Christian (i.e. it seems like just common courtesy). But what I want to suggest to you is that it is, in fact, counter-cultural.
Which may not seem obvious. Because if you look at Paul’s directives, nothing seems particularly counter-cultural.
- Don’t get angry (act out of anger)
- Don’t steal
- Speak kindly to one another
- Get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, brawling, slander and malice.
Obviously we could go into a lot of detail as to what these mean, but that’s not the point that I want to make. In a nutshell, Paul is saying, sort of simply, “don’t be a jerk.” Again, this list is not exhaustive, it’s demonstrative. He’s giving us an example of behaviours to avoid and to reach for. But, in a nutshell, “don’t be a jerk.”
I think generally speaking, most people, regardless of their religious background, their philosophical bent, or their value-system would agree with these principles. So what makes this counter-cultural? What about these demonstrate kingdom-of-God values?
What I want to suggest to you, based on the overall message of Ephesians (so far) is that they are kingdom-values inasmuch as we consider the “why”. I don’t want to digress too far into why the world might be kind and considerate to one another except to make a couple of points:
- If you are kind only to people who are kind to you, then you might have a worldly point of view.
- If you are kind only to people you like, then you might have a worldly point of view.
- If you are kind in order to earn points, to improve your reputation, to “take the high road” (i.e. you are on the high road, they are not), then you might have a worldly point of view.
- If you are kind only in order to avoid trouble, then you might have a worldly point of view.
All of these things play out in the church as well. I hope it’s obvious that none of these things are bad in and of themselves – it’s always good to be kind. But what Paul is saying throughout Ephesians is that the church is a different community. The church, therefore, acts differently, lives differently because we have entered into a new reality, a kingdom reality. The very nature of our relationships with one another, as lived out, practiced, and demonstrated in the church, has changed.
So What Now…?
This is not to say that such behaviour is limited to the church. It’s not as if we are only kind, compassionate, and considerate with one another. But, in my opinion, this is why it’s so important that we practice kingdom values with one another, within the body:
Firstly, it’s practice. Each of us, inasmuch as we are part of the true body of Christ, as soon as we enter into union with Christ, are changed – we become part of the kingdom. But, as we have discussed, we live in the already-not-yet. Though Christ’s kingdom is inaugurated (through his death and resurrection), it is not yet fully realized (this will happen at the end). In other words, though we are saved, we still live in sin. But we are called to kingdom-living, and this takes work and it takes practice and it takes grace.
So it’s only fitting that we are given each other with whom to practice – to develop that kingdom life. Because Christians are jerks. Not any more than non-Christians, but certainly not any less. Community is hard because people are broken. And Christian community is hard because people are broken. But in Christian community, unlike some other communities, we don’t get to pick and choose who we want to be in community with. We don’t get to be only with people who are like us. We don’t get to be only with people who agree with us. The community which is formed by Christ is community precisely because of, and only because of Christ.
So we practice because if we can be kind, good, and loving with the disparate, broken, needy, angry, arrogant people within the church, surely we can learn to do that when we engage with the world.
Secondly, we live this way with one another because who we are with one another is not just a testament to this body of people (yay! What a nice bunch of folks), but because it’s a testimony to the kingdom of God. Paul tells us this earlier in the letter. In Ephesians 3:10-11, Paul says:
10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Who we are, how we live, how we practice community, how we worship, how we serve, how we love, is an echo of eternity.