Big Idea: True Church Community is built on Truth and Holiness
Intro: Well morning friends, visitors and all those listening online. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Ephesians, thinking about the importance of church community while we all have to sit at home watching church online. Perhaps, just a little ironic. But please pray with me – as we continue to think about church unity.
Well friends, MY BIG IDEA today is that true Church community is built on both truth and holiness. When it comes to community A) what we believe matters and B) how we live also matters. First, to really have church unity we need to know what we agree upon. If half of us believe 1) that the best sport on earth is basketball and the other half of us believe 2) it’s cricket – we’re probably going to have some arguments and eventually divide. If a third of usthink CAPITALISM is great, another third of us think COMMUNISM is the best and the rest of us want to be DICTATORS – again there is little that is uniting us together.
So to really maintain a sense of unity we need to have an agreed set of beliefs. Now last week, we saw that some of the NON-NEGOTIABLES included 1) belief in the Trinity, 2) belief that Jesus is Lord and 3) belief that we are baptised into Jesus’ death and resurrection. What all evangelical or biblical Christians agree upon is that what unites us is God’s truth revealed in the Bible. The Bible applied by the Holy Spirit is what gives us our unity as Christians. Now sometimes Christians may still have small differences in application. For instance, Jewish Christians may still keep some of the festivals and food laws from the Old Testament. Gentile Christians may choose to eat pork and worship God on Sunday, rather than Saturday. Such small differences are often evident across different Christian denominations. But if we are truly humble – we will recognize that there are often legitimate reasons from the Bible for these differences, even while we back our particular team.
Now last week Paul explained that God has provided different types of church leaders AND given us all slightly different nuances and insights so that together we can become STRONG IN GOD’S TRUTH. The more we grasp and apply God’s truth correctly – the more united we become as a Church. That was last week…
But if we are going to have good church unity we also need to have an agreed code of conduct. We might all believe in the Trinity – but if I think its ok to POKE YOU IN THE EYE (whenever I feel like it) there comes a point where you lose your cool and explode. Even if we all agree on the importance of baptism – if I keep lying to you, or stealing from you or gossiping behind your back – at some point community starts to break down. TO MAINTAIN OUR UNITY – we need to have both 1)shared beliefs (last week) and 2) a shared code of conduct this week.
Point 1: Christians need to agree to stop living like non-Christians
Show: Ephesians 3:17-19 (READ)
Explain: Well again – Paul tells us today to WALK THE WALK and talk the talk. The word LIVE (in verse 17) – is actually walk. Paul insists that we must no longer walk as the Gentiles do. Now in this instance, Paul is using the word “Gentile” in the sense of non-Christian. What he is saying – is that if A) you’ve become a Christian – then B) the way you walk should be different to non-Christians. And this is NOT just a suggestion. Paul says its something he insists on in the Lord.
So you might like to think for a moment; how different is your life to your non-Christian peers at work or your non-Christian friends in houso? If I gave you 5 minutes how many differences could you come up with – apart from; “I go to church on Sundays” when Sydney is not in lockdown.” Is that enough? If the only real difference is that you go to church on Sundays – can you really say you no longer live as a non-Christian?
Paul identifies that non-Christians are characterised by FUTILE thinking, DARKENED understanding and general IGNORANCE because they are separated from God. Now the word FUTILITY is the same word that gets used in the GREEK VERSION of Ecclesiastes 39x. In the Old Testament King Solomon worked out that without God everything is futile, futile everything is futile. But this is THE NORMAL NON-CHRISTIAN LIFE. What Paul is saying is that without a knowledge of God – non-Christians are totally lost. They don’t understand the purpose of life. They don’t really know how to live. And bit by bit this totally wrecks their moral compass. Without knowing which way is due north – they start thinking bad things are good and good things are bad. Then they make all sorts of choices that tend to wreck relationships and divide communities…
Illustrate: Now this may seem harsh – but Paul is saying non-Christian life is somewhere on the spectrum of dumb and dumber. (Slide 2) I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this movie with JIM CAREY and JEFF DANIELS. It was one of the great comedies of the 90’s. (I know some of you probably weren’t even born). But these guys make dumb decisions. BUT instead of learning from those dumb decisions, they then make even dumbier decisions – getting themselves into more and more trouble – which at times is hilariously comical…
Apply: What Paul is saying is that Christians should no longer walk and talk like non-Christians. Now I’m not being mean. I used to live as a non-Christian and I made some spectacularly dumb decisions too. The problem is NON-CHRISTIANS lack direction in life because A) they do not know God and B) they do not have the Bible. So, they tend to search for meaning in money, or pleasure or power or fame. But in the process of pursuing these things (at all cost) they often hurt themselves and the people closest to them. So, they then try Buddhism, or maybe environmentalism or perhaps “wokeism” thinking that this will somehow add something meaningful. But without a knowledge of the true God it is like A) catching snowflakes in your hands or B) holding onto sand tighter and tighter. It either just MELTS AWAY or it SLIPS through your fingers. Futile, futile. The non-Christian life is futile…
But what really begins to add meaning to life is God’s revelation of himself in Jesus and through the Bible. THE PROBLEM is futility, ignorance and darkness. The ANSWER is the Bible is full of meaning, knowledge and light for those who listen. What Paul is saying is God doesn’t just tell us WHAT TO BELIEVE, God also tells us how to live a wise, meaningful life. And because God cares about people the more we listen to Gods word the wiser we get at relationships and consequently the better we get at community.
Point 2: Christians agree to put off the Old Self and put on the New Self
Show: Ephesians 4:20-24 (READ)
Explain: Well as you can see Paul talks about taking off our OLD WAY OF LIFE and putting on Jesus’ NEW WAY OF LIFE. In verse 20 Paul reminds us that as Christians we heard about Christ and were taught the truth in Jesus. Jesus is the one who teaches us how to live a meaningful life. Of course, there are all sorts of gurus in the world – who claim to have the keys to real life. But Christians are meant to follow Jesus.
In the C7th AD a man named MOHAMMAD deluded most of the Middle East and plunged them into war and broken community for most the time since. In the C19th AD another man named JOSEPH SMITH convinced the Mormons that if they wore magic underwear (that they had to buy off him) it would protect them from temptation and evil. (I kid you not. Google it). And today – those who don’t want to be religious –are getting LIFE COACHES who are telling them equally dumb and stupid things. It’s a crazy. Rich people, now pay between $300 and $1000 dollars an hour to have donkeys tell them how to do life better. I met a life coach recently (whose personal life and business life) was a complete an utter mess. When he told me he was a life coach – I almost burst into laughter. SERIOUSLY.
Apply: Friends, as we become Christians we realise that the only person worth trusting as a life coach is Jesus. We can trust Jesus because we know he loves us. And we can trust Jesusbecause he is the only life coach who has ever beaten the grave and risen from the dead. That’s a life coach with some decent creditentials.
Because of all the dumb decisions we made as non-Christians we deserve to be punished by God. We deserve to reap the consequence of our actions. BUT GOD’S SON, JESUS, took the punishment for our stupidity when he died on the cross. That means that if we believe in Jesus and ask God for forgiveness – then we are forgiven and we get a free pass to heaven.
But that’s also the sort of life coach you can trust. If there is a life coach who loves you enough to die for you – you know he has your best interest at heart. (You know he’s not just trying to fleece you for $300-1000/hr if he has skin in the game). So Jesus says to would be Christians; REPENT AND BELIEVE. That’s Jesus’ total message to would be followers. REPENT AND BELIEVE. Repent means take off your former way of life. Believe means put on Jesus’ new way of life.
When Jesus says A CERTAIN BEHAVIOUR is dumb or foolish – he calls us to REPENT from it. Stop doing it. Jesus says; if you trust me as your life coach – take off lying, take off stealing, take off gossip etc etc. Now it’s not always easy to stop patterns of behaviour that are habitual. FIRST you need to see and accept it’s wrong. THEN you have to ask Jesus to forgive you AND THEN you need to ask him to change you – and sometimes this takes years. But Jesus also says “put this on”; forgive your enemies, pray for those who persecute you and store up treasure in heaven, instead of on earth. This is BELIEVE! Repent is taking off what Jesus says is bad. Believe is putting on what Jesus says is better. This is true Christianity.
Christianity is more than just believing in the Trinity, going to church and being baptized. Christianity is also about obeying Jesus as life coach. EVERYDAY, PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY is about asking Jesus A) what do you want me to take off today and B) what do you want me to put on today. Now the way Jesus instructs us is through his words recorded in the Bible. The apostles wrote down everything they learnt from Jesus in the gospels and NT letters. This tells us what we need to repent from and what we need to believe instead. This is everyday Christianity. But one of the benefits of everyday Christianity is that when everyone listens Jesus’ counsel IMPROVES RELATIONSHIPS and hence produces better MARRIAGES, better FAMILIES and even better, stronger COMMUNITIES. So, if we really want to have unity as a church – one of the best things we can do is put into practice what Jesus says…
Point 3: Christians agree to change 7 things Immediately
Show: Ephesians 4:25-27 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul begins to articulate TODAY (and will continue next week) with things we need to take off and other things we need to put on. But if you look at verse 25 – you’ll see that Paul still has the CHURCH and our UNITY in focus. At the end of verse 25, Paul says, for we are all members of one body. That is the church. The church is the apple of God’s eye and God wants us to be united as ONE. So Paul is still giving us these instructions to help preserve our church community.
Now of course, all these things are good for you personally as well. Obeying Jesus will always bring blessing to your life. But Paul is still focussed on church. He is saying that if we really want to be a united church – we need to get A) our beliefs sorted out and B) we need to get our lives sorted out (based on God’s Word). This is how we will maintain our unity. So Paul gives us SEVEN foundational instructions;
Show: (Slide 3 – READ)
Apply: Now truth be told we don’t have time to FULLY EXPLORE all these points today. So instead, let me just make some brief comments. WHICH THING jumps out at you the most in those verses. WHICH ONE OF THESE THINGS is the Holy Spirit convicting you the most? If you want to help us maintain our unity as a church – you need to fix that thing.
The first one is FALSEHOOD and LYING. Some of us are habitual liars. And lying wrecks relationships. If we are going to have GOOD RELATIONSHIPS – we need to be honest with each other (warts and all). Not pretending to be something we are not. Real relationship are based on truth. And people also need to be able to trust what we say – otherwise unity and friendship breaks down. We need to be people whose yes is yes and our no, no. If we say we’ll do something we do it. We keep our word (and when we don’t) we say sorry.
SECOND we see ANGER MANAGEMENT issues. (Now I’m sure none of us have anger management issues). But some people do because 1) they were hurt by parents in childhood or because 2) they are angry at themselves for some of the dumb decisions they’ve made. So blowing our stack feels natural and sometimes even justified. But blowing our stack always wrecks relationships. Now its not wrong to get angry. Jesus got angry. God sometimes gets angry. But we need to deal with our anger in a Christian way – and preferably before the sun goes down. Now sometimes dealing with our anger takes more than a day, especially if we’ve really been hurt. But Paul is saying (as Christians) we need to learn to CONTROL our anger and DEAL with our anger issues. Now for some of us that may require seeing a Christian counsellor to work through our self-loathing or past hurts. But again, this is our responsibility as Christians – deal with your anger issues – because unresolved anger issues wreck Christian community.
The third one is easy. If you’ve been STEALING (or getting money from dishonest gain – like dealing drugs or ripping off the government) – stop. A Christian who has the ability to work, should aspire to get an honest job. Stop stealing. Work hard. But there is a deeper truth in this third one. When we steal from people – we put ourself first (and don’t think about the person we steal from) It’s SELFISH. But when we work hard in an honest job it forces us to think about the needs of others and how we can supply the needs of others. A good, honest job gives you an opportunity to serve others, rather than self. And the money you earn also gives you a second opportunity to serve others – as you help the poor or sponsor a child in need. EITHER WAY, A) STEALING is self serving and B) HARD WORK is about serving others – which is a Christian principle in itself. We need to learn to serve others – even if it’s in a volunteer role on Fridays with OzHarvest. (As we learn to put other people before ourselves, it is truly one of the best things for maintaining Christian unity.)
FOURTH, don’t let unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful. There is an old saying; “if you haven’t got something good to say, don’t say anything at all.” It has biblical roots. Nothing wrecks relationships more than ill spoken words – or texts, or emails. So if you haven’t got something good to say – just shut up.
FIFTH, do not grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus with us. So whenever, we do not REPENT of what Jesus tells us to repent it grieves the Holy Spirit. And whenever, we do not trust what Jesus tells us to do it grieves the Holy Spirit. Now if you’re sensitive to A) the Holy Spirits promptings and B) your conscience is informed by Scripture you will often know when you are grieving the Holy Spirit. But here’s a big tell. Paul began this chapter talking about keeping the unity of the Spirit in the church. So whenever you are doing something that is being DIVISIVE in the church you can be sure the Holy Spirit is upset with you. So stop doing it. Church unity is so important to the Holy Spirit that the Bible tells us to kick divisive people out of the church. (Rom.16:17, Tit.3:10).
Finally, sixth and seventh is pretty straightforward. In church – especially where there is great diversity – between Jew and Gentile, rich and poor OR even different cultures there are going to be things we really don’t understand about each other. Why did they do it that way? Why did she say that? OUR TENDENCY is to immediately assume the worst. Then we get BITTER at the other person, or ANGRY or we start SLANDERING them behind their back. But Paul wants us to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. We need to stop and realize that some of our own behaviour as Aussies, or Russians or Chinese or Jews may be very strange and weird to other people. Some of the things we SAY and some of the things we do (are probably strange to others). So if others can learn to put up with our idiosyncracies – we need to learn to show kindness, compassion and forgiveness to other people’s idiosyncracies. This is mature Christianity and this is one of the best ways to preserve Christian unity to the glory of God…
Apply: But this brings us back to THE BIGGER QUESTION of whether 1) we are really following Jesus or 2) just giving lip-service to Jesus. One of the reasons so many churches are divided and lack unity is that many Christians are not really doing what Jesus says. Of course, none of us – will ever do what Jesus says – 100% of the time. But if we love Jesus and trust Jesus – we need to be trying. As we trust Jesus – he is changing us. Little by little (as we listen to God’s Word) Jesus is getting us to 1) take off the things of this world and 2) to put on the things of his kingdom because he is preparing us for a place where we will one day have perfect unity with God and each other – in heaven – forever. So let us practice what we are aiming for as best we can to the glory of God. Amen. Amen.