David A. Davis
October 9, 2016
“Now to the one who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” That’s where we finished last week at the end of Ephesians chapter 3. The Apostle Paul’s ascription of praise that concludes his prayer that the faithful in Ephesus would know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge. Chapter 4 of Ephesians marks a shift, for Paul, from doctrine to the practicalities that flow from “God’s good pleasure that God set forth in Christ” and the implications that arise since “God has put all things under his feet and has made Christ the head over all things for the church, which is Christ’s body, the fullness of him who fills all in all”, and the exhortations that surely come since “by grace you have been saved through faith”. Similar to other epistles, Paul does a half time turn toward the specifics of living in Christ and life in the body of Christ and being faithful in the world. In the case of Ephesians, it’s the Christian life in light of how “in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” and “He is our peace” and how “in him the whole structure is joined together and grows in a holy temple in the Lord.” Ephesians chapter 4, it is Paul’s unpacking of what it means, what difference it makes, why it matters, the mystery of God’s plan, the mystery hidden for ages in God, now made known in the “boundless riches of Christ”
The shift for Paul in Ephesians comes with a few “therefores” and “so thens”. “Therefore…lead a life worthy of the calling…bearing with one another in love…maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” With the “therefore” comes Paul on the gifts of the Spirit “to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ.” With the “therefore” comes Paul exhorting the believers in Ephesus to put away the former way of life, the old self, writing to them about being “renewed in the spirit of your minds” and clothing “yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
“Created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”; which brings us to the reading for this morning. The reading begins with a “so then”.
Put away all falsehood…do not let the sun go down on your anger…have something to share with the needy…Let no evil talk come out of your mouths…give grace to those who hear…do not grieve the Holy Spirit…Put away from you all bitterness,,,,be kind to one another, tenderhearted… So then, therefore, so then…
Earlier in Ephesians, the second chapter…”For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life”… “So then…let us speak the truth to our neighbors for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin…thieves must give up stealing…Let no evil talk come out of your mouth but only what is useful for building up…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” So…then…
Writers point out how Paul balances the vice and virtue through these verses. More than just offering the do’s and don’t(s) in separate lists like the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, here Paul offers a balance, a point/counterpoint, a sort of rhythm for the reader. That when the believer sheds the former way and puts on the clothes of the new self falsehood is exchanged for truth, unbridled anger turns to reconciliation, stealing turns into the sharing of what you earn with those in need, the most vulgar of language becomes a word that gives grace, and bitterness, wrangling, wrath; they are replaced by the kindness of a tender heart.
“so then”, Paul writes, it ought to look like this; your life it should look something like this.
The columnist Cal Thomas wrote an article this week prior to the vice-presidential debate in which he suggests that candidates ought to be challenged to answer when the policies they uphold conflict with the faith they espouse. “Why does this matter?” Thomas writes, “If candidates for high office claim inspiration, even instruction, from an Authority higher than themselves, they should be asked about it. If they deviate from their faith’s teachings, they should be required to explain.” Of course as a person with his own perspective and theological convictions, Thomas goes on in the article to point out which positions and which candidate should be challenged. His focus was on marriage and abortion. He concludes his short essay with this: “These issues of faith and public policy should be raised during the one vice presidential debate Tuesday night.”
In studying our passage from Ephesians 4 Monday and Tuesday morning and trying to watch the Vice-presidential debate on Tuesday night, an even more fundamental question arises about faith and politics. It is one of faith and rhetoric. Maybe the way people talk to each other and about each other and over each other isn’t exactly a matter of public policy, but it is a matter of Christian faith. If Ephesians 4:25-32, part of Paul’s so then and so what, offers a glimpse of what the Christian life in relation to others ought to look like, it is pretty clear that the vice-presidential debate and the current American presidential political process is not…that. Here’s where students of presidential elections and historians may want to point out that politics has never been for the faint of heart and all’s fair in politics and there are instances in the nation’s past when the discourse was worse. That may be true and may for some make it right. But it doesn’t make it faithful to the Christian life or consistent with what signifies the gospel of Jesus Christ. The vulgarity in the news at the end of this week only heightens the point and fuels the temptation in me to just read this passage from Ephesians and sit down. But I cannot go on lamenting the state and content of the loudest Christian voices out there and the consistent silence of preachers like me if I am not willing to stand before you and proclaim the “so then” of Paul’s thought; a Pauline-like holiness that ought to inspire all of us to live more faithfully and speak more lovingly and work for higher expectations when it comes to the common good. A call for an election season holiness that starts deep within you. That starts with “we are what God made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life”… “so then…let your words give grace to those who hear…Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Because, of course, before it is about presidential candidates or presidential politics or campaign rhetoric or some outspoken figure who claims to speak for all of Christendom, it is about you and me. It is not just be kind, be tenderhearted, be forgiving because God in Christ has forgiven you. If it’s a conditional or dependent equation, that we will go forth to forgive because we have been forgiven by God, the polling numbers for forgiveness are in deep trouble. Even as forgiven people, we’re not that good. We’re still human. God’s forgiveness is a daily thing, an ongoing thing, a once and future thing. By the grace of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s forgiveness is a present reality. God’s forgiveness has life, gives life. God’s forgiveness is a relationship. That’s the kind of forgiveness, the kind of washing, the kind of life in Christ we celebrate in baptism. The life-giving, Spirit-breathing, every moment presence of Christ in our lives to pour out grace upon grace upon grace.
Forgiving as God in Christ has forgiven you. Forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. Forgiving not just because God forgave you in Christ. Forgiving because the only way to forgive and to be tenderhearted and to be kind is through Christ who is at work in you. It’s more than a poetic balance at work here in the rhythm of Ephesians 4. The trajectory of Paul’s thoughts points to Christ at work in us. It’s falsehood turned to truth, anger turned reconciling, stealing turned into the care of the needy, evil words turned into grace, and a hardness of heart made tender all as God in Christ has forgiven us. All as God in Christ is at work in us. All because of Christ within us. Live more faithfully, speak more lovingly, work for higher expectations when it comes to the common good for Christ has forgiven you. Christ is at work in you. Christ is present in you.
As I worked with this text from Ephesians all week it wasn’t just the presidential election news that was oh so relevant. Between you and me, I had a frustrating morning at the pharmacy counter the other day. These verses grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go…there. You and I are constantly reminded that we can’t do it, we can’t do this without the promise of God, without the presence of Christ, without that phrase from Paul etched somewhere in your heart…”As God in Christ has forgiven you.” I am a 54 year white man from the suburbs of Pittsburgh who pretty much defines privilege, power, and opportunity. I can’t get to where God wants me to be on racial reconciliation and racial understanding without the promise of God at work in me. I can’t get to where God wants me to be when it comes to understanding and speaking out and rising up against the culture of sexual assault on campuses far and wide without the promise of God at work in me. I can’t get to where God wants me to be when it comes to wrapping my head around the statistics of the prison industry and the realities of an unjust justice system and looking into the eyes of the exonerated of Centurion Ministries who were wrongly imprisoned for decades, I can’t get there without the promise of God at work in me. I don’t know about you, but I can’t be the father and the husband and the pastor and the man and the Christian God calls me to be without the promise of God at work in me. I’m just not that good and neither are you.
By grace you have been saved…so then
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
As God in Christ has forgiven you.
As God is at work in you.
© 2016 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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