The Old You or the New You?
Ephesians: 4: 1 - 6
Today I’m going to preach on Ephesians. The reading we have today is so rich and full I’ll focus on the first few verses. The sermon I have prepared reflects teaching by Paul LeBoutillier on this epistle.
This letter is often described as the pinnacle of Paul's teaching in the New Testament and is in two parts - Verses 1- 3 explain all that Christ has done for us…..his sacrifice and saving grace...and how we are changed and transformed by the loving work of Christ…... and then in verses 4 - 6 it's what I call the ‘so what part’.
Paul basically then says …... If Christ has done all of this for you…. You have been washed clean, fed, clothed…..what are you going to do? How are you going to live this out?
Who will you now be?
Paul uses the language of the calling to which we as Christians have been called. ….the calling you see isn't just a calling to priests, nuns, monks and other religious folk...….as Christians we are all called to this calling.
This idea in the bible is central throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Contrary to Dawkings and the others who are keen to claim there is no purpose to life perhaps beyond the survival of the fittest and the evolutionary process …..that life is some kind of accident….that life therefore has no meaning beyond making the best of it...being happy….getting the things you want whilst you are here…. as after this...well that's it...oblivion and nothingness. Let's face it, that's how much of the world lives...it's how at times, if we are honest, we also might be living.
The bible of course says the opposite…..we have been known and loved and wonderfully created by God (see the earlier chapters of Ephesians) ...and that we have been called into being and faith by him with a purpose.
There is a reason to be here and to be who we are.
Our ‘calling’ as Paul describes here and also in the letter to the Romans is to reflect the very heart and character of Jesus Christ in the world. To portray his image to a world that needs salvation...that needs help...that needs healing. Think of Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Myanmar...the recent report form the Met office on climate change...the scandal of child abuse in Lambeth.
We simply cannot heal things on our own - it is only with help and power of God….only done with the power of the Holy Spirit that we can do this.
Paul says that our lives are called to be worthy of God’s calling.
In the Greek this use of worthy is described as a means of equal weight…..so Paul is saying let your life be of equal weight to your calling……equal weight to love and sacrifice of God.
What does this mean...well Paul helpfully makes this clear to us - it looks like and it's about humility, gentleness, patience and an eagerness to maintain unity and the bond of peace.
Let's now really look at these….
What is humility…….This is about how we see ourselves in light of God’s love. Humility in biblical terms is to reign in or restrain the me, me, me tendencies. It's about seeing ourselves as God sees us.
I wonder how God sees me - how does he see you? I don't know about you but thinking about that leaves me feeling humbled. I come into humility.
Think about poor old St Peter......how he saw himself before the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, talking of his courage and faith…...and how Jesus saw him and knew him fully.....how he knew how he would behave...how Peter would deny and fall ...and through that bitter lesson and realisation …..how he would eventually become the rock of the church. Jesus saw and knew it all.
The world says you must learn to love yourself before you can love with others...St Paul says….no it's about knowing who we are, in humility, in light of God’s purpose for our lives. When we see ourselves in this humility we know and treat others with new compassion.
Gentleness (meekness) …..biblically this is about how we respond when we feel attacked….how we suffer injury without resorting to revenge or becoming bitter...or indeed both! It's a natural tendency to avoid getting hurt….
In Matthew 11 - Jesus says I am humble and gentle of heart…...you can hurt me but I won't lash back at you...I will still love and care for you…..
To forgive and still love is Divine not human. …...it is the action of Christ...through the Holy Spirit that it is made fully possible. ...now as Christians we must remember Christ is now residing in us - and through this we are able to forgive..to love...to have compassion….this is why Paul is making this statement.
He is reminding us that we aren't supposed to focus on or use our inability to control our tempers and feelings….as Christians we are supposed to focus on Christ’s strengths that live within us and enable us to forgive and love. That is where our focus should be.
Patience (KJ - Long suffering) ...this is about how we respond to the failings of others…..we all have limits ….something will always upset or trigger things in us. Paul is saying this 2000 years ago to the church in Ephesus because they had the same problems every church has today…..keeping our patience with people who rub-us up the wrong way…we may keep our mouth shut...but our heart is boiling over with frustration and anger….ring any bells….
Paul is saying being short tempered, impatient and intolerant is not of equal weight to our calling…...everyone falls short of this calling...we are all in this club...we all fail….because we try to do it ourselves….we have to call on the the help of the Spirit.
Harry Ironside...bible teacher from a very different tradition to my own…..talked about his friend George who would occasionally just lose his temper...he'd lose it ...and ‘everyone would know about it’. Harry Ironside said George could be set right by someone just asking’ George ‘is this the old you or the new you’? And George would be brought to tears by this….and would say the old me and that he needed to bring that old me to Jesus Christ and the cross.
It's a great story isn’t that we can all use - when we are struggling, when we lose our patience...we can ask ourselves is this the old me...or the new me? Is my response of equal weight to the love of God and the calling he has given me?
Finally, eagerness to maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace - Notice it is particularly about the Spirit. The Spirit has done with work...we have been brought together by the Spirit...no matter the Church...or church tradition….. We are still one as we have been made one. Imagine if at our ecumenical services with other churches we started by saying we are right and you are wrong...or our bible translation is better than yours...that's not preserving the unity of the Spirit. We must work to protect that unity - that is the calling and our actions must be of equal weight to our calling. We must be agents of peace and unity.
So having looked at just the first few lines of this letter, how would you score yourself this morning? Is your life as a Christian of equal weight to the love, the sacrifice and the calling of Christ? If you are feeling lacking you are in good company - we are all struggling. This is why we have Holy Scripture to remind and sustain us.
The key message I would want to leave you with this morning is Paul’s message that we can’t do all this ourselves - we need to work with the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit that is now dwelling within us. With Christ everything is possible.
Amanda Gorman wrote in her inaugural poem for the American President Joe Biden:
When the day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it,
For there is always light,
if only we are brave enough to see it,
if only we are brave enough to be it.