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Monday, June 30, 2014

Putting on the New Self: Growing and Building Up in Love Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4

            This week we will study chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Before we begin that, we need to review what the main points in the first three chapters were. Chapter 1 records Paul writing to the Ephesians Christians - Gentile Christians - and to “faithful followers.” Paul wrote explaining how God loved each of His children before He created the world. God had a plan for us to return to Him since before the creation of the world. Paul told them and us in chapter two God made His children, every Christian, into one body in which Jesus Christ is the head. Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic covenant and ushered in the Messianic covenant. He removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Now God establishes believers of every background together as part of the foundation of Christ’s Church with the saints and with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. Paul taught being under a new covenant and in one body together is what in chapter two. In chapter three, Paul taught about the mystery God revealed through Christ – Gentiles are fellow heirs of the promise in Christ. He said God revealed His mystery, previously unknown to other generations, to Jesus’ apostles and prophets through the Spirit. God planned this mystery from before the beginning of time to bring everyone back into relationship with Himself. The Mosaic covenant God made with the Hebrews. The Messianic covenant God made with humankind in total.

            Beginning in chapter four, Paul taught four things: 1) How “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (4:1), 2) How Christ gave grace to each person in the body “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7), 3) How to build up through love the members of the body using Christ’s gifts so they “grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head” (4:15), and 4) How to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self” (4:23-24). Paul gave the overarching theme of this book and chapter in verse one when he said, “Therefore I, the prisoner/bondservant of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” He spends the next thirty-one verses explaining how to do this and why to do this.

First Paul talked with them about issues that every person faces in himself or herself. Christians are to be humble, gentle, patient, tolerant, loving, and diligent to preserve and guard the unity of the body in peace. This list sounds very much like the fruits of the Spirit Paul mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Paul taught believers that as they grow in Christ, the Holy Spirit develops these fruit in them. These fruit are not just for personal growth. As Paul said later in this chapter, they are for use in the body of Christ to “equip the saints for the work of service in building up the body of Christ” so that each member of the body will become mature in Him (vs. 12-13). Patience, tolerance, love, unity, and peace grow in a believer gradually from one to the next. In our first encounters with Jesus, when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we humble ourselves before His deity. We learn gentleness from Him because of His love and gentleness to us. From that point, our growth begins to extend outward toward others. We learn to be patient and tolerant of others in the body of Christ and to do it with love. Each of these aspects – humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, love, unity, and peace – requires growth in the Christian to be able to enact them – receiving from Christ and then giving to another person. They are successive learning steps. To give one’s heart to Christ requires acknowledging one’s littleness (humility). When receiving Christ’s give,  a person learns gentleness. As gentleness grows, a heart for other people occurs and patience grows. Learning patience is the prerequisite for tolerance of others, which occurs because Christ gave you the love to give to other people. Endurance is not a once off action, but is ongoing. Enduring is diligence, endeavoring, exerting one’s self to keep walking with the person and with Christ because of one’s care for the person and their relationship with Jesus. The believer wants to preserve, guard, and take care of the person and the relationship they have with them. The Holy Spirit puts a unity of mind and spirit in believers that leads to the commonality of peace. The Holy Spirit unifies believers through God’s love, His Word, and His grace. Paul said in Colossians 3:14, “Love is the perfect bond of peace.” Step-by-step growth in becoming Christlike is similar to any other growth of the person – crawling, creeping, toddling, walking, and running. Each is built on the foundation of the prior. Just as we grew into thinking, moving physical adults, we must grow into gentle, meek, loving Christ-likeness. God uses individual growth as a Christian to edify the body of Christ so every member of the body of Christ will grow to become mature and unified in Christ.

Paul ensured that believers who heard or read this letter remembered by whom they became children of God. He said in verses four through six, Christians are of “one body and one Spirit (the Spirit of God), just as we were called in one hope of our calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Each of us, no matter from which country or race we come, are parts of the body of Christ and share in the one hope of our calling (eternal salvation). Through the Messianic covenant, believers from every nation are children of God through belief in Jesus Christ. We have one Lord, not many, through one faith and baptism, not multiple. There is only one Lord, Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes in Him has the same faith and baptism into new life. Paul’s baptism or Apollos’ or John’s are not different. They each, as well as Christian pastors today, baptized people who believed in Jesus Christ as the Savior from God. Paul returned to Old Testament teachings in Deuteronomy and Zechariah, which Jews taught their children and, of which, peoples of the world knew. The Jews taught God’s saying, “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one” (Deut. 6:5 and Zech. 14:9). The God of the Jews is the God of the world. He is the one and only God who planned from before creation the perfect sacrifice to bring humankind back into relationship with Himself. Yahweh God sacrificed His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sin offering for the sins of humankind. The same God who provided the sacrifice is the Father/Creator of humankind. He is the “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (vs. 6). The Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -  makes us into one body with Christ as the head. Each believer is a member of this body. God the Father is over all. Jesus Christ is Lord of and through all. The Holy Spirit lives in all.

God unites with believers as a body through Jesus Christ. Christ gives grace gifts to each member of His body. The measure of Christ’s gift to the person is in accordance to the need in the local body for the building up of the body. Christ, as the one who defeated death and ascended to heaven, has absolute power to give for the needs of the church. He knows in what way each church needs to grow to become more like Him. Christ gives these grace gifts to His servants for the goodwill of the body of Christ for its edification. Christ gives the gifts necessary for gathering the members of His body. These gifts are ministry gifts for gathering and edifying the body of Christ and for the mutual help of one another. They are not the Spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives as spoken of in verses two through three. Christ gives different gifts in different sizes and for different purposes to grow the body for the task needed in their community. He grows each body of believers for His purpose for the edification and equipping of the body.

Paul said Christ gave to some people in each church the grace gifts of being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (vs. 11). These are not gifts about which to boast, but are to be used solely for building up/edifying the church. With the gifts come responsibility and accountability to God. Paul stated Christ gave the gifts “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (vs. 12-13). Christ gives members in each church these gifts so they can equip believers to serve God and grow in Christlikeness until the unification of the church in faith and knowledge of Christ occurs. These gifts are for growing the members of the body. That is  a big responsibility – ensuring the growth of each member to become a perfect likeness of Christ! I know many people rank these gifts of Christ, but that should not happen. Christ gives each gift to the church as Christ sees need. Each gift is necessary for the church. Apostles are messengers of Christ and teachers. Prophets plead the cause of God and urge salvation of men. Evangelists are bringers of the Good News. Pastors are the shepherd of the local church who teach, lead, and lay down their lives for the church, just as Christ did. Teachers teach about the things of God and the duties of believers. As you can see, each gift from Christ brings the task of being a teacher for God to lead each person into Christlikeness and the church into one unified body. None of them is greater and they each have similar tasks. Each church may have different measures of each grace gift from Christ in them, but that is because each local body of Christ has different needs and areas of growth required. Each member of the body needs to grow spiritually. God gives spiritual gifts to each member as they grow in Him. These individual members grow conjointly into a one working body of Christ to reach their community and world for Him. To be a growing body, each member must grow individually. The grace gifts given to members of the church help the members individually and jointly grow into a mature body of Christ willing and able to do what He leads them to do.

Paul leapt from individual growth to joint growth to show the ideal for the body of Christ, working in full maturity with and for Christ. He made the point that each person must mature. Paul made another point that each member must work in unison, unity of spirit, with the other members to do the tasks that Christ, as the head, gives them for their community and the world. He told the Ephesian Christians that they were “no longer to be children (but mature believers – vs. 13), tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (vs. 14). Paul arrived at one of his purposes for this letter. He heard that when deceiving teachers taught the Ephesian Christians other doctrines they should have grown beyond, some of them believed what they the deceivers said. Paul said they should be “grow up in all aspects to Him who is the head, even Christ” (vs. 15). They were to be growing in Christlikeness by then. Paul said not to let these crafty deceivers and defrauders confuse them and lead them astray. How many times have we heard about someone who was deceived and we thought with exasperation, “Oh, just grow up!” Jack’s father, from Jack and the beanstalk probably thought the same of Jack. I think Paul may have been at this point, but he tempered his exasperation because of his love for them by putting this decisive point in the middle of his letter. He continued this thought by saying, “Christ causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (vs. 16). Christ is the head of the whole body and fits and holds it together supplying what each joint needs for the body to work properly. Each person must be growing in Christ. This causes the growth of the full body to build itself up in love. The body of Christ must grow more Christlike and more loving so they can reach out to the lost with His love and share His Gospel message. God wants to renew more people to a right relationship with Himself.

Paul said each member of the body has the responsibility to grow in Christ. He said Christ gives gifts within the body to help grow each member into a cohesive unified body of Christ able to reach out to the world with His love. This makes it imperative that each believer grows in their life with Christ, in their Christian walk. Paul told them they are to “be renewed in the spirit of their mind and put on the new self” (vs. 23-24). First Paul spoke from the negative side when he said, “no longer walk just as the Gentiles walk” (vs. 17). “Gentiles” refers to unbelievers. Paul said not to be like them -

in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous (apathetic) have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.     (vs. 17- 19)

He said their thinking and understanding is darkened. They chase ideas and rationalize about life, but they will not understand apart from God. Paul said, “They are excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts (dulled perception and stubborn) and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality” (vs. 18-19). This sensuality includes practices of impurity – lustfulness, wantonness, promiscuous living – and greediness for the practice of every kind of impurity.

In contrast to the way Gentiles live, Paul told them they did not learn Christ this way (vs. 20). He said Christians learn they must “lay aside the old self, which is corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (vs. 22). Christians are “being renewed in the spirit of their mind and putting on the new self” (vs. 23). Many translations read this “be renewed” and make it sound like a once off event. However, as we walk with Christ and continue to live in the sinful world, we find we must make a daily and sometimes hourly effort at being renewed in our mind and putting on the new self in Christ. Salvation is a one-time event. When we accept Jesus Christ’s forgiveness and acknowledge Him as the Son of God who sacrificed Himself for our sins, we are saved. Being renewed and putting on the new self is a daily occurrence. Sanctification is the continuing daily putting on the mind of Christ and walking in His likeness. Sanctification is an ongoing process of growing more Christlike. To become more Christlike we must choose each day to put on the new self and be renewed in our minds. Paul continued and said this new self “has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (vs. 24). The definition of righteousness comes from God’s character. This word means being in a condition acceptable to God in rightness and correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting. The holiness of truth contrasts to the holiness of the Jews and the pretended holiness of the hypocrites. The holiness of the Jews was not pure, but was predicated on their actions of offering impure sacrifices for their sins. The holiness of truth of the new self shows the genuineness of the Spirit’s work of sanctification on the heart. The new self acts righteously and holy and encourages others to live this way, too.

After Paul told the “faithful followers” they must be renewed in their mind and put on the new self, he gave a list of what the “new self” of a believer would do. Before, in verses two and three, he told how a believer would be – humble, loving, patient, tolerant, gentle, diligent, peaceful, and unified in the Spirit. Now, to close this chapter of his letter, Paul gave actions of believers – how/what to do. He said, in contrast to falsehood, believers speak truth with their neighbor, can feel anger but not sin because of it, labor instead of steal to be able to share with a person in need, speak with worth to edify the hearer, and give the Holy Spirit cause to rejoice. Paul added in verse nineteen, if we go to bed angry, it gives the devil a foothold/opportunity to make us act upon that anger. We stew over it and it boils within us. As it boils, it may come to a head and cause us to explode with hurtful words or actions. The words we say, as Christians, must be wholesome and for the building up of another. Anger does not allow that. Sin comes in these ways when we do not allow the Spirit to quench the anger before the end of the day. Paul said as Christians we look for ways to help our neighbors, too. This leads us to work so that we have enough to share with a person in need. We build up a person’s physical body by working well enough to have food to share.

Paul gave a final list to every Christian who hears and reads his letter (vs.31-32). This list begins in the mind and moves to the heart and action. Paul said to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander from themselves along with malice. Instead, be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving just as God in Christ forgave you. Let us define these words. Bitterness is a sharpness of mind that is ready to take offence. It produces hatred. Wrath and anger is the outburst of bitterness into a deeper anger. It easily boils over to actions. Clamor and slander are the loud fury of wrath moving into deliberate evil speaking. Action occurs from the boiling over of bitterness. Paul expressly said not to sin while angry in verse twenty-six. He knew that anger left to boil could spew out like hot lava and someone could be hurt. When anger creates a rift in a relationship either between a person and God or between two people, sin occurs. Christians must resist these sins. Paul said Christians instead should be kind to one another, compassionate, and forgiving each other because God in Christ forgave us. God in His merciful loving-kindness showed compassion on us and forgave us when we deliberately chose to turn our backs on Him. Because we know we received Christ’s forgiveness when we did not deserve it, that should enable us Christians to forgive another person for what he or she did to us.

If we are followers of Christ, Paul said Christ calls us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called” (vs. 1). This requires us to be humble, gentle, patient, tolerant in love, and diligent in preserving unity of Spirit and the bond of peace. We are able to do this because of God’s love for us. Though He had every reason to turn His back on us, He chose to relate with us compassionately. He prepared a way for us to return to Him before He created the world. God provided the perfect sacrifice. He provided the way for us to be remade so we could be in a relationship with Him. To be able to live in the world in a Christlike manner, God gave us His Spirit to guide and teach us and to give us strength to walk this way. He also gave gifts to members of the church to build us up in the body of Christ. We no longer walk in darkness as the Gentiles walk, but we are being renewed in the spirit of our mind and putting on the new self, the likeness of Christ.

Paul said much in this chapter. His main point was to implore Christians to walk in a manner worthy of Christ. Christ gives us His Spirit who empowers us to do this. He also gives gifts to members of His body so that each believer can grow in likeness to Him and so He can build up the body in love for the tasks to which Christ calls the body. Christians cannot do this by walking in the world as the Gentiles walk, but as the child of God who puts on the new self and walks in love and forgiveness.

The questions:

Are you a believer?

Are you being deceived by cunning and deceitful people

into believing false teachings?

Or are you putting on the new self and

growing into more Christlikeness each day?

Jesus provided a way for us to know the truth about Him in His Word, the Bible. He also provided a way for us to grow in Him through the study of His Word, His Holy Spirit, and the messengers He gifted in the church. The final question: Will you seek the Truth?