One of the most misused terms, the most misunderstood terms, or perhaps the term used most without really thinking or knowing what it means, is this—“church”.
We’ve talked about it at length before. To some, church is a building. To some, it’s an hour-long event every Sunday morning.
To some, it’s a social organization. To some, it’s a longstanding establishment. To some, it’s a group of people—hopefully gathered to worship and honor Jesus Christ.
I suppose that one starts to get to the heart of the matter. But, based on the original languages of the scriptural text, there’s another way of looking at church.
The Greek term for church is “ekklesia”. You may recognize that as the root word of ecclesiastic or ecclesiastical. These are big words that refer to church things.
Often, you will conventions in the Catholic faith referred to as ecclesiastical gatherings. But what does that root word—ekklesia—literally mean?
It means “to call out”. In other words, the church is made up of the called-out ones.
If you want to join a church, it goes far beyond joining some sort of social club, possessing some intangible membership, or finding a sense of belonging
To join a church is to embrace a new life as a person called out by Jesus Christ.
So what is the church called out of or called out from? Wouldn’t it have to be the world? We are called out to entrust ourselves to Jesus and His way of life.
We are called out, away from the world and all it holds dear. We are called out, away from sin and self—away from material and philosophical idols.
In other words, there is a distinction. The Bible refers to the people of God as a “peculiar people”. We are called to put to death the worldly way of living.
We are called out toward a new, Spirit-filled way of living. This looks different than the way the rest of the world lives. At least, it’s supposed to.
I recently read a book by Billy Graham’s grandson. His name is one of the hardest to pronounce that I’ve ever seen—even by OT standards.
So I’ll just leave it at “Billy Graham’s grandson”. The book is titles Unfashionable. The theme of the book is “standing against the world, for the world”. If we are called out of the world, we cannot regularly allow ourselves to be immersed in it again.
Neither are we called out of the world so that we might look down our noses at it, wagging our fingers and shaking our heads.
Christ-followers are called out of the world to live as something distinct, something that draws others toward the same Jesus that we claim as Savior.
So there’s your church in a nutshell. Now, based on this definition, how many churches do you believe are actually “being the church”?
And what does a “called out” or “distinct” band of believers look like? How do we know that we are living up to that calling? How do we evaluate?
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, actually has much to say in answer to questions such as those. We’ll be in the fourth chapter this morning.
We’ve already read some of it—the first portion of the second half of that chapter.
Now, we will finish off the chapter and see what God laid on Paul’s heart in regard to what the church ought to look like.
I’ll begin our reading with the 25th verse of chapter 4. (Read Ephesians 4:25-32.)
You see, in our earlier passage from Ephesians, Paul laid out what life without Christ looks like. In fact, he states that this is how those who don’t know Jesus indeed live.
And he warns the Ephesians not to fall into those old patterns. He insists that they must no longer live in that manner.
Such a life included darkened understanding, separation from God’s presence, ignorance, and hardened hearts.
This life also included lack of sensitivity, being consumed with sensuality, indulgence in every kind of impurity, and overwhelming greed.
Instead, the Ephesians were to “put off the old self”, corrupt as it is with deceitful desires. They were to “put on the new self”—the person they are in Christ.
The church ought to be a full body of “new selves”. That means we don’t look much like the former—at least, based on what’s on the inside.
That also means we stand in contrast to the world—not as those who are better than the rest, but as those who have been saved from the death and decay of sin.
So what does this look like? Paul begins verse 25 with a command that you probably heard time and again from the earliest of ages.
Put off falsehood and speak truthfully. Perhaps you heard it as, “Never tell a lie.”
But I like the language here. Put off falsehood. Don’t let it cover you or define you.
Speak truthfully or, quite literally, full of truth. To be sure, don’t lie. But this goes far beyond that. Look at the end of the verse.
We should do this because we are all members of one body, Paul writes. Apparently, this is a command for how we ought to treat each other within the church!
How does the song go? “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.”
We are to empty ourselves of falsehood and fill ourselves with truth. This goes much deeper and gets far more complicated than avoiding white lies.
When you get right down to it, we are all liars, in a sense. We embrace falsehood all the time. We produce false images of ourselves.
We always attempt to cast ourselves in the best light. Or, perhaps, we will insult ourselves—even if we don’t believe it—just to get attention from others.
We’ll smile and shake hands with folks in the hallway, all the while sneering at them and cursing them from the inside.
What’s at the root of all this falsehood? Is it not, as with all other sins, an obsession with self? We’ll find, as we go through this list, that this comes up again and again.
We are of enormous value to God. And, yet, we aren’t nearly as important as we think we are. Lies, half-truths, and hidden agendas run rampant in our midst.
And they all exist to serve the self. They exist to preserve an image, an ideal, or a reputation. I like this story from Unfashionable. (Read p. 119.)
We must move beyond this notion of self-preservation to the ideal of self-sacrifice.
Do you know one of the most difficult areas in which to be truthful? It’s in apologizing—owning up to mistakes.
The truth is this: I’m sorry. I screwed up. Our version goes more like this: I’m sorry that happened. You don’t know the pressure I’m under.
It happened because I was dealing with thus-and-such. Really, if so-and-so hadn’t done what he had done, I probably wouldn’t have done what I did.
Do you know what that is? It’s self-preservation. The sacrifice comes with swallowing your pride and taking responsibility.
Falsehood will preserve your own little world. Embracing truth takes sacrifice.
That means, to be the church, sacrifice must always win out over self-preservation—especially in our interactions with each other.
The next area addressed by Paul is curious, to say the least. In the most literal translations, the first words of verse 26 are, “Be angry.” (Pause.)
Do you know how it goes watching a football game? Let’s say your team has the ball, and the QB has just thrown a long, long pass to one of his receivers.
And let’s say the receiver catches the ball. Everyone cheering for your team bursts out with applause and roars. And then say he gets tackled.
While he’s going down, the ball gets knocked loose. It’s a fumble, and the other team recovers. Your cheers have quickly turned to groans and moans.
And it all happened in an instant. Think about verse 26 in that way. “Be angry,” Paul commands. And we might all cheer. “Yes! God said we could do it!”
“I won’t get in trouble for getting angry!” And then comes the next part, “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” Enter the moans and groans. Or perhaps a big, “Dang it!”
Look, anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jesus got angry. Do you remember Him clearing out the Temple? Or perhaps you remember some less obvious instances.
Right before He raised Lazarus, Jesus experienced a deep anger welling up within Him. Also, He experienced a similar anger in the synagogue one day.
A man with a deformed hand was present, and Jesus essentially asked the people what was the right thing to do on the Sabbath—to heal, or not.
No one would answer. They were fearful of the oppressive scowls and stares of the Pharisees. And that anger once again welled up within Jesus.
We talked about this a little bit last week. That anger isn’t necessarily bad. But Jesus’ anger was always tempered with grief.
He was grieved at the hardness of the people’s hearts in the synagogue. He was grieved at how death and loss stole hope away from people.
He was grieved at how His Father’s house was being mistreated and abused. We are likely to get angry on a regular basis in this life.
But often it comes over our perceptions of how we are being mistreated, not over how God or others are being mistreated.
As Eugene Peterson says, our anger becomes fuel for revenge. Even our anger over sin in the world becomes an attack on the people in the world.
When our anger over sin is not balanced with our grief over sin, then our anger itself becomes sinful. It’s like playing with fire.
That’s why Paul actually gives a time frame for your anger. Don’t go to bed angry.
Don’t let anger carry over to the next day. When you do, your anger morphs into one of those things listed in verse 31.
Look at them there—bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and all kinds of malice. There’s no doubt that these are sins.
And there’s no doubt that we’ve all fallen pray to one or more of them in our lives.
The key lies in evaluating ourselves regularly. Paul says we must not allow the devil to gain a foothold in our lives. He can do that through any of these issues.
He can do it through lying, stealing, and insulting. And he can especially do it through anger. Do you remember the story of Cain and Abel?
God looked with favor on Abel’s sacrificial offering, while Cain’s was viewed as unacceptable. The scripture says that Cain got angry and sullen.
And God warned Cain, “Why are you angry? If you don’t do what’s right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you.”
The devil gained a foothold with Cain. The next thing that happened? He murdered his brother. And you may say, “Well, I’m certainly not going to go that far.”
But would you be willing to go as far as hatred and disdain? And did you know that Jesus said, “If you hate your brother or sister, you’re already guilty of murder”?
Anger will destroy your life and all those around you. Worst of all, anger will destroy the working of God in the midst of the church.
Sinful anger will wrap itself around you and never let go. We all need to ask, “Are we giving the devil a foothold in our lives?”
Paul then turns his attention to stealing in verse 28. This issue is somewhat like the notion of lying—sometimes we are doing it, even when we don’t think we are.
Notice what Paul says at the end of that verse. Instead of stealing, the people are to work so that they may have something to share with those in need.
The command is not merely to avoid the literal act of stealing, but also to embrace generosity. Pay close attention to what it says there.
Work hard. I know many folks who do that, sitting right here in this congregation.
But the purpose of the hard work, Paul says, is not so that you might be able to have any and everything you ever wanted.
It’s not even primarily so that you might provide for your family, though that certainly is a necessity in life.
Paul simply tells the folks to work hard so that they might have the opportunity to be generous, to reach out and care for those who might be called “least of these”.
A church should be filled with hard-working people. A church should be filled with folks who make a decent living—even a good or exceptional living.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, I’d even encourage it—as long as you have the right attitude about what living you are bringing in.
It said, “Be angry, and do not sin.” I could also say, “Make money, but do not sin in the way you use it.” Money, like anger, can be like playing with fire.
Have a purpose—the right purpose—behind every cent you earn. In fact, have a purpose—the right purpose—behind everything you do in life.
I’d much rather our church be known to God as one who was almost too generous, than one who was more or less stingy.
Paul then addresses, in verse 29, a further issue involving the tongue. Already we have talked about honesty. Now we address our speech, more generally.
There is to be no unwholesome talk coming from our mouths. Can we just stop right here for a bit and take this command seriously?
If, after saying something, you have to ask yourself, “Hmm, I wonder if that would qualify as unwholesome talk,” then it probably would.
This goes for cuss words. This goes for dirty jokes. This goes for speaking ill of someone—even if, in your mind, it’s true.
That’s one of my favorite excuses we use. “Well, it’s true!” First of all, the only standard by which something is judged to be true is God and His Word.
Secondly, even if it is true, that’s not the criteria for whether or not we say it.
Paul lays out that criterion for us. The only words that are to escape our lips are those that are “helpful for building others up” and “benefit those who listen”.
This is tough stuff here. These are serious limits and boundaries put on our speech.
Some of us may read this and wonder if we’ll ever be able to say anything, ever again. You’ve heard the phrase.
“If you can’t say anything good don’t say anything at all.” Take it a step farther.
Use your speech for the glory of God. Build others up. Encourage people—especially those who are in our midst here at church.
Speak life-giving words, not hateful and hurtful words. Such words destroy life and suck the life out of people. We ought to be in the business of giving life to people.
And each of us knows how much an encouraging word breathes life into us.
The reasoning behind all these commands is found in verse 30. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We actually read this same command in Isaiah.
In chapter 63, the prophet speaks of all the kindness God showed the people of Israel as He led them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
Verse 10 states, “Yet they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit.” God’s presence went with them, in the fire and the cloud.
And they grieved Him, as He was in their presence. We, too, experience the presence of God as a church, through the person of the Holy Spirit.
And, far too often, He is grieved by the way we treat each other, by the way we speak to and about each other, and even by the way we think of each other.
And the ultimate call is found in verse 32. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
God longs to see us being kind and compassionate toward one another. That’s the only way the church can truly be God’s light to the world.
Kindness and compassion are scarce in the world around us. We are to be a congregation that fills our community with those rare commodities.
The motivation for treating each other in such a way is found at the end of the verse.
We are to treat others just as God treated us. Think about the way God, through Jesus Christ, treated us. He has been immensely kind to us.
We have blessing after blessing—some of which we haven’t even noticed yet. He has been compassionate toward us. He has taken pity on us in our sinful states.
He has forgiven us. He has wiped our slates clean—and He did it by Jesus dying on the cross. So we are called to treat others similarly.
When we fail to do so, here’s what we are saying. They don’t deserve my compassion or forgiveness. They are not worth me making such a sacrifice.
The next step in that progression is this—but I do deserve what Jesus did for me.
It’s okay for God to treat me so kindly, because deep down I deserve that kindness.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We are a deceitful, hostile, selfish, and hurtful people. We are deserving of nothing but death.
But God showed us mercy, not giving us what we deserve. God showed us grace, blessing us with the opportunity of eternal life—life we don’t have to earn, and never could. And this mercy and grace must be broadcast to the world around us.
And it all starts with us showing that same mercy and grace to each other. (Pray.)