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08.09.09 Ephesians 4:21-5:2 Living in Christian Community Sermon Summary

by on August 9, 2009

With Ephesians’ allusions to baptism, it is sort of an owner’s manual both on how to be a Christian and how be church. To be a Christian means to live in communion with Christ, and in community with one another.

We begin with the image of putting on Christ. In some baptismal rites, people remove an old set of clothes and put on a new set. This signifies their leaving one way of life—a way that was alienated from God and others—and pursuing another way of life—a way aligned with God and in solidarity with others.

It’s like putting on a uniform. As baptized people, we put on a new nature, a new uniform, when we put on Christ. Like taking a shower, the waters of baptism cleanse and renew us. Baptism reminds us to be more like God, more like children of God, more like Jesus. He is the firstborn of many children (Romans 8:29), so we are baptized not only into Christ, but into the family of God.

This passage gives us guidance on how to live as such. It’s always helpful to listen on two levels: the practical—just doing what the passage says—and the principle—discerning the reason behind an instruction then finding ways to apply the principle to our situation today.

The second commandment is an example. God’s people shall not make idols. At the time this was pertinent guidance. Today there are few literal idol worshipers among God’s people, but we still commit idolatry in various aspects of our lives. Both the practical reading and the principle reading are useful today.

Ephesians instructs us to not lie. This also happens to be the ninth commandment. Why? Because we’re all members of the same body. Lying is prohibited not just because it’s inconsistent for those who claim to follow the truth. It’s prohibited because it compromises the unity we have in Christ.

You can simply apply this instruction by not lying. But it’s given on a principle: we are called to speak truth that builds others up. Sometimes speaking the truth hurts, like a medical doctor who delivers diagnostic bad news prior to prescriptive good news. But just because something’s true, doesn’t give us license to speak it. Ephesians calls us to be guided by what builds our unity in Christ. If it doesn’t do that, even if it’s true, don’t speak it.

We’re also told to be angry, but not to sin. Some Christians think it’s a sin to be angry. Some view all their emotions with suspicion. This passage not only acknowledges the anger, but affirms it. The key issue is not that we can get angry, but what we do with it. Be angry, just don’t sin as a result of it.

The principle applies to other emotions. Be in love, hurt, overjoyed, turned on, appreciative—but don’t sin. Be whatever you are, experience the fullness of life, just don’t sin on that basis.

Ephesians says thieves have to stop stealing. This is also the eighth commandment. We all know intuitively that stealing is wrong. Ephesians goes beyond: thieves are to work so that they can give to others. The underlying principle here is sharing with those who are in need. You may not actually steal something from someone. But when we squander the opportunity to help others, we are stealing from the needy.

We have other issues on which we wish the Bible would give us direction: lust, apathy, confusion, fear, impatience, stubbornness, cynicism, criticism. Ephesians gives us a key for dealing with all these. It has to do with being children of God.

Jesus revealed what it means to be a child of God. According to Ephesians, God is kind, compassionate, and forgiving. God loves his children, and offers himself. No matter what our situation, Ephesians calls us first to remember that we are God’s children.

Then the more we are convinced of this truth, the more we are able to treat others as God’s children. The key to living in Christian community is found in our baptism where we are made God’s children and made one with each another. We are given the Spirit of God to live as the children of God. We put away our old selves, and put on Christ. As God’s children, let us live out our baptism as the Christian community we are called to be. Amen.

Questions for further reflection.

Have you ever thought about baptism as more than just a ritual, more than just what it means to you as an individual? Did you realize that it made you part of a community, and that now you have obligations to that community? How can you live out of your baptismal identity? How can your church do so?

Is it liberating to realize that your emotions aren’t sinful, it’s what you do with them that is subject to such judgment? How can this new perspective change the way you view yourself, and the way you deal with your emotions?

Are you living up to the standard of Ephesians with regard to your speech? You don’t lie, you tell the truth; but do you say only what builds others up?

How about the standard of stealing? You aren’t actively taking what’s not yours, but could you do more to help those in need? Are you stealing from them?

Are there parts of the Bible you just cannot accept because they are impractical? Is there a principle you can find in those passages that you can apply to your life today?

Don’t forget to check out the sermon start and the sermon scraps for this day also.

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