Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
In family life, it is paramount that parents give and show their children unconditional love. Our children need to be told and learn to accept that we love them unconditionally. Could you imagine a family, however, where children were only told they were loved in words? That being told they were loved was all they needed to know? It’s clear that parents also need to show their children what love looks like in real life. Parents lead by their example of loving attitudes and actions. They teach children to practice such things as respect, truthfulness, honesty, courtesy, kindness and forgiveness, so that they know how to live in and respond to their unconditional love.
God our Father has made his unconditional love known to us in Jesus Christ and in the good news of our salvation. We need to hear and learn to accept that God loves us unconditionally. Sometimes, however, the question arises among God’s children: Isn’t the good news of God’s unconditional love in Jesus all we need to hear? Isn’t that all we need to know? Doesn’t the Gospel leave us free to choose our own behaviours and actions? Just like in the human family, God our heavenly Father teaches us how to put that love into action. He teaches us what his love means, not just for our salvation, but for our earthly life and relationships. He uses his love for us, in Jesus, as an example or pattern of how to behave toward others.
The New Testament letters contain a considerable amount of teaching on the appropriate response to the good news of Jesus. They outline patterns of behaviour that will show due honour and respect to God for what he has done for us. Often, the apostolic teaching follows a familiar pattern. A particular problem is identified, arising out of the local congregation or the wider Christian community. The problem is addressed by applying a broader principle – Scriptural truth – arising out of God’s Law and/or his Gospel. The Scriptural principle gives rise to a practice or behaviour which is consistent with the principle. Finally, a prognosis – or outcome – is often given, explaining the consequences of either ignoring or heeding that practice.
Our text from Ephesians 4 today fits that pattern exactly and helps us answer that question: Isn’t it enough that we simply know the unconditional love of God? The problem being addressed is that, even in Christian congregations and relationships, the old human nature raises its ugly head. Christians too are prone to telling lies, anger, dishonesty, a critical spirit, a hot temper, slander ‘along with every form of malice’. This was obviously also a problem among the Ephesians.
The principle that Paul applies to address the problem is the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus. It is summarized well in the verses immediately preceding our text: “You heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus… to put off your old self and to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:21-24). God has made us ‘new people’ in Jesus!
Now comes the big ‘therefore’. The good news of Jesus is all we need for eternal salvation, but that Gospel has a ‘therefore’ when it comes to living the new life we have in Christ. It calls for a particular pattern of behaviour that is consistent with God’s unconditional love for us. The word ‘therefore’ occurs over 100 times in the New Testament letters alone (i.e. the NIV. Other translations have e.g. “So then”). A familiar saying goes: When you see a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, you need to ask, “What is that ‘therefore’ there for?” It usually leads from a principle to a practice.
Paul begins verse 25 with that familiar ‘therefore,’ addressing the problem by outlining the practices that arise from the principle of our new life in Christ.
- You “are all members of one body” (v.25) because of ‘the truth that is in Jesus’ (v.21), “therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak the truth with your neighbour.” (i.e. live like members of one body!)
- You have been shown God’s mercy and not anger for your sin, therefore “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (v.26).
- You have received God’s free gift through the work of God in Jesus Christ, therefore “Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands” (v. 28).
- You have been made whole and built up in God’s love through the good news of Jesus, therefore “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (v. 29).
- You have been ‘sealed by God’s Holy Spirit for the day of redemption,” therefore let him seal your lips and your heart against “all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (v. 31).
- You have been shown undeserved kindness, compassion and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, therefore “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (v. 32).
- You have been loved by God who “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:2) for your sin, therefore “Be imitators of God… as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love” (5:1)
The only proper response to the good news of Jesus is to take notice of that “gospel therefore” and pattern our lives on the practices that arise from the principle of God’s undeserved and unconditional love in Christ Jesus.
But does it really matter if we do this or not? Isn’t God’s love for us, in Jesus the only thing that really matters? Well, yes, it does matter because for each of the practices Paul teaches, he outlines the prognosis or ‘outcome’; what will happen when Christian people either follow – or fail to follow – them. Therefore Paul writes:
- If we indulge in falsehood and fail to speak the truth to our neighbour, Paul warns that we choose to ‘injure’ or even ‘dismember’ the body – God’s church – of which Christ has made us all members (v.25).
- If we dwell on our anger, Paul warns that we ‘sin’ and ‘give the devil a foothold’ (v.27). We bring harm to our own relationship with God and allow the devil to wreak destruction both in our own lives and in the church.
- If we choose not to steal, but work honestly and usefully, the prognosis is good. We will “have something to share with those in need” (v.28).
- If we choose to talk in ways that build others up, the prognosis is also good. Our helpful talk will “benefit those who listen” (v.29).
- If we let bitterness well up to become anger, rage, brawling or slander, the prognosis is not good. By allowing ourselves to be so aggrieved, we also “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom we were sealed for the day of redemption” (v. 30-31). The Spirit gladly adopted us into God’s family in Baptism and sealed us with the promise of eternal life. The ongoing sin of bitterness toward others breaks that seal and puts our very salvation at risk.
- If, on the other hand, we are “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,” the prognosis is again good. We will be found to be living in God’s compassion and forgiveness ourselves (v. 32).
The Gospel of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ always has a very big “therefore” when it comes to the practice of our faith personally and in the congregation. That is why the apostle continues: Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:1-2). The good news about Jesus’ loving sacrifice for us compels us to behave toward others in the same way God has behaved toward us – in loving, willing, humble service, sacrifice and forgiveness. That is as desirable and as pleasing an aroma to God as was the loving sacrifice of Jesus himself.
In God’s family, as in the human family, the news of the Father’s unconditional love has a “therefore”. The good news about Jesus does set us completely free from all sin. It brings us the truth of God’s love and makes us new people in Christ. Therefore, let us live according to our new nature, not the ‘old nature’ or the ways of the world. We have a compelling reason to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as God has loved us in Jesus.
So the question we must all consider is: What is “the gospel ‘therefore’” saying to us as members of God’s family? As dearly loved children of God, how can we best imitate our heavenly Father, “walk in the way of love” and live lives that are a “fragrant offering and sacrifice” to God and to others? Amen!
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Read by David Pfeiffer