The following blogs are the talks I gave at a weekend away for a church in Leeds called ‘Four’. The theme was idenditity and we worked through the book of Ephesians to see what Paul had to say on the subject…

Identity: It’s all about acting like God’s people – part I

Ephesians 4-5:21

In Chapter 1 we saw that our identities are all about God’s glory.
God’s glory is Paul’s overriding passion because it is God’s overriding passion.
And so it should be our overriding passion as well.

In Chapter 2 we found out more about how God receives the glory he is so passionate about.
He receives it by freely forgiving and changing people who were previously rebellious.
He is glorified by taking people who were dead and making them alive through Jesus Christ.

But it’s still not just about the individual.
God gets glory by bringing these people from death to life to be part of his new covenant people.
He gets glory by making two people one, by uniting disparate peoples under his Son, Jesus the King.
As his people he is crafting them into a building in which he will dwell, they are his household.
This new community is the church; a community of people who are not divided, but united, loving God and loving each other.
And this displays his wisdom to the powers and authorities of the heavenlies.

‘to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen’

Therefore as a prisoner of the lord, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received.

1. All for one and one for all (v1-16)

Chapter 4:1 starts with Paul saying ‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’
Paul is getting down now to the nitty gritty of what it is to live out this new identity that he’s been talking about in the last few chapters.
You’ve been called, he tells his readers, to be God’s glorious inheritance and his holy people (1:18).
You’ve been called together so that together you can be a home for God (2:20).
You are called together so that together you can display God’s wisdom and glory (3:10).
This means that living out this identity is a community project.

Paul’s already told us that we are to be a community of people who love God and each other, who are modelled on Christ’s love which was a humble, self-giving, self-effacing, self-sacrificial love.
And Paul tells us in verses 1-16 that we all have something to contribute to this new community.

First we need to understand that what Paul is talking about is not just about when we meet together on a Sunday, or at weekends like this.
Being this community is not just about the home-group once a week or fortnightly.
Being this new, united community is about the whole of our lives.
‘Live a life…’ is probably better translated ‘walk’.
It’s the same word that’s used in 2:1 when Paul describes the way we used to walk and then in 2:10 with the way we are now to walk doing the good works God prepared for us to do.
We see it again in 5:2 where we are told to walk in love – that is our lives are to be marked by love.
5:8 we are told to walk as children of light and in 5:15 we are told to walk wisely.
Living as this community is about the whole of our lives.

And how we are to walk, v2-3, is to reflect what we believe v4-6.
And this is for a very simple reason.
You always act in line with what you believe.
So Paul says – this is the gospel, so act like you believe it!
They are to be humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace precisely because they are now a united people, one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.
They are the people of oneness!

That is exactly what Paul has been hammering home in chapters 2-3.
That is the church – the people who are one, around one Lord, Jesus Christ.
How can they be the true church of God if in fact their lives together are marked by individualism that exhibits itself in being proud, getting angry and frustrated with each other, dividing unnecessarily?
This kind of ‘church’ marked by our western individualism and selfishness is not the church that God is using to display his wisdom to the world with.
This kind of church is not the church that will bring God glory.
But Paul longs to see them be a radical community that displays what the gospel has achieved in uniting people around Christ.
He wants to see them be other person centred, serving each other, building each other up.
A bunch of sinners, but willing to forgive each other and care for each other.
They are a church, a community that is truly all for one and one for all!
That is the church that will bring glory to God and display his wisdom.
And that is why Christ has given grace to his people in the church v7ff.

Read v7-13.

We’re not going to spend any time getting bogged down with whether or not there’s two categories with ‘pastor/teacher’ or not, because that is not the main thrust of what Paul is getting at here.
What Paul is saying is – this radical new community should be about serving each other and God has given the gifts to the church that it needs.
He has given people gifts and roles in order to prepare people (v12), what to do?
To serve!
And this leads to the building up of the body of Christ.

Notice that all the gifts are word gifts.
It is as God’s word is applied among the community, as this word is lived out among the community, as this word is proclaimed in life and speech by the community to the watching world that this community will grow in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (v13).
The community needs to be a gospel centred community if it wants to become a Christ like community.

Read v14-16.

The danger with not being a word centred community is that false teaching can easily get in and destroy.
We hear convincing arguments.
People talk with such authority – and who am I to question them?
They know so much more than I do, they’ve experienced so many more things.
But Paul says – if you are a word centred community, serving each other, then you won’t be taken in by their false teaching, because you won’t be under qualified to spot their heresy.
You’ll have God’s word right there among you so you can say – ‘that’s not right – God’s word says this…’
If you’re a community that speaks the truth to each other in love, v15, then when false teaching comes you will be able to challenge it with the truth, because that is the culture of your community – speaking the truth.

So Paul says in summary, v16;
It is Jesus that unites us.
He is the one that makes us one – not our denomination, or a particular view on the rapture or whatever – it is Christ that makes us a united people.
But its as each part does its job.
God has made us differently.
Christ has given us different gifts.
There is diversity in God’s church – but it is actually so we can be built up in unity and become like Christ.
Paul says – this new community that God is displaying his wisdom and glory through is a word centred community, becoming a Christ like community as they use the gifts he has given them to serve each other.

2. Like Father Like Son (v17-5:2)

Holiness is something that has got bad press in recent years.
In fact the opposite has got rather good press.
Take for instance the range of ice creams based around the ‘7 deadly sins’.
Sin is something attractive, mysterious, indulgent, sweet and chocolaty.
Holiness on the other hand is boring, weird, out of touch, fanatical.

Take Ned Flanders for instance.
Holiness according to the Simpsons is a bit ‘out there’; who washes the sores on people’s feet or worse still is upset when they’re not allowed to do it because it’s someone else’s turn?
Holiness is singing cheesy Christian songs.

Homer on the other hand, may be a slob, he may be really quite dumb sometimes, but at least he’s down to earth and ‘normal’.

Paul’s idea of holiness is very different.
Far from being something that is ‘out there’, Paul says holiness is very much something ‘down here’.
It’s gritty, it’s every day and might even seem a bit plain.
You don’t have to go off to a remote Himalayan mountain retreat to do it.
In fact the place you do it is right here, right now, in normal life with the people around you.
In fact holiness is to be the bread and butter of God’s new community that he is creating for his glory.
Holiness is to mark you out in your identity as the people of God, says Paul.

V22-24

Just like God’s people in the Old Testament were to be holy just as their God is holy, so God’s people of the new covenant are to be imitators of God (5:1).

Let’s split into groups and have a look at what that means.
Old way/New way

Yet again we have this great contrast like we found in Chapter 2.
Paul takes a ‘not that but this’ approach.
He lays out what we used to live like and says ‘not that, but this!’
He describes community that is more a discommunity of darkness (5:8) that lives for itself and he says ‘not that’.
He then describes God’s new community, united, without division, loving God and loving each other, and says ‘but this!’

4:25 Not falsehood, but truth because we are members of one another.
4:26-27 not anger that leads to sin but reconciliation because you must not give opportunities for the devil.
4:28 not stealing but honest work so you can share with anyone in need.
4:29-30 not using words that destroy but using words to build up because then you will not grieve the Spirit.
4:31-32 not negative attitudes towards others but kindness and forgiveness because God in Christ forgave you.

Isn’t that an attractive new community?

You see holiness is not merely the absence of wrong, but it’s the glorious presence of the good!
You can’t look at that list and say that holiness is boring.
It’s dynamic and exciting!
It’s life changing!

And you can’t look at that list and say it’s all pie in the sky, and not down to earth.
It’s as down to earth as you can get.
It’s about life, here and now, everyday relationships.
That’s holiness and that’s how you, with your new identity as part of the people of God are to act says Paul.

Speech

Paul gives a number of examples as we’ve seen of how holiness works itself out in the life of the community.
But let’s home in on one – how we speak.
This actually comes up a few times and is clearly quite significant.
You normally can see what’s important to someone by what they talk about.
You’ll find that I talk about music quite a lot because that is something that is important to me.
Others of you will talk about sport, or your job, or your family.
What we talk about reveals what is important to us.

And that’s what we see played out here.
Take v25 to start with.
Paul says we are to be a people who speak the truth to each other.
That seems pretty obvious when you think about it.
God is the god of truth.
The gospel is the word of truth.
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
So of course his people should be people marked by speaking the truth.

But it’s not always that way, is it?
Why not?

I think it comes down, yet again, to identity.
We lie because it is convenient.
When someone asks us how we are and we say ‘fine thanks’ when actually we feel awful and we want to rip their heads off, we lie because we want them to view us in a certain way.
We want to be seen as someone who is always happy, who’s never bothered by the waves of life.
We want to be seen as cool and collected, and not as sinful as we actually are.

When someone asks us our honest opinion of something and we give something that is not our honest opinion, why do we do that?
We say we don’t want to hurt them, which may be true.
But I tend to say it because I don’t want to hurt them, so they don’t look badly at me.
My identity is so tied up with what other people think of me.
I want them to think a certain thing, but the truth might make them think something else, so I’m ‘liberal’ with the truth.

Lies are actually the product of the lie that my life is all about me as an isolated individual.
What we believe about our identities shape how we act.

But the truth is that I am not an isolated individual, but I am a person in relationship with God and his people – that is my identity.
And that truth leads to speaking the truth.

What about v29?
Why do we say things that are ‘unwholesome’?
Why do we come out with snide remarks?
Why do we say things that we know will put people down?
We do that because our actions are just reflecting what we believe – that my identity is all about me.
We put people down so that we can be built up.
Isn’t that why we do it?

We feel like people are not appreciating us as they should.
They didn’t recognise my hard work on that project.
But Barry down the hall – he just plays around all day on the internet and he got all the credit for my hard work!
So we put him down – because it’s only where he should be…
But Paul says – not that!

God’s community is not a community of people who put others down to make themselves look better.
They’re not a community of people who are always trying to be top dog.
No God’s community is a radical community.
They don’t say things to build themselves up, but they say things to build other people up!
In fact that’s all they ever say!

Why?
Because their identity isn’t wrapped up in what others think of them.
Their identity is wrapped up in being the people of God, loving him and each other.
Wouldn’t that be amazing if people came into our communities and said ‘wow – I’ve never heard any of you say a bad word about someone else.
I’ve never heard you put others down.
I know I can trust you because of that.’
It’s so different to the office, or the staff room.
It’s like nothing else – because it is God’s new community.

3. Darkness into light (v3-21)

Finally let’s look at v3-21.
In groups:
World’s way (darkness)/God’s way (light)

Yet again we have a contrast between the old discommunity and God’s new community.
This time Paul uses the imagery of light and darkness, and you can’t get a stronger contrast.
This issue of sexual immorality is a significant one in our culture.
Paul says there shouldn’t be a hint of sexual immorality.
Fine – I don’t sleep around.
But he doesn’t stop there.

Look at v4.
What kind of conversation is this?
Anything that makes light of sexual conduct that is not pleasing to the Lord.
He’s talking about smuttiness and innuendo.
He’s talking about jokes that turn pre-marital, extra-marital or homosexual activity into humour.
He’s talking about idle conversation and gossip that lingers on the sexual exploits and appetites of the rich and famous.
But what Paul is saying here is not only something that will impact our conversations but also what we read, watch on TV or in films.

But why is this so important?
We saw earlier that what we talk about reveals what’s important to us.
Well here the way we talk about things shows what’s important to us.
It’s a strange thing in our society where sex is everywhere and yet it’s not prized highly enough.
In fact it’s cheapened by being used to sell ice cream.
It’s cheapened by the way we talk about it.

Things become acceptable in societies not immediately but by a process.
The first thing is that they are introduced into conversation.
Comedians for instance challenge the social norms and often it can be shocking.
It moves from jokes into ‘serious’ conversation.
It then makes its way into films and TV.
And before you know it what was previously unthinkable is now considered ‘normal’.

So what do we do when we engage in coarse joking?
We lower the bar of acceptability.
What is funny in a joke is not going to be seen as offensive to God.

But Paul says: v6 ‘let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’
This is important, says Paul.
Sex is cheapened.
Wrong sex is seen as normal.
So Paul says ‘therefore do not be partners with them’ v7.

Don’t join in with their joking about what is abhorrent to God.
Holiness matters because it matters to God.
The way we talk about sex will show what’s important to us.
If we laugh and joke about sex or about other things that are contrary to what God has said then we only reveal that God’s glory and holiness is not at all important to us.
But if we are God’s people then we should share God’s passions.
And so the way we talk about things should stand out as very different.
In fact we are to be as different to the world around us as darkness is to light v8.
Instead of talking and joking about things that cheapen the things of God, instead of indulging in talk that revels in sin we are to be a people who’s talk builds each other up v19-20.

The psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are to be rehearsals of the truth to each other.
We are to sing and speak to each other of the gospel, stirring the emotions as we sing truth with music.
The people of God are to be marked by thankfulness, not smuttiness! V4.

And what’s the result?
The darkness will be shown up for what it is; v13-14.
Light only needs to be light and darkness is shown up, it’s expelled.
And that’s what God’s new community is to be like.

They are to stand out as a people marked as different because they are marked by a down to earth holiness.
They are a people who are to love God and each other, taking seriously his holiness and their responsibility to be imitators of him.
That’s what it is to be a true man of God: not blazing a trail of glory on your own… but leading the way as part of a community – setting an example of what it is to love God and others.
A true man of God will be one who is passionate about holiness that is worked our in the context of community.
A true man of God will be one who is passionate about glorifying God as we live as communities of light.

What a God-glorifying, display of God’s wisdom and power that would be if we would grasp hold of this new identity and what it means for our lives and be these communities of light that God has created us to be!

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