Elon, North Carolina
We are studying the Book of Ephesians. Today, we come to one of the most practical sections in the whole book. This section is amazing.
It deals with the topic of Christians and conflict. It deals with conflict resolution with other people in the church. Many of these principles can be applied directly to the marriage relationship. There is often conflict in marriage Paul gives some principles for solving conflicts in this passage.
How do you get along with people in the church that you cannot stand? How do you get along with sandpaper Christians that get under your skin? How do you get along with what Rick Warren calls EGR Christians. Those are Christians with extra grace required.
When you first read these verses, they seem like Christianity 101. It seems very basic. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t swear but this section is very practical. You may find this section challenging. You may find it convicting.
Do you have trouble telling the truth? Do you have problems saying appropriate things? Can real Christians swear? Apparently, they can swear or Paul would not have written this chapter. It was written to Christians. It is one of those passages addressed to “one another” (Ephesians 4:32). In fact, he says that “we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). Yes, unfortunately, Christians can swear.
Do you have a language problem? Do you have a temper problem? Can a Christian have a temper? Do you hold on to a grudge? Do you have bitterness in marriage? Do you have an unforgiving spirit? How do you respond when another Christian sins against you? It is going to happen. It happens all the time. How do you respond? How should you respond? Are you lazy?
Today, we are going to look at five sins. People speak of the seven deadly sins. We are going to look at five big sins today. The sins are lying, sinful anger, stealing, a filthy mouth and an unforgiving spirit. These are that we see today.
These sins are common. They are even found in the church. Some of them are new sins and some of them are old sins. Two of them come right out of the Ten Commandments. Two specifically deal with words. They deal with speech. We are going to look at these sins and also look at what the Christian answer to them is.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
What is the first things to note about this one? This sin was mentioned first. It is not that big of a deal to us. Everyone lies today, not just politicians. We tell lies to others. We tell lies to ourselves. Students lie to teachers. Some teachers lie to students, when they say that they love their job or when they say that they do not have a favorite student. Children lie to parents (Did you steal that cookie?). Parents lie to kids (Santa Claus).
Politicians lie to their constituents. George H. W. Bush said, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Barack Obama said, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” and he promised that the cost of health care would go down with Obama Care. It went up. Healthcare premiums doubled. Citizens sometimes lie to their government (cheat on their taxes).
Lying is not a big deal to us. Everyone seems to do it but apparently, it is a big deal to God. Why? He is a God of truth. It is part of nature. The Bible teaches that God hates lying. Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (ESV).
Some not only lie, they are habitual liars. They are compulsive liars. They are pathological liars. God does not just disapprove of lying, He HATES it. Lying lips are an abomination.
“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV).
Here God lists seven things that he hates and two have to do with lying (a lying tongue and false witnesses). Now lying is a sin that can be forgiven but apparently God takes lying very seriously. In Revelation 22:15 speaks of people who are outside of Heaven.
It says, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (ESV). God puts lying right up with other big sins, like murder and says that it excludes people from heaven. Lying comes from Satan. He is the father of lies.
How do we do in the area of lying? Are we people of honesty and integrity? Paul does not just say that we are to stop lying. Stop talking. No, he says, keep talking but tell the truth. Paul uses the replacement principle. Put some things off and put other things on.
He gives an interesting reason we are not to lie to one another. We are not to do it because “we are members of one another.” We are all connected to each other. Christians are connected to one another, like the parts of the body are connected. The parts of the body do not lie to each other. When your hand touches something hot, it does not tell the brain that it is cold.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV).
This brings us to another major problem today. It is the problem of anger. There are a lot of angry people in the world today. There are some angry people in the church. There are even some preachers who are angry. Some get all worked up. They start screaming and yelling and foaming at the mouth. One angry preacher was so worked up that he started moving his arms, and he knocked over his glass of water sitting on the podium.
Anger is an issue in our world today. Anger can ruin your marriage. It can ruin your health. It can ruin your life. It can ruin somebody else’s life. Anger is explosive. It can kill people. It sends people to Hell (Matthew 5:21-22).
People can do terrible things when they are angry. Jacob said of two of his sons, “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel!” (Genesis 49:7 ESV). Paul says three things about anger. He makes three points.
1) Anger can be good
Many think that anger is always bad. Some preachers think that. It’s not true. It is a lie. It is completely unbiblical. How do we know?
How could anger always be wrong when the Bible says that God gets angry? If anger is always a sin and God gets angry, then God must not be perfect? That is ridiculous.
How can you say that anger is always wrong when Jesus gets angry (Mark 3:5)? Did he do something wrong? Did Jesus have a temper problem? No.
How can you say that anger is always wrong when the Bible actually commands us to be angry. Ephesians 4:26 tells us to be angry. It gives us permission to be angry. It does NOT say, “Anger is bad. Do not be angry.” It does NOT say, “be angry at nothing.” It actually says, “BE ANGRY.” It is a command in Greek.
It is a strange command. Apparently, there is an anger that is good. There is an anger that is commanded by God. There are some things that get God angry and there are some things that should get us angry. If we never got angry over anything, something would be wrong with us. Not ever getting angry about anything would be sinful.
2) Anger can be bad
That is why Paul says, “Be angry AND SIN NOT.” He says that because it is easy to get angry and sin. Even if you are angry for the right reason, you can sin in how you express that anger. Your kids can do something bad, which makes you justifiably angry, but then you can overreact and sin. We do it all of the time. It is right to get upset about some things but we need to make sure that we do not sin in the process.
When is Anger Sinful?
How do we know if our anger is sinful? There are several indications of sinful anger.
1) Anger is sinful when it becomes excessive
It is sinful if it is not controlled. Some have no control over their anger. They go into a rage and become completely out of control. Proverbs 25:28 says, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (KJV). The Christian Standard Bible reads, “A person who does not control his temper is like a city whose wall is broken down.”
2) Anger is sinful when it happens too quickly
The Bible say that we should be SLOW to anger. It says that God is slow to anger. Some people are quick to get angry. They fly off the handle over nothing. They are easily provoked or easily angered (I Corinthians 13:5).
3) Anger is also sinful when it lasts too long
Anger should be short lived. Paul says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Do not go to bed angry. That is important to do for marriage couples. That does not mean that they will always agree but they should not go to be angry.
3) Angry can be demonic
Anger which is not dealt with can even leave you open to demonic attack. This is interesting. We think if we are angry that the issue is between us and someone else but Paul says if we stay angry, you give Satan an opportunity to get a foothold in your life. The ESV uses the word “opportunity” in Ephesians 4:27. Many other translations render τόπος “foothold.” The NIV reads, “never give the devil a foothold”
What does that mean? What is a foothold? What is the difference between a foothold and a stronghold? A foothold means that he has his foot in the door of your house. A stronghold means that he has a strong hold and a firm grip on your life. We do not want to give the devil any ground in our life. We do not want to give the devil control of any area of our life.
We do not want to give the devil a foothold in our life, our family, our marriage or our church. If you get angry too long it can turn to bitterness and bitterness can turn to unforgiveness and Satan can take an advantage of your anger and use it for his purposes. A foothold can easily turn into a stronghold.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28 ESV)
This sin does not deal with lying or getting angry but with stealing. Paul says that you should not steal. You should not steal anything. Christians should not steal. In some cultures stealing is a part of normal life. it is much more of a temptation.
What is the solution to stealing? Paul does not say, “Stop stealing. Just stop stealing. Cut it out.” Paul uses the Replacement Principle. He uses the put off/put on principle. Instead of stealing, Paul says that people need to work. Stealing is a result of laziness. Work is good. God created us to work but then he says something interesting.
Paul does not say that we need to work so we can provide for ourselves so we will not need to steal. That is what we would expect him to say. Instead, he says, we need to work so we can give to those in need. This is a Christian view of ethics.
He does not say that we should work so we can get rich and fulfill the American Dream. He does not even say that we should work so we can provide for our own needs . He says that we should work so that we can have money to help other people. That is interesting.
When we do work and get our paycheck, do we think who we could bless with some of our money? Paul wants us to go from grabbers to givers. How many of us think of giving to the poor as soon as we receive our paycheck each month?
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)
Now we come to the second command dealing with the tongue. This time, it does not have to do with the honesty and accuracy of what we say but the kinds of words we use. Bad language is characteristic of the unsaved. Paul said that their mouth is “full of cursing” (Romans 3:11). After salvation, many continue to have bad language. You can find people in the church, professing Christians, who cuss, who swear, who use profanity and vulgar words.
This is not just a problem for some Christians, it is a problem for some preachers in the pulpit. It is not a sign of spirituality if you curse like a sailor in the pulpit. It is not a mark of spiritual maturity. It is a mark of the flesh.
Paul does not say it is okay if we do it every now and then. He said, “Let NO corrupting word come out of your mouth.” In fact, Jesus said that we will give an account of EVERY WORD that we say (Matthew 12:36-37).
The word for “corrupting” in Greek (σαπρός) has been used of bad food that is rotten and stinks. Here it is used of bad words (dirty, obscene or filthy language). We have all been around two kinds of people. We have all been around people who are negative and vulgar. We have been around other people who are positive, encouraging and uplifting. They build you up.
Paul says that is the kind of people we are to be to one another. We are to replace gutter talk with grace talk. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:6 ESV). Does that describe our speech? That is the kind of words Jesus spoke. All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. (Luke 4:22 NIV).
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). All of us have been around people we might work with who have a foul mouth and how terrible it is to work with a person who constantly take the Lord’s name in vain. Well, the Holy Spirit indwells us. When we use corrupt words, we grieve the Holy Spirit. That tells us three interesting things:
One, if you are a person, you have real emotions. You can be happy or sad or mad.
Two, the Holy Spirit is a real person. He has real feelings. He can be grieved.
Three, it is possible for believers to grieve the Holy Spirit. He lives inside us and we can grieve him.
We can bring pain to God by the words that come out of our mouth and we can grieve Him in other ways as well.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV).
We come to the fifth and final sin. Paul climaxes with this last one. It is the sin of bitterness. Paul does not just mention bitterness. He mentions ALL BITTERNESS (every form of bitterness).
Some of us may not have any problem with honesty. We may not have any problem with anger. We may not have any problem with bad language but we do have problem with forgiveness. It is a big problem in marriages. If you do not practice forgiveness, your marriage will not last.
What is bitterness? Bitterness takes place when someone does something against you. It was wrong and it hurt you. It may have taken place a year ago or ten years ago but you are still upset about it. You nurse a grudge and harbor resentment about it.
Some are bitter at God and some are bitter at people. You cannot always see it on the outside but, on the inside, they are eaten up with bitterness. Have we ever done that?
Does that describe us? Does it describe us right now? Is there any person right now that you need to forgive? Spend some time thinking about every person who has ever offended you in the past. Have you forgiven them or do you still need to do that?
Myths about Forgiveness
We could spend an entire week on the topic of forgiveness. There are all kinds of myths about forgiveness. One person listed twenty-four myths about repentance. I will mention a few of them and may add one of my own.
One myth is that some things are too big to forgive. Another myth is that forgiveness is the same thing as reconciliation. Forgiveness involves one person but reconciliation involves two people. Forgiveness is in our power. Reconciliation is not.
Another myth is that forgiveness means you are letting someone off the hook or becoming a doormat. It doesn’t it just means that you are turning that person over to God.
What are some more myths? One is that forgiveness means forgetting. It does not mean that you forget the situation. It just means that you do not hold it against the person. Another myth is that forgiveness requires me telling the other person they are forgiven. That is not necessarily true. It is an issue of your heart.
A final myth is that forgiveness is optional. This one affects your eternal destiny. This is made clear in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus told a parable about a servant who owned an unpayable debt to a king (like the national debt).
The king was merciful and let him off but then that same servant found someone who owed him a small amount of money and he grabbed him by the throat, began to choke him and said, “Pay me what you owe me.” He said, “Be patient with me. Have mercy and I will pay you back.” What did the king think of this?
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35 NIV).
I watched a video of someone who described the experience of being taken to hell in a vision. The person asked why someone was suffering in hell and the answer came back, “because of an unforgiving spirit.” This is something that we need to take far more seriously.
This parable in Matthew 18 has some strong language. Jesus is talking to believers. This is a warning to believers or professing Christians. Now some people say that when we refuse to forgive, we torture ourselves. We will destroy ourselves. We will put ourselves in our own prison if we don’t forgive. All of that is true but it is not what the text says.
This is what God will do to people who do not forgive, not what we do to ourselves. It is a picture of hell. There are many pictures of it in Matthew (outer darkness, fiery hell). Forgiveness is not optional. Jesus said, “if you do NOT forgive others their sins, your Father will NOT forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15 NIV).
How to Forgive
We are to PUT OFF bitterness. We are to PUT ON forgiveness. We are to be kind to one another. Forgiveness is not easy. Some say that they cannot forgive. What happened to them is too painful, too horrific to ever be forgiven (rape, abuse, etc.). It is probably the most difficult thing for anyone to do, namely, forgive a person who has wronged them but it can be done. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It has nothing to do with emotions.
You do not even have to be a Christian to do it. There is a story on the internet of a Muslim woman who forgives the man who killed her son. She is not a Christian but followed the teachings of Jesus on forgiveness.
Sarah Montana was a woman who had some of her family members murdered in 2008. As she tried to process it all, she read the Bible. At one point, she said to her husband, “There are sixty-two passages in the Bible with the word forgive and twenty-seven with the word forgiveness and not a single one tells you how to do it.” How do you do it? How do you know if you have done it?
1) Remind yourself of how God has forgiven you of all of your sins. Focus on your own sins and thanks God for forgiving them
2) Find out if you are guilty of this sin. Not everyone is guilty of this sin. If you do not know for sure, ask God if you have a spirit of unforgiveness.
3) If you do have a spirit of unforgiveness, confess it. Take responsibility for your part. Ask God to forgive you for your sin.
4) Forgive the person who has sinned against you. Forgiveness involves a choice. It involves obeying a command of Jesus. Tell God you forgive the person for whatever he or she has done.
Someone in our class suggested that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:4 (forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us) that we personalize the verse by putting in the name of the person that we have forgiven.
5) Pray for that person. Jesus said that we are to pray for our enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us to not only pray for our enemies but to do good to those who spitefully use and persecute us (Matthew 5:44 KJV).