Clothed in Righteousness (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
Preached by Pastor Scott Herron
Sunday, September 20, 2020
[Intro] About 10 years ago Ali and I had just started attending Trinity Grace Church in Rogers, AR. We wanted to connect to the community and make friends. So, when we were invited to a murder/mystery dinner involving themes and costumes we said, “Yes! Sign us up!” But we needed the right clothing. I was teaching at a large high school with a large drama department and lots of costumes. So, with permission, I plundered their stash and came up with a loud 19th century tuxedo and top hat for myself along with a stick-on mustache that would have made Tom Selleck jealous. Ali wore a Victorian style light blue dress complete with hoop and lace necklace choker. We looked awesome!
Or so we thought…
When we arrived at the host home, we entered the house, looked around, and wanted to run for the door! The look on everyone’s faces said it all. And it wasn’t because we looked as good as we had thought. Nope! Everyone was shocked because yes, there were costumes and parts to play…but we weren’t in the cast! We showed up looking like we just always wear 19th century formal wear to any old party! We clearly had on the wrong clothes!
[Trans & FCF] We cringe a bit every time we think about this story even though it is pretty funny. But, if this story teaches us anything, it’s that while wearing the right clothing is important in life. But what our text is teaching us this morning is that wearing the right spiritual clothing for the Christian Life is essential. Allow me to explain…
We’re in Ephesians where Paul is instructing us in the way of Christian life. Living the Christian life is learning how to put off unrighteousness and put on Our new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Paul tells us to in vss. 22-24 to put off and put on, Like clothing.
We are to put off our old spiritual rags of unrighteousness and put on the Clothing of Righteousness.
How do we do that? To follow the clothing metaphor, we need to take an honest look at what’s in our closets.
Let me be clear, I’ve never been, nor ever will be a fashion advisor. You don’t want me to do that. We’re not talking about actual clothing this morning. We’re talking about our lives. What attitudes and actions are you still hanging onto like your old tattered sweatshirt? What’s still in your closet that you need to put off and put on as you live as a Christian walking in true righteousness and holiness?
We’re going to look for 4 attitudes and actions that we need to put off and put on this morning.
The first thing we’re looking for in our closet is falsehood.
#1 Put off Falsehood. Put on Honesty. Vs. 25
[Exp] Look at vs. 25 with me please. Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
Putting off Falsehood isn’t simply “don’t tell lies.” To put off falsehood is to live in such a way that we are open about where we’re broken.
It’s tempting in our world to present ourselves before others in such a way that we look better than we are. Whether in person or online.
But there is no place for falsehood in the life of the Christian. Why? Because there is no falsehood in God. Jesus is the way the Truth and the Life.
Christians say we are sinners, ok how do you sin? Where do you struggle? Who knows you in your true brokenness?
Where falsehood and pretense bring division and pain, honesty brings unity, for we are all part of one body, says Paul. Listen to Theologian John Stott. “Fellowship is built on trust and trust is built on truth. Falsehood undermines fellowship, while truth strengthens it.”
Jesus calls those who present themselves as having it all together, Whitewashed Tombs. They look great on the outside but inside there is death.
[Illus] I once bought a used Mustang GT. Awesome and fast car! But there was a problem. One day while power washing the driver’s door a speck of paint flew off exposing rust underneath. This is what falsehood is like. We make ourselves look good on the outside. But inside we are falling apart.
The one who puts on falsehood believes that their acceptance, their worth and value comes in their ability to earn God’s Grace. Putting on falsehood minimizes our sin and in turn minimizes the Cross of Christ.
[App] Imagine this with me…
What if, instead of being known as hypocrites, Christians, and the church were known as that group of people who freely admit their failures?
What if we were known as the people who point first to our own sin, before we ever point out someone else’s?
What if an unbelieving and watching world saw us as the first place to go when they are hurting and broken, instead of often times the last?
The impact this would have in marriage, and parenting, or politics, even in the lives of unbelievers around us would be beautiful. What if…we put off falsehood and put on honesty?
Did you find any falsehood in your closet? What are we looking for next?
#2 Put off Sinful Anger. Put on Righteous Anger. Vs. 26-27
[Exp] I’m in vss. 26-27. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Paul is teaching us 2 things about anger…
#1 Anger is not always sinful. Paul is quoting Psalm 4:4 here. “Be angry, but do not sin.” News flash: Christians have permission to be angry. Jesus got angry. He was angry when children were kept from him. He was angry when unbelievers were kept from him. There is such a thing as righteous anger.
We need more Christians to show righteous anger. We should be angry at our own sin. Righteous anger is how Christians fight social injustices like racism, child pornography, sexual abuse, and others. But remember, in our Anger, we are not to sin. Which is the 2nd thing Paul is teaching us about anger.
#2 Anger is often sinful. There seems to be fine line here. How do we know if we are sinning in our anger? We could look at other biblical examples of Righteous anger, like Jesus when he cleared the temple with a whip in John 2. But, here in this text Paul gives us one way to know. Look again at vs. 26b, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
To not let the “sun go down on your anger” means that we are to never nurse our anger or feed bitterness.
[Illus] I was shocked last week when we found out how the Bridger Canyon Fire started. I had no idea it was possible for a lightning strike to cause a “holdover” which could later ignite into a raging fire! And we all watched sadly as over 8k acres and many properties burned down in its wake. As of yesterday, it was still smoldering in places.
[App] This “holdover” is exactly what sinful anger looks like. The lightning strike of bitterness that settles into our hearts…smoldering…just waiting for the right conditions to ignite into flame destroying those in its path.
To be angry in this way is to give Satan a foothold on your heart. We must remember that we are in a spiritual battle when it comes to putting off dishonesty and anger.
[Illus] Our world and culture are very confused right now about anger. Slate magazine, in a series of essays dubbed 2014, “The Year of Outrage”. 90-year-old Christian Pastor Dr. John Perkins recently said, “this generation (meaning this time period) is the first to turn hate into an asset.” And recently in Missoula a new business opened up called Unhinged. The idea is this: Our culture has a lot of pent up aggression. From politics to race issues and corona virus, so to get rid of that aggression is to smash old things like printers or TV’s and glass ware. Time slots vary between 10 or 40 minutes depending upon whether you are “irritable” or “furious.”
[App] Some of you are thinking, well, actually, that sounds kind of fun. And maybe some people who rent the rooms will do so without anger in their heart. But maybe not. But smashing things is no way to deal with anger. And while some are smashing tv’s, it’s often the people in our lives that we smash in our anger.
Something very important to remember about righteous anger is this: Righteous anger must never take away someone’s dignity. No matter how much you disagree or dislike someone, they are image bearers of God just like you. They are sinners, just like you.
We need a better way…
Paul says in verse 31 that we are to get rid of all bitterness, rage, brawling, slander and malice. Why? Because these are the opposite of love for neighbor. These tear down. These destroy. They have no place in the wardrobe of the Christian because they have no place in the character and nature of God.
Wearing these old rags, grieve (which is very intimate language) the Holy Spirit of God (vs. 30) because underneath these sinful attitudes and actions reveal a distrust in God. They angry person forgets how God is a God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. He’s never out to smash you.
Put off sinful anger, put on righteous anger.
[Trans] Moving through our closet we now turn from Anger to Theft.
#3 Put off Taking. Put on Giving. Vs. 28
[Exp] Look at verse 28 with me please. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
The first thing we notice about this verse is that it’s written in the present tense. Paul writes, “anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer.”
Wait? Christians steal? Many in the Ephesian Church were gentile converts so they were unfamiliar with the 8th commandment, “do not steal.” But yet, we are familiar with the 8th commandment and this very much applies to us.
At the heart of this sin, stealing, is the attitude of a taker. Are you a taker or a giver? That’s really what Paul is asking. This applies to so many areas of our lives, but let’s just consider time as an example.
[App] What is your attitude regarding your time? Is it yours to do whatever you want with it? What about during the workday? In an NBC.com article apparently, we spend over 10.5 billion minutes per day on social media. It’s estimated that Social Media users have squandered over 3.5 trillion dollars in employer’s income by spending just 20 minutes a day on the site rather than working.
How does your heart respond to this? Opposition? What’s your attitude toward time? What about Money?
Again, I ask, are you a taker or a giver? We are called to not just put off taking, but to put on giving! Just avoiding stealing doesn’t cut it.
Christians are to work hard and be creative! Why? So that others might benefit from our hard work. When we put off being a taker and put on being a giver, we bear witness to the Love God has Lavished on us.
John 3:16 says, For God so LOVED that he Gave…Gave us Jesus. Jesus gave of himself. Why? Because he loves us! Only God’s love can move the heart that takes to become a heart that gives.
Put off taking, put on giving.
As we come to the last part of our closet, we need to look for one more attitude and action. What is it?
#4 Put off Rotten Words, Put on Words of Grace. Vs. 29
[Exp] We’re in verse 29. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
What is unwholesome talk?
When I was a kid, unwholesome talk was summed up with this: Don’t cuss! Well, maybe we didn’t cuss (very much), but we had plenty of unwholesome talk. The idea of unwholesome here is the word for rotten. The kind of words that stink. They take away someone’s dignity as image bearers of God. We often use rotten speech when we talk about the opposition. Those other people.
Rotten words don’t just include what we say, they include what we write or maybe post if that’s you. And, like a sulfuric spring that smells like rotten eggs, our rotten speech bubbles forth from a rotten heart says Jesus in Matthew 12. Jesus says, “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
We must put off Rotten Speech and put on Grace-Filled speech! Words that are made to encourage and build others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Vs. 29.
To speak words that build others up according to their needs means that we speak encouragement or grace into the pain of others. What’s an example of this?
[Illus] Jesus shows us what words of Grace look like. In John 8 there is a woman who has been caught in adultery. There is crowd of angry men hurling words of condemnation as they prepare to hurl stones of condemnation. She is caught! This sinner deserves what she’s getting, says the crowd! We can imagine that she’s heard words of condemnation her whole life. Maybe that’s why she’s fallen into adultery? All she wants is just one taste of acceptance, even if it’s sinful. Enter Jesus. With Gentleness, Kindness and Truth He confronts her accusers saying, “Let any one of you who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her.”. And what happens? One by one they drop their stones and leave. Jesus turns to her and says, “Woman, where are they, has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.”, she answers. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The words we use toward others, are the words we hear from God. Unwholesome talk, rotten words come from a heart that believes they are condemned before God. But words of Grace come from a heart who hears Jesus gently say, “Neither do I condemn you.” It’s only words of grace that motivate us to “leave our life of sin”. It’s words of Grace that help us put on words of grace to others. Words that heal pain. Words that bind wounds.
Put off rotten speech, put on words of Grace!
[Conc] We’ve taken a look at the closet, and if you’re like me, you can see some old rags in there. But there’s more. In addition to Honesty, Righteous Anger, Generosity, Grace-filled words verse 32 reads, Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
This all seems like a tall order. How do we do this? How do we move forward and Put on Righteousness in a world that treats us with dishonesty, anger, steals from us and wounds us with words?
I’m going to answer this in closing this morning by giving you one example and then a promise.
First, an example. I mentioned earlier Pastor John Perkins. He’s the one who said that our generation was first to use hate as an asset. Let me tell you a little more about him.
This is from Scott Saul’s book A Gentle Answer. “John Perkins knows suffering. His mother died when was a baby. His father abandoned him when he was a child. His brother was killed during an altercation with a Mississippi police officer. As a black man during the civil rights era, he endured beatings and imprisonments and death threats. Since that time, Perkins has faithfully confronted injustice, racism, oppression, and violence while also advocating valiantly for reconciliation, peace, equality, healing and hope. If anyone has the right to be bitter, if anyone has any right to turn hate into an asset and use it to his own advantage, it is John Perkins. Yet, instead of feeding the cycle of resentment and retaliation, he spends his life preaching against these wrongs while advocating for forgiveness and moving toward enemies in love. With the moral authority of one who practices what he preaches, Perkins’s life is a sermon that heralds reconciliation and peace between divided groups. He has built his life upon the belief that his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has left no option except to advance neighbor-love…This is an essential task for those who identify as followers of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life not only for his friends but also for his enemies. Jesus is a God of reconciliation and peace, not a God of hate or division or us-against-them. [Jesus] is the God of the Gentle answer.”
John Perkins hears words of Grace and forgiveness from Jesus and extends the same to not only his friends, but even his enemies. John Perkins is an example of walking in clothes of righteousness because he understands our wonderful promise.
Look at chapter 5:1-2. “Follow God’s example, 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.
The promises of God’s love for us are right there in vs. 2 We are dearly loved children loved by Jesus, who gave himself for us!
And If he has loved us once, he will love us always!
Dear Christian! You are loved beyond your wildest dreams! Jesus won’t give up on you because you cost him too much! You cost him everything! But he was delighted to do it! He had joy in his heart when he died for you in your dishonesty, your anger and thieving and rotten words! Why? Because he loves you! Jesus is full of truth, gentleness, generosity and his words toward you are filled with grace! He smells beautiful!
When Jesus gave himself for you, he clothed you in Righteousness! You are dressed in the finest of robes! Don’t put on your rags again! Let him dress you and fill you with this promise, for he truly is gracious and compassionate, abounding in love and faithfulness. And he has Clothed you in Righteousness!
Amen, Let’s Pray.