38. Changed Lives (2)

Ephesians Meditations No.38

Eph  4:29-32 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you

We continue with this list of very practical things that Paul is writing about, ways of living out the life we now have with Christ. We remind ourselves again that the Christian life is first of all about what has been done to us by God’s Holy Spirit on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and then about how that works out in our everyday lives, the part we have to play in it all. In the previous meditation we saw the first three things that Paul highlighted – the way we speak (truthfully), the way we feel (limiting anger) and then the way we respect other people’s possessions (no stealing). So let’s see how he continues.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Now that is challenging, especially in the light of the today’s tendency to be free and easy in respect of speech. Recently we watched a comedian known for one line jokes, performing for about ten minutes. For the first seven minutes you could not fault his humour but in the last three minutes he slid into sexual innuendo (and not innuendo!). It was as if he just couldn’t keep away from it. We heard of another comedian who decided to do an evening without swearing and found he got just as many laughs and so decided to reduce the language from then on. Comedians (and our acceptance of them) are good gauges of society and sadly in the Britain, we don’t show up very well. It used to be said, “Only say what you could have said in front of your grandmother.” Why a grandmother? I think it is because of our assumption that standards used to be much tighter. We’ve lost a lot. Have you? If you have, it’s time to do a clean up on your language if you are a Christian.

But Paul doesn’t leave the language issue negatively. He continues: “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” He says what Solomon so often says in the Proverbs: your tongue can be a means of blessing others. Do you bless other with what you say to them? Do they feel built up and encouraged by you?

But then there comes a hidden implication: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The And’ means that is a continuation from what has just been said. In other words you have the capacity, by what you say, of grieving or upsetting the Holy Spirit who lives in you. He is holy and pure. Is your language holy and pure? If not you will be upsetting the Lord who lives within you. (And then we have the nerve to ask things of Him!!). When you first met your husband/wife/partner and fell in love, I am sure you would have only said things to them that you know would have blessed them, and not said things you knew would have upset them, so why do we say things that we know will upset God?

He then continues with a sweeping list: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The fruit of the spirit is gentleness (Gal 5:22,23) so how can we equate that which He wants to work out in us with any of the things in this list? We shouldn’t need to work our way through this list should we? These things are things in the life of someone who is disturbed and not at peace with themselves or with God; these are the outworkings of a person who is out of control of their life. Yet the fruit of the Spirit is also self-control (Gal 5:23) and we are told to add self-control to our lives (2 Pet 1:6). Rage and anger’ are expressions of a person out of control, but as Christians this should not be us.Slander and malice’ are expressions of a person out of control, unable to be gracious and that must not be us. ‘Bitterness’ is an emotion that has taken us over, and we must not let that happen.Brawling’ is out of control (drunken?) behaviour that often results in harm or damage – and that must not be us. Check it out: get rid of these if they occur in your life!

But again Paul puts in the positive to counter these negatives: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is a totally different sort of person and this is what Christ calls us to. Is that you? Good hearted and gentle and caring and feeling for people? Is that you? Not holding onto grievances? The message is simple and straight forward: Christians are supposed to be nice to be around! In an article I came across recently, an atheist grudgingly conceded that “Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” I thought that was a tremendous testimony, especially coming from an atheist! But that’s how it is supposed to be. As another writer wrote, “Part of the reason for Christianity’s rapid spread, historians have remarked, was simply that the early Christians were such nice people.” Let’s keep it like that!

(This will be the end of the series in Ephesians for a while – we’re going to have a break but will come back and finish the book in a couple of weeks time)

21. God’s Dwelling

Ephesians Meditations No.21

21. God’s Dwelling

Eph 2:21,22 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Now have expressed the truth of this verse many times in these meditations in different ways but it is really so amazing that we make no apology for repeating it in detail here. Paul in the previous verse has just referred to us as God’s household, that I summarised as everyone who ‘lives under God’s roof’. There Paul had been speaking about us as the community of God’s people but having used that expression he now slightly changes it to refer to a ‘building’ and this building is actually a ‘temple’ where ‘God lives’. Now it is possible that many of us are familiar with this idea but forty years ago it was only just coming into the awareness of the church.

Now to catch the full significance of this analogy we have to go back into the Old Testament, first to Mount Sinai where we find, Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Ex 25:8,9) There we have the first references to a ‘sanctuary’ and a ‘tabernacle’, a tent for meeting with God for which God gave very specific instructions. When those instructions were followed and the tabernacle was first set up, we find, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:34,35) a clear indication of the presence of the Lord approving and filling the tent.

Many years later after David had taken it to Jerusalem, he wanted to make a permanent structure for the Lord but was told that his son would do it. Thus we find that Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem and when it was finished we find, “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.” (1 Kings 8:10,11), again a clear indication of the presence of the Lord approving and filling the Temple.

Thus the Temple came to be seen as the place where God dwelt, where people would come to meet with Him. When we come to the New Testament we find Paul using this analogy again and again: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19) and, “For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor 6:16). This is the amazing truth that Christianity claims, that God comes to us, when we surrender to Him and receive the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and puts His own Holy Spirit within us. We thus become the very dwelling of God on the earth. No longer a building but people, millions of people.

In the previous verses Paul has just referred to, “Christ Jesus himself… the chief cornerstone.” so at the beginning of this verse when he says, “In him the whole building is joined togetherthe “in him” is Christ. This is Paul yet again emphasizing that it is only as we become “in Christ” that we become part of his family or household, part of the building that he is creating. We are “in him” and he is in us. That is the unity that the New Testament speaks about.

This ‘building’ thus becomes the dwelling of God by His Holy Spirit and it is an ongoing building process for Paul says “you too are being built together,” which suggests an ongoing activity. Why is it thus? Because the growth of the church means that day in, day out, new believers are being born again, being added to the body, added to the family, added to the household, and added to the Temple. In Barcelona there is a strangely designed church that has been under construction since 1882, called the Sagrada Família, and it is still incomplete. It is now a mixture of designs and in the sense of the mixed designs and incomplete nature, it is a good representation of the Church. It will never be complete until the day when God winds up all things, which is why it often appears immature and questionable. It is a Temple in the making and you and I, as Christians, are part of it. The wonder is that it is where God dwells on earth and, most importantly, where He wishes to reveal Himself to the rest of the world. If God dwells among men, it is so that He can interact with us and reveal Himself to more and more people so that the Temple grows ever bigger and the glory of the Lord is seen more clearly. We have some way to go yet!