Sunday, August 09, 2009

Living for Jesus

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

The first stanza of the gospel song “Living for Jesus”goes like this:
“Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do; yielding allegiance, glad hearted and free, this is the pathway of blessing for me.”
This song gives a good basic definition of what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is nothing more and nothing less than a follower of Jesus. And, if we’re going to live for Jesus, then Jesus should come first in our lives. When we say Jesus is Lord, which according to Paul we can only say by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3), then nothing, not family, not friends, not nation, not one’s job, can take first place in our lives. This isn’t an easy demand to fulfill, which is why Paul said that it takes the Holy Spirit. Singing the song is one thing, but following through is another.

The text for today says rather bluntly: “Don’t live like the Gentiles.” As you hear this word, it’s helpful to remember that the recipients are likely Gentiles. So why this statement? Well, according to the letter, Gentiles, left to themselves, are hard-hearted and alienated from God, and you the reader, well that’s the way it was for you. But not anymore; now you’re a follower of Jesus, and so you should live like one.

This call to live for Jesus is set up for us in verse 24, which reads this way in the Message:
Take on an entirely new way of life – a God fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (Eph. 4:24 MSG).

In other words, there’s an old way of living, and a new one! As a follower of Jesus, we’re supposed to live into this new way of living.

I. The Old Way and the New Way

So how do we live into this new way of life? Our text offers four suggestions that focus on being renewed from the inside out.

  • Put Away Falsehood and Lies
Just tell the truth. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t let deceit define your life and your relationships.

  • Be Angry, but don’t Sin
While Jesus equated anger with murder, and James said “be slow to anger,” Ephesians says – don’t let your anger lead to sin. You may get angry from time to time, but don’t let it control your life. That’s because, if you let anger control you, you become vulnerable to evil. This is the lesson that Luke Skywalker learns in the Star Wars movies. If you give in to anger or let bitterness and wrath take hold in your life, you will fall prey to the dark side, which is evil. And when that happens, you end up destroying your neighbor and yourself. So, when you get angry, let go of it before you go to bed!

  • Give up Being a Thief
Now, I don’t know if any of you are thieves, but the point is well taken – we should get honest jobs, when they’re available, and give generously to those in need. Why? Because we belong to each other.

  • And, finally, Let there be no more evil talk
It’s easy to fall prey to this temptation. Whether it’s a joke or a juicy bit of information, what seems innocent can easily embarrass or dehumanize another person. I think back to when I was a kid. We used to tell Pollock jokes. Looking back it seems so innocent – we didn’t now anything about Poland or Polish people, but for some reason being Polish meant being stupid. I’ve since learned better, but it’s easy to laugh at the expense of someone else. Humor may be a good thing, but not when it destroys. Gossip is another seemingly innocent kind of speech, but it too can be destructive. So, if you’re living for Jesus, just make sure that your speech is appropriate. Make sure that what you say builds up people, rather than destroys them.

Therefore, if you’re going to live for Jesus, don’t grieve the Spirit, who indwells and empowers God’s people. Put away bitterness, anger, clamor, wrath, and slander, and replace that which destroys with a new and different spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We can do this, because God has forgiven us.

II. Therefore, Being Forgiven, Let Us Imitate Christ!

Living for Jesus can seem like an impossible task, unless we understand that God is at work transforming our lives from the inside out. One of the names for the early Church was “The Way.” That’s because the gospel offered a new way of living. But, instead of being a list of do’s and don’ts, this new way of living focused on living a life marked by love, mercy, and grace. Or, as the author of the Ephesian letter puts it:

“Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” (Eph. 5:1-2 MSG).

Mother Theresa understood what it means to live for Jesus like this. She knew what Jesus meant when he said, “when you do things to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” She said: "Every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment." This is the way she tried to live; she tried to make every person feel worthy of God’s love and mercy. She didn’t ask anything of them, she just cared for them. If we live for Jesus, then let us be like him by showing kindness, being tender hearted, and showing forgiveness to our neighbors.
  • Show Kindness
Showing kindness means more than simply being nice. It means putting the needs and desires of the other before your own. This is what drove Jesus. He reached out and touched people, making them whole, without any regard for himself. He touched the leper, even though he knew that touching the leper would make him ritually unclean.

  • Be Tenderhearted
According to the gospels, Jesus was tenderhearted. He knew how to listen and how to care for others. He wept for Lazarus, for Jerusalem, and for his disciples. He felt compassion for the people, which according to the gospels is why he fed the multitudes. As we live for Jesus, let us pray that the Spirit will soften our hearts to each other’s needs and that the Spirit would help us feel the pain of those who suffer. May we understand and recognize what keeps people separated from God and the church. May we grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice.
  • Finally, Show Forgiveness
Lew Smedes, one of my seminary professors wrote that “forgiving is the only way to heal the wounds of a past we cannot change and cannot forget.” Although we can’t undo the past, we can let go of it. As Smedes puts it
“when we forgive, we bring in light where there was darkness. We summon positives to replace negatives. We open the door to an unseen future that our painful past had shut. When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the person we set free is us.”1

To forgive is to offer a word of freedom and a second chance. That’s what Jesus did when he forgave Peter after Peter denied him three times, when he called the tax collector to be his disciple, and when he forgave the woman caught in adultery. It’s important that we remember that without forgiveness there can be no church. Indeed, without forgiveness we’re doomed to destruction, because given time and opportunity, we will hurt each other. If we’re unable or unwilling to forgive then there’s no possibility of having lasting relationships inside or outside the church.

And so having attended to this biblical text, may we again hear and abide the message of “Living for Jesus.”
Living for Jesus, a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do; yielding allegiance, glad hearted and free, this is the pathway of blessing for me.”

1. Lewis Smedes, Forgive and Forget, (Harper One, 1996).

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
10th Sunday after Pentecost
August 9, 2009

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