Message: A Life Overflowing with Gracious Truth | Scripture: Ephesians 4:26-30 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: I Stand Amazed in the Presence, Before the Throne of God Above, I Will Glory In My Redeemer, Yet Not I, But Through Christ In Me
- Section 1
- Study/read through Psalm 4. How does the context of Psalm 4 help us understand the context of what Paul is trying to say here in Ephesians 4:26-30? What was going on in David’s circumstances that prompted him to write the Psalm? How does Paul draw from the context of David to show that the church “fulfills” or enacts the heart of David?
- Is it okay to be angry? If so, in what context is it okay? In what context is it not okay?
- When we are angry (in a scriptural way), how are we to react?
- Look at James 1, specifically verse 20 and its context. How do we, as Christians, reconcile what Paul says here in Ephesians 4 and what James says in James 1? Can these two passages be reconciled?
- What makes a “godly” anger different from a “worldly/manly” anger? What passages might you use to support this (e.g. think of godly grief vs. worldly grief – although not 1:1 in terms of emotion, the motivations/inclinations are similar).
- Be realistic, how do you normally react when you are angry? Is this form of reaction the proper/Christian way to react? What motivates your anger (e.g. self-indulgence/self-righteousness/godliness)?
- At base, what stops you from possessing a “godly” form of anything, including anger?
- How has the Spirit, in these passages in Ephesians, worked to transfer that/those thing(s) that stop you from possessing godliness?
- What does it mean for one not to let the sun go down on your anger? Do we have to solve our matters instantly?
- Why is it so wise of God to have Paul write this passage on anger and not giving the devil a foothold among us?
- What prevails when we see sin and are righteously angry about it?
- Section 2
- Why does Paul tell Christians (in general) to do the good work all of a sudden? Why does he talk about thievery while giving a general admonition for Christians to stop stealing?
- This is admittedly a hard section, so more related to application, how have we, as Christians (and you specifically), stolen from people in your life–it may not be your employer, it could be from family, friends, actual theft? Why do you think stealing paints a poor testimony for the gospel? What is it that stealing displays in our life about what we think about God and his plans for us?
- Section 3
- Do we ever speak unwholesomely towards one another? Why do you think we do this?
- Do you ever find yourself speaking unwholesomely with friends or coworkers? Why do you do this?
- How are we, as Christians, able to prevent ourselves from sinning/pursue holiness according to this section (hint: it has to do with why I named this section the way I did)?
- A lot of Christians get confused by Paul’s language in verse 30 in his speaking about grieving the Spirit. Is Paul talking about losing our faith here? Why/why not? If not, what is trying to do in this section with the Ephesians?
- Can we “ungrieve” the Spirit?
- What is the Spirit’s role in our sanctification/following the law of Christ (and Paul)?
- How do these passages, as a whole, point us to being a better body of Christ? Is there legitimacy to making individual admonitions like this (calling individual people to behave a certain way)? Or should Paul be focusing more generally to help us make broader applications? Can we apply these specific commands to our own lives?
- In what way has the gospel transformed the way that you interact with other Christians this week? In what way has it transformed your interactions with non-Christians this week? How has the gospel’s work motivated you to share the same gospel with non-believers? Have you been sharing the gospel? If not, challenge one another to do so and keep each other accountable in such a challenge.
Ephesians 4:26-30. TWoL.
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbour, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labour, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
The question before us today, is to continue where verse 25 left off. If I didn’t make it explicit last week, these verses from 4:25 to 5:2 are explaining those statements in 4:22 and 4:24. Paul’s explaining to us what it means to putt off the old man and put on the new man. He’s giving us specific instructions of what it means to not only possess Christ but how to display Christ in all that we do. In other words, he’s providing us with a new law here—not one we are constrained by, but one we are free to accept as those created in the image of God both inside and out. Not only do we seek to do holy actions externally, we seek holy pleasures and desires internally, because what we truly desire is God himself. He has saved us by the blood of Jesus, and he has covenanted with us to be his eternal people, so we give him our lives in humble gratitude. Now, when the world looks at us, they do not simply see well-behaved people. No, our proposition this morning is this: Christians Exceed All Human Expectation by Constantly Drawing from the Truth of God’s Saving Work. Because of everything God has done for us, we don’t just fit neatly into being nice, kind, or pleasant people—we exceed the world’s standard for good, we exceed what they think it means to be a human being. We exceed it out there by learning how to exceed it in here and in our own hearts. And what does this exceeding human expectation look like? Well it has three steps in Ephesians 4:26-30, and this makes up our outline this morning:
- The Initial Consideration
- The Surprising Reaction
- The Exceptional Refrain
When we follow these three steps, what we display isn’t just something that confounds what the world knows to be good and true, but it displays the Christ who we claim to love so that they might love him too. So, let’s talk about what it is he looks like.
1) The Initial Consideration
See verses 26 and 27 with me. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Think back with me about the context coming into verse 26. Verse 25 starts with the first command to speak truth with our neighbour, and what does it mean to speak truth? Well, I told you last week that it involves speaking the gospel, but not just saying what the gospel is, but displaying it and living it together. I hope you’ve made strides this week in living out the gospel with each other, and that all is well among you. I hope there are no conflicts. More than that, I hope that none of you are considering doing something against one of your brothers or sisters. I hope your desires aren’t for the harm or suffering of your spiritual family.
I know I’m starting off heavy, but I’m doing it because the text requires it. The context of verse 25 is that you speak the truth of the gospel always—constantly—the verb in verse 25 is a present, active, imperative. In other words, you’re to speak the truth of the gospel in every circumstance!
So, what happens when your brother or your sister take that proverbial knife and stab you in the back? Or worse yet, what happens when you see your brother or sister take it and stab it in the back of someone else who you love more than life itself. It should do more than just bother us. For example, if someone in here decided to come after another person in this room, I hope it doesn’t sit well with you. If any of you are thinking to harm one another. If any of you have any thought of harming this church, you better believe that I will not tolerate it for a second. I will not. Why? Because i love you, church. I loved you before you hired me. We have prayed for you every night since i first spoke to Roddy. I loved you when you threw me and my wife a baby shower. I loved you when you called or emailed me to tell me how much you were excited for us to come here. And you better believe me when i say i will contend for your souls with every spirit-filled breath in my body.
I stand here zealous for you because God is zealous for you, so zealous, in fact, that he sent his own son to die for you and for me. And for any of you who might be here with the intention to harm, you better believe that I will speak the truth of the gospel to you and with you like you’ve never been spoken to before. God has not only contended for you at salvation. He contends for you until the end of the age. Why? Because before eternity, he determined that he loves you, and nothing shall separate you from his love.
This is what happens when God makes us into a new creation. We are righteously zealous for God by being righteously zealous for his people. This is what Paul means when he starts verse 26 with, “Be Angry.”
There is a proper place for anger. When the deceit of sin has pervaded into the midst of the people of God. We are to be rightly angry about sin. Don’t let sin sit. Don’t let it have any sway among you because sin degrades. It makes you into a person who looks out only for yourself. So, when we speak truth, sometimes we need to be angry with sin SO THAT space is created for the flourishing of the truth and grace of the gospel.
Yes, we are all sinners. We are all in need of grace. But that doesn’t mean we are at peace with sin! We are called to fight a war against it, and we’re to fight it as a holy people. There are times where we are called to be angry, but, because we are Christians, we do not fight it by sinning in response. No, we fight sin by speaking the truth.
You may or may not know this, but the beginning here of verse 26 is taken straight from Psalm 4:4. What’s happening in that Psalm is that there are people sinning and accusing David of something that is not true! His own people are literally stabbing him in the back, and he’s lamenting it. It hurts when people sin against you. But what is David’s reaction? Is it to sin in return and retaliate? He’s David! He can do whatever he wants as king! And yet, his response isn’t what one might expect. No, he says that God fills him with a heart full of joy and peace, and he relents. And what triggers this joy and peace? He remembers his own sinfulness. When we’re sinned against, you can be righteously angry. But don’t turn that zeal and anger into retaliation. Speak the truth. Speak the truth first to yourself, as David does in Psalm 4, then speak it to your neighbour.
This is the main point: Remember God. In our being offended and angered, we remember how we have offended and angered the righteous God of the universe. So, our angry reaction isn’t for retaliation or self-righteous justice, it’s to bring people back to peace and joy because we’ve been given peace and joy when we didn’t deserve it. You can be angry but turn that anger into a passion for the gospel. Turn to your God who was once angry with you and remember what he has done. And be angry no more.
Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. This is a figurative statement. It doesn’t actually mean that you have to resolve everything before the sun goes down. Sometimes the sin is so great that it takes time to heal. What it does mean, though, is that you are not to let it fester. This second use of “anger” here is not the same word used at the beginning of verse 26. This second word for anger refers to the source of your anger. In other words, don’t let the anger affect your righteous heart in an unrighteous way. Don’t let it provoke you into sinful reaction. You can be mad at sin, but don’t get mad where you make it about yourself. No, remember your anger isn’t about you! It’s about what sin is to a holy God and to a Christ who died upon a cross to take it away. More than this, don’t tempt yourself by leaving it to poison you. Confront it. Confront your own pride. Confront one another. Speak the truth of the gospel on day one, day two, until the days of anger are gone.
And don’t give the devil an opportunity. The devil gains a foothold by taking our anger and using it to divide us. He takes what we feel is righteous indignation against someone’s sin, and he drags it out in our hearts. He makes us angry about it over and over again until we give into his will. The truth of this is magnified when you think about the person who’s writing this letter to the Ephesians! Vindictive doesn’t even begin to describe who Saul was before he became Paul. If you can think of someone who thought that he was doing the right thing against those who were desecrating his religion—then all you have to do is think about this guy. He hated Christians. He was envious of them. He was angry at them. And he took that anger, and he slaughtered as many of them as he could find. The devil will use our jealousy, our self-righteousness, our hatred and our excuses, and he bends us to his will if we do not return to the truth.
When we see sin, and when it makes us angry because of the way it mocks the gospel, don’t let that anger drive you to the devil. No, let it drive you to God. Don’t give a single inch to the devil because he is like a prowling lion waiting to pounce on his prey. Come to the fount and rest your anger at the cross where all of God’s anger—past, present, and future—was satisfied in that perfect God-Man upon a cross.
When you see sin, let your identity in Christ prevail. Let it exceed the world’s expectations that you retaliate, because the world will tell you that you have every right to! But your initial consideration isn’t you, it’s Jesus! It’s Jesus! Don’t revert back to the old man, put on the new man—the new man that was purchased by the shedding of innocent blood. And when your initial consideration has gone from righteous anger to the throne room of the righteous God, let the world be surprised by your reaction.
2) The Surprising Reaction
See what verse 28 says? “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labour, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” What is Paul doing here? He was on such a role, then suddenly, he says don’t steal? Why does he say this?
Well, part of the answer is unpacking the focus of this first part of the verse. If you know how negative and positive statements work, you’ll know that it’s always the positive that is meant to catch our attention, and the positive command in this verse is this: he must labour, performing with his own hands what is good. So, the statement is don’t steal, work good things with your hands. The point is doing good works.
And Paul’s focus here on doing good works isn’t random. It’s completely linked with what came before. Speak the truth when someone sins. And when someone sins, you might get angry. And if you can’t get over that anger, what should you do? Paul tells us that we’re to close our mouths. Stop trying to live like those around you who sin with their hands. And instead, do the work. Do the hard work of sanctification and righteousness. Do the hard work of being faithful. Do the hard work of walking with Christ as you rely on the strength of God to keep going. This is what we sing, don’t we? Oh, Father use my ransomed life in any way you choose and let my song forever be my only boast is you! Our only boast, our only speaking is about God! And when we cannot boast about that, it’s time to stop talking, and it’s time to start working.
Someone’s sinned against you? Out work him in grace. Do the work with your hands because God has not given you one another to take advantage of each other. No, he’s given you to each other to display what it looks like to submit your whole lives to him as one faithful people, and this isn’t true just in the context of your church, but it also translates directly to where we work in the world. Paul is saying, explicitly, that you MUST speak and display the gospel in your workplace just as much as you do in your church.
Don’t steal in the workplace but do a good work! When Paul speaks about not stealing, you may be thinking you don’t steal from your employer. You don’t take the computer they’ve given you. You don’t go into their moneybag and take from the petty cash. But ask yourself. Do you steal time from your employer? Do you ever waste time wishing that the workday was done. Do you procrastinate in your duties? Do you wish that you could be somewhere else, anywhere else? Because if you do, you’re stealing. Your employer didn’t hire you to be half-hearted in what you do. He didn’t want your second or third best. No, he wants your best. We as Christians are called to give of our best BECAUSE IF WE ARE UNWILLING TO DO SO FOR THOSE WHO WE SEE AND WHO GIVE US IMMEDIATE REWARDS, THEN HOW CAN WE TESTIFY THAT WE’LL BE FAITHFUL TO HIM WHO WE CANNOT SEE AND WHO PROMISES A FUTURE REWARD? HOW CAN YOU EXPECT TO EXCEED WORLDLINESS WHEN YOU CAN’T EVEN DO WHAT IS GOOD IN THE WORLD’S EYES? THE ANSWER IS THAT YOU CAN’T! YOU WON’T! If you can’t display righteousness in the small tasks that God has given you, you won’t be able to take care of the big things that God gives you in his church. Do the good work of your hands. Don’t steal from your employer in what he’s paying you to do. Don’t steal time. Don’t steal resources. Don’t steal because you’re going to be called to steward the kingdom of heaven someday, and there, you’ll be expected to do far more than simply refusing to steal. Remember, all that we do now on this earth is practice for what will be expected of us in heaven. Make sure you do not waste the practice.
When someone sins against you, the world expects you to take something back from that person. But, as Christians, we surprise them, because we’ve practiced doing what is good. We’ve practiced what it looks like to exceed righteousness. We’ve practiced responding to that unreasonable request from our boss. We’ve done the work in our small responsibilities so that when God permits the devil to tempts us, we’re ready to do the good work with our hands. We’ll have rested in the gospel of the Christ who resisted every temptation of the devil, and there we will stand blameless because we are a people who don’t just talk about the gospel. No, we live it in every part of our life.
But notice with me the second part of verse 28. The main point of this whole verse isn’t working with your hands. No, working with your hands is the contrast to stealing, but the main point of the whole verse is that by working we might have something in order to share with one who has need. Why do we work hard as Christians? Why do we earn an income? Why do we exceed in what the world expects of us? It is so that when the time comes where there is one among us who has need, we will have an abundance to satisfy that need. This is the gospel is it not? That God gave us according to our need out of the abundance of his heart—in fact, he gave not just out of his abundance but out of his own treasure. He didn’t just take what’s on the side and give us the scraps. No, he gave us that thing he loved most in all the universe. He gave us his only begotten Son. This is the model that we are to display as Christians to each other when there is need—we work to give.
But remember our context. We speak the truth of the gospel, even when someone sins against us, and in our anger, we give no place for the devil because we look to God. The problem is that we don’t always know when that anger will come, we don’t know when someone will sin against us. So, what wisdom does God give us through Paul? Work hard with your hands. Work hard with your hands, so that when the time comes, when that person sins against you, it might be unexpected, but it will not catch you unprepared. You’ll know exactly what it is they need! They need exactly what you’ve been resting in, and you’ll be in the perfect position to give it to them.
Be good in doing what is good, in resting in what is good, so that when that person in need stands before you, when that sinner gives you the option to love him or reject him, you choose to love him. You choose to pursue him until he won’t let you pursue him anymore. And you pursue him with the gospel because it’s what your whole life is based upon! All you’ve done is the good work in the small things, so that when God gives you the opportunity to “work with your hands” on the heart of another person, you’ll be ready.
Let your reaction to the needy man be one that surprises and exceeds the expectations of the world because you are a Christian. You are a Christian bought by grace. You are a Christian grounded in the assurance of faith. Do the good work of your own hands because by it you will not be unprepared on that day to give to your brother or sister exactly what he or she needs.
3) The Exceptional Refrain
Now, the phrase “work with your hands” really is an idiom. It was a phrase that was used in the ancient Greek world to refer to following through on your responsibilities, putting your head down, and doing the work, whatever it was. So, how are Christians to do the work with those who are in need or with those who are caught in sin? They’re to build them up in the gospel. This is what verse 29 says. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification or building up according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
See verses 26-27 tell us in our righteous anger, we’re to look to God and find the joy and peace that comes in our new ability to trust him. Then in verse 28, we’re told that the way we prepare for those moments is by doing the “work with our hands.” We’ve saturated ourselves in the gospel. We’ve rested in the arms of our Redeemer and King. We’ve practiced doing the hard thing in the smaller responsibilities so that when these big responsibilities come, we’ll be in good shape.
Now in verse 29, the time has come, and what are you going to choose to do? Are you going to choose to sin? Are you going to respond with evil and legitimize the instigator? No! You’re going to rise above. You’re going to humble the one who’s sinned not by putting him in his place but by placing Christ where he belongs—above the both of you.
You’re going to be prepared to speak the truth when evil comes your way, and that truth isn’t to attack. It’s to build up. It’s to forgive. It’s to reconcile. It’s to make that unity you have as those redeemed by Christ stronger. See, the purpose of building up with the truth is to give grace to the one who doesn’t deserve it. This is why it’s so important that you do the work—to drink in and immerse yourself in the gospel constantly and deeply because you didn’t deserve it, but God gave it to you anyway. Don’t just know what the gospel is, you’ve got to know how it applies to every part of your life.
Early in our marriage, I realized that I was able to make Candace feel bad about things we’d argue about all the time because when we argued she’d approach the issue with emotion, and I’d approach it with words and logic. I’d go into arguments intentionally to outsmart her when her approach wasn’t to outsmart or outflank, it was for me to understand how she felt. But I wouldn’t think about her feelings, I’d think about why her feelings didn’t make sense, and I’d tell her.
Men, especially for those of you who are married, you know this is the dumbest thing you can do. Why? Because as soon as you try to win the argument, you’ve lost it, and I didn’t realize that at first. I was always putting my desire to win over my desire to hear what Candace was saying and feeling. Then I remember one particular argument we were having—I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I knew I was doing one of those things where I took the logic of Candace’s argument and showed her why it didn’t make sense. I remember after doing that, Candace looked at me, stopped arguing, and actually thought about what I was saying, and what was an argument became a discussion, and what was a discussion became a resolution. And I remember being so flabbergasted by her thoughtfulness and willingness to communicate with me in my language that it caused me to see how stupid I was for failing to take the time to understand her.
Our marriage isn’t perfect now. There are still days we have disagreements, but I can tell you that she won me over that day with grace, and she’s been winning me over with grace ever since. I know since that day we haven’t had very many arguments. Not only because she’s always willing now to talk to me as I like being talked to, but also because I’ve learned from her what it means to love her as she needs to be loved and understood. We’ve talked about it many times, the goal for us isn’t to win arguments or to make someone feel exactly what we’re feeling, it’s about outdoing each other in honour and grace. It’s about showing each other the gospel. It’s about making sure that the other person isn’t just heard, but that in our hearing, we choose to act and to live intentionally to do the work, so that next time, when something big comes around, we’re practiced in the small things and ready to give of ourselves where there is need.
Now, we haven’t been married for as long as most of the married people in the room, but I’d like to think that if our goal every day is to build one another up in order that we might display the grace of the gospel, then we’re in pretty good shape for whatever comes our way and for however long God gives us to live this life together. Marriage is meant to image the church—outwork each other in grace by speaking the practiced truth of the gospel in your own lives. This is the sure prescription for how we, as Christians and as a church, are to deal with the problem of sin.
The reason why I’ve named this heading the exceptional refrain is actually a play on words. As some of you probably know, refrain has two meanings. To refrain from doing something is to actively stop oneself by turning our minds from acting. But a refrain is also a regularly recurring phrase or verse in a song or a poem. It’s a line or two repeated over and over to draw out the main theme. And I think both of these things apply to us as Christians. We stop ourselves—we refrain from doing something evil by singing the refrain of the gospel over and over. This is why we as Christians exceed the expectations of the world, because our refrain is exceptional. We don’t only stop when the world says go, we go one step farther by showing one another grace—by displaying the truth of the gospel in our own lives so that the person who’s sinned against us doesn’t think they were justified in their actions.
This is what verse 30 is all about. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” You see, destructive, ungracious words bring particular grief and anger to the Holy Spirit. Words that destroy and are rooted in evil disrupt the communal life that Christians are supposed to share, which corrupts and disrupts the work of the Spirit in building up the church.
It’s the way that we speak and live the truth with each other that brings joy and affirms the work of the Spirit among us. And the reason we strive after this so hard—the reason why we humble ourselves to the Spirit who points us to Jesus—is because of what the Spirit has done for us! He has not only brought us into a new community as a new people under a new covenant, no he’s brought us to himself. He’s taken us by the hand, and he’s been there every step of the way as we’ve done the work—for all our striving, he is the one giving us the power to strive. As we’ve rested in the gospel. He’s the one who’s impressed its truths upon our hearts time and time again! When we speak and act in unwholesome ways, we grieve the Spirit because we’re telling him that his work is insufficient. His gospel is insufficient. But his work is sufficient! His work is sufficient because Christ has been crucified. Christ has satisfied the guilt and wrath. Christ has been raised. And the spirit has sealed his sacrifice in our hearts. So strong is his seal at the time of our salvation that Paul says it shall last until that final day of redemption. Paul has no expectation that those who have sinned against us will fall away. He has no expectation that we will respond with evil intent. He has no expectation that any person who belongs to God shall be lost. Why? Because the Spirit has done a great work to save as the heavenly people of God, and he is not a weak Spirit. He is God himself, the third person of the Trinity, and none shall make him look foolish. It is because of the Spirit that we shall stay the course. We shall not give an opportunity to the devil. We shall do the good work of our hands. We shall build up according to one another’s needs. The exceptional refrain of the Christian is that we draw upon the grace of the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit so that when sin is in our midst, we exceed every expectation that the world has of us. Our lives are to display an overflow of the truth of grace found in Jesus, and in so doing, we not only build each other up for our earthly good, but we point each other to that heavenly reality where we’ll stand before the Father proclaiming the Son and testifying to the work of the Spirit. May God be glorified in our love for one another, and may he keep us faithful until he calls us home.