As you have probably guessed we will be continuing in our study of Ephesians this evening. In case you have missed a few weeks or you are just tuning in let’s get you up to speed. The first 3 chapters of Ephesians tell the story of God redeeming broken people and a broken world. The last 3 chapters, which we will be looking at in the coming weeks, tell us how to live as redeemed people in a redeemed community.
Ultimately, Ephesians is about the mission of God to “unite all things in Christ”. It is the mission of God to restore broken relationships. And once you have been rescued out of the kingdom of rebellion and transferred into the kingdom of redemption you are called to live in such a way that accurately paints a picture of what God has done. But we know from personal experience and from God’s Word to us, that the story is not finished. Just because you are rescued does not mean that you are fully redeemed quite yet. We still live in the midst of brokenness.
Nobody really wants to live lives of brokenness. We were created with a deep desire for joy. We prefer joy over sorrow. We prefer peace over disunity. We prefer love over apathy. We prefer life over death. So, in the midst of brokenness where sorrow is easier than joy, disunity more common than peace, apathy more likely than love, and death seeming to preside over life, how do we live redeemed rather than broken?
Remember last week when we looked at the spiral of rebellion and the spiral of redemption. The answer to our question is found here. It’s a simple answer but it’s hard to live out. The answer to living lives of redemption instead of lives of brokenness is to live on this spiral and not the other one. This week we will make practical what we talked about last week. But I want you to know at the outset what is at stake; living lives of brokenness and rebellion or living lives of joy and redemption.
This text is really simple to explain. It’s a list of don’t do this—do that—and here’s why. It’s pretty easy but as we look at these things and try to live them we find that it is very difficult. Furthermore, there can be people that never tell a lie, speak the truth, always watch their tongue, never steal, and give everything they have to the poor, and still wind up in hell. As we look at this text we have to be really careful not to read them through the lens of religion. But we also have to be careful not to read them divorced from the gospel as if we have not been changed and as if these things are impossible. This text is not saying—here’s how you should live, I know you won’t, it’s best not to try, just have faith in Jesus. This text is meant to be obeyed and it can be obeyed through the power of the gospel in our lives.
So, before we begin looking at these specific things like lying and anger and speech let’s consider the truth that is empowering these directives. At the very beginning of verse 25 you see the word “therefore”. You have heard me say it before but when you see a “therefore” you need to ask what is it there for? Look back; try to find the last big statement he made. We find that in verse 20-24 where Paul has just contrasted the life of an unbeliever and now in verse 20 he says, “BUT…that’s not what Jesus is doing in your life”. So, the “therefore” in verse 25 looks back to what God is doing in our life.
Look at verse 22, “put off your old self” and its partner in verse 24, “put on the new self”. We have heard this language before when we studied in Colossians 3. There he says, “…put to death what is earthly in you” and “put on all of these various virtues”. But something interesting is found in Colossians 3:3, “For you have died” or even prior to that in 2:11 it talks about Christ, “putting off the body of the flesh”. And some people have really tripped over Colossians 3:3 and Colossians 3:5. In Colossians 3:3 Paul says that “you have died”. Then in verse 5 he says, “put to death”. It is active in voice meaning it is to be something that we do. It is also to be a settled attitude. How can it be then that it is something that Christ has already done and now it is something that we must do?
I think that is pretty obvious actually. Notice the word “therefore” in verse 5 of Colossians 3. That tells me that the grounds or the motivation for our action in verse 5 comes from what just happened in verse 1-4; namely the work of Christ. It is as if Paul is saying “the old man is dead, now put him in the morgue so that he doesn’t stink up the joint”.
If you kept a corpse in your house even though it is dead it can do considerable damage. Honestly though I think Paul is talking about something a little more active than simply scrubbing your floors and getting the dead man out of your house. It seems from experience and other places in Scripture that sin is something that is active that we must keep away and put away. But I think this work is a duel work. It is cleaning up the dead man in your house and it is also keeping evil out of your house. So that it is both active and dead in two senses of the word.
Perhaps another way to look at it would be to consider habits. Earlier I spoke of Jesus rescuing us out of the kingdom of rebellion and putting is into the kingdom of redemption. Picture it like moving from one city to another.
Think of the Beverly Hillbillies. The entire show is based on the difficulty of moving from one kingdom to another. Jed, Granny, Jethro, Ellie May are country folk. They eat opossum innerds, crow belly, grits, and hog jowls. When Jed is shootin’ for some food and up from the ground comes a bubblin’ crude his life is immediately transformed. He now moves to Beverly Hills as a multimillionaire living in a mansion. The very first episode shows our point beautifully. When introduced to their mansion they think it’s a big prison. So, they say to Mr. Drysdale, their banker, “you tricked us Mr. Drysdale”. And the credits start rolling as you see Jed, Granny, and the rest jumping over the bushes to escape “prison”.
All throughout the series the big joke is that even though they live in Beverly Hills they are still Hillbillies. Old habits die hard. They have been placed in a new environment but their character is not yet fully formed to match their new environment. It is the same way with the gospel. Old habits die hard. Yes, we have been placed in the kingdom of redemption but we still sometimes go back to living like we are in the kingdom of rebellion. So, what Paul is saying to us in this text is essentially this: continue to be transformed by the gospel and stop going back to where you came from.
This is what we are going to do tonight and probably next week. We will look at these directives one at a time and consider three things about each one of them. I have no idea how far we will get on these tonight or even if we will finish next week. With each one, though, we will consider idolatry, community, and the gospel; for instance on the first directive we will look at lying and idolatry, lying and community, and lying and the gospel.
I. Lying v. Truth
I really appreciate the way that Paul writes these directives. In almost every one of these directives it will follow a pattern; Paul will tell us the negative, make it positive, and then give a motivation. So, here in our text he says, “put away falsehood”, that’s the negative. Then he says, “let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor”, that’s the positive. So, not only are we supposed to merely stop lying but we are to actively engage in truth telling. Then he says, “for we are members one of another”, that’s the motivation. You are to stop lying, engage in truth telling, and do so because of the unity that Christ has purchased for you. Sounds easy, so why do we not live it?
Lying and Idolatry
First, we really need to understand what is going on here. What exactly is meant by “put away falsehood”? It’s really simple what it means: “don’t lie”. We complicate it though by the way we rationalize sin. Is it really lying to not tell my friend that her prom dress is not flattering? Is it really a lie if I do it to help somebody? What if I lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings? What if I have to lie so as not to be a bad witness for Christ?
We are so good at rationalizing this sin that we have developed categories. If you go to Wikipedia you will find 15 different types of lies.
· Fabrication—when you kind of B.S. your way through something.
· A bold-faced lie is one where everybody including you know that you are a full of it.
· Lying by omission—telling the truth but leaving out a very important piece.
· Lie-to-children—saying something in euphemism to keep someone’s purity
· White-lie—“no that pimple is barely noticeable”
· Noble lie---helping an elite maintain power.
· Emergency lie---in an extreme case such as lying to protect a wife hiding from her deranged husband
· Perjury—lying under oath. “That depends on what ‘is’ is.” “I have never knowingly took steroids says a beefy Barry Bonds.”
· Bluffing---“look at my face, can’t you tell by this that I’m holding 3 Aces”.
· Misleading/Dissembling---filling out a reference for a lazy worker. You’ll be lucky to get him to work for you.
· Exaggeration---The fish I caught was THIS big
· Teasing lies—lies meant in jest and understood by everyone that you are lying.
· Contextual lies—“stating part of the truth out of context”
· Puffery—“JC Penney’s biggest sale of the year”
· Lying in Trade—“putting brand new on a refurbished system”
Now some of these do offer moral difficulties. Is it really a lie to tell a little kid—“the stork brought you” rather than explaining every aspect of childbirth? Is it really a lie to protect a battered wife from her deranged husband? Are white lie’s really that bad? I really like the way that John Piper sums it up when he says, “it is possible to be a person who fears the Lord, walks by faith, and yet feel constrained in extreme, life-threatening situations to oppose evil by lying intentionally.”
Piper does a great job of putting these questions in perspective in this sermon. He says, “yes it’s possible to still love Jesus and feel the need to lie intentionally oppose evil.” But let’s be real 99% of our lie’s do not fall into this category. Yes, there are times in the Bible when someone lied for the cause of truth—but look at the overwhelming number of times the Bible says that God hates lying. The issue here is the heart. Why do we lie? Jesus says we lie because of our hearts.
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
I think we can see this clearly if we consider some of the reasons why we lie. As I considered the reasons why I tell lies here is what I came up with—maybe you should add some:
· To impress people—whatever I like about myself and whatever I think I need to exaggerate about myself to cause you to like me and have a positive view of me. Whether I lie about how much I can bench press, my skills at computer programming, my knowledge of an iPhone, the number of people I’ve dated, the grade I got on a test score, the funny thing I said (but really only said in my head). I lie because I want to impress you.
· To escape consequences—probably the most frequent reason we lie is to save our tails. You see this in little children very much, but only because they aren’t as good as us at hiding it. If we think we are going to get in trouble for it we will craft really big stories to get out of it. One of my beauties when I was 9 was that a really loud sonic boom shook our house and caused the tiles to come down. NOT that my cousin and I were swinging from a rod that apparently held that side of the ceiling up. It was Adlai Stevenson that said, “Lying is an abomination to the Lord and a very present help in times of trouble”.
· To keep peace—this is very often the reason for our silence. Even while preparing this message I was struggling with whether or not to confront someone’s statement on Facebook. I decided not to, still not sure if that was a good decision, and my big reason I know was to keep the peace. This is the same reason why I am sometimes silent in sharing the gospel—I want to keep peace. It’s also sometimes why I tell a lie rather than a truth when somebody asks me a very serious question. I lie and tell them what they want to hear rather than the truth.
· Malicious slander—when I am sinned against I can be tempted to slander. I can be responsible for telling a lie or spreading a lie about someone that I do not like. I do this because for revenge sometimes, but sometimes I do it to make myself look better, to build a falsely close relationship with someone else, or just because it seems fun.
· Denial—if lies continue to go unchecked eventually they spiral down into a calloused denial. It gets so bad that I really do not even know that I am lying. I even believe my own lie. I think it’s truth but it’s not. So, I live in flat out denial.
· Callous habits—eventually I develop the habit of lying rather than the habit of telling the truth. It’s usually not those big lies but those little white lies. Those lies that are just cutting the corner and only leaving out a few details. This might seem like I’m splitting hairs and maybe it is. But what about this one, “How are you doing today”? “I’m doing great” you reply. Or “what’s up?” “Nothing much”, you reply. Even though you aren’t doing good today or there is quite a bit that’s “up” today. We get into patterns of surface relationships, surface conversations, and before we know it a good portion of our world is revolving around a lie.
But what is really going on here? Why do I have a desire to impress people? What in my heart makes it move towards malicious slander rather than grace and forgiveness? Why am I so afraid of consequences, or broken relationships, or displeasing people? It is helpful to know that what is really take place here is idolatry.
When Jesus confronted the Pharisees he had some pretty sharp words for them. On one such occasion he said this, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
It is interesting to notice the context of this. They are arguing about who is Abraham’s child. Jesus acknowledge that they are physically Abraham’s children but they are not spiritual children of Abraham. Abraham believed God. They don’t. Therefore, they are more in line with Satan than with God. And here is the really interesting part. Why are they rejecting Jesus? Why are they believing and spreading a lie? Listen to what Jesus says, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” And that is when he starts talking about their father the devil.
The only way Satan can be the father of lies is by knowing the truth so well. What separates the devil from truth is not information but a happy embracing of the truth. It is the same way with us. Lying is not a problem of information. It is a problem of knowing the truth but not liking it. Lying is an attempt to change reality; and that is to believe the age old lie that we are the center of reality, we are self-sufficient, and that we are in control.
Let’s think about lying to impress people. What is taking place here? First of all, I am saying that acceptance and approval by another person is more important to me than obedience to God. I am exalting man to the place of God. Again that is idolatry. But really who am I exalting above God? Myself. I am weighing the pleasure of looking good to someone else and saying that I like that better than being obedient to God. That is rebellion.
Secondly, when I have to lie about who I am what does that say about where my identity is wrapped up? God created us to be dependent on Him as worshippers that are living to enjoy His glory. When I lie to impress people I am admitting (at least to myself) that I am not exactly who I want to be. But rather than trying to live out who God created me to be as a dependent worshipper I try to create my own identity. In essence what I am saying is God I can create a better me than you can.
Again at the center of each of this is idolatry. Lying is an attempt to change reality. How much more idolatrous can you can get than to stare reality in the face and attempt to reconstruct a reality of our own making? So, anytime we are lying we are going back to living like the old man.
I think John Piper says it well when he says, “…when Paul says that the old nature is corrupt, he means (among other things) that the old nature is a liar. And this means, then, that the corruption of lying comes from the desires of deceit. Very simply this means that the reason we lie is because we have desires that we shouldn't have, and the reason we have them is because we are deceived about what is truly desirable.”
LYING AND COMMUNITY
You will notice in our text that it says we are “members of one another”. Of all the things Paul could have mentioned as a motivator for telling the truth he says, “speak the truth to one another because we are members one of another”.
It’s really easy to see what he is saying here. What would happen if your brain started lying to your body? Why is it that you could close your eyes and still drink a cup of water without spilling it in your lap? Our brain has an amazing way of knowing our body position even without the ability to see. But sometimes that can get messed up. Let’s do an experiment. Everyone stand up. Close your eyes and follow these directions exactly.
Close your eyes and raise both hands above your head. Keep the fingers of your left hand totally still (no wiggling!).
Touch the tip of your right index finger to the tip of your nose, then quickly use the same finger to try to touch the tip of your left thumb. Keep your left hand still. Even if you "miss," go on quickly to the next step.
Again touch your right index finger to the tip of your nose and immediately use the same finger to try to touch the tip of your left index finger.
Repeat the process three more times, each time trying to touch a different finger on your left hand. Keep track of how many times you succeed in touching the tip of the correct finger. How successful were you at finding each fingertip? Did your performance improve with time?
Now repeat the activity, but this time gently wiggle the fingers of the hand you hold in the air. Are you more successful in touching the designated fingertip?
Now let’s consider this in light of being members of the body of Christ. Even though we are saved and even though we know Jesus we still have remaining sin in us. And because of this remaining sin we still have pockets of spiritual blindness. This is why we must not only stop lying to one another but also we must speak the truth. We need people to “wiggle our fingers” so that our brain knows where they are.
When we flat out lie to one another it would be like having a disorder where you have a brain body disconnect. If the brain started lying to the hand and told it that its mouth was its eye then when you tried eating spaghetti you would wind up with an eye poked out and noodles on your face. When we refuse to speak the truth we get our little hand experiment, people are blind to the truth and because of that growth does not take place like it should.
It is really sad but I think what Scott Peck has said is painfully true. Peck says
“God designed us to yearn for open, honest, authentic relationships - he calls them "Communal Relationships." But because we choose peace-keeping over truth telling, we end up in "Pseudocommunal" relationships instead. The result is marriages, families and friendships that are strictly surface level. No one ever says anything "unsafe." They never discuss misunderstandings or reveal their hurt feelings or air their frustrations or ask those difficult questions. The underlying commitment is "Don't rock the boat. Don't disturb the peace."
And you get peace all right. But it's a counterfeit peace! Misunderstandings arise, but they're never resolved. Feelings beg to be shared, but they're not. Offenses occur, but nobody talks about them. Doubts about the other's integrity creep in, but they're never dealt with. In time such relationships are destined to deteriorate. The secret agendas of hurt and misunderstanding lead to detachment, distrust and finally deep bitterness. Feelings of love begin to die. It's the story of too many marriages, family relationships and friendships. “
Let’s consider here again those little white-lies that we tell. Last night because of sermon preparation I was especially aware of lying. The Beverly Hillbillies were on and because I knew I was going to use them as an illustration I decided to watch. Little did I know they would provide a second illustration.
In this particular instance there is an old guy from the hills named Shorty. Apparently Shorty was quite the womanizer. When he came to Beverly Hills to visit the Clampett’s he just went crazy with all of the pretty girls out there. To try to get him to settle down Jed suggest he find him a girl from the hills, settle down, and go back home. Well, he decides that he wants to try to marry Ellie Mae—Jed’s daughter.
This doesn’t set to well with Jed so he decides to play a little trick on Shorty to get him to leave. Shorty had left a letter under Ellie’s door. Well, Jed told him that he was happy that Shorty would be in the family. He was excited that Shorty was going to marry Granny. Well, the truth is Jed had found the letter…Ellie never saw it, nor did Granny. But still Shorty decides to pack his bags and head back to the hills.
Come to find out though he never actually went back. He was afraid that Granny would have flown back to Silver Dollar City to meet up with him. So, he had been living in the Clampett’s root cellar for over a month.
So, Jed lied to Shorty but it was for his good and for Granny’s good…right? As I was watching this episode I realized that this very same thing is what we do frequently in the church. Rather than actually speaking the truth into someone’s life we either shut up altogether or try to candy coat things and beat around the bush. It would have been harder but what Jed should have done was taken Shorty aside and said listen man, your womanizing is causing me some concern. I don’t want you going after my daughter after all you’re like 50 something and not the type of guy I want my daughter to marry. This would have been the hard road but this is the type of thing we are to do. This is what Paul is talking about in this text.
Speak the truth into people’s lives. I absolutely love what Paul Tripp says about this. “I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions. My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror. If I am going to see myself clearly, I need you to hold the mirror of God’s Word in front of me.”
LYING AND THE GOSPEL
If we are going to have lying rooted out of our lives and if we are going to be bold enough to speak the truth into other people’s lives then it will only come through the gospel. We have to understand that our struggle with lying is a struggle with idolatry. And our struggle with idolatry is foundationally a struggle with the heart. Fix the heart you fix the idolatry, fix the idolatry, you fix the lying.
The reason we lie is not the specific situations that we are in. It is not that we can sit back and blame a situation or a person and say that we were put a position where we had to lie. The truth is that I determined to lie long before I was even put in that situation. Unless the lying heart is cured lying actions will not be deeply transformed.
It is crucial that we understand this point. Our culture, and even the church, is a band-aid and medication type of culture. For about 6 months I have had a toothache. It is getting progressively worse because I have a cavity that I need to get dealt with. But the way that I have been dealing with it for quite some time is often the way we deal with problems in our life. Rather than going to the dentist I have been taking aspirin, Tylenol, Ora-jel, and sometime seven Sinus medication. One night I even went so far as to chew on cloves because I read of a home remedy that was supposed to cure the pain.
What I am doing with my tooth is only trying to cure the pain. The cavity is always there but sometimes it will go weeks without hurting. I only notice it when it hurts. And when it hurts I do things to get the pain to go away. We do the same thing with sin in our lives. We do everything we can to get the pain to go away. We start a bible study. We pray more. We share our faith. We read a Christian book. We come to church. We try to ignore it. We run away from Jesus. We try to numb our conscience. We do all of these things trying to get the pain to go away.
Only God has the power to overcome our lying heart and replace it with a heart that is passionate about the truth. This is what happens in the gospel. Through his death and resurrection Jesus conquers the power of sin in our life. But he does not leave us there. He transfers us into His kingdom and gives us His Spirit to do work on our heart. He comes in and changes our heart.
But remember the imagery that we had a few weeks ago? It’s the same thing here. With each temptation to lie Jesus is asking the question do you believe me enough to not lie and to embrace truth? With each time that we are tempted to be silent when we should speak truth into someone’s life, Jesus is asking us whether we believe Him enough to forsake fear and speak truth.
If sin is the problem repentance is the only cure. I really appreciate what Paul Tripp says here, speaking of living with moment by moment faith and repentance. “Faith keeps us laying hold of the grace and mercy of Christ and thereby avoiding despair. Repentance keeps us facing our ongoing struggle with sin and thereby avoiding pride…Faith is another way of saying, ‘seeing Christ’s glory and grace and turning to him.’ Repentance is another way of saying, ‘admitting and turning from sin.’ They are two sides of the same coin, and both are essential for the Christian life.
Perhaps you are here tonight and you do not know Jesus. You are living the biggest lie there is.
Believers get with the truth.