Someone must have showed up at the jail during visiting hours to tell him the news: our juvenile congregants in Ephesus are sharpening their tongues with slander and blunting their souls with division, they’re courting the devil and forsaking the divine, they’re widening gap between belief and behavior and leaving a awful stench in God’s house.
From his cell behind bars in Rome, Paul writes this pastoral letter in response to the Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Because they were forgetting their identities
If you waste all of your energy on slander and anger, there won’t be any love left to give.
To be reminded that we can break God’s heart.
Billy Graham was on a long flight headed home. Also on board was an intoxicated man who kept getting up and raising his voice, pinching and poking the stewardess, upsetting the entire plane. Graham’s seatmate was the mayor of Charlotte, and the mayor finally spoke up after the commotion and said to the drunkard, “Do you know who is sitting here (pointing to Graham)?” “No,” replied the man, “who?” “It’s Billy Graham, the preacher.” “You don’t say, put her there (extending for a handshake). Your sermons have certainly helped me.”
For so many of us in the pulpits and the pews, we would rather frolic in the shallow end of the font instead of drowning our old lives under the waters of baptism, rather kneel at the altar of quick conversion instead of standing in the long line of sanctification, and rather affirm our belief on Sunday morning instead of changing our behavior on Saturday night.
Why does Paul write this letter?
Because Christianity is the redemptive process of becoming an adult. “There are no shortcuts…” says Eugene Peterson, “The path to maturity is long and arduous. Hurry is no virtue. There is no secret formula squirreled away that will make it easier or quicker. But stories help.”
And so Paul retells and retells and retells the story of salvation in this epistle reminder to First Church Ephesus, last church Asheville and every congregation in-between: Egypt is not our home and slavery is not our fate, God created us to be free. There’s no mystery to being human, Jesus is the Word made Flesh. We will never be abandoned to our adolescence, the Holy Spirit is our parent through puberty.
God has acted, and the life of faith is our reaction. Hustling is fired for the work of honest hands. Gossiping is silenced for the language of love. Imitating culture is abandoned for imitating Christ.
It is time to grow up.