Being a Grace Giver

Series: The Book of Ephesians

by D. Marion Clark October 17, 2010 Scripture: Ephesians 4:25-29

Introduction

Last week we considered what Scripture has to say about our dress code. We are to put off the old self which belongs to our former manner of life; we are to be renewed in the spirit of our minds; and we are to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

I concluded with the story of how a lion tore off the dragon skin of a boy. It was a poignant story, but some of you may have been left thinking, “That was a nice story to read, but, really, what does a life that has put off the old self and put on the new self actually look like.” In other words, what is the practical application? That is what the remainder of the chapter is about.

Text

The apostle Paul, who wrote this letter, gives clear-cut examples of putting-off putting-on actions, even including the use of renewing our minds. In our text for this morning we have four examples.

Lying/Telling the Truth

Verse 25 gives the first example: Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

We have the action of putting off – in this case, falsehood. You will recognize the Greek word – psuedos. It is where we get the term “pseudo.” Put “pseudo in front of another word and we turn something real into something false. And so there is pseudo-science, pseudo-history, pseudo-medicine. Paul has already made reference to “deceitful schemes” in verse 14, where teachers are presenting pseudo-doctrine. In the epistle to the Colossians he speaks of legalistic teaching, which “have indeed an appearance of wisdom,” i.e. pseudo-wisdom, but are of no value.

We engage in such falsehood whenever we promote false teaching and counsel. Someone complains to us about another member of the church. We readily accept what the person says and even encourage that person to get what he or she deserves, rather than helping him to have a clearer or more godly perspective. We spread rumors about matters that we know little about, that we have received only by hearsay or by misconstruing what was said to us. We teach others what is not gospel informed. We put false guilt on others for not living to our legalistic standards, or we lead others to sin by promoting a false freedom to commit immoral behavior.

Instead of wearing falsehood, we are to put on truth-speaking; we are to speak the truth with our neighbor. We are to always lead our neighbor to gospel truth. Our counsel is to be biblically informed. Whether we have warning or assurance to give, it must come from Scripture in light of the gospel. We are not to spread ill-report of others. We are not to rely on hearsay or our so-called ability to “read between the lines” when we report to others supposed news.

Now why? This is the “renewing of our minds” part: “For we are members one of another.” Now we are back to the theme of verses 1-16. We are members of the one body of Jesus Christ. And as members of that body, connected to one another, all that we do is for the purpose of building up the body in love. Falsehood tears down; truth builds up, truth that is spoken and acted upon in love. We have an obligation before the head of this body – our Lord Jesus Christ – to do only what is good for our fellow members of his body. To harm a brother or sister in the Lord is to harm a member of Christ’s body.

Anger/Self-Control

So, we are to put off falsehood and put on truth telling for the sake of the body. What is another practical application? Verses 26-27 tells us:

26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.

What are we to put off? Anger? No, but the sin that too often accompanies anger. And we all know about this area, don’t we? Most people do not admit to lying or to the next sin presented, stealing; but most will own up to the guilt of losing their temper and acting in such a way that they now rue. Indeed, they appeal to loss of temper as an excuse for their sin. “I would not have said that if you had not made me so mad!”

Paul is actually quoting Scripture – Psalm 4:4 – with that phrase “be angry and do not sin.” The psalm is quite helpful in understanding how to do the “putting on” part of exercising self-control. That is what is meant by “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We are not to let our anger stew so that it turns us into ugly and hurtful beings. Consider what Psalm 4 has to teach us about what to do with anger.

1      Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!

          You have given me relief when I was in distress.

          Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

2      O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?

          How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?

 3      But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;

          the Lord hears when I call to him.

4      Be angry, and do not sin;

          ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

5      Offer right sacrifices,

          and put your trust in the Lord.

6      There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?

          Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”

7      You have put more joy in my heart

          than they have when their grain and wine abound.

8      In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

          for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

David, who wrote this psalm, is being slandered by enemies. That would make you angry, wouldn’t it? People who are out to destroy your reputation are spreading lies about you. That’s enough to keep you awake at night, stewing over the injustice, plotting how you will get revenge (I mean “justice”). David is lying awake and pondering, but he is pondering in his heart about God: how God is there for him; how he can turn to God such times; how he should be trusting God and giving sacrifices; how God alone is his refuge of safety.

He is being renewed in the spirit of his mind. Speaking of mind renewal, verse 27 gives us another mind renewing teaching: “give no opportunity to the devil.” That is precisely what unchecked anger does. That is what God warned Cain about.

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Understand what is at stake every time anger wells up in you. Remember, as 1 Peter 5:8 says: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Stealing/Working

So, we are to put off falsehood and put on truth telling. We are to put off unchecked anger and put on self-control. Verse 28 presents the next application.

28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

What is to be put off is stealing: “let the thief no longer steal.” This is a clear statement of the ninth commandment, “You shall not steal.” It is a sin that we agree is a sin, and most of us are glad that we are not guilty of it. Well, not guilty of blatant theft. Maybe we have fudged somewhat on our taxes; maybe we’ve “accessed” small materials at work for personal use; maybe we “borrowed” material for our school assignments. Perhaps using work time for personal business could be considered a form of stealing. We’ll stop there. Once we start thinking through all the forms that stealing takes, it gets uncomfortable.

Let’s move to what we put on: “let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands.” We are to put on the dress of honest work. The literal rendering is “work that is good.” Another translation has “useful work.” There is such work that, though it can be considered labor, is nevertheless immoral or unproductive. There are legitimate jobs that are carried out dishonestly or with poor performance. There are lazy workers who are masters at “delegating” work to others, and who do not work with their own hands. There are those who are fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough) to live off the work of others.

It is good to work, whether or not it is paid work. It is good to be productive. And it is good to be able to provide for others. As Paul goes on to say, “so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Many people work only to provide for themselves. Providing for yourself is good. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says that we are to work with our hands so that we are dependent on no one. But renewal of the Christian mind leads us to the deeper understanding that our work is to benefit others. The work itself should be beneficial, and the income or produce from our work should be used to help others. First, it should help our family. 1 Timothy 5:8 says that he who does not provide for his family has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

 Second, from the income we obtain from work we should help others who are in need. This is a fundamental expectation of the people of God – to give to those who are in need. It was given in the law: “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’ ” (Deuteronomy 15:11). And when the church elders ruled that the Gentiles did not have to observe the Jewish laws, Paul reported that they added this one request: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).

Corrupting Talk/Building Up Talk

Now then, we are to put off falsehood and put on truth telling. We are to put off unchecked anger and put on self-control. We are to put off stealing and put on productive work. Next we are told:

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

We are to put off “corrupting talk.” The term for “corrupting” literally means “rotten” such as for rotting trees or fish. Other translations use “unwholesome,” “evil,” “filthy,” “foul,” and “harmful.” It covers language that is vulgar, that uses profanity; words that are demeaning and hurtful; it includes slander and gossip.

In contrast, we are to put on speech that builds up and that is fitting to the occasion. Paul has already spoken about building up. In verse 12 he explains that we have been given ministry to do “for building up the body of Christ.” In verse 16 he describes the way the body is suppose to work as it grows, “so that it builds itself up in love.” Building up is the operating principle of all Christian relationships. Whatever we do in regard to one another, it is to be for building up.

Or another synonym that is used is “edifying.” Our words are to edify – that is, not simply make us feel good, but to enlighten us with truth. And that is where the next phrase fits in – “as fits the occasion.” Building up one another is not reduced to saying what tickles the ears. It is about communicating the truth in love so that our fellow brothers and sisters are lifted up in the faith. They are made wiser in the faith. And so the occasion will determine what needs to be said at the time and how it is to be said. Sometimes words have to be uncomfortable, sometimes spoken harshly, as we see Jesus and the Apostle Paul doing. But they will always be spoken for the benefit, the building up of the listener.

Now let’s look at the mind renewal phrase: “that it may give grace to those who hear.” The New International Version translates “give grace” this way: “that it may benefit.” No doubt to “give grace” is “to benefit” someone, but it is hard to believe that is all Paul means. After all, to build someone up is to benefit that person. It is hardly a mind renewal insight.

Paul could have chosen other words to make the same point, but he chooses “grace.” He has used grace before in the letter. He has spoken of God’s grace whereby God has blessed us in Christ, redeemed us by Christ’s blood, given us life, saved us through faith. Back in verse 7, he says that Christ gave us grace, meaning the power to serve him with the gifts he has given.

So, we are reading about God being a grace giver, and now we are told that we can be grace givers. Let’s take time with this to think through what is means to be a grace giver.

First, as a grace giver God gives out of grace. It is out of grace that he saves, out of grace that he gives his riches. Grace makes God generous. Specifically, it makes him generous to those who deserve nothing, who actually deserve wrath.  We were by nature “children of wrath (2:3), but God, out of his grace showed mercy and saved us.

And so we are to act out of grace toward one another. We are to bear up with one another, be patient with one another. Whatever our brother or sister may do or say, we are to relate out of grace, with the purpose of building him or her up in the faith. Out of the grace given to us, we are to give.

But God not only gives out of grace, grace itself is a power that he gives. Paul speaks of the grace given to him. In 3:7-8 he says, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

But more to the point is the verse we have already noted, 4:7: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” That the grace given is the power itself by which to serve. Christ does not merely give us gifts, but he gives us the power to exercise those gifts.

We too in a sense have power to give. We are not divine. We do not have spiritual gifts to hand out nor can we give the power to exercise those gifts; nevertheless, we can empower others so as to build them up in Christ. For one thing, we can give them the grace of knowledge, whereby we teach the truth that is in God’s Word. Too many Christians live defeated lives because they lack knowledge. They need us to teach the principles of the faith that will then empower them to live productive lives. We all need this.

I am presently reading Paul Tripp’s most recent book, Broken-Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad. He uses the image of a broken-down house to explain the world we live in and then teaches how to live productive lives nevertheless. How does he do it? He takes fundamental principles from the Scriptures and applies them. So, as I read the book, I read about the sovereignty of God and the grace of God. I read about sin and its effects on the world and on each of us. You might ask, “Don’t you already know these doctrines?” I do, but I need to keep relearning them. And as I learn them yet again, I feel empowered to live as God would have me to live. I am given grace.

We can give the grace of knowledge. We can also give the grace of encouragement. When the Apostle Paul talked at the beginning of the chapter about how to walk in a worthy manner, he could have spoken in terms of giving grace. By relating to one another in humility and gentleness, by being patient and bearing with one another in live, we are giving grace. We are blessing our brothers and sisters. When they receive encouragement, they then feel empowered to walk in a worthy manner as well. Grace is infectious. The more you give it, the more it spreads from one person to the next.

Conclusion

So here is the wardrobe for you, the dress for you to wear. Truth, speaking truth that is biblical, the builds up your brothers and sisters who are fellow members of Christ’s body. Self-control that protects you from giving way to anger and exposing you to Satan’s trap. Honest labor that allows you provide for yourself, for your family, and for anyone in need. And speech that fits each occasion, that builds up, that gives grace to the hearer.

All of this dress makes you a grace giver. We are nearing Halloween, when children and adults will dress up to look like whatever or whoever they want to be. Here is the dress that not only will make you look like Christ, your Head and Savior, but will actually makes its impress upon you that you more and more become like him.

Putting on Jesus Christ. I can’t think of any better dress to wear.

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