Links to the video of this reflection: https://youtu.be/P0ROy0HieAQ
Ephesians 4.25-5.2, John 6:35,41-51
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
In today’s reading from Ephesians, the writer is providing some sound and practical advice on how to approach living the Christian life. Just to summarise the do nots!
Do not lie, do not sin and do not let the sun go down on your anger or make room for the Devil
Do not steal or succumb to evil talk
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit via bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and all malice!
If we were to briefly review this last week in our minds – how have we done against this list? Can we honestly say we haven’t been there at all, not even a little bit….. It is quite a tall order to avoid all of those things and it is quite right to repent of these things if they have come to mind. I deliberately put the confession later in Sunday’s service today – so we can ask for enlightened forgiveness based on these reflections. I am not talking about this because I want us to feel bad about our failings, but to show how open to the Holy Spirit we need to be in our day to day activities. The Holy Spirit’s guidance and power can help us with all of this. For virtually all of these do nots, I am pleased to say the writer of the Ephesians gives us positive and thoughtful advice on how to counter them. There isn’t time to talk about all of them but let’s unpack a few.
Starting then with do not lie! The writer says 25Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. One of the easiest ways to lose confidence in a friend is to find that they have lied to us. This is true even in the circumstances when they have probably done it to protect us or some other compassionate pretext. Lying about something – is not a good strategy. For starters, we have to remember for ever that there is some deception on the topic, not tripping ourselves up later on and we always run the risk of something else revealing the truth. We can wrap this up in the semantics of language – Little white lies – diminishing them or being economical with the truth! But it all boils down to the same thing really and it is just not a good idea! Credibility and integrity are brought into question when lies (no matter how small) are discovered.
Another area of difficulty is what to do in the circumstances where someone is set on pursuing a course of action that is not or clearly will not be good for them. We are not much of a friend if we collude in situations like this, but it can also be very difficult not to agree without clearly saying so especially as remaining silent can be interpreted as agreeing. This is actually quite challenging to handle, but we are not alone in any of this. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us – will help us to cope and it is surprising how inventive it can be in this kind of difficult situation if we have the courage to step out. I have experienced a friend stepping out in faith for me – when it would have been easier not to and remain very grateful to her. How the Spirit gave her the confidence and the words to speak when that was what I most needed.
So from lying, the reading moves on to another difficult area. In our relationships with one another this is the thorny question of our anger management. The writer to the Ephesians says – 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.
For starters it does not say – do not be angry, which is good news – as it is a natural instinct (and we know Jesus was angry on occasion – particularly over the money changers in the temple). When we witness injustice and we know something to be wrong, this reassures us this is a natural human response to injustice. What the writer to the Ephesians however counters us with is but do not sin. Anger like many natural instincts can switch very easily – into something much more self-seeking. There is a great difference between getting angry over injustice or prejudice in a situation, than getting angry because we are not getting our own way or things are not turning out to suit us, or its not what we like! or wanted to happen. Anger with self-seeking and self-centred motivations leads us rapidly into sin! Making more of ourselves and our desires than is appropriate. In a way this is captured in what the writer of this letter was getting at when he said – do not make room for the devil.
About the choices we make, we are always on a knife edge with this! I always liked those Tom and Jerry cartoons where Tom or Jerry – had a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other. Encouraging either character to behave badly or well respectively. We do have a choice – even in the most heated moments in how we behave and it will help us to remember this. We need to reflect on what our behaviour (especially when we are angry) says about our love of God!
Some of us are quite comfortable with getting angry and expressing ourselves. Others are not. I for one – am pretty uncomfortable with it. I would rather wait until I am calm – and deal with it then. Scared about what I might say and the loss of control. Sometimes it means I miss the moment – when an intervention would have been most helpful. I need to trust the Holy Spirit to help more. Another downside of this strategy is it can leave me festering! We know that stuff that as soon as we put our head on the pillow at night keeps us awake. Brinking resentment and unresolved anger – left to be dealt with later can be one of those things! The entirely sensible advice from the writer to the Ephesians is to never let the sun set on your anger. I have to say I can learn from this, and I even regularly quote this bit of the bible in preparation for wedding couples. It is a helpful and useful illustration of how to maintain a loving relationship. Anger is tricky and difficult to manage. It is not wrong in itself, but we do need to check our motivations and make sure we do not harbour resentments – that won’t do us any good at all!
The final do not I want us to think about from this passage Is 29Let 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. This one is a big challenge – and requires us to start from the spirit of encouragement with one another and not our gripes and moans. This is tricky at the moment as for some the stress of recent times has left us with a very short fuse or at best rather scratchy to be around. Again the Holy Spirit can help us in this – if we give it room to stir in our hearts. I find a helpful question when I am tempted to say something that isn’t helpful – is what is the gracious response? What will speak of God’s grace to us – his love that came down to save us that we have neither earned or deserved. And then after thinking of graciousness – is to test what I want to say with the question is that encouraging?
Church communities in particular should foster and model encouragement and building one another up and not be hotbeds of evil talk. We need to be both real and really counter-cultural in this regard and this is not easy!
To finish I ask us to read the verses we have been thinking about again with a short silence in between for our reflections
25Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another.
26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.
29Let 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.
Help us through the power of the spirit to walk the Christian life inspired and enriched by these verses: Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995