Last week we began looking at what it means to be a mature Christian. We saw that one of the marks of a mature Christian is someone who not only uses the gifts that God has given them but also allows themselves to be ministered to and fed by other Christians.
Without much more introduction I’m going to jump into our next set of verses because there’s a lot to be said about what else makes up a mature Christian. Let’s pick up in Ephesians 4:17-19
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
Paul isn’t just talking about not living like non-Jews when he mentions the Gentiles. What he simply means is that Christians should not live like the rest of the world. They are to be different. We might want to say that a Christian is different because they are better than other people but that would be missing the point. The fact of the matter is that I know some people who call themselves Christians who are pretty much despicable and I know non-Christians that I almost admire because they live by the principles that they believe. I don’t necessarily agree with their principles but it is still better than someone who claims to have principles but doesn’t actually live by any.
The reason that we might say a Christian is better is because a Christian should be in control of their life. Of course we can also say that God is in control of a Christian’s life but hear me out. The truth is that we are all controlled by something in our life. With some people it is pretty obvious that they are controlled by drugs or alcohol. Other people are controlled by greed or lust.
Of course not everything that you can be controlled by is a terrible thing but whatever drives you, whatever causes you to get up in the morning controls you for better or worse. A mature Christian is not controlled by impure motivations, whatever they may be.
20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul says that we do not immediately become mature Christians. At one time we were all controlled by sinful desires, whatever those desires were. And the truth of the matter is that there is likely going to always be a struggle with our old nature. Paul says that we are to put on the new self. That means that there is a conscious decision to change and I believe that there is a daily battle that still takes place for many Christians.
There are a few people who are able to rid themselves of vices and never look back. Before my parents were married my dad smoke and drank and my mom said that he was either going to quit it or they weren’t getting married. He quit and that was the end of that. Most people are not as fortunate however and if they struggle with a sin it will be a daily process of putting on the new self.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Now, does this say that a Christian doesn’t get angry? Does this say that a husband and wife should never argue? The truth is that Christians get angry and it is ok to be angry. As a matter of fact, God gets angry. The issue is what we do while we’re angry. We can take our anger and turn it into something positive or we can act sinfully. Mothers Against Drunk Driving certainly has some people who are angry because they have lost children to drunk driving but they are taking that anger and putting it into something productive.
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry sounds like a saying that might come from Ben Franklin but it is actual biblical advice. The idea is not that it is a sin if you go to bed angry but the next statement is “do not give the devil a foothold.” When you go to bed angry you let that anger fester and rarely does anything good come as a result of that. Rather than resolving issues we often end up thinking of ways to get back at someone who has angered us rather than fixing the problem. The longer anger festers, the longer the devil has to turn our anger into a negative.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We’ve discussed our speech before so I’m not going to spend a lot of time here. The idea is that our words are in fact similar to our anger. They are neither good nor bad, it is what we do with them that matters. We can build people up with them or we can tear people down with our words.
Paul gives us options for our words. We can use our words in bitterness or to slander other people. On the other hand, we can speak kind and compassionate words.
5 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Up to this point we have seen examples of what a mature Christian is. This is the blanket statement that defines whether any action is one of a mature Christian. We are called to live a life of love. This isn’t some vague, touchy feely definition of what love is. This is imitating God’s love. And what does God’s love look like? We were shown God’s greatest love through the sacrifice of His Son.
True love, the greatest love, is self sacrificial love. It means putting someone else’s needs and even wants ahead of your own. This is the highest level of maturity that a Christian can attain. If you are capable of loving like this, you’re going to automatically be doing everything else. You’re not going to use your words to hurt others because even if they hurt you, you won’t lash out in anger or bitterness. You won’t sin in your anger but instead use that anger to spur you on to resolve the situation in a loving manner. If you love like this, you’ll do everything else right without thinking about it. Unfortunately it is rare that we love this fully.
I’m going to skip over the next few verses. They are a list of things to avoid. However, as I just said, if you are loving the way that God has called us to love, we don’t need a list of things to avoid. They won’t even cross our minds. Let’s jump down to verse 15.
15 Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to be wise? Paul isn’t talking about man’s wisdom. What Paul is talking about is explained in Proverbs 9:10.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
I really don’t like WWJD because the acronym became so cliché quite a while ago that it really lost all meaning. But on the other hand, this really is how we should approach our Christian maturity. We should ask, What Would Jesus Do? If you don’t care for thinking like that, try a different approach. If Jesus were standing here right now, would I feel comfortable doing what I’m doing or saying what I’m saying. God’s wisdom is going to point us in the right direction as to how we ought to live our lives.
We come full circle at the end of this message. I began by saying that we are all controlled by something unless we have been freed by God from it. Here Paul specifically singles out alcohol and tells the Ephesians not to become drunk. Now you could rightfully argue that there are worse things in life than alcohol. And you would also be right in saying that if you want to sit down and have a glass of wine with your dinner, it’s very unlikely to lead to any negative consequences. But that is missing the forest for the trees.
Paul is speaking specifically about being drunk. When you are drunk, you are no longer in control. And when you are no longer in control you may do very foolish things, whether that means getting behind the wheel of a car or waking up next to someone who you don’t remember their name.
Whether it is alcohol or lust or greed or anything else, we are not to be controlled by it. Instead, we are called to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Verses 19 and 20 close with what it looks like when we are controlled by the Spirit. We will be praising and worshipping the Lord rather than doing things that may harm ourselves or others.
While we might want to come up with a list of things that a mature Christian does and attempt to do them, that would still leave a lot of holes. Paul gives us a few examples of what a mature Christian looks like but he doesn’t intend for this to be an all inclusive list. What he did give us is the ultimate example.
We are to be imitators of God. We are to show the kind of love that Jesus showed. It is a self sacrificing love that puts others before us. This should be our goal even if we are not going to reach it all of the time. When we aim for this however, all of these other details are going to fall into place rather easily.