This is priceless.


Ephesians 4:26

Audio Version

There was once a rebellious Israelite who thought he would show Israel just what he thought of worshiping this God Jehovah. So what he thought he would do is to marry an absolute pagan, a Midianite, and show her off to the rest of the Israelites while they were weeping because the Lord had plagued the people of Israel. In fact, the sin of the people was idolatry, which is spiritual adultery. In the midst of that this Israelite punk shows up with his Midianite wife, committing the very sin for which all Israel was being punished! But someone saw and got angry. Righteously angry. He picked up a spear and ran in through both the man and his Midianite wife. The Lord richly rewarded Phinehas for being zealous for the cause of the Lord. He was rewarded for being righteously angry.

The Lord Jesus was also righteously angry on more than one occasion. Of course, the most famous is the cleansing of the temple, where all the money-changers had desecrated the entire purpose of what the temple was supposed to do. It was supposed to be a house of prayer, but the money-changers had turned it into a den of thieves. Jesus made a whip and drove them out of the temple. Again, an example of righteous anger. Paul is primarily talking about righteous anger in this verse. That is evident by the fact that sin is to have no part in this anger. Obviously, if there is no sin in this kind of anger, then it is a righteous anger.

As with all emotions, there are two dangers to avoid. One is in thinking that the emotion itself is sinful. But the two examples from Scripture that I have just quoted show us that anger can be rightly placed. The equal and opposite danger, however, is to include too much in the definition of what righteous anger is. We think we are being righteously angry, when as a matter of fact, we are only being selfish. Paul is very careful to guard against both of these dangers. Let’s see how he does that.

Firstly, Paul guards against the danger of thinking that anger is in itself sinful. We have already seen this in the two examples of Phinehas and Jesus Himself. But notice also that Paul commands anger in this context. This is somewhat obscured by the NIV, which says, “In your anger, do not sin.” Almost all other translations say this: “Be angry, yet do not sin.” The form of the verb for being angry is an imperative. That is, it is a command. Paul here commands us to be angry. Surely, we can safely assume that Paul meant that we should be angry in the same way that Phinehas and Jesus were angry. We should be angry at injustice, the taking of God’s name in vain, abortion, euthanasia, racism, oppression, and such things. Most of the time, we do not bother to get very excited about those kinds of things. After all, we think to ourselves, what can we do? Besides, isn’t anger the very worst form of intolerance and narrow-mindedness? I’ve got news for you: the very people who preach tolerance and open-mindedness are about as close-minded about and intolerant of and angry at people who don’t agree with them. It is about time that we got angry about things we should be angry about. Should we not be writing letters to our congressmen about abortion, about the lottery, about gambling, about oppression, about the breaking of the Sabbath? Should we not be voting our conscience? Should we not be involved and informed in politics? Should we not press for godly legislation both in our state and in our country? Don’t just sit back and be angry. That doesn’t accomplish anything. Do something about it!

This leads us to the second error from which Paul carefully guards us. That error is to include too much in the category of “righteous” anger. If you think about those things about which you should be angry, you will recognize that they have something in common: they are not about me! When it comes to my supposed “rights,” I am not to be angry. We need to recognize that we do not deserve any rights. We are sinners in the sight of God, and deserve the punishment of hell forever. But instead of actually giving us that, God has given us something that is completely opposite. Not only are our sins forgiven because of Christ’s blood shed for us, but we have been given the inheritance of everlasting life! How dare we stand up for our rights! It is God who will stand up for us on the Day of Judgment, and we should be content with that.

However, it is not just being angry about the wrong thing against which Paul warns us. Specifically, Paul warns us against being angry for too long a period of time. Paul tells us that we should not let the sun go down on our anger. That is, we should keep short accounts. Now, this applies to all of our relationships. We should never remain angry at someone who has offended us. We should seek to make it right. Even though this principle applies to all our relationships, it seems to me that it applies especially well to marriage. How many times a spouse will hold on to something practically forever. As Chuck Swindoll says, when his wife is offended, she doesn’t get hysterical, she gets historical. How carefully some spouses keep a long and ever lengthening list of wrongs done to them by their spouse! How wrong that is! If you have such a long list, then you need to shorten it. There needs to be reconciliation. You need to commit yourself to forgetting that list. That means not mentioning those sins again. It means not using those sins as a weapon against your spouse. You see, anger is not necessarily the final form of that sin. Anger that lasts for a long period of time is called bitterness. Your spouse has done so many things to you that you just don’t feel like forgiving them. Well, do you want God to feel that way about all the times you have offended Him? God has forgiven you in Christ Jesus, if you will but trust in Him. Why then can you not forgive your spouse? For those of us who do not have such long historical lists, the way to keep that relationship strong is always to keep short accounts. If your spouse offends you, mention that one incident to them as something that made you feel bad. If you have to stay up all night talking about it, that is far, far better than storing away the incident so as to remind your spouse about it later. Siblings, you can practise this principle as well. If your brother or sister has offended you, you can go to him or her and talk about it. Don’t store it up so that your relationship is always one of competition to see who is the better sibling. Sometimes, it seems to me that sibling relationship is simply assumed to be one of abuse. People think that it is simply the natural way to go about things. Competition in doing good is fine, I think, and very difficult to avoid. However, siblings these days think of their brothers and sisters as objects of scorn, ridicule, physical abuse, and any number of other hurtful things. Love your brother and sister. It does not matter how hard they are to get along with. You are still to love your brother and your sister. No ifs, ands, or buts.

So Paul tells us that there is such a thing as righteous anger. However, since it is so easy to cross the line from righteous to unrighteous anger, Paul gives us these boundaries beyond which we cannot go. We should only be angry at for the right amount of time, for the right reason, in due proportion. That is the message for us today from Paul’s command.

Content to Be Like the Master

Matthew 10:24-25

Audio Version

I have a poem to start us off today. It is by John Rice, from his book Poems That Preach.

I had walked life’s path with an easy tread, I had followed where comfort and pleasure led; And then by chance in a quiet place- I met my Master face to face. With station and rank and wealth for goal, Much thought for body but none for soul, I had entered to win this life’s mad race- When I met my Master face to face. I met Him and knew Him, and blushed to see That His eyes full of sorrow were fixed on me; And I faltered, and fell at His feet that day While my castles vanished and melted away. Melted and vanished; and in their place I saw naught else but my master’s face; And I cried alout: “Oh, make me meet To follow the marks of Thy wounded feet.” My though is now for the souls of men; I have lost my life to find it again, Ever since alone in that holy place My Master and I stood face to face.

What is so sad is that this poem’s beginning is often true of Christians. We sit in our comfortable armchairs and watch the news while Christ’s disciples are being persecuted all over the world. Am I trying to make us feel guilty about having comfortable armchairs to sit in and watch the news? No, it’s a tremendous blessing to have peace in this life, lack of persecution. However, there is a difference between recognizing that our freedom from persecution is a blessing on the one hand, and thinking or saying that such blessings are our rights.

Christ says here that it is sufficient if the disciple or student is like the teacher, or the master. The word “sufficient” implies contentment. In other words, it is sufficient for the disciple if he be like his master. It ought to be enough if we walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus is drawing on the common knowledge of the day as to how disciples followed their rabbi. A student usually chose the rabbi he wanted to be like. Then he would follow that rabbi around and learn from him. Of course, Jesus is a rabbi, although He is a little different, since He was the one who chose His disciples. His disciples did not choose Him. But they did follow Him around wherever He went. What Jesus is getting at here is that disciples want to be like their Master. Furthermore, they generally do look like their Master. I know, for instance, that I teach piano a great deal like my teacher used to teach me. I saw so much that was good to imitate, and so I do imitate him quite a bit. Imitation is one of the main ways we learn. For instance, if you see someone doing some mechanical thing on a tractor that you don’t know how to do, and you want to learn how to do it, you watch that other person do it, and then you try to do it. It is a very hands on learning kind of thing. And that is what is happening here. The disciples follow their Master around and try to imitate Him.

This is true for us as well. We are to be like our Rabbi Jesus. We are to follow in His footsteps. We are also to follow Him into suffering when the need arises. Remember that Jesus is giving us these instructions in the context of talking about suffering and persecution. Jesus has been persecuted, and He knows that His disciples are also going to be persecuted. Fortunately for us, the principle of imitation does not stop with the suffering. We also become like Him in His death, so that we will also be like Him in His glorious resurrection. This becomes gloriously true of us when we come to faith in Christ. Faith means that we follow in Christ’s footsteps. We enter with Him into the pain of Golgotha. We enter with Him into the pain of the cross and death in the tomb. But then our soul comes through the other side into glorious resurrection light. Jesus is always one step ahead of us. For now, Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father. We will one day sit there, too. But Christ has gone there to prepare that place for us.

If the rabbi is misunderstood, then the disciples of the rabbi will be misunderstood as well. Jesus tells us this principle as encouragement: we are not going to experience anything which Jesus hasn’t gotten in a much worse way. You will remember in chapter 9 that after Jesus had finished casting out demons, the Pharisaic miracle inspector came by to pronounce that Jesus had done this deed by the power of the prince of demons. They said, “It is by the power of the prince of demons that he casts out demons.” Apart from being an absurd answer (which Jesus will demonstrate in chapter 12 by noting that if a demon casts out a demon, then the demon has shot himself in the foot. Or at least the kingdom divided against itself will not stand), it is also blasphemy. They blasphemed the Son of Man by saying, in effect, that Jesus was in cahoots with the devil. Satan is the demon that Jesus is talking about when He uses the term “Beelzebul.” The term literally means “ruler over the air.” Satan is called that in Paul’s epistles, too. So, if Jesus is being called Satanic, then we can expect to be called Satanic as well. It is interesting to note what the ancient Roman authors thought of Christians. They called them atheists, since, if they only believed in one God, they must reject all the other gods, and so they must be atheists. They also called Christians cannibals, since they ate the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. There were also rumors of incest, since Christians called each other brothers and sisters, and had “love feasts,” (which were actually only like our potluck dinners).

The fundamental misunderstanding, though, was about the nature of Christ’s kingdom. No one understood at the time that Christ’s kingdom was not of this world. It was a spiritual kingdom. Christ the Messiah did not come to free the Jews from the power of Rome. That was not His intent. His intent was to free humanity from the power of sin and death. But the way He went about doing that meant that He would be misunderstood. To this day, the Jews reject Him because He was crucified on a tree, which means that Jesus was cursed. But Paul already has answered that by saying, “Amen. He became a curse for us. The crucifixion of Jesus was in our place, and was what we deserved.” Paul turns the very point that was a problem for Jews into the greatest selling point of Christianity: Jesus became a curse so that the blessing of eternal life might be ours. That involved persecution and misunderstanding for Jesus. But the end of that process is glorification, the new body, being out of reach of persecution forever. That is true of Jesus, and it is true for us. What we too often want is to have the life of comfort followed by an eternity of comfort. That is not the life that Christ envisions for us.

When Christ says, “how much more,” He is referring to the fact that even our best efforts will be tainted with sin. So, if Jesus the sinless one could be called Beelzebul, then how much more will we, whose efforts are never perfect in this life, be called Satanic. Richard Dawkins calls Christianity Satanic, since it supposedly blinds people to the truth that we are mere animals and that there is no God. It is the same thing that has always happened to Christians. The world is not worthy of true Christians. Fortunately, there is a new heavens and a new earth that is worthy of Christians. Understand that we are only worthy in Christ, not in and of ourselves. But the truth is that the new heavens and the new earth are the answer for us. That is why we can endure hard times now. We have a better land awaiting us. Then, we will indeed meet our Master face to face, as the poem said. Only there will be no shame then. Instead, it will be the greatest joy imaginable. In fact, it will be as beyond our imagination as we will be beyond the reach of persecution.

Speaking the Truth

Ephesians 4:25

Audio Version

Lying seems to be a way of life for many people. We lie at the drop of a hat. The book The Day American Told the Truth says that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses. Here is one example: the drunk husband snuck up the stairs quietly. He looked in the bathroom mirror and bandaged the bumps and bruises he’d received in a fight earlier that night. He then proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he’d pulled one over on his wife. When morning came, he opened his eyes and there stood his wife. “You were drunk last night weren’t you!” “No, honey.” “Well, if you weren’t, then who put all the band-aids on the bathroom mirror?” Now, this is a pretty silly example of telling falsehood. The motivation was to get out of trouble. Oftentimes, however, the motivation for telling a lie can be simple convenience. Here is an example of that, told by Chuck Swindoll: “Back in the days when kids raveled on trains to get somewhere with their parents, they didn’t charge for kids that were five or under. And so this six-year-old fellow was told by his mother, as they were carrying their bags to the train, ‘Tell ’em you’re five.’ The little boy frowned and he got on the train and sat down. And the conductor came by and said, ‘How old are you, son?’ And he says, ‘Ah, five.’ So he didn’t pay anything. His mother paid her fare and the conductor left. The conductor came back a couple of hours later just to talk to him- rubbed his hand in the little fellow’s hair and said, ‘Well, how are you gettin’ along?’ The boy answered, ‘Really good.’ The conductor continued their chat by asking, ‘Let’s see, when you gonna be six?’ And the little boy said, ‘About the time I get off this train I’m gonna be six.’”

Lying is an example of the old man, the old life about which Paul has been telling us that we should put it off. We need to put off the old man, and put on the new man. Now, we need to be careful here. Putting off falsehood and putting on the truth is never the way in which we become right with God. Paul is not giving us a two-step process in which we can become the children of God. Rather, he is telling us that we are already the children of God, and that therefore we should act like it. In other words, we don’t do what Paul has commanded us here in order to obtain eternal life. Instead, we have eternal life, and therefore we obey what Paul (and God through Paul!) is saying.

Now, Paul continues to use the language of clothing here. I like the illustration that my friend the Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS used in his sermon on this passage: when we look at a man in uniform, we can tell not only that he is a military man, but we can usually tell what rank he is, and which branch of the service he is in. He is a marked man (in a good sense, of course). So also, we should be marked by our truthtelling. It ought to be obvious to the world that we are Christians because we tell the truth. We don’t tell lies because of convenience; we don’t tell lies because it will get us out of trouble; we don’t tell lies because of the fun of it; and we certainly don’t tell lies to hurt someone else.

That leads us into the reason that Paul gives us for why we should tell the truth. We should tell the truth because we are members of one another. Try this picture on for size: your left eye decides that it would be really convenient if it gave the brain false information about what it is seeing. So, it tells the brain that the cliff is further off than it looks. It isn’t 50 feet away, like the right eye thinks. No, it must be 100 feet away. What would happen if the left eye won the argument in the brain? The body would feel no compunction against going 60 or 70 feet (it thinks), and the whole body plunges off the cliff. Okay, it’s an absurd thing to imagine. And yet it is just as absurd to think that there is no harm done to the rest of the body of Christ when we lie. Sometimes we lie carelessly, or we are careless of the truth. But sometimes we are deliberate in our lie, and we do it in order to hurt someone. This is precisely what Paul forbids. You know, lying is not a small matter. It is one of the Ten Commandments. It is the Ninth Commandment, to be precise. That commandment states that we should not bear false witness against our neighbors.

That brings us to the vitally important point here. Christ was the ultimate Truth-Teller. He always told the truth. In fact, Christ is truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life, as John tells us. The truth is that Christ died on the cross as an atonement for sin. That is, Christ is our Neighbor, and we are members of His body, because Jesus took the guilt of our lies and deception away from us, and onto Himself by being a perfect sacrifice for sin. Christ died. And when He died, the world told the greatest lie ever. They said He was a blasphemer, claiming to be God while not being God. But of course He was God. And Jesus was vindicated when He was raised from the dead. The resurrection is the greatest correction of Satan’s lies that has ever happened. And if you believe not only that Christ is resurrected, but that He was resurrected for you, then you should always be motivated to tell the truth, because the truth will always finally win. Yes, it may hurt you in the meantime to tell the truth. But what is that compared with an eternity of truth vindicated? Should we not see that telling a lie is trading eternal values for a temporary fix? And of course, even in the short run it doesn’t always work. As Mark Twain said, the difference between a person who tells the truth and the person who tells a lie is that the liar’s gotta have a better memory. And, as Mark Twain also said, some people have lots of trouble with those passages of Scripture that they don’t understand, whereas Mark Twain himself always had the most difficulty with the passages of Scripture that he did understand. I think we all know what telling the truth means. We’ve had it drilled into our heads since childhood. But it is so hard to do, isn’t it? That gleaming carrot of convenience and escape, and just plain sinful fun just beckons, doesn’t it? The deception of it all! Wasn’t that part of what happened in the Garden of Eden? Satan told lies. Adam told a lie. Eve told a lie. They all lied. Lies don’t have to be outright falsehoods, you know. Telling a half-truth where the other half is essential to the meaning of the whole is still a lie. A deceptive answer, or a misleading answer is also a lie. If you are wondering whether something you said is a lie, put it to this test: is your answer going to lead someone to an incomplete understanding, or worse yet a wrong one? If it is, then you need to make sure that you don’t tell it.

Of course, the perennial question arises at this point: what if a Nazi came to your door asking you to tell them where you hid those Jews. Would you tell them? Firstly, we usually raise that question in order to justify lies that are close, but not quite. If you ever get into that situation, let me know. I doubt that anyone here listening to this sermon has ever experienced such a situation. Secondly, to answer the question, I am not sure what the answer is. Rahab definitely told a lie to hide the two spies from Israel. She is commended for her faith, although not necessarily for her action. Others think that God would have protected the spies even had she told the truth. Godly men differ, and I am not sure where I am on this issue. Ask me again in a while. But, as I said, this is usually a theoretical issue that is used as a foot wedged in the door, so that we can use that example and extend it to other situations (opening the door wider!) where such a lie is definitely not the right course of action. For right now, know that the truth is what God wants us to tell. Another helpful thing to remember when you are tempted is the Golden Rule: would you want that person to whom you are about to lie; would you want that person to lie to you in turn? Look at yourself in the mirror, which hopefully has no bandaids on it, and ask yourself this question: am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind? Am I loving my neighbor as myself? The answer is always that we do not. The answer after that is Christ Jesus, the way, the Truth, and the life. Amen.