Sometimes you hear the statement that Christians are so “heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”. It is a devastating criticism that charges that believers are always talking about faith but their faith isn’t making any kind of difference in their day to day living.
The criticism is not without merit. We have met people who go to church, can tell you all the signs of the Second coming of Jesus, can argue points of theology, and are always talking about their faith. However, they also can’t be trusted in business, are among the biggest gossips, are mean to the members of their family, and always seem to be in a grumpy mood. These people do more harm than good for the Kingdom of God.
The thing I appreciate about the book of Ephesians is that it strikes a balance between knowledge and practice. The first three chapters of the book deal with the content of the gospel. It tells us that we are made right with God because of God’s undeserved grace. It is important to understand what it is that we believe. In chapter 4 Paul shifts gears. In chapters 4-6 Paul shows the practical impact the truth of the first three chapters should have in the way we live our lives. Knowledge and practice must always go together.
Paul tells us that we must “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” (4:1). He reminds us that God has not called us to serve Him in isolation but to serve Him in community. We all have a part to play in the family of Christ. Because of this he tells us that we must live differently than unbelievers. Instead of being led by urges, we should be led by the truth. Instead of being hard, we should be soft.
Now Paul is going to become more specific. Since I like to make lists to help me apply general principles to real situations, I like to think that this is what Paul is doing in the verses ahead. He warns us of what not to do (the behavior of the sinful world), and then tells us what we should do (the behavior of a true follower), and why we should do these things.
Some Things to Remember
Before we get into the first item on Paul’s list it is important we understand some things about this list. First, we must keep in mind that Paul never says it will be easy to do these things. We must grow in godliness. To some degree we will always be working on the things Paul lists here. However, even though we may never do these things perfectly, we should be able to see progress over the course of time.
Second, we also must not mistake what Paul is telling us. He is not merely saying we need to be “better people”. This is what we hear from everyone: “Work Harder!” “Get your act together!” “Take Charge of your Life!” Theologically this is called “moralism” it is the belief that we can “save ourselves”. Paul is telling us to live the life that is possible through a surrender of our lives to the way of the Spirit.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones does a good job of showing the difference between moralism and living the life of the Spirit. He says (I’m paraphrasing)
- “Trying to be good” relies on our strength rather than on God’s transforming power.
- Moralism is more about cultural norms rather than divine truth. Being a “good person” is about appearing good in the eyes of others. God’s truth calls us to some behaviors that are counter-cultural. God is concerned about character not just behavior.
- Moralism assumes that we can be good. That is a very hard message to those who struggle. Lloyd-Jones says, “this kind of faith has nothing to offer failures”. The world seems to say: you must fix yourself. The gospel however says we are all sinful people in need of the undeserved grace of God. Every one of us needs a new beginning. This is why sometimes the people most enthusiastic to embrace the gospel are those who have failed greatly. Christ is the only One who offers them any real hope.
- The notion of “being a good person” promotes self-satisfaction and pride. If we achieve a reputation as a “good person” we can feel pleased with ourselves and our achievements and even our religious superiority while still missing the internal transformation God desires.
- Simply trying to “Be Good” tends to leave the sinful heart untouched; we simply whitewashes the person. It regulates outbreaks but doesn’t do anything about the vice itself.
- Being good is more about repressing our old self than it is about living in a new self.
What Paul is talks about here is not reformation, it is transformation. He is not calling us to be better . . . but to be new.
The first specific characteristic Paul addresses is in verse 25
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
What to Stop Doing – Lying
A lie is when we twist, pervert, or bury what is true. We can lie by speaking, by not speaking up, and even by a look or a tone of voice.
There are different kinds of lying. .
- Exaggeration. We make things bigger or worse than they really are. We lie when we paint ourselves as being more significant than we actually are. In other words we make ourselves the insightful one in the story. We present ourselves with the pivotal insight.
- Flattery (designed to manipulate truth to ‘get something’). We use words not because they are true but because we hope that “buttering someone up” will make them more open to what we want them to do.
- Misleading statements and Innuendo (implying something that may not be true) or other distortions of the truth. Just because we didn’t pass on a lie does not mean we have not implied that falsehood. Think about political ads. You find something a person said, take it out of context, and play it over and over to make the person sound like a buffoon. The response is: “you heard it in their own words . . . it is what they said!” It was what they said, but you have changed the meaning of what they were saying through distortion!
- Gossip (passing on the half-truths others have shared)
- Drawing conclusions from “facts not in evidence”. We do this all the time. Someone does something and we draw (and share) conclusions we have drawn from the actions. For example, we say “they said (or did) this and they meant it in a particular way” We know what they did, we do not know their intention.
- Keeping silent about what you know is false. If a falsehood is being promoted and we say nothing we are an accessory to a lie. We may be guilty of a lesser lie but it is a lie nonetheless.
- Claiming things are ours that actually belong to another. We see this in people who write papers they got from someone else and pass them off as their own. We see it at work when you take credit for something someone else did or an idea that someone else had. You can see it even in people who share stories that happened to another as if it happened to them.
Let’s not kid ourselves; many of these things are acceptable practice in our world. For most of us, lying is an “unconscious survival technique”. We lie to escape consequences or to make ourselves look better than we actually are.
How many times you been in a situation where you did something and a person asks, “Did you do this (or say this)? And we respond, “No!” It is instinct. We want to avoid conflict or trouble. Kids do it all the time. You may actually observe them coloring on the walls of your house and ask, “Did you get this crayon all over the wall?” The child will look at you and say, “No, I didn’t do that”. Why? Because we are sinful people who want to protect themselves.
Way back in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve sidestepped the truth when talking with the Lord. Lying (of any kind) is an expression of the sinful nature . . . even if everyone else is doing the same thing.
Sometimes lying can help us get ahead. If we inflate our importance, divert blame, or implicate others we can often get promoted. If we lie about our record or our finances we may be able to get a job, a loan, or even get hand-outs from the government. Paul tells us that this is not God’s way.
What to Begin Doing- The Alternative
The believer is to be characterized by truth. This is more than simply not telling a lie. To be a truth teller means to maintain “fidelity to an original or standard”. In other words, being a person of truth means telling the truth by our words and by our lives. It is to live by the standard of truthfulness.
Practically, telling the truth involves,
- Fulfilling our promises.
- Being careful about what we say.
- Speaking truthfully about others…sticking to facts without interpretation or exaggeration. Leaving room for the benefit of the doubt.
- Being honest about your failures and struggles rather than exaggerating your good traits.
- Being truthful in business dealings.
- Trying to understand both (or all) sides of an issue.
- Being honest with others about the need for a saving relationship with Jesus
Paul said earlier that telling the truth is not simply blasting away at others. We are to “speak the truth in love”. This is an important balance to maintain. Our job is to communicate the truth not simply blast away with it.
William Barclay says,
It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.”
If we are going to be truth tellers we must not be careless with the truth. We should speak accurately and honestly. We must be especially careful with the truth of Scripture. We should quote verses accurately and proclaim God’s truth as accurately as we can possibly do so. We do this because truth matters.
Paul is not content to give us mere directives. He wants us to understand why it is important to be a truth teller. He says we should tell the truth because “we are all members of one body”.
Since we are members of the body of Christ we should reflect the character of our Savior and our God. In the beginning of the book of Titus (1:2) we are told that God does not lie. The implication is that since God does not lie, we shouldn’t either.
The consequence of the first sin in the Garden of Eden was a lie. Adam and Eve lied to God, and blamed others rather than accepting responsibility. Jesus said Satan was the “Father of Lies”. In other words, when we tell the truth we are following the way of Christ; when we lie, we are following the path of the Devil.
Even in those times where we may “get away” with lying to others, God still sees the truth. Once we start down the path of lying, one lie leads to another until you are so wrapped in lies that you don’t know how to extricate yourself. Lies complicate lie and rob us of joy. We will always fret that we will be “found out”. Jesus is giving us good counsel when He says the “truth will set us free”.
Lying is a practice that undermines all relationships, but Paul is concerned especially for our relationship with each other in the church. Once people conclude that you are not a truth-teller it is going to be hard to get anyone to consider anything you say as credible.
In order to grow in grace and truth we need to be honest with each other. As a Christian community we are to be anchored in the truth. The only way we can flourish and grow is if we are honest about our needs, our struggles and our conflict with each other. Instead of talking about each other, we need to talk TO each other. Sure it is hard! It is always easier to talk about people. However, love starts with honesty.
Truthfulness is not valued like it once used to be valued. We seem to view the lie as necessary to keeping peace, getting ahead, and keeping customers happy. You may even hear some say, “The truth is whatever you want it to be”. As a result, we are a society that is adrift. We have become more cynical, suspicious and antagonistic because by default we seem to believe that people are lying to us. We believe everyone is working some kind of a scam. Many of the lawsuits we see today are because people instinctively believe there is a cover-up of some sort going on.
Now we can wring our hands about the state of our society or we can see an opportunity. We have an opportunity to show by contrast what it means to be a Christ-follower. We have the opportunity to point people to the One who isTrue. The only way to do this is to anchor our own lives to truth. We must show people a better way.
How do we start? Let me give you some simple suggestions. Examine your words. Pursue truthfulness in all that you say. Be truthful and accurate about facts. If you lost 6 pounds don’t say you’ve lost 10, if you ran 1 ½ miles, don’t say that you ran 2 miles. If you only skimmed a book, don’t say you read it. If you made extra money on the side, be honest and report it. If you are struggling in your spiritual life, be honest rather than pretend. Care about being truthful in everything you say. If we will pursue honesty in the little things then we will be honest in the bigger things.
Search for Truth in what you hear. In the book of Acts we read about the Bereans who heard the words of Paul and then checked it out. They wanted to know the truth not merely a person’s opinion.
We need to be people who are always looking for the “rest of the story”. Check facts. Look at the counter argument (you haven’t really checked facts until you understand both sides of the argument). Let me give you an example. Rather than assuming the worst about someone; concluding the gossip or innuendo is true; check it out. I have had really good success saying to people, “I don’t know if you know this or not but this is what is being said about you . . . what is going on?” There is always another side of the story and people appreciate the fact that you want to hear it.
This is actually a good discipline for us personally. As we learn to examine the facts about others thoroughly, we will start to examine the facts we tell ourselves more fully as well. Frankly, we often lie to ourselves. We need to monitor and evaluate our “self-talk”.
Be honest (but gentle) about hard things. When you see someone heading in a bad direction, honestly tell them that you are concerned. When you believe someone is wrong in their thinking it is a good idea to say, “I guess I see that issue from a different perspective. Would you like to hear how I understand things?” If we are gentle, we can be truthful (and remain friends), even in awkward situations.
Relay the message of the Gospel truthfully. We don’t have to be mean or abusive. We should not come off sounding arrogant. We should not seem like we are happy about the reality of Hell and Judgment. At the same time, we dare not water down the truth of the gospel. There is only ONE way of salvation and that is through trusting and surrendering to the person and work of Jesus Christ. We must not veer from the true message of the gospel. A changed gospel message is a false gospel message!
There is nothing kind or loving about withholding the truth of the gospel from others. We say we are silent because we don’t want to offend others. Here’s the question: Which is ultimately more offensive: telling someone the truth so that they might repent and find new life in Christ; or compromising the truth so that someone feels good about their situation with God even as they head to eternal destruction?
As we begin a New Year it is good to set out as our foundational goal for the New Year to be people of truth; people who speak the truth, walk in the truth and continually point to the One who will lead us to the truth.