Be Careful How You Live (Living Stones – Part V)
Sermon Title: Be Careful How You Live
Good News Statement: God grants us gifts for newness
Preached: Sunday, October 30, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie UMC & Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (NKJV): Ephesians 4:31-5:2 Today’s scripture reading comes from the words of Paul from his epistle to the people of Ephesus. We will be reading from Ephesians chapter four verses thirty-one and thirty-two thru chapter five verses one and two. Listen to the words of Paul and God’s promise of newness…
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Walk in Love
5 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, “Thanks be to God.”
After a church service on Sunday morning, a young boy suddenly announced to his mother, “Mom, I’ve decided to become a minister when I grow up.” “That’s okay with us, but what made you decide that?” asked the boy’s mother. “Well,” said the little boy, “I have to go to church on Sunday anyway, and I figure it will be more fun to stand up and yell, than to sit and listen.”
Today’s message doesn’t contain a lot of yelling; but it does contain words of challenge, motivation, and tenderness that might generate some loud speaking! Today, we continue our walk through Paul’s letter to the people of Ephesus by looking back on Paul’s words of being made new “according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Last week I shared with you that my nieces like to play dress up—putting on Anna dresses, Elsa dresses, Snow White dresses, and Mini Mouse dresses. Each time they put on a dress, they become someone new: they become the person that is associated with that dress. When they put on that dress, they forget about their current life—that tattle-tailing and screaming—and simply become someone new. When was the last time you simply left the past in the past and lived in the moment of newness and new beginnings? When was the last time you set aside the problems of yesterday and today and focused on the newness of tomorrow? Sometimes we have to “dress up” to remind ourselves of the person that God is calling us to be.
God calls all of us to be an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a preacher, and a teacher for the sake of proclaiming the good news whenever we can and wherever we can. According to Paul, we are worthy to live the life that God is calling us to live because God has given us unique and special gifts to build the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1). But to fully be able to use the gifts that God has given us—to be the disciple that God needs us to be and to be the church that Christ needs us to be—we must do one thing: we must take out the trash.
After sharing about my nieces, I talked about trash. Paul notes in Ephesians 4:22, “[P]ut away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts….” Paul is challenging us to remove the old in our life: to physically take out the trash—the scraps and unwanted things from that day and put a new trash bag in the trashcan—and emotionally take out the trash—anything that is weighing us down and causing distance between us and loved ones. By doing this, we begin tomorrow with no more “trash.”
Additionally, it’s not just about physically and emotionally taking out the trash for Paul, it is also about spiritually taking out the trash. Paul needs us to spiritually take out the trash—remove anything that is causing distance between us and God, let go and let God take care of it. There must be a break with the past, we must be willing to throw away the trash so that we can be made new for ourselves and for the church of today and tomorrow. We must leave the world behind us and focus on the cross before us. To do this, Paul gives us some words of advice; in a yelling tone from his prison cell in Rome, Paul is boldly telling the people of Ephesus and us today that we are worthy of God’s call if and only if we set aside the bitterness of yesterday and today and focus on the kindness and redemption of tomorrow. God needs our heart and mind and body and soul to be cleansed of wrongness before we can fully experience, embody, and embrace the likeness of God in our life. And to help us out, Paul provides us with instructions to make this happen. But the question becomes, are you willing to let go of your old self so that you can be made new for Christ?
Let us pray… Dear Jesus Christ, may today’s message motivate us to seek newness in you, to leave the world behind and focus on the cross before us. I pray that with your words, I may encourage those before me to feel worthy enough to accept this newness as individuals and as a church as they and the church live into the mission and vision that you have laid before them. May my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In Your name we pray, Amen.
A couple of years ago, I came across a story that talked about a horrible storm. During this storm, a beautiful plum tree, which stood for decades in someone’s yard, was destroyed and left lifeless with twisted roots now emerged above the ground. John Claypool told this story and the story is about his grandfather’s cherished plum tree. This beautiful plum tree stood for decades in his grandfather’s back yard. It was the prize of the farm and the pride of his granddaddy’s eye. Then one day a horrible storm swept through the community. In its power, the storm twisted the plum tree from its roots and left it lying lifeless on its side. After the storm passed, people ventured outside to survey the damage. Before long a few neighborhood men gathered in John’s grandfather’s yard. They all stood silent in a circle, gazing down at the once beautiful plum tree now ruined beyond repair. Finally, one of the men asked the grandfather, “What are you going to do with that tree?” After a long pause the old man replied, “I’m going to pick the fruit and burn the rest.”
John Claypool, who faced enormous grief during his lifetime, went on to say that picking the fruit and burning the rest is the best response we can make to life’s wounds, storms, losses and pains. First, we must pick the fruit. Even from awful experiences we can pick new sensitivities, insights, discoveries and growth. But eventually we must burn the rest—the anger, grief, and bitterness—or it will destroy us. Sort of like “burying the hatchet.”
Now, Paul isn’t talking about a plum tree in the text that we read earlier. However, Paul is talking about how sometimes in life we have to get rid of the destruction, salvage what is still usable, and move on to new growth and discoveries. How many of you have something in your life that is causing destruction in your life: you are worried about something, stressed about something, having a tough time moving on because your heart is troubled and there hasn’t been any closure? We all have something or no someone that may be causing us pain, worry, anger, and bitterness; and to be honest, it’s tough to move past these feelings sometimes—“to pick the fruit and burn the rest.” We choose to live with twisted roots because we are afraid of the future. We don’t know what the newness will bring. Is there a “plum a tree” in your life right now that needs to be set aside? If Paul were asked this question, he would probably say, “Yes. And I’m not the only one who needs newness in this life.”
Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus, after telling them to put away their former way of life and to clothe themselves with the new self, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). Every day, every day, we encounter someone or something that stirs our anger, that fills our heart with bitterness and wrath, and that causes our soul to be corrupted and deluded by lusts. Something doesn’t go right, so we get angry. The project we have been working on for several weeks all of sudden decides not to work, so we get angry. Our friend or maybe a family relative continually gets their way, so we become bitter. The kids aren’t listening, so we become filled with wrath. Life isn’t what we had planned, so we throw in the towel and give up. Life is continually putting before us challenges and people that test our patience and that test our self-control. And you and I both know, that sometimes it is a lot easier to give into those situations than to step back and go a different direction. In a way, we leave the dead plum tree in our life and every day we choose to walk around it instead of moving it out of our way.
But let me tell you something. God knows we are going to face challenges; God knows we are going to get angry; God knows we are going to have bitterness and wrath in our heart; and God knows that we will need that gentle reminder to surrender everything to Him—to let go and let Him take care of it. There are moments in life in which are too great and powerful for us to conquer on our own. In those moments, we must salvage what we can, get rid of what is no longer needed, and seek newness in the presence of Christ.
When we let God take care of our needs, we allow Him to bring forth the grace that we need to keep moving forward. Remember what Paul said about grace? Paul stated that grace has been freely bestowed upon us by God (Ephesians 1:6) and that “for grace we have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8). Through this grace—a grace that we did not have to work for—we are instructed to live a life that is kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:32). As we live a life with kindness and forgiveness in our heart we become worthy enough to live a new life filled with “ humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). The newness that we seek in our life is a newness that resembles a new beginning in Christ, a means of living with love and not hate, acceptance and not anger, gentleness and not harshness, forgiveness and not blame, and peace and not war. All of us live with anger, bitterness, and wrath in our life but we also live with the love of Christ in our heart and this love can conquer anything and it can certainly guide us away from the old and lead us to living a new life in the righteousness and holiness of God. However, we must be willing to make an effort to live like Christ lived.
At the beginning of chapter five of his letter to the people of Ephesus, Paul states, “Therefore—after removing your former way of life—be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:1-2). To live in the newness of Christ is to be imitators of Christ: to live like Christ, to talk like Christ, to walk like Christ, and to live by faith and not by sight. How many of you know you can do a better job imitating Christ in your life? How many of you know that there are others who could do a better job imitating Christ in their life? How many of you could be more Christ-like for those in your life? In what ways can you be better imitators of Christ, and in what ways can our church be a better imitator of Christ? Paul has already reminded us that not matter our past and no matter if we feel unworthy, we are worthy to answer God’s call to be made new and to be imitators of Christ. But it will involve making an effort and salvaging what you have and getting rid of what you don’t need. We can all be made new!
In 1748, John Wesley reminded us of the reward that we receive when we put forth the effort to be made new. In his sermon titled “The Marks of the New Birth,” he highlights three marks of newness. First, our newness is marked by our increased faith. Through our faith, notes Wesley, we have “power over sin.” Through our faith, we, being free from sin, “become servants of righteousness.” And through our faith we are born of God in the likeness of Christ.
Second, our newness stems from our hope. This hope, as Wesley describes, is a “lively hope”: it is not dead, it is not stagnant, and it is not in a state of stasis. This hope is alive and building our relationship with the Holy Spirit. This hope is what motivates us to put our discipleship to work, to let our gifts shine, and to be the church that Christ needs us to be. This hope puts actions to our words.
Lastly, our newness is marked by love. Wesley’s third mark of newness is focused on love of God and love of neighbor, and being obedient to God, showing conformity to His will, and being zealous of His good works. Striving to be made new takes effort, but with this effort our faith will grow, our hope will be the action of our mission, and our love will conquer any form of oldness in our life. As Luke notes in his gospel, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To be made new, we must salvage what we can, get rid of what we don’t need, and seek the faith, hope, and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must put forth the effort to be made new.
John Claypool, the grandson of the man who’s plum tree was destroyed by that horrible storm ended his story with these words, “’Pick the fruit and burn the rest’ is some of the best advice I ever received. I enthusiastically commend it to you.” Sometimes, we will have to pick the fruit before we get rid of the “plum trees” in our life. This means that we will have to surrender all to Jesus. This means that we will have to let go and let God take care of things. This means that we will have to set aside the old and make room for the new: remove the anger, bitterness, and wrath, so that we can love more, forgive more, and administer more peace in our life. This means that we cannot fear the newness that God has laid on our hearts or in the life our church. We shouldn’t approach this newness by saying “forget everything and run,” but instead we should by saying, “face everything and rise.” This newness involves trusting God with your whole heart.
We can all be made new! Paul says we are worthy and Christ gives us the instructions to live by faith, hope, and love. We just have to make the effort to accept this newness and let God direct us where we need to go. I don’t know what this new direction looks like for you, but I know God does. Set aside the old, and put on the new; and live with righteousness and holiness in your heart. You all are worthy of the newness: embrace it, live it out, and share it with others. Don’t let the old define you, instead let the newness direct you where to go as you become an imitator of Christ!
I leave you with this prayer by John Wesley: “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it…. Amen.”
Let Us Pray… Dear Jesus, thank you for reminding us that we can seek newness in our life whenever we fill angry or have bitterness in our heart. Lord, allow this newness to motivate us to set aside the old and to embrace the messages and tasks that you are laying before us as disciples and as a church. Lord, guide our newness towards more faith, more hope, and more love as we learn to surrender all to you and to let go and let you take care of things. In your name we pray, Amen.
As you go about this week, take note that God has newness waiting for you: don’t be afraid to do some cleaning this week especially if your cleaning makes room for Christ in your life. As Wesley prayed, “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing… I freely and heartily yield all things to you, O Lord.” May you be blessed this week until we meet again. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit go transforming lives as you live well and wisely in God’s world. And all God’s people said, Amen. Amen. Amen.
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