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This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.
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Okay, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ephesians Chapter 4, verses 25-32. We’re coming to look at this passage a second time and we’re going to look at it once more next week. A message titled In With The New. See, we looked at verses 17 through 24, Out With The Old. Paul encourages the Ephesians to no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk in the futility of their minds. He wants them to put their past apart from Christ in the past. And then he wants them to understand they are now new creatures and a new lifestyle should ensue and they’re to put on the new man, renewed in the spirit of one’s mind, the new man created according to God to true righteousness. And now he gets specific about what that looks like. So it’s out with the old and in with the new.
And let’s stand in honor of God’s word. Verses 25-32 of Ephesians 4. “Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor. For we are members of one another. The angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice and be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another even as God and Christ forgive you.” So reads God’s word. You may be seated.
I like the story of the young preacher fresh out seminary settling down into his first pastorate in a traditional church in Kentucky. And so he began his ministry on the first Sunday by bravely preaching against smoking and how it damages one’s holiness and one’s health. At the end of the service, the elders came up to him and reminded him, “Young man, you need to realize that a third of your congregation here in Kentucky makes their money growing tobacco. You might want to stay away from that.” The next week he gets up and he preaches against drinking alcohol and the dangers of drunkenness. The elders promptly take him aside following that second sermon, that second service, and they want him to know, “Young man, you have to realize that in this county, a third of the people distill whiskey. You may want to stay away from that.” Julie admonished.
The third week he gets up preaching against gambling. I mean, who’s for gambling? So he thought it was a sure bet. And he preaches this message against gambling and following that service, the elders take him aside and say, “Young man, you did it again. This is Kentucky. We grow tobacco, we distill whiskey, and a third of our congregation, they raise thoroughbred race horses.” Young man took it under advisement. The fourth week rolled around, he got up and he announced that his message was to be centered on the dangers adherent in deep sea diving in international waters.
I think you get the point. But in contrast to our story, biblical teachers and good preachers are not afraid to get specific about sins. Sins that need to be repented of, hard truths that need to be embraced, and lifestyles that need to be changed. Good preaching. Biblical teaching is not afraid to step on people’s toes, because good preaching puts arms and legs and biblical truth and encourages people to walk in obedience to the gospel. That’s where Paul is here in Ephesians 4. He begins this second half of this book where he moves from gospel indicatives, what God did for us in Christ, to gospel imperatives, what we do for God and the power of the Holy Spirit. He says, “I therefore the prisoner of the Lord beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” And he goes on to get specific about what that looks like. What is a worthy walk? Well, it means putting off things that belong to the old life and it means putting on things that now belong to the new life.
He picks up this metaphor of putting on and putting off just as you would put off some clothes given the occasion, you’ll put on other clothes given the occasion. You’ll be dressed in a suitable manner given the context, the purpose of the time you’re in. And Paul says, Okay, here’s the time you’re in. You’re in Christ. You’ve got new life. You’ve been saved. Transformed by the gospel. So what you need to do is put off that conduct that belonged to your former life and now put on conduct patterned after God’s holiness and righteousness. So he talked about that, didn’t he? In verses 17-24, and now he’s getting specific about this.
Just this week through the generosity of a man in our church, I was invited to go to a high-end clothier in Newport Beach to get measured for a new outfit. It’s quite an experience to do that in the presence of professionals. And I got measured for a jacket and a shirt and a pair of trousers and was told that should be in about four weeks. And a couple of days ago, the guy in charge of this clothier called me and said, “By the way, you just need to know that the gentleman who’s given you this gift, sometimes he gets his name or a verse in the Bible embroidered onto the collar of his shirt on the inside. And he said, if you would like that, we’ll do that. Do you want your name? Do you want a Bible verse?” And you know what? Given what we’re doing here in Ephesians 4, I said, “You know what? I want a Bible verse. I want you to put on the back of my shirt on the inside Romans 13:14.”
Look it up. Look it up especially in the NIV. Because in the NIV, here’s what that verse says, “Clothe yourselves in the Lord Jesus.” And so every time I put this shirt on, remind me one, of the kindness of this brother, but two, it will remind me of this metaphor. Put on the Lord Jesus. Put on His thoughts and His actions. Make your life conform to his life.
So we’re looking at these specific areas where you’re to put off and put on. And notice, there’s a negative put off and there’s a positive put on. We noticed last week that there are five sets of contrast here. There’s a negative prohibition, there’s a positive command, and there’s usually a motivation that will drive you to obedience in those areas. But we did notice this beautiful completeness. We’re not just to put off, we’re to put on. We’re not just to repent of sin and be against certain lifestyles and certain behaviors and certain patterns of behavior. We are to be for righteousness, we’re to pursue the Lord Jesus. We’re to be active in turning our lives around by the grace of God. And I love that. We are to stop doing bad things. And you know what? Sometimes we’re better at that than starting to do better things.
To many Christians to find their experience in Christ by what they don’t do rather than what they do do. It’s a bit like crash diets. You may be on one at the moment because it’s just after Christmas. And we’re all a little heavier and a little sluggish because we indulged a little bit too much, and you’re on a crash diet and you’re working hard at it and you’re saying no to this and saying no to that. That’s great. Have at it. But it’s not the best path to take, because if that’s what you’re at, just a crash diet, starving yourself to some degree, dropping a few pounds, given time, they’re coming back with a vengeance. Why? Because you didn’t complete. You didn’t go from, I’m not going to take that to here’s the healthier choice, here’s the better lifestyle. If you and I are going to lose weight, if we’re going to be healthy, it’s got to be complete. We’ve got to stay away from certain food groups. We’ve got to stay away from certain lifestyles, but we’ve got to add to that a good diet and a good exercise pattern and good sleep. Get the point? Put off, but put on. Crash diets are only one half of the solution. Paul doesn’t want us doing that regarding our spiritual life. So put off, put on. We’ll be back at this next week.
For the small amount of time that remains, we’re just going to look at verses 26 and 27. “Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath nor give place to the devil.” See, Paul addresses words. We’ve covered that already. We’re to put off lying and falsehood and put on truth. We’re to put off verse 29, corrupt words, unhealthy words, and we’re to put on good and necessary and edifying words that build up and impart grace. So he’s covered the issue of words. Now he’s going to deal with wrath. And next week we’ll look at work, worship, and wounds.
But let’s just spend a little bit of time on this. Put off unholy and unhealthy anger. That’s what Paul talks about here. This is a quote from Psalm 4, verse 4. And what Paul is doing here is reminding us that we need to express righteous anger and suppress sinful anger that becomes a backdoor for Satan into our lives. Now, I’m not surprised he deals with anger in verse 26 and he picks it up again in verse 31 and attaches it to bitterness and wrath and clamor. That’s loud speaking, evil speaking and malice. Because you see, remember where we began? If we’re going to walk a life that’s worthy of the Lord Jesus, it’ll begin by walking in unity, and anger doesn’t help unity. The devil uses anger, irritation, bad tempers to injure the church.
Now there’s three things here. The distinction, the delay, the danger. We’ll go through them quickly. The distinction, the delay, the danger. What’s the distinction? I think the distinction is this, not all anger is bad. That’s a distinction we need to make. Because I think many of us fall into the trap of thinking anger is bad at any time all times. No, that’s not true. Because Paul says here, be angry, but don’t let your anger become sinful. Be angry and do not sin. That’s the way I read it. And the majority of commentators read it that way. Not all anger is bad. We must distinguish between good anger and bad anger, unhealthy anger, and holy anger. There is such a thing as Christian anger. It can be a virtue to be angry. That seems unnatural to us, doesn’t sit easily with us, but it’s true. I think that’s what this text is teaching. Be angry. Because there are times where it’s appropriate, there are issues that must be confronted with indignation. But as you express that anger rather than repress that anger, make sure it’s holy and healthy and helpful.
How would we be able to measure that? That’s a sermon in itself. But I’ll tell you, a baseline, a very helpful baseline is a quote by one of the puritans. He says this, I’m paraphrasing, we can be angry and sin not if we are angry at sin alone. Make sure that you’re angry over sin, that you’re angry over the failure to live up to God’s glory where there’s been a breaking and a blatant bending of God’s righteous law. All of that. You can be angry and sin not when you’re angry at sin alone. Write these down and I’ll read them for you. Write down Psalm 119, verse 53. Psalm 119, verse 53. I think this is a very interesting verse. “Indignation has taken hold of me because of the wicked who forsake your law.” The Psalm is saying, Hey, indignation has taken hold of me. I’m angry. But notice what he’s angry over. He’s not angry over personal provocation. He’s not angry over some pet peeve. He’s not angry over some wounded pride issue. No, he’s angry over wickedness and those who foresee it, God’s law. That’s Psalm 119:53.
And then you’ve got Psalm 139, verse 21. “Do I not hate them, oh Lord, who hate you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?” Anger must not be triggered by, as I’ve said, personal provocation, pet peeves, out of control emotion that’s not subject to the spirit of God or the word of God or wounded pride. It must always be addressing some sin. It must be devoid of sinful motives and it must not be allowed to lead to sin. See, initially there can be an expression of righteous anger, but if it’s not handled, if it’s not limited, and if it’s not governed, it morphs into unrighteous anger. We start out good and we end up bad. In fact, Paul will warn us about that. Don’t let the sun go down in your wrath. Don’t let it sit there and don’t sit over it nursing it, brooding over it.
But the point I’m just simply making here is that anger has a place. God himself is angry and expresses his holy wrath. And many times in the Old Testament will you get this phrase, “and the anger of the Lord burned.” We read here in Ephesians 5, verse 6 these words about God’s anger. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” What about the Old Testament prophets? Didn’t they get angry? To use the words of Psalm 119. Didn’t indignation lay hold of them in the light of injustice, the plight of the widow, the plight of the child idolatry, sexual sin? And indignation lays hold of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, and Malachi. Why you rob God? Why are you bringing these sacrifices to the temple that are blemished? So God’s getting your second best and they become indignant and angry and they call out the sins of the day.
What about the Lord Jesus? You say, Jesus is meek and lowly and I say you’re right. Amen to that. And that encourages me to put my knack under his yoke because he is gentle, but he is also capable of anger. Alongside the picture of Jesus suffering the children to come to him and letting them up on his knee and kissing their forehead with a heavenly benediction, you need to have a picture of Jesus actually taking the time to weave together some leather straps into a whip and then going into the temple, which was a house of prayer, but is now turned into a Walmart, and throwing tables over. Can you imagine cracking a whip? That’s Mark 3:5 and John 2: 13-17. In fact, you know what Jesus hated most of all? Hypocrisy. People who are all shop window. Just go to Matthew 23 and you’ll see his vector against the hypocrites of his day, the Pharisees.
What about Paul? Acts 17:16, he’s provoked when he sees the idols of Athens. He just gets inside the city limits. He looks around him and there’s idolatry, there’s graven images, there’s a breaking of the commandments. And it says he was provoked. That’s a Greek word. It means he got hot onto the collar, he got stirred up. There is such a thing as righteous indignation. Failure. Listen, I want you to challenge yourself this morning. Failure to become angry at the things that anger God, that are an acts of wickedness, things that are a breaking of his law is to deny God in all of his glorious holiness. It is to feel to love your neighbor who’s being hurt by the wickedness you ought to be indignant about and it’s to encourage the spread of an evil spirit.
Listen to John’s thought. “There must therefore be a good and true anger with God’s people that we can learn from Him and from our Lord Jesus.” I go further and say that there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way which God never does. In the face of blatant evil, we should be indignant, not tolerant, angry, not apathetic. If God hates sin, His people should hate it too. If evil arises His anger, it should arise ours. Are you not flabbergasted at what’s being accepted in our culture without a protest? Do you realize that every Democrat in the Congress, bar two, voted against a bill just to ensure that if a child survives an abortion, they’re given medical care outside the womb. That was voted down by almost everybody in the Democratic party. That’s wickedness. Let me just state that again. If a child, if they try to cut up the pieces, survives an abortion and comes out of a mother’s womb alive outside the womb, these guys and these girls voted against giving that child medical care. It’s crazy. It’s wicked.
And yet I say to myself, I say to you, where is the agitation? Where is the indignation? Where is the cry? William Barkley tells of an incident by Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer and writer, where we had written something that was very militant and vigorous and he was asked by those who were overseeing the production of his book or the printing of this material to mitigate it. The great man declined. He said this, that he would not cut his claws nor make his tiger a cat to please anybody. Barkley goes on, “there is a place for the tiger in life, and when the tiger becomes a tabby cat, something gets lost.” There is a place for the tiger in life. To get angry at the grooming of our children in schools, activism. So opposed to a Christian worldview going on all over the place. The unborn. The use of immigrants as political footballs. We could go on. Let that agitate you, let indignation lay hold of you so that goodness can be promoted and come and grace can be fostered.
I would say this. I think this is a struggle for young evangelicals. I just have noticed that in my interaction with young Christians and young evangelicals and I read about it and I see it, they can’t seem to bring themselves to judge people and behavior. They don’t seem to be angry over sin in society. To listen to some of their leaders and to listen to those who write on these issues. I’m paraphrasing, but many have come out recently in the kind of young evangelical movement talking about what the church needs to stop going on about sexual sin because sinners sin sexually, they will, they have, they do. You know what? Turn the volume down. Stop speaking up. Stop being an irritant. Stop getting in the way of the gospel. I’m going to challenge that.
Certainly I’m not encouraging belligerence and I’m not encouraging bullying people and we’re not encouraging just the thou shalt not mentality. We want to balance. But you know what? For them, it’s all gospel and no law. For them, it’s just about special grace and not common grace. We need to have a concern about where society is going, what it is. We cannot see the forest for the trees socially because we’re caught up in individual struggles. There’s a lot of identification going on, but not a lot of indignation going on. The gospel of niceness is hindering the true gospel, that has an aspect of indignation to it.
Number two, the delay. Paul goes on to warn against letting the anger that could be justly expressed righteously manifest. He warns about letting that anger settle in and then soar. There’s a danger. One, there’s always the danger that your anger is driven by self interest, self love. The instinct is not holy. It’s idolatrous, it’s about you. But there’s other danger where your anger is indeed a righteous indignation. But the book of Proverbs warns about people given to anger. And Paul warns is not to give ourselves to anger. There are times where it’s appropriate. There are issues that need to be addressed by it, but don’t let it settle in.
In fact, this second word, wrath, in verse 26 is a word that carries the idea of anger being held on too long and given our fallenness, given our imperfection, given our propensity to make everything about us, it can quickly degenerate into sin. So be angry. There’s places and times and issues where that’s appropriate, but don’t let that settle in. Don’t give yourself to anger. Quickly express it and rightly express it and then drop it and let it go. Don’t hold onto it. Limit it. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath.
James 1:19-20, “Be slow to anger.” Now, let’s look at this little phrase very quickly. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. You’ll find it in Deuteronomy 24:13-15. There are two occasions where they’re being addressed there. If someone has given their cloak as security, the person who received the cloak is to give them back that cloak by sundown, because they’ll need that cloak to stay warm and sleep. And it also talks about if you’re an employer, make sure in that day you are paid on a daily basis, not a weekly or monthly basis. There’s no salaried people in that culture. At the end of the day before the sun goes down, pay the laborer his wage, because they lived on daily bread.
It’s a phrase that means you’ve got to live within reasonable limits. Get the cloak back in time, get the wages to the worker in time. And that’s what that means. You don’t want to read this verse too literally, too woodenly. If that’s the case, if you’ve got an anger problem, you might want to move to Greenland where you can be angry for three months of the year, because the sun doesn’t go down for three months of the year. So if you fancy that, off you go to Greenland, because that’s the way you’re reading it. But that’s not the way it’s to be read any more than if you read it literally. It means, you know what, if you look at your phone tonight, it’ll give you the time that the sun sets. So you know what, at 6:35 tonight I got to stop being angry.
That’s not what he’s saying. It’s just a metaphor. It’s a reasonable limit. So express anger. In expressing it, make sure it’s righteous and then put a reasonable limit on it. Don’t stay there. Don’t be that all the time. “Angry thoughts can become murderous thoughts,” Matthew 5:21-22. “And we need to deal with the emotion of anger or conflict very quickly,” Matthew 5:25. So don’t brood, don’t harbor ill feelings. Don’t let your anger simmer or smolder. You know what? Simmer down by sundown kind of thing. Just a benchmark. Put a reasonable limit on the expression of your anger.
In 2015, we almost lost the property here with that big fire. If you remember it. I happened to be off the property when that happened. I got onto the property and was allowed to stay on it and the Anaheim Fire service was here. Some of our own men who were in law enforcement or some of their friends were here making sure the property was taken care of. And I ended up living my boyhood dream. They gave me some of the fire stuff and I was going around with a helmet and had my fireproof coat on, and I even got interviewed live on NBC. But as the day unfolded, we’d taken care of it. It got to the edges of the property. But the fire service did such a wonderful job. We didn’t lose anything beyond our boundaries. But I had a job, and that was to run around. So I got a coat and I got a helmet. They wouldn’t give me the firetruck, so I had to run around in the golf cart. And I was running around in the golf cart with buckets of water, and my job was to look out for the spot fires. You get it? You’ve lived here long enough. An ember can travel one mile and then settle down in a little bush or something that’s dry and boom, little fire starts. Spot fires. And then the spot fire becomes bigger.
So I went about looking for signs of little smoke that was just smoldering where the ember had landed and I’d just douse it with water. And that’s what Paul is saying to us. Don’t let things smolder. Don’t let things simmer when it comes to anger. Finally, the danger. Paul Nicks reminds us that anger opens us up to the danger of Satanic influence.
I hope you believe in the devil as much as you believe in the Lord Jesus. Now, I hope you love the Lord Jesus alone. But the devil’s real. A man come up to me this morning after first service and thanked me for speaking about the devil. It’s kind of odd, right? Lord, thank you for preaching on the devil. But his point was we don’t hear about that as much. We don’t talk about that as much. We don’t talk about his influence. The tempter, the adversary, the one in whom the world lies in his lap. He’s real and he’s a real danger. And you know what? He loves working in the context of people who get angry real quick. He loves that. You make his job much more easier when you get angry.
And Paul warns us about that. Here’s a little statement you might want to write down, is that anger is one letter short of danger. Anger is one letter short of danger. And so Paul here reminds us not to give place to the devil. Some translate that opportunity, chance, but it’s literally place. Don’t give him place, don’t give him space. Don’t give him room to work in your life. And when you get angry in a manner that’s unholy, unhealthy, and unhelpful, he’s got a foot in the door. So don’t let him do that. From Revelation 12, verse 17 that he’s described as a dragon. In that context, he’s opposing the woman who’s Israel. The devil has a special hatred for Israel. But he’s presented as an angry fire-breathing dragon. He loves anger. He can pour fuel on that fire.
In fact, in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, you’ve got that incident. Could it be the brother who was involved in an incestuous sexual relationship and he was disciplined out of the church at Corinth, according to 1 Corinthians 5. But Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2, verses 5-11, of a certain brother, maybe that man or maybe someone else who had been disciplined by the church. And Paul says, enough. Don’t make his punishment more than it needs to be. Show your love, bring him back. And then in verse 11, he says, because we’re not ignorant of the devil’s schemes. Paul seems to be hinting at, hey, the devil will get a foot in the door if you remain unforgiven towards him, you make him bitter, because you’ve let this go on too long and your discipline is too harsh. I think you get it.
The devil has his nose pressed up against the window of our lives looking for ways to get in, looking for moments of uncontrolled anger that open a side door that he can come in and mess with. Give no place to the devil. Here’s a little illustration we’ll move towards wrapping up with. I love driving in California. I really do. I love the freeways. I love the speed. I love the action. Now, the one thing I don’t like is getting caught in traffic and people cutting in the line. Have you ever had that? Drives me crazy. In fact, it happened just recently. I was coming down to the church, I don’t know if it was the Gettys concert at night or there was an event at night, and for some reason it was one of those nights they didn’t expect it, but as all the cars were coming off at [inaudible 00:31:35] Canyon trying to jump down to [inaudible 00:31:36] and come along in front of the church. So we were kind of backed up. And if you’ve done that before, there’s two lanes that are legitimate, and they go into one. And all the righteous people are in those two lanes and they’re just slowly crawling down to the bottleneck.
And then there’s the third line. You know what, that night, I’m in the second lane from the left and cars are coming down that third line. Thinking, these people are stupid waiting in line. I’m just going to go down the third lane. And I’m looking at them. Do you think we’re stupid? And they’re trying to cut in. Now at this point, I can’t, but I’d love to have CB radios and radio every car in front of me, “Bumper to bumper, don’t let them in.” Because that’s what I do. And I made sure my car was bumping up against the car in front of me. They weren’t getting into me. I was giving them no place.
And then some kindhearted Christian lets them in and, oh, man. It’s like, “What are you let them in for? He doesn’t deserve it. We’ve been sitting for 15 minutes. Forget the gospel, apply the law.” You get it. And that’s where Paul’s at in a very real sense. In a very real sense. Now to get serious. Give no place to the devil. He’s trying to cut in all the time. He wants to get in and disrupt us when we’re in the lane of obedience. And that’s why we’ve got to take anger seriously. That’s why we’ve got to be on our guard on a daily basis for a spirit of smoldering anger and irritation. That’s why we’ve got to work at being slow to anger so that God’s got time to give us the power we need to continue to be slow to anger.
We’ve got to make room for an angry God. Romans 12. You know what? Where it says, “Make room for God’s vengeance.” Remember, we don’t need to settle all the scores. And then we’ll pick this up in verse 30 next week. “Give no place to the devil.” Make sure you don’t grieve the spirit. Make sure Ephesians 5:18, you’re filled with the spirit. See, that’s what we need to be. We need to have the floor space of our mind and our hearts and the rooms of our lives. We need to give all the keys to the Holy Spirit and let him have the run of the house and fill the house with his presence and his wisdom and his power. And when we are filled with the spirit, no place for the devil, because greater is he that is in us and he that is in the world. Amen.
Father, we thank you for our adventure in Ephesians 4 this morning. Although we didn’t get very far, perhaps that in your providence was the plan. This is a challenge to all of us, especially men, where we’ve got to fight the impulse to be angry, fight the impulse to fight, and to distinguish between anger that is generated by self-interest and self-love over against anger that is marked by true holiness and a desire for God’s glory and society’s good, expressed in a Christ-like manner. So challenge us, we pray. Lord, help us to cultivate an ability to be angry, but also help us to remember to express that within reasonable limits. Help us not to be angry all the time. And help us to be on guard against the dragon who likes to pour fuel on the fires of anger and hurt the church and ruin testimonies and bring wounds to marriage and relationship. We’ll get to Ephesians 6 soon enough. And Lord, you’ll challenge us as man and as fathers not to provoke your children to wrath. That’s the work of the devil, not the work of the Spirit.
So Lord, just help us to hide this word in our heart so we may not sin against you. Help us to put off the old man and the flesh and put on the new man and the Spirit. And we pray and ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.