New Rules for a New Society (Ephesians 4:25-32)

We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth. Don’t get so angry that you sin. Don’t go to bed angry and don’t give the devil a chance.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Be honest and work hard, so you will have something to give to people in need.

Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.

Don’t make God’s Spirit sad. The Spirit makes you sure that someday you will be free from your sins.

Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ. (Contemporary English Version)

New life means being a part of a new society; and a new society means new rules to live by which benefit and uplift the entire community. Old destructive practices must be replaced with new encouraging and supportive ways of being together. Stop taking the broad easy road to destruction and start walking the hard path to life and contentment.

Stop Lying and Start Telling the Truth

Lying exists because people believe that being truthful and transparent is too traumatic. Many people don’t think that being open, honest, real, vulnerable, and genuine is worth the risk. They have believed the lie that they won’t be accepted, that they’ll lose face with others, or that people will just gossip about me if they really knew about me. So, we hide from others and avoid the truth.

In truth, we are responsible for one another – to make and keep promises to each other because that is what God does with us. Churches that love truth will make a safe place for the awkwardness of confession, forgiveness, and healing.

Truthful communities are places of hospitality where we are safe to be real. No one ought to ever suffer in silence, cry alone, or wonder whether others will forsake them. We belong to one another. Therefore, to have union with Christ is to have union with one another; you can’t have one without the other.

Stop Stealing and Start Giving

Theft comes in many forms, especially in our contemporary age. Embezzlement, shoplifting, fraud, plagiarism, and robbery are just a few examples of the ways in which we humans steal from one another.

Embezzlement is the theft of assets (money or property) by a person who has been trusted to keep those assets safe. Instead of embezzling funds, we are to steward those assets well, distributing them with care and a conscience – using them for the benefit of others, not simply ourselves.

Shoplifting involves stealing goods from retail establishments. Some people steal because they are in dire need. Many more steal because they can and want to. We must stop taking things we want, and learn to be satisfied with what we have. And we will only do this by using our own money to buy things for others who are in need.

Fraud is stealing that involves convincing the victim to surrender their money or property under false pretenses. This is nothing more than manipulating someone to get what you want. Work hard to defend the defenseless and ensure their justice, rather than commit a gross injustice against them.

Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. It’s cheap. It’s easy. And don’t do it, period. Someone else worked very hard to create what you may nonchalantly use for your quick benefit. Take the pains to credit someone else’s work and document the sources you use.

Robbery is a theft that involves using violence, intimidation, or threats to obtain property. Put the threats, guns, and false confidence away. In it’s place, do whatever it takes to do things right, hold a job, and give something back to society.

Stop All the Unhelpful Talk and Start Encouraging

Corrupt or dirty talk is totally unnecessary. It’s unwholesome and benefits nobody. Rather, make it your aim to use your words for good by encouraging others.

Encouragement involves strongly urging someone to do something with an equal commitment to lovingly come alongside and help. This requires both verbal exhortations and tangible assistance. Encouragement is the glue which holds a people together. Without it, a society degenerates into watching-out-for-number-one, and destructive personal survival tactics which will say anything to get what one wants.

Stop the Bitterness and Start Forgiving

Forgiveness is choosing not to hold another’s persons offensive words or actions over their head. It is:

  • Specific to an event, action, or words.
  • A process: it takes time to truly forgive.
  • Something anybody can do, regardless of race, creed, religion, etc.
  • Hard.
  • Freeing.
  • Ongoing.
  • Gracious.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Lewis Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve

Bitterness, however, wants to hold onto a grudge and seeks to punish the one who has offended them. That’s the way of Satan, not God. Even if the person has set themselves up as your enemy, we have clear exhortations from Jesus to love our enemies and do good to them, not harm. (Matthew 5:43-48)

The world revolves on the axis of mercy, not judgment. The sooner we get in the groove of how things actually operate for us to live a good life, the better that our relationships and society will be.

Good and gracious God, we ask that you make our life journey safe as we choose integrity, not disintegration. Shed light on those who follow crooked paths. May their dishonesty be exposed so that corrections can be made before further damage occurs. Help our nations, neighborhoods, and faith communities choose a path of mercy and goodness, rather than the crooked way of lies, theft, vitriol, and grudge-bearing. May we see a new wave of integrity sweeping over our world, through Jesus Christ our Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Stop the Bad, Start the Good (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth. Don’t get so angry that you sin. Don’t go to bed angry and don’t give the devil a chance.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Be honest and work hard, so you will have something to give to people in need.

Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.

Don’t make God’s Spirit sad. The Spirit makes you sure that someday you will be free from your sins.

Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.

Do as God does. After all, you are his dear children. Let love be your guide. Christ loved us and offered his life for us as a sacrifice that pleases God. (Contemporary English Version)

All of us have a hard time breaking bad habits, even and especially destructive habits which damage us and/or others. Why, despite knowing better, is it so doggone hard to change? And why, even though having the best of intentions, does that person in my life never change because I tell them to?

Probably because our approach to change dooms us from the beginning. Here are a few approaches which, frankly, do not work:

  • Telling ourselves (or others) to stop. Barking commands may alter speech or behavior for a while but it won’t stick. That’s because people need affirmation, encouragement, and love in order to change – and not by mandated rules. Judgmentalism or shaming others never effects any sort of positive change. Neither our brains nor our souls operate that way.
  • Relying on willpower. This is really an over-reliance on thinking. Yes, it’s necessary to change our thinking. It isn’t, however, enough. That’s because we are not brains-on-a-stick. We also have a body, emotions, and a spirit which needs activation, as well. What’s more, our thinking doesn’t change by sheer force of the will. Our brains are literally not wired that way.
  • Believing in positive thinking. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….” “Dream it and do it.” “I believe in myself.” “Nothing is impossible.” I am not suggesting we indulge negative thinking or let a bad attitude take root. I’m saying that positive thinking has its limits. It’s helpful but is not the true agent of behavioral change.
  • Pursuing self-help. Yes, we must all help ourselves. After all, we are responsible for our own behavior. However, self-help alone doesn’t bring lasting change. By only going it alone, individuals come up with hackneyed homebrewed prescriptions that will not get the job done. That’s because we are hard-wired for community and any sort of effective change of habit happens with others.

To stop doing or saying something is only half the equation. We also need to start doing and saying something else altogether.

Change always involves both putting off and putting on, laying down and picking up, removing and replacing, starting and stopping.

The Christian tradition holds that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Life together is to be shaped around the person and work of Christ. Since Christians share a common confession of Jesus together, we are to share a common life together.

Therefore, we will stop non-Christian ways of relating to each other and start a Christian way of relating to each other – because we belong to one another and are inextricably connected as the community of the redeemed.

Stop lying and start speaking the truth

Too often, we put up a plastic false front. Pretending we are okay, when we are not, or even acting like life is hard, when it isn’t, is an untruthful presentation – it’s a lie. Secrecy and deception are tools of Satan, not God. Therefore, we must put off the bad habit of pretention, and put on the good habit of speaking truthfully to each other. 

Buying into the devil’s snake oil salesmanship leads one to believe we cannot be open, honest, real, vulnerable, and genuine; it’s not worth the risk. We worry about being rejected, losing face, or becoming a victim of gossip. Shame then takes the steering wheel of one’s life, instead of speaking truthfully.

We speak the truth in love because we are responsible to one another – not hiding in the shadows or avoiding the dark places of the heart – but stepping into the light and forsaking all fakery for the benefit of everyone’s needs. The only thing lying does is undermine and erode true community.

Stop stealing and start being generous

Thievery takes many forms: petty theft, identity theft, stealing intellectual property (copywrites, patents, trade secrets, etc.), fraud, plagiarism, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, shoplifting, and more. Gossip, slander, and defamation robs another person of their dignity and reputation. Likely the most insidious theft of all is the stealing and kidnapping other human beings.

Stealing will always be a way of life unless it is replaced wholesale with generosity. Learning to give back is the surest path to real change. And there a lot of ways of doing it.

We can give back to the community through donating our time, participating in charity events, volunteering at a school, hospital, or senior center, and even recycling or planting a tree, or giving blood.

Whatever it is you choose to do, connect it with the penchant toward stealing you may have. For example the one prone to gossip might replace it with gratitude; or the one who chronically steals another’s time might join an altruism group.

Stop the dirty useless talk and start encouraging others

Locker room talk and dirty jokes aren’t helpful. There’s also a lot of speech that’s just downright useless, such as: a preacher who pads the sermon with lots of unnecessary words; a relative who is vague and not specific with their words; a boss who always points out, with many words, what is wrong but barely says one word of affirmation to an employee.

Instead of tearing down others with words, replace those words with encouragement. Going out of your way to write an encouraging card or note to someone, bending down to look a child in the eye to say, “hi,” expressing sincere condolences to someone who lost a loved one, or just having a kind word for the harried cashier behind the counter or the waitress at the restaurant, are simple ways of embracing encouragement as a lifestyle.

Stop being so bitter and angry and start forgiving people

Many people either cannot or will not forgive because they want to hold onto their anger and bitterness. Somehow, in their twisted and darkened thinking, they believe that, unless they maintain their grudge-bearing, the offending person or group will get off the hook.

Please, lay down that crushing load of mental vengeance; and pick up the light backpack of grace and forgiveness.

Chances are, if you’ve been in the habit of being angry for a long time, you have a cardiologist you see on a regular basis. Do yourself a favor by changing yourself and saving your health, instead of expecting others to change and blaming them for your issues.

If you are not the person you want to be, then take a lesson from the Apostle Paul: don’t just try and stop something you don’t like but also start doing just the opposite of it, in helpful ways that are a blessing to others.

And if ever in doubt, love is always the best choice.

May the God of peace make you pure and faultless, belonging only to what is right, just and good. And may your whole self—spirit, soul, mind, body, and emotions—be kept safe and be blameless when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. Amen.

Colossians 4:7-17 – Lead with Encouragement

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 

Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” (New International Version)

I was recently speaking with someone who was struggling in a relationship with her daughter. As I asked the woman to describe that relationship, it became evident to me that this mother had a habit of continually correcting the daughter. And then they would argue. Every conversation ended with a fight.

God created the human brain to operate on affirmation and encouragement. Although correction has it’s own significant place, our minds and hearts cannot bear too much of it. What’s more, the way correction is communicated is just as important as the message itself.

Today’s New Testament lesson has the Apostle Paul recognizing and affirming the good work of his fellow companions in the faith. And he only has one correction, given with such grace that we might not even notice it as such.

I’m not sure where the goofy idea originated that if we give someone too much encouragement and affirmation that their head will get too big. But I can guarantee that the lack of encouragement will deflate and discourage anyone, no matter who they are.

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

The Apostle Paul (Ephesians 4:29, GNT)

Paul described Tychicus as a “dear brother” and a “faithful minister.” Paul was sending him to the Colossians for the express purpose of encouraging them in the faith.

That’s right. Just for encouragement. How often do we do that? When does a boss send someone to a different location, just to encourage those employees? Do we go out of our way to encourage someone or a group of people?

Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus are specifically named as those who bring comfort to Paul. While many other of Paul’s fellow Jewish believers were off doing whatever, these three wanted to make sure their mentor was encouraged. They were simply doing what had been modeled for them.

Furthermore, Paul wanted the Colossian Church to know that Epaphras continually goes to the mat in prayer on their behalf. Whereas the Colossians may not see the hard work Epaphras was putting in, Paul did. And Paul had no thoughts of Epaphras getting a big head.

It’s really hard to get puffed up in pride if your head is continually bowed in humble prayer before God.

We aren’t quite sure what was going on with Archippus. Paul probably didn’t either. The old apostle could have assumed Archippus was being a slacker. Instead, viewing the man through the lenses of love, Paul thought the best of him. He provided helpful encouragement to persevere, to keep going and see the work through – rather than believing he just wasn’t doing the work.

It seems to me that, in this day and age, encouragement is in short supply. We use our words in many ways. Often, genuine encouragement of another doesn’t make the top of the list. So, by the time we may get around to it, the receiver has a hard time listening to anything positive, or even believing it.

What to do? Lead with encouragement… always. Not as a set up to a rebuke. But letting the other know this is of first importance.

“So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.”

The Apostle Paul (Romans 14:19, CEB)

The Apostle Paul never traveled alone on his missionary journeys. At times, he had up to seventy others with him. Paul was no lone ranger. He understood the need for community. And Paul discerned better than anyone that we, as believers in Jesus, need to have a new way of being with one another and in the world.

That new way of being is to center in a continual and reciprocal interaction of affirmation, encouragement, love, goodness, kindness, and grace. The old way of pride, posturing, positioning, preening, and pontificating are to be thoroughly replaced with the way of Christ, the way of humility, meekness, and righteousness.

Christians have been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of light. So then, we are to live like it, by encouraging and building up one another in our common faith. It’s the best way of completing the ministry given to us by God – even if there is a need for correction.

O Lord our heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served, but to serve: We ask you to bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others. Endue them with wisdom, patience, and courage so that they may strengthen the weak and raise up those who fall. And, being inspired by your love, may all your servants minister with encouragement to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the sake of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 – Examine Yourselves

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 

We are glad whenever we are weak, but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (New International Version)

God is in the restoration business. Sometimes, we might lose sight of that reality.

In the Gospels, whenever Jesus miraculously healed a person, it was for far more than taking away a disease or correcting a disability. The Lord sought to restore a person’s life by including them in the community. For example:

  • Leprosy put a person on the outside, both literally and relationally. Ceasing to be a leper meant that a person now had no obstacles to full participation in communal life.
  • Blindness reduced a person to being a beggar in order to survive. Having sight restored meant that the person can now work with others, make a living, and contribute to the needs of others.
  • Incarceration was (and still is) a complete removal of a person from society. Being in prison severs much human connection. Release from jail opens the way to reconnection and an opportunity to have a different way of being with others.
  • Poverty encumbers a person and weighs them down so heavily that it limits their ability function socially and relationally. Without poverty, a person is able to establish healthy patterns of giving and receiving within the community.

Those who are physically whole, mentally sharp, emotionally satisfied, and spiritually redeemed are free of obstacles and impediments to communal life.

So, it is a travesty whenever the people who enjoy full inclusion in the community, turn around and separate themselves, keeping relational distance from certain persons, and do not participate in the common good of all.

The type of examination of faith the Apostle Paul was talking about was not to obsess over whether one is a true believer, or not. He was referring to the person who claims faith yet maintains separation from others. In other words, to exclude others is the kind of behavior that unbelievers do, not Christians.

Yet, there are many sections of Christianity and entire Protestant denominations who pride themselves on such separation. They believe they’re being holy and keeping themselves from impurity. However, far too many of them are really putting a sanctified spin on their own sinful predilections to avoid people they don’t like.

Paul has no tolerance for calling exclusion of others “holiness” and naming the maintenance of an insider/outsider status as “sanctification.” The Apostle knew this was all poppycock and wanted nothing to do with it.

Christ didn’t die on a cruel cross, take away the obstacles to faith, open the way to know God, and create peace through his blood for a pack of so-called Christians to then erect imaginary concrete border walls to keep others out of Christian community and fellowship.

In God’s upside-down kingdom, the privileged insiders are really the outsiders; and the underprivileged outsiders are actually the insiders.

The so-called privileged believers are in just as much need for restoration as the leper, the blind, the poor, and the prisoner. The path to their inclusion is solidarity with the entire community of the redeemed – rather than picking and choosing who is in and who is out.

All this, of course, is another way of stating that Christianity is as beset with cliques as anywhere else – with individual believers, local churches, and particular traditions following their pet theologians and pastors and not associating with others who follow a different sort of folks.

The ancient Corinthian church was a train wreck of opposing groups and clique-ish behavior. The Apostle Paul had had enough of it and called the people to do some serious self-examination. And he was careful not to degrade or discourage them but to try and encourage the church to tap into the Christ which dwells within them.

Restoration, for Paul, meant specific behaviors which intentionally include people. To be inclusive means we actively work toward grafting people into community, as well as discourage behaviors that create division. Here are three ways of doing that:

  • Practice hospitality. The word hospitality literally means, “love of stranger.” A hospitable believer goes out of their way to invite another into their life, to give them the gift of relationship and fellowship.

Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home. (Romans 12:13, CEV)

Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins. Open your homes to each other without complaining. And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts. (1 Peter 4:8-10, CEB)

  • Nip bitterness in the bud. In an ideal world, everyone holds hands and sings kumbaya together. We live, however, in a fallen world. Harmony, unity, and peace take copious amounts of energy. Like an attentive gardener, we must do the work of identifying weeds and uprooting them, so they don’t take over the garden.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV)

  • Seek to encourage and learn how to do it. Encouragement is both a gift and a skill to be developed. To encourage another is to come alongside and help someone with both affirming words and willing hands. It’s what Jesus did (and does) for us.

Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So, encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11, NLT)

Hospitality, harmony, and help are all forms of love. And love is to be the guiding principle and practice of church and community.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. – A prayer of St. Francis of