I have only fired a gun twice in life.
The first time, I was with my cousin who had ‘borrowed’ his father’s .22 caliber pistol for a little target practice. We rummaged around and set up some glass bottles and cans on a makeshift stand that was left as trash. We didn’t exactly pick the best location, a large wooded area in between my grandmother’s apartment and a nearby grocery store. The truth is, we would have both been carted off to jail for discharging a firearm within the city limits had anyone figured out where we were. Since it was a six-shooter, we split up the number of shots each of us took: he got four and I got two, mostly because he was older, and the gun belonged to his dad. I managed to miss a bottle and hit a can, but in fairness, the gun wasn’t well sighted, and it was my first time firing anything that wasn’t a BB gun or air rifle.
The second was at the firing range of a hunting camp off in the North Georgia wilderness, a considerably better location for that sort of exploit. A friend had brought several rifles and pistol with him for us to shoot targets with from about twenty-five yards away. This time I was given a lever action, Winchester .30-30 and an armrest to balance on. I didn’t do any better. I fired about half a dozen shots and hit the paper about half the time. So, if I were playing baseball, that’s a pretty good average. Otherwise, meh. It’s not the kind of marksmanship that will get a call from the National Olympic Team looking for shooters in the 2020 games.
But who wants to be, meh? Do you get up in the morning and think to yourself, “I believe I’ll head out and have a meh kind of day.” has anyone seen any bumper stickers that say, “Have a meh day.” No one wants a life that’s just, meh. No one sits around the playground as a child and thinks, “when I grow up, I’m gonna be, meh.” Do want your doctor looking over treatment options and telling you, “I can give you the ‘hey, I’ve got this all figured out and you just have to take the red pill and get better’ treatment, or I can give you the blue pill and you’ll feel kind of, meh?’” That said, some of you are wondering if that’s the treatment your doctor has you on now.
In this section of Ephesians, we read about living life in a way that avoids, meh. As we enter into the new life in Christ, we enter into a new community and a new culture with a particular way of living with one another…it is that new life as God’s people in Christ that this text describes and urges upon us. The first part of this section talks about some specific behaviors that I think may have been going on in the churches of Asia Minor where this letter circulated that needed to be stopped. They also seem like the kinds of things that you might find in modern churches as well. Each of these warnings follows the pattern of warning and why, like,
- Put away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors
- Why? we are members of one another.
- Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger
- Why? It makes room for evil in your life.
- Thieves must give up stealing; They should labor and work honestly with their own hands
- Why? To have something to share with the needy.
- Don’t say things that are of bad quality, but only what is useful for building up, as there is a need,
- Why? So that your words may give grace to those who hear.
- Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.
- Why? Because God in Christ has forgiven you.
That sounds like a long list, doesn’t it? Much of this list resembles what you would see in the ten commandments in Exodus 20, reiterating the same principles written down centuries before. Even still, it seems like the sort of thing we might look at and think, “I can’t remember all those rules” or “Next your gonna tell me I have to follow the 613 rules the Jews followed.” The truth, the deeper truth beneath these words, is much simpler and the writer of Ephesians reduces it down at the beginning of the next chapter.
It starts with, therefore. In other words, look back at what was just said, I’m going to explain why I said it. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Basically, when we hold our emotions and their resulting actions in check, sort of an internal accountability, we can make room for living into the new way of life we have in the way of Jesus, living in the manner and loving people as Jesus did. In the words of Tom Wright,…when we learn through looking at King Jesus who the true God is and what He’s like, then we see the standard at which we are to aim.
Will we be perfect? No. That’s not the point. As Methodists, we believe in the sanctifying grace of God to lead us to spiritual maturity. This grace allows for us to learn to walk in much the same way that a child learns. We learn to roll over, to crawl, to stand, to balance, to take steps, to walk, and finally to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Spiritual development, growth and maturity, these are the point. And those points are only lived out properly when we seek to do as the text says and, be imitators of God…live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us to show us how to give ourselves, our lives, our way of being, to God.
The point is living a new life in the Way of Jesus and this is the new life: the life lived in imitation of God by following the Way of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, the life lived for something other than ourselves. When we chose to live this way, we are choosing not only to make our lives better, we are choosing to make the lives of those around us better by our example of Christ and we are bringing to fruition the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God here is the goal. Heaven, or being in the presence of God, is not the goal; it is the result of living a Kingdom-focused life here. It starts with orienting ourselves in the right direction and as our text says, being imitators of Jesus.
The point: Living a new life is “being an imitator of God” by living sacrificially and loving others in the way Jesus did.
The question: Is my way God’s way, the way of Jesus?
The application: Stop living a ‘meh’ life in the way of the flesh – the selfish, self-serving way that comes naturally. Start living a life that imitates God through walking as Jesus walked by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Danker, William Frederick; Bauer, Walter; Arndt, W.F.; Gingrich, F.W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Hylen, Susan. “Commentary on Ephesians 4:25-5:2” Accessed 2 August 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=374
Knox, John S. John Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons: An Annotated Summary. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2017
Mounce, William D. Interlinear for the Rest of Us: The Reverse Interlinear for New Testament Studies. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
Peterson, Brian. “Commentary on Ephesians 4:25-5:2” Accessed 2 August 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2547
Stott, John R.W. The Message of Ephesians. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979
Witherington III, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007
Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Louisville: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004
 Peterson, Brian. “Commentary on Ephesians 4:25-5:2” Accessed 2 August 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2547
 Ephesians 4:25-32
 Ephesians 5:1-2
 Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Louisville: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004, p.54
 Hebrews 12:1-2