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Monday, January 23, 2017

Today's Scripture Reading | Ephesians 4:17–32

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And 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, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (NRSV)

Well, that’s just mean.

“The futility of their minds?” “Darkened in their understanding?”

Come on, Paul. There’s no need for that.

I’m writing this devotional as I’m preparing a sermon on Acts 10, that pivotal story in which the early Christians saw, with reluctant amazement, that the grace of God in Jesus extends beyond their tribe to Gentile pagans, even to the very people who crucified Jesus. Peter is the ambivalent hero of that story, and a dispute between him and Paul is imminent over this very question: what does evidence for God’s acceptance of Those People demand of us?

Paul wants the Christians in Ephesus to be rigorous about the distinction between themselves and the Gentiles they used to hang with. He wants them to cling tightly to their new identity and their renewed minds. That demands some concrete behavioral changes: tell the truth, control your temper, don’t thieve, don’t talk trash, and pour that whole bitterness-wrath-anger-wrangling-slander-malice cocktail down the drain.

Be kind. Forgive.

It makes a difference, I suppose, when this way of life comes as hard-earned learning and not, as for those raised in the church, as conventional Sunday school content. It places a barrier between your new life and your old family and friends. You don’t have to go along with Paul’s tirade against your old people as “ignorant,” but you have to move in a different direction. That costs.

Eternal God, you have called us out of ignorance and into the truth of new life in Jesus. Increase our faith, and guide us in living as your new and redeemed people. For Christ’s sake. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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