Today’s message was preached by Whitworth Fellow Adam Blyckert. Be blessed and challenged by this powerful message:
“Give Grace to Those Who Hear”
[Main thrust: We are commanded to give grace to one another. In order to do this, we must truly receive grace and allow it to break up the callous areas in our lives and make us care about other people. God’s grace makes this transformation, but we can pray for it, and seek it out. Two ways of giving grace to one another are a) speaking Truth one another b) forgiving one another]
Our scripture today comes from the letter to the Ephesians starting in chapter 4 verse 17 and reading through the end of the chapter. I encourage you to pull out your Bible and follow along. If you didn’t bring your Bible, feel free to use the red one in your pews. Hear now Ephesians 4 starting in verse 17: “”. I recommend keeping your finger there so you can refer back to it this morning. Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you Oh Lord, our Rock and our Salvation, that our faith may not rest on my wisdom, but on the power of your Spirit. Amen.
The past few weeks, Pastor Mark has been teaching us what grace is: which I will sum up by quoting Eph 1:7 “In him we have the redemption through his blood the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.” This morning we will look at how Paul tells us to give this grace to one another. In order to give grace away, we must first receive grace ourselves, not just nominally, but it must penetrate our hearts and transform us. We will start by examining what a hardened heart looks like, and then see a couple ways that we can give grace to one another.
To get a picture of what Paul describes, we are going to look at an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This scene is about the character Eustace, who thus far is rude, selfish, and complains to all those around him. He wanders away from the group in the magical land Narnia and finds a dragon’s lair where he sleeps. The next morning, he has become a dragon himself! He soon realizes how awful he has been to his friends, and wants to be human again, but cannot change himself. Then one night, he meets Aslan, the God-figure who looks like a lion, and Aslan tells him to undress and wash in the pool. Here we pick up with Eustace telling the story. Close your eyes and try to picture the scene: “[p. 114-116]”. Eustace goes on to become a well-loved hero of the story.
While this scene is fictional, it really is my story… and it is your story. Look back at the passage where Paul describes the dragon-like existence that we come from. In verses 17-19 Paul urges us, on behalf of God, not to live a callous life characterized by ignorance and a hard heart. He says this to explain how we are to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling (from the beginning of the chapter.” What does a hard heart look like? Well, the Greek word for ‘hard’ carries the idea of being blind or stubborn. Blind or stubborn to what? To God’s grace. If you have a hard heart, you are not accepting God’s grace. Think of the Pharaoh in the Old Testament, he hardened his heart and would not hear what God was telling him. He chose his own desire over God’s desire. He had become callous to the suffering of the Israelites.
Think of a callous. Skin becomes hard so that we can no longer feel anything. My little sister is a gymnast and after years of doing bars, not only do the bars not hurt her, but she can hardly feel anything on her palms. This is what happens in our lives, we build up a tolerance so that we can no longer feel the pain of our own sin, or the pain of someone else’s suffering.
Are areas of your heart hardened? Are there people whose suffering doesn’t bother you? Neighbors? Family members? Friends? I know that I find myself saying things such as, “They are always complaining, why should I care?” or “I know he’s gay, and I disagree with his lifestyle, so I’m just not going to stick up for him, or even associate with him.” Or “That person is poor because of drugs and laziness, I don’t want to help them?” Is that love? Is that the life God has called me to? No. That is the callous way of living in which I build up my own wall of lies to insulate myself from the things God wants from me. The result of this callousness, according to Paul is “greed to practice every kind of impurity.”
Instead, verse 23, we are to “be renewed in the spirit of our minds.” Oh yeah, spirit of our mind, that sounds nice and…biblical. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a term I use every day. What is it that Paul is talking about? Think back to the story of Eustace the dragon, he first tried to renew himself, he scratched against a tree and shed a layer of skin. It felt good, but it was not enough. Three times he did it, but to no avail. We are just like that: we cannot renew ourselves! The spirit of our minds is our very essence, the core of our being, the way we think and interact with the world. Any self-renewal will not be the spirit of our mind, it will only be surface level. True renewal is passive, like the dragon laying on his back and Aslan going to work. God is the active renewer, and we receive it. That is grace.
I challenge you this week to pray about a callous area in your life. Either ask God to reveal one to you, or to renew your mind in an area you know is callous.
At this point, you may be asking, “Adam, this is all good and well, but what about giving grace to one another? I don’t see how all of this relates.” This transformation by receiving the powerful grace of God is necessary in order to give grace to others, not that you must be totally transformed in order to give any grace, but that we should seek to be continually renewed into the image of Christ so we may lavish grace on others. In this passage, Paul specifies two ways that we can share God’s grace with other people and we will address both in turn, the first way is by speaking Truth to one another, and the second is by forgiving one another.
Look at Verse 25: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” The exhortation to speak truth is a quote from Zech 8:16. In that chapter, God is promising to be with his people and this is one sign of his dwelling among them. In both the time that Paul wrote, and now, this very moment, we have Jesus, God with us, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
One way that we speak truth is by speaking Christ. Look back at V. 20, Paul tells the Ephesians that they have been taught Christ, not just about Christ, but Christ himself is the content. Paul says this is not just for the pastors or teachers, but for “each one of us.” We are to speak the Truth of Christ. Is there someone in your life to whom you can speak the Truth about God’s saving grace? This is the Truth for both believers and non-believers who need to hear it. Invite the Spirit to bring someone to mind. If you think of a name or two, jot it down.
What about the part where we throw off deceit to speak truth? A second way we can speak truth is by being honest with each other about both sins and joys in our lives. Rachel Dolezal is still in the news here and there. Her big problem is that she put on deceithood and did not speak truth. She lied about her identity upon learning the truth it shocked the nation. She lied about her race in a job where it was crucial Many of us come like this to church or with friends. Some people think church is a place for holy people, and we need to put up a front that everything is all right. But I tell you, the Church is not a hotel for the holy, but a hospital for sinners. Throw off falsehood, and speak truth. Other people think the whole point of church is to be vulnerable. In many ways it is, but some people falsely dramatize their lives with a weeping heart about how everything is falling apart to gain sympathy. We must not do this! Instead, speak truth, for the good of building one another up. Sometimes people need to hear a hard truth that you can see from your perspective to build them up. Building one another up, gives grace to those who hear. Hear the words from Heb 3:13 “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Speak Truth, and point one another towards Christ, even as they point you towards Christ.
One last note concerning Truth: it is imperative that, as verse 15, just before our reading, Paul urges the Ephesians to speak truth in love. The truth without love, often separates rather than unites. We must seek to remain together as one body in Christ, so when we speak hard truths or are told hard truths, let us do so with all of the sensitivity and compassion that Jesus revealed to us, and gives to us.
The other way Paul speaks of giving grace to one another is in verse 32 “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Notice here, Paul contrasts the callous, hard heart with the new, tenderheart. Just like our call to worship today, we speak the words from Ezekiel asking God to remove our heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. We are capable of feeling for other people, of suffering with people (which is the meaning of compassion). Do you want to give grace to someone? Great! In order to do that, you need to be willing to listen to them, to be affected by them, to suffer with them! That ability is made possible through God peeling off the callous areas of our heart. One way that takes place is through the ministry of forgiveness.
Let’s take a closer look at this last line, which I think is crucial. “forgiving one another as Christ forgave you.” What you don’t see in the English is that the Greek word for “forgive” here has the same root as the word for “grace,” and has the notion of giving freely. God, in Christ, freely gave us reconciliation; he lavished his grace upon us! Just like the king from the parable in the children’s sermon, God has canceled our debt! Not because we were holy enough, or because we deserved it, or even because we asked forgiveness. God forgives us freely out of His un-imaginable love. But here’s the question: Has it sunk in? Has it pierced your heart? Has God’s incredible outpouring of love through Jesus changed your life? I assure you, it has the power to.
“But Adam, you’re young, you don’t know the way I’ve been hurt. You don’t know what he did to me. You don’t know how she betrayed me. They haven’t apologized; they haven’t acknowledged how they hurt me. I just can’t do it.”
You’re right. I don’t know how you have been hurt. I haven’t had the challenge of forgiving some of the situations you face…but I know the one who does, and who has forgiven more. Jesus knows where you are at, and he gives you the power to forgive.
“While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Not when we were holy, but when we were at our worst. If Christ has done that for you, can he not also give you the power to forgive? We can speak grace to one another by freely extending grace, even if they don’t deserve it, or ask for it, or even know about it.
If you’re sitting here thinking, “I’m good Adam, I speak truth and don’t need to forgive anyone.” I challenge you to pray the words of psalm 139 this week: “Search me O God, and know my heart…see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” No matter how young or old, we all need to be more like Jesus.
If you are in the other category and are feeling guilty about something, resolve to act, to pray, to let God take control of that area, but also hear the gospel: If you know Jesus as your Lord and savior, he has already broken the power of sin in your life. You are forgiven! That is the good news of grace. I encourage you to let it pierce your heart, to let God’s grace transform the spirit of your mind. I know in my life, so often I live like I’m ignorant of God’s grace, and I would be willing to bet that some of you do too. Invite God to soften your heart, to break up the callouses, to let you know the meaning of his grace. Amen.
Go now and be who you are in Christ: not an old, callous person, but a new creation formed after the likeness of God: tenderhearted, speaking grace to one another in Truth and Forgiveness. Amen.