By Van Richmond
Pastor, New Life Church, Nashville
Focal Passage: Ephesians 4:25-32
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan spoke in front of the Brandenburg Gate beside the Berlin Wall, the heavily-guarded symbol of the Iron Curtain. West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt called this divider of freedom and people the “Wall of Shame.” Reagan’s speech, which Time ranked as number 10 among the world’s all-time greatest speeches, is remembered for four words: “Tear down this wall!” The seed planted by the President’s words took root and produced fruit just 29 months later when East Germany opened the Berlin Wall.
The East Germans were not the only ones involved in erecting barriers that kept families apart. History demonstrates Christians have built many of the walls that keep people from developing a relationship with their heavenly Father. Even the esteemed theologian John Wesley declared that the world would be Christian were it not for the Christians! What words, then, would be required to tear down those walls, to free those who face an eternity of imprisonment?
Paul provides the answers when he steps to center stage and delivers the last three chapters of Ephesians, focusing on our relationships with fellow believers. In the corporate world, this section of the employee handbook would be titled, “How to Interact With Internal Customers.” God’s guidance is important because some people are exceedingly adept at alienating others, often unable to perceive their misstep. One mother-in-law flew thousands of miles to see her son and daughter-in-law’s new house. Proudly, she was given the grand tour. Her only comment was, “It’s too bad you don’t have a stainless steel sink.”
Paul begins by giving us some specific ways of acting and relating that are signs of newness of life in Christ. The very first directive revolves around words, saying “Speak the truth … because we are members of one another.” The idea is that falsehood tends to loosen the bonds of brotherhood. False words create walls. Truth builds trust. One scholar has written, “Of all deeds, words are the most revealing, the most instantly available, the most freighted with personal significance.” The thought that words are deeds is fresh, but not new. In Hebrew, thought, word, and deed are not distinct from one another. To say something was to do something.
The next item Paul targeted was anger, saying “Be angry and do not sin,” which is a natural extension of his first directive. People watch to see if your walk matches your talk. Connecting with and convincing people of Jesus’ life-changing power is difficult if you light up like a string of fireworks because the clerk got your coffee order wrong at Dunkin Donuts. Our anger should be like that displayed by Christ in Mark 3:5, without sin. Be indignant at dishonor done to God — that would be like Christ. Be provoked over wrongs done to man — Jesus would have responded the same way. Just realize that anger exhibited in our human nature can cause disastrous results and will probably make that separating wall a little taller. Humorist and poet Will Rogers commented, “People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.” Proverbs 29:11 shares King Solomon’s thought on unbridled passion: “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
Finally, Paul delivers two warnings which should be our constant focus: “Don’t give the Devil an opportunity” (v. 27) and “Don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit” (v. 30). We will please either the Devil or the Holy Spirit. Our words and actions are the cause that will lead to some effect. Dr. Adrian Rogers, former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, said we are either “wedge drivers or bridge builders,” demolition crew or construction crew. Like President Reagan, let’s choose to be builders by finding words that connect believers, words that reach non-believers, words that help “Tear down this wall!”