How many like to put on new clothes? I don't care if what I am wearing is new or from the Clinton administration.
In today's scripture, Paul is talking about a spiritual change that comes into people's lives and describes it like changing clothes. “Put away the former way of life”. Paul says, “is like people taking off soiled clothes, we are to take off our old ways and attitudes and put on new”. This is an intellectual effort on the part of the believer as they are renewed in their minds and hearts.
When we put off former things and put on God’s spirit, our activities character are renewed. I remember the Karate Kid movies and how he was taught to wax on and wax off. We are called to take off the traits and actions that have gotten us in the messes we’ve been in and put on the characteristics of Christ.
Paul has just been saying that when someone becomes a Christian, they must put off their old life like a person takes off a coat for which they have no further use. He talked specifically about the things that must be banished from the Christian life.
He does this because he realizes that belief and behavior dovetail into one another and that truth is something to be done as well as known.
The nitty gritty of Christian behavior is our response to all that God has done in and through us. Relationships are central to the concrete examples of the new Christian way of life. In ancient times, people would listen to a teacher speak, then the students (called disciples) would imitate the teacher.
We learn by imitation and then try things on for our own selves. Someone shows us how to do something and then we try to do it like them. Children do this with their parents and siblings and other family members. As God's children, we are imitators of God.
To help people understand, exactly how to imitate God, Paul offers several steps—telling the truth, controlling our anger, honesty at work, no stealing, no foul language, kindness of speech, forgiveness love and sexual self control.
No more falsehood. We have all known people that would rather tell a lie than the truth. Sometimes lies are deliberate and sometimes they are unconscious. Have you ever gone to a carnival or amusement park and seen the Hall of Mirrors? You step inside and all of a sudden you are surrounded by dozens of mirrors and don't know which way to turn. What is true? What is not?
Many people have become careless with the truth and have mixed in false statements so much that they can't pick out what is and what is not the truth any more. Paul tells us that imitating Christ involves putting away falsehoods that protects our egos and pride by confessing our faults appropriately. We must accustom ourselves to making a deliberate resolve and attempt to tell the truth. For many it is easier to exaggerate the details of the story than to tell what happened. It is easy to make up some sort of story when we are making an excuse for not doing something.
The other problem with truth is that if you are off 1%, after awhile you are quite a way from where you started. Truth demands a deliberate effort, not only truth in our speech there is also truth that is not destroyed by silence. Silence gives approval to action which can sometimes be wrong.
There were several words for anger used in the Bible. One was “thumos” which also means “a fire that burns straw”. It blazes quickly and quickly subsides. Often people become angry and then nurse that anger in order to keep it warm and alive, brooding over insults and injuries and the slights we have received.
Paul continued his list of things that must go; bitterness, a spirit that refuses to be reconciled. The longer we go in mending a quarrel the less likely we are ever to mend it. The longer it flourishes the more bitter it will grow. The best way to deal with it is as soon as we can.
Paul suggested the importance of becoming an honest workman that is independent and fair in our support of yourself and have enough to give to others that have more needs than you.
Stealing is not limited to pickpockets and burglars. How do we steal our time, our talents and our energies in our jobs or in our relationships?
We wrestle a lot in our day with free speech as we reject “hate speech”. We have forgotten the importance of “Christian speech” which includes no bitterness, not ruining the reputation of others, or deceit. Christian speech is truthful, helpful, not deceitful, remains positive, and builds up through kindness and words of forgiveness. “Christian speech” does not mean verbally assaulting others with our faith at every turn, but truthful speech that builds up the body of Christ. Part of this involves separating people from things they do. And not agreeing with what someone does but still loving the person.
The kind of talk that Paul suggested was of no use was foolish talk and vulgar talk. Paul urged his readers to avoid bitterness and wrangling and slander and wrath. The word in Greek for devil is “diabolos” which is also the word used for slander. No one can cause more trouble in life than a slanderer. How many reputations have been murdered over teacups?
One of the kinds of talking that repulses me is loud and insulting speech. We need to realize that in any discussion or argument when our voice is raised it is time to stop. We would save a great deal of heartbreak in the world, if we just learned to keep our voices down and when we don't have anything to say to a person we just said nothing. An argument that has to be supported with volume is no argument at all. The dispute which has to be conducted in insults is not an argument but a brawl.
Paul asks that we be kind, with a disposition of mind that thinks as much of our neighbor´s needs as it does our own. This leads us to be concerned with the sorrows, feelings, struggles, and problems of other people, looking outward all the time, and treating others as Christ has treated us.
I don't think Paul is telling us not to speak, but to speak so that every word does good for someone else. Communication is so important. As much as possible, I try to use “I” statements when talking. “I can see that you’re upset, but I think that it will be ok”, instead of “don't worry about that”. “I don't agree” instead of “thatś stupid”. “I’m concerned that you are often late to work” instead of
“you're always late”. “I don't seem to be explaining myself well” instead of “You're not listening to me”. “Excuse me, I would like to finish my statement” instead of “You’re interrupting me again”.
“I feel___”. “My experience is that____”.
I have met all sorts of people, and it has been my experience that truth best happens in a fellowship of repentance and forgiveness. We can tell the truth because we can trust one another to understand and forgive.
I think about the people with whom I am the closest. They are the ones that ignore my mistakes and the times that I have accidently hurt others. These are the people who have seen the worst in me and loved me just the same. They love me “in spite of” and unconditionally.
In the 13th chapter of the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthian Church we are reminded that we may give all you have to feed the poor, and give our body to be burned as a martyr, but without love in our hearts and our lives, it means nothing. Doing for others doesn't mean that we have to be perfect or a goody two shoes or a holy roller. You can be loving and can still be your real self. Being loving in our hearts and minds causes us to act in more loving ways as we listen, and give to those in need and seek justice in every area of our lives.
Anger is very justified when it is the sort that William Wilberforce expressed against the slave trade in the late 1700’s, or Dr. Martin Luther King who led the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and Wesley and others who preached against the conditions in which men, women and children worked in the 19th century. In our day, people are angry about what we are doing to the environment and to people who are vulnerable.
Paul calls us to become new people with new realities and new futures. He compared this new life to the Gentiles (the non Jews) who they believed were greedy and impure. They, on the other hand, were righteous. “Reject the pagan way” Paul pleaded, with its hardness of heart and darkness.
In this scripture we are warned against grieving the Holy Spirit, the guide and director of our lives. We do this when we do things that are in opposition to God's plan and purpose for us. As children, we often acted contrary to the advice, warning and counsel of our parents. Doing this hurt them and grieved their hearts. When we act contrary to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, we grieve the spirit and hurt the heart of God.
We all know the struggle of making a major life change to adopting to new habits of diet, exercise or emotional and spiritual health. The transition takes times and discipline. Some people become so panicked about the routine that they do not take time off when they need to rest a minor injury. Other people make changes that are not enough to make a difference and then announce that it is not working.
We choose to imitate God because we are part of the family of God. How do we imitate God? We could look at the life of Jesus for a pattern in which we learn to love our enemies and not judge people, where it is better to give than receive, where the poor, hungry, thirsty and those that mourn will be blessed, and where those who show mercy will find mercy and the pure in heart will see God. In this way of life that is counter cultural, too much of what we hear, we don't treasure stuff and the peacemakers and those that suffer for their faith will be blessed, and where we will be forgiven if we forgive others. In this Jesus way of life where everything is reversed, we allow someone who has hit us to hit us again.
Christ loved us and gave himself for us. We call this prevenient grace. It is a love story where the principal actor is God who loved us before we knew who and what God is. Imitating God means that we love beyond our circle of those that love us, even our enemies.
This may all sound very good, but we have to remember that’s only God’s spirit can transform us from the old way of life to the new. The human act of conversion is made possible by a divine initiative of saving grace which Paul expresses in terms of a new creation.