In this section of the letter, Paul takes the theological foundation that he has laid about what the church is and turns it into specific, concrete application. This is quite a long passage and you will not be able to cover everything in a lot of detail. The form the passage takes is a contrast between walking as the Gentiles do and walking in love (also expressed as putting off the old self and putting on the new).
It is striking how much of this application is focussed on how we relate to one another. In place of falsehood is speaking truth to our neighbour, and the motive given is that we are members together of the same body. Instead of festering in anger, we should resolve the issues we have with others. Instead of stealing we should work, not just so that we can provide for ourselves but so that we have enough to share. Instead of corrupting talk, we should use our words to build up other people. Instead of bitterness, anger and malice, we should be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving.
It is in this context that we are instructed not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is grieved when we live lives that are focussed on ourselves at the cost of others, and he is pleased when we use our actions and words in such a way that builds up those around us. The same idea runs through chapter 5. As we love others, we are imitating Christ.
The theme then moves on to sexual immorality and crude joking. These things also clearly affect others, but the emphasis has moved onto living in the light versus the darkness. These things are not fitting with our new identity in Christ. Not only should we not participate in those but we should expose them. Recent times have seen much hidden sin and abuse being brought to light (often perpetrated by supposed Christian leaders), This is not a new thing, and God is working to shine a light into those areas that had been lived in the darkness.
The call on us is to wake up, live in the light of Christ and walk according to his will for us.;
Some Key Points:
- Christians are called to live differently, putting off the old self and putting on the new.
- This involves every area of life being transformed from self-centred and destructive to others-centred and upbuilding.
- We are called to walk in the light regarding sexual immorality and crude joking, and all that is dark will be exposed by God’s light.
- A Call to Repent – There is lots in this passage that is challenging, and may well hit on some things that are live issues for people. It is good to offer a moment for people to turn away from their sin and turn back to God.
- A Call to Community Life – Individualistic Christianity is a huge problem in the west. This teaching shows us practically what it means to live as the body of Christ, and this affects our speech, our emotions, our work and every area of conduct. Invite people to consider what this means for their own life and step into a much more others-focussed expression of their faith.
- A Reminder of Grace – As well as those who need to repent, there are those who have repented and are still struggling with some things discussed here, or feel guilty about past actions. A reminder of God’s grace in Christ as both forgiveness for sin and power for change would be a great way to land this preach.