When Paul and other epistle writers challenged Christians to exhibit certain behaviors, they were seldom trying to be comprehensive. It was more like they were providing a series of examples to think about, hoping the general principles of the Christian life would shine through.
Paul’s examples in today’s text are broad, though, giving insight into the inner and outer life of the spiritually healthy Christian.
Leading up to the text we are exploring today, Paul spoke of unity among Christ’s followers through the power of the Holy Spirit. He also compared the pre-Christian to the post-Christian life, calling the old life “false.”
“Stop telling lies” is one way to translate Paul’s initial exhortation. Specifically, I think Paul wanted all Christians to inject the truth of Christ’s sacrifice and Christ’s ongoing transformation of the world into everything we do. Never let the false worldview of the old life overwhelm the new.
When Paul moved on to the subject of anger, his approach was more pragmatic than Jesus’ hyperbolic “anger equals murder” statement. Paul was straightforward about the fact that Christians will continue to get angry. We are reminded that anger at times can be healthy, if it is the kind of anger we feel when we see sin and the damage it does. It is especially healthy if if we are moved to correct the wrong in a holy way.
The trick is to not be blinded by anger, to not react in a way where we begin to sin ourselves. Beware of anger that provokes action before thought and prayer.
In verses 28 and 29, where Paul said thieves should stop stealing and the foul-mouthed should become encouragers, we see how transformative a relationship with Christ should be. In a relationship with Christ, change should occur—sinners receive the power to walk away from the old life.
It’s a struggle at times. One of the problems with having been around journalism culture as a young man is I picked up some words and phrases I need to be sure I have put aside permanently. And yet, I keep slipping into them from time to time, like a pair of ratty shoes hiding in the back of my closet. I don’t want those words, phrases and negative ways of thinking to affect others, however.
Much of the rest of what Paul wrote serves as a reminder of why we change. We’re not trying to live up to some kind of new set of Christian commandments; we’re not earning our salvation. We’re responding with humility and great joy to the gift of eternal life Christ has given us.
We look at the God-man Jesus, the power he had, the rights he had as one carrying within his holy flesh the essence of the Creator, and we realize how he rendered himself powerless so as to redeem us from the deadly effects of sin.
We are called to imitate his sacrifice as best we can. We contain ourselves, lower ourselves, and make ourselves radically available to others so they, too, can find eternal life. In doing so, we simply are thanking God.
Through imitation, we become as authentic as human beings can be, knowing Christ makes us authentic enough to last forever.