The Church-Building Heart (Ephesians 4:31, 32)
Topic: One Body: Love One Another Passage: Ephesians 4:31–32
The Church-Building Heart
Ephesians 4:31, 32
(One Body: Love One Another)
April 9th , 2017
I. Help to Build a Church
When many people hear the word “church”, they think of a building. Some may picture a little country church, or the church in which they grew up. But others have in their minds images of soaring cathedrals built of stone and stained glass.
If you've ever been in a cathedral, they are pretty awe-inspiring. They are marvels of engineering and construction. Listen to what one website reveals about the building of these massive structures...
Although cathedral building was driven by religious figures or institutions, it was often a community effort. From the mid-twelfth century, the Church started granting indulgences (forgiveness of sins) to those who would help to build a church or cathedral, and therefore, rather than going on crusades, which had been a popular means of absolving sins in the late eleventh century, people dedicated more effort to the construction of houses of God instead...As cathedrals took decades, and often even centuries to complete, few people who worked on them expected to see them finished during their lifetimes. Being involved in the construction of a cathedral, even as the building patron, required a willingness to be part of a process that was larger than oneself. (https://www.durhamworldheritagesite.com/architecture/cathedral/construction)
Now, when it comes to church-building, that paragraph has some very helpful reminders, even in regard to true church-building. You see, as you probably know, true church-building has nothing to do with masonry, glass, wood or steel. True church-building has to do with people in community together, growing in the grace of God.
This morning, God wants to teach us about that very thing by helping us understand Ephesians 4:31, 32. Turn there if you haven't already.
II. The Passage: “Be Kind to One Another” (4:31, 32)
We just heard these words recited for us, but listen again to this passage, especially with this idea of church-building in mind. This is what Paul writes to the disciples of Jesus in Ephesus:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Let's think carefully together about what each of these verses is telling us about church-building, and finally, how the context as a whole helps us. First of all, in verse 31, God wants us to consider...
1. That Which is Destructive (v. 31)
As we look over verse 31, let's make sure we understand all of the terms that Paul is using there.
The Greek word translated bitterness is just like our English word, connected to a literal quality in terms of taste. So figuratively, bitterness flows from situations or people that leave a strong and unpleasant 'taste' in our hearts, toward which we become hardened.
The word translated here as wrath is connected to the next word, anger. Now anger is not wrong in and of itself. Both the Father and Jesus are described at times as angry about sin. But along with wrath, the context makes it clear this is unrighteous, unjustified anger that expresses itself in fits of rage.
The word clamor is the word used for crying and wailing in other contexts, or in reference to a great outcry. When used with these other words, we get the sense that an outburst of complaint or argument is what Paul has in mind.
Slander is actually a translation of the Greek word blasphemia. I think you know which English word is derived from that word. In general, the word means speech that injures another, particularly, that stains someone's good name. In most cases, it is used in reference to words against God, but Paul often uses it in reference to slanderous words used against other people.
Finally, the word malice is a broad Greek word often translated as “wickedness” or “evil”. In this verse, the sense is harboring ill-will; the desire to be hurtful to be others.
Now, we could simply take all of those words, and meditate on them, and guard our hearts against each one of them. But what we don't want to miss is the overall picture that Paul is painting here. He is painting a picture of that which is destructive. He is painting a picture of the kind of person, the kind of attitude, the kind of circumstances within a local church that will, if left unchecked, destroy it. Do you see that?
Now, please notice that Paul does not say, “Hey, when you come to church on Sundays, don't be like this, don't act like this.” No, he's telling you to let ALL these things “be put away from you”. That is, don't think to yourself, “Well, I'm not angry with or speaking badly about anyone at church...but oh...my boss at work...or, oh my wife or my mother, or oh, my so-called 'friend' from school who was talking behind my back...I can't stand them, they disgust me, I am so ticked off, etc.”
You see, God, through Paul, wants us to put all of it away, because such things are always destructive, not matter how much we might want to justify such attitudes and actions. And because they are always destructive, they will eventually spill out into the life of the church. Like a glass filled to the brim, it just takes I little poke to see things start to spill over.
Now, I know this might sound simplistic, the idea of just putting all those feelings away. But what Paul is saying is not, “Hey, flip it off like a light switch!” He's saying, resolve in your heart to fight against those things, by the grace of God; fight against them until they are driven from your heart, until God gives you the transformation He loves to give.
And how do we fight against them? Well, 1) identify them as enemies to be pushed out, and 2) we seek...
2. That Which is Constructive (v. 32)
Look at verse 32 again. Paul writes...Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
So we fight against that which is destructive by pursuing that which is constructive. We show kindness to the one we're tempted to slander. We are tenderhearted toward the one with whom we are tempted to be bitter. AND we forgive those who have wronged us, who have hurt us, who have betrayed us, who have failed us, who have neglected us, who have sinned against us.
Let's talk about each of these words for a second.
Kind is a Greek work that can be translated as “good” or “mild” or “pleasant”. It is the opposite of being “hard, harsh, sharp, or bitter”. God calls us to this kind of kindness.
The word we translate tenderhearted literally means, in Greek, “having good bowels”. Now, that might seem odd until we realize that the ancients spoke about pity and compassion coming from our guts (kind of like we talk about emotions in connection with our heart). So we could translate this word as “well compassioned” toward one another.
Then of course, the word forgive. Did you know the Greek word for “forgive” comes from the Greek word for “grace”? To forgive is to 'grant grace; to grant favor'. And of course, as we see here, and in many other places in the NT, including the teaching of Jesus, the measure of true forgiveness and the model for true forgiveness is God himself, who has granted grace to us in an astounding way through Jesus Christ.
But again, think about the picture being painted with these words. While Paul wants us to “put away” all of those destructive attitudes and actions, no matter where and toward whom they are directed, we see here in verse 32 that His primary focus is the church. This is what a church-building heart looks like: a heart full of kindness, a soft heart, full of compassion, and subsequently, a heart that forgives brothers and sisters in imitation of our heavenly Father.
Do you want a church-building heart? Do you want to see God raise up something that is exponentially more beautiful than a grand cathedral; something that reflects the glory of God in an incomparable way; something that truly humbles us, like we need to be humbled. That is what God wants to do through this very heart.
But here's what else we need to see in light of the context. We need to remember that what we have seen so far are prescriptive statements. God is calling us to adjust our attitudes and correct our actions. He is calling us to walk a constructive path, not a destructive one.
But when we consider the larger context in which these verses are set, we are reminded of some amazing things about how all of this is possible. The larger context reveals...
3. That Which is Descriptive (vs. 17-32)
Just listen to what Paul writes, beginning in verse 17 of this chapter. You will hear many more prescriptive statements, that is, instructions for living differently; all of which complement what we've been talking about. But listen as well for the descriptive statements; those statements that reveal who God is, what God has done, and who we are in light of God's grace.
Paul writes...verse 17...Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Brothers and sisters, that which is prescriptive can never come before that which is descriptive. What does that mean? It means what God has called us to do must be embraced in light of the fact that God has embraced us in His grace through Christ. We should be motivated to pursue God by the astounding way in which God first pursued us. AND, our ability to obey God flows from the reality of what God has done in us through Jesus.
We have a new self, created in God's likeness. We are a family; we are the body of Christ. We have the Holy Spirit, who has sealed us for that day on which we will be fully redeemed. All of these things and more are the reasons we put away that which is destructive and pursue that which is constructive. And if we move past our main verses, into the context that follows, this is what we read in 5:1, 2...[listen to the prescriptive and descriptive here]...
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
III. Why This Matters for Our Church
Now, as I was thinking about our main verses, our memory verses for this week, I began to think about the fact that, thankfully, those verses don't seem to directly address anything we're corporately struggling with as a church in terms of slander and malice toward one another. Some of us have been in very bitter and divisive church settings.
Some of us have known individuals and factions who desperately needed to hear these words as a direct rebuke to things they were saying and doing in the church.
But even though we have not had and do not currently have that kind of situation at Way of Grace, we also desperately need to hear these words. Why? Let me give you three reasons:
First of all, verses 31 and 32 speak to the hidden things within us. I recognize that there could be situations brewing right now in which bitterness has taken root in your heart, in which you are tempted to slander a brother or sister, in which anger is festering inside you. It may be subtle, and you may be denying it, or just trying to suppress it, but we know it is a very real possibility that there are relationships among us that are growing cold, in which there is a real need for a tender heart and forgiveness.
I may not know of those situations, but God does. And this morning, He is using his word to speak to your heart about those very things. Are you minimizing a slight that in reality hurt you deeply? Are you trying to avoid tension with someone else by simply avoiding that person? Even now, He is confronting your attitude and calling you to follow his example, in light of who He is and what He's done in your life. If that what's happening in your heart this morning, don't run from it. Face it head on, relying on His strength.
We also know, number 2, that our main verses help us guard our hearts. We may not be going through a crisis at Way of Grace; there may not be deep divisions and rampant distrust among us. But those things can come upon us faster than any of us think. Sometimes, times of relational crisis are just one incident away; one statement away; one slight away.
But we can guard our hearts even now against what is to come. Take time to confess any hint of these things. Take time to ask God for an honest heart in regard to your relationships with those in this church family. Pray that you would be vigilant and spot these kinds of destructive attitudes when they are still a long ways off; or be fortified in the knowledge of God's word so you are ready when the temptation pounces on you.
But I think there's one more reason we desperately need to hear these verses. Even though we are not in the midst of a crisis here at Way of Grace, these verses should set our trajectory. May God help all of us to take time, even this morning, to think very carefully about how we can pursue, how we can obey what God has written for us in verse 32.
How will you be kind to a brother or sister this morning and this week? How will you cultivate a tender heart toward your brothers and sisters? How will you nurture a forgiving spirit and seek or grant forgiveness in situations where it is needed?
To be proactive in these areas, it is essential that we savor the fact that God was proactive with us, even while we were His enemies. The good news of Jesus is what inspires good relationships among His followers.
Remember what we heard when we talked about the cathedral, about building that kind of church? We learned it was a community effort, and that people needed to see that it meant being part of a process that was larger than oneself. Are you ready to build today, and this week, and this month, and this year? To build something stunning? Let's ask God together for the church-building heart He loves to give.
More in The Essentials: One Body
July 9, 2017When You Don't Come to Church (Hebrews 10:24, 25)
June 11, 2017When You Live Under God's Roof (I Timothy 3:14, 15)
May 14, 2017Soul Care and Submission (Hebrews 13:17)