Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost based on Ephesians 4:17-5:2
Dear Christians: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Through Baptism, you are clothed in Christ. Christ Jesus has claimed you from darkness and ignorance. He has taken you from walking in the futility of your mind to walking as His baptized child. As a consequence of this, you have been changed and are not to follow the old man which is corrupt through deceitful desires; you are not to follow the desires of the flesh.
The Holy Spirit tells us through the apostle Paul in our Epistle lesson that we Christians are not to walk as the pagans and unbelievers of the world. We are given several examples of how we are to be different from unbelievers: “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 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.” (4:25-32)
With the Fifth Commandment, God protects the body, with the Sixth the spouse, and with the Seventh temporal possessions. Just as God does not want our neighbour’s money or possessions taken away from him, God does not want his reputation, good name, and upright character taken away from him, so God gave us the Eighth Commandment (cf. LC 255-256). God knows how many families have been destroyed by gossip and slander and how many congregations have been split because of people breaking the Eighth Commandment.
God’s command to not bear false witness against our neighbour includes the particularly detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person’s back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on. It is a common evil plague that everyone prefers hearing evil about their neighbour rather than good, although we ourselves are so bad that we cannot suffer that anyone should say anything bad about us (LC 264).
This is what unbelievers do. They destroy the reputations of others so that jobs are lost, careers and marriages ended, and mobs rise up to judge what is not their place to judge. You are commanded not to do the same.
You are then warned by the Holy Spirit to not sin in anger. “It is better not to be angry at all. But if one does fall into anger he should at least not be carried away by it toward something worse.” (Chrysostom) On no account are you to be carried into swelling rapids by the impulse of rage (Jerome). You are commanded to not give rein nor yield to the impulse and promptings of wrath, but to beware of doing what your wrath would have you do (Luther).
Instead of sinning in anger, you are to not let the sun go down on your anger. You are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. You are to be reconciled with God and with those who have made you angry, rather than giving the devil the opportunity to lead you into other sin because of your anger.
You are told put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and clamour, along with all malice. Bitterness is a resentful attitude of the heart that arises from the belief that you have been treated wrongly. Clamour is angry shouting and malice is an attitude of ill-will towards others and the desire to do them harm. The connection between these can be seen in anger leading to bitterness and angry shouting, to lying and speaking ill of someone, and anger can even lead to the desire to do them harm.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. How is it that you can forgive someone who has sinned against you? Because God in Christ has forgiven you.
God forgave you all your sins through Baptism, but because you have sinned since Baptism and have been angry and gossiped and slandered and been bitter and shouted angrily and desired harm to others, thus God forgives you again and again. The entire Christian life is a continual return to your Baptism, a continual drowning of the Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance.
The danger of not daily being sorry for your sins and repenting of them is also mentioned in our text. Impenitence is the same as having a hard heart and being calloused. When sins are constant and repeated without repentance, you begin to be calloused to the sins, and your hard heart does not feel the accusations of your conscience. You start to argue that it is no big deal that you talk about someone behind his back; that you are justified in your anger; that your bitterness is right because you have been mistreated. That is not the way you learned Christ! Repent. Repent and believe the Gospel.
For you, Jesus suffered bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander and malice. Jesus was treated unfairly but He did not become bitter. In anger and wrath Jesus was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Even crucified He still bore clamour and slander and malice.
Jesus died on the cross for your sins, but He is not bitter with you. Jesus suffered the righteous and just wrath and anger of God over your sins, but He is not wrathful or angry with you. Jesus suffered for your sins of anger and slander and gossip and lying but He bears you no ill-will.
Jesus is tender-hearted, forgiving you all your sins because He loved you and gave Himself up for you, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. His fragrant offering covers the foulness of your sins.
Daily repentant of your sins. Be sorry for your sins and trust in Jesus for forgiveness because He will never withhold it from you. He gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins and through them strengthens you to eternal life, so you know you have His forgiveness.
In Baptism you have put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. All your sins are covered. You are righteous and holy. Thus, you do not walk as the pagans do. You walk as a child of God because your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.