This sermon was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on Sunday, February 5th by Pastor Paul Mims.
A little boy who lived far out in the country in the late 1800s had reached the age of twelve and had never in all his life seen a circus. You can imagine his excitement, when one day a poster went up at school announcing that on the next Saturday a traveling circus was coming to the nearby town. He ran home with the glad news and the question, “Daddy, can I go?” Although the family was poor, the father sensed how important this was to the lad. “If you do your Saturday chores ahead of time,” he said, “I’ll see to it that you have the money to go.”
Come Saturday morning, the chores were done and the little boy stood by the breakfast table, dressed in his Sunday best. His father reached down into the pocket of his overalls and pulled out a dollar bill-the most money the little boy had possessed at one time in all his life. The father cautioned him to be careful and then sent him on his way to town.
The boy was so excited, his feet hardly seemed to touch the ground all the way. As he neared the outskirts of the village, he noticed people lining the streets, and he worked his way through the crowd until he could see what was happening. Lo and behold, it was the approaching spectacle of a circus parade! The parade was the grandest thing this lad had ever seen. Caged animals snarled as they passed, bands beat their rhythms and sounded shining horns, midgets performed acrobatics while flags and ribbons swirled overhead. Finally, after everything had passed where he was standing, the traditional circus clown, with floppy shoes, baggy pants, and a brightly painted face, brought up the rear. As the clown passed by, the little boy reached into his pocket and took out that precious dollar bill. Handing the money to the clown, the boy turned around and went home. What had happened? The boy thought he had seen the circus when he had only seen the parade! (Youth Talks)
I enjoy seeing young people get their first taste of the joys of life. First date, first honor, first win, first job, first money earned, first speech, first travel, first faith experience. All of these things and hundreds more are just the beginning. We are meant to go on to deeper and better things in all areas of our lives. Especially, in the Christian life we are to grow deep in the faith experience and not settle for the shallow waters where we first entered the Ocean of his love. But not really meaning to, some believers never go beyond first experiences and try to live on that all of their lives. Life is divinely touched, but not much. Faith is real but not strong. Character is changed a little, but not transformed. Prayer is used, but not for fellowship with God. The Bible is read, but not often. Worship is attended, but not regularly. Only the parade has been experienced, but not the fullest joy that is possible.
A similar thing is what the Apostle Paul is saying to the church at Ephesus. He had invested three years in establishing this church. His letter to the Ephesians is the pinnacle of explanations as to what a church is. You would think that they would grow into a spiritual powerhouse and become the super church of the first century. But this was a church that failed. In less than thirty years our Lord denounced them as having “left your first love.” In Revelation 2:2-5, are the words of Jesus to this church; “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you are fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place.” The lampstand or candlestick was an emblem of the right that the church had to speak in his name. He is saying to them, “If you don’t go deeper in love to me and serve me with the passion that you first had, I will remove your authority to represent me in the earth.” A church can settle for less by being orthodox, and by being busy, but if the church does not love Christ supremely and serve him with a loving passion, they do not have his blessings.
THE BIG “IF” (v.20) “If you have heard him and have been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus…” This is a literal translation from the Greek. Paul heard Jesus speak to him and he was convinced that Jesus spoke to every believer through the Holy Spirit. If you have heard him speak to you and if you have been taught the truth by him then it will be like putting off old clothes and putting on a new suit. The old way of life is discarded and we have the right to call ourselves “Christians” or “Christ Followers.”
WE ARE NOT TO SETTLE FOR A PARTIAL TRANSFORMATION (v.23) “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” When we come to Christ we are given a completely new spiritual capacity in our minds. We can think differently because a mind apart from Christ can never think that way. We are given the capacity to reason about things from God’s standpoint rather than from a secular view. The mind is where the Holy Spirit works to lead us on to deeper levels. This is an 180 degree turn from the way we thought about right and wrong before.
THE TRANSFORMATION HAPPENS BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN RE-CREATED (v.24) “and put on the new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” The term “righteousness” refers to our relationships with our fellowman such as is seen in the last five of the Ten Commandments. The term “holiness” refers to our relationship to God as expressed in the first five of the Ten Commandments. This does not mean that we have reached sinless perfection for we will still have our old nature to contend with until we are free of the bonds of this life. But it means that Christ is being formed in us and a new nature is under construction in his likeness. Then Paul begins to list some of the characteristics of this transformed life.
PUT AWAY LYING (v.25) “put off falsehood and speak truthfully …” This means more than just telling lies. It also refers to exaggeration of the truth, making false excuses, cheating, betraying a confidence, and making promises that you know you will not fulfill.
Last September, we were taking a tour of the Harvard University Campus in Boston when the guide stopped before a statue in Harvard Yard. On the pedestal was this inscription: “John Harvard, Founder, 1638.” The guide informed us that this was known as the statue of the three lies.” First of all, the artist commissioned to sculpture it could not find a clear picture of John Harvard after which to model his work, so he just chose a picture of a respectable looking gentleman from the proper era. Second, John Harvard was not the founder of Harvard University. He was simply a substantial contributor to the college in its early days. Third, the date on the statue’s base represents not the date of John Harvard’s death, as might be supposed, but the year he donated his library and half his fortune to the college. The irony lies in that on the side of the statue is the Harvard emblem emblazoned with the school’s motto: Veritas. There was also a fourth lie: The toe of the statue’s shoe was shiny bright where the freshmen students were told to touch it if they wanted to succeed at Harvard.
Lying seems to be a way of life for many people. We lie at the drop of a hat. The book The Day America Told the Truth says that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses.
WE ARE TO CONTROL OUR ANGER (v.26) “Be angry and do not sin.” Anger can be good and bad depending on the reason one is angry. If anger is against evil and is based on the protection of others it is not considered wrong. You remember that Jesus got angry when he saw the Temple being desecrated. But even then we are not to let the sun go down on our anger because righteous anger can turn to bitterness if is nursed. Much of the crime in our country is committed by people who are angry.
Two brothers were angrily fighting with one another and their mother tried to teach them that the bible says not to let the sun go down on their anger. “But Mommy” one of them said, “I can’t keep the sun from going down.”
Doctors from Coral Gables, Fla., compared the efficiency of the heart’s pumping action in 18 men with coronary artery disease to nine healthy controls. Each of the study participants underwent one physical stress test (riding an exercise bicycle) and three mental stress tests (doing math problems in their heads, recalling a recent incident that had made them very angry, and giving a short speech to defend themselves against a hypothetical charge of shoplifting). Using sophisticated X-ray techniques, the doctors took pictures of the subjects’ hearts in action during these tests.
For all the subjects, anger reduced the amount of blood that the heart pumped to body tissues more than the other tests, but this was especially true for those who had heart disease.
Why anger is so much more potent than fear or mental stress is anybody’s guess. But until we see more research on this subject, it couldn’t hurt to count to 10 before you blow your stack. Spokesman-Review, July 29, 1993, p. D3.
WE ARE TO HONEST IN ALL OF OUR DEALINGS (v.28) “Let the thief no longer steal…” When a person compromises his or her honesty it has consequences. When I was a college student a speaker in chapel told of a company representative coming to a college campus to recruit a young man for their company. He took him to lunch in a cafeteria. As they walked through the line, he noticed that the student took two pads of butter and hid them under his bread so he would not have to pay for them. The recruiter decided that if this student would steal something as small as a pad of butter, he might later steal form their company so he did not hire him. I have remembered that story through the years.
WE ARE TO GUARD THE WAY WE TALK (v.29) “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only as such is good for building up , as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Foul language is rampart today and is indicative of a person’s limited vocabulary. But it also points out the corruption that is within a person. A person who uses the language of the depraved culture cannot be a witness for his or her Lord.
Some choice thoughts about the Tongue:
About Abrasive Speech
Many a blunt word has a sharp edge.
Keep your words soft and sweet; you never know when you may have to eat them.
Gossip is like soap — mostly lye!
A gossip is just a fool with a keen sense of rumor.
Profanity is a public announcement of stupidity.
Swearing is a lax man’s way of trying to be emphatic.
About telling the Truth
A lie is a coward’s way of getting out of trouble.
Truth is as clear as a bell, but it isn’t always tolled.
When you sing your own praise, you always get the tune too high.
Don’t brag; it isn’t the whistle that pulls the train.
For in many things we stumble. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. James 3:2 (Our Daily Bread).
These truths will keep us from settling for less in life than we should. Praise be to His Name!