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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible- Ephesians
Stripping off the old

Ephesians Series       Ephesians 4:17-5:20

Today we continue our series of sermons on the book of Ephesians.  Two weeks ago, we reached the doctrinal mountaintop in Ephesians which was about the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In the second half of this book and all of Paul’s letters, we focus on the ethical implications of the Gospel. 

Listen to the words of the Scriptures for today:  “No longer live like the pagans do.  No longer live like the world.  The pagan world is alienated from the life with God. Their minds are darkened.  Their hearts are calloused.  Because you Christians know Jesus Christ and the ways of God, put away…the focus of the sermon for today is on that phrase…put away.  In Greek, it is translated, “strip off…to strip off.”  It is a Greek word and has to do with clothing; we are to strip off dirty clothing. 

Then the Apostle Paul lists a series of twelve sins that need to be stripped from our lives:  We are to strip off licentiousness.  Licentiousness means living without moral rules or doing what you please. Licentiousness is thinking, “I don’t care if it is right or wrong, I am going to do it.”  Strip off lying. The next quality to be stripped from us is harmful anger, not just anger but harmful anger, evil talk, bitterness, hatred, and slander.  All of these are like dirty clothing that need to be stripped off of our lives. Then there are three words that are grouped together: sexual immortality, impurity and covetousness. Here, covetousness does not refer to coveting another person’s possessions but coveting another person’s spouse, a man’s wife, a woman’s husband; it is coveting someone who belongs sexually and intimately to someone else.  Strip off these pieces of dirty clothing that are associated with impure sexual thoughts and actions. Strip off silliness and filthiness. Instead, “put on” on a new nature, which means put on new clothing.  “Strip off” and “put on” are both words from the category of clothing: strip off the dirty clothes and put on the new clothes.  These are both clothing words.  Put on the new nature, which means to put on the new clothing of kindness, tender hearted, forgiveness, imitators of God’s love, filled with the Holy Spirit, singing hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart, always and in everything giving thanks to God.

So there are two foci in today’s sermon:  stripping off the old, dirty clothing and putting on the new, clean clothing.

This past week, I have been thinking about the times in my life when I have experienced stripping off some old dirty clothing and putting on some new clean ones.  I was thinking about being at Bert and Nancy Wellivers’s old home.  They had sold their home to Jim and Sherri Zimmerman of our parish. Nancy and Sherri teach school together; and so the Zimmerman’s bought the Welliver’s house. To sell their house, the Wellivers had to have a housing inspector come over and sure enough, it was determined that the crawl space beneath the house wasn’t deep enough.  So people had to go down underneath the house and dig that crawl space out by hand and make it deeper.  It was a mess.  Well, I went over one day to help Bert, and the whole under side of the house was dirt. It had been raining for weeks.  To get under the house, you had to crawl through a puddle of mud; literally, a puddle of mud.  After three hours underneath that house, digging out the mud and then putting down the plastic and covering the dirty with those plastic sheets, I was pure mud from head to foot.  I have never been so muddy in my whole life. It is the dirtiest that I have ever been. So I went home a little later, and as I approached the front door, my wife must have heard me coming.  She took one look at me and said, “You are not coming into the house like that. Take those terrible clothes off.”  So I stripped off all my clothing, right then and there, right on the front steps.  Off with my jeans, my boots, my t-shirt, my socks, my everything, right down to my underwear that was also covered with mud; so that I could come into the house.  It felt so good to take the dirty clothes off, and then take a shower, wash my hair, clean my nails, shave, put on cologne, and get dressed with a new set of clean clothes.  It felt really good.  You know the feeling:  it feels good to take off old, dirty, clammy clothes that you have been wearing for a few hours while gardening; and then go bath; and then put on really fresh new clothing.

A second example. You have a new baby at your house and you know that the new baby can become very messy at the wrong time.  The other day, Lois Righi, who manages the church nursery, was over at our house and wanted to hold our new baby.  She held the new baby all right, putting him proudly on her shoulder on her new dress. The baby performed perfectly and on time. It came out of both ends at the same moment. Brown, yellow, white.  What a mess. What a mess to her dress and the baby. Immediately, the baby was swooshed off into the nursery, squalling in anger, and he was stripped of the old diaper, the old messy t-shirt, the little sailor’s outfit, and he was scrubbed up and on came  new fresh powder and a new fresh diaper, and a new outfit. He was then brought out for the public showing and was he ever smiling.  He was clean again.  He smelled better, he looked better, he felt better, he was better.  And Lois, her outfit was simply wiped clean and she would go home eventually and then do the same thing to herself: bath, powder, and put on a clean outfit.  It really feels good to strip off an old messy ugly dirty diaper and to put on some new, fresh, bright, light clothing.  Ask any baby.

Third example. When the Siliboun family came from Cambodia to live at our house as so many refugee families came to live in your homes and apartments, the family looked terrible and afraid when we first met them at the airport. What memories.  They had been devastated by war, devastated in their trip to America, and now our mother was crying for all these reasons and more.  The little baby was sick and looked like she had been starving.  I remember those old baggy clothes they had on, clothes that they had been given at a refugee camp.  Those clothes didn’t fit at all.  I remember taking all those awful and worn clothes, politely having them take them off, shower, bathe, clean up, and then have new fresh clothes to put on.  I remember gathering those old clothes into a plastic bag and throwing them away.  “Better burn them,” someone said. How the family enjoyed their new clothes!  How they loved smelling and looking good again, as they did in years past in their homes in Cambodia.  If you are a refugee, it feels good to get rid of those old crummy clothing, clean up, and put on new fresh, well fitting clothes. 

It is with these images and mood that we approach the gospel for today, the epistle lesson.  The epistle lesson focus on stripping off the old clothing and putting on the new clothing.  According to Marcus Barth and his commentary on Ephesians, the best commentary available of Ephesians, Marcus Barth says that Ephesians should not say “put off the old nature.” “Nature” is not a good translation. Instead, it should read, “strip off the old clothing.”  The Greek words that are used here are clothing words. They are metaphors for clothing, stripping off old clothes and putting on fresh clothes. So my opening three illustrations  fit perfectly with the mood of the epistle lesson.  Strip off the old clothing of lying and anger and evil talk and filthiness.  Strip off the dirty pants and skirts of bitterness, hatred, slander, and malice.  Strip off those old wet clammy socks of sexual immortality, impurity, and coveting another person’s spouse. Strip all that stuff off.  Whatever is foul, clammy and dirty in your life, strip it off.  These are all metaphors from clothing.  Then Paul continues with the second movement:  put on some fresh, new clothing, some new shoes, some new socks, some new shirts, some new jewelry.  Put on the new coat of kindness and tenderness.  Put on the new shirt of humility and meekness.  Put on the new necklace of singing and making joyful sounds with your voice.  And especially put on that new bright coat of love. You will feel so much better.  You really will.

You can handle my appearance only so long.  I have been standing here before you today with mud caked all over my arms and mud caked on my t- shirt. I look a mess.  I am a muddy mess. Hanging from the pulpit today in full view are a clean white dress shirt and a fresh tie.  The great temptation for so many Christians is to simply put the clean white dress shirt over the dirty t-shirt and muddy arms and cover them up. That way, you won’t see that I am dirty because my dirty arms and shirt are then covered by a clean shirt.  Already, you are wincing, for me to put a clean dress shirt over my muddy arms and muddy t-shirt.  You are wincing with nervousness because you cannot and should not put clean clothing over dirty clothing. Before I put that clean dress shirt on, I must strip off this mud-caked t-shirt and strip off the mud on my arms.  Otherwise it does not work.  I don’t need to teach you this principle.  You know it intuitively.  Before putting on the new clean clothes, I must strip off the mud on my arms and my muddy t-shirt.  I am doing that now.  I am now washing my arms; I am taking the muddy t-shirt off.  And now, with clean arms, on goes the clean t-shirt and on goes the clean dress shirt, and we are all much happier.  We understand.  We also understand about sin and the sin in our lives.  Before we put on the new, we must strip off the old sinful habits and actions.

We can use another parallel when you are remodeling a house.  Let’s pretend that you have had a leaking toilet for some time now, and the boards underneath the toilet have rotted out.  A temptation is just to cover up the rotted boards with new floor covering, but the problem will eventually come back to haunt you.  As an amateur carpenter, you know you need to replace those rotted boards and then put new boards in. 

We are all tempted to take shortcuts and not do the work of stripping off the old clothing, of stripping out the rotted wood beneath the leaking toilet.  In our spiritual lives, we also want to take shortcuts and not do the work of stripping off those sinful habits from our lives: lying, anger, bitterness, hatred, sexual immorality and impurity, secretly lusting after some one else’s spouse, filthiness, silly talk.  It is easier just to cover up these harmful traits in our lives rather than stripping them off.  That takes spiritual work.

Where does one begin?  Where do I begin with washing my muddy arms and muddy t-shirt?   It all begins with the renewal of one’s mind. Something has to happen in my mind.  That is, I think about it;  I know I would be much happier if I got rid of the old clothing  and put a new set of fresh clothing on.  The point is, this occurred in my mind.  That is why the Apostle Paul begins by stating: “Be renewed in your mind and spirit.”  The mind and spirit are the controlling centers of a human being.  Before my hands go to work and wash off the mud, my mind has to go to work first and command those hands.  It all begins with the renewal of one’s mind.   In his commentary, Marcus Barth says the same thing:  “Outer redressing is completely meaningless without a renewal of the inner person first.  Outer redressing is meaningless without complete inner renewal.”  A miracle happens in your mind, the controlling center of your life, and hands begin to wash the mud off and change the muddy t-shirt.  It all begins with the renewal of your mind, and that is what the Holy Spirit does. Be transformed in your inner person, in your mind.

It is God and God’s Spirit who comes and works in my mind to renew my mind and its thinking.  It is God’s spiritual power that we have talked about in previous sermons.  It is not self-discipline, self-renewal and self motivation that renew my thinking. It is God’s power that does it, living inside of me.  As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who am living inside of me, but it is Christ living inside of me.” It is the indwelling of Christ who changes me, my mind, my way of thinking, so I begin to wash off the mud. It is not me, but Christ who lives in me.  Our prayer is always for Christ and his Spiritual power to come and live within side of us, to take up residence and live inside of us.

Another crucial point: none of us really enjoys have muddy arms and muddy legs and a muddy t-shirt.  All human beings will look for water to clean off this mud, so this same principle applies spiritually.  None of us human beings enjoy for very long wearing sinful clothing.  None of us really like it when we are clothed in anger, when we are wearing bitterness, when we are putting on hostility and are mad our ourselves and everybody else These are dirty clothing, and none of us really likes wearing dirty clothing anymore than a baby enjoys wearing a dirty diaper.  We just don’t like it, just as baby doesn’t like it.  Likewise, when you are lying, deceiving and slandering people, you aren’t very happy.  Likewise, if you end up wearing the old worn clothing of sexual immorality, coveting another man or woman’s wife, ruining their marriage and ruining your own marriage, you are not really happy inside, any more than a person wearing lice filled rags from a refugee camp.  You just don’t like it, don’t enjoy it, and you don’t like wearing these spiritually dirty clothes. You will never convince me that people who are wearing these immoral clothes are happy inside.  We’re like the baby wearing dirty diapers; we just don’t like it.

O yes, sometimes…for a while… we may like the mud in our lives and we enjoy our muddy clothing…for a while.  For a while, we enjoy our anger and ventilating our fantasies against another person who has made us mad.  For a while, we can live with bitterness, secretly pounding that person into the dust.  For a while, we can make a habit of lying and persistently tell white lies to get us out of a jam.  For a while, we can take pleasure in our sexual fantasies and delight in imaginative sexual conquests. Yes, sometimes, for a while, we enjoy our mud so much that we don’t want to have it washed out of us.  But gradually, we all get tired of wearing muddy, clammy, wet, musty t-shirts, and there comes a time when we finally get tired of this dirty moral clothing we are wearing.  For some people, it takes years, but finally, eventually, we all get tired of these muddy ways and know we need to change, just to find happiness. We come to a point in our lives and we know that we can’t wear these clothes anymore. 

On the other hand, a person is very happy inside and sings songs in his or her heart when they are wearing the fresh clothing of good and great relationships.  The Apostle Paul talks about making melody in your heart, that your heart and spirit sings, and I know what he means.  Your heart feels like singing when you are living in loving and responsible relationships with your spouse, your family, your church, your neighbors, your world. When you put on new clothing and new shoes and new shirt and new slacks, it feels good.  And likewise spiritually, when you put on the new clothing of kindness, tenderness, forgiveness, being imitators of God’s love and being filled with the Holy Spirit, your heart then begins to sing with happiness and are perpetually giving thanks to God for all God’s goodness. That is just the way it is, when you wear the clothing of God. You put clean diapers and clothes on a new baby, they just enjoy it.  That is the way it is. That is the way we were made by God.  We were made by God to enjoy the freshness and goodness of clean and good relationships.

In other Biblical language, a person can talk about repentance and forgiveness, sin and baptism, death and rebirth, brokenness and wholeness. These all different uses of language to speak of the same reality.

So how often does a person need to strip off the old wet dirty clothing and put on new?  Ask a baby who messes quite often.  If a baby’s diapers was changed once a day or once a week, it will be quite a stinking mess, and so it is with us.  Luther talked about daily baptism, a daily washing of our sins, a daily cleanings, and by daily, he did not mean once a day but whenever there was a need in our lives.

The other day, I was working on my house, and on my deck.  As I looked carefully at my deck, I saw that it had old crummy paint on it. The paint had been there for twenty years. The paint was turquoise and brown and yellow, and so I decided in my mind to strip that deck of that paint.  So, my mind make up, I went and rented a big sander. It was a lot of work.  I can’t tell you how much work it was; I can’t tell you how much more work it was than I ever planned.  I got that sander working and stripped that point off, reaching down in the cracks with another tool.  Whew, I was tired, and more than once, I thought I may quit. Finally, the deck was stripped.  But I was only half done, but the most difficult half.  Then, I got some stain and stained that wood and the deck now looks so nice.  I am very happy with my new deck. 

The invitation to us this day is very clear.  The Apostle Paul says, “Be renewed in your mind and spirit; then strip off the old crummy stuff of your life. Strip it off.  Then, put on the new clothing of Christ, the clothing of kindness and forgiveness and especially that bright coat of the love of Christ.  You will feel so much better what it is done.  I guarantee you.  Amen.

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