Have you ever had your mouth washed out with soap? What did you say to receive such a punishment? I vaguely remember the first time I swore in front of my parents. Elementary school recess has a way of exposing young minds to new vocabulary . . . much of which we do not fully understand . . . but we still enjoy the reactions that the words seem to invoke. I made the tragic mistake of once using some of those phrases in front of my parents . . . which only resulted in rub-a-dub-dub (if you know what I am saying). Then there were my middle school years – an era where I spend much of my time being one person at school and a completely different person at home. I knew enough to know that if I ever swore at home my father would come down (and come down hard). Well, the inevitable took place . . . one day I slipped and used the Lord’s name in vain. He stopped everything and said, “What did you just say?” I lied, “Dad, I hear it all the time at school . . . it just came out . . . I never swear, you know that.” One compromise leads to another.
That is the odd aspect of obscenities . . . our words tend to set us a part. I was in a minor accident my junior year of high school – with four friends in the car. After the fact, one of the younger guys said, “I am impressed, Jud, you didn’t even swear.” Right or wrong . . . language was one of his measuerements of integrity. Like it or not, we learn from the examples of those around us (and those placed above us in authority). Julia had her first taste of Tabasco sauce because she chose to use an inappropriate word (repeatedly, I might add). However, as parents, Jana and I are also quickly discovering that many of the words we don’t like Julia to use . . . she first learned by hearing us (i.e. “freakin'”). Pass the Tabasco.
If integrity is so important to us, why do so few of us have it? What tempts us to tarnish our own character? What do we settle for instead? Do we act like Jesus Christ no matter who is around or not? Are we undivided in our allegiance towards God? Would others say that our actions are marked with such qualities as honesty and courage? Have you ever wondered what your reputation really is (what people say about you when you are not in the room with them)? How many of us have fallen prey to being dishonorable a time or two (or three) – choosing to compromise our convictions for a quick and easy gain? How many of us have been dishonest in our lives (lying cheating, or stealing)? Would we tolerate that behavior in someone running for public office? Finally, how many of us have been disgraced in the midste of our mistakes – losing the respect of others (ashamed to even being around them because of what we did)?
Behavior matters. Actions do speak louder than words. Our student ministry is continuing our Fall Focus on Ephesians (Be: The Church that God Dreams of). Paul challenged the early church to begin (going somewhere by refusing to stay where they were), placing their lives below God’s authority, believing in his grace (for ourselves and others), belonging to his family, knowing that we are his beloved (he has given so much for us), becoming a united team, and choosing to walk beside our teammates for a common cause. The next step in truly being the church is to understand that behavior is not what we think, feel, or believe – but simply what we do.
The church’s belief in God should change their behavior in the world. I must begin with a small but significant clarification, our behavior will never earn our salvation . . . but our behavior is a our very best response to our salvation. He changes us from the inside-out. The following teaching needs to be spoken in the contest of relationship rather than out of mere religion . . . out of love for Christ rather than legalism before other men. That being said, Paul challenged the Ephesians to walk in the love of Christ – to truly give themselves up for others (as Christ first did for them). He wrote in chapter five, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a man is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them” (vv. 3-7).
His warnings are simple and yet profound. Avoiding all forms of sexual immorality (the Greek word is porneia – where we get our English word for pornography). Sexual immorality is anything that is outside of God’s design for sex . . . which was created, by him, to be enjoyed in the context of a lifelong covenant marriage between one man and one woman. However, the Ephesian Christ followers were inundated with sexual sin from every angle. Many of the largest pagan temples, in their day, practiced and profited from prostitution. The culture screamed, “Pleasure yourself at the expense of others!” Not a whole lot different from the world we find ourselves in . . . our culture has build an empire out of the porn industry (some statistics say that pornography brings in as much as 14 billion dollars a year). We don’t like to talk about human trafficking too much . . . many of those modern day slaves become prostitutes on our streets . . . some research has claimed that there are over 17,000 sex slaves in the United States alone (many of them under-age children). I guess that pornography is not a victimless crime after all.
Paul also spoke of guarding our hearts against all aspects of greed – simply the lust for more of what we cannot have or that we do not need). So much of our time is wasted on going too far, with too much, all the while way too fast. We spend money on what matters most to us . . . where is it all going? The Apostle also warned the church to keep clear of obscene conversation (foolish or coarse jokes). Would Hollywood comedies survive without always resorting to the lowest common denominator? Such talk harms those who are compelled to listen in – pushing them to think about things that they may be vulnerable towards. How many of us, claiming to follow Christ, chat away as if he is not always with us?
How effective would the church be if only we would walk in the light of Christ – instead of hiding in the darkness. Paul wrote, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 8-20).
Shouldn’t we reflect the qualities of the One we claim to follow? I am speaking of showing respect towards the opposite gender – seeing them as a person instead of an object. How about showing generosity towards those who are in need? A light has the ability to penetrate the darkness – lighting up an entire room. A light also has the capability to reveal that which is hiding (our obedient behavior can actually show how damaging and destructive disobedient behavior is – not to shame others but to save others). Shouldn’t we represent the characteristics of the One we claim to follow? Do we still struggle with the tendency to squander our time, talent, or treasure? In order to follow the attitudes and actions of our Lord, we will have to continually be filled with his Holy Spirit. What if we spent as much time seeking his empowerment in our lives as we do searching after the latest thrill, gadget, or applause?
Again, behavior is not what we think, feel, or believe – but what we do. That is what separates the world-changers from the wannabes – the light from the look-a-likes. What is so different about you since Christ? What still needs to change in your life? We can learn a whole lot from Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus in Jericho (as told in Luke 19:1-9). Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. There were two very important aspects to this job. First, he was a sale-out for personal profit . . . neither the Romans nor the religious leaders respected him. Second, he was rolling in the ‘Benjamins’ (I guess correct first-century ebonics would have been ‘Caesars’). His life probably resembled a Kanye West video that no one was watching. Even with all his wealth . . . he was not happy . . . he was still searching for something bigger to believe in . . . so much so that he decided to join the incoming parade of onlookers (Jesus was coming to town). However, he could not see anything due to the size of the crowds (he had little man’s syndrome, I am sure). He was so curious he chose to climb a nearby sycamore-fig tree.
While walking by, Jesus actually stopped to say, “Zacchaeus, come down. I must stay at your house.” He either knew his name out of divine providence or because Zacchaeus was that infamous in the region. Nevertheless, He came down at once & welcomed him gladly. Obedience is never delayed and rarely disgruntled. An interesting side-note, the crowd was a bit taken back that such a holy and popular figure would give such a terrible thief the time of day . . . they muttered amongst themselves, “He has gone to be guest of a ‘sinner.'” Jesus has a special way of seeing in us what we don’t even see in ourselves. Zaccheus was so transformed by his encounter with the Christ that he immediately proclaimed, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor. If I have cheated – I will pay back four times amount.” Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Jesus did not invite Zaccheus to follow him because he had cleaned up his practices . . . but out of an undeserved love for him. Zaccheus’ natural (or supernatural, really) response was to change . . . to look a little more like the One who gave him so much.
What must we, your church and mine, do to reflect and represent Jesus Christ? What must we not do? One step might be just to retrain our thoughts (which determine our actions according to Philipians 4:8-9). In a different letter to a different church, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, lovely, and admirable, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy, whatever you learned, received, heard, or seen in me . . . think of such things and then put them into practice . . . and then the God of peace will be with you.” We must remember that integrity is unwavering and uncompromising. Little things do ruin the whole. I am convinced that the American church must rediscover the altar . . . not only to allow God to transform our hearts but also so that he can compel us to transform our culture. I pray that we might repent (turning from our sin and returning to our Savior) . .. but also that we might recreate the world around us through faith. Our behavior must align with our beliefs.