Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:25-5:2.
The New Testament reading from the Lectionary is taken from the Letter to the Ephesians. Most scholars date this letter between 80 and 100 A.D., as the Church is maturing and struggling to practice a Christian life in community. The writer (perhaps Paul or perhaps one of his disciples) is deeply concerned with the notion of relationships, and the idea that our relationships with each other mirror our relationships with God.
The lesson begins with the notion of truth, of “putting away falsehoods.” Deception inhibits any chance for real love, and dealing with each other honestly provides the foundation for our relationship with God. The call to the Christian life is more than a call to avoid lying or manipulation; God calls us to live our lives transparently.
Ephesians offers a unique theology behind this call to the truth–not simply that deception makes God angry or will keep us out of heaven. Rather, Christ calls us into the truth because our lives are intertwined, because we are each other’s limbs. Deception infects the entire body, of which we are a part. By setting aside falsehood and deception, therefore, we avoid self-mutilation, the destruction of the body of which we are a constituent part.
Ephesians then warns us against anger, and against allowing it to fester. The text cautions us against letting the sun go down on our anger because allowing resentment to build up makes “room for the devil.” In my family, we used to joke about Irish Alzheimer’s: that’s where you forget everything except the grudges. Ephesians cautions us to work out our difficulties with our brothers and sisters quickly, before the infection of rage and resentment begins to spread.
The writer of Ephesians cautions us about our speech, warning us to avoid quarreling and slander. The language of encouragement should provide the fundamental grammar of Christians. Rather than gossip, criticism or idle speech, we should immerse ourselves in the vocabulary of comfort and inspiration. We must all become wildly proficient in the language of blessing.
Ephesians then directs us: “be kind to another.” There’s nothing new in this message; Jesus gave the same direction regularly. For the Christian, compassion and forgiveness are the fundamental currency of our economy. Grace must become our lingua franca: the basis of all our relationships. The text calls us to imitate God’s love in our dealings with each other. We are called into a kind of profligate, extravagant love in Christ. As the Dalai Lama has said: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
The Letter to the Ephesians teaches us about the profound correlation between this new relationship the early Church had discovered with Christ and the everyday, concrete relationships in the world. It teaches that we can never divorce the our spiritual lives from our workaday associations in our families and communities. Authentic Christian spirituality is never simply ethereal or private: we live it out every single day, with every person we meet and with every word we speak.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis
Thank you for this special teaching on love, Linda
Of course, Linda. You’ve taught on it a good deal your self, sometimes more and sometimes less explicitly.
Grace and peace,
Challenging words, Brother James!
I think they are a great challenge, Matt. . . .perhaps the greatest challenge most of us face. I hope we face it with courage and grace.
I love this line: We must all become wildly proficient in the language of blessing.
Striving to learn, grow and understand the language of blessing
For some of us, the language of blessing is our native tongue. For others, like me, it’s one we learn as a second tongue. Either way, it’s our call if we want to follow the Master.
Thank you for the support, and for your thoughts,
Learning the second tongue of Blessings just like you
Thank you for that message, Brother James. I have always found it more helpful to focus on what I am supposed to do rather than on what I’m supposed to stop doing. I agree that it is therefore more helpful to think of ourselves as one body and to speak the truth for the sake of us all rather than to focus on not lying or deceiving. I appreciate how you so often make those kinds of clarifications.
I also find it easier to have a positive goal, because merely telling me what I should refrain from can leave me a bit adrift. I hope you’re well.
Wishing you joy and peace and grace,
This Scripture haunted me all week and still yesterday in church. Probably because of some struggles we are having in my precious church at present, it rings so very true. I too love the sentence of becoming “wildly proficient in the language of blessing.” I pray God that I may remember the message to speak only words of encouragement, comfort, and inspiration. May you be blessed this day, my friend.
My dear Barbara,
It’s one worth a good haunting, I think. I’ll join you in the prayer, and return the blessing.
Be blessed, and be a blessing,
AMEN! “It teaches that we can never divorce the our spiritual lives from our workaday associations in our families and communities. Authentic Christian spirituality is never simply ethereal or private: we live it out every single day, with every person we meet and with every word we speak.”
Brother, I certainly could not say it any better myself. If all of us, as professing Christians, lived our faith out on a day to day basis this world would truly be a far better place. Thanks so much for a great reminder for us all.
I’m so glad you liked it. I worry deeply about the notion of private spirituality, and pray that our spirituality changes the way we live out our lives and treat God’s children.
God’s deep and abiding grace, my friend,
Every entry, Brother James, talks to me and to the modern church; when we were in Germany, I read each lesson and could relate to it in so many ways. Thank you very much for the ideas, history, time, and effort you spend on these sermons! Mike
I’m so glad you found them of some use. Thank you for the kindness and support.
simple lessons for life here wrapped up in pretty words: living honestly in kindness, with kindness to self and others, holding our spirit close to our conscience so that it becomes our eyes, our ears, our thoughts, and our voice.
I’m sometimes too fond of complex ideas. I found a great blessing in this simple, practical reading.
May God bless you and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you,