11 – Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
12 – to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 – until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 – Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves,
—and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
15 – Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the head, that is, Christ.
16 – From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Note: I am indebted to John Ortberg for a significant part of this message.
I want to begin this morning with an experiment. I’ll ask you to imagine a few situations—and then I want you to think about how you would respond to each. Here’s the first.
You are picking your car up from the shop after a routine tune-up and the mechanic says, “This car is in great shape. There is not a single problem with it—bumper to bumper. You have obviously taken great care of your vehicle.” You thank him and drive off—but later that day you hit the brakes—and the car keeps rolling. You slam into a tree. Thanks to the airbags you’re okay but an investigation shows the reason the brakes didn’t work is you were out of brake fluid.
You go back to the mechanic, and you say, “Hey—I was out of brake fluid! Why didn’t you tell me?” He replies, “Well, I didn’t want you to feel bad. Plus, to be honest, I was afraid you might get upset with me. I want this service area to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.”
How would you feel about that? I’d be ticked. When I go to get my car checked—I’m not looking for a good feeling—I want the truth! I mean a good feeling won’t stop your car will it?!
Here’s another one. You receive an Alexa Dot for Christmas. You’ve enjoyed getting used to all the things it can do from a simple voice command. Alexa tells you the weather—the news—it plays music—and then you learn it can even wake you up in the morning. So—before you go to bed you say, “Alexa, set the alarm for 6:15AM.” Alexa replies, “Alarm set for 6:15AM.” You go to sleep—and wake up at 9am. You summon Alexa and ask, “Why didn’t the alarm go off at 6:15AM?” Alexa replies: “I wanted you to be fully rested. Besides, I want you to enjoy having me around. I don’t want you to think of me as a punishing alarm clock. I’m afraid if I wake you up early—you won’t use me anymore.”
How would you feel? I’d unplug my Alexa right away. I mean, when it comes to artificial intelligence we want the truth. We want to be able to count on them.
Are we on the same page? Do you see what I’m getting at?
When something matters to us—we don’t want a fake comfort based on pain avoidance.
No—we want the truth. I bring all this up because as John Ortberg says the place where we most need the truth is right here—in the church. I mean, imagine going to a church where you hear, “Don’t worry if you can’t control your anger. No one here will confront you about that because we don’t like conflict around here. We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. And—don’t worry if you commit sexual sins—everybody does it! There will be no talk about that in this place. By the way—in this church we don’t worry about the injustice that is in this fallen world.
No—around here we prefer passivity. Oh—we might talk occasionally about sin, especially sin out there, but nobody in here will talk to you about your sin because then you wouldn’t feel good.
And the goal is to walk out of this church feeling good!”
Would you like to attend a church like that—a church that just made you feel good—even if that involved ignoring the truth?
I hope not. Don’t misunderstand me—God’s gracious forgiveness of our sin is a wonderful thing—an amazing thing. We have a lot to “feel good” about—because as the old song lyric puts it, “Calvary covers it ALL—my past with its sin and stain.” But God’s grace is misunderstood when it leads us to worshipping A GOOD FEELING—instead of actually worshipping Jesus—about Whom John said, “We beheld His glory—the glory of the One and only Son of the Father, full of grace and TRUTH.”
A healthy church—a body of believers that follows Jesus—the HEAD—is a place of TRUTH.
It’s a place where we love each other enough to be honest—a place where we admonish one another when needed. It’s a place where we are lovingly truthful about the sin that besets us all—sin that always has damaging consequences.
In our text Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus—and that church had truth problems. They had apparently gotten to the point where they preferred hearing stuff that made them feel good. So, Paul wrote to them and said, “Instead of feeling good—speak the truth in love, so that we will in all things grow up into Him Who is the head, that is, Christ.”
One of the benefits of CONNECTING with other believers is their ability to see sin in us that we are blind to. We need this aspect of fellowship because part of the damage sin causes—is blindness. We can see the speck of sin in another person’s eye—but we are blind to the 2 by 4 that is in our own.
In God’s Word of truth we are reminded of how sin does this—blinds us. 1st John 1:8 talks about Christians who deceive themselves by thinking they are without sin. Do you remember it’s words? “If we claim we are without sin, we deceive ourselves—and the truth is not in us.” Here’s a couple more. Obadiah 1:3 says, “The pride of your heart has deceived you.” Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”
Our sin does blind us. It deceives us. Contemporary author Michael Novak put it this way: “Our capacity for self-deception has no known limits.” We deceive ourselves all the time into thinking we are basically good.
Consider how this works for the sin of MATERIALISM. For example, picture a guy named Mike. He has a bigger house, more money, a nicer widescreen high-definition TV than you do.
He doesn’t care who wins the super-bowl—but he’s excited about the views his 4k 65” TV will give him. Be honest—wouldn’t that make you a bit envious? Sure it would. We all deal with envy. We want what Mike has, but we can’t admit it that because that would make us feel bad about ourselves. So instead, we think, tch tch tch—that Mike is becoming more and more materialistic. He isn’t concerned for the poor like he ought to be.
That attitude is going to separate him from God. With these thoughts we add judgmentalism to our envy, but we deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re merely acting with spiritual concern.
Do you get my point? Can you identify with this in any way? Have you ever adopted a perspective that actually enables you to sin? We all do because the heart is indeed deceitful above all things.
Do you remember that famous scene from the movie, “A Few Good Men?” Jack Nicholson is on the stand and Tom Cruise says, “I just want the truth.” Nicholson says—say it with me, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
Well, the fact is the truth we need to hear can be hard to handle. It’s hard to admit our flaws.
Do you remember Jesus’ words? “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Ortberg writes, “We have to decide if we’re going to believe Jesus, or if we’re going to believe Jack Nicholson. The truth about the truth is this—It will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. We need to understand that misery is necessary for spiritual growth.” We need to see our sin—we have to face it—we have to handle it—if we are going to proceed on toward spiritual maturity. A Christian who can’t admit that he or she is EVER wrong—is not growing toward Christlikeness. Remember God opposes the proud—He only gives grace to the humble.
And—as I said, that’s where the power of CONNECTING with other Christians comes in. You see, people who KNOW us—really know us—see things about us that we can’t.
I don’t know if you realize it or not but we can only see about 60% of our body without a mirror or a reflective surface of some sort. This is why wives ask their husbands that dangerous question: “How do I look?” All, kidding aside—other people can see things about us that we have become blind to. And if these people who really know us—really LOVE us—they will tell us when we are walking around with a two by four in our eye. They will tell us the TRUTH—the truth we need to hear. They’ll tell us when we DON’T look so good.
In June of 1938, J.R.R. Tolkien author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, wrote a letter to his editor Stanley Unwin—explaining why he was behind schedule finishing the final draft for The Hobbit. Tolkien told Unwin that instead of drafting more material, he decided to start over and rewrite the first three chapters. What motivated Tolkien to go back and start the whole thing over again? It was the loving criticism he had received from his friend, C. S. Lewis.
Apparently, Lewis read chapters, liked the story, and encouraged Tolkien, but he also took the time to critique it and make specific suggestions for its improvement. For instance, Lewis told Tolkien that there was too much dialogue, too much chatter, too much “silly hobbit talk.” According to Lewis, all this dialogue was dragging down the story line. Tolkien grumbled in response to Lewis, “The trouble is that ‘hobbit talk’ amuses me—more than adventures.”
But he still accepted the advice anyway. Also, in the first draft of The Lord of the Rings, the story centers on a hobbit named Bingo, who sets out with two companions, Odo Took and Frodo Took. As Tolkien revises, Bingo becomes Frodo, and he is joined by his friends Sam and Pippin. I wonder—would The Lord of the Rings have been nearly so popular if the main character had been called Bingo? But more than just names have been transformed. Tolkien’s revised version is shorter and much clearer, too. When Tolkien rewrote this material, he cut nearly half of the dialogue. On page after page, he cut out long conversations, and he picked up the action. As a fan of those books—I don’t think I would have enjoyed them as much without Lewis’ input. We all need a LEWIS in life—someone to encourage us on toward Gods’ best.
Do you remember the charge that God gives to Ezekiel? God says, “Son of man, I’ve made you a watchman for the family of Israel.” Well, we are all supposed to act like watchmen for each other. God said to Ezekiel, “If I say to the wicked, ‘You are going to die,’ and you [Ezekiel] do not sound the alarm warning them that it’s a matter of life or death—they will die and it will be your fault. I’ll hold you responsible.” (Ezekiel 33:14) We have a RESPONSIBILITY to love one another enough to tell each other the truth.
I’m sure you are familiar with the saddest chapter of King David’s life. Remember? He committed adultery with another man’s wife. He got her pregnant. Then he arranged for her husband’s murder and married the woman—Bathsheeba was her name. A year later a man named Nathan knew and loved his king enough to approach David and share a brilliant parable about a rich man who killed a lamb—the only lamb belonging to a very poor shepherd. At first David was furious, until Nathan said, “Dear friend, YOU ARE that man.” Suddenly David could see the 2-4 in his eye. He realized the story was about him. He was crushed, but it also saved his spiritual life and his career.
So, who is your “Nathan” right now? Who loves you that much—enough to admonish you?
In Galatians 2 Paul said, “One time when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line.” Peter had given into pressure and become legalistic and exclusive. Paul loved him enough to call him on it. Who knows what would have happened to Peter if Paul had not done that?
Well, who is your Paul? Who loves you that much?
Bill Hybels says that truth-telling always should include telling “the last ten percent.” That means that we not only confront others when they need it, but we also share the really hard and painful stuff—the last ten percent stuff. That’s not easy, is it?
In fact, what do we usually do instead? At the last minute, instead of naming the issue clearly, we get afraid. We don’t tell that last ten percent. We don’t tell the uncomfortable—hard to handle truth—because we don’t want to upset people. We start acting like my fictional timid Alexa dot. And when we do, that person goes further down the road to sin.
Of course, if truth be told, there are times when we are too eager to tell ALL 100% of the truth—times when HATE drives us to HURT. But Paul did not tell us, “Speaking the truth in self-righteous indignation…” did he? No—he told us that truth-speaking must always be motivated by LOVE. Charlie and Martha Shedd were wonderful writers and teachers on Christian marriage.
They had a relationship where they were deeply open and honest, but always in a context of LOVE. Charlie said the single most memorable letter he ever got from Martha was when they were in the middle of a big fight. She wrote, “Dear Charlie, I hate you. Love, Martha.”
She meant both statements. That is speaking the truth in LOVE.
One of the ways we most leave love out of our truth telling is through e-mails. And—if you’re mad at somebody, if thinking about them makes your blood boil, is e-mail the best form of Christ-like loving—restorative communication? I don’t think so. E-mails are better conduits of anger and hate and hurt than love. Think of it, whenever you send an email, you’re not looking the other person in the face. You just rehearse the anger in your brain and you compose your e-mail. You use all your writing talents to include sarcasm, hostility, contempt, and judgment.
You want to PROVE this person wrong. You want to hurt them as much as they hurt you. You WRITE things you would never SAY in the presence of a real person. You may feel a twinge of conscience—but you ignore it and hit “send” and it’s gone.
How many of you have sent out an angry e-mail and then wished you could unsend it? You can’t can you?! That little cyber-word bomb can go anywhere, and it can last forever. Unlike a face-to-face conversation where you can see pain on another person’s face—and can respond lovingly—you can’t do that with e-mails. In a face-to-face you can get feedback from the person. You can work toward restoring the relationship. Not with e-mails. No—like a barbed arrow, it sinks in deeply—and is next to impossible to remove. In fact, the only way to do so is to get face to face with that person. But it will take you TWICE as long to get things write than it would if you just went to the person in the first place. And remember—that’s what Jesus said for us to do. He didn’t say, “If you have fault with your brother send them an angry e-mail—or scroll.”
No—Jesus said, “GO to the PERSON.”
But that’s too hard isn’t it? It takes too much time. Besides—we usually don’t want to make things right. We just want to hurt. Try this—before you e-mail the truth to another person, ask yourself, “Would I want Jesus to read this email?” By the way—He’ll read them anyway! Apply Jesus’ golden rule to your cyber-correspondence. “Email unto others as you would have them email unto you.” I think the only e-mail to send when you need to confront someone is this one: “We need to talk? Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
How many of you would be willing to make this commitment before God today? Raise your hand and repeat after me:
“I WILL FOLLOW THE ‘GOLDEN RULE’ OF E-MAIL.”
How many of you would rather say, “No, I’d like to reserve the right to sinfully e-mail people as it seems important to me?”
Listen—the best way to speak the truth in love is by invitation. I mean, find people in the church, whose walk with Jesus you admire. Invite that person to be your accountability partner—your truth in love teller. Speaking the truth requires trust, and trust takes time, but it’s important because a Christian community that is not speaking the truth in love is not really a Christian community.
One of the places we remind ourselves of the truth of our sin is in the ordinance of communion. These elements remind us that there’s only one place to find perfect grace and truth—and that’s at the cross of Jesus. Only at the cross can we see the ugly truth of our sin. Only there can we get a full picture of God’s grace. Only there can we see what we need to see about ourselves—truth that takes away judgmentalism and self-righteousness. By the way, you don’t have to be a member of this church to share communion with us this morning. If you are a Christian—if you are His—this is yours—so, please partake with us. Before we do that let’s courageously look at the truth together.
We’re going to take some time to remember our sins in the light of the cross. I’ll mention one area at a time. You ask God whatever truth He wants to show you, and offer Him a repentant heart. If your mind wanders, just gently bring it back before God. Ready?
First, try and remember YOUR WORDS for the last day or few days or week or month. Where have you used words that were deceptive? Where have you used words to manipulate?
Where have you said bitter words? Where did you withhold words of love or encouragement that you should have spoken? Were your words ever prideful? Did you ever claim to know more than anyone else?
Again, remember that we’re standing before God through the cross of Jesus. So be honest with yourself here. God knows your sin—don’t foolishly try and deny it or cover it up.
Okay, now remember—review—your ATTITUDES. Where have you been judgmental in ugly ways? Where has envy gnawed away at you? Where have you felt entitled instead of grateful?
Now—think about your FINANCES. Where have you not been trusting God to provide for your needs? Where have you not had God’s heart for the poor? Where do you need to confess to God the sin of hoarding, the sin of undisciplined desire, or the failure to give to the Lord? Now—remember your BEHAVIOR. Where have you committed sexual sin? Where have you indulged in a bad habit that you haven’t been willing to bring to the light?
When have you been SELFISH?
To sum it all up—where does God want to convict you? Remember, Jesus said, “This is My body broken.” When we hold the bread in a moment we’ll be reminded it’s our sin that broke the body of Christ and the heart of God. Jesus also said, “This is My blood—poured out for you.” Jesus shed His blood to wash away our sin. Before we share communion—let’s ask God to help us confront the truth about our sin—even if—especially if—it makes us feel uncomfortable.
Only then, can we ask for the forgiveness that cleanses and heals. Let’s all pray silently—asking God to search our hearts and lives—confessing our sin and need for His grace. In a moment, after I finish my own prayer—I’ll say the AMEN.