The Lord's Day Morning
April 30, 2006
“Lying and the Glory of God”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Please take your Bibles in hand, and turn with me to Ephesians 4. We’re continuing to work through this great passage together, and you’ll remember that last week the Apostle Paul was exhorting us not to live as if we were not Christians, not to live like the world, not to live like those who don't trust in Christ, not to live like those who have not cast themselves upon the mercy of the Lord, trusting in the promises of God that were gained for us and realized for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ, finished on the cross of Calvary and in His resurrection.
He wants us not to live like the world. He wants us to live distinctively as Christians, and so he exhorts us. And you remember last week we said that message comes to us not just from Paul, but from God. Jesus Himself called on us to be holy as His heavenly Father is holy. So this is a message and exhortation – a command, if you will – to us from Jesus.
But we also said that this command was not only from Jesus, but that it could only be realized in our lives through Jesus. He is the source of our ability to respond to this command to not live like the world. It is in trust in Jesus Christ alone that we not only find forgiveness of sin, but that we begin to find the power to live the Christian life. The grace that flows forth from Him enables us to live the Christian life. And we stressed that it was in relationship with Jesus Christ, that it was from Him that this commandment came, it was in Him that our faith must be placed; and, it is in relationship with Him, in union with Him, that this commandment is lived out.
But the Apostle Paul wasn't satisfied in giving the general exhortation to you and me that we should be different from the world. We noted last week that in Ephesians 4:25-32 that Paul would give six concrete examples of what it means to live distinctively as a Christian, and not to live in accordance with the prevailing moral values of the world around us.
So, today we're going to read this whole passage, but as I made in my statement of full disclosure at the beginning of the sermon, if you preach a sermon on truth you certainly have to do full disclosure before you start the sermon! We’re only going to get to the first verse. And I want us to camp on each of these six concrete examples and let the Lord, by His Spirit and word, work them deep into our hearts, that by His grace we might live them out for His glory in this world. Let's pray, and then read God's word.
Lord, this is Your word, but our hearts are so tricky, and sometimes so confused, that we often misunderstand Your truth, or we deflect it. You mean it for us. You aim it at the bull's eye of our heart. You say it as well as it can be said…after all, You are God. But we still miss the point. Not because You have not been clear, but because our hearts are exceedingly wicked, deceitful above all things. And so we need Your Spirit to illumine our hearts and minds, to open the door of our heart and let the floodlights of Your truth shine in, so that we may behold wonderful things in Your word. Speak to us, then, O God, by Your word, and by Your Spirit help us to receive, hear, respond, and embrace Your truth. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant, authoritative, profitable word. May He add His blessing to it, and write its eternal truth upon your heart and mine.
The Apostle Paul has such a simple word to say to us today, but it is so hard. It's so clear the simplest child among us understands this exhortation. It is so hard to do. It's easy to comprehend what Paul is exhorting us to do, but it is very difficult to speak the truth in the way that he calls us to speak it consistently in this passage. And yet, we must understand what an enormous gospel grace, God-glorifying, body-building, people-of-God-uniting truth this is that Paul is speaking to us today.
There are really just two things that I want you to see this morning. I want you to see first Paul's challenge to us that we lay aside falsehood, because he knows that that is the way of the world. All we have to do is look around us in the world today and see how falsehood has gripped us. All you have to do is turn on the television and watch a few advertisements to see how lying has become a native part of our reality: “Use this deodorant, and you will be sexy to all women.” I mean, men, we need to look at ourselves in the morning in the mirror if we're going to believe that! “Use this comb, and you’ll be more successful.” “Use this laundry detergent, and you will achieve happiness in this life.” And yet, advertising does that to us constantly. And if we were reflective about what's being done to us, we would be falling over on the floor that we could be duped by this!
We live in a world of lies. We like to do lawyer jokes and laugh about all these lawyers…of course, until you need one. But you know, the reason why we have a nation filled with lawyers is that we have undermined the rule of law by undermining the principles which under gird the rule of law; and then, consequently, we need a lot of lawyers to protect us from ourselves because we're a nation of liars.
I've told you this story about a very famous Presbyterian professor and pastor who had been invited to speak at a very large prominent Baptist church, and he began his sermon by saying, “OK, how many of you are murderers?” Nobody raised their hand. “How many of you are thieves?” Nobody raised their hand. “How many of you are liars?” One guy on the back row raised his hand, and the guy says, “There's one honest man in the house today!” – the one who had admitted he was a liar, because lying is a huge problem in our culture and in us.
And you know, that's not anything new, because Isaiah, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up, could say in response,
“Lord, I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips.
I am undone.”
Lying is a huge problem. It's pervasive in our culture and it has permeated the church, and so the Apostle Paul is wanting to say to us first ‘Don't live like the world in the way that you tell the truth. No, instead of speaking falsely, speak truthfully.’
But the second thing that he's wanting to say to us, positively, is that we are to speak the truth to our neighbors, recognizing especially that in the body when we speak the truth we are literally speaking the truth to ourselves, because we are all in one body.
Now, that's really all I want to do with you this morning, is look at those two things.
I. Put off a life of speaking untruthfully and put on a life of telling the truth, for God's glory and the body's unity
Let's begin in verse 25, where the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood….” Paul, you see, in verse 25, is telling us to put off a life of speaking untruthfully and to put on a life of telling the truth. And he tells us to do that (notice the very last thing he says in verse 25: “…for we are members of one another”) because truth-telling has an impact on the unity of our fellowship, on the unity of the body, so that our truth-telling is not only a matter of doing what God has told us to do. It's not only a matter of glorifying God with our speech. It's not only a matter of being people of integrity, but it actually has a direct impact on the unity of the body, on the unity of the church, on the unity of the people of God, the unity of husbands and wives and families. And so the apostle says put off a life of speaking untruthfully and put on a life of telling the truth, for God's glory and the body's unity.
You know, again, you may still be saying, “I'm not a liar. That's not a problem I have.” But when your wife confronts you with sin and you deny it, you’re lying. And when you tear down another person by your speech, and thus you do not speak of them as God would have you speak of them, you are speaking untruthfully. And when you make commitments that you do not follow through on, you are lying. And, my friends, lying in its manifold forms is pervasive in life in the modern world, and the Apostle Paul is saying something radical and counter-cultural. He is saying do not be like the world in this way.
Now there are four words I want to give you to help organize what I'm going to try and say under this one point. There are really five words, but there are four thoughts, OK?
The first one is grace; the second one is unity; the third one is God's glory [that's my two words for the price of one…God's glory]; and then there's, fourthly, pride. Just follow me through these words as we explore what Paul is saying here.
I want you to understand what Paul is not saying. Paul is not saying the way to be a Christian, the way to become a Christian…the way to “get right with God,” the way to be saved… is to tell the truth and to keep the other commandments. Paul is not saying ‘Do this and live.’
He is saying ‘God has given you life by grace; now do this.’ That makes all the difference in the world. That's the difference between moralism, it's the difference between legalism, and it's the difference between that and the gospel logic of Scripture that says God does not tell us ‘Do this and live,’ because if that's the basis whereby we're going to be stood before God on the last day, let me break some news to you: We are in big trouble. If the good news is ‘Do this and live’ all of us are going to hell, but thank God, that's not the good news. The good news is Christ has done something, and He's done it for us. And all who turn away from ourselves, our good works and our bad works, and we look to Him in truth for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, are credited by God with His good works…with what He has done, with His perfection…we are declared righteous even though we're not, because of Him. And then we are freed to live the life that God intended us to live in the first place before sin entered into this now wretched fallen world. So the good news is not ‘Do this and live,’ but Christ, having given us good news in the gospel, then calls us: ‘Brothers, sisters, I have saved you out of darkness into My marvelous light. Live this way. Be what I have made you to be. Live out the reality of grace.’
And so I want you to understand that when Paul says put aside falsehood, speak truthfully, he's not telling you how to be saved. He's not telling you how to be justified. He's telling you how a justified, saved Christian lives. Now, Paul doesn't stop to tell you that every time, although let me in his defense say he has said that about 37 times in Ephesians 1-4. In fact, he has just said it in the previous three verses, lest we misunderstand what he's saying! He's just said that what has changed us is the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, that has put to death our old self and has raised us again in newness of life, so that we are new people, new selves, new creatures, new creations. What is that, but a testimony that it is God's grace that has changed us? It is not some monumental spiritual self-help project that has saved us. It is God's grace that has saved us. So when Paul says ‘do this’ and he gives you a command, he's not saying this is how you get saved. He's saying this is how the people that God has saved by grace live.
That's so important for us to understand, because we are a generation that doesn't like commandments anyway. We’re anti-authority, and the minute that somebody says do something, we don't like it. How many times have you heard Christians say ‘Christianity isn't about a bunch of do's and don'ts.’ Well, nobody has ever said that Christianity was about do's and don'ts, but it does entail some do's and don'ts. And I want to suggest to you that there may be a very understandable reason why we react to somebody telling us do this or don't do this, and that is because in our world today we think we have an external problem that needs to be solved internally. That is, we think something's happened to us. Somebody's done us wrong. And the way to being whole, the way to spiritual health, is internal healing. Christianity, on the other hand, says you've got it exactly the opposite. The problem is internal, and the answer is external to yourself. The problem is not what's been done to you–and I don't say that in any way to minimize the horrific things that have happened to people and the consequences that it has upon their lives and behavior. But the fundamental problem that we have is not external to us, it's in us. And the only hope is not in us, but outside of us, in Jesus Christ.
Now, I think that even while we deny that and we try and heal ourselves, we innately know that there is something wrong in us that needs to be fixed, and we fear an external command. There's this knee-jerk reaction that knows that no command can fix us. You’re right. No command can fix you, only the grace of Christ. Only the grace of Christ.
But Paul is not saying that, you see, to people who have not experienced the grace of Christ. He's not saying stop speaking falsely, start speaking truthfully. He is speaking to people who are awash in the realization of God's saving, gracious, love for them in Jesus Christ. He's saying now, you, having tasted and seen that the Lord is good, do this. And you see, he's only saying what Jesus said. You remember how Jesus would say to His disciples — and John records this so many times, and so do the other Gospels — He would say to them, “It is my meat to do the will of Him who sent Me.” You see what Jesus is saying. Just picture: You’re at Shapley's, and there is the most luscious filet in front of you that you have ever seen, cooked just like you like it. Smothered with mushrooms and all the things you like with it, and you savor every bite. Do you see what Jesus is saying? ‘It is like savoring the finest cut of filet ever prepared for Me to do what God tells Me to do. I love it! You couldn't keep Me from it! I dream about it at night!’
You see, the Apostle Paul is saying to us those who know the true and living God savor and love and delight to do what He calls us to do, because of His grace to us. So there's my first word, grace. [How long did it take me to do that?]
Here's my second word: unity. The Apostle Paul wants to stress to you and to me that our truth-telling has a direct consequence on the unity of the body of Christ. Our truth-telling has a direct consequence for the fellowship, the communion, the union, the closeness, the family-ness of the people of God.
Do you realize that every word you say either builds up or tears down, brings together or divides the people of God? Every word you say. Every word either builds up or tears down the people of God. The Apostle Paul is saying ‘I want you to understand that truth-telling is not just about your personal integrity. It's not just about your character growth. It's about the unity of the people of God.’ The reason that the Apostle Paul is exhorting us here to tell the truth is — why? — in this whole passage, his concern has been what? Express the unity that God has made you. He has brought you together, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, men and women, boys and girls, into one body; so tell the truth, he says. Why? Because truth-telling brings the body together. Not telling the truth tears it apart. And so he's saying every time you think about your speech, your words, remember that your words have consequences for the unity of the body. That's my second word: unity.
But remember that that unity served a larger purpose, and that's my third word…my third two words: God's glory. He says it's not just that unity is good in and of itself, though gospel unity is good in and of itself: he's saying that that unity itself serves a larger purpose. And what is that purpose? To be the display of God's glory to the world. Our unity is to be a display of God's glory to this world. Our truth-telling is to serve that unity, and so be a display of God's glory to the world.
You know, one of the ways that we tell who people are sometimes is because of what they wear. Firemen put on special uniforms to go do their work, and when they have their fireman outfits on, we know that they are people who put out fires. We say ‘That is a fireman.’ Policemen have special uniforms that they put on that help them to do the job that they’re called to do, and when they put on their uniforms and we see them, we say ‘That's a policeman.’ People who serve in the armed forces — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard — the various branches of the military have special uniforms, and when they put those uniforms on, we're able to identify them: “Hey, that's a Marine! Hey, that's a soldier! Hey, that's a sailor! That's an airman!” We know who they are by what they’re wearing. Paul doesn't tell Christians to wear some kind of distinctive clothing that everybody can say ‘Oh, that's a Christian walking down the street.’ Instead, he says ‘I want you to put on truthfulness in your speech to one another. Your uniform, the clothing that you’re going to wear to set you apart from the world, is going to be your truthfulness to one another.’
Now, that's not the only thing…he's going to say five other things illustratively in this passage…but you see Paul's point is that it is how we relate to one another, it is in the overflow of our hearts in our speech, our character, and our behavior, that is going to be the witness to the world that we have been saved by the grace of Christ, and it's going to be – what? – a display of God's glory. So God's glory is at stake in the way that I speak to you not just from this pulpit, but the way I speak to you during the week. And God's glory is at stake in the way that you speak to your husband or you speak to your wife, and God's glory is at stake in the way that you speak to your mom and dad and the way your mom and dad speak to you. And God's glory is at stake in the way that families in the congregation speak to one another, and God's glory is at stake in the way that we as a whole congregation speak to one another, because our truth-telling is to be a display of His glory to the world, to show that we are different. It's like a uniform that we're putting on: ‘They are Christians; they are members of the body; they are here for God's glory. Surely God is among them.’ That's my third word: grace, unity, God's glory.
Now here's my fourth word: pride. Behind all lying, behind all non-truth-telling, is pride. Now that's true in so many ways that I don't have time today to explain how many ways in which it is true, but let me just give you two examples.
There is that petty pride that is behind the belittling of other people in our speech, which is an aspect of not telling the truth. You know, there is that desire to be thought more highly of than others, and oftentimes the way that we achieve that is by tearing other people down so that we look better ourselves. That's lying. That's falsehood. That's not truth-telling. But behind it, you see, is pride: the desire to be thought highly of. ‘If I have to tear somebody else down so that I'm thought highly of, I’ll just have to do that,’ we say to ourselves…or, we don't say to ourselves, but we do anyway.
But then there is that self-advancing pride that is behind much of our false speech, where there's something we want or there's something that we want to protect in ourselves about ourselves or about what we have done, and we will use false speech to advance our own purposes because of pride.
But either way, you see the point. If you’re going to deal with your tongue, if you’re going to deal with your speech, you've got to do some heart work first. Because every problem from the tongue, Jesus said…Paul said, James said…starts in the heart. And so if we're really going to deal with this, we start in the heart and we recognize that pride underlies all false speech.
Now, that's Point One, and we have two minutes left.
II. Speak the truth to your neighbor and your fellow believers (25b-d)
Point Two: The Apostle Paul says in contrast to the ways of this world, in contrast to the way we were apart from the saving grace of Christ, we are to live out truth. We’re to speak the truth to our neighbors and to our fellow believers. His exhortation really doesn't make some hard distinction between those. He quotes the command to speak truth to our neighbors, and then he just reminds us that our Christian neighbors happen to be members of the same body of which we are a part.
In other words, the Apostle Paul says ‘Imagine this: when you lie to one another, you are literally, as a Christian, lying to yourself, because that Christian to whom you are lying, to whom you are speaking falsely, is a member of the same body of which you are a part. Every Christian is connected to our head, Jesus Christ. We’re all part of His body, and so when one person in the body lies to another person in the body, we are literally lying to our own body! We’re lying to ourselves. Imagine that! Self-deceived!
And we say ‘Oh, I'm not doing that.’ But when you’re confronted with sin and you don't want to face it, you lie. And when you’re tearing someone down when you ought to be honoring them both as a human being created in the image of God and, if a believer, one who has been saved by the inestimably precious blood of Jesus Christ…and if you’re unwilling to tell the truth because it's going to hurt somebody's feelings, but if you don't, it's going to let them continue down a road that will lead to destruction, then you’re lying.
My friends, the Apostle Paul says you understand that the unity of the body is at stake, and the witness of the gospel is at stake, and your own well-being is at stake, and God's glory is at stake. And so he's saying to you ‘Christian, you who have been given new life through Jesus Christ, put on that uniform that Jesus gave you. Put on that robe that Jesus bought you with His own blood, and live like a Christian in truth-telling.’
O God, this area reminds us again that we don't have a chance to begin to do this unless there is an awesome work of Your Holy Spirit. We vowed when we became members of this church that we would live as Christians, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit; but for so many of us, those were just words. By Your Spirit, help us to mean it, to live it. For Christ's sake. Amen.
Ephesians 4:25 Outline
Ephesians 4:25-28 – “Lying and the Glory of God”
I. Put off a life of speaking untruthfully and put on a life of telling the truth, for God's glory and the body's unity (25a,d)
“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, . . . for we are members of one another.”
Paul's command to us here is not legalism, but an expression of Gospel logic and the life of grace.
Paul is telling us that our false speech, our untruthfulness, puts the unity of the body at risk and robs God of the display of his glory in the church.
At the root and behind all untruthful speech is pride: petty pride or self-advancing pride.
II. Speak the truth to your neighbor and your fellow believers (25b-d)
“SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.”
When we do not tell the truth to fellow members of Christ's body, we are literally lying to our own self.
Paul is calling us to live like Christians, to live out grace, to enhance the unity of the body and to promote the glory of God, through our truth-telling