A sermon on Ephesians 4: 25-5:2
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
August 8, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

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. Ephesians 4:31-32

We begin this morning by considering an important question raised by Pilate in John 18. You
may remember the story. It is the story of Jesus standing trial before Pilate, the Roman governor. The
Temple authorities brought our Lord Jesus to him with the accusation of treason and demanded that he
be executed. Jesus had been accused of trying to start an insurrection to gain Jewish independence from
the rule of Imperial Rome. By Roman law, that was a crime that was punishable by death. As a Roman
official, it was Pilate’s duty to thoroughly investigate the matter. He questioned Jesus to try to get to the
bottom of it. His goal was to ascertain if Jesus really was guilty of such a crime and, if he was, if he was
worthy to receive the death penalty for his actions.
Pilate begins his interrogation by asking Jesus if he is the king of the Jews. A fairly straight-up
question. There follows a little bit of back and forth between the two about Jesus’ identity and if he
really is a king. Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world and that his kingdom is from
another place. Surprised by this answer, Pilate exclaims, “Then you are a king!” Jesus responds by telling
him, “You are right in saying that I am a king.”Jesus goes on to explain to him that he came into the
world to testify to the truth. And then he makes this statement, “Everyone on the side of truth listens
to me.” To that statement, Pilate replies—maybe in a tone that was somewhat sarcastic—“What is

“What is truth?” It is an important question. It is one that has occupied the minds of thinkers
and philosophers for thousands of years. The word “philosophy” sometimes sounds like a scary word,
but it really isn’t. The word simply means “the love of wisdom.” Philosophy involves pondering and
discovering the nature of reality…the nature of wisdom…and the nature of truth. It attempts to answer
in its own way the question, “How should we live?”
Pilate’s question was “What is truth?” If the search for truth was important or baffling in Pilate’s
day, then how much more so is it today? The advent of the internet and the explosion of all kinds of
social media platforms have only served to fuel an explosion of misinformation and distortions of the
truth that infect our society at every level. I am not telling you something that you don’t already know. It

John 18:33-38.
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is certainly no secret to anyone who has been paying much attention. The last several years have given
birth to phrases about truth that were unknown just a decade ago. Phrases like “fake news” and
“alternative facts” are now part of the modern lexicon. They can be heard nowadays during most any
24-hour news cycle.
And that is not all. When watching news stories about different kinds of events, I will
occasionally hear a phrase that I find curious. Someone who is being interviewed will be talking about
something that they witnessed—or something that happened to them—or something for which they are
advocating. And in discussing it, they will declare, “I have to speak MY truth.” Or perhaps someone will
say “She is speaking her truth.” Or “They are speaking their truth.”
For me, it begs the question: When did “truth” acquire possessive pronouns? Are there
different varieties of truth—that is, can it be that what is true for one person is not true for another
person? How is it that “her truth”—or anyone’s truth—is different than THE truth? Or is there any real
difference? I do not know…but I think it is a question that deserves to be considered…
In today’s passage from Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul begins by talking about truth—not his
truth, mind you, but simply “the truth.” In fact, throughout the whole passage, he has a lot to say about
the truth. And in light of the truth, we are given instructions on how we are to treat one another as
members of the household of faith. He places a prime importance of speaking truthfully, and not
deceitfully. He also cautions us that anger does not build up the body of Christ. Instead, he says that
anger should be dealt with swiftly by the individual and not be allowed to fester into something ungodly.
His focus in verse 31 is to banish bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling2
, slander and malice. He says that
these have no place in the Christian fellowship. Rather, Paul says that we are to be kind, tenderhearted
and forgiving to one another. And why should we do this? Paul reminds us that it is because Christ has
forgiven us.
It is safe to assume that Paul is not addressing these concerns in a vacuum. These were real
problems in the church at Ephesus. The people were having a hard time getting along with one another.
And throughout the 2000 years since then, there have continued to be real problems among God’s
people. These problems can rear their ugly heads in even the most polite and devout groups of
From time to time, you all have heard me talk about the 20th Century German theologian and
martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was part of a group of German pastors who resisted the Nazi
takeover of Germany in the 1930’s. The group was known as “The Confessing Church.” Bonhoeffer was
eventually arrested for being implicated in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler and was executed in 1945.
He was hung just a few days before the concentration camp in which he was being held was liberated by
Allied forces.

The Greek word translated here as “wrangling” is a word-picture of a flock of crows—all loudly yammering,
croaking together and making a horrible racket.
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His book Life Together describers what life inside the church should look like. In rereading it this
week, I came across a phrase that caught my attention in regard to today’s sermon text. In discussing
how Christians ought to relate to one another, he discussed what he described as “The Ministry of
Holding One’s Tongue.” I will tell you that I had never thought about the instructions to control one’s
speech as a ministry to others and to God before. But that was the thrust of his discussion. And as I
considered it this week, it made a lot of sense to me.
The Ministry of Holding One’s Tongue…Bonhoeffer begins by quoting a verse from today’s text.
Ephesians 4: 29 says “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 then Bonhoeffer went on to
Where this discipline of the tongue is practiced right from the beginning, each individual will
make a matchless discovery. He will be able to cease from constantly scrutinizing the other person,
judging him, condemning him, putting him in his particular place where he can gain ascendancy over him
and thus do violence to him as a person. Now he can allow the other to exist as a completely free person,
as God made him to be. His view expands and, to his amazement, for the first time he sees, shining
above the other, the richness of God’s creative glory. God did not make this person as I would have made
him. He did not give him to me as someone to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above
him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom in which he was created, becomes an occasion of
joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction.3
It is noteworthy that both the Apostle Paul and Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words to
groups of Christian believers. Paul wrote these instructions to the church at Ephesus. Bonhoeffer wrote
his book Life Together as a manual for the students and faculty of an underground seminary at
Finkenwalde. Yet it seems to me that these writings of both have a broader application. While they are
important principles for folks inside the church to follow, it should not be limited to that. These are
principles which should guide our everyday interactions with those outside of the church as well.
Otherwise we are merely being hypocrites. And our Lord Jesus saved his most angry words for those
who were religious hypocrites…
Back in the1990’s, there was a short-lived TV sitcom starring comedian Rob Schneider on NBC.
The show was called Men Behaving Badly. Anybody remember it? (If you blinked, you might have missed
it. The show ran for less than two seasons before being cancelled due to poor ratings.) Men Behaving
Badly followed the misadventures of Kevin and Jamie, two college buddies sharing an apartment. One
was an incorrigible slob and the other was a slacker who had a girlfriend who was constantly trying to
reform him. In most episodes, Kevin and Jamie got themselves into assorted troubles because of their
poor choices and their seeming inability to grow up into reasonably responsible adults…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1954), 92-93.
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It seems to me that we hear stories most every week of “Christians Behaving Badly.”. (If it were
turned into a TV program, it would not be so much a comedy as it would be a bad TV reality show…a
really heartbreaking one…) Christians—many of them high-profile Christian leaders—seemingly get
caught in webs of their own making. They are caught doing things that are antithetical to the gospel of
Jesus and the opposite of how Christians should live. And when these things are made public and the
stories are circulated in the media, it makes the rest of us who do our best to follow Jesus look bad. It
dishonors our Lord Jesus and it dishonors the gospel. And for better or worse, it reflects negatively on all
Christians because we all—fairly or not—get tarred with the same brush…
You all know what I am talking about. Every week we hear new stories about sexual assault and
abuse allegations—and their cover-ups—that happen in church settings. It cuts across all denominations
and groups. We hear of Christian leaders being investigated for financial misdeeds, fraudulent business
deals, embezzlement and helping themselves to money which is not theirs. We read about stories of
adulterous affairs and openly sordid behavior among some who claim to be Christians.
Just last week, it was reported that a Southern Baptist youth evangelist died of COVID after
leading a summer’s worth of youth camps for the Oklahoma Baptist Convention. (To answer the
question that you want to ask—no—he had refused to be vaccinated. One wonders how many others of
the thousands who attended the camps were exposed to the virus by him during the course of the
summer…) This is just another story of “Christians Behaving Badly”…
And the press is filled with additional stories of TV preachers who may not have broken any law
but who live obscenely wealthy life styles. TV preachers who own lavish homes that look like palaces, in
addition to yachts, and planes, and expensive automobiles—all the while claiming to serve the One who
had “nowhere to lay his head.” The world sees it and shakes its head in disbelief. These are more
examples of “Christians Behaving Badly”…
Other examples may not include famous people whose names you might recognize. Their stories
may not make it to the 6:00 news, but they hurt the cause of Christ just the same. Christians using the
cloak of their “religious rights” to justify their bigotry against people who are different than they are.
People in the political arena or on social media who are shouting ugly words at others who disagree with
them. People who go to church on Sunday, and yet the rest of the week are less than kind…less than
humble…less than loving…less than tenderhearted…less than forgiving…less than truthful in their
dealings and interactions with others. In each of these cases, these too are examples of “Christians
Behaving Badly.” And they also sully the name of Christ and damage his church in the eyes of others.
With so many examples of “Christians Behaving Badly,” is it any wonder that so many people in our
society have simply turned their backs on the church? The empty pews in this church—along with so
many others in our community and across the nation—give silent, but ample, testimony…
Let me close our time together this morning by asking this question: What would it look like if
we Christians began to live the instructions that Paul gave us in Ephesians? And to not only to live them
just within the Christian fellowship, but also in the wider world as well? How would we affect those who
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do not know Jesus? How would it impact our community for Christ? What if, instead of “Christians
Behaving Badly,” the news was filled with stories of Christians behaving in a Godly manner? In the
opening verse of today’s scripture passage, Paul writes that we are to “speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members of one another.” That is the way of discipleship…that is what our Lord calls us to
Friends, the world has been waiting. And as it has waited, it has grown old. And for what has the
world been waiting? The world has been waiting for the children of God to make themselves known…for
the children of God to demonstrate the life-giving power to love that the Holy Spirit has given them…For
the children of God to put on full display lives that have been transformed—lives that are saturated with
God…The world is waiting for the children of God to finally show what they’ve got…
What will we do? How shall we live? How shall we love?
To God alone be the glory! Amen