Sabbath School Lesson for August 12-18, 2023

Overview for Lesson 8, Christ-Shaped Lives and Spirit-Inspired Speech

Memory Text: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV

What to expect:

  • Sunday: The Downward Spiral of Sin–the downward trend of “Gentiles in the flesh”
  • Monday: A Dramatic Change of Clothing–becoming a new person in Christ is like changing your clothes
  • Tuesday: Unity-Building, Grace-Filled Speech–kind, gentle speech, enabled by the Holy Spirit, unites us
  • Wednesday: The Holy Spirit in the Believer’s Life–the Holy Spirit makes a difference in our life, so don’t give Him grief
  • Thursday: Kindness, Not Bitterness–the diffirence between “vertical forgiveness” and “horizontal forgiveness”

Paul uses an interesting language structure in this passage of Ephesians, chapter 4. He tends to start by giving a negative command, “put away lying”, for example. Then he moves on to a positive command, such as “let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor”. But he follows these commands with a rationale for them, which might be something like “for we are members of one another”.

Ephesians 4:17-32 speaks first about becoming a new man when we have the mind of Christ. But there is also mention of the Holy Spirit’s contribution to this makeover. Not only is Christ’s model available to guide our behavior, but the inward dwelling of the Holy Spirit will even guide our words, making them wholesome, true, full of kindness and forgiveness.

It feels like Paul is being very personal with his counsel, helping us, as individuals, to  become closer to God. But, he quickly picks up his theme again of the unity of the church, showing how we will also become closer to each other. Both God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness for our church family are necessary for the growth and spirituality of the church.

Sunday: The Downward Spiral of Sin

Ephesians 4:1 and 4:17 sound familiar. They mention our “walk”, or how we should live out the life of a Christian. By focusing for a moment on their past, negative lifestyles, we are reminded of the futile, lonely, ever-heading-downward lives many of them had experienced before coming to know Christ.

Paul points out that the depraved lifestyle of the Gentiles has a tendency to divide, rather than unite us. We must make it our conscious choice to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to a better lifestyle that will keep the church strong and united.

Although the behavior of Gentiles is spoken most of here, Paul knows that even Jews had their faults, which he also pointed out in his epistles. Many Jews, including Paul himself, recognized that their self-righteous efforts to save themselves were not acceptable to God either. As Paul’s words verify, it is vital that we allow Christ to change us, and the Holy Spirit to sustain us every day.

Only by exhibiting true, Christian behaviors can any of us avoid the hardness of heart and greedy sensuality that pursues all of us. It all leads to a “calloused spirituality” that causes us to drift away from God and may cause the Christian church to go on a downward spiral as well.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 2:11 and 4:17-19

  • How would you summarize Paul’s description of “Gentiles in the flesh”?
  • What causes this unfortunate downward spiral?
  • Why do you think this lifestyle has been called “calloused spirituality”?

Monday: A Dramatic Change of Clothing

Paul’s dramatic description of the negative Gentile lifestyle became more positive in Ephesians 4:20-24. He reminded them that many things changed when they became Christians.

He said, “But you have not so learned Christ” (Ephesians 4:20). They shouldn’t have just learned ABOUT Christ. The goal was to go beyond just the knowledge of Him, to become closely, deeply connected with their Lord. Ephesians 4:21 confirms this by stating that they had learned from Christ and were taught the truth of Christianity by Him.

When we allow ourselves to be guided by the teachings and example of Jesus’ life, we are changed into a “new man”, or “person”. Clothing was shown in the Old Testament to be a symbol of sinfulness (Psalm 73:6, Zechariah 3:3, 4, Malachi 2:16)  and of salvation (Isaiah 61:10, Ezekiel 16:8). Therefore, when Paul told them to “put off” the old man and “put on the new man”, they recognized the clothing metaphor from Scripture.

In the past, people had few clothes. The ancient Romans, for instance, typically wore just one tunic, covered by a robe. Garments were expensive and therefore, most likely they would own just one set of clothes and tried to make them last. Your identity was revealed in the clothes you wore and you would truly feel like a different person, when you changed them.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 4:20-24

  • How was putting off the old man and putting on the new man a fitting clothing metaphor that Paul’s audience would have recognized?
  • How might we contrast this change and create a metaphor about clothing for our modern culture today? What kind of clothes reveal our identity?

Tuesday: Unity-Building, Grace-Filled Speech

One thing that changes when we become a new person in Christ is often our speech. Instead of angry, bitter, corrupt, foul, language–let alone spreading tales and lies about our neighbors–we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to experience such an inward change that others become aware that we are changed in a real and pronounced way–inwardly.

Thus Paul brings us back to the theme of unity in the church. By keeping our speech pure and kind, filled with grace and forgiveness, we foster unity and love for those in our church family.

The apostle does recognize that anger is sometimes an unavoidable result of our personal differences with people, but he counsels us to not sin when we are angry, and do not stay angry with someone. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26), Paul advises. Anger can become a full-blown sin, when we don’t deal with it properly, aided by the Holy Spirit.

Paul is so confident of the Spirit’s power working in our hearts that he even pictures thieves being able to reform and labor hard to benefit those in need–a powerful way to witness and grow a church.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 4: 25-29

  • What does it mean to “be angry, and do not sin”?
  • Why isn’t anger considered a sin in itself? When does it become a sin?

Wednesday: The Holy Spirit in the Believer’s Life

Just one verse, Ephesians 4:30, contains many seeds of truth that we should examine. It talks about the Holy Spirit feeling grief over our corrupt language that fails to edify others (Ephesians 4:29). Just the fact that God’s Spirit can feel grief, a familiar human trait, reveals how much He is a real, separate Being of the Godhead.

This idea of grieving the Holy Spirit is also found in the Old Testament (Isaiah 63:10).  In this verse, it adds that the Spirit becomes their enemy, when the Spirit is grieved. There will be negative consequences that could be avoided, if we, instead, would allow the Spirit to guide our choice of words.

This warning of not grieving the Holy Spirit is followed by a heartwarming reminder that His Spirit had sealed them “for the day of redemption”. This sealing took place for them as soon as they began to trust Jesus (Ephesians 1:13, 14).

Our relationship with the Holy Spirit can and should be deeply personal. He’s our Friend, just as much as the Father and Son. This grief may be similar to how we may disappoint our human friends, making them grieve over us, but not completely leave the friendship. Thankfully, they keep working with us to improve our situation as long as possible…and so does the Spirit of God.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 4:30 and Isaiah 7:13

  • How is “grieving” the Holy Spirit similar  to “wearying” God? What do these emotions tell us about our relationship with Him?

Ephesians 4:30 and 1:13, 14

  • When and for what purpose are we sealed?

Thursday: Kindness (Not Bitterness)

Paul finishes chapter 4 with his counsel about letting the Spirit control our speech–the rationale is so we don’t grieve the Holy Spirit, our Friend and Guide.

He repeats the kind of speech we shouldn’t engage in–“bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking” (Ephesians 4:31) Evil speaking, also called slander, can be blaspheming, or saying demeaning things about God. The term used here in the Greek, however, includes speech that defames another person as well.

Paul had just mentioned the Spirit sealing us till the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30) In other words, till the Second Coming. Living in these last days, Paul’s counsel about speech is needed more than ever. We see a lot of negative speech in our world today. The church must strive to be different though, if it is to stay united and effective in rendering service to God.

Evil speech is not just to be suppressed, but to be replaced with kindness and forgiveness, as Paul concludes in Ephesians 4:32, with the rationale that Christ forgave us.

Bible Verses:

Ephesians 4:31, 32

  • Why do you think it’s important to not only do away with evil speaking and other forms of negative speech, but to replace it with positive, redemptive speech?

Friday: Final Thoughts

It may be that many of us have forgotten that our speech today includes what flows out of our fingers through our keyboards–whatever kind of words we are using to express our thoughts online. Computer-generated speech between individuals is often used for bullying, spreading lies and misinformation, and even hateful character assassination purposes.

Friends, relatives, church members, and even whole countries are thus alienated from each other, destroying unity that God knows is vital to our long-term mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. We should instead be looking for every opportunity of communication, including those online, to affirm and bolster the morale of others and to build faith in a positive, uplifting way.

We have the example of Christ in the Bible to show us the kind of behavior we need to please God. Jesus is our role-model in that regard. But, through prayer, we also have the source of power to change us completely, inside and out, through the Holy Spirit. When this happens, we will convey the character of God to others in the most real and meaningful way possible, by unifying and edifying the church in every way we can.

Next Week: Living Wisely

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