10th Sunday after Pentecost August 18, 2019
39, 295, 400, 412
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
Little children love to imitate their parents. They like to pretend to drive the family car like Mom or Dad. Sometimes little daughters can be found wearing Mom’s big dress, high heels, pearls, with lipstick smeared all around their mouth. As Dad mows the lawn, sometimes you can see a child following him with a toy lawnmower imaging that they are cutting the grass too. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find toddlers, who don’t know how to talk, holding up a phone to their head making nonsensical baby-babble as they imitate the sounds they hear their parents make while talking on the phone.
In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul talks about mimicking or imitating. The question is, WHO are we imitating? Does our speech, attitude, and forgiveness with each other mimic what we see in the world around us or does our speech, attitude, and forgiveness mimic what we have seen our heavenly Father do for us? Following in our Father’s footsteps with our words, our attitude, and our forgiveness will the focus of our service today. The word of God for our instruction in righteousness is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter four, beginning with the twenty-ninth verse:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, 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. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (ESV)
So far the Word of God. With King David we pray: “Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths.” Amen. (Psalm 25:4)
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but…” But what? “…but WORDS will never hurt me.” So we were told as children in hopes that we would ignore the mean words of that playground bully. As we grew older, we realized that such was not necessarily the case. Words DO hurt. How many friendships and marriages have been harmed by unloving words? As our children heard last Sunday, our tongues are like matches that start fires. Sometimes the fire is good for warmth, light, and cooking food. And sometimes our words are that way—comforting and building each other up. Other times, a little flame can cause great destruction. James writes, “…the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (James 3:5)
Here in our text, Paul writes about how we talk to one another. In verse 29, he writes of “corrupting talk.” The word for “corrupt” here is also used to describe rotten, decaying fruit. And that is precisely what corrupting talk is. It is like rotten fruit proceeding from the mouth. It is those harsh words that tear other people down and hurt them.
I don’t really have to go in depth to talk about what Paul is referring to here, do I. I don’t have to because you and I, we are all too familiar with it. How many of us have failed to explain the words and actions of others “in the best possible way,” as we say in the explanation to the 8th Commandment? Which one of us hasn’t spewed rotten, decaying words out of our mouth to a fellow believer or about a fellow believer? Or maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of such words. Words do hurt. Words that did not come from a heart of love can very easily tear down a Christian bond and harm our fellowship.
So words can hurt and God knows it. Paul goes on to write: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” It is the Holy Spirit who called you out of the darkness of unbelief and damnation, and makes each and every believer a child of God. In baptism, the Holy Spirit unites us all as members of the One body of Christ and thus members of one another. The Holy Spirit unites the Church and keeps it steadfast in the faith until the end. Therefore, when rotten words are spewed out of a Christian’s mouth, especially to or about another believer, it GRIEVES the Holy Spirit.
Such rotten words are the way the rotten world of sin speaks. Rather than imitating the world, follow in the footsteps of your Father. What kind of words does our Father use? We have a book full of them. Yes, He does speak words that are honest about sin, even the sin of our lips. But to the weak, sorrowing sinner, He speaks words of grace—of undeserved love—words of forgiveness.
Both those words of our heavenly Father that condemn sin and forgive the sinner come from the same loving heart of God, who Himself is love. Like a loving father who sees his child headed down a dangerous path, our Heavenly Father corrects us in love about our sin. He wants to build us up in the faith and help us grow in the truth. Let us mimic our heavenly Father. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as it good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Rather than letting our old man of sin lash out with rotten words, following in our Father’s footsteps look for the right words that will build up your fellow Christian in the faith, words that fit the occasion. Solomon writes, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:12) Such words of grace are a beautiful thing. They do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, but gladden Him as the Church is built up in grace.
As we follow in our Father’s footsteps, we also find that it not only affects how we speak to one another, but also our attitude. Consider His attitude toward man throughout Scripture. When God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, what did He do? He made Eve for Adam and brought her to the man. When the Children of Israel were crying out in bondage in Egypt, what did He do? He delivered them.
And when our heavenly Father saw our lost condition, what did He do? Did He say, “Tough luck kid. You made your bed, now you have to lie in it.” That is something that we would absolutely deserve. WE had sinned against HIM and absolutely deserve His wrath and punishment. Yet what did the Father do? Listen to what Paul writes to Titus (3:4-5), “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared…according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Though we had sinned against HIM, HE showed us His kindness by sending His beloved Son to save us!
Our Father’s kindness and tenderheartedness toward us appeared in the flesh when Jesus was born. That Baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is evidence of the Father’s kindness. On the cross of Calvary, our Father took all of our guilt, including the punishment for our rotten words, on His beloved Son and punished Him in our place. There is the kindness and tenderheartedness of our Father.
But there is more! He chose you from eternity to be His beloved child. He called you to faith in Jesus. He gave us baptism, so He could put His name on you and adopt you as His beloved child. This is the kindness and tenderheartedness the Father of all mercies has had on you personally.
Knowing how kind and tenderhearted our Father has been to us, we are moved to be kind and tenderhearted to one another—even when it is undeserved. We weep with those who morn the death of a loved one. We pray for those who are suffering. We sit with those who are alone. We love those who are hard to love, because our Father loved us when there was nothing lovable about us. As imitators of God, let us be kind and tenderhearted with one another even as He has been to each of us!
Finally, let’s talk about following in our Father’s footsteps when it comes to forgiveness. This is something we pray to our heavenly Father every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s a good thing Jesus taught us to pray for this because sometimes it is hard for us to forgive those who have sinned against us. Whether it was sinful words or sinful actions that were done against us or a loved one, it hurt us deeply. That sin affected and infected a relationship and it makes it hard to forgive and forget.
When it is hard to forgive, run to the cross to see how your Father forgave you. He did not make you pay your own debt to Him. He did not make you suffer before He would forgive you. No. Instead, the Father made His Son pay the price for your debt of sin to Him. Paul simply, but beautifully, speaks of how “God in Christ forgave you.” Look at those words again. “God in Christ forgave YOU.” Christ took all those loveless words you have spoken, all your bitterness, wrath, anger, yelling, slander and malice—Jesus took it all on Himself to remove it from you. He didn’t make you suffer for your sins, instead Christ gave Himself as a sweet smelling sacrifice to the Father so that you would be forgiven! Now, the all-knowing Father says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)
Following in our Father’s footsteps to Calvary’s cross, let us mimic His forgiveness, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Praise God that through in Christ, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10) Following in our Father’s footsteps, let us gladly and freely forgive one another even as He, in Christ, has forgiven us!
After a heavy snowfall, you’ll sometimes be able to see a son trying to step in the footprints his father has made in the snow. He may be able to make a couple of steps, but because his father’s stride is so much bigger than his, at some point he stumbles and falls as he tries to keep up.
The ways of our heavenly Father are perfect. His Words are always perfect, His attitude is perfectly kind and tenderhearted, and His forgiveness is amazing. Our sinful flesh and the world around us cause us to stumble. We need help speaking words of love that build up, we need help being kind and tenderhearted to one another, and forgiving one another even as we have been forgiven. That is why we keep coming back to our Father’s house in repentance each week seeking the mercy of our heavenly Father. Our Father’s footsteps are far to big for us to follow in. But in His mercy, our Father keeps picking us up, washing off the stains of our sins with the blood of His Son, and helping us on our way. Through His words, His kindness, His tenderheartedness, and His forgiveness the Holy Spirit keeps us going in our walk of love as we await the day of our redemption. To this end ever help us, dear heavenly Father. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.