I have become convinced that very few of us will ever know just how much our parents have sacrificed for us until we are in their places, if ever. “Youngsters” might occasionally recognize such a situation, but most likely very few of us understand at any given time. Whether it was skipping a job change to allow us to remain with our friends or giving up personal time to provide oversight to us, many of our parents modeled Christian living so that we could enjoy ourselves.
One of my all-time favorite movies, I Remember Mama (1948), starring Irene Dunn, shares a woman’s recollection of life in an immigrant family in San Francisco. As a grown woman she writes about her mother’s sacrifices to help the children grow up and be successful, most of the time going without what she needs or wants for the sake of other members of the family. These are the bittersweet sacrifices made by parents for their children, and sometimes the other way around. The telling aspect of this type of sacrifice, however, is that it is done for no other reason except for love, a choice made by the giver without need for recognition or notoriety.
Sacrifice, a term often used with regard to Jesus, is hard to do. I find myself wondering, often, if my kids will ever recognize the sacrifices I have made for them. While I do these things for them, I really have not come to the level of “Mama” in the movie, or of Christ. I want them to know I have sacrificed. That divine love that gives with no strings, well, I haven’t reached that level on a regular basis.
Ephesians 5:1-2 encourages us to follow God’s example, just as Christ sacrificed himself for us. This follows directly on the passage on Christian living, which makes sense since being Christ-like means to live a life that sacrifices ourselves as Christ did himself. So what are the characteristics of the Christian life? Read Ephesians 4:20-32 again.
The NIV says that we were taught to “put off” our old selves—the one that seeks attention, that needs notoriety, the self that must be appeased. This “putting off” is a decisive action, not one made with a “let’s wait and see” attitude. Living the Christian life requires decision, choosing, often on a moment-by-moment basis, to take off the grave clothes of the old life and put on the new, clean garments of grace provided by God through Christ. Only by doing so can we truly be like God.
To find out if I am really following in the way, Ephesians provides a few instructions:
Put off falsehood . . for we are all members of one body (v. 25): We all know the ninth commandment prohibits false testimony against a neighbor, but this writer takes it a step further, prohibits falsehood in regular conversation with your neighbor. The most telling part of this verse to me is the last part, that we are all members of one body. In the Church, we belong to one another—person to person—because we are all a part of Christ.
In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are angry and give the devil a foothold (v. 26,27). Some of us call it “righteous anger,” but Ephesians calls it sin. When we are unforgiving with one another in the body of Christ, we go against what God has proclaimed and place a splinter between members of the body. Is it wrong to get angry? Of course not. Like all of our emotion, which are created by God, anger can be a deep motivator. However, it is what we do with our anger that causes us to sin. Here, again, when we put the old self back on, looking for our own benefit, our own righteousness, our own justification, we lapse back into the “old man” and move away from Christ’s example for us. No matter how we have been wronged, Christ has been wronged more. No matter how terribly we have been misjudged, Christ paid for sins he did not commit. No matter what we have lost, God did more when He sent His only Son to earth to die for us.
Anger that is nurtured, protected, or hidden will grow and fester. Like an infected wound, it can contaminate the area around the wound and cause such damage that surgery would be required. Then, as it continues to grow, it contaminates the thinking of the individual and those around him or her. My anger becomes a stumbling block to you, as you take sides based on my words and actions. Soon an entire church fellowship can be destroyed.
There is so much more in these passages that I will have to continue this next time. So let me end with this: the practice of putting off the old self cannot be perfected in a onetime decision. While we are saved and justified when we call on Christ, the practice of living as a Christian is a daily, mind-changing process. Will you seek to change your mind today?
Mary Kay Glunt
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church