February 17, 2011 David Balzer

 Ephesians 4:17-31: 40 Days of Purpose 7: Futility

We’ve just spent the last 40 days looking at our PURPOSE. What God MADE us for. I wonder how well you can remember our five purposes.

God’s PLANNED us for his PLEASURE. That’s WORSHIP.

He’s FORMED us for his FAMILY. That’s FELLOWSHIP.

He’s CREATED us to become like CHRIST. That’s DISCIPLESHIP.

He’s SHAPED us for SERVING him. That’s MINISTRY.

And finally, He’s MADE us for a MISSION. That’s EVANGELISM.

 

Now that we know our PURPOSE, I want you to think about the OPPOSITE of purpose. It’s FUTILITY.

 

Futility.  Here’s a good definition (show cartoon).

Trying to achieve a goal. And not getting anywhere.

Trying to realize a certain objective. But not making any progress.

 

We love the cartoon because we probably all know people like that. People who are intelligent in ONE area of life, but completely hopeless in OTHERS. Brilliant academically, but with no common sense. Who can give a lecture on the plays of Shakespeare, but who can’t hold a conversation at a dinner party. Or who can understand the intricacies of nuclear physics, but who can’t navigate to the corner shop.

 

We laugh because WE can see the BIG PICTURE, the SIMPLE ANSWER – the sign which says “PULL”. All Nigel can see is a big solid door that won’t budge. A barrier stopping him from getting where he wants to go.

 

Futility.

 

And yet there’s also something PROFOUND and PERCEPTIVE about the cartoon. Because it represents so much of what life is about.

 

People all over Sydney – in fact all over the world – PURSUING something, but never CATCHING it. Working towards a goal, but never arriving. Futility and frustration.

 

Or perhaps even MORE depressing, people who arrive at their goal, only to realise that it can’t deliver what it promised. It’s not really what they wanted at all.

 

It starts as children – we want that new bike, or that new doll, or those new collector cards, or that new computer game. That’s what will really make us happy.

 

Then we get it, and it DOESN’T. Or perhaps it does for A LITTLE WHILE. But then we get bored, and want something else.

 

Then as teenagers we want that motorbike, or computer, or that peer group, or that sporting success, or that boyfriend or girlfriend, or that party, or that drug. That’s what will REALLY make us happy.

 

Then we get it, and it doesn’t. Or perhaps it does for a little while. But then we get bored, and want something else.

 

Then as adults, we want that career, or that investment, or that car, or that house, or that husband or wife. Then we want 2.4 kids, or the boat, or the holiday house, or the electronic goods, or the overseas holiday. THAT’S what will really make us happy.

 

Then we get it, and it doesn’t. Or perhaps it does for a little while. But then we get bored, and want something else.

 

And so we go through life, building up possessions, building up relationships, building up STUFF.

 

Searching for pleasure that doesn’t satisfy and leaves us thirsty. Building wealth that rusts or rots or breaks down. Chasing intimacy that’s betrayed or built on lies.

 

All because we think they’re the things that will make us happy.  And sometimes they do. For a while.

 

But stuff and people are only TEMPORARY. And so, as we get older, we get more interested in HEALTH, longevity, fitness, eating and living right. In an effort to fight off DEATH. Because when all’s said and done. When all the goods have been bought, and the fun’s been had – what then?

 

WHAT’S THE POINT? It’s all FUTILITY.

 

I was talking to the one of the soccer dads a few years ago– let’s call him Andrew. And this is a reality that he’s coming to realise.

 

Andrew’s led a pretty hard sort of life. He’s been an alcoholic, and drug addict. He’s been down and out. He was addicted to sex, ruining his marriage. He chased after everything life offered. Pushing every door he could find, trying to FIND something.

 

And for a while he thought he was happy. But all that “happiness” ruined him. He was so happy, he nearly DIED.

 

He gradually got his life together, attended AA and drug rehab programs, even Sexaholics Anonymous.

 

And now he lives for his three boys. He wants them to have what he never got. And so every moment and dollar he has goes into their future. They’re keen soccer players, so he spends all year driving them around, watching their games and training. Phoning coaches and scouts. Pleading their case.

 

Andrew thinks he’s enlightened. Learned his lessons. About what’s REALLY important in life.

 

But AS FAR as Andrew has come, he still hasn’t opened the door. Because ultimately THAT won’t satisfy either.

 

His kids probably WON’T get a career out of soccer, and THEN WHAT? And even if they do – THEN WHAT?

 

There’s got to be more to life than that! It’s FUTILITY.

 

Solomon

King Solomon was at the opposite end of the spectrum to Andrew. He lived in Israel about 3000 years ago. And he was the greatest king Israel ever saw. God gave him everything that life had to offer.

 

And he chased happiness and pleasure harder than Andrew. And he’s the conclusion he reached. It’s found in the book of Ecclesiastes.

(Eccl 2:1-11 NIV)  I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” … {2} “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” {3} I tried cheering myself with wine, …. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. {4} I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. {5} I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. … I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. {8} I amassed silver and gold for myself, …. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man. {9} I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. …{10} I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. …. {11} Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, EVERYTHING WAS MEANINGLESS, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

 

Utter and complete FUTILITY. How sad! Life that’s built on the foundation of earthly things is POINTLESS. Because they can never satisfy.

 

Which is why we need to look to God’s purposes for us. He made us, and the world, to work in a certain way.

 

Life is at its best when we operate under optimum working conditions. When we live according to the Manufacturer’s instructions.

 

It’s this perspective Paul had as he wrote Ephesians. They were people who USED to live as if God was irrelevant. As if he had no claim on their life. Life was nothing more than chasing the next high. The next fix of happiness. The futility of pushing against the PULL door.

 

The Ephesians BEFORE

But that had changed. And Paul writes to make sure they never go back there. Look at the start of the passage. Describing the Ephesians BEFORE. There in v17.

(Eph 4:17 NIV)  So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the FUTILITY OF THEIR THINKING.

 

There’s that word again. Futile. And it describes the life non-Christians live. Seeking, but never finding. Acquiring, but never satisfied. In particular, it’s futility of THEIR THINKING. Look at the next verse.

(Eph 4:18 NIV)  They are darkened in their UNDERSTANDING and separated from the life of God because of the IGNORANCE that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.

 

When you refuse to recognise God, and the life he’s designed. When you choose to do things YOUR way, not God’s – that’s FUTILITY OF THINKING.

 

And the result of that kind of thinking? The consequence of refusing to look to God to fill the hole that he’s designed? You’ll try to fill it up with all sorts of OTHER things. God- SUBSTITUTES. Look at the next verse.

(Eph 4:19 NIV)  Having lost all SENSITIVITY, they have given themselves over to SENSUALITY so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

 

More drugs. More alcohol. More money. More luxury. More parties. More sex. All trying to REPLACE God. Substitute with STUFF what God designed to be satisfied ONLY in a friendship with him.

 

Paul’s warning them. Don’t live anymore in that FUTILITY.

 

Or that’s where you’ll end up. So desensitised to pleasure and happiness, that nothing will satisfy. You’ll have cupboards full of everything the world offers, but you’ll be EMPTY. Nothing will hit the spot.

 

The Ephesians NOW

It’s a pretty dark picture. But it’s not where Paul stays. Because that’s not where THE EPHESIANS are. In v20 he describes the Ephesians NOW. He says;

(Eph 4:20-21 NIV)  You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. {21} Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.

 

Paul ought to know – he taught them himself. And what he’s saying is “You’ve found the key. I’ve shown you the TRUTH. The big picture. The TRUTH that’s in Jesus.

 

The truth that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, so that whoever trusts in him, won’t die, but will have ETERNAL life. ABUNDANT life. Life the way it was DESIGNED.

 

So I tell you this, says Paul, and I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.

 

Don’t go back. It’s time to start living like the people of God. It’s time to start living like people of the light. It’s time to take off your old life… and put on something new.

 

And that’s what you were taught, he says, when you came to Jesus. Weren’t you? That the gospel doesn’t just offer forgiveness from sins and an excuse for more sinning. But a whole new start.

 

Surely, he says, verse 22, 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 life God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

It’s so easy TO SAY, but every Christian will tell you, the reality seems SO DIFFERENT. It’s SO HARD to get those dirty old clothes OFF. And it seems to take SO LONG to put the NEW ONES on.

 

You think you’ve left a particular sin behind, but then it sneaks up on you, and you get dragged in again. It might be lust, or gossip, or bitterness and unforgiveness, or covetousness, or jealousy, or rage. All sorts of grubby old dressing gowns we keep getting drawn back to.

 

And the sort of behaviour and attitudes we SHOULD have. They seem to take SO LONG to put on. Generosity, patience, encouraging speech, prayerfulness, service, acceptance, LOVE. Things we should have mastered long ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much progress.

 

And yet, Paul EXPECTS it. COMMANDS it. You (AND ME) – we’ve been created to BE LIKE GOD IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS.

 

So PUT OFF, and PUT ON.

 

4. Being Different – It’s All In The Mind

And for Paul, the key seems to be in OUR THINKING. Attitudes and ways of thinking. For Paul, being different – it’s ALL IN THE MIND.

 

Without a BASIC REORIENTATION of our wills and desires, without a renewed MIND, a re-direction from serving SELF to serving Jesus, any change in BEHAVIOUR is just WINDOW DRESSING.

 

Nothing more than a temporary turning over a new leaf. A new Year’s resolution that will last a week, or maybe a month, or a year, if you’re really lucky. A “re-arranging of the deckchairs” while the Titanic plows its way towards the iceberg.

 

Look at how often Paul mentions things to do with thinking, attitudes, and the mind.

 

V17 Futility of THEIR THINKING.

V18 Darkened in THEIR UNDERSTANDING. And IGNORANCE.

V20. On the other hand, you did not come TO KNOW Christ that way

V21 You were TAUGHT

V22 TAUGHT again

V22 Your old self is being corrupted BY ITS SINFUL DESIRES.

V23. Be made new IN THE ATTITUDE OF YOUR MINDS.

 

Putting on the NEW nature only comes with a RENEWED MIND, which only GOD can do.

 

So ask him to GIVE you that. To renew your mind. Give you A DESIRE to do his will. A DESIRE to study his word, or meet with his people. Ask him to REMOVE your DESIRE for OTHER things – materialism, acceptance by others, lust, the need to be in control.

 

Pray, along with Paul in Ch 3, that God would SHOW you how high and wide a deep is the love that God has for you in Christ.

 

That your life would be so full of GOD that there would no longer be the desire to replace him with the EMPTY things that USED to tempt you.

 

Pray that you would be able to see the FUTILITY of the way the world works. Understand its short-sightedness, its poverty, its selfishness and emptiness.

 

Pray that God would give you THE FAITH to TRUST HIS PROMISES. Faith in God’s promises is the key to your obedience and godliness TODAY.

 

His promises to give you PEACE. Promises to work all things for your good. Promises to meet your needs. Promises that his Holy Spirit will equip you for standing up for him, and building holiness into your life.

 

Promises of your inheritance and hope. Promises that your future is secure because your past is forgotten.

 

Understanding THOSE things is renewing your mind. That’s where the UNDRESSING and the DRESSING begins.

 

4. Taking off the old and being clothed in the new – the Process in Practice (4:25-5:2)

Look at how the process works out in practice. In the next two paragraphs Paul lists some things TO TAKE OFF. Some undressing to do.

 

And then gives the corresponding things TO PUT ON- – to be CLOTHED IN. And often there’s AN ATTITUDE that goes with this process.

 

V25. Put off falsehood. Give up lies.

Then PUT ON TRUTH. Speak truthfully to his neighbour.

 

Then change your thinking. You’re MEMBERS OF ONE BODY. You’re CONNECTED. Don’t treat each other as ENEMIES, because you’re BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

 

Or v26. Put off the sort of sin that flows from anger. Deal with it before the day is over, because that’s just how RESENTMENT builds. And Satan loves that sort of lack of communication among God’s people, or between husband and wife.

Then Verse 28. Get rid of stealing. And do something useful instead. Put on productive work – don’t expect others to support you. The ATTITUDE needs to be SERVING each other, not BEING served. And when the ATTITUDE changes, then stealing will stop. Counting on the generosity of others, while you do nothing – that will stop too.

 

V29. Put off unwholesome talk. And put on instead HELPFUL words – what actually BUILDS PEOPLE UP. Words make a DIFFERENCE.

 

A few months ago I got a lovely present from someone here at church. They’d picked up I was a bit discouraged. People were leaving, church wasn’t growing. And – some of you know about this – they gave me a lovely card, with a jar full of minties. And each mintie had the name of someone here at church. The card said something like, “Here’s all the sheep God’s given you to look after. Give thanks for them, and look after them!”

 

For the next few weeks I was munching on different people from church!

 

And it came at just the right time. Recognise that words make a difference.

 

And v31. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger and brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

 

Put all of those things OFF. The colour and style doesn’t suit you at all.

 

And replace it with what? V32. Put on Kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

 

And the summary of the whole NEW CLOTHES. Ch 5 verse 1. Be imitators of God, therefore, as DEARLY LOVED CHILDREN, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 

That’s WHO YOU ARE. God’s KIDS. Shouldn’t you be able to see the FAMILY RESEMBLANCE?

 

Like Father, like SON. Like father, like DAUGHTER.

 

You’re to be DIFFERENT. NO LONGER LIVE LIKE THAT.

 

Pete Williamson was talking about his experience as a non-Christian walking into a church for the first time at 18. He said he didn’t understand a word that was said for about the first six weeks. But the reason he kept coming back was because he could see how much people LOVED each other. How DIFFERENT that was from anything he’d ever SEEN before.

 

Is that what people would say about US? “I’ve never met people LIKE them!”

 

You’re on display. So I wonder, at the level of AMBITIONS? On the level of MATERIALISM? On the level of what you do with your money? On the level of your language in the workplace? On the level of gossip? On the level of honesty? Are you different? Or not?

 

If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to CONVICT you?

 

Or us as a church? Is that the case at Western Blacktown? Do we VALUE God’s people growing more like Jesus? How do we ENCOURAGE that? How are we living out God’s purposes. In a way that makes us STAND OUT from those around us?

 

Perhaps the Ephesian church WASN’T like that. I mean, it’s almost an odd thought. Paul’s writing this letter to a church full of people who need to be TOLD not to lie to each other. Seems he’s writing to a church where if you put your handbag down on the floor, the person in the row behind’s likely to nick it. A church where they actually need to be told to cut out swearing at each other. Where they haven’t figured out they need to be different to the world they’ve come out of.

 

And most important, does the difference start from the inside? Are you actually being made new in the attitude of your minds? Remembering you’ve been re-created to be like God in true righteousness. And holiness?

 

Time to put off the old self. And put on the new. Time to DRESS for the OCCASION.

 

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