“Dressing for the Part”

Preached by Michael Cheuk, August 9, 2015
Taken from Ephesians 4:22 – 5:2

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How many of you, when you were children, liked to play dress up?  I love watching my children play dress up.  I loved watching Thea put on her princess costume, because when she did that, all of a sudden, she was a princess, with aristocratic mannerisms, and a stately royal walk. In fact, there are some in this conversation who hardly remember seeing Thea when she wasn’t dressed up like this! Wesley had a wide array of dress-ups, too – athletic costumes, firefighters, Peter Pan, and more.  Eventually, his grandmother made him a variety of Star Wars costumes, from Han Solo to Darth Vader.  When Wesley dressed up in all black and put on his Darth Vader mask, all of a sudden he was a Sith Lord, embodying as much ominous presence, ponderous steps and heavy breathing that his six-year-old frame could muster.  And there’s just something about a 3-and-1/2-foot-tall Darth Vader walking up to me and solemnly declaring: “Luke, I’m your father!”

But playing dress-up is not limited to children.  As we grow up, I think most of us like to play dress up, too.  Think about your high school prom.  Think about the amount of time you spent finding the right suit, dress, jeans, or swimming suit.  Think about a wedding – now there’s even a slew of shows on TV that capture the moments of shopping, trying on dresses, making alterations, finding the right veil, etc. so that the bride can say “Yes to the Dress.” We might think shows like this can be excessive, but it shows that the brides – and the viewers – think it’s important to dress the part.  Setting aside weddings, think about our work world – company uniforms, lab coats, construction gear, coats and tie.  In this church, there’s a tradition of ordained ministers wearing robes in worship. The very act of dressing the part makes us a difference in fulfilling our jobs more appropriately. But when we come home after a busy workday, what’s the first thing we often do?  We change clothes, because sometimes the very act of trading your work clothes for jeans and a t-shirt can help the stress slip away.

It’s amazing the transformation that can occur when we put on new clothes.  Sometimes, it makes us behave differently, speak differently, even think differently.  Many times, we put on a new attitude befitting the clothes.  And that’s the picture from today’s lesson in Ephesians, which continues to teach us about what it means to be mature members of the one body of Christ.  Remember, the first three chapters of Ephesians described God’s amazing and costly reconciling work of bringing everything and everyone together in unity.  Last Sunday, chapter four taught us that we have an important role to play in maintaining that unity, all the while acknowledging the diversity of gifts within the members of the one body of Christ.  Today, we get to the nitty-gritty in terms of what it means for Jesus’ followers to grow up in maturity to be fully alive like Christ.

Today’s text states: “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,  23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  The dominant imagery in these verses is the image of someone putting off old clothes and putting on new ones.  It says: Put off your former way of life, your old self, and as you are doing so, put off old behaviors and attitudes.

First of all, when we put off our old self, we put off old ways of speaking—like falsehood and slander.  We are in the same family now, we are part of the same body, so let’s not lie to one another, let’s not smear another person’s reputation, let no evil talk come out of our mouths (vs. 29).

Secondly, when we put off our old self, we put off old ways of behaving—like letting anger fester in us so that it becomes destructiveLike taking things that are not ours.  Christians are expected to work honestly,[1] not solely for one’s benefit, but rather to help the needy.

Thirdly, when we put off our old selves, we put off old attitudes—like bitterness and wrath and wrangling, together with all malice (vs. 30-31).

We are called to put off those old behaviors and attitudes because it grieves the Holy Spirit.  Parents of children often grieve seeing their children fight and wrangle with each other.  But when we see our children playing nicely with one another, sharing, and encouraging one another, it warms our hearts.  I think that’s the way it is also with God.  How sad it is for God’s Spirit that dwells within God’s children to witness the bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander among us.

But it is not enough to just put off the old self, we must put on or clothe ourselves with the new self, modeled after the image of God.  Going back to the idea that when we come home from work, we often change clothes, it’s the same principle here.  Sure, when we get home from work, we might want to ditch our work clothes and stiff shoes.  But none of you just take off the old clothes, right?  Let me put it this way, if you’re coming home and walking around the house naked or in your undies, I don’t want to know about it.  Too much information!  No, we take off the old, work clothes, and we put on the new, comfy clothes.  This passage tells us not only to set aside the old self, but to clothe ourselves with God’s goodness, to put on the new self.  The Greek word used here for “put on” is the same word used in Romans 13:14: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Ephesians tells us that as we are adopted into the one family of God, as we are members of the one body of Christ, we now need to dress the part—we need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  And in doing so, we put on new behaviors and attitudes, the exact opposite of the old attitudes that we set aside.

First of all, when we put on Christ, we will put on new ways of speaking.  Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  But we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and we speak only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that our words may give grace to those who hear.

Secondly, when we put on Christ, we will put on new ways of behaving.  We should labor and work honestly, so that we’ll have something to share with the needy (vs. 28).  And be kind to one another (vs. 32).

Thirdly, when we put on Christ, we will put on new attitudes.  Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Members of the family of God are to be compassionate and forgiving to one another, because it is only through the compassion and forgiveness of God in Christ that we became members of God’s family in the first place.

“Therefore,” the letter concludes: “be imitators of God.”  In 1992, Gatorade came out with a hugely successful commercial called “Be Like Mike.”  It took advantage of the fact that a whole generation idolized the Chicago Bulls basketball great Michael Jordan.  Thousands of Americans wore his number 23 Bulls uniform jerseys; thousands more donned his Nike Air Jordans.  We studied his moves, and even though we did not have his hang time, we hung out our tongues while we attempted to dunk the basketball.  And of course, we drank Gatorade, because we wanted to imitate Michael Jordan.  We wanted to be like Mike.

As followers of Jesus, we are called not to be like Mike, but to be like Christ, not to imitate Jordan, but to imitate God.  Of course, imitation of God, strictly speaking, is impossible because of the unbridgeable gulf between us and God.  Nevertheless, Christians are called to emulate God as children who are the recipients of God’s love.  We are called to imitate the God of love, the God who is love, by living in love.

One caution: dressing the part is not about the “outer clothes” (suit or robe) but our behavior and attitudes. Living in love by putting on Christ is not playing “dress up” on Sundays, and then going back to their old clothes and old selves the rest of the week.  Christ is not a costume we dust off and put on once a week or for special occasions.  Putting on Christ is putting on who we were created to be, who we were meant to be, and it is a life-long journey. One way to measure the progress of our Christian maturity is by asking ourselves, “How have we been more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, and kind during this year than last year?” “How have our words been more grace-filled and less critical lately than they were a decade ago?” “How have we been less enslaved by our fears, our anxieties, and our bad habits this year than last?”

The good news is that not only God’s Spirit abides in us to help us grow toward Christ-likeness, but God also places persons in our lives to walk alongside us as role models and fellow pilgrims in our spiritual journeys. They may be our parents, our peers, or a mentor. One group in the church that may help us in our spiritual journeys is our deacons. Here at University Baptist, our deacons do not function as a governing board telling the ministerial staff and other members what to do. Rather, they represent those entrusted by the congregation to exhibit servant leadership, to be a spiritual compass, and to model Christian character in their attitude, their behavior and their speech. In the New Testament, the word “deacon” comes from the Greek word diakoneo, which literally means “through the dirt.”  It refers to an attendant, a waiter, or one who ministers to another. We first see deacons in Acts 6 when the twelve apostles enlisted other disciples to serve as deacons, to minister to the church’s physical needs like waiting on tables during church meals, while the apostles ministered to their spiritual needs through preaching and teaching.

Here at UBC, our deacons don’t just take up the offering and serve communion during worship. Our deacons main function is to lead in organizing our Circle of Caring teams. We have a Congregational Care team that seeks to regularly check in on members. We have a Comfort Food team that brings food to those who may need a meal in the midst of a family illness or tragedy. Our Homebound team visits those in our congregation who are not as mobile as they used to be. Our Small Jobs team helps those who need a help hand in simple household tasks like changing light bulbs, replacing batteries in smoke alarms, and even some home repairs. Our Bereavement team provides comfort and support to those who have recently lost a loved one.  Our Transportation team provides rides for students and others on Sunday mornings and emergency situations. Our Hospital Visitation team ministers to those who have been hospitalized and their families. And our Celebrations team remembers the birthdays, anniversaries and other high points in our members’ lives.

This morning, we are blessed to have a group of individuals set apart by the church to serve as deacons. But while they may have a specific part to play in the life of UBC, all of us are called to put off our old selves and to clothe ourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Many years ago, an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived at a village in Serbia. He met an elderly man there named Cimmerman, and Jakov began to talk to him of the love of Christ. Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity. He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, where church leaders had plundered, exploited, and killed innocent people.

“My own nephew was killed by them,” he said, and continued: “They wear those elaborate coats and crosses, but I cannot ignore their evil.”

Jakov replied, “Cimmerman, suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on, and break into a bank. Let’s say that the police saw me from a distance. They could not see my face but they clearly saw your coat. What would you say if they accused you of breaking into the bank?”

“I would deny it,” said Cimmerman.

And Jakov countered, “‘Ah, but we saw your coat,’ they would say.”

The analogy annoyed Cimmerman, and he ordered Jakov to leave.

Even so, Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ with him. Finally one day Cimmerman declared that he wanted to be a Christian. After praying with Jakov, Cimmerman rose to his feet and hugged his longtime friend.  He said, “Thank you for being in my life. You wear God’s coat very well.”[2]

May we all dress the part, and clothe ourselves with Christ this coming week. Amen.

 

 

[1] Acts 18:3; 20:34; 1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thess 2:9; 4:11.

[2] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? From a sermon by C. Philip Green, cited in http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-christianwitness-77346.asp.