Family Rules: Part One
Recently, I read a document I wrote shortly before we moved here. It’s called “Henson Family Rules.” It’s 20 points long. My intent when writing it was to reflect upon God’s word and how he has built the world, and then provide an overview of how we want these truths to play out in everyday family life.
So, Number One is “Do the next right thing.” Number Four is “Celebrate as often as possible.” Number Seven is “Make Sunday special.” Number Eight is “Don’t make decisions based upon fear, laziness, or pride.” You get the idea.
Some of the points on the list are things we had been doing for years; others were more aspirational. While it’s not something I laid out for my family all at once, it has guided how we live in a lot of ways over the years.
Enumerated or not, whether they know it or not, pretty much every family has a list like this—things they stand for, behaviors they will or won’t tolerate, goals they’re pursuing. And those things, to one degree or another, determine how they live.
Paul calls us “beloved children,” calling our identity as members of God’s family to mind once again, as he does so often throughout his letters. In Christ, all believers have God as their Father and one another as brothers and sisters.
And, as a family, we have rules that we live by—rules that both honor God and maximize our joy. Earlier in this chapter, Paul has reminded his Ephesian friends of the life God has called them out of, and the new life they now have in Christ. Now, he gets into the practicalities of what that looks like.
Let’s look at the family rules Paul lays out for us in Ephesians 4:25-28. There are more, of course—we’ll see several of them in the rest of this letter to the Ephesians. But he compresses a number back-to-back in a handful of verses, making something of a shorthand list of family rules. Let’s break down our first few verses like this:
- Speak the Truth
- Handle Anger Rightly
- Live a Life of Giving, Not Taking
FAMILY RULE #1: Speak the Truth
As Paul explains earlier in chapter 4, the Ephesian cultural atmosphere, and the lives of his friends before they came to know Jesus, had been marked by, among other things, deceit. That was their old life. But now, they have a new life in Christ, as we looked at over the last couple of weeks. And with that, they were called to a lifestyle of “righteousness and holiness.”
That sets us up for Paul’s first family rule, verse 25: “Therefore, having put away falsehood”—psuedos in Greek—“let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
Telling the truth doesn’t mean you blast people with no grace, patience, love or humility. Saying “Hey, I was just telling the truth”, when you’ve crushed a person and made them feel completely isolated or worthless, is in no way what Paul is calling for here. Only a few verses ago, he reminded us to speak the truth in love, i.e., for that other person’s good in such a way that they can hear it.
Nor is every bit of detail always appropriate. You’re not going to answer a young person with the same amount of detail you’d answer an adult with on any number of issues. But you’re going to be equally truthful with them both.
And that’s Paul’s concern: that we’re truthful with one another. We don’t lie to each other. Why not? “…for we are members one of another.” Every rule Paul lays down here is in the context of community, of real life lived with one another. We’re brothers and sisters, part of one family. We love each other, meaning we want each other’s lives to conform to God’s word and to what is objectively true and right. We want people’s perceptions to match up with reality. As 4th Century Church Father John Chrysostom said, “If the eye sees a serpent, does it deceive the foot? If the tongue tastes what is bitter, does it deceive the stomach?”
Yes, a commitment to telling the truth is going to lead to hard conversations sometimes. It’s going to take courage to say something to a brother or sister they may not want to hear. It’s going to take wisdom to know how to say what needs to be said in a loving, yet clear, manner. It’s going to take humility to admit things we might not want to own up to—whether that is sin or just an ordinary failure of some sort. It’s going to take faith that Jesus really is our righteousness, and since our identity isn’t at stake, we should be able to both speak and receive truth, even when it’s hard to do so.
Putting this into practice can be difficult. But think about how it would be in your biological family if everyone lied to each other. Forget the sitcoms where everyone lies to each other, gets found out, and laughs about it at the end with no fallout. That’s not real life. Here’s what happens in real life: discord, disunity, coverups, unrepentance, pain and often physical, spiritual or emotional harm. Often, there is wreckage that lasts a lifetime. The same thing can happen within the family of God’s people. Many a church, many a ministry has been destroyed because of dishonesty.
We must be a family committed to telling the truth to one another.
Our very existence as a body of believers depends upon it.
FAMILY RULE #2: Handle Anger Rightly
Back in Tennessee, we preached a series on what are commonly called the “Seven Deadly Sins”—pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. One day, when I was doing research, I came across an article entitled, “Anger: The Sometimes-Deadly Sin.”
A catchy, if somewhat confusing, title for sure. What the author meant was that, unlike the other items on the “Seven Deadly” list, anger isn’t always sinful. At times, it’s precisely what’s called for.
Look at the first part of verse 26: “Be angry…”
Many times in Scripture, we read that God is angry. For instance, in Deuteronomy 9:8, Moses tells the people of Israel, “Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you.” Psalm 78:21 tells us, “Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel…”
Sin dishonors God and destroys the people he loves. And both of those factors elicit his righteous anger. If it didn’t, something would be very wrong. We understand this even in our normal human interactions.
If someone dragged your name through the mud with all sorts of falsehoods, would it not elicit your anger? It should, because your good name is being besmirched. You would know, at a fundamental level, that something was wrong, unjust, about what you’re going through.
Likewise, what if you see a dad just sitting there, indifferent, while someone is pummeling his child? Or, change the scenario slightly. Perhaps that child is doing something wantonly self-destructive, and Dad just yawns. What would you think about that dad? You’d think something was deeply, deeply wrong with him…or that he didn’t love his child…or that he was downright evil, right?
So, there are times Christians should be angry. John Stott remarks: “…there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil we should be indignant not tolerant, angry not apathetic. If God hates sin, his people should hate it too. If evil arouses his anger, it should arouse ours also…What other reaction can wickedness be expected to provoke in those who love God?”
Indeed, we should be angry when we see sin destroying people, when lies lead people down a path of darkness. That anger will often compel us to say or do something to help correct the situation. Praise God for that if what you’re saying or doing can be done wisely, lovingly, and in a way that doesn’t simply make matters worse.
Now, it’s easy to think about this scenario with people “out there,” but remember…Paul is specifically talking about relationships with other brothers and sisters in the faith. We are going to sin against one another, and there are times when it is right to be angry at people we love, and angry at what they did. Not so we can beat them up with it. Not so we can harbor it. But because we love them, we love those on the receiving end of their sin, we love the church, and we love God.
However…and this is a huge “however”…our anger—even when justified—can go south, quick. So, Paul has to issue a stern warning, verse 26: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
You see, our righteous anger can quickly turn unrighteous. It can turn into bitterness, resentment, vindictiveness, revenge-seeking. It can become sinful in the blink of an eye. In fact, if you look down at verse 31, you’ll see that we’re called to “put away” anger along with several other sinful attitudes.
When we allow our righteous anger to become sinful anger, it gives the devil a crack in the defenses to do severe damage. It can destroy others, it can destroy your relationships, and it can destroy you. Frederick Buechner writes this: “Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontation still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back; in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
If you know that describes you, it’s time to let it go. Take it to God. Tell him what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. Pour your heart out. Repent of your unrighteous anger.
And Paul also gives us a bit of practical advice right in the middle of this warning: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” In other words, don’t nurse your anger, no matter how righteous it may have been at the beginning. Otherwise, you’re giving Satan an opportunity he desperately craves.
Beloved, our anger can only take us so far. Yes, it should spur us to say and do the right things, but it can very, very easily go in a bad direction. We can’t allow our hearts to run on anger—whether it’s due to an interpersonal conflict or something larger. The circuit has to be broken over and over. So, we must exercise the kind of care Paul is talking about here.
Handling anger rightly is a massively important skill, one we’ve been called to practice as a part of God’s family.
FAMILY RULE #3: Live a Life of Giving, Not Taking
I read an incredible story in Kent Hughes’ commentary on Ephesians that I’d like to share with you now. British pastor Rowland Hill was preaching the funeral service of a church staff member—a man who had been a faithful follower of Jesus and excellent employee for decades. That day, Hill revealed a secret he had sat on for thirty years: he had met this man through…an attempted robbery. The guy had held him up one day, and rather than giving him money, Hill told him, “If you’ll come back later, I’ll give you a job.” Amazingly, the would-be robber agreed. He left Hill alone and returned later. He eventually became a believer and spent the rest of his life as a devoted employee of the church. Wow.
In verse 28, we read this: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
Now, this might seem strange at first. You don’t commonly hear preachers exhorting their congregations to stop stealing. But it shows Paul’s pastoral heart, recognizing a real issue among his friends. We know that the early Church was made of people from all social strata, just like it is today. And some temptations are especially acute to particular groups. For instance, in 1 Timothy 6, Paul tells Timothy to warn the rich in his congregation against putting their hopes in their wealth. Later in Ephesians, he’ll have pointed things to say to slaves. Here, he would likely have been speaking to a particular group: those who were poor enough to be tempted toward theft but who also had the freedom to earn their own living.
So, Paul’s admonition is straightforward: “Let the thief no longer steal…” But notice that he doesn’t stop there: “Rather, let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” This is what repentance looks like in the Bible. This is what it means to practically “put off” the old self and “put on” the new, as we discussed last week. We don’t just stop doing sinful things; we want to do good, holy, righteous things instead. Look again at verse 25. We put away falsehood, now we practice speaking the truth. If you look at verse 29, which we’re going to look at in depth in the next part of this series, stop with the bad speech, and adopt right speech.
That’s the pattern. In virtually any scenario you can think of, when God calls us to repent of a sin, we are called to turn away from that sin (the literal meaning of “repent”), but we are also called to turn to something else. That’s what love does—love for God and love for neighbor not only says, “I’m not going to do this anymore,” but also, “I’m going to do this instead.”
See, those who had been stealing had been operating on a “my life for me” paradigm; Paul tells them instead to operate on a “my life for yours” paradigm. A gospel-shaped paradigm that is about giving rather than taking.
You see, no matter how bad things may have been economically for these folks, theft wasn’t the answer; in fact, there were others worse off than them. And Paul says that it was their responsibility—a joyful responsibility, as he explains in other letters—to care for those peoples’ needs. In fact, caring for the poor is something the New Testament mentions frequently, and has historically been a hallmark of Christianity.
As I end, I want to mention just two thoughts. Yes, Paul wrote this to the Ephesians, but it applies to us as well.
First, don’t just glance past this. Outright theft might not be an issue for you. But it could be—regardless of your income level, though often it is a greater temptation if finances are especially tight. You may pad an expense account at work. You may be doing unallowed personal activities when you’re supposed to be on the job. You may shade the numbers dishonestly on your income taxes. There are all kinds of ways we can take what isn’t ours and so be guilty of theft. And if that’s you, it’s time to repent. If you need to make restitution, do so. But stop stealing, no matter why or what form it’s taking.
Second, use your money to bless those in need. Money is a tool. And like any tool, it can be used to tear down or to build up. Be generous. Work (or plan what you’ve earned) with giving—not just getting—in mind. Whether theft is or has ever been an issue for you personally, the call to live a life of giving, not a life of taking, is for us all—because this is what the gospel is all about; the Savior who would give everything for us. God’s family should be a family marked by generosity, because it is founded upon generosity.
Rooted in Jesus
Do you see how all these family rules are rooted in the person and work of Jesus, the one the writer of Hebrews calls our “Brother”?
He is the one who not only always tells the truth, but is the Truth…the only one who can bring us to the Father. The only One who we can truly trust to build our lives upon.
He is the one who was angry in all the right ways at all the right times. When he saw the moneychangers making a mockery of the temple—and keeping the Gentiles from being able to approach God to pray, since those money changers would have set up shop in the place reserved for non-Jewish people—he tosses tables and whips people. He is angry. He’s angry that God’s name is being dishonored and that people are kept from approaching him. When he looks upon the scene of those weeping before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, John tells us he was “deeply moved,” a phrase used for the snorting of horses; it denoted fury, anger. Anger at the sin and brokenness in the world. Anger that would help move him forward in his ministry, and ultimately to the cross—because he was determined to fix that which so angered him.
He is the one who worked on our behalf and gave of himself perfectly, in every way. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8, he is the one who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” He left heaven and all its glory to take on a real humanity, and to take on your sin and mine so that we could become God’s children, and so that we could become rich through an inheritance only he deserves.
The family rules we seek to follow find their perfect expression in Jesus, the one who loved us and gave himself for us.
Hope in Him today.
Become a part of this family through trusting in Him.
Brian Henson, Trinity Community Church
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