Family Rules: Part Two
It was homecoming week, my junior year of high school. In my small hometown, football homecoming was a big deal. There was a bonfire, a king and queen, and a parade with floats built by every class.
The night of the bonfire, my buddy Aaron said, “Hey, let’s go steal the Bulldog from the freshmen.” Our mascot was the bulldog. The freshmen were using the mascot suit as a decoration for their float. The plan was simple: we’d take the bulldog, hide it, leave clues for them to search, and return it to them the following afternoon in time for the parade—no harm, no foul – just a bit of homecoming prankery.
Our group piled into Aaron’s Silverado and headed out into the night.
We told a couple of guys in the back of the truck, “We’re going to cut the headlights when we head down their street. Y’all jump out, grab the mascot, and throw it in the truck.”
We dropped them off a few doors down and crept down the street, waiting.
When we saw them struggling with the mascot that was stuffed with hay and chained to a metal chair, they looked at us panicked, and we whisper-screamed, “Just bring the whole thing!”
Then, with horror, Aaron and I saw a parent standing at the door with a notepad, clearly taking down our license plate number.
We took off. As soon as we left the neighborhood, I said, “We’ve got to take it back. They’ve got our license plate, and they’re going to report us.” Some agreed while others insisted we press on and try our luck not getting caught. Sanity prevailed. After a few minutes, we headed back, and I kid you not, there were already several police and state patrol cars in front of the house.
Aaron’s dad was a state patrolman and quite stern. He walked up to us, still piled in the truck and terrified. He said, “Aaron, call your date and tell her not to bother coming down for the dance. The rest of you boys, go home and tell your parents what you did before I do.” And we scattered into the wind, rushing to get home with the bad news before he did.
I won’t go into the details of what happened with any of us, but we all fared somewhat differently from each other. What made the difference wasn’t the fact that some of us were more guilty than others. Nor was it that some parents cared about their children while others didn’t. The basic difference was the rules that guided each family. What behaviors were acceptable or at least understandable. Where was the line between a joke and vandalism? What constituted appropriate discipline for breaking a family rule? Even if those rules existed nowhere but in the parents’ minds, they guided their decisions. And, in turn, those dictated how they responded to each of us.
Last week, we began discussing Family Rules—those rules that guide how God’s people live together as a family. Several of these rules are laid out in the back half of Ephesians. Verses 29 and 30 and break it down under two headings—two rules: Watch How You Speak and Don’t Grieve the Spirit.
FAMILY RULE #4: Watch How You Speak
The first phrase in Ephesians 29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…”
Let’s just let that one breath for a second. That word for “corrupting” in Greek means “rotten, rancid, withered, diseased, putrid.” Not a pretty picture, is it? It refers to any kind of speech that tears people down, that elevates sin and evil, that pushes people away from what is good, true, and beautiful.
Our words can destroy individuals and even groups:
- One spouse’s constant criticism can decimate the other’s confidence and perception of reality.
- One student’s constant name-calling can drive another to despair.
- One employee’s complaining can make everyone else begin to hate their work.
- One “friend’s” constant snide comments about another friend’s husband or wife can plant the seeds of disillusionment or even divorce regarding the marriage.
- One person who regularly takes a conversation in a negative or vile direction can lower the joy of an entire group. One gossip can lay waste to an entire organization.
You may have experienced this at some point in your life. I know I have. And at times, I’ve been the guilty party, and I’d bet you have been too. Notice Paul’s warning isn’t for “those ‘bad’ people.” It’s aimed right at his friends—Christians in the Ephesian Church. And it applies to us as well.
Let’s reread those words and think about where we might need to repent of those places where we know our speech sends peoples’ minds into the gutter, or into despair, or discouragement, or to entice them to celebrate evil or to look away from God’s goodness: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…”
Paul likes to tell us things to stop doing and things to start doing instead. For instance, in Ephesians 25, he says that since we’ve stopped being deceitful, we should double down on telling one another the truth. In verse 28, he tells the thief to stop stealing and start working so he can live a life of generosity. Here, he follows the same pattern.
Now, let’s pay careful attention to the back half of verse 29: “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.”
So, speech that tears down is out; speech that builds up is in.
This kind of talk has encouragement, health, healing, wholeness, godliness, and goodness, as its goal and love as its driving force.
Now, that doesn’t mean we never have to say difficult things. Pastors, doctors, coaches, lawyers, teachers, military leaders, elected officials, judges, parents, and friends all have to say difficult things to people at times, things that may truly hurt in the moment. Likewise, we may have to discuss people and situations that are downright abhorrent in order to understand or warn against them properly.
However, our purpose in saying those things should always be for the benefit of others. We want them to cast their gaze upward. We want them to see reality clearly and in light of who God is and what he says is right and wrong, good and evil.
We want them to trust God’s character and to believe that Jesus is better, no matter what’s happening.
This kind of speech is always centered upon the good of those we speak to. In fact, it’s tailor-made for the other person’s good. Notice what Paul says: “…as fits the occasion…” In other words, a timely word. An appropriate word, just right for the moment. Maybe it’s a word of encouragement when someone is at their lowest. Perhaps it’s a loving warning when you see someone headed toward the cliff. Maybe it’s a piece of Scripture that you know is particularly applicable to a person’s situation.
But let me ask you a question. What does all this assume? It assumes you’re investing in relationships, truly getting to know people. It’s pretty hard to know what to say if you don’t know someone and their situation well enough to know the “occasion,” the need they may be facing. Likewise, you can have the truest thing in the world to say to someone, but they may not be willing to listen if they don’t know you. The old saying is generally true: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” So, to do this well consistently (there are “one-off” exceptions, for sure), you must be relationally connected to others, particularly your brothers and sisters in the Church, which is the context of Paul’s instruction here. It’s about how we interact as family.
And it also assumes that you’re taking the time and effort to listen and observe carefully. It means that you’re not sitting there, just waiting for your turn to talk. Loving someone well takes work. It takes time. What if we were as careful and thoughtful in speaking to others as we were in how we dress? In how we spend our money? In how we plan our vacations?
And when we do that, when we use speech that builds up, what’s the result? Paul tells us: “…that it may give grace to those who hear.” In other words, it blesses them. It helps them grow. It helps them do the things God has called them to do. It helps them keep moving forward. In Job 4:4, one of Job’s friends tells him, “Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.” The old Moffatt translation says it like this: “Your words have kept men on their feet.”
Have you ever done that for someone? You gave someone a word of encouragement or wisdom, and they came back to you later and said gratefully, “What you told me that day (fill in the blank)….” Or maybe someone has done that for you. You can probably point to a time in your life when a timely word changed everything for you. Beloved, that’s the power words have.
Pastor and author Max Anders said, “This one passage, if consistently obeyed, would eliminate the overwhelming majority of life’s conflicts.” Think about if everyone—or just believers, just those of us in the family—said, “How I speak, how I write, how I post on social media, will be absent of corrupting talk. Instead, my words will be tools for building up others. My intent will be to bless those who hear or read or follow me on social media.” What if we lived this more consistently? What might happen? By God’s grace, let’s find out together.
FAMILY RULE #5: Don’t Grieve the Spirit
We’re calling these “Family Rules,” right? However, whenever we’re thinking about how to live as believers, we have to remember a critical factor—the most critical factor, in fact: our relationship with God Himself. God is the very epitome of relationship—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, dwelling in perfect love and unity for all eternity. And He made us in His image to be in relationship with Him. He knows us, and he wants us to know Him.
And because this is the case, it shouldn’t surprise us to find a reference to God and his heart right in the middle of this intensely relational passage. Verse 30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Now, why would Paul single out the Holy Spirit here? Not the Father and not Jesus. The Spirit.
First, because the rest of Scripture informed Paul’s thought. In Isaiah 63, Isaiah talks about Israel’s rebellion against God, and when they did so, the text says in verse 10 that they “grieved his Holy Spirit,” so much so the Spirit fought against them for their own good. When we give ourselves to the sinful activities Paul outlined in the last few verses, we do the same thing. It’s rebellion. And there may even be an implicit warning here as well…the Spirit may fight against us for our own good if we persist in our sin.
But there’s something more immediate going on in the lives of Paul’s friends. Back up to the start of Ephesians:
- In Chapter 1, Paul says we were sealed with the Spirit, just as he does here (more about that in a moment).
- In Chapter 2, he says that we have access in the Spirit to the Father and that the Spirit is who makes us into a dwelling place, a temple, for God.
- In Chapter 3, Paul says the Spirit revealed the full implications of the gospel message to the apostles and prophets. Later in the same chapter, he asks for the Spirit to strengthen us.
- In Chapter 4, he makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is responsible for our unity as believers.
And that’s what he says about the Spirit just in Ephesians.
Beloved, the Church is brought together and held together by the Holy Spirit. He is intimately involved in the day-in, day-out life of the Church in a particular way. So, when we persist in sin—when we practice corrupting talk, for instance—we’re not only hurting one another but also grieving the Holy Spirit. We’re bringing him sorrow because His Holy name, character, and work are being dishonored, slighted, and profaned. And we’re bringing Him sorrow because He loves us, and love means being moved by the actions of the beloved.
Charles Spurgeon wrote: “For it is an inexpressibly delightful thought, that He who rules heaven and earth, and is the creator of all things, and the infinite and ever blessed God, condescends to enter into such infinite relationships with His people that His divine mind may be affected by their actions.”
That’s incredible, isn’t it? The Holy Spirit is that close to us. He has entered into relationship with us individually and corporately as He unites our hearts and lives together. So, when we act and speak in ways that war against what He’s done for us, His heart is grieved.
And Paul doesn’t let us forget just who this Spirit is and what He’s done for us; he wants us to see just how bad and loathsome our rebellion is. Look again at the end of verse 30: “…by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
In the ancient world, a “seal” bore two related functions. First, it denoted ownership. It was like etching your initials onto a valuable piece of electronics or having a stamp on the front cover of a book. So, a seal, a mark of some kind, would be affixed to an object or document to show ownership. So, when God gives us His Spirit, He assures us that we are His—and consequently that He cares for and protects us. Nothing gets to us except through Him.
The other function a seal bore was to demonstrate authenticity. If someone sent a letter, they would melt the wax and place an impression of their chosen symbol into the hot wax to create a seal of authenticity like a notarized document does today. This means God sends us His Spirit to show us that our faith is genuine, legitimate, and authentic. The Spirit is saying, “You really have trusted in Jesus. You really do know Him. Your faith really is valid.” The Spirit’s sealing work is meant to bolster our confidence—especially when the fickleness of our own hearts or our circumstances may tell us differently.
This is how the Holy Spirit cares for us; this is how much He loves us. He has “sealed us for the day of redemption.” If you’ve turned from your sin and placed your hope in Jesus, you have been redeemed, rescued. But we still wait for that day when our rescue will be complete, and there will be no more sin, suffering, and death.
And the Spirit’s sealing work is all about getting us to that day when all the sad things will finally come untrue—the day Jesus comes to fully and finally set everything right.
Why would we ever willingly grieve the heart of One who loves us so much? That’s what we do when we sin against one another in God’s family, and that’s especially easy to do when it comes to our speech, which is probably why Paul situates this command where he does.
On the other hand, when we love each other well, and when our gracious speech is building one another up, we bring joy to God the Spirit. When our individual and community lives are marked by holiness, it honors the Spirit who is holy.
So, there you have it: two more family rules: Watch How You Speak, and Don’t Grieve the Spirit.
But friends, I want you to remember something. We don’t become a part of God’s family because we’re such good people or attend Church every Sunday. It’s not even because our speech is what it should be or even because we haven’t done too much “grieving” of the Holy Spirit.
We don’t strive to follow these rules to get into the family.
We strive to follow them because we are part of the family.
And the only way we become a part of this family is by looking to Jesus, the One who always spoke “gracious words,” to quote Luke, words intended to build up—even when he had to say very hard things. The One who never grieved the Spirit but was anointed and empowered by the Spirit to accomplish His mission: His mission to save us by living in our place, dying for our sins, and rising from the grave. This is how we become part of the family. By turning from our own way and trusting that what Jesus did, he did for us, personally. Or, as the apostle John puts it: “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
May it be so for us.
Brian Henson, Trinity Community Church
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