August 12, 2018
We are in week 5 of our series on Jacob Wetterling's 12 attributes to live by. Today's is Be Honest. When I started this series, I had to match up the traits with the scripture readings. Today's was pretty easy, look at how our passage from Ephesians begins: “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth.” Be honest.
A month ago, we took our annual boat ride/fishing trip to Green Lake. I caught the most fish rather handily. Dwight and I got into a bit of a discussion as to whether the number of fish I was hauling in was luck or skill. I tried to convince him it was skill, but in light of today's topic, I guess I should admit it was more luck than skill.
Fishermen are notorious for their dishonesty. Ruth showed me a wonderful little trick for this. I want to describe for you one of the fish I caught, and I want to be honest. (Hold hands out wide) I caught this fish this far from the boat.... Honest but impressive both.
I am pretty sure that most of us here consider ourselves pretty honest. And that is good. Honesty is important to the Christian's faith journey. You have probably heard the excuse some people use to not attend church; too many hypocrites. They say one thing on Sunday and live another way the rest of the week. Dishonesty reflects poorly on you as an individual, but it reflects poorly on the on your claim to follow Jesus Christ. The way we interact with people in our community reflects negatively or positively on Jesus, and on us here at First Presbyterian.
So is dishonesty really a problem? I intrinsically trust most people I come into contact with. But that doesn't always work out the best. There are people who lie, cheat and steal. Most are not big-time dis-honest. I read about a study conducted on college campuses testing who lies and cheats, why they do and to what level. Dan Ariely conducted the study and his team went to college campuses and offered to pay students for every math puzzle they could solve in five minutes. At the end of the five minutes, the students were asked to grade their own papers and put their papers through a shredder. They received money for every right answer they reported, remember, they graded their own papers. But the students didn't know that the shredder didn't actually shred their papers. The team checked their work to see how honest they were. Ariely found that, on average, students reported solving six problems. When the team checked the answers, they discovered on average they solved only four.
After testing 30,000 people, Ariely found only 12 “big cheaters,” compared to 18,000 “small cheaters.” The big cheaters stole a total of $150, while the small cheaters stole around $36,000 – just a couple of dollars at a time. This research project was tried all over the world and the results were always roughly the same. (Adapted from Tim Suttle, Shrink, Zondervan, 2014, pp. 114-115; www.PreachingToday.com)
Most of the losses and thefts and dishonest tax returns are not career criminals. Most are small little indiscretions by basically honest people. Most of the problems we see are not big cheaters. It is the people who consider themselves honest, churchgoing, upright people who cut a corner here and there that make the biggest impact.
So where do we fit in? I consider myself above average on the honesty scale. But I don't have to think too long and hard to come up with examples of my own little lies. It is much tougher deciding if I want to share any examples.
The one that came to mind first is not about stealing, but saving face. We had gotten new scanners at the Post Office. Mine was missing one day and I asked the Postmaster where he'd put it. He didn't know...I evidently had not returned it the day before. Well, if I don't find it, it is hundreds of dollars out of my pocket to replace it. I went and looked in my car, all around my desk, on the loading dock. Nothing. Then I thought about how the previous day had ended, and I remembered dumping a tub of paper into the trash bin. I went digging and sure enough there it was. When Steve asked where I found it, I was too embarrassed to admit I'd thrown it away so said I'd found it in my car.
Now I know that you are probably thinking, “that's pretty minor.” And it is. But it is one of those little lies that, while not profiting me financially, allowed me to save face. And it is a bad habit to get into. Little lies can grow. But telling the truth can be a wonderful testimony. “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” That is an interesting turn of a phrase, “we are members of one another.” This letter is written specifically to members of the Christian church. Paul was reminding his readers of the basics of living together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Don't lie was his first exhortation, followed by other basic rules of behavior. In his commentary on Ephesians, Earnest Best points out that, “there has never been a period in the church when simple 'exhortations' have not been necessary.'” And so in many of the epistles, simple rules for living are laid out for us. Here, in the fourth chapter of Ephesians, we get such a list. We begin with what not to do: Don't lie. Do not sin in your anger. Thieves must give up stealing. Speak no evil. Don't be bitter or wrathful, don't slander, don't wrangle or argue with one another, and avoid slandering a fellow believer. Basic rules of living in harmony.
You may have noticed that I skipped one item, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” That one is not so clearly understood. Commentators don't agree on just what this saying meant, but I don't think we go too far wrong if we look to Jesus for an example. In Mark's gospel, Mark told of a time when Jesus was grieved. Jesus had asked the Jewish leaders whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. They didn't care about helping the man with the withered hand, they wanted to trap Jesus. So when they refused to answer him, Mark writes that Jesus was, “Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts.” So it seems that Jesus and hence the Holy Spirit is grieved when we fail to yield our hearts in love to others. We grieve God's Spirit when we fail to show love, compassion, care for others with whom we come in contact.
Another side note, Mark wrote there that Jesus was angry. Our passage today is not demanding that we never get angry. But what we are told is that we shouldn't sin in our anger; we don't take our own revenge upon people. We can be honest with our anger. We can even be angry at God. But we are not to live as angry people...we all know people who live that way. Again from Earnest Best, “Anger easily leads to the loss of a sense of judgment and so to sin...and can appear in different ways, from the passionate outburst to the sullen bearing of grudges.” Sometimes the passionate outburst is better than bearing a grudge. In “These Day's” devotional, Melanie Oommen wrote this week that anger can even be an act of faith. She wrote, “truth is more important than comfort (and) anger can be born of conscience. God planted within us compasses of conscience.” Anger can be the correct way to respond to injustice. But not anger for the sake of anger, and Paul is clear, we are not to let the sun go down on our anger. Find a way to resolve the differences you are having.
Back to our passage, Paul goes on to list positive ways we are to express our fellowship in Christ. “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.” Good advice, wonderful traits to live with; but not always easy to carry out. I believe we need time with God to grow and nourish these positive traits. Bible reading, prayer, meditation, a steady, conscious awareness of God allows us to do better living out these traits. We won't be perfect, but we can do better.
So there is a lot more in this passage than the admonition to be honest. But at the heart of it is living honestly. But honestly alone doesn't guarantee that our life will be in right relationship with God and each other. James Dobson tells a story about an honest man:
“Some time ago, I heard about a fellow in Long Beach who went into a fried chicken franchise to get some chicken for himself and the young lady with him. She waited in the car while he went in to pick up the chicken. Inadvertently, the manager of the store handed the guy the box in which he had placed the financial proceeds of the day instead of the box of chicken. You see, he was going to make a deposit and had camouflaged it by putting the money in a fried chicken box. The fellow took his box, went back to the car, and the two of them drove away. When they got to the park and opened the box, they discovered they had a box full of money. He realized there must have been a mistake, so he got back in his car and returned to the place and gave the money back to the manager. Well, the manager was elated! He was so pleased that he told the young man, “Stick around, I want to call the newspaper and have them take your picture. You’re the most honest guy in town.” “Oh, no, don’t do that!” said the fellow. “Why not?” asked the manager. “Well,” he said, “You see, I’m married, and the woman I’m with right now is not my wife.”
Living the Christian life is more than honesty. When we read or study a list of how we ought to live, we don't pick one and make that our all in all. The list gives us guidelines to how we ought to order our whole life. The way we interact with others is the true test of our Christian walk. Honesty is important, but not the all in all. And none of us will be able to perfectly follow the items on Paul's list all the time. So Paul concludes this passage, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Imitate God as revealed in Jesus; good advice, not always easy to do. The very best imitation of God is to love one another. And that we can do; treat them with honesty and integrity, “ be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another”... work hard, build up one another, avoid bitterness and wrath, and slander...control your anger. Paul's list of how we best imitate Jesus' love. But in and through it all is the knowledge that God loves us, that Jesus died for us as a sacrifice in our place. It is in thanksgiving for God's marvelous grace that we seek to live out God's love.
Seek to imitate Jesus...and to do that we need to keep our eyes upon him. Our hymn reminds us that when we look to Jesus, the things of this earth grow dim; less important, we don't need to build up ourselves with lies and half-truths. Living with and for Jesus is all the blessing we need. And so we follow the vision of the love Jesus lived. He gives us grace to live in love; his glory gives us inspiration to live out the traits Paul taught us: be honest, be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, hardworking, encouraging, positive, and... control your anger. A tall order, one we can all work on. Amen.
Hymn: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus 252 HLC