Do Not Give the Devil a Foothold
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Do Not Give the Devil a Foothold

Ephesians 4:25–28  (ID: 3237)

Christians have a new identity in Christ that should be reflected in our lifestyle. Alistair Begg reminds us that walking in a manner worthy of the calling we have received involves speaking truthfully, distinguishing righteous from unrighteous anger, and working diligently in order to give generously. When the Church cultivates this kind of lifestyle, it denies the devil a foothold in our lives and testifies to the power of the Gospel.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ephesians, Volume 7

The New Self Ephesians 4:17–32 Series ID: 14907

Encore 2024

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25920


Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to read this morning from Ephesians chapter 4 and from the concluding verses, beginning at verse 25 to the end of the chapter. Ephesians 4:25:

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief … steal [no longer], but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Amen.

I want us today to study these concluding verses of the chapter under two headings. First of all, this morning, coming from verse 27: “Do not give the devil a foothold,” as it is in the NIV. “Do not give the devil a foothold.” And then, in the evening, in verse 30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” So we’ll think along the lines of Paul’s instruction with that as, if you like, our guiding framework.

“They found each other on Facebook.” If I had a dollar for every time that sentence has become the occasion of a bad story, we could all almost go out to lunch together. You say, “Well, you’ve never been a fan of Facebook, but you don’t have to be so mean.” Well, it’s not to do with Facebook at all. There are clearly benefits to social networking. But those benefits do not come on their own, and there are peculiar dangers that attach to them. The one to which I allude is the opportunity that it creates for happily married couples to search the internet for and to find and to reengage with friends and lovers from their past. “Well,” says somebody, “it’s clearly possible to do that without it being an occasion of disruption.” Agreed. But it is a potential emotional loophole. It is and has proved to be, at least from my experience in responding to people, an occasion for giving the devil a foothold. Therefore, wisdom says, as in the book of Proverbs, “You don’t go down that road.[1] You don’t walk by that place. You don’t approach those areas.”[2] And if that is true in terms of physical activity, then surely it applies in the realm of scanning and scrolling social media.

Why is it so important? Well, because marriage, you see, has changed everything. And I’m speaking expressly using this analogy. Marriage has changed everything. When a man and a woman become husband and wife they sever—they sever, once and for all—the ties and associations and affections which were part of their single state, even to the extent of parental ties: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother.”[3] So as much as I love my mom, she needs to cut the apron strings that attach me to her, because I have new apron strings to pay attention to, because I am now married. “Keep yourself only unto her,” says the marriage service, and do so “as long as you both shall live.” Therefore, anything that would violate that or would impinge upon that is to be guarded against. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and he will be united to his wife.” And that union is the closest union that exists in humanity. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” They “will become one flesh.”[4] And in that one-flesh union, no longer are they two, but they are now one.

Now, once that has been established, that covenant in marriage has to be ratified sixty seconds a minute, sixty minutes an hour, twenty-four hours a day for the rest of our lives. And indeed, it is our new identity within the framework of that covenant that constrains, controls, directs all of our activity as it relates to interpersonal relationships. So, to create an emotional loophole is, as I say, to give the devil a foothold.

Now, Paul is warning here about giving the devil a foothold. And I think the analogy is fair. No analogy is perfect. But insofar as we have been united to Christ—bride and Bridegroom, and we a part of that in Jesus—we have been united to Christ, and in being united with Christ, as we saw last time, we have “put off” the “old self,” and we have “put on the new.”[5] We were previously in Adam, but now we are in Christ. It is now because we are in Christ that certain aspects of that relationship are worked out, in the same way as in marriage, on a daily basis.

Paul has been saying to these Ephesian believers and to all who are believers through them, no longer will they live as they once did, because in Christ they are no longer what they once were. Previously, you could go out and around and do whatever you want and see your friends and different things, but that is all changed now—gloriously changed, but changed. And in the case of these individuals, formerly, they lived in a kingdom that was marked by darkness. Now, he says, they live in a kingdom that is all light.[6] Previously, they had lived within the framework of deceit and deceitful desires, but now they have been created—according to the verse with which we concluded last time, verse 24—they have been “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

It’s quite a phrase, isn’t it? Leading one almost inevitably to ask the question: So what does that look like? What does it mean to be created after the likeness of God? After all, Adam was created in the image of God. That image was marred as a result of sin, the implications of that run through the totality of humanity, and only in Christ is a man or a woman made new. And when we are made new, we are made new, re-created, after the new Adam—namely, Jesus—who, in being raised from the dead, is the firstfruit of all who have fallen asleep.[7] And as he, as it were, leads us forward in the charge, we have been made absolutely new.

What a wonder it is to have a new identity in Christ.

Well, the answer to that question actually comes now in these imperatives that conclude the chapter—in fact, go on into the remaining chapters. And what Paul is saying is simple and yet important: the behavior of the Ephesian believers must be entirely consistent with the new person they have become. It is incongruous, he says, to have been brought into Christ, to have put off the old, put on the new, and then immediately gone back to where you were before.

Staying with the analogy of marriage, just for a moment—Paul Overstreet, who was here with us years ago, has written a number of really good songs. Most people don’t know the songs that he wrote, and most of you don’t listen to country music anyway, because you’re very intelligent. But those of you who do may know… I say it with the greatest respect to the country-western contingency among us, but… I listen; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to quote this song. You may know it. The title of this song is “On the Other Hand.” “On the Other Hand.” It’s classic country-western play on words. The songwriter says, “I met this girl. I’m a married man. I met the girl. I’m sitting talking with her, and we realize that there’s something going on here.” And so he says, “On the one hand, I could stay, but on the other hand there’s a golden band that reminds me of someone who wouldn’t understand.”[8] “On the one hand… But on the other hand…” In other words, the symbol of the identity is there to remind the individual. It may not prevent approaches from the outside, but it sure is there to say, “Hey, do you know who you are? You better get out of here. You don’t want to give the devil a foothold, do you?”

And I’m not going to ask you to put up your hands, but I want to know how many men actually wear wedding bands. And for those of you who don’t, start. And next: Why does your wife have to wear one if you don’t? Get one for Father’s Day. You’ve got a week. Okay? Now, you’re tracking with me, right?

Okay, we’re married to Christ. Let’s just make the analogy that way. We have been united with Christ. Once that was not true of us, and there were things that marked our lives that were inevitably part and parcel of that, but now we have been placed in Christ. We have been redeemed,[9] he says in chapter 1. He goes into chapter 2, and he says we have been raised with Christ; he says we have been “seated … with him in the heavenly places.”[10] It’s all very wonderful. And it’s very, very important that we understand that Paul does not begin his letter to the Ephesians with a series of imperatives. He doesn’t say, “Dear Ephesians: Put off falsehood. Dear Ephesians: Have nothing to do with this. Have nothing to do with that.” No. He says, “Dear Ephesians: Isn’t it amazing that God from all of eternity has a plan to include you in his family, to adopt you, to redeem you, to make you new, to seat you with him in the heavenly places?” and so on. In other words, he essentially spends three chapters saying what a wonder it is to have a new identity in Christ. And then, on the strength of that, he says, “Now let’s think about what the activity is of those who enjoy that identity.”

So, perhaps three things by way of clarification to note.

One, he is clearly not providing a how-to-become-a-Christian manual, okay? So if you read these verses or when I read these verses you said, “Oh, I get it. These are the things you’re supposed to try and do, and if you try and do these things and you get it on the right side, then presumably, God will be happy with you, and then you could call yourself a Christian.” No. He’s not providing a how-to manual. He is actually explaining the nature of progress in Christian discipleship. And he’s making it clear to the Ephesian believers that there is a principle that is involved in this, which we might refer to as displacement and replacement, so that… And these things happen simultaneously: we have put off the old; we have put on the new. One does not exist without the other. And so we will see that that principle continues throughout all of these imperatives. It is not simply enough to have embraced the negative side of it without the positive or to try and be positive without taking care of the negative.

And he’s making it clear that this kind of progress in Christian discipleship does not happen in a vacuum—doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You see, church history reveals those who have suggested the idea that to be “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” the only way to achieve that probably is just to go away and live in a box somewhere, or live in a monastery or in a convent or in a cave, because after all, there is so much around us that just will infect us and tempt us and move us and change us, and so there’s no possibility of it. Well, we might understand their motivation or their desire, but it doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work is because the number one problem is not the environment; my number one problem is me. You see, you can put me in a monastery, but it’s still me in the monastery, still me with my own perverse heart, still me with my own inordinate desires, still me wrestling with what it means to be a new person in Christ and ratifying that on a daily basis because “on the other hand… I could, but on the other hand…”

Now, when you think about this, you realize what a wonder it is that God has provided for us his law—namely, the Ten Commandments, summarizing the law of God—in order to show us our sin. People say, “Well, I’m not a sinner.” Well, just take out the Ten Commandments and read them, and ask yourself: How many of them have you kept? Don’t even go through the whole of your life. Just go since yesterday. That’ll be enough. Then you’ll know immediately that you’re a lawbreaker.

Okay, now you’ve discovered that you’re a lawbreaker. How are you going to put yourself right with God, since you’ve broken his law? “Well,” says somebody, “I’ll just try and do much better tomorrow, and I’ll try and get to at least six out of ten.” But no, the law of God, you see, is not a ladder up which we climb to acceptance with God, but the law of God serves, first of all, as a mirror that shows us how dirty we are and how we are needing a Savior who has kept the law in its entirety and who has paid the penalty of the law in the shedding of his own blood. “Oh, so that’s how it works.”

Then says somebody, “Oh, that’s perfect. Once we get to there, then we’re done with all of the law stuff and the imperative stuff and so on. We just can get on on our own now.” No! No, we can’t! No, the Puritans help us in this, reminding us that the third place of the law in our lives—which is really what we’re dealing with here when we come to these imperatives. Rutherford put it like this: “The Law of God, honeyed with the love of Christ, ha[s] a Majestie and power to keep from sin.”[11] So you take the law of God, and you pour in a little honey in the love of Christ, and so now God’s love shed abroad in my heart[12]—he loved me, and out of love for him, I don’t do one thing that would violate this covenant. And how would I know whether I’m violating the covenant? Well, by paying attention to the rules of the covenant.

John Owen put it like this: “[A] universal respect [for the commandments of God] is the only [preservation] from shame.”[13] “[A] universal respect [for the commandments of God] is the only [preservation] from shame.” You think about the shameful things that you and I have done in our lives: I guarantee you, every one of them has violated the commands of God. If we kept the commands of God, then there wouldn’t be the shame. That’s why our culture is so concerned to say there are no commands of God; there is no God. Or if there is a God, he exists within you, but there’s not a God who stands outside of time. There’s not a Lawgiver and therefore there is a law that demands. No! We have to remove that. And we live with the implications of it.

The Westminster Confession of Faith—just to belabor this purposefully—the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this: “The Spirit of Christ subdue[es] and enable[es] the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, require[s] to be done.”[14] So what is the work of the Spirit of God within our hearts? To subdue and enable us to do freely and joyfully what the law says we are to do. The psalmist in Psalm 119 says, “I will walk about in freedom for I have sought … your precepts.”[15] It’s not uncommon to move around church circles where people say, “I will walk about in freedom because I’m completely free to make my own choices. I just decide inside of myself what I think should be done. I imagine that this could be the case,” and so on.

If you read Pilgrim’s Progress, it will disavow you of that kind of thing. You find that in Formalist and Hypocrisy in Pilgrim’s Progress, where that’s exactly their little speech to Pilgrim. And Pilgrim says to them: “I walk by the rule of my Master; [and] you walk by the rude working of your fancies.”[16] In other words, he says, “The reason I’m doing what I’m doing is because my Master has said this. He said, ‘Do this, and don’t do this.’ That’s how I’m walking. You’re walking on the basis of the imagination of your own hearts: ‘Well, I think it would be okay. Well, I just don’t suppose it’s a problem. Well, it’s da-doot, da-doot, da-doo.’”

So how did you meet this woman that you tell me now should have been the person that you married, despite the fact you’ve been married for fifteen years to somebody else? How did you meet her? “I met her on the internet.” Tell me how you feel about that. “Well, I feel…”

I don’t give a rat’s tail how you feel right now! This is what you’re going to have to deal with—unless, of course, you want to proceed on the basis of your vain imagination.

Loved ones, this is of crucial significance. And an understanding of this will be the difference between, in many cases, success and failure, restoration and obliteration, progress, digress, regress—in simple, straightforward terms, simply saying, “I will walk about in freedom because I have obeyed your precepts.” In obedience. How will I be obeying? Because the work of the Spirit of God is to subdue and to enable. How does he do that? He brings the Bible to me, and then, as the Bible comes to me, he says to me, “Come on now, Begg. Let’s get this sorted out.”

William Cowper—I’ll stop with Cowper. Cowper, who gave us “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform,”[17] has a wonderful hymn, part of which goes like this:

To see the law by Christ fulfilled
And hear his pardoning voice
Changes a slave into a child
And duty into choice.[18]

That’s the mystery of it! That’s the wonder of it! That’s the nature of it! And you see, if we get this wrong—if you get it wrong, if I get it wrong—it changes everything. It changes the flavor of everything. It turns a congregation into a congregation full of legalists or liars or loonies. It’s imperative that we understand it. The indicatives of all that is ours in Christ provide the foundation for the imperatives. And in the instruction that follows, as I say to you again, he’s not giving a guide to becoming a Christian but an outline of the lifestyle of those who by grace through faith have been placed in Christ.

You say, “That’s a long introduction.” I admit that freely. But it’s important.

Let’s just look at the three things he says, and that briefly too. We’ll come to the rest in the evening hour.

Verse 25. Let’s just summarize it: “Speak the truth.” “Speak the truth.” “Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth.” Notice, again, context; it’s not a vacuum: “with his neighbor.” Why? Because “we[’re] members one of another.” We belong together. We belong together. And it is absolutely crucial that we tell the truth to each other.

In verses 17–19, which we studied a couple of weeks ago, we said that in many ways, what you have there is a summary of what Paul provides in the second half of the first chapter of his letter to the Roman Christians. And you remember that there, from 18 and on, one of the things he says about the ungodly is that they “suppress the truth.”[19] They “suppress the truth.” It’s not that there is a sort of vagueness about it. There’s actually a suppression of it. And he goes on to say that despite the fact that what God has made known in creation, they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie.[20] So they’re now living in the realm of lies. That’s the significance of “Therefore, having put away falsehood…” “You once lived in that realm by nature. You were in Adam. But you have put off; you have put on. Therefore, having put away falsehood, make sure that you continue to. And the way that that will become apparent,” he says, “is when people come among your congregations in Ephesus, they will say, ‘Goodness gracious, these people actually tell the truth to one another!’” Well, of course. You see, you got a new outfit. Colossians 3 makes this clearest of all—the whole putting off and putting on.[21] He says, “You know, telling lies, that was part of your old uniform. But you got a new uniform now, and your uniform is truthfulness, not telling lies.”

Amongst the community of God there should be a radical commitment to put off lies, pretense, and hypocrisy.

You remember the way in which he describes their conversion, he says, “[And] you heard the word of truth.”[22] “You heard the word of truth.” In 4:21, he reminded them of “the truth” that “is in Jesus.” When we get to chapter 6—if we ever get to chapter 6—and he describes the armor for the Christian soldiers, the very first piece of the puzzle is the belt of truth.[23] The belt of truth.

As you know, I have a problem with songs all the time. And in my head right now, on level four, it’s going, “Tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.”[24] Right? On the one hand… But on the other hand… Tell me lies; tell me the truth. “I don’t want the truth.” “Tell me the truth.”

The unity that we have been called, at the beginning of the chapter, to maintain is based on trust. Trust is based on truth. The false teachers were crafty. They were deceitful. The culture in which the Ephesian believers lived was quite used to lies, as is ours. So, says Paul, amongst the community of God there should be a radical commitment to put off lies, pretense, and hypocrisy. How could one be a member of the body of Christ, who is himself the truth, if we fail to put away falsehood?

Secondly, in verse 26, he says, “You’re going to have to learn how to be angry at the right things and for the right reasons.” Learning to be angry about the right things and for the right reasons. Because you see, not all anger is wrong. It says it right there in the Bible, doesn’t it? He says, “Be angry.” Now, don’t be using this after lunch today, where you get a bad temper and you tell your wife, “Well, it says in the Bible, ‘Be angry,’ so I was just doing what the Bible says.” No, do what it says; read the whole thing: “Be angry and do not sin.” So not all anger is wrong—that the psalmist again says, “Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law.”[25]

In fact, the absence of anger in response to the blatant defiance of the law of God is not a sign of Christian maturity. It’s a sign of moral laxity. To the extent that we’re able to look at the blatant defiance of the law of God… We’re all frogs in a gigantic kettle that is warming up in this regard, aren’t we? Have we really found humor in things that so clearly violate God’s law? Have we grown so accustomed to the millions of abortions that it doesn’t stir a righteous anger in our hearts when we drive past those places? Is it now possible for me to come back into Hopkins Airport and walk past the usual photographs of people now that I regard almost as my friends… I’ve never met them, but I see them all the time. I talk to them as I’m walking past: “Hey! Yeah!” And I have one in particular, and I always say to myself, “Would I buy a car from that guy?” But that’s a personal matter altogether. And I’m not telling you what picture it is. But then am I able just to simply walk past where it announces the fact that the abduction of women is taking place routinely in the state of Ohio, and that at the same time, it’s not only one of the location places but one of the dumping places? Are we supposed to just have no reaction to that? No, you’re angry. We’re angry. Blatant evil should make the believer intolerant. And it is one of the indications of how easily we are absorbed into a culture—into its milieu, into its thought forms, into its mentalities—that after time, we’re inured to the actual circumstances.

But with that said—with that said—most of us, if we’re honest, have a greater problem with unrighteous anger; not the absence of a proper response to sin but the presence of a wrongful reaction. Trapp, in an earlier era, in a wonderful little sentence said, “He that will be angry and not sin, let him be angry at nothing but sin.”[26] “He that will be angry and not sin, let him be angry about nothing but sin.”

Now, you see—this is not confession time—but what begins perhaps for us as justifiable anger can very quickly become the occasion of sin. How? Well, let’s just take one of the areas that I’ve mentioned. So there’s a justifiable reaction to injustice and impurity; which then creates in my mind a sense of self-righteousness, which is sin; which then may become the occasion of personal resentment, which is sin; which then may become the occasion of an animosity that strikes out at other people and expresses itself in a desire for revenge, which is sin.

So you see how crucial the directive is: “Be angry and do not sin.” “Be angry and do[n’t] sin.” For most of us, if we’re honest, the problem is that we’re on the wrong side of the equation and thereby give the devil a foothold. Now, surely the opportunity to the devil is not simply, solely related to this issue of anger; it is more, clearly, but it is definitely this. And it’s fascinating that Paul should put it here. Of all the places he puts “and do not give the devil a foothold,” he puts it right after the anger one: “Be angry and do not sin; don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t give the devil a foothold. Don’t let him get his foot in the door.”

Unrighteous anger is a fertile ground for the activity of the Evil One.

See, when somebody is angry—you know, if anger is the kind of underlying characteristic—the devil loves that. He’ll play that violin all the way to the end of the symphony. People are “I’m angry about this, and I’m annoyed about that, and I’m resentful of this, and she said that, and twelve years ago he did that, and I’ve been thinking about that for seven hours, and that thing, and the ding, and the ding, and the ding… Now let’s all sing together.” It’s virtually impossible. “Now let’s pray together.” It’s virtually impossible! “Now let’s receive the Word of God.” It’s virtually impossible. Because the devil plays on that. He knows! He’s not omniscient, but he’s alert.

And whether this is, as we’ll see tonight, the settled sort of smoldering stuff or whether it is the angry outburst, the warning is clear: don’t go on the wrong side of this, because unrighteous anger is a fertile ground for the activity of the Evil One. And even righteous anger I don’t think is good to take to your bed. So I think we can safely apply that too. Better to make up and fall asleep rather than wake up at three o’clock, regretting the fact that you didn’t. Better to shake hands and say goodnight, even after a jolly good argument, than to go and slam your car door and drive off. It’s just intensely practical, ’cause it’ll eat your soul. You show me somebody that has an unforgiving spirit; over a period of time with somebody, it comes out all the time.

That’s where we’re going, you see: you forgive one another with a tender heart because God in Christ forgave you.[27] You got no place to go—nowhere to go. “Well, you don’t know what she did”—and this is this evening’s sermon now, so you won’t need to come—but “She don’t know what she did.” Listen, I don’t know, but I do know my offense against God. And no offense against me even comes close to my offense against God. And if he forgave me all of that offense, are you telling me that I’m going to tell you, “I refuse to forgive you”?

You see the radical change in a culture. The impact in Ephesus: telling the truth, getting the anger question right, and finally, not stealing stuff. You say, “Well, we don’t have a problem with that. Why would we need to steal stuff? Look at us.” Well, “Let the thief no longer steal.”

You see, interestingly, when Paul gives a list of the unrighteous characteristics, and particularly in Corinthians,[28] he includes thieves in the group. He includes those who are disobedient to their parents as well, incidentally[29]—but nevertheless, thieves. So if you imagine Ephesus with no welfare system, with no opportunity to get a handout from anywhere: you could either beg, or you could steal, or you could borrow. Right? And so presumably, a number of them said, “Well, the only way we can make ends meet here is we’ll steal stuff.” So that’s how they functioned. And he says, “So, if you were a thief, don’t be a thief anymore.” Because, you see… And especially if you were a lazy thief! So laziness plus greediness almost leads inevitably to theft, to stealing. I’m lazy. I’m greedy. I want it. I’m going to go and get it, by whatever means. Now he says “You’re a radically new person. That’s what you used to do, but you’re not going to do that anymore.”

When he writes to the Thessalonians, he puts it very straightforwardly: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”[30] Wow! That’s pretty straightforward. Margaret Thatcher quoted that at the Free Church of Scotland Assembly some years ago and raised an amazing political brouhaha. Right? She didn’t make that up. That’s the inspired Word of God. If you don’t work, why do you think you’re going to eat? It’s a general principle.

Now, you say, “Well, what about the people that can’t?” Well, that’s covered in the verse. Look at it: don’t steal any more, work, “honest work … own hands, so that…” So that what? So that you’ll be flush! So you’ll be great! So you’ll have everything you want! So everything will be super! No: “so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

There’s a doctrine, incidentally, of work—which we can’t go into now—and there’s also an economic piece here that we’re not going into now either. But it supersedes capitalism and socialism and definitely communism, because this is what it says: it says that the Christian’s MO in relationship to work and employment is that he gets, she gets, in order to give. She gets to give. Previously, you got in order that you might keep, and you stole it; you don’t do that anymore. Why? Because Jesus has made you a new person. You’re a new person now. “Oh, but I still fancy the idea.” Of course you do! But what does the Holy Spirit do? Westminster Confession: he subdues and enables. How does he do that? As you listen to the Bible. As you have Christian friends around you say, “Hey, hey, hey, wait a minute. You going back down that road again? Don’t do that.” That’s why “we are members one of another.” That’s why we exist together. That’s why you listen to the Bible taught together, instead of on your iPhone, sitting in a bedroom somewhere: so that as we are taught together, you walk out of here, and if you got at least 5 percent of it, and probably somebody next to you got another 5 percent, you put it together; at least you got 10 percent—as opposed to sitting in your bedroom. You see, the church is supposed to be instructed together. “We are members one of another,” that we might not abuse our neighbor, that we might then be able to give to those who are in need. So we look out on our community and said, “Where are the people who are in need?” And then the congregation responds: “Freely you have received, freely give.”[31]

It’s interesting to me, again—talking about religious orders: those who have taken a vow of poverty. I guess I understand the motivation, but I don’t know how they deal with it in relationship to a verse like this. Two Thessalonians 3:10: “If you don’t work, you can’t eat.” Well, what are you doing sitting up there, contemplating your navel? You just waiting for people to shove food in the door to you? What’s that about? You’re supposed to do honest work with your hands! This is how the program works. It’s not a program of entitlement. It’s not a program of sitting around waiting for somebody to bail you out—the government or the man next door. No, you work! So you got a sign that says, “I’ll work for food.” I’ll pull up beside you and say, “Prove it!” “Prove it!” Have you had, as I’ve had, the same experience of going round one of those things, going to Burger King, getting food, bringing it back, rolling down the window, giving it to the guy, and, as you pull away, watching him throw it in the street? There’s something wrong there.

The Christian has in the Bible all that is necessary for life and for godliness.[32] Because, you see, we are new creations. We’re not all that we’re going to be. We’ve been “sealed unto the day of redemption”;[33] we come to that tonight. We’re not all that we’re going to be. We’re not what we once were. We’re a work in progress. And in that work in progress, we’re saying no to lies, yes to truth; no to selfish, self-righteous, bad-tempered outbursts to which we are so prone, but to the experience of righteous anger. And we’re not going to be playing the system, but we’re going to be working honestly with our hands in order that what we receive will create a mechanism for us to give to those who are poor and needy and whose circumstances are such that they’re less fortunate than we.

That’s why the church usually has had, in my experience in Scotland, two offerings. We had an offering in the main service, and then we had Communion, and we had Communion every Sunday. And in the Communion service, we had another offering, and the offering in the Communion service was exclusively and expressively for those who were in physical and in material need. It’s not a bad pattern.

Tonight we’ll come back, some of us, and we’ll try and close out the chapter.

Father, thank you for the clarity of your Word. Any cloudiness is clearly on my part, on our part. Help us, Lord, to say what the Bible actually says—nothing more, nothing less—and then help us to live in the light of its truth. Save us, Lord, from our sins and from ourselves, for Christ’s sake. Amen.


[1] See Proverbs 1:15.

[2] See Proverbs 5:8.

[3] Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7 (paraphrased).

[4] Matthew 19:5 (NIV).

[5] Ephesians 4:22–24 (ESV).

[6] See Ephesians 5:8.

[7] See 1 Corinthians 15:20.

[8] Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, “On the Other Hand” (1985). Lyrics lightly altered.

[9] See Ephesians 1:7.

[10] See Ephesians 2:6.

[11] Samuel Rutherford, The Trial and Triumph of Faith (London, 1645), 122.

[12] See Romans 5:5.

[13] John Owen, Indwelling Sin in Believers (Philadelphia, 1793), 60.

[14] The Westminster Confession of Faith 19.7.

[15] Psalm 119:45 (NIV).

[16] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678).

[17] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

[18] William Cowper, “Love Constraining to Obedience” (1772).

[19] Romans 1:18 (ESV).

[20] See Romans 1:25.

[21] See Colossians 3:1–17.

[22] Ephesians 1:13 (ESV).

[23] See Ephesians 6:14.

[24] Christine McVie and Eddy Quintela, “Little Lies” (1987).

[25] Psalm 119:53 (ESV).

[26] John Trapp, A Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd ed. (1865; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 596.

[27] See Ephesians 4:32.

[28] See 1 Corinthians 6:10.

[29] See Romans 1:30; 1 Timothy 5:4.

[30] 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (ESV).

[31] Matthew 10:8 (NIV 1984).

[32] See 2 Peter 1:3.

[33] Ephesians 4:30 (KJV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.