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The importance of the mind… Ephesians 4:17-24

May 24, 2013
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mind_brain_intellectPreached at Wycliffe Hall Chapel, Oxford, Trinity Term, 22nd May 2013

We live in a world which has a high opinion of the mind. Living in a university town,particularly a university like Oxford, means that we are surrounded by people who have a high value of thinking,a high value of the intellect, that is a high view of the mind. This is something which the Christian can affirm, particularly as we look at this passage today, God affirms the place of the mind, by which of course in Jewish thought means both the intellect and the heart! What of course God doesn’t affirm, is the direction that godless humanity, which in this passage is named as ‘Gentile’, takes the general principle. The modern world takes the mind, takes the intellect and the heart, and believes that by logic and human rationalisation we can build a better world, often of course if we will only get rid of that annoying crutch know as religion. Paul of course will have none of that, and we’ll find out why in a moment.

To place our passage in some sort of context, we’ve had a passionate plea from Paul in 4v1 to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. He unpacks this a little by saying we must demonstrate this in maintaining our unity as Christians, and to this end Christ has given us particular roles v11, of prophets, evangelists and pastor teachers, to enable us to reach this unity v13 without being tossed around by every wind of teaching. Rather each part, each person, each role must fulfil their task, to ensure that the body prospers. How do we even begin to do this you may well ask. Well Paul’s answer is you’ve got to begin by getting your thinking straight! That is if we want to LIVE like Jesus, we’ve got to THINK like Jesus! How do we do that?

REMEMBER THE OLD WAY YOU USED TO LIVE (v17-19)

Paul is writing to a group of Christians who have been taught the truths of the faith but have continued to live like those around them! As we look down at our passage today we can see the problem in the paragraph from v17-v19. Here is Paul’s point the non-Christians live as they do, have a look at v17b,because of:

‘…the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.’

The non-Christians are going round in circles! They are ignorant of the truth and thus their thinking is futile, and so they are separated from God, and so they are separated from God, and therefore they are ignorant of the truth and their thinking is futile. They are in this logical circle from which they cannot escape. But of course they don’t just stay in their circle, rather they descend in a downward spiral v19:

‘Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.’

This is of course where the intellectual world of the university is headed, for all its clever arguments, for all its clever thinking and amazing output of thoughts, ideas and books, without God at the centre it can only go one way. But this is not to be the case with the Christians v17:

‘So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do…’

And so Paul reminds them of secondly

THE NEW WAY YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE LIVING (v20-24)

So Paul has reminded them of what they shouldn’t do, he now goes on to tell them what they should already be doing v20:

‘That, however, is not the way of life you learned…’

You know the way to live because v21:

‘…you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.’

That is a great sentence, lets just consider it for a moment.

a) you heard about Christ:

Here there is a problem with the translation, and all of a sudden I see all those painful moments of learning Greek are suddenly worth it. Because what this verse actually says is not you heard ABOUT Christ, but literally ‘you heard Christ’. It’s not that some faithful apostle, disciple, or teacher came along, and told you ABOUT Christ, rather it is that you heard Christ speak to you through their message.

b) you were taught in Christ:

Having heard Christ speak to you and enable you to begin to understand Him by the power of His Spirit, you became able to be taught in Him. And what were you taught?

c) you were taught the truth, and that truth is literally Jesus!:

Notice the name has changed from Christ to Jesus, the truth is not just Christ, the divine second person of the Trinity, but the truth is in the very human Jesus of Nazareth, who lived, who died, and who rose again.

So you heard Christ, you were taught in Christ and that truth is Jesus! Therefore because you have been enabled to truly think, and you’ve been truly taught you shouldn’t be living like everyone else! And so Paul says STOP what you were doing v22, take off the old way of life. START doing what you should be doing v24, putting on the new life and the crucial bit, HOW are you to DO this v23? By being:

‘…made new in the attitude of your minds.’

That is NOT stop thinking, just think correctly. Use your intellect and your heart in the right way. The University culture is correct in this at least, that the way you think, the way you use your mind is crucial to everything else. We are NOT to stop thinking, exploring, pondering, meditating, and any other verbs you can think of along this line. No, we are to be, the great intellectuals of this generations, but great in the sense of pointing to Jesus and this will require a renewed mind, a renewed intellect, a renewed heart. Because just as the Gentile way of thinking is circular, so in contrast the Christian thinking is circular. We are renewed in our thinking, and so we become closer to God, and when we become closer to God, we are renewed in our thinking. It is a circle, it is a spiral but this time its is going UP!

To close let me just give your four thoughts of application:

1)We should be constructively critical of what we are learning? That is to ask the question ‘how is this pointing me towards, and building me up in, Christ’? Now for those of us who spend the majority of the time being taught in Wycliffe this is made much easier because the tutors will be asking the same questions and if we are unsure we can always ask them to explain it to us? However, in the University itself, how or whether the teaching is pointing to Christ may be less obvious and more reliant on us to ask the question. and whilst engaging academically with a theology or philosophy ensure that we are clear where such theologies are taking us. This should not be understood to be anti-intellectual, for God has given us minds and He encourages us to use them in order to understand Him and His world better. We are never to be simplistic in our theology, hiding our heads in the sand and ignoring the very serious questions and critiques from others in the church. But we are to be on our guard against an academic or worldly theology which values the process over the object. That is to say where it values the doing of theology over the true purpose of theology which is growing in our knowledge and love of God. We ought to go home from a day in our books in wonderment at the God whom we have got to know a little bit better during that day! The question we should ask ourselves is do we; and if not why not and what can be done?

2)Be aware of what we put into our heads,

Whether at home, in the study or in the world. Our minds soak up information, philosophies and worldviews like a sponge. A day studying the Scriptures can be undermined by the evening TV watching! That is not to say don’t watch the soaps if you must, but it is to say be constructively critical of the worldview it presents!

3) Do be reading, watching, meditating and conversing over the good things which God has given us.

One of the great joys at being at Wycliffe is the community in which we are learning. After a lecture the few minutes in the Common Room can be glorious moments when we think through what we have heard, applying the teaching to our lives and future ministries. Perhaps I need not to be quite so quick to grab the daily paper, or to start discussing the football results, when I could be thinking through the application of today’s lectures. For those of us who are ordinands; we will never get this time with fellow trainee ministers again, so let’s make the most of it! Finally and most importantly

4) We need to be daily washing our minds in the water of God’s Word to ensure that we allow God to correct our thinking!

Have the Scriptures become something we study rather than something to which we listen? Are we giving God chances to renew our minds, by coming daily to His Word and allowing His thinking, to become our thinking.

Because if we want to LIVE like Jesus, we’ve got to THINK like Jesus!

And if we want to MINISTER like Jesus, then we’ve got to be THINKING and LIVING like Jesus.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2013 10:11 pm

    “Because if we want to LIVE like Jesus, we’ve got to THINK like Jesus!” Amen, Mike! We should daily be immersing ourselves in Christ’s will for us and praying that we can see the world and others with His eyes of love.
    This is one amazing sermon, my friend!
    Blessings!

  2. May 26, 2013 12:10 pm

    I agree fully with you on thinking like Christ. Another passage to witness to that: Rom 12:1-2.

    It is very interesting to see Paul’s usage of Christ and Jesus. I think he is very deliberate in his choices, as you obviously do too. In contrast to your explanation, I do believe that Christ depicts the body with its head, the church with Jesus, the bride and her groom. It depicts you and me in conjunction with Jesus, while Jesus is the Godhead and part of the trinity that became man.

    Paul tells us that we have been saved, will be saved, and are saved daily – work out our salvation daily. Our spirit is saved the moment we accept what Jesus did for us. Our body will be saved when we are transfigured. But it is this change of thinking that represents the daily working out our salvation – in heart and mind.

    But what is the pattern, the spring board for our thinking? It is finished. Everything is finished on the cross. Everything has been established, we just walk it out. We are restored to our destiny – being in the image of God himself – we just do not believe it yet. Instead of divide and conquer, it is believe and overcome.

    One question: why do you leave out the apostle when talking about verse 11? It’s role is important in walking out our new thinking, in renewing our mind. An apostle in Roman culture of the time had the authority to change the thinking of an area. He followed after the armies of Rom to bring Roman culture to the areas conquered. Without the authority of apostles and their apostolic communities, land was conquered, but not kept and occupied.

    But again – it is of utmost importance that Christianity thinks like Christ. Not like the world, countering its theories with its own, producing error in fighting error. And not like the church for a long time, negate the importance of thinking, dividing our three-fold body and only accepting one part as Godly – the spirit. This means to negate two thirds of the image of God.

    Blessings.

    • May 26, 2013 2:19 pm

      Thanks Ralph, in answer to your question I was just summarizing the verses before v17 so just gave a quick overview. No deliberate attempt to remove the apostle, as you say it is a very important concept and once which needs exploring, I just didn’t have time in the few minutes I had at this service. Thanks again for your comments; helpful stuff!

  3. May 26, 2013 1:06 pm

    I am very eager to hear more from you Mike. I miss studying the Scriptures deeply. And I am very glad that you took the verses from the roots (Greek in NT). Translation could affect the way we understand passages.

    St. Paul’s words came powerfully as He has met Jesus Christ Himself personally. The transformation and renewal comes from his own experience of Jesus.

    I remember what my confessor said with regards to your second application, “Be aware of what you put in your head,” AND aside from awareness is to choose our thoughts. They should always be directed to loving God more.

    Thank you for sharing this Mike.

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