Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need. Let not evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in 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, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:25-32
Taking a one-day break from the Psalms to share this passage from Ephesians that I opened up to randomly yesterday. Oftentimes titles are placed over sections of the Bible. These are editors’ notes, they are not part of the Bible. However, over this section of the Bible, the title “Rules for the New Life” was written. So I decided to make that my title today as well. These eight verses highlight some rules that we would all do well to take to heart right now.
Therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)
It is interesting how we’ve come sort of full-circle. When I was a kid, the truth was that some kids were better students, and some were better athletes and some were better at art and some were better at music. People were given grades and trophies and accolades according to their abilities. Until someone decided that the truth wasn’t fair. And everyone had to get a good grade or a trophy. And now, we’ve made both politics and news like sports—it’s not about everyone getting along, it’s about everyone winning. We all know that for someone to win, someone has to lose. And somewhere truth is totally lost.
The truth is that some people are good at math, and some are not. Some are good at sports, others at art, others at music, others at writing, others at fixing things, others at singing, the list is endless. The truth is that everyone has a talent and everyone has the ability to offer something positive to the world.
If “we are members one of another,” then all lives matter. It’s not that one group is higher or lower than another, or that one group should be highlighted more than another. Everyone’s life matters, to God, and everyone’s life should matter to each other.
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. (4:26)
Jesus got angry. He got angry with the moneychangers in the temple who had made the house of God a house of trade. He got angry with the Pharisees, even called them hypocrites a bunch of times because of their behavior. However, Jesus never raised His hand to strike someone. He didn’t set the temple on fire. There is a such a thing as righteous anger. But righteous anger is expressed righteously, in a way that actually honors God. If I were to get angry at my son for not studying and failing a test he could have passed, that is a righteous anger. If I beat him and demean him and don’t couch my anger within the context of love, then anger is abusive. We have not only let the sun go down on anger, we’ve let anger fester for decades, and now anger is exploding uncontrollably. We need to be in constant dialogue with one another, all people of all races, at all times. And political leaders, any kind of leader, needs to lead with love, not with a thirst for power.
Give no opportunity to the devil. (4:27)
The biggest winner this week in America is the devil. He must be laughing at us. He doesn’t need to tempt us or incite us to sin. We’re doing a great job without him. A “vacuum” defines not only the instrument we use to clean our floors, but empty spaces that need to be filled. A vacuum of silence is often filled with noise. A vacuum of time can be filled in one moment with goodness or with evil. When we wake up to face a new day, a lot of our day is programmed with tasks. But the emotion of the day many times is a vacuum, left to be filled with goodness or evil. Which voice fills that vacuum? The voice of God? Or the voice of the devil?
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need. (4:28)
One of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not steal,” meaning we are not to take things that do not belong to us, things we didn’t pay for or acquire legally. If my neighbor is rude to me, it doesn’t give me the right to steal his belongings or deface his property. If my neighbor attacks me, I have the right to defend myself. But I still don’t have the right to his property. The “giving to those in need” is mostly lost in our world today. we are very much about getting and keeping for ourselves. Racism is evil. Poverty is terrible. Generosity would go a long way towards healing both. Generosity of kindness towards all people and generosity of giving to those who are most in need of food and basics.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. (4:29)
Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11) If being slandered gets me closer to the Kingdom of God, then bring it on. Saint Paul said that the life of the Apostle included being hungry, ill-clad, buffeted, homeless, reviled, persecuted, slandered, “as the refuse of the world.” (I Corinthians 4:11-13) The most important thing in life is attaining salvation. It’s not material gain, or equality or power. It’s salvation. Again Jesus says in Luke 6:27, “But I say to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” It is obvious that we live in a post-Christian world. However, for those of us who are Christians, we hear the words of Jesus about love and hate, and from St. Paul about saying only things that are edifying.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in 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, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (4:30-32)
Putting Christ first doesn’t mean we can’t get angry about injustice. It doesn’t mean that we can’t protest injustice. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to stamp out injustice, because we should, all kinds of injustice. There has been a grave injustice in this country towards lots of people—African-Americans as well as most immigrant groups, including Greek-Americans, have at one point or another been persecuted. The new kid at school is persecuted, or the new person in the office or the person who is ignored, or bullied, or made fun of, the person who is handicapped or who has a learning disability. We inflict all kinds of injustice on all kinds of people. Saying that “all lives matter” has suddenly become politically incorrect, and there is another answer I’ve heard, “all lives don’t matter this week.” Actually, all lives matter all the time. We all are created in the image and likeness of God. As Saint Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:4, “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” If the greatest of attributes is love, then there is no room for wrath and slander and destruction. Yes, there is need for correction of injustice. Yes, there is need for love and understanding.
As we read in Psalm 130:3, “If Thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?” If we expect the Lord to overlook our iniquities, we need to do a better job overlooking the iniquities of others. If all we can do is count iniquities instead of correcting them, there are a lot of things that won’t be left standing.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.
With every breath I take let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally,
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Re-read Ephesians 4:25-32. Share it with others!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
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