Both my parents and grandparents used to use the idiom “Practice what you preach” when they were emphasizing the nature of our actions. Treat others the way you tell others to treat you. It is important that your behavior matches your beliefs.

Like so many of our idioms, the statements find their roots in the Bible. This particular encouragement is found in Matthew 23:3 when Jesus criticizes the Pharisees because “they do not practice what they preach.”

The sentiment finds its way into the English language since at least the 14th Century from Piers Plowman and later from “The Merchant of Venice” and a translation of the writings of Seneca.

What we believe should change how we behave.

An article not long ago on the Forbes website was titled, “Don’t Change Beliefs, Change Behaviors.” The author warned, “Good intentions don’t always translate into great actions.” He goes on to say, “Intent can be relevant, but impact is paramount. Striving for impact, and striving for behavior change through clear expectations” is the way to put beliefs into practice.

Less than a decade ago, Bobby Hoffman, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, wrote the book, “Motivation for Learning and Performance.” The book crystalizes the five powerful beliefs that ignite human behavior.

Hoffman explains that these self-beliefs are not religious or political. They do not talk about personal preferences like how you like your eggs cooked, but are guiding principles that we make about our personal capabilities and what outcomes we expect because of the efforts. The book proposes that by bringing these beliefs to the front of our awareness, we can actually harness their power and influence upon our behavior.

The author points out that everyone has these beliefs. He speculates regarding their origin — nature vs. nurture — but concludes these beliefs help us operate automatically and unconsciously.

Hoffman identifies the five beliefs as CONTROL (our understanding of the amount of control that we have over our own destiny), COMPETENCY (our ability to achieve our desired outcomes), VALUE (the degree of value we assign to different task outcomes), GOAL ORIENTATION (the reason we set the goals or desires that we have), and EPISTEMOLOGY (our understanding of the nature of knowledge and intelligence and how it advances).

These core beliefs form a major philosophical difference between a person of faith — faith from any religion — and a person who operates from a strictly humanistic framework. Any and all of the beliefs are understood by religious individuals as having answers that are beyond the natural limits of the human race.

Think about the discussions we have had from Paul’s book of Ephesians. The “behavior” that Paul wanted to address was the divisions present in first century society. The understanding or belief that addresses the behavior is the unity provided through the understanding of a supreme creator who valued the creation enough to redeem it from its circumstances.

Paul signifies that he is about to summarize his teaching by using the word, “Therefore.” It serves to note that a summary or an application of the truth he is teaching will follow. He uses it twice at this point in Ephesians, once at the close of chapter four and once at the beginning of chapter five (Ephesians 4:25 and Ephesians 5:1). The first phrase challenges us to put off all falsehood. The second points us to walk in the way of love.

We are to first be honest when we communicate. Allow integrity to permeate who you are. Be genuine and consistent, in time, and in place. Make the words we choose represent the beliefs that are inside us. Our words represent who we are and what we believe. Long before today’s psychology, Paul understands that when we harness our beliefs, it motivates and changes our behavior.

The second “therefore” draws our attention to walk (to behave) in a loving way. We are to use as an example the way that God has loved us. There are so many implications contained in that challenge. God loved us when we had very little in common with Him. Our behavior could best be described as unholy, when His very nature is pure holiness.

Paul uses an image we can relate to in Ephesians 5:8. The difference between humans and God is as stark as the difference between light and darkness, or the difference between night and day. If I want to be a child of God, I will want to behave like my Father. My behavior needs to reflect a love for others — obviously for other believers, but also for those who are opposite of my nature and whose behavior I disagree with.

In the context of a discussion about overcoming divisions, Paul concludes that divisions can be eliminated or overcome through honest communication and behavior motivated by God’s love. Paul’s words are really applicable to our circumstances today, aren’t they?

It is interesting that as Paul is wanting us to communicate honestly and to behave out of love, he encourages us to practice those behaviors first among the people who are closest to us. He challenges us to first behave with love within our marriage, then with our children, and then with those with whom we work. How in the world do I expect to love those who are so different than me, if I cannot first love those who are most like me?

We get another “therefore” in Ephesians 5:17. Therefore, don’t be foolish, but understand what God wants from your life, what God wants you to do. God wants your behavior to change. He wants you to be more like Him. Some people will try to change by getting drunk. Don’t change that way. It only leads to debauchery and not real change. Instead be filled with the Spirit.

Remember one of Hoffman’s core beliefs was control? Read what Paul says in Ephesians 5:21. Realize that God is the one really in control. Let your behavior reflect submission.

We will tackle the sixth and final chapter of Ephesians next week.

Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com.

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