4. Pursuing Purity Together, Pt. 2: Contrasting Practices Of Living (4:25-32)Related Media
I have read that in Thailand they break wild elephants into domestic use by chaining them to banyan trees. The pain the elephants experience by pulling against the restraint gradually breaks their will to resist. When an elephant finally refuses to lift its massive leg in an effort to free itself, the workers release it from the tree and secure it to a stake. The beast could easily pull the stake from the ground like a toothpick, but it remembers the pain and isn’t smart enough to realize that circumstances have changed.
Although Christians are freed from Satan’s power, we sometimes act as if we are still imprisoned by it. He lies, telling us we cannot escape. But we are not elephants: we are intelligent enough to see the shackles of sin laid aside and to feel the freedom that Christ brings. Why continue to be chained to the habits of the old man (before we knew Christ) when he has freed us to live in the new man?
This article is Part 2 of “Pursuing Purity Together” (Eph. 4:17-5:21). In this article, we move from the general to the specific, from contrasting principles for living (see “Pursuing Purity Together,” Pt. 1, Eph. 4:17-24) to contrasting practices of living (Eph. 4:25-32); from “putting off” and “putting on” certain principles to “putting off” and “putting on” certain practices. It’s not easy to give up (“put off”) bad habits like lying, stealing, and foul language. Sometimes some of these practices linger after we are saved. But we are to put an end to the practices of the “old man” and adopt the practices of the “new man.”
The injunction in the passage we are studying in this article is: “Let us practice living like the new man and renounce the practices of the old.” Just as the Christian principles for living (Eph. 4:17-24) are different from non-Christians, so are the practices. All of these practices have common features:
- They all affect our unity in the body – living in community. Those practices to be put off destroy unity. Those practices to be put on generate unity.
- They can all be reduced to the common denominator of “holiness.” If we practice holiness we will live according to these Christian practices of living. Without holiness we will never live as God intends us to live.
- Every practice to “put off” is accompanied by a practice to “put on.” The practices of the old man have to be “put off” before the practices of the new man can be “put on.”
- Every injunction is accompanied by a practical reason.
In this article we are going to examine five “Contrasting Practices of Living” as we live together in community as Christians.
Contrasting Practice #1: Speaking Truth... Not Lies (Eph. 4:25)
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour,” for we are members of one another.
Therefore connects this passage with the previous passage (4:17-24). In our study of the previous passage, one of the principles of Christian living is: “Don’t live like the ungodly in corruption that stems from deceit” (4:17-19) but “live like Jesus in purity that stems from the truth” (4:20-24). In the Christian life, truth takes the place of lying; trust takes the place of mistrust; honesty takes the place of dishonesty.
Therefore, (Paul writes), putting away lying… A false tongue is typical of the “old man” - who we were before we were saved. Human nature hasn’t changed. Dishonesty and falsehood prevail (Rom. 1:29). In contrast, Christians are to live in purity and one of the evidences of purity is putting away lying, which we do by putting away (putting off) the old man with its deceit. The opposite of lying is to speak the truth.
The one who is most affected by lying is our neighbour - i.e. anyone we have contact with and in particular our fellow-Christians. To lie to another member of the body of Christ is to deceive someone with whom we are inseparably bound together by the Holy Spirit for we are members one of another.
Truth is the basis of Christian unity. It has been my observation over the years that speaking the truth is a real problem, not just among unbelievers but among Christians as well. You cannot deal with someone who lies to you: there is no basis for a relationship, just as God could not maintain a relationship with Adam and Eve when they lied. The same goes for Ananias and Sapphira.
Lying is a serious problem. If we are going to “put on the new man…in true righteousness and holiness” (24), we must speak the truth with each other in love (4:15). Our fellow Christians have the right to expect the truth from us. There is no room for lying in the body of Christ because it poisons communication, and breeds suspicion and distrust. Harmonious relationships in the church can only exist in an environment of open and honest communication. If we belong to the truth how can we tell lies? Satan is the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). The “truth as it is in Jesus” (21) is what we should be known by - a community marked by honesty and trustworthiness. Our word must be our bond. As Jesus said, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.” (Matt. 5:37).
Contrasting Practice #2: Exercising Self-Control… Not Anger (26-27)
Be angry and do not sin (26a)
If lying is a problem for Christians, so is anger. There are many angry people in the church. This ought not to be. It causes rifts in the body, tears us apart, and quenches the work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul is not recommending that we be angry. Quite the opposite is the case – we are to put away anger (31). Anger is an emotion that does not characterize the new man. But that does not mean that Christians ought not to be angry at all. The point here is: “If you become angry, do not sin”. To paraphrase it: “Anger must be avoided at all cost but if you get angry do not indulge such anger, so that you do not sin”. 1 Don’t let anger get the better of you; don’t let it be mixed with sin. “Be slow to anger” James warns (Ja. 1:19).
There are legitimate causes for anger. God expresses anger but his anger never compromises his holiness. He was angry with Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:9) and with Israel (2 Kgs. 17:18), and God is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11). Jesus was angry with the Pharisees (Mk. 3:5); and with the money changers (Matt. 21:12). This is righteous anger.
Righteous anger is not rooted in sin, rather it is directed at sin. We ought to be angry at our own sin and society’s sin, but, sadly, those are the things that rarely make us angry. When was the last time you were angry over sin, like pornography, abortion, homosexuality - those blatant sins which our society overlooks and considers normal?
God hates sin and so should we. The problem is that very little anger is motivated by righteousness, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (Ja. 1:20). Anger that goes unchecked is definitely not righteous anger. Anger at persons is sin; anger at sin is not. Righteous anger against sin unites the people of God. When the body of Christ unites in opposition to evil, unity of purpose and holiness reigns within.
Anger need not be sinful but it can easily become sinful. Anger is sinful when its cause is not something that God would be angry at - i.e. something that incites our flesh, our emotions, our old nature; an “outburst of wrath” which is a “work of the flesh” (Gal. 5:20). Anger is sinful when it degenerates to hate, resentment, bitterness; when it is prolonged and unchecked; when it is marked by personal animosity. All such causes and demonstrations of anger are not righteous anger.
To prevent anger from becoming sinful, Paul says Do not let the sun go down on your wrath (26b). Sundown was an important time of day for the Ancient Near Eastern society. It was when a moneylender had to restore a poor person’s cloak which had been given as security for a loan. It was the time when an employer had to pay a poor servant his wages. It was the time of reckoning.
Sin can be avoided by putting a termination on anger, by keeping it short. Don’t hold it over to the next day, don’t foster it, don’t nurse it. Don’t prolong it, don’t let it smoulder or fester. Don’t let it degenerate into an angry mood or sullen countenance. Don’t fall in love with it. In other words, don’t let anger become wrath.
An additional way to keep your anger in check is: Do not give place to the devil (27). Don’t give the devil a foothold in your life. This is a strong motivation for not allowing anger to become sin. Satan loves to take a strong emotion like anger and make it part of your nature, to become a grievance or grudge or bitterness, an unforgiving spirit.
Anger can do irreparable damage in the body of Christ. It ought never to be displayed among the saints of God. It destroys harmony and causes broken relationships with our neighbour. Before it gets hold of you, unburden yourself before the Lord. Before it becomes sin, judge it before God.
We must give no room for the devil to work, no opportunity to take advantage of our anger for his own purposes. If anger is not righteous, then it is unrighteous, and unrighteousness comes from the devil. Don’t yield to him! He is the one who benefits from our sinful anger. The devil sets a snare for angry people in order to exploit their uncontrolled emotion (1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26).
Lying and anger often go together. One feeds on the other. And they are prevalent in so many people’s lives because Satan has gained a foothold, by provoking them to hatred and deceit.
Contrasting Practice #3: Working… Not Stealing (28)
Let Him Who Steals, Steal No More (28a).
Theft, like lying, is contrary to the truth. It must be abandoned by those who profess and embrace the truth. Theft was common among slaves (Tit. 2:9-10). Onesimus, for example, had probably stolen from his master (Philemon 18).
Thieves justify their actions by saying that it is owed to them: “Take what you can; you deserve it; it’s owing to you.” Sometimes we can adopt thinking like that when an opportunity presents itself to balance the scales with someone who, we rationalize, owes us something. Perhaps you’ve called in to work sick when there was nothing wrong with you and you justified it that the company owed it to you. After all its in your benefit package. Why not take advantage of it? And besides everybody does it!
Perhaps you steal time from your employer by talking when you should be working, taking an extra few minutes for lunch each day, talking on the phone with your friends during work hours, using the internet at work for non-employment purposes.
As new people in Christ, we should use our hands to work, not steal: …but rather let him labour, working with his hands what is good (28b). The root causes of theft are laziness and selfishness. Those who are lazy have idle hands. Paul classified those who do not work as disorderly, busybodies. He told them to work with their hands and if they “will not work neither shall they eat” (2 Thess. 3:7, 10, 11). Those who are selfish steal from others for personal gain. They think only of themselves and what they want. They think the world owes them a living, and, if others have what they want, they are justified in getting it by any means.
We should place a high value on hard work. Paul did. He laboured night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone (2 Thess. 3:8). Work is hard but it produces good for the labourer’s own family and for others in need. That’s the motivation for working - to share with others in need: … so that he may have something to give him who has need (28c). Work is a means of sharing, not for personal benefit but communal benefit. The community of faith is to care for the needy (Rom. 12:13).
Theft tears the body down (robs) but work builds it up (replenishes). This is a radical change from the old man to the new. The thief becomes a philanthropist; taking is replaced with giving; selfishness is redirected to selflessness; miserliness becomes generosity.
Just as we can easily misuse our hands, so we can misuse our mouths...
Contrasting Practice #4: Speaking Constructively… Not Destructively (29-30)
Words have the power to either crush or build up. Speech that tears down is destructive because it corrupts. Destructive speech tears down the spirit of a person, destroys the soul. It harms God’s people by defiling the mind, rotting the character, decaying morals. It is evil and unwholesome - the opposite of speech that is holy, good, and pure. Corrupt speech sounds rotten and putrefies the soul. It reeks of obscenities, abusive language, malicious talk, vulgarity, destructive words.
But speech that builds up is constructive because it nourishes. It builds up our faith, strengthens unity, enhances fellowship. It nourishes our souls, feeds our communion with God. Constructive speech is the language of the community of faith. It edifies and builds up the body of Christ. It provides encouragement, comfort and good will.
Don’t use corrupt, destructive speech. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth (29a). What comes out of the mouth indicates what is in your heart, for “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). On the day of judgement we will have to give account for every careless word spoken (Matt. 12:36).
It is very difficult to cleanse yourself of corrupt words. If you hear them at work or school they have a tendency to stick in your mind. Anyone who has lived in an environment of destructive speech knows that it is difficult to cleanse your mind. Anyone who has used corrupt language knows how difficult it is to cleanse your mouth. Even years later bad thoughts, vile phrases, and profanity recur. “They have the habit in unguarded moments to barge right in and to befoul the atmosphere.” 2 I knew someone years ago who sometimes lost control of her temper and that’s when the corrupt language of the “old man” came out. Peter cursed and swore (Matt. 26:74), and if he did it don’t think you’re exempt.
Don’t use destructive speech but use constructive, edifying speech: …what is good for necessary edification (29b). It isn’t enough just to drop the old language, we must adopt the new. Our speech must not harm others but instead impart grace to the hearers (29c). “Let your speech be always with grace seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). In our speech we can be a blessing to our fellow-Christians. As in the use of our hands (28) so in the use of our mouths, they are to be used for the benefit of others.
All that we do and say has an impact on the Holy Spirit within us. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (30). The Holy Spirit is grieved by the practices of the old man, such as lying, anger, stealing, foul language. He is holy and is grieved by everything in us that is unholy - every corrupt word, impure thought, every sinful act. On the other hand, he is honoured by the practices of the new man. Every constructive word, pure thought, and selfless act pleases him. The Holy Spirit indwells us and seals us to the day of redemption. He is the source of our new life in Christ and he sustains us and preserves us to the day of redemption. We are marked and sealed as his own for time and for eternity. Our practice, therefore, should be governed accordingly.
When we grieve the Holy Spirit through wrong practices of living, communal life is disrupted in the church, for He is the Spirit of unity, indwelling and uniting all believers. So, don’t think that you can act anyway you want and get away with it. We don’t live as islands to ourselves. Every word, deed, and thought impacts our personal life and our corporate life. Lying generates mistrust and breaks relationships. Anger allows the devil to play havoc and trap us in sin’s snare. Stealing takes away from others and robs us of the privilege of giving. Evil talk corrupts communication and destroys spiritual power. Instead of speaking words that hurt, use words that heal. Instead of words that kill, use words that give life.
The Holy Spirit has united us and hates discord among us. Lying, inappropriate anger, stealing, and corrupt speech cause discord. If you’ve ever wondered why you don’t see the Holy Spirit operating in your church or in your own life, there is only one reason - there is something present that quenches his activity.
Now Paul summarizes all that he has already said in one final contrast…
Contrasting Practice #5: Showing Kindness… Not Animosity (31-32)
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice (31). Bitterness is that sour spirit, cynicism, rankling, warped disposition, resentment. Wrath is rage, indignation that has taken up residence in us. Anger is an internal smouldering, a deep-seated feeling of animosity. Clamour refers to violent outbursts of the tongue through loss of temper, raising the voice in anger. Slander is speaking evil of others, defamation of character, destroying someone’s reputation. Malice is wishing evil against others, an evil inclination of the mind toward one’s neighbours. We are to put away these expressions of animosity which harm the community of faith and, in contrast, be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another (32a). Kind people don’t repeat malicious gossip but emphasize the good in others.
Kindness to one another infers goodness of heart, Christ-likeness. To be tender-hearted is to be compassionate towards others. Forgiving one another involves acting in grace, even as God in Christ forgave you (32b). Let us put on these expressions of kindness which nourish the community of faith.
So, the injunction in this passage is this: “We must practice living like the new man and renounce the practices of the old man.”
I read a story about a certain Korean Christian named Kim, who happened to be a lay leader of his church in a city in North Korea. He asked permission to address the congregation and when this was granted he said:
“You know that though I have been a Christian for some time, I do not have formal training from a Bible College or Seminary. I seek your counsel in a decision which must be made and which will have great ramifications whichever way the decision goes. Let me tell you my story.
A friend of mine who is a doctor from Seoul, Korea, wrote me some time ago, explaining his decision to relocate to our city. He asked me to find him a place where he could both live and have his practice. You know how hard it is to find any place, much less one suitable for such a person. Nevertheless, I looked and finally found a location. I wrote to the doctor and informed him that the only place I could find was old and run down, in much need of repair, in a terrible neighbourhood, and could only be purchased at an enormous price.
To my surprise, the doctor sent word to secure the property and sent also the down payment needed. I went to the owner who gladly received the down payment and agreed to vacate the premises. In a couple of days the previous owner was still there and asked for an extension so that they would be able to find suitable lodging. I agreed to give him another week. But at the end of the week, he was still there.
Then a month went by, two months, six months, a year – and he’s still there! He and his family all have new clothes and eat the best foods. When I come around, he just laughs at me. Now, my question is: What should be done?”
With one accord, the church elders all agreed that the man should be evicted, by force if necessary, from the dwelling. “Thank you for your advice,” said Brother Kim. “Now, let me remind you that almost two thousand years ago Jesus came to buy you with an enormous price – although you were in ruins and your life was a shambles. He sent his Holy Spirit as a down payment and he desires to take up residence in your heart. Isn’t it about time we evicted the old man and let Jesus take up full residence?”
1 Andrew Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, 301.
2 William Hendriksen, Ephesians, New Testament Commentary, 220
Related Topics: Christian Life