SSL 9 - Eph. 4:17-32
LAST WEEK: In Eph. 4:11-16, Paul talked about both the gifts of spiritual leaders and the importance of a mature, loving, and unified body of believers in the church. We covered four main points of application: (1) A healthy church is one in which the leaders succeed in encouraging, training, and organizing its members in a variety of ministries according to the gifts of each one. This is how a church, any church, our church, should be built up. You can write this down: a healthy church is far more powerful than a "big" church. (2) In order to be mature, both as members and as a church body, we must (a) achieve the "unity of the faith" and (b) the "measure the stature that belongs to the fullness of Christ." It requires leaders to lead and church members to follow their leaders into the exciting task of seeing before our eyes the church begin more and more to feel and sound and love like Jesus Christ Himself in this world. (3) If we, as members, are to "grow-up" into a mature, Christ-like church, we must "speak the truth" in love. Speaking the truth in genuine agapé love, love that puts the interests and wellbeing of others first, can be a challenge sometimes. One of the goals of Christian maturity is that we come to the point where we can transparently speak the truth to one another in love. This love, agapé love, isn't optional. (4) Church leaders and those engaged in various ministries need to do their best to ensure that every member is encouraged to contribute to the work of the church according to the gifts given to him or her. The church won't be healthy and achieve maturity unless the individual members work together in harmony. The only way we can accomplish this is by acting in agapé love, love that focuses on the wellbeing of the other person.
THIS WEEK: In Eph. 4:17-32, Paul gives us a valuable and highly practical explanation of how the Ephesian believers (and us, too) should live out the Christian life, walk the walk. In it, he contrasts the way that Gentiles typically live with the way that Christ expects believers to live. In this context, we see Paul using the word "Gentile" to equate with a faithless, non-believing person. Believers, by contrast, have learned to put on a new self in the likeness of God. Christians are called upon to "put away" (i.e., totally get rid of) sins that snare them such as malice, slander, wrath, and bitterness and instead, demonstrate a Christ-like attitude of kindness, forgiveness, and love.
Read Eph. 4:17-19 - DARKNESS OF THE SECULAR MIND
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
v. 17: "So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind" - Life without God is frustrating and confusing. The Greek word for "futility" (mataiotēs) literally means without value, useless and purposeless. For non-believers, life constantly changes relative to the times. There is no absolute standard of truth.
v. 18: "being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart" - The Greek words for "being darkened" (eskotōmenoi), literally means blind in the mind. It refers to a person's ability to reason. These Gentiles are darkened in their reasoning because they selectively choose to reject God. They think of themselves as open-minded and rational when actually, they are trying to piece together the puzzle of life in the dark. The live in "ignorance," not for lack of education, but because they just don't know or understand anything about God. Although they have, in fact, heard of God, they remain spiritually ignorant because of the "hardness of their heart" (Gk. pōrōsin) lit. unbending and stubborn-self righteous. Morally, they refuse to accept any idea of a righteous, all-powerful, and perfect God above them. They want to be lord of their own lives.
v. 19: "and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness" - This is what happens to people who live according to the futility and darkness described in vv. 17-18. The word "callous" (Gk. apēlgēkotes) denotes a complete lack of sensitivity, in this case, moral or spiritual sensitivity. This describes people who have become so desensitized that they lack any standard of conduct that restrains their moral behavior, and their lifestyles are dominated by the desires of their flesh. Sadly, we see increasing evidence of this in our society today in the unashamed attitudes toward sex outside of marriage, overt homosexuality, and its depiction in TV, movies, and all types of published media. Ironically, in that regard, contemporary American society closely resembles the Greco-Roman culture of Paul's day.
TRUTH 1: In our former life, before we accepted Christ as Lord, our minds were futile and we lived in darkness. In our minds, we had no absolute standard for truth or for right or wrong and lived relative to the times. Our understanding was darkened because we lived in ignorance of God. We acted as the lords of our own lives, while we vainly tried to make sense of the world.
Read Eph. 4:20-24 - OUR NEW HOLY SELF
20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
v. 20: "But you did not learn Christ in this way" - The word "But" points back to the futile, dark, and callous attitudes and actions of the unbelieving world. As believers, we were once that way, but should no longer live like that-yes? But it's easier said than done, isn't it? In order to achieve victory over sin, we often find ourselves in a daily struggle. The root problem is the futility of our minds, a faulty way of thinking. In order to defeat sin, we need to get to the "root" of the problem and renew our minds. Think of it like your garden or lawn. A large part of making it attractive is getting rid of the weeds. If you just chop them off, they come back. You've got to get the root out, either dig it up or kill it. To paraphrase this verse, Paul is saying that we didn't learn Christ from the sin that sprouts from our minds, did we? The point is being saved and being "learned" aren't the same things. We were saved because we "believed" In Christ. Learning and obeying is something we do after we're saved, a day-to-day process of rooting the sin out of our lives and striving to become more like Christ.
v. 21: "if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus" - Paul's statement isn't conditional; in the Greek he means since or because you have heard, etc. Paul also doesn't mean that they heard His physical voice during Jesus' earthly ministry-an impossibility. What Paul is saying is that when they heard the Gospel proclaimed they "heard" Christ, and when they were taught the truth-i.e., sound doctrine according to apostolic teaching and interpretation-they were being "taught in Jesus."
v. 22: "that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit" - As Christians, one of our chief problems is that we tend to fall back to what's familiar, our "normal" way of thinking and doing things. It easier than changing, isn't it? Well, Paul alerts us that's our "former manner of life," our "old self," before we knew Christ, and our old self is inherently polluted with all kinds of sin, what Paul calls, "the lusts of deceit." This is the negative aspect of regeneration. But Paul gives us the solution: we must "lay aside the old self." The Greek word for "lay aside" (apotithémi) means to renounce and literally throw something away. It doesn't happen automatically, but is an ongoing process which involves deliberate and decisive action.
v. 23: "and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind" - Paul switches to the positive side of regeneration. This is a transformation of our innermost selves-our private thought processes and attitudes. Christians sometime distinguish between knowledge of head and heart, but the Bible clearly shows that we should serve God with both of them (Deut. 6:5; 10:12; Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). The renewal of mind is a process in which believers begin to think in a new way-the right way-as they learn and mediate on the truth of God's word.
v. 24: "and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" - In a sense we put on the new self at the point of our salvation, yet, we must continue putting on the new self on a day-to-day basis by applying the reality of the new self in our everyday routines and activities. There are several aspects to this: (1) God is the creator of the new self; (2) God is the pattern-"the likeness"-for the new self; and (3) The new self is to be like God in "righteousness and holiness of the truth." These two traits are essentially two sides of the same coin: righteousness refers to living according to God's standards and holiness pertains to our faithfulness towards God (i.e., we completely agree with Him). Both traits are the result of the truth, specifically, the truth that is in Jesus Christ. Taking this a step further, the truth in Christ is really a metaphor for "sound doctrine" which, when translated to personal application, results in holy living. Although renewal is a really a lifelong, day-to-day process, we should nevertheless be able to see a distinct difference between the old self we used to be and the new person we are now in Christ.
TRUTH 2: God created in us a "new self" at the moment of salvation, but that is just the starting point. In order to turn it into a reality, we must continue putting on our new self on a day-to-day basis by applying it-the understanding of "sound doctrine"-to every aspect of our lives. Although renewal is a really a lifelong process, we should be able to see a distinct difference between the old self we used to be and the new person we are now in Christ.
Read Eph. 4:25-28 - TRUTH, ANGER, AND THEFT
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
v. 25: "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another" - With "Therefore," Paul now tell us how to put our new selves into practice. The first change is the way we speak. In simple language, the term "laying aside falsehood"
means we always speak to others (i.e., our "NEIGHBOR") with total honesty in fact. Telling people the unvarnished truth-about yourself or about themselves-can be difficult, uncomfortable, yes? Yet, this is how God communicates in word and deed, with absolute truth. The phrase, "members of one another," refers to the body of Christ, the church. So, putting these two together, this applies the previous lesson, where Paul instructs us to speak "the truth in love" (Eph. 4:14), which puts the wellbeing of others above ourselves. This is best (not the easiest) route to achieve true transparency.
v. 26-27: "BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity" - Anger is often a natural emotional response-Christians see and hear a lot of things happening in our society and elsewhere that should make them angry, and while becoming angry is not itself a sin, Paul is telling us that the failure to control it surely is. The uncontrolled outburst of anger toward others, often fueled by pride, is selfish and therefore sinful. On the other hand, we shouldn't let "sun go down" on our anger, in other words, we can't allow it to smolder and potentially fester within us before we seek a peaceable resolution. Finally, if we hold unresolved anger inside us, the devil can use it to gain a foothold over our hearts and lead us to act foolishly or to hurt other people needlessly.
v. 28a: "He who steals must steal no longer" - God expressed this in the 7th Commandment (Ex. 20:15; Deut. 5:19). So, a thief who has become a believer must steal no more. Thievery is not limited to criminal larceny but extends to even the smallest type of petty theft, and should include taking unfair advantage of others and engaging in dishonest and unethical business practices.
v. 28b: "but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need" - With this Paul turns to the positive: instead, the former thief "must labor." The Greek word for labor (kopiaó) is suggestive of real hard work, using his "own hands" for "what is good," namely, engaging in useful, productive labor to not only support himself and his family but have enough left over to help "one who has need."
Truth 3: The chief obstacle of putting on our "new self" is our old nature. Toward this end, Paul teaches us three practical steps for putting on the new self: (1) replace falsehood with truth (v. 25); (2) replace selfish anger with controlled anger (vv. 26-27); and (3) replace laziness and greed (the thief) with hard work and giving (v. 28).
Read Eph. 4:29-32 - UNWHOLESOME WORDS, BITTERNESS, GRIEVING THE SPIRIT
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
v. 29: "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear" - The Greek word for "unwholesome" (sapros) is the same used to describe rotten, foul-smelling fruit or meat-disgusting. Such language includes curse words, four-letter words, and crude expressions, not because they have any substance but because such they identify the speaker as vulgar, which is a disgrace to his Christian witness. But an even more serious form of unwholesome speech are words intended to belittle or humiliate others, which can profoundly hurt them, to the extent of causing suicide. Shifting to the positive, Paul says, instead, we should concentrate on words that are "good for edification" (Gk. oikodomēn) lit. to build up as opposed to tearing down. This is encouragement, cheering people on, praising good efforts. It gives people "grace," in this context, appreciation.
v. 30: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" - This connects with v. 29 and directly pertains to our use of words. The Greek word for "grieve" (lupeó) means to cause severe sorrow or emotional pain. Thus, using unwholesome words is a direct insult and offense to the Spirit of God that indwells us, the One who loves us the most. Out of our sinful nature, we bring sorrow to God the same way we do to loved ones-through our misbehavior, laziness, thoughtlessness, and disobedience. And when we grieve the Spirit, we are heaping abuse on the same holy and merciful God who "sealed us for the day of redemption"-through His unmerited mercy and grace, gave to us the priceless gift of eternal salvation. Is this how we should repay Him?
v. 31: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice - This is a biggie-itemizes six corrupt behaviors and attitudes that we need to totally cleanse from our new selves: (1) "all bitterness" (Gk. pikria) lit. a poisonous, toxic attitude. This is a festering anger that's been nurtured and kept alive inside of us-a grudge. It most often occurs when a person feels that he or she has been severely and unfairly victimized by someone else. Paul lists it first because it can be the driver of the other four behaviors, and notice the modifier "all"-that's every vestige of it. We need God's help to heal this wound, to let go of our victim-attitude and forgive the one who wronged us. It's never easy. (2) "wrath" (Gk. orgé) lit. a smoldering feeling, hidden beneath the surface, waiting to erupt. (3) "anger" (Gk. thumos) lit. a searing outburst. So, taking (2) and (3) together, thumos becomes the explosive anger that lets orgé out of its cage. Have you ever experienced this-as either the giver or receiver? (4) "clamor" (Gk. kraugé) lit. a loud outcry in public, inciting others. The key is one's motive: is it fueled by a valid criticism or uncontrolled anger? (5) "slander" (Gk. blasphēmia) lit. evil words directed at someone's character. It's motivated by an angry desire to tear someone down, to belittle them. Finally (5) "malice" (Gk. kakia) lit. a wicked disposition that wishes or intends harm against another person. You figuratively "murder" someone in your mind, or at its farthest extreme, actually kill them.
Comment: Can God remove our long-standing bitterness, our anger? Certainly. He may not remove it overnight, since we didn't develop it overnight. A big part of the problem is "learned behavior" (i.e., behavior derived from personal experience). But if we humble ourselves before God, confess the sin that darkens our heart, the Holy Spirit will help us unlearn it. The next verse will guide us.
v. 32: "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" - An oft-quoted verse that should be read in connection with vv. 29-31. Its actions and attitudes form a practical antithesis to those Paul tells us to "put away." Thus, out new self should: (1) "be kind" (Gk. chrēstoi) lit. pleasant and useful, describes a person who is "other-centered," one looking for opportunities to reach out and help others. (2) "tender-hearted" (Gk. eusplanchnoi) lit. good on the inside, physically or spiritually. It's what we might call empathy felt towards the needs, hurts, and joys of others. It's similar to compassion. (3) "forgiving each other" (Gk. charizomenoi) lit. to grant favor, to pardon. The final phrase, "just as God in Christ also has forgiven you," is the example we are expected to model-God's character. We may be inclined to withhold forgiveness, because, from our human perspective, the person doesn't deserve it. But as Christians, our obliga-tion to grant forgiveness, like God's mercy and grace, isn't earned or deserved. Usin God as our model, we must give it freely, without any expectation of gratitude or forgiveness in return.
TRUTH 4: To resolve conflicts in our relationships with others, we need to "put away" the corrupt behaviors of the old self and put on the loving behaviors of the new self. Paul provides two very practical steps for accomplishing this: (1) replace destructive speech with constructive speech (v. 29) and (2) replace sinful anger with kindness and forgiveness (vv. 31-32).
TRUTH 5: The most important key in the resolution of conflicts is the Holy Spirit. It's no accident that Paul placed v. 30 between the other verses focusing on relationships. This tells us that our chief motive in achieving harmonious relationships is not to make ourselves and others happy but not to grieve God, or to put it positively, to please Him. We need to fully understand that the Holy Spirit, which God sealed within us on the day of redemption, is not an impersonal, unfeeling force. When we sin, we cause it sorrow and pain. It's there for a purpose, to be our "helper," to help us put on our new self every day 24/7-and keep it there!
PRAYER: Lord, God, creator and maker of all things, we humbly thank You for giving us the opportunity to freely meet together this morning so that we can learn more about the truth of Your Word and how we can apply it to our everyday lives. Lord, help us to fully understand that by saving us, You've given us a "new self" that we must consciously decide to put on and use for Your glory on each new day that You grant us. Father, we also understand, to help us along in our "new self, that You've given a "helper," Your own Holy Spirit. Using this wonderful Spirit, Lord, please help all of us use it to better apply the loving behaviors-kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving-to shape our attitudes and actions as we serve You as members of this good church so that we will come close and closer to being the unified and mature church that You have purposed us to become. Father, we pray all these things in the glorious name of Jesus Christ, our wonderful Savior, AMEN.