FOLLOW GOD’S EXAMPLE

 

Week of October 30, 2005

 

Bible Passage:  Ephesians 4:17-5:14

 

Biblical Truth: Believers are to reflect God’s character and nature.

 

Acknowledge Your New Life (4:22-24)

 

[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. [NASU]

 

In verses 20 and 21 Paul uses three parallel expressions which center on three verbs, all in the aorist tense, meaning to ‘learn’, to ‘hear’ and to ‘be taught’, with a final reference to ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’. The aorist tense refers to the reality of an event or action without indicating the time of the action. The aorist is contrasted with the present tense which involves a continuous or repetitive action. What this means in these verses is that Paul, by using the aorist instead of the present, is emphasizing the event when the Ephesians first ‘learn’, ‘hear’ and ‘be taught’ Christ. If Paul wanted to emphasize the continuous need to keep on learning, hearing and being taught, then he would have used the present tense. According to the first verb, Christ is himself the substance of Christian teaching. Secondly, Christ is himself also the teacher. Thirdly, they had been taught in him. Jesus Christ, in addition to being the teacher and the teaching, was also the context, even the atmosphere within which the teaching was given. But what exactly is this truth that is in Jesus?

 

Verses 22-24 give the answer. To ‘learn Christ’ is to grasp the new creation which he has made possible, and the entirely new life which results from it. It is nothing less than putting off our old humanity like a rotten garment and putting on, like clean clothing, the new humanity recreated in God’s image. When does this take place? It is because we have already put off our old nature, in that decisive act of repentance called conversion, that we can logically be commanded to put away all the practices which belong to that old and rejected life. What had they been taught, then? They had been taught that becoming a Christian involves a radical change, namely conversion (as the human side of the experience is usually called) and recreation (the divine side). Further, our former self and our new self are vividly contrasted with each other. The portraits Paul paints of both men balance one another. The old was corrupt, in the process of degenerating, on its way to ruin or destruction; the new has been freshly created after the likeness of God. The old was dominated by lusts, uncontrolled passions; the new has been created in righteousness and holiness. The lusts of the old were deceitful; the righteousness of the new is true. Thus, corruption and creation, passion and holiness, deceit and truth are set in opposition to one another, indicating the total incompatibility of the old and the new, what we were in Adam and what we are in Christ. In between these contrasting portraits of the kind of person we put off and put on comes verse 23; that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind. This verb is a present infinitive, in distinction to those of verses 22 and 24 which are aorists. From our discussion above, by using the aorist, Paul is emphasizing the reality that the old self is laid aside and the new man is put on. Paul is not telling the Ephesians here to continue laying aside and putting on. This fact is brought out even clearer in the parallel passage of Colossians 3:9-10. That is why John Stott says here that Paul is talking about the time of the Ephesians’ conversion and not their present Christian experience. What Paul does emphasize as the Ephesians’ present activity is the exhortation in verse 23. There the present infinitive indicates that, in addition to the decisive rejection of the old and assumption of the new, implicit in conversion, a daily – indeed a continuous – inward renewal of our outlook is involved in being a Christian. The subject of this process of renewal is identified in verse 24 with the new man they became when they put on Christ [Gal. 3:27]. The new man has been created after the likeness of God in that righteousness and holiness which are born of the truth of the gospel [1 Peter 1:23]. And it is because such a definitive breach with the old life has been made that believers are urged to bring their behavior into conformity with the new identity which is theirs in Christ [2:10]. In righteousness and holiness of the truth specifies the things in which the new man was created and in which the likeness between him and God consisted. Righteousness expresses the right conduct of the Christian man more distinctively in its bearings on his fellow-men, and holiness the same conduct distinctively in its relation to God.

 

Implement Continuing Change (4:25-32)

 

[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. [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. [NASU]

 

Therefore, Paul continues in verse 25. His meaning is because you did throw off your former self once and for all, you must now throw off all conduct which belonged to your old life. Your new behavior must be completely consistent with the kind of person you have become. In verses 25-32 Paul gives five concrete examples. There are three features common to all five examples. First, they all concern our relationships. Secondly, in each example a negative prohibition is balanced by a corresponding positive command. Thirdly, in each case a theological reason for the command is either given or implied. For in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles doctrine and ethics, belief and behavior are always dovetailed into one another.

 

[25]  Laying aside falsehood (negative prohibition); speak truth each one of you with his neighbor (positive command); for we are members of one another (theological reason). The avoidance of lies is of little use without the active pursuit of truth. The followers of Jesus (in whom is truth, verse 21) should be known in their community as honest, reliable people whose word can be trusted. Fellowship is built on trust, and trust is built on truth. So falsehood undermines fellowship, while truth strengthens it.

 

[26-27] Don’t lose your temper, but rather ensure that your anger is righteous. Scripture plainly teaches that there are two kinds of anger, righteous and unrighteous. In 5:6 we are told of the anger of God which will fall on the disobedient, and we know that God’s anger is righteous. So was the anger of Jesus [Mark 3:5]. There must therefore be a good and true anger which God’s people can learn from him and from their Lord Jesus. There is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil we should be indignant not tolerant, angry not apathetic. If God hates sin, his people should hate it too. If evil arouses his anger, it should arouse ours also. At the same time, we need to remember our fallenness, and our constant proneness to intemperance and vanity. Consequently, we always have to be on our guard and act as censors of our own anger. So Paul immediately qualifies his permissive be angry by three negatives. First, do not sin. We have to make sure that our anger is free from injured pride, spite, malice, animosity and the spirit of revenge. Secondly, do not let the sun go down on your anger. This instruction illustrates well the folly of excessive literalism in interpreting the Bible. Paul is not saying that, if we get angry in the morning, we can hold onto that anger until sunset. No, the apostle’s intention is to warn us against nursing anger. It is seldom safe to allow the embers to smolder. Certainly if we become aware of some sinful or selfish element in our anger, then it is time right then for us to cease from it, and either apologize or be reconciled to the person concerned. Paul’s third qualification is do not give the devil an opportunity  for the devil knows how fine is the line between righteous and unrighteous anger, and how hard human beings find it to handle their anger responsibly. In summary, he that will be angry and not sin, let him be angry at nothing but sin.

 

[28] Do not steal, but rather work and give. It is not enough that the thief stops stealing. Let him start working and earning his own living. Then he will be able not only to support himself and his family, but also to give to those in need. The Christian philosophy of labor is thus lifted far above the thought of what is right or fair in the economic field. It is lifted to the place where there is no room for selfishness or the motive of personal profit at all. Giving becomes the motive for getting.

 

29-30] Do not use your mouth for evil, but rather for good. Paul turns from the use of our hands to the use of our mouths. Unwholesome here is a word used of rotten trees and rotten fruit. When applied to rotten talk, whether this is dishonest, unkind or vulgar, we may be sure that in some way it hurts the hearers. Instead, we are to use our unique gift of speech constructively, for edification, that is to build people up and not damage or destroy them according to the need of the moment. Then our words may give grace to those who hear. Jesus taught the great significance of speech. Our words reveal what is in our hearts. If we are truly a new creation of God, we shall undoubtedly develop new standards of conversation. Instead of hurting people with our words, we shall want to use them to help, encourage, cheer, comfort and stimulate them. It is not immediately clear why Paul now introduces the Holy Spirit. What grieves the Holy Spirit? Since he is holy, he is always grieved by unholiness, and since he is the ‘one Spirit’ [2.18; 4.4], disunity will also cause him grief. Since he is the ‘Spirit of truth’, he is upset by all our misuse of speech which may be why Paul puts this verse here since he was just talking about the misuse of speech. The day of redemption, although we already have redemption in the sense of forgiveness, looks on to the end when our bodies will be redeemed, for only then will our redemption or liberation be complete. So the sealing and the redemption refer respectively to the beginning and the end of the salvation process.

 

[31-32] Here is a series of six unpleasant attitudes and actions which are to be put away from us entirely. Bitterness is a sour spirit and sour speech. It is an embittered and resentful spirit which refuses to be reconciled. Wrath and anger are similar, the former denoting a passionate rage and the latter a more settled and sullen hostility. Clamor describes people who get excited, raise their voices in a quarrel, and start shouting, even screaming, at each other, while slander is speaking evil of others, especially behind their backs, and so defaming and even destroying their reputation. Malice is wishing and probably plotting evil against people. There is no place for any of these things in the Christian community. In their place we should welcome the kind of qualities which characterize the behavior of God and Christ. We are to be kind to one another. Tenderhearted is compassionate while forgiving each other is literally ‘acting in grace’ towards one another, as God in Christ has acted in grace towards us.

 

Imitate the Compassionate Father (5:1-2, 8-10)

 

[1] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; [2] and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. [8] for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light [9] (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), [10] trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. [NASU]

 

[1-2]  Therefore connects being imitators of God with God’s forgiving love in Christ in verse 32. Having shown how believers should treat one another (be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other), Paul is now ready to instruct them on their behavior in a world which is full of temptations for the unwary. But before giving them detailed counsel, he wants them to grasp the fact that they cannot remain distinct from the world unless they cherish their new identity, and keep in mind the cost of their deliverance from its evil ways. Hence the bold call to become imitators of God, as beloved children. This imitation of God is to be shown in a life of love, which finds its motive and model in Christ’s self-giving love. Obviously we cannot copy God in his creative or redemptive work, but our experience of his love towards us in Christ must lead us to walk before him in love – an exclusive relationship which bars us from all lust [3-7].

 

[8]  It is only in terms of an absolute antithesis that Paul can adequately express the contrast between what his readers once were and what they are now [8-14]. Formerly they were darkness, now they are light, but this enlightenment is theirs only in the Lord. And they must so abide in him that no darkening by sin will prevent them from being the clean reflectors of this light to others. This exhortation to walk as children of light teaches us that light is never given for mere intellectual illumination, but always to promote practical obedience. The light in the Lord enables us to discriminate between that which is well-pleasing and that which is not pleasing to God. Our motives and action must be tested by this light. It is the Christian’s duty to expose every action, every decision, every motive to the light of Christ. Our daily conduct must make credible our confession of faith in Christ.

 

[9]  The purpose of this parenthesis is to show what it means to walk as children of light. The moral fruit of the light is seen in every form of goodness and righteousness and truth. Fruit is a figurative term for the moral results of the light. The singular term may suggest the idea of the unity of the life and character resulting from the Spirit. The word all applies to each of the three following terms and has the force of “every form of”, i.e. goodness in all its forms. The entire Christian ethic is summed up in the good, the right and the true.

 

[10]  The exhortation given in verse 8, interrupted by the parenthesis in verse 9, is now continued and explained. Those who are bidden to walk as children of light will make it their constant aim to find out and follow that which is pleasing to their Lord. The believer is not to prove and discover what suits himself, but what pleases his divine Master. His ethical investigation is based upon the question: Is it pleasing to the Lord?

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.       Why does Paul write in verses 22-24 that the process of being renewed in our minds comes after we have laid aside the old self and put on the new self? Compare the parallel passage in Colossians 3:9-10.

 

2.       Paul uses therefore to connect verses 25-32 with 20-24. What is the connection between these two passages? Read Matthew 12:33-37. How might Jesus’ insight help us to understand why Paul commanded verses 22-24 before 25-32?

 

3.       Is it possible to change conduct without a transformation of the heart? Likewise can the heart be changed without a resulting change of conduct?

 

4.       What does Paul’s use of the imagery of light and darkness teach us about living as Christians? What does Paul mean by walk as children of light (5:8)? An interesting study is to look up all the verses in the New Testament that describe our Christian walk.

 

References:

Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth Trust.

Principles of Conduct, John Murray, Eerdmans.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

Ephesians, Geoffrey B. Wilson, Banner of Truth Trust.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Volume 3, Eerdmans.