BE READY TO FORGIVE

 

Week of May 25, 2008

 

Bible Verses:  Ephesians 4:22-32; Philemon 8-10,15-18.

 

Biblical Truth: By relating to others in Christlike ways, including seeking reconciliation with those we’ve wronged, we build the relationships God intends.

 

Remember You’re a New Person: Eph. 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]

 

[22]  The tense of the verb lay aside points to a one time event in the past. This is normally understood as the time of one’s conversion. Hence the believer is taught that they have put off or have laid aside the old person at conversion. The old self is described as your former manner of life. The old person, found in Rom. 6:6 and Col. 3:9, is the preconversion unregenerate person. Paul then is teaching that believers should know that the old person according to the former lifestyle was laid aside at the time of their faith in the one who taught them, namely, Christ. Which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit further describes the old self. The present tense of being corrupted denotes continuing action, which indicates that the corruption continues in the unregenerate person. Also, it is the passive voice signifying an action being received, in this case, from the lusts of deceit. This deceit is the antithesis of truth in verse 24. Therefore, the unregenerate person is constantly being corrupted by the desires that come from deception, the deception which promises fullness of life, a promise it cannot fulfill. Thus, this deceit or illusion that brings a person to ruin is the false idea that fulfillment of natural desires is all that is necessary for human life. However, Paul reminds believers that they have laid aside this old person.

 

[23]  Having clarified the condition of the old person that was laid aside at the time of conversion, Paul now discusses the renewing of the mind. The verb be renewed is in the passive voice indicating that the believer is the recipient of the renewing and is not renewing himself. The present tense suggests that the renewal of the mind is a repeated process throughout the believer’s life, which is in contrast to the initial act involved in putting off the old person [22] and putting on the new person [24]. Only the Spirit of God can ultimately change our lives. As the Spirit of God quickens the human spirit, then believers are being renewed by that spirit which is in the mind. The present tense suggests that it is a repeated or continual process, constantly reminding us of what we are in Christ. It receives the truth and will of God and appropriates it in our lives. This renewing will transform our lives in very practical ways.

 

[24]  The infinitive put on parallels with the infinitive lay aside in verse 22. In the present context, the verb tense of put on indicates that the believer had put on the new person when they laid aside the old person at conversion. Worthy of note is that the old person does not remain with the new person. Dualism is not suggested or implied. One cannot be a Christian and a non-Christian at the same time. The new self is in contrast with the old self [22]. Replacement of the old with the new occurred at a point in time, namely, conversion. The result is a qualitative difference in lifestyle as depicted in this text. This new self is said to have been created by God and was put on at the time of conversion. When God created Adam, He made him after His likeness or image [Gen. 1:27]. What Adam lost in the fall, has been regained by Christ, a new creation in the likeness of God’s image. It is interesting to notice that the word “creation” is not used in connection with the “old person.” God originally created human beings without sin and when they fell they lost that original state. This new person has been newly created after God’s image. The new creation is spelled out in 2 Cor. 5:17 where Paul states that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, the new has come. God’s creation of the new person is further described as being in righteousness and holiness of the truth. In this verse righteousness refers to righteous actions of the new person, a quality of life. The second noun in this phrase, holiness, basically means to have personal piety, devotedness, or reverence before God. Truth is the opposite of deceit in verse 22. It is connected to both righteousness and holiness and denotes source, indicating that the source of righteousness and holiness is truth. Therefore, the new person has been identified as one who is characterized by a righteousness that has its source in truth. The new person is directly opposite of the old person whose desires and lifestyle have their source in deception.

 

Relate to Others Unselfishly: Eph 4:25-31.

 

[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.      [NASU]

 

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. Paul precedes to give six concrete examples of our new behavior in verses 4:25-5:4. Three features are common to all six examples. First, they all concern our relationships. Holiness is not a mystical condition experienced in relation to God but in isolation from human beings. You cannot be good in a vacuum, but only in the real world of people. Secondly, in each example a negative prohibition is balanced by a corresponding positive command. Thirdly, in each case a reason for the command is either given or implied, indeed a theological reason. For in the teaching of Jesus and His apostles doctrine and ethics, belief and behavior are always dovetailed into one another.

 

(1) Don’t tell lies, but rather tell the truth [25]. The avoidance of lies is of little use without the active pursuit of truth. The followers of Jesus should be known in their community as honest, reliable people whose word can be trusted. The reason given is that we are members of one another. Paul brings us back to this doctrine of the church as the body of Christ. Fellowship is built on trust, and trust is built on truth. So falsehood undermines fellowship, while truth strengthens it.

 

(2) Don’t lose your temper, but rather ensure that your anger is righteous [26-27]. Scripture plainly teaches that there are two kinds of anger, righteous and unrighteous. This verse recognizes that there is such a thing as Christian anger, and too few Christians either feel or express it. Indeed, when we fail to do so, we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil. 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. 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. It is particularly noteworthy that Paul introduces this reference to anger in a letter devoted to God’s new society of love, and in a paragraph concerned with harmonious relationships. He does so because true peace is not identical with appeasement. 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. If we are wise, we shall be slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God [James 1:19-20]. 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 is a warning about nursing anger. Certainly if we become aware of some sinful or selfish element in our anger, then it is time 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 he knows how fine is the line between righteous and unrighteous anger, and how hard human beings find it to handle their anger responsibly. So the devil loves to lurk around angry people, hoping to be able to exploit the situation to his own advantage by provoking them into hatred or violence or a breach of fellowship.

 

(3) Don’t steal, but rather work and give [28]. In echoing the eighth commandment, Paul goes beyond the prohibition and draws out its positive implications. It is not enough that the thief stops stealing. Let him start working, 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. Instead of sponging on the community, as thieves do, he will start contributing to it.

 

(4) Don’t use your mouth for evil, but rather for good [29]. Paul turns from the use of our hands to the use of our mouths. Jesus taught the great significance of speech. Our words reveal what is in our hearts, He said, and we shall have to give an account on judgment day of every careless word we have uttered. So James was only echoing the teaching of his Master when he emphasized the immense power of the human tongue for good or evil [James 3:1-12]. 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 [30]. He has just warned us to give no opportunity to the devil; now he urges us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Paul also refers to being sealed with the Spirit and to the day of redemption. The sealing took place at the beginning of our Christian life; the Holy Spirit Himself, indwelling us, is the seal with which God has stamped us as His own. The day of redemption 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. And in between these two termini we are to grow in Christlikeness and to take care not to grieve the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is a sensitive Spirit. He hates sin, discord and falsehood, and shrinks away from them. Therefore, if we wish to avoid hurting Him, we shall shrink from them too. Every Spirit-filled believer desires to bring Him pleasure, not pain.

 

(5) Don’t be unkind or bitter, but rather kind and loving [4:31]. Here is a whole series of six unpleasant attitudes and actions which are to be put away from us entirely. Bitterness is a sour spirit and sour speech. 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. The sixth word is malice, or ill will, wishing and probably plotting evil against people. There is no place for any of these horrid things in the Christian community; they have to be totally rejected.

 

Resolve to Forgive: Eph. 4:32.

 

[32]  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.     [NASU]

 

In the place of the six unpleasant attitudes and actions mentioned in verse 31, Christians should welcome the kind of qualities which characterize the behavior of God and Jesus. We are to be kind to one another. The word for kind occurs in the Sermon on the Mount for God’s kindness towards even the ungrateful and the selfish [Luke 6:35]. 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.

 

Restoration or Revenge? A Case Study: Philem. 8-10,15-18.

 

[8]  Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, [9]  yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you – since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus – [10]  I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment. [15]  For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, [16]  no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. [17]  If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. [18]  But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.     [NASU]

 

The primary message of this epistle is Christian fellowship. The term “fellowship” occurs at strategic locations in the epistle, and the idea occurs elsewhere. Fellowship is participation in the lives of others. In verse 17, Paul writes if then you regard me a partner. Partners’ lives interrelate at the deepest levels, and partnership became the main avenue of appeal from Paul to Philemon. This epistle addresses two two-way relationships. Paul converted Philemon at Ephesus, and a strong friendship grew. Later, Paul converted Onesimus at Rome, and an equally strong relationship developed. Because of the situation, however, a breach occurred between Philemon and Onesimus. The answer was Paul. He was the occasion for harmony between the two. He commended Onesimus for his new character and service, and he reminded Philemon of his Christian responsibility. Further, he willingly offered to assume Onesimus’s indebtedness to heal the broken relationship. Christian fellowship involves participation in the lives of others. On one hand, it means that believers fully acknowledge the circumstances which made others the way they are. It includes a realization that God can change them. On the other hand, it involves a willingness to become involved in making others’ lives better. For Paul, that meant the risk of writing to Philemon. It could have meant financial loss and, potentially, the loss of a valued friendship with Philemon. Nevertheless, Paul knew he could encourage God’s work in both friends, and he acted accordingly. The epistle teaches practically what it means to be in Christ. Individualistic ideas and ambitions become secondary, and participation in the larger work of God becomes primary. Christians must forgive. They must hope for the best. They must treat others as Christ treated them and as they hope to be treated. Paul promised Philemon that if he did what he should he would have Onesimus as a brother in the flesh and in the Lord [16]. Both relationships matter, but the spiritual relationship lasts forever. The call to Christ is a call to join in a fellowship with other Christians. That fellowship appreciates all others who are in Christ.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.          What is the old self; the new self? When were they put off or laid aside? Why does Paul emphasize the importance of truth in this process?

 

2.          Even though we have put off the old self, we still have desires and actions that are characteristic of the old self. These “old self” actions need to be replaced by “new self” actions. List the five actions that Paul describes in Eph. 4:25-32. What do you learn about how a positive action must always replace a negative action?

 

3.          What does the situation between Paul, Philemon and Onesimus teach us about Christian fellowship? What can we learn from Paul concerning the handling of a broken relationship between two believers?

 

References:

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

Ephesians, Harold Hoehner, Baker.

Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Richard Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman.