Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
‘I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you have been called. With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love. Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’
Paul continues his theme of the oneness of the people of God. They have been called to be one in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; Ephesians 3:6). All history is devoted to their cause (Ephesians 1:3-12). Thus they must work worthily of this calling by ensuring that this unity in heart is maintained. Paul did not believe in some mystical means by which we ‘merge into the one’. He recognised a robust individualism by which each contributes to the whole. So they must work at unity, maintaining a right attitude of mind and heart.
‘I therefore the prisoner in the Lord.’ This may be seen as taking up where he left off in Ephesians 3:1. He is a prisoner on their behalf. Thus he has a right to make requests of them. But there is a difference in emphasis. There he was ‘the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles’. Here he is ‘the prisoner in the Lord.’ He may be referring to himself here as a prisoner, yet as not so much within a prison, which is secondary, but as imprisoned ‘in the Lord’. Thus he speaks directly as from Him.
‘Beg you.’ He does not presume, his heart is in his request. He is pleading with them as one who, imprisoned for their sakes, has the right to do so.
‘Walk worthily of the calling with which you were called.’ They have been called to oneness as they were caught up in that great process from Ephesians 1:3-10, let them then portray that oneness, made strong by the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14-21). The Christian walk is a continual one, to be maintained step by step, and they must ever keep in mind what they have been called to be with every step they take (see Colossians 1:10 - ‘pleasing in every way’).
‘With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.’ There is to be nothing abrasive about the Christian when dealing with his fellow-Christians. He is to be humble, self-effacing, enduring willingly for Christ’s sake while still firm (but not ungracious) for truth. Each is to be concerned for the other. They are to be concerned for each other’s welfare, for each other’s sensitivities, for each other’s feelings, in the same way that Jesus Himself was while on earth. How gently He chided, how sweetly He sought to guide, how regularly He said nothing when He might have torn His disciples to pieces. He Who had the right to command ministered humbly to His disciples. There were times when He had to rebuke but it was always with concern and the readiness to console, and never for His own aggrandisement.
‘Giving diligence to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ Unity does not just happen, it requires diligence. Like marriage it has to be worked at because we are such awkward creatures. Yet for the Christian there is the great assistance of the Spirit. He is the One Who invokes and seeks to maintain unity. As the One Spirit He combines us as one. And to do so He uses the bond of peace.
‘In the bond of peace.’ The word for ‘bond’ is sundesmos, a word which means ‘something that keeps together the whole’. And this bond is to be ‘peace’. Peace with God (Romans 5:1) and peace from God (Romans 1:7; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3), ever linked with His ‘grace’, and above all the peace of God ruling in the heart (Colossians 3:15; Philippians 4:7) will be the bond that will enable us to behave rightly towards each other. Lose that peace and we will begin to behave wrongly. Our source is in God.
Exhortation to Oneness (4:1-16).
Paul calls on them therefore now to be as one, and walk worthily of their calling.
‘There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.’
It may well be that this sevenfold list was regularly recited in some form in a recognised creed in Christian gatherings. It gives the impression of a repetitive statement.
‘One body.’ Paul now stresses that the oneness of His people is based on the oneness of the bases for their faith. Thus ‘one body’ is not just a bald statement, it has in mind the One body of our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified on the cross, in which we are united with Him in His death and resurrection (Ephesians 2:16). We are one body because we are united in the One body (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Romans 6:4-6), the body of His flesh through death (Colossians 1:21).
‘One Spirit.’ Compare Ephesians 2:18; 1 Corinthians 12:13. We are made alive, indwelt and sealed by the One Spirit. He is not divided and we too should not be. We should share His aims and purposes. How can we divide the One Spirit?
‘One hope of your calling.’ We have all been called by God and all share the same confident hope. Therefore, with our hope one, our aims should be one. For our calling is not only in relationship to ourselves it is in relationship to the whole of God’s people. We are together a part of His overall purpose.
‘One Lord.’ No overlord would be satisfied to have his armies bickering under his command. He wants them to be working together for the good of the whole. That is why coalitions do not work so well, there is not one overall lord. So our Lord also demands that we love one another and work together as one in loving obedience to Him.
‘One faith.’ Our faith is based on the testimony of Jesus Christ. We thus share the same faith on primary matters, the same essential teachings. These essential truths are important and were carefully guarded by the early church. Without them a man is not a Christian. So our oneness must be on the basis of basic Scriptural truth.
‘One baptism.’ All see in baptism the same essential truth of having received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:47). And see in that one baptism the outward symbol of being baptised in the Spirit into the body of Christ, into oneness with Him in His death and resurrection. Thus baptism should be expressing unity with all who have been baptised into Christ.
‘One God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in all.’ There is One Who is over all, the One from Whom every Fatherhood in Heaven and earth is named (Ephesians 3:14-15), Who is Father of all His children, Who works through them, and Who dwells with and in them by His Spirit (John 14:23). Thus are we all one family and should maintain family unity under His Fatherhood.
So each of the seven aspects of faith point to our oneness, which He desires will be the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The seven are divisible into three groups each of which centres on a member of the Godhead. The Spirit was the One Who effectually called us and implanted our hope within us, the Lord taught us our faith and supplies the Spirit testified to in baptism (John 14:16; John 15:26; John 16:7), the Father is over all. Compare 1 Corinthians 12 4-6 where there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit, diversities of ministrations but the same Lord, and diversities of workings but the same God Who works all things in all.
Other conjunctions are discernible. One body (first) with one Father (seventh). One Spirit (second) with one baptism (sixth). One hope (third) with one faith (fifth), with one Lord central.
‘Now to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.’
Having stressed the oneness Paul now stresses the individuality. ‘To each one of us.’ Every Christian has his part to play in the ministry of the church. It is a ‘gathering’ of living people acting in unity not a conglomerate mass. And each is given by grace some gracious gift to contribute towards the whole (1 Corinthians 12:28-30). This is measured out to us by Christ Himself. ‘The grace of God’ which was given to Paul was to be Apostle to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:2).
‘Which is why he says, ‘When he ascended on high he led captivity (or ‘prisoners of war’) captive and gave gifts to men.’
‘He says.’ Some see this as meaning simply ‘it is said’. But there are good grounds in seeing this as demonstrating Paul’s view that the Scriptures were the voice of God (a view certainly taken by the Jewish theologian Philo).
The words are a quotation from Psalms 68:18, but there the Massoretic text reads, ‘You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive, you have received gifts among men.’ However the Aramaic Targum (Rabbinic commentary) on the book of Psalms and the Syriac Peshitta ( Old Testament in Syriac) both read ‘you have given gifts to men’ which suggests either a translation from a Hebrew text which contained these words, which was also clearly known to Paul, or an authentic oral tradition. He Who received gifts also gave them. The receiving of tribute by a great conquering king would regularly be accompanied by a giving of gifts to those who had served him faithfully.
So the picture is of a conquering lord leading prisoners of war captive and receiving tribute, and giving from the tribute to those who had proved faithful, and this is clearly the basis for the alternative rendering which is cited from some source. So Paul has in mind here the triumph of Christ on the cross, defeating the powers of the Enemy (Colossians 2:15) and giving gifts to His faithful people. The source of our gifts is the triumph of the great Giver.
‘Now this “he ascended”, what does it indicate but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth.’
Paul then takes the opportunity for a small digression in order to exalt Christ. He points out that for this Giver to have ascended there must first have been a descent, for the Psalmist was speaking of God. ‘The lower parts of the earth’ may simply indicate human birth (see Psalms 139:15 where it may mean the womb or the Adamic birth from the dust of the ground) or the ground, possibly but not necessarily with some element of humiliation (Isaiah 44:23; Psalms 71:20), and it would seem that Paul has in mind the incarnation. He is basically saying, ‘He Who was God descended’. Some however would see it as meaning His descent into the grave (Psalms 63:9). There are no grounds here for suggesting that the raising of men from Hades is meant. Such a suggestion is pure speculation.
‘He who descended is the same also who ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things.’
But having descended He then ascended far above all the heavens (compare Ephesians 1:20-21) with the purpose of ‘filling all things’. In other words that He may become Lord of all. We can compare with these thoughts Philippians 2:5-11, where He Who humbled Himself and became man and suffered the death on the cross, was highly exalted and given the name above every name, with all confessing Him as Lord.
‘And he gave some Apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of serving, unto the building up of the body of Christ.’
Having ascended on high Jesus now gave His gifts to men. The gifts are interesting in illustrating early ministry. 1 Corinthians 12:28 mentions Apostles, prophets and teachers. It may be that wider outreach into country districts called for evangelists (‘Gospellers’) and the need was appreciated for sub-shepherds to the flock. The purpose of these ministries was in order to ‘perfect the people of God’ so that they in turn could build up others. ‘Pastors and teachers’ may reflect a joint office as ‘teachers’ has no definite article in contrast with the remainder. Good and sound servants of God are God’s special gift to His people in contrast with those described in 1 Corinthians 12:14.
‘Perfecting.’ The verb can be used of setting fractures and mending tears in garments and the idea may therefore be of restoring what was previously spoiled. But it may mean here ‘equipping’.
‘Unto the work of serving.’ Diakonios means service, and spiritual ministry in that sense. God’s purpose in equipping His people is that they might engage in service.
‘The building up or edifying of the body of Christ.’ The latter phrase looks back to the idea of Christ dying in His body of flesh, with which we are united when we come to Him by faith, dying along with Him and rising with Him. We too rise as He rises and conjoined with Him we are therefore His body needing to be built up and made strong. This then led on to the idea of the body having many members, each playing its part in the building up of the whole.
The mention of the body of Christ here suggests Paul has in mind his teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 where the same gifts are similarly related to the body of Christ. The picture of a body with many members (which body ‘is Christ’ - 1 Corinthians 12:12) was seen as well describing the numerous activities within the church, contributing to the whole. ‘Building up.’ The word is regularly used metaphorically to signify growth in the spiritual life so that the idea of literal building fades into the background. But there may be some reference back to Ephesians 2:20-22 and the thought of the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
‘Until we all attain unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’
The final aim is that we may attain to that unity to which he has earlier exhorted us (Ephesians 4:3) and to a deeper understanding and knowledge of the Son of God (compare Romans 1:4). And as we grow to a deeper knowledge of Him we become no longer babes but full grown men. The unity of faith is in respect of essential doctrine such as the true divinity of Christ and His work of redemption, not secondary matters.
‘Into a full-grown man.’ Believing Jews and Gentiles form ‘one new man’ (Ephesians 2:15). (Illustrative and not to be overpressed). This picture is linked with our oneness in Christ in the body. The full-grown man can thus be seen as Christ and His people growing as one into total Christ-likeness and perfect unity. This twofold strand runs through all Paul’s teaching. The one and the many. He stresses both individual responsibility and corporate oneness.
But this verse could easily be intended as such a contrast, for he may mean that each of us is to grow into a full-grown man, each achieving the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (1 John 3:2).
‘To the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’ In the Christian sense to become a full grown man involves exactly this, reaching the level of the fullness of Christ, becoming like Him (1 John 3:2).
‘Stature (or maturity).’ So translated of Zacchaeus who was ‘small of stature’ (Luke 19:3), and in a number of other extra-Biblical occurrences. However the word later predominantly means ‘time of life, age’ and can mean to be ‘of age’, thus it may here refer to maturity of age.
‘The pleroma of Christ.’ In the Gospels the word pleroma was used of the sufficiency of fragments which filled several baskets after the feeding (Mark 8:20). The word denotes entirety of content and is applied by Philo to the animals housed in Noah’s ark. It is also used of a ship’s complement. Thus it means that which is full and perfectly complete. Compare ‘the fullness of God’ (Ephesians 3:19). See also on Ephesians 1:23.
‘That we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men in craftiness after the wiles of error.’
The result of being full grown in this way will be freedom from being led astray by false teaching because we are no longer children. The picture of children in understanding as being like leaves blown around by different winds of doctrine is vivid. Is this wind ‘the power of the air’? It is tempting to think so. Certainly it is the work of the Prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). And he is working through clever men who like conjurors deceive the mind and lead into error. Behind the words is a warning against such people. And a warning not to be too easily swayed by clever preachers. Those who seek every new thing will soon be caught up in the wiles of error.
‘Carried about.’ Peripheromai - ‘to carry about, carry here and there.’
‘By the sleight of men.’ Kubeia - ‘dice playing’, therefore by the clever movements of men’s hands.
‘But speaking truth in love may grow up in all things into him who is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of every part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.’
We need to recognise here that Christ is both Head and body. He is the Head because He is Head over all things (Ephesians 1:22) and especially of His church (Ephesians 5:23). And He is also the body (Ephesians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17). For we are only the body because we have been united as one with Him in spirit in His spiritual body, in His death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:10).
Some have this the wrong way round. They see the Head as in Heaven and the church His body on the earth. But this is not Paul’s teaching. He has taught that both Head and body are in heavenly places. Christ’s body in Heaven and the body on earth are one body in heavenly places, in the spiritual realm. Paul never loses sight of the fact that we are one with Him in His body (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). This is why he can say ‘Christ’ when we expect him to say ‘the church’ (1 Corinthians 12:12). This is what Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:10 teaches us.
‘But speaking truth in love.’ Literally ‘truthing it in love’. It can refer to both words and actions. This is the result of true growth in Christ, truth spoken and truth lived from a heart of love. This then contributes to our growth into Him Who is the Head for He is the Truth (John 14:6). When we stray from this we hinder our own growth. Note the contrast with falsehood taught from the heart of deceit (John 14:14). Yet what seems a loving heart can be deceitful, for men easily deceive themselves. We need to ensure that what we hear is the truth and this can only be by comparison with the whole word of God. And if someone introduces ‘a new thing’ we need to doubly beware.
‘May grow up in all things into Him who is the Head, even Christ.’ The consequence of speaking truth in love will be that we grow up ‘in all things’ into Him Who is the Head i.e. the One Who is Head over ‘all things’ (Ephesians 1:22), the sovereign King of the universe. We grow up into our glorious heritage which we will share with Him.
‘Even Christ.’ This intervenes between ‘the Head’ and the next statement. He does not want ‘the Head’ too closely linked with the idea of the body lest a mistaken impression be gained. He does not want us to see Christ as the head in contrast with the church as the body (see Appendix). Thus what follows relates to Christ as the body rather than as the Head, although closely linked to His Headship (when the ancients thought of the body being directed it was by the heart or the ‘inner parts (bowels)’, not by the head).
‘Even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of every part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.’ Through the guidance and direction of Christ, and in union with Him, those who are united with Him in His body grow together, becoming joined in love, perfectly fitted together, with each part working together with the remainder and fulfilling its responsibility towards the whole. Thus the body grows, building itself up in love.
Exhortation to Righteous Living (4:17-32).
‘This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind. Being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart.
The fact that they are intended to grow into a full-grown man involves their lives being in total contrast to those of others, especially their fellow-Gentiles. They are to no longer walk astheywalk. What the state of the Gentiles in general is, is then laid out. Their mind is vain, their understanding is darkened, their hearts are hardened. Thus they are alienated from the life of God.
‘In the vanity of their mind.’ The mind here is mainly the moral thought and attitude combined with the spiritual thought (compare ‘the mind of the flesh’ (Romans 8:6), the mind controlled by the flesh). In men generally this is ‘vain, empty, purposeless’. The word mataiotes means ‘emptiness, futility, purposelessness, transitoriness’. It is going nowhere and has no end in view. Such men’s lives are futile.
‘Being darkened in their understanding.’ They are lost in the dark, and their minds are in darkness. Things always look different in the dark so that what in the light would be seen as tawdry and unacceptable, in darkness seems acceptable. This was the condition of the Gentiles. But it is not because they could not know. It is because they ‘hold down the truth in unrighteousness’ and refuse to accept God’s light through nature. It is because ‘they became vain in their reasonings and their ‘senseless heart was darkened’ (Romans 1:18-21). Thus they turn away from the light of the world and walk in darkness and do not know where they are going (see John 12:35; John 8:12; 1 John 1:6).
‘Alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them because of the hardening of their hearts.’ It is hardened hearts, not ignorance, that is their real problem. They close their minds to the truth about God because they do not want to face up to His demands. They prefer the desires of the flesh. Thus they have no part in life from God. They are totally separated from Him and completely alienated. And this despite the fact that many were ‘very religious’. But their religion was not a light, it was only darkness. Their thoughts were futile, their minds were in darkness, they were alienated from God. What a dreadful condition they were, and are, in.
Notice the two sides to their condition. Their minds are darkened, by the god of this world ‘lest the light of the good news of the glory of Christ shine on them’ (2 Corinthians 4:4), and they are alienated from the life of God, and thus strangers to Him.
‘Hardening.’ Porosis, ‘obstinacy, dullness, insensibility’.
‘Who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.’
Their desire for fleshly pleasures having deadened their feelings they gave themselves up to every kind of vice. They have become callous and their lives were epitomised by sexual misbehaviour and covetousness, avarice, greed and envy. They have ceased to care.
‘But you did not so learn Christ.’
This is one of Paul’s ‘buts’ (compare Ephesians 2:4). It heralds a reference to a life transforming change. This kind of behaviour was not the kind that they had been taught about by those who brought Christ to them. They had been taught that their meeting up with Christ was life transforming. It demanded a new way of life. Others were teaching that it was good to do as you liked and so show you were free. But Paul insists that that is abhorrent to Christ, as His own teaching, known to the churches, makes clear.
‘If so be that you heard him, and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxes corrupt after the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which after God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.’
If they had really heard His words as taught through witnesses, and had been taught about Him and His life, for what He brought was the truth, then they have will been shown that they should put away what they previously were, the ‘old man’, with all its deceitful desires, and, being renewed in the spirit of their mind, should put on the new man, that man into which they had been changed, created within them by God in righteousness and true holiness. They will be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
‘If so be that you heard Him and were taught in Him.’ We are reminded here of our own great privileges. These men had no Gospels to read so as to learn the truth about Jesus. They were dependent on eyewitnesses and the passing on of tradition. And some may not have had much opportunity to hear such. So Paul makes allowance for the fact that some are in that position.
‘As the truth is in Jesus.’ The tradition of His life and teaching was very important. It was ‘the testimony of Jesus’ (Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 19:10 compare 1 Corinthians 1:6) and amplified and expanded on the Old Testament teachings. It revealed the One Who brought the fullness of truth and indeed Who was the truth (John 14:6).
‘That you put away, as concerning the old manner of life, the old man.’ Their old ways must be put away. There was still that within them which had been brought up in the old ways, and which even hankered after the old ways. Some take longer to throw them off than others. This is ‘the old man’. The man that they were. And he must be put aside, taken off like an unwanted suit of clothes. Examples of what must be put aside are given in John 14:25-31 and in the parallel passage in Colossians 3:5-9.
‘Which waxes corrupt after the lusts of deceit (deceitful lusts).’ The behaviour of this old man engages continually in what is corrupt following deceitful desires (‘the lusts of deceit’ is probably a Hebraism for ‘deceitful lusts’, lusts springing from deceit - Hebrew regularly uses genitives instead of adjectives). He is to be locked away in the wardrobe! The verb is aorist indicating something that should be done once for all.
‘And that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.’ Literally ‘to go on being renewed’. They are to daily submit to the working of the Spirit and of the risen Christ, so that the renewing process may go on.
‘And put on the new man.’ They are to dress themselves with the new man, again aorist, once for all. This is to be a once for all decision to put off the old and put on the new. They must then seek the daily renewing by the Holy Spirit. This compares very closely with the comparison between following the desires of the flesh of the desires of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-7; Galatians 5:16-17). The Christian life is never negative, there must not just be a renunciation of the bad but a positive commitment towards the good.
‘Which after God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.’ The new man is patterned on God and has been created in His likeness in ‘righteousness and holiness of truth’. ‘Holiness of truth’ is a Hebraism meaning ‘true holiness’ similar to and in opposition to ‘the lusts of deceit’ (Galatians 5:22). When they received Christ and the Holy Spirit they received righteousness and true holiness as ‘new men’. They are thus seen by God as righteous and holy. But this righteousness and holiness must reveal itself in their lives. Righteousness indicates the behaviour expected towards God and man, holiness the setting apart to God and His will. The word for ‘new’ is kainos indicating freshness.
‘Wherefore, putting away falsehood, each one of you speak truth with his neighbour, for we are members of one another.
The first test of whether we know the truth and have put on the new man is that we are truthful, especially with fellow-Christians, for ‘we are members one of another’. To sin by falsehood is to sin against one’s own body, and that is how we will feel if our hearts are right. What a stringent test is this. If there is deceit among us, if there is exaggeration, if there is innuendo, then we are not of the truth. We have given place to the Devil. Can someone be certain that if we say something is so, it really is? Can they rely on our simple word? Jesus said ‘let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no’ be no, for whatever is more than these is of the Evil One’ (Matthew 5:37). So can they rely on what we say whatever it may be? Do they know that we will die rather than break our word? Truthfulness and trustworthiness are shining lights in a dark world, and the Christian is to shine as a light in the world (Matthew 5:16).
The Psalmist describes the one who is fit to dwell in the Lord’s presence as, “He who walks uprightly and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He who does not slander with his tongue, nor do evil to his friend, nor take up a reproach against his neighbour ---he who swears to his own hurt, and does not change’ (Psalms 15:2-4). To God our openness and honesty, reliability and truthfulness are very important. In contrast falsehood is a characteristic of man around the world. Bribery, corruption and deceit are everywhere prevalent. To the Oriental the saving of face is more important than the truth. In the Middle East bribery is a way of life. It is only where Christianity prevailed that a man’s word could once be trusted. Yet those days are sadly going as commitment to Christ declines. But the Bible says, ‘Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truly are His delight’ (Proverbs 12:22).
‘Be angry, and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your angry mood. Neither give place to the Devil.’
The first phrase is taken from the LXX of Psalms 4:5. It recognises that anger in itself is not necessarily wrong. Indeed it tells us that we need to be angry if the cause is good. But it is a command that when we are angry we ensure it is short lasting and does not make us do wrong. The man who is too angry is least likely to make the right decisions.
At times anger against sin and wrongdoing is justified, and must be approved of, but not if it results in our behaving wrongly and failing to reveal the love of Christ. Nor if it festers in our hearts and minds. What we call ‘righteous anger’ is often extremely unrighteous and self-defensive, and can reveal that the old man is still very much alive. As Paul says, we must be very careful, for wrongful anger gives a foothold to the Devil. We must bolt the door against him, for, as a Spanish proverb says, ‘from the fast-bolted door the Devil turns away’.
We can compare incidents in the life of Moses. He had every right to be angry with the constant failure and unbelief of the children of Israel, but he had no right to break the tablets written on by the finger of God (Exodus 32:19) and even less right to strike the rock twice in anger. The first was forgiven but the second blighted his future (Numbers 20:11-12).
‘Let him who stole steal no more, but rather let him work hard, working with his hands what is good, that he may have the means to give to the one who is in need.’
The Christian must ensure that his hands work what is good and not what is evil, and the motive of his life should be the blessing of others not the furtherance of his own wealth.
Paul here hits at the root of theft. People do not steal so that they can help others, they do it because they have themselves very much in mind (we must except here such as a mother in extreme poverty who steals for her starving children because she can obtain food in no other way). Theft is the fruit of covetousness (see the total condemnation of the latter in Ephesians 5:3; Ephesians 5:5-6). Once a Christian has put on the new man such attitudes will have gone. His concern will not be for himself but for others, the property owner as well as the needy. Thus for the Christian theft can never be right. As a general principle the theft of someone else’s property, obtained by them in accordance with the customs of their society, is to be condemned and is here forbidden.
Yet theft is a part of everyday life today. The stolen phone call and stationery, taking advantage of the weakness of the system, overclaiming on expenses, ‘the sick day’ taken when there is really little wrong, accepting the ‘sweetener’, these are thought of as clever rather than frowned on. But all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do and all will be called to account at the last great reckoning. And they are forbidden to Christians.
‘4:29 ‘Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear.’
‘Corrupt speech’ is foul, degraded or dirty speech and ribald innuendo. This should never issue from a Christian mouth. Rather the Christian’s words should always be positive and helpful in building up others. The Christian should always be on the watch for how they can lighten another’s load, make them feel good or give them positive strength in their lives. He is not just called to witness to them. Indeed more action and less words might well make the witness of some more effective. He should be concerned to reveal active, unmerited love in all his words so that through them others are blessed. For every idle word a man shall speak he shall give account thereof in the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36).
We note from all this that Paul does not just look at sin negatively. He is comparing the old and the new man (Matthew 12:24). He constantly has positive goodness in mind. The new man will speak truth, the old man falsehood, the new man will be rightly angry when the cause is right but the old man would let their anger take control, the new man will work hard so as to be able to help others rather being like the old man who avoids work and steals, and now the new man will speak what benefits others rather than be like the old man who hurts, upsets and deceives them. For then he knows that he will not grieve God.
This contrast between the old and the new man must not be over-stressed as suggesting two separate entities. Each of us is only one man, we choose which will have control, ‘the man that I was’ or ‘the man that I am now’.
‘And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption.’
The word for grieve may be rendered ‘make sorry, fill with regret’. That the Holy Spirit can be grieved emphasises His personality and the depths of God’s concern for His people. The fact of His grief over sin here contrasts with His wrath against sin in those who refuse to respond to the light. His people have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in readiness for the coming day of final deliverance, and He is now at work in perfecting them, and their failure to respond therefore grieves Him but does not incur His wrath, because if they are His they will in the end submit to His will. But we must beware of complacency, for as Paul will shortly remind us, ‘Because of these things the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 5:6).
‘Until the day of redemption.’ Compare Romans 8:23. This is the day when sin will finally be dealt with, when Jesus Christ will come to deliver His own and call men into judgment, and creation will be ‘restored’, the day made possible through the redeeming death of Christ.
‘Let all bitterness and wrath, and anger and clamour, and railing, be put away from you with all malice, and you be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.’
Paul now sums up this section by including further things to be avoided, the signs of the old man. ‘the man that they were’, and by directing them to reveal the new man, ‘the man that they now are’.
The signs of the old man are bitterness (pikria - bitterness, animosity, harshness, tartness of speech), wrath (thumos - anger, passion, rage, touchiness), anger (orge - indignation, wrath), clamour (krauge - shouting clamour, here arising from passion), railing (blasphemia - evil speaking, blasphemy). All these describe loss of the self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit.
In contrast the signs of the new man are kindness, consideration for others, tender-heartedness, a forgiving spirit, a positive life of self-giving. And we are to be like this in the light of the fact that God, for Christ’s sake, forgave us and because we are now ‘in Him’. As Jesus said with regard to the prayer He taught His disciples, ‘if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses’ (Matthew 6:15). Those who have been pardoned must not themselves regularly be finding fault.
‘Even as God also in Christ forgave you.’ With Paul everything in the end comes back to the cross. There we died with Christ, and there the old man was put to death. It is because we have been given hope that we must give others hope. And God in Christ forgave us so that we must be willing to forgive others. In this we are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1).
Sunday, March 26th, 2017
the Fourth Sunday of Lent
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