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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 4

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

"Therefore" or "then" refers to what Paul had said in chapters 1-3. To walk worthily or in balance means to harmonize one’s conduct with his or her calling. Calling here refers to God’s calling to live in unity as Jews and Gentiles in the church (Ephesians 2:13-16). To walk worthily then would involve behaving in a united way, living in unity with Jewish brethren if one is a Gentile or vice versa in the church. By referring to himself as the Lord’s prisoner again (Ephesians 3:1), Paul reminded his readers of his authority to urge them to live this way. He was in prison because he had followed God’s will faithfully.

Verses 1-6

The basis of unity 4:1-6

Verses 1-9

A. Spiritual walk 4:1-6:9

Paul had explained the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in the church and had prayed for the realization of that unity in experience (Ephesians 2:11 to Ephesians 3:21). He now told how to attain a spiritual walk, namely, a life that manifests the Holy Spirit’s control.

"The key word in this last half of the book is walk (Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:2; Ephesians 5:8; Ephesians 5:15), while the key idea in the first half is wealth." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:34.]

Verses 1-16

1. Walking in unity 4:1-16

The apostle began by stressing the importance of walking (or living) in unity. This is one of two classic New Testament passages on unity, the other being John 17. God will not enforce unity in answer to prayer. Believers have a responsibility to obey Him as well.

"Instruction, intercession and exhortation constitute a formidable trio of weapons in any Christian teacher’s armoury." [Note: Stott, p. 146.]

Charity, unity, diversity, and maturity are the key concepts in this section.

Verses 1-20


Practical application (chs. 4-6) now follows doctrinal instruction (chs. 1-3).

"Now the apostle moves on from the new society to the new standards which are expected of it. So he turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative), to what we must be and do (in the imperative), from doctrine to duty, . . . from mind-stretching theology to its down-to-earth, concrete implications in everyday living." [Note: Stott, p. 146.]

Verse 2

Three virtues contribute to unity in the church. Humility is a proper assessment of oneself in God’s program.

"To face oneself is the most humiliating thing in the world." [Note: Barclay, p. 159.]

A humble Jew or Gentile would regard his ethnic counterpart as equal with himself, not as inferior or superior to himself. Gentleness is the opposite of self-assertion. A gentle person is one whose emotions are under control.

". . . meekness is a virtue of the strong, those who could exert force to get their own way but choose not to." [Note: Morris, p. 114.]

Meekness is "the absence of the disposition to assert personal rights, either in the presence of God or of men." [Note: G. G. Findlay, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, p. 265.]

Patience is endurance even under affliction. When wronged, the patient person does not retaliate (cf. Galatians 5:22; Colossians 1:11; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:2).

"Makrothumia, patience, long-suffering is the spirit which bears insult and injury without bitterness and without complaint. It is the spirit which bears the sheer foolishness of men without irritation. It is the spirit which can suffer unpleasant people with graciousness and fools without complaint." [Note: Barcley, p. 163-64.]

Believers should practice all these virtues with loving forbearance toward one another (cf. Romans 2:4).

Verse 3

Christians must preserve the unity between believers that God has created in the church. Paul viewed peace as what keeps potential factions together. He had in mind peace between all kinds of diverse groups in the church, the most basic being Jews and Gentiles.

Verse 4

Seven elements of unity follow that unite believers in the church. Believers should remember them when tempted to break unity. Again all three members of the Trinity are in view and play a part in this process.

"Paul now gives the basis [for unity] by explaining in more detail how elements of the Christian faith revolve around the three persons of the Trinity. Unity is stressed by the sevenfold use of ’one’ (eis, mia, en)." [Note: Hoehner, Ephesians, p. 513.]

The one body is the church, the universal body of believers in the present age (Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 2:16; Ephesians 3:6). The one Spirit is the Holy Spirit who indwells the church as a whole and every individual believer in the church (Ephesians 2:22; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The one hope is the hope of the future that each Christian has and the whole church has (cf. 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 3:15). This hope began when God called us to salvation (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 4:1). These identifications seem clear from their occurrences elsewhere in the epistle.

Verse 5

The one Lord is Jesus Christ, the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). The one faith is probably the faith that each Christian and the whole church have in Christ rather than Christianity viewed as a faith (cf. Colossians 2:7). This identification unites faith with Christ in the context (Ephesians 2:8).

The one baptism may be the baptism that unites all believers in the body of Christ. This is Spirit baptism, which water baptism symbolizes. Both kinds of baptism were probably in Paul’s mind. [Note: Morris, p. 119.] However baptism falls in the second triad of elements that relate to Christ rather than to the first that relate to the Spirit in this verse. Therefore it probably refers to water rather than to Spirit baptism. Another possibility is that it refers metaphorically to the believer’s baptism into Christ’s death. In this case the "one baptism" would refer to the internal reality of having been baptized into (identified with) the "one Lord" by means of the "one faith." [Note: Hoehner, Ephesians, p. 518.]

Verse 6

"All" refers to all believers. God is the Father of all believers, who are His children. He is over them in the sense of being their sovereign. He lives through them and manifests Himself in them.

Evidently Paul began this list of seven elements of unity with the Spirit’s work because he had been speaking of the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). He then proceeded to discuss the gifts of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:7-13; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

"The unity of the church is due to charis, God’s grace having reconciled us to himself; but the diversity of the church is due to charismata, God’s gifts distributed to church members." [Note: Stott, pp. 155-56.]

Verse 7

Whereas each believer has received grace (unmerited favor and divine enablement) from God (Ephesians 3:2), God does not give each Christian the same measure of grace. Paul spoke of God’s gift of grace here as ability to serve God. Though Jews and Gentiles both receive enabling grace from God, God gives this ability to different individuals differently (cf. Ephesians 4:11; Romans 12:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). [Note: For defense of the view that spiritual gifts are ministries rather than abilities, see Kenneth Berding, "Confusing Word and Concept in ’Spiritual Gifts’: Have We Forgotten James Barr’s Exhortations?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:1 (March 2000):37-51.]

"Gifts are not toys to play with. They are tools to build with. And if they are not used in love, they become weapons to fight with . . . (1 Corinthians 12-14)." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:37.]

Verses 7-16

The preservation of unity 4:7-16

Having described the basis of Christian unity Paul next explained the means by which Christians can preserve it, namely, with the gifts that the Spirit gives.

Verse 8

Paul’s paraphrase of Psalms 68:18 confirms his statement that God gives gifts to people. A military victor has the right to give gifts to those identified with him. Christ, the victor over sinful people, has the right to give those people to the church as gifts. [Note: Who the captives were seems to have been of less interest to Paul than the fact that Christ won a great victory (Morris, pp. 123-24).] In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 Paul spoke of gifts given to people (cf. Ephesians 4:7), but here he spoke of people given to the church as gifts.

"Some have alleged that Paul erred in his citation from Psalms 68:18 on at least two counts: (1) he altered the verb of the psalm from ’received’ to ’gave,’ thus reversing its meaning, and (2) he gave an interpretation to the Old Testament passage that is unwarranted. With regard to the first point, the origin of the reading ’gave’ is not to be found in Ephesians 4:8. Rather, this is a variant reading for Psalms 68:18 that has an ancient pedigree, as may be seen by its presence in both the Aramaic Targum and the Syriac Peshitta. However, Paul was not necessarily quoting with one of these sources in mind; the reading probably had a history not limited to its appearance in these particular sources. It was apparently a variant reading that was well known, especially within Jewish rabbinic circles. Furthermore, Paul must be permitted some latitude in his citation. His purpose was not to provide a formal and exact representation of the Old Testament phraseology, but rather to expound and apply the passage to the work of Christ as Lord of the church. That the apostle used a variant reading of the psalm should not in itself be overly surprising.

"Regarding the second point, it seems clear that Paul used an analogical patterning of Old Testament teaching within the New Testament context. This was common among New Testament writers. Such a practice does not obviate the Old Testament contextual setting, nor does it purport to provide the only fulfillment of the Old Testament passage. When Matthew, for example, related Hosea 11:1 (’Out of Egypt have I called My son’) to the flight of the holy family, he did not thereby deny that Hosea 11:1 refers to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. He simply drew an analogy between the two events. Likewise in Ephesians 4:8 the application of Psalms 68:18 to Jesus as the bestower of gifts for ministry within the church does not eliminate or contradict the Old Testament application of the words to the victorious Israelite King. In keeping with common Midrash pesher techniques, but in a way that avoids the excesses to which the method was pushed by some nonbiblical writers, Paul made a valid application of Christological significance to the Old Testament passage. On the one hand, according to Psalms 68:18, God ascended Zion as a victorious king worthy of being the recipient of gifts of homage. On the other hand, according to Ephesians 4:8, Jesus also ascended to the heavenly Zion as the victorious Lord who lovingly bestowed on His church the gifts of ministry essential to her future well-being. The one passage provides the pattern for the other." [Note: Richard A. Taylor, "The Use of Psalms 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8 in Light of the Ancient Versions," Bibliotheca Sacra 148:591 (July-September 1991):335-36.]

A slightly different interpretation follows.

". . . Paul apparently followed the Jewish interpretation of the day (the Targum), which paraphrased this verse as follows: ’You did ascend to the firmament, O Prophet Moses! You led captivity captive; you taught the words of the Law; you gave [not ’received,’ as in the Heb.] gifts to the sons of men.’ (This interpretation saw Moses as God’s representative.) Paul followed this Jewish exegesis because it explained that the conqueror distributed the gifts to His loyal subjects. The apostle applied that idea to Christ’s victory over the forces of evil and His granting spiritual gifts (cf. Ephesians 4:11) to those on His side. By this analogy (based more on the Jewish interpretation of the psalm than on the exact Heb. wording) Paul emphasized the greatness of believers’ spiritual victory in Christ." [Note: Allen P. Ross, "Psalms," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 843.]

Verse 9

In Ephesians 4:9-11 Paul commented on the meaning of "ascended" and "gave" in his citation.

For Christ to have ascended to heaven He first had to descend to "the lower parts of the earth." This is probably a reference to Jesus’ grave (genitive of possession) [Note: Hoehner, "Ephesians," p. 634; Simpson, p. 92.] rather than to the earth (genitive of apposition) [Note: John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, pp. 293-95; Abbott, pp. 115-16; A. T. Lincoln, Ephesians, pp. 242-48; W. Hall Harris III, "The Ascent and Descent of Christ in Ephesians 4:9-10," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:602 (April-June 1994):198-214; Robertson, 4:536; Martin, p. 1310.] or to Hades (genitive of comparison) [Note: Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians to the Ephesians and to the Philippians, pp. 521-22.] in view of the context. In His death Jesus Christ gained the victory over sin, and He redeemed those whom He would give as gifts to the church.

Verse 10

Paul identified the descended Christ with the ascended Christ who now is in position to rule over all (cf. Ephesians 1:22). He fills all things with His fullness (cf. Colossians 1:18-19; Colossians 2:9; Proverbs 30:4).

Verse 11

This verse explains "gave" (Ephesians 4:8) and begins a sentence that runs through Ephesians 4:16 in the Greek text.

After Jesus Christ ascended, He gave, as victor over death, gifts to the church that enabled it to function. This order of events is in harmony with the revelation that the church is a new entity that came into existence after Jesus’ ascension. [Note: See Fruchtenbaum, p. 117.]

Christ gave gifted people to the church as gifts to the church. He gave some individuals to be apostles in the church. "Apostle" means someone sent as an authoritative delegate. Twelve men plus Paul were official apostles who had seen the risen Christ and had received personal appointment from Him (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9; Galatians 1:1; Galatians 2:6-9). However there were other men who, while not apostles in this limited sense, functioned as apostles. The New Testament writers called them apostles too (1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19; Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14; 1 Corinthians 9:6; Romans 16:7; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 4:9). The duty of the apostles was to establish the church and the churches (Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5). The word apostolos also describes any servant who is sent by his master on any mission (John 13:16). "Missionary" is a modern equivalent term. It is probably according to their spiritual gifts rather than their offices that Paul was thinking of these individuals. [Note: Foulkes, p. 117.]

New Testament prophets (Gr. prophetes, one who speaks forth) provided edification, exhortation, and comfort to the church (1 Corinthians 14:3). Some of them conveyed new authoritative revelation to the church (Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5; Acts 11:28; Acts 21:10-11). Much of this is the revelation that we have in our New Testament books. Most of the prophets, however, simply "spoke forth" truth that God had previously revealed (cf. Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Corinthians 14:26-33). [Note: See John E. Johnson, "The Old Testament Offices as Paradigm for Pastoral Identity," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:606 (April-June 1995):182-200.] Prophets also led in worship of God, including leading in public prayer (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Corinthians 11:5). This aspect of prophesying was regarded as a less authoritative function in the church than teaching, since a teacher interpreted the written Word of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Timothy 2:12).

"Christians today do not get their spiritual knowledge immediately from the Holy Spirit, but mediately through the spirit teaching the Word." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:37.]

Evangelists preached the gospel both at home and abroad (Acts 21:8; Acts 8:6-40; 2 Timothy 4:5). Paul did not identify these people as foundational to the church as he did the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Nevertheless their ministry was and is essential. They equipped people to minister (Ephesians 4:12-13) at least by leading them to faith in Christ.

We might better translate the Greek phrase rendered "pastors and teachers" as "pastor-teachers." The Greek construction suggests that one kind rather than two kinds of people is in view. The Greek article translated "the" occurs only before "pastor." Moreover the Greek conjunction translated "and" between "pastors" and "teachers" is different from the one used elsewhere in the verse (kai rather than de). However, the Greek construction may describe two types of gifted people whose ministries are among settled congregations in contrast to the itinerant ministries of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Probably the phrase describes the overseers of local churches who pastor and teach (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 5:1-3).

". . . because the nouns ["pastor" and "teacher"] are plural, it is extremely unlikely that they refer to the same group, but only that the apostle Paul is linking them closely together. It is better to regard the pastors as a subset of teachers. In other words, all pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are pastors." [Note: The NET Bible note on 4:11.]

"In 1 Corinthians 12:8-28) the Holy Spirit is seen as enduing the members of the body of Christ with spiritual gifts, or enablements for a varied service; here certain Spirit-endued men, i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are themselves the gifts whom the glorified Christ bestows upon His body, the church. In 1 Corinthians, the gifts are spiritual enablements for specific service; in Ephesians, the gifts are people who have such enablements." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1276.]

Verse 12

The purpose of all these gifted leaders is to prepare the rest of the saints to minister and so build up the body of Christ, the church. "Equipping" (Gr. katartismon) means preparing, mending, or restoring people to their proper use (Galatians 6:1; cf. Matthew 4:21; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Hebrews 13:21). The role of these leaders is to minister the Word to the saints in the church so the saints can minister the Word in the world (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). All the saints should participate in service, not just the leaders. One writer cautioned against viewing only the leaders as doing equipping ministry. [Note: T. David Gordon, "’Equipping’ Ministry in Ephesians 4," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:1 (March 1994):69-78.] Every Christian has a gift or gifts with which he or she can and should serve (Ephesians 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10).

Verse 13

The end in view is completeness in Christ. As each believer exercises the gifts (abilities God has given him or her, Ephesians 4:7), three things happen. First, the body enjoys unity (Ephesians 4:3-6). Second, it becomes more spiritually mature (Ephesians 4:15). Third, it becomes more Christ-like (cf. Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:19). Unity of the faith (cf. Ephesians 4:5), full knowledge (cf. Ephesians 1:17), and maturity constitute the three-fold goal in view. This equals the fullness of Christ.

"God is not trying to produce successful Christian business people who can impress the world with their money and influence. He is not trying to fashion successful church leaders who can influence people with their organizational and administrative skills. Nor is He trying to fashion great orators who can move people with persuasive words. He wants to reproduce in His followers the character of His son-His love, His kindness, His compassion, His holiness, His humility, His unselfishness, His servant attitude, His willingness to suffer wrongfully, His ability to forgive, and so much more that characterized His life on earth." [Note: Richard L. Strauss, "Like Christ: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:13," Bibliotheca Sacra 143:571 (July-September 1986):264.]

Verse 14

One result of gifted people equipping the saints to serve the Lord and others is that believers may be stable in their faith. Infants are easily swayed and confused, as waves blown by the wind. False teachers create such winds, sometimes with hurricane or tornado force, by their teaching and seek to trick people into following them.

Verse 15

Another result is that believers can maintain truth in love in both speech and conduct. Paul contrasted the deception of heresy with the integrity of the gospel.

"This fundamental concern for the truth is the secret of maturity in the church." [Note: Wood, p. 59.]

The church that stresses both the truth and love will produce spiritually mature, Christ-like believers.

Loving, effective confrontation involves speaking the truth in love. The truth may be as medicine to the person who needs it, but love is the sugar that, added to the medicine, makes it palatable. Remember Mary Poppins’ prescription: "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down."

Verse 16

Jesus Christ is both the One into whom we grow (Ephesians 4:15) and the One out of whom we grow as a whole church. The whole body grows as each part carries out its proper function. All parts of the body alluded to in this verse are Christians, except the Head, Jesus Christ. [Note: See Ronald Y. K. Fung, "The Nature of the Ministry according to Paul," Evangelical Quarterly 54 (1982):139-44.]

The church then is a diverse body composed of many different people who must give attention to preserving their unity (Ephesians 4:7-16). Paul’s emphasis was on body growth more than on individual growth in this passage. Each believer contributes to body growth as he or she exercises his or her particular gifts (abilities) in the service of Christ.

Verse 17

The "therefore" in this verse is coordinate with the one in Ephesians 4:1. Here we have more instruction concerning walking worthily. Paul’s exhortation that follows repeats Jesus’ teaching on the importance of holiness. Christians should not conduct themselves as Gentiles who do not know the Lord. Those unbelievers do not typically have a worthy aim or goal in life, the idea behind "the futility of their mind [thinking]."

"What is immediately noteworthy is the apostle’s emphasis on the intellectual factor in everybody’s way of life [cf. Romans 12:2]. . . . Scripture bears an unwavering testimony to the power of ignorance and error to corrupt, and the power of truth to liberate, ennoble and refine." [Note: Stott, p. 175.]

Verses 17-19

The old man 4:17-19

The apostle began by reminding his readers how not to walk, namely, as they used to walk before their conversion to Christianity.

Verses 17-32

2. Walking in holiness 4:17-32

In the first part of this chapter Paul stressed the importance of living in unity in the church. He turned next to the importance of living in holiness.

"The Bible was written to be obeyed, and not simply studied, and this is why the words ’therefore’ and ’wherefore’ are repeated so often in the second half of Ephesians (Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 5:1; Ephesians 5:7; Ephesians 5:14; Ephesians 5:17; Ephesians 5:24)." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:39.]

Verse 18

Here Paul traced the attitude of typical unsaved Gentiles to its source. Lack of worthy purpose rests on unclear understanding (cf. Romans 1:21; 2 Corinthians 4:4). This in turn results from separation from the life that comes from God (cf. Ephesians 2:12). Separation arises from natural ignorance of God (cf. 1 Peter 1:14). That in turn rests on insensitivity to God and His ways (cf. Romans 1).

Verse 19

As a result of this condition, unsaved Gentiles typically give themselves over to lives of sensual self-indulgence (cf. Romans 1:24-28). The Greek word aselgeia, translated "sensuality," contains the idea of wanton violence. [Note: Morris, p. 137.] Greediness (pleonexia) refers to an increasing desire for more.

Verse 20

In contrast to unsaved Gentiles, Christians’ minds are no longer dark, they are no longer aliens from God, and their hearts are no longer hard and impure. They did not learn to follow Christ by the natural mental processes that customarily lead to the degradation of unsaved Gentiles. They learned to follow Him as His disciples from the gospel.

"Usually we learn subjects, not persons; but the Christian’s choicest lesson-book is his loveworthy Lord." [Note: Simpson, p. 104.]

Verses 20-32

The new man 4:20-32

Paul turned from how not to walk to the positive responsibility Christians have to live in holiness.

Verse 21

"If indeed" (NASB) means "surely" (NIV, cf. Ephesians 3:2). The Ephesian believers had received teaching about Christ and had learned to live in the sphere of His will. This is the truth in Jesus that is in view. Whenever Paul used the name of Jesus in Ephesians, as here, he drew attention to the death and resurrection of the Savior. He did so here to remind his readers of the essence of the gospel message as an incentive to live for Christ.

Verse 22

Here is what the Ephesian Christians had heard. Christians should put their former unsaved manner of life aside. The old self (or man) is the person the Christian was before his or her regeneration. That person was experiencing progressive corruption because of desires that appeal to the physical senses. Lusts are deceitful because they promise real joy but fail to deliver it.

Verse 23

This verse is not primarily a command. The verb is not an imperative but an infinitive in the Greek text. The verse is a description of what has already happened in the life of every believer (cf. Colossians 3:9-10). However the verse does make an appeal to the reader even though its main point is revelation. The infinitive has the force of an imperative. [Note: Bock, "’The New . . .,’" pp. 162-63; idem, "A Theology . . .," p. 316, footnote 10.]

Rather than being futile, darkened, and ignorant (Ephesians 4:18-19) the Christian has taken on a new attitude (cf. Romans 6:2-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17). This renewing is an ongoing process in the life of the Christian (i.e., progressive sanctification). The verb is passive, which emphasizes that God is at work in us (cf. Romans 12:2).

Verse 24

Paul identified our responsibility in this verse. We are to put on the new self as a garment. The new self (or man) is the person the Christian is after he or she experiences regeneration. We put on the new man as we pursue the things of Christ rather than the desires of the flesh. God has created the new self (the Christian) in regeneration after the image of our spiritual parent, God Himself. Righteousness and holiness mark our new life rather than sensuality, impurity, and greed (Ephesians 4:18-19). Moreover it is a life based on the truth rather than on ignorance (Ephesians 4:18). [Note: See Don Matzat, Christ-Esteem.]

Verse 25

As the practice of the old man follows his condition (Ephesians 4:17-19), so the practice of the new man (Ephesians 4:25-32) should follow his condition (Ephesians 4:20-24). In Ephesians 4:25-32 we find five exhortations to Christians regarding our conduct. Each one has three parts: a negative command, a positive command, and the reason for the positive command.

The first exhortation is to stop deceiving. Deception is a mask that false teachers (Ephesians 4:14) and the old man (Ephesians 4:22) wear. Instead the Christian should speak truth, namely, what is in harmony with reality (cf. Colossians 3:8-9; Zechariah 8:16). The reason is the Christian belongs to and must function honestly in a group, the church. Truthful speech is essential to unity in the body. Obviously it is important for other reasons also.

"Lying may be an accepted weapon in the warfare waged by the worldly, but it has no place in the life of the Christian." [Note: Morris, p. 142.]

"A lie is a stab into the very vitals of the Body of Christ." [Note: John A. Mackay, God’s Order: The Ephesian Letter and this Present Time, p. 213.]

Verse 26

The second exhortation is to avoid sinning when angry and to deal with sin quickly if it does accompany anger (cf. Psalms 4:4). Anger is not sinful in itself (cf. John 2:13-16). There is such a thing as righteous indignation (cf. Ephesians 5:6; Mark 3:5). [Note: See Daniel B. Wallace, "Orgizesthe in Ephesians 4:26 : Command or Condition?" Criswell Theological Review 3 (1989):352-72.] Still it is easy to lose control of our anger, to let it control us instead of controlling it. Anger becomes sinful when it is inappropriate. The way to deal with sinful anger is to confess it as sin (1 John 1:9). If apologies to other people are necessary, we should offer them quickly as well. Letting the sun go down on one’s wrath is a figure of speech that emphasizes the need to deal with sin soon (cf. Deuteronomy 24:13-15). That we need not take it literally should be clear since the sun does not literally set on one’s anger since anger is not a physical object.

Verse 27

It is important to deal with anger appropriately because, if we do not do so, Satan will have an opportunity to lead us into further sin.

"Horace was right when he said, ’Anger is momentary insanity.’ . . .

"’Anyone can become angry,’ wrote Aristotle. ’But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way-this is not easy.’" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:41.]

Verse 28

The third exhortation is to refrain from stealing but to work so we will have something to share with the needy. Paul did not mention other benefits of work here such as providing for one’s own needs and doing something useful. He emphasized the most noble of motives. Stealing (Gr. klepton) covers all forms of misappropriation. This verse is a reaffirmation of the teaching of the seventh commandment (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19).

Verse 29

The fourth exhortation is to speak good things as well as to do good things (Ephesians 4:28). Anything that injures others or causes dissension in the body is unwholesome (Gr. sapros, rotten, defiling). Christians should use words to build up people rather than to tear them down. Words can give grace (help) in the sense that they communicate encouragement and direction and thus enable the hearer to do right.

"It is said that a man once came to Mohammed and asked how he could make amends for falsely accusing a friend. Mohammed told him to put a feather on every doorstep in the village. Next day he told the man to collect them. ’But that is impossible,’ said the man, ’the wind has scattered them beyond recall!’ The prophet replied, ’So is it with your reckless words.’" [Note: Morris, p. 146.]

Verse 30

"And" connects this verse with the former one. Some English versions do not translate this conjunction, but it is present in the Greek text. We can grieve (bring sorrow or pain to) the Holy Spirit by our speech. It is inappropriate for us to do so because it is He who is our seal (Ephesians 1:13-14; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:5). He is the pledge of God’s final redemption of us that will happen at our resurrection (Philippians 3:20-21). Grieving the Holy Spirit amounts to rejecting a priceless gift from God. [Note: See Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, pp. 82-104.]

"That which grieves the Holy Spirit is sin." [Note: Martin, p. 1312.]

Verse 31

The fifth exhortation is to get rid of five vices and to adopt three virtues. Paul now listed some sins that grieve the Spirit. Bitterness is the opposite of sweetness and kindness (cf. Colossians 3:19). It harbors resentment and keeps a record of wrongs done (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:5).

"Every Christian might well pray that God would teach him how to forget." [Note: Barclay, p. 188.]

Wrath or rage flows from bitterness and refers to outbursts of uncontrolled passionate frustration. Anger is inappropriate noisy assertiveness and abuse. Clamor or brawling describes shouting. Slander refers to words that hurt another person. Malice is bad feelings and is the source of the other four vices. [Note: See René A. López, "A Study of Pauline Passages with Vice Lists," Bibliotheca Sacra 168:671 (July-September 2011):301-16.]

This verse may seem to contradict Ephesians 4:26. There Paul permitted anger, but here he seems to condemn it (cf. James 1:19-20). Two explanations are possible. First, we may view the command in Ephesians 4:26 as governing angry behavior even though anger is never God’s will (Ephesians 4:31). Similarly God gave instructions concerning whom divorced Israelites could remarry even though divorce was never God’s will (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Malachi 2:16). A second possibility is that Ephesians 4:26 means anger is proper in certain circumstances, but we should normally avoid it. This seems to me to be a better explanation. Jesus Himself was angry occasionally (cf. Mark 3:5). Anger does not produce the righteous life that God desires, so as a rule we should avoid it (James 1:20).

Verse 32

We are kind when we say or do what is suitable or fitting to a need with a sweet and generous disposition. We are tenderhearted or compassionate when we feel affection for someone else. We are forgiving when we let offenses and grievances go, freely and graciously. The reason we should be forgiving that underlies all the commands in this verse is that God has forgiven us freely in Jesus Christ.

Demonstrating an attitude of constant forgiveness will greatly enrich a marriage. It enables us to develop transparency and oneness with our mate. To resolve conflict there must be a willingness to forgive. We need to seek forgiveness when we wrong our mate and to communicate understanding to that person. Try restating how your mate feels to him or her and ask for forgiveness. Say, "I was wrong; I’m sorry; will you forgive me?" It is important to be specific in this process.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ephesians-4.html. 2012.
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