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Chapter IX, The Revelation Of The One Body
It is now time that we consider the particular ministry which God has committed to His Church, those whom He is taking out from both Jew and Gentile in this parenthetic period; and for this we must turn particularly to the letters of the Apostle Paul. Our Lord, before He left this scene, intimated to His disciples that He had come not only to seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel and to bring them out of the Jewish fold that they might be gathered to Himself, but He declared: “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” This as recorded in the tenth of John was perhaps the first inkling of one phase of the great mystery that during the present age Jew and Gentile were to be dealt with alike on the basis of pure grace, and all special distinctions had disappeared. “There shall be,” said Jesus, “one flock.” It took the disciples some time, however, to grasp the significance of this, and God had to give to the Apostle Peter a special revelation, as we have already seen, before he had faith enough to go to a Gentile household and proclaim the Gospel to them. But when he did so and they believed, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they were united in happy fellowship with their believing brethren from among the Jews. This was in accord with the vision that Peter had seen and the word that came to him saying: “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
Just prior to this, Saul of Tarsus had been converted on the Damascus road, and at the very moment of his conversion a revelation was made to him which was doubtless unfolded much more fully afterwards but which embodied the special truth which was given to him to make known to all nations for the obedience of faith. When the risen Lord asked the question, “Why persecutest thou me?” His words implied an intimate relationship between Christians and Himself which had never been previously emphasized. Jt was the revelation of the mystery of the one body in embryo. That question declared the wondrous fact that it is impossible to touch a child of God on earth without affecting the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, for every believer is a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul tells us that this was made known to him by divine revelation. Note his words as given in chapter 3:
“For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation .of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Ephesians 3:1-12).
Observe carefully what Paul here says. The truth he was declaring was not made known by a study of the Bible because it was not revealed in Old Testament times. God waited until the parenthetic period had well begun, which we have been considering in these passages. Then after there had been a final testimony to Israel, calling upon any who realized their need of Christ to acknowledge Him as Saviour and Lord, God by revelation made known unto Paul this mystery or secret which He had hidden in His heart from eternity. It is called here in verse 4, “the mystery of Christ,” and the term “Christ” as used here includes both the Lord Himself and His redeemed people-He the Head and they the members of His body, as we read in 1 Corinthians 12:12:
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
The way by which we enter into this relationship is given in the following verse:
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
Drinking suggests fellowship or communion. All who are saved in this dispensation have been brought into one blessed fellowship by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the Lord Himself who baptizes into the body, but the element, if I may so say, is the Spirit-and not water. In water baptism we confess our personal faith in Christ. By baptism in the Holy Spirit the Lord has made us members of His body. The earliest members of the body, those who were baptized in the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, were all, of course, Jews, but now Gentiles are made fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the Gospel.
This was not known, Paul tells us, in other ages, that is, in the former dispensations; but it has now been revealed unto Christ’s holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Notice that although it was to Paul primarily that the revelation was given, he links up the other apostles and New Testament prophets with himself as recipients of this revelation. But in a very special sense it was given to him to minister this truth to the people of God. He speaks deprecatingly of himself as “the least of all saints,” doubtless remembering the time when he persecuted the Church of God and wasted it; but he rejoices in the fact that this special grace had been given to him to preach among the Gentiles what he calls “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This is the Gospel in all its fullness, and the end of it all is this: “To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mys- tery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.”
This expression “the fellowship of the mystery” is a very remarkable one. It tells us what real Christian fellowship is. We have communion one with another because we are members one of another. We have communion with the Lord because He is our Head and we are members of His body. All this is part of what our Authorized Version calls, “the eternal purpose of God.” It might, perhaps, better be rendered “the purpose of the ages.” Throughout all the ages God had this in mind, but He did not reveal it until the setting aside of Israel and the descent of the Holy Spirit to bring in the new dispensation.
In the Epistle to the Colossians Paul dwells on the twofold character of his ministry. He shows us there that he was a minister of the Gospel and also a minister of the truth of the mystery. In the first chapter he presents the Lord Jesus Christ as the first-born from the dead, the risen One who is now head of the body, the Church, in whom all the divine fullness is pleased to dwell. Then he adds:
“And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister” (Colossians 1:20-23).
That which we could never do ourselves, He has done for us. People speak sometimes of man’s responsibility to make his peace with God, but, alas, that he could never do. It is impossible for sinful man to make atonement for his own iniquities, and until that is done, man cannot be at peace with God. But the Lord Jesus has made peace through the blood of His cross. On the basis of this, the day will yet come when all things in heaven and on earth will be reconciled to God. That will occur when there will be a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Observe that when it is a question of universal reconciliation we have only two spheres-heaven and earth. In Philippians 2:0, verses 9 to 11, where God is dealing with the question of subjugation rather than reconciliation, we have three spheres-heaven, earth and the infernal regions. All will some day have to own the authority of the once crucified Saviour, but not all will be reconciled to Him.
Now those who have turned to God in repentance and trusted Christ for themselves have already been reconciled to God through the death of His Son. Many, of course, profess faith in Christ who by their after-lives prove they are not genuine in their profession, but where there is reality, this reconciliation is settled for eternity. Of this glorious Gospel, Paul says he was made a minister.
But now when we pass on to the last verses of the chapter, we find he had a ministry to saints as well as a ministry to sinners, and so he continues:
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Colossians 1:24-29).
This coincides with what we have already seen in the Epistle to the Ephesians. It was given to Paul to fulfill or complete the word of God by making known the mystery which had been hid from past ages, and generations but which was now made manifest. It was Paul’s earnest desire to lead all of God’s people into the truth of this mystery. However, this does not mean for a moment that some in the Early Church who had not yet received this truth were not made members of the body of Christ, even as it does not mean that thousands today who are ignorant of it are thereby not included in the body. All believers are members of the body, whether they know the truth of it or not, but they have the greater joy as they enter into and understand what God is now doing and their special place of privilege and responsibility in connection with it.
In closing the Epistle to the Romans after Paul had really completed the special unfolding of the Gospel and its blessed results in the lives of those who believe it, which was his particular object in writing this letter, he adds in an inspired postscript:
“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27).
Notice again the expression used here, “the revelation of the mystery,” which we are told, had been kept secret since the world began, or in all past ages. But it is now made manifest in prophetic writings. The expression translated in our Authorized Version “by the scriptures of the prophets” might imply that this mystery had now been discovered hidden in the books of the Old Testament prophets, but that is not what Paul wrote. He said: “It is now made manifest and by prophetic writings,” that is, the prophetic writings of the apostles of the New Testament, “according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.”
What a blessed thing it is to realize that this union of believers with Christ is something that once entered into can never be changed. It is unthinkable that the body of Christ should ever be dismembered or that anyone who was ever a member of His body should be lost at last. Coming back again to the Epistle to the Ephesians, we find a very important exhortation in chapter 4, verses 1 to 7:
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”
We are called to walk worthy of our vocation, that is, the vocation or calling of members of Christ. We are to recognize a sevenfold unity. First we are told there is one body and one Spirit and one hope. The one Spirit here refers, of course, to the Holy Spirit in which we have been baptized into the body. The hope is that of the Coming of the Lord. Then we have another trio-one Lord, one faith, one baptism. The faith is that truth about Christ which we are called upon to confess. We acknowledge this in our baptism, thus owning the Lordship of Christ. We are no longer our own, but are to live as those who belong to Him. Then, finally, we have one God and Father of all, and He is above all and through all and in us all. This is the glorious truth of new creation. All believers are linked eternally with the risen Christ in glory.
So long as the body of Christ is on earth, it is our responsibility to make known the Gospel to the unsaved and the truth of this mystery to those who are already members of Christ. When the Church is taken out of this scene, God will no longer be dealing with the world in exactly the same way that He is now. There will be children of God in a coming age, but they will not be members of the Church which is Christ’s body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. In the coming age the distinction between Jew and Gentile will be recognized once more. Restored Israel will be a priestly nation through whom the salvation of God will be made known to all the Gentiles, and they will be blessed in subjection to Israel as the special covenant people. The Church of this age will have its part with Christ in glory. When He reigns, we shall reign with Him as His body and His bride. How important, then, that we should appreciate our high and heavenly calling and seek now to glorify Him in all our ways, who has taken us into such intimate relationship with Himself.
The close of the Church’s testimony on earth will come when the Lord Jesus returns for His own, before the dark days of tribulation begin. The Church must be out of this scene ere the seventieth week starts, and Israel will once more be recognized as God’s covenant people. This involved another revelation which may be called “the mystery of the rapture.” We read of it first of all in First Thessalonians 4, verses 13 to 18:
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
I speak of this as the first revelation of this particular truth because the Epistles to the Thessalonians were the earliest of Paul’s letters which the Holy Spirit has preserved for the edification of the Church. There are other passages in preceding epistles, according to the order given in our English Bibles, which deal with this subject, but in point of time First Thessalonians gives the earliest written word in regard to it. Here we learn that when the Lord Jesus descends from heaven with a shout, He will call all His own to meet Him in the air. This is a very different thing from His Coming to the earth at the close of the Great Tribulation, when Israel will be in such distress, and He will appear in flaming fire, taking vengeance on their enemies, those who know not God. The two aspects of His Coming are altogether different. The Coming of First Thessalonians 4 is only for the saints. When He descends at the close of the tribulation period, He will come with His saints to execute judgment and to set up His glorious kingdom.
This special pre-Tribulation Rapture is not referred to in the Synoptic Gospels, and we have just a hint of it in John 14:0 where the Lord Jesus says: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Paul speaks of it as that which has come to him “by the word of the Lord.” In other words, it was a special revelation made known in connection with the truth of the one body. In one of his later letters, First Corinthians, chapter 15, he gives us additional information in regard to this glorious event, and there he speaks of it very definitely as a mystery. He says:
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:51-58).
Observe that this aspect of His Return will take place at the sounding of the last trump. This is called in the Thessalonian passage “the trump of God,” and it should be distinguished very definitely from the last of the seven angels’ trumpets as mentioned in the book of Revelation, chapter 11. These angel trumpets will sound during the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week, and the final trumpet ushers in the glorious kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The trump of God is something altogether different. It is called “the last trump” because it will close the present age of grace and conclude God’s ways with His people in this dispensation.
I have no doubt that those expositors are right who understand the expression “the last trump” to be an allusion to the third trump of the Roman legions. When the first trumpet sounded, whether it came in the night or in the day, the soldiers sprang to their feet and struck their tents. When the second trumpet sounded, they fell into line. At the last trumpet they marched away. And so we who believe have heard the first trumpet, awakening us when we were asleep in our sins. The second trumpet has called us to recognize the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we await the sounding of the last trump when we shall be caught away to be with Him forever. Then those who are living in their natural, mortal bodies will suddenly put on immortality. That is, the body will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and made like unto the glorious resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have died and whose bodies have corrupted in the grave, will be raised to incorruptibility, and in their new bodies will be with and like Christ forever. This is our hope. For this we are called to wait. At any moment the Lord Jesus may return to fulfill these Scriptures. How blessed to be ready to hail Him with joy at His Advent!
The Walk Worthy of Our Calling (Ephesians 4:1-6)
In chapters one to three we have been studying the doctrinal section of this letter to the Ephesians. We now take up the practical part, that which has to do with our lives as those who have been made members of Christ’s body through grace. Notice how tenderly the apostle wrote: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”
Wherever grace rules in the soul, “I command” is changed to “I beseech.” You do not find the apostle lording his position over the faith of the people of God, but graciously, tenderly pleading with them, rather than sternly ordering their behavior. He spoke of himself in a way that certainly must have touched the heart of everyone who read this letter in its original setting. The Ephesians had come to know the Savior’s love through Paul, and the link between a preacher and those who have been brought to Christ as a result of his ministry is a very real one. Hearts are very closely bound together when they stand in that relationship. What must they have felt when they realized that the man of God to whom they owed so much was lying in a Roman prison, and he was there not because of any ill-doing on his part, but because of his faithful proclamation of the gospel mat meant so much to them? He was a prisoner of the Lord, and from his prison cell he wrote this letter, beseeching them to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called.
Our vocation is, of course, our calling. Paul referred to that which he had written before-the blessedness of the new life. In view of the fact that I have been redeemed to God by the precious blood of Christ; in view of the fact that I am a member now of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones; in view of the fact that I am a living stone built into that temple of God by the Holy Spirit, that temple in which He dwells, my behavior is to be ordered by God. I am to walk worthy of the calling I have received. Elsewhere we are told to walk worthy of God and of the Lord (see Colossians 1:10 and 1 Thessalonians 2:12).
“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” I spent quite a little time over this verse. Every expression in it was a challenge to me, and I kept asking myself the question, “To what extent have I risen to the standard that is set here? I must present this to others as the divine standard for a Christian’s behavior. To what extent am I measuring up to it?” And the more I carefully examined every expression both in the English and in the original Greek, the more humiliated and ashamed before God I was as I realized how far short I have come from living out what we have here. Every word is important.
“With all lowliness.” That word is found only once elsewhere in the New Testament and that is in Philippians 2:3: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” The original word means “modesty,” that is, an utter lack of self-assertiveness. Pride is so characteristic of us as fallen creatures. We who have nothing to be proud of are sometimes proud of our very crudity and ignorance.
A young minister arose in a conference and said, “I am against education. I don’t believe in education. I read no books except the Bible; I don’t profess to know nothing about literature or anything of that kind; I am just an ignorant man. But the Lord has taken me up, and is using me, and I am not at all interested in schools, or colleges or education. I am proud to be just what I am.” An old preacher arose and said, “Do I understand that our dear young brother is proud of his ignorance? If so, all I have to say is that he has a great deal to be proud of.” Most of us are that way; we are proud of the very thing of which we ought to be ashamed. We boast of our accomplishments and ability, even as children. One of the first things parents must learn in training their children is to curb that natural tendency to boastfulness. But as Christians, how completely we should be delivered from this. We have nothing that we have not received. Every blessing we have we owe to divine grace. With what modesty, then, should we behave ourselves!
The word meekness is found a number of times in the New Testament and it is used of our Lord Himself. The apostle said, “We beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1), and Christ said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29). The root of the original word really means “humility,” a spirit that never takes personal offense. Somebody says something unkind about me. I flare up in a moment. Why? Because I am not meek. In Mark chapter 15 we read that “the chief priests accused [Jesus] of many things: but he answered nothing.” “When he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not” (1 Peter 2:23). That is meekness.
The next word Paul used is longsuffering. This is a favorite word of the apostle, and we also find it used three times by the apostle Peter. It means literally, “to endure with unruffled temper.” Do you know very much about longsuffering? “Well,” you say, “I would not mind if what was said about me had been true, but when I know it isn’t true, I can’t stand it.” Therefore, the need of longsuffering. It is the flesh that talks like that, not the new nature but the old. Many years ago I had a friend whose name was George. Sometimes he would fly off and lose his temper. But he was always brought back to earth when someone looked at him quietly and said, “Is that old George or new George talking?” In a moment the tears would come. Even now, though he has been gone thirty years, I can hear him say, “That’s old George; new George would never behave that way. I must punish that old George. He has no right to behave like that.” Yes, the old nature is quick to take offense, quick to flare up if not properly appreciated, but the new nature just bows in meekness and lets the waves and billows pass over and is undisturbed by them.
The last word to consider in this verse is forbearing: “Forbearing one another in love.” This word occurs in only one other book of the New Testament and that is in Colossians 3:13: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Literally, forbearance means “to put up with.”
Now taking all that into account I thought I would try to translateEphesians 4:2; Ephesians 4:2 myself: “With all modesty and humbleness of spirit, with unruffled temper, lovingly putting up with all that is disagreeable in other people.” That is a literal rendering of the original. That describes the Spirit of Christ. As we meditate on it and think of all that is involved in it, how can we do other than hang our heads in shame and confess that in many things we offend. May we be so yielded to the control of the Holy Spirit of God that this Christlike character may indeed become real in our lives.
The apostle continued, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Others have translated it, “Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Observe, he does not say, “Giving diligence to keep the unity of the body” We do not have anything to do with preserving the unity of the body. God is looking after that. He binds believers together in Christ, gives His Holy Spirit to dwell within, and links them one to another, and to their glorious Head in Heaven. The body of Christ is always complete as God looks at it.
People talk about heartless divisions that tear apart the body of Christ, but these divisions do not tear apart the body of Christ. The body of Christ is not composed of all the different sects and denominations. If you were to gather all the different Catholic sects together, all the different eastern orthodox sects together and all the Protestant sects together and unite them all in one big church, that would not be the body of Christ. That would contain a great many people who are in the body of Christ but it would also include a great many who are not. On the other hand, after you had gathered all these denominations together, there would still be a great many outside that would be members of the body of Christ. The church, which is His body, and the church, which some call the visible body of Christ, are not the same thing. The body of Christ consists only of those who are regenerated and born again by the Holy Spirit and joined to Christ in glory by the Spirit’s baptism. All the divisions in Christendom cannot split that body. But what have these various denominations done? They certainly have denied the unity of the Spirit. The apostle would have us recognize this unity that God Himself established, and so he said, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The Spirit unites us to the body that He has formed, and now He says, “I want you to recognize it.” When you meet with fellow believers, do you endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, do you realize that you belong to them and they belong to you? “But,” you say, “they do not see things the way I do.” If they belong to Christ, they belong to you and you to them. We are to accept them in the uniting bond of peace.
Some years ago I was taken ill in the midst of a series of meetings at Minneapolis. After my fourth address I went out one Sunday noon to take dinner, and right after the meal I collapsed. When I regained consciousness I had a fever of one hundred and two degrees and was ill with typhoid. I was down for six weeks. As soon as I had strength enough to start home my friends helped me get to the train station. The porter on the train was very courteous. He made up a berth and put both mattresses on, and let me recline there all day long.
The first morning as I lay there with a lot of pillows behind me, I took out my Bible. (Of course you never start the day without at least a little portion from the Word of God; do you? You do? Well that is why you have so many bad days.) I was reading from the Word of God when a German lady came walking by, and she stopped and asked with a pronounced German accent, “What’s that? A Bible?” I said, “Yes.” “Well, you have your morning worship all by yourself? Wait,” she said, “I go get my Bible and we have it together.” She came back and settled herself on my couch and said, “Where are you reading?” A little later a tall gentleman came by, and stopped and in a Scandinavian accent asked, “Reading the Bible? Well, I think I’ll go get mine, too.” He came back with his Bible, and in a few minutes I was amazed at the people who crowded around.
They did the same thing every day, and we had a delightful time all the way to California. I would get my Bible, and then they would begin to come, and sometimes there would be as many as twenty-eight people with their Bibles. The conductor would go all through the cars and say, “The camp meeting is beginning in car number so-and-so. Any wanting to take advantage are invited.” Sometimes they would start a hymn; sometimes we would have a little prayer; and sometimes it would be only the Bible reading, and they would ask questions.
That fellowship continued until we reached Sacramento, where some of the cars were separated to go down the valley. So the people from the other cars came in to say goodbye, and this dear German sister came and said, “Oh, it has been just like a camp meeting all the way. It has fed my soul. I am going to Turlock, but I want to ask you, What denomination are you?” “Well,” I said, “I belong to the same denomination that David did.” “What was that? I didn’t know that David belonged to any,” she asked. “David said, ‘I am a companion of all them that fear Thee and keep Thy precepts,’” I answered. “Yah, yah,” she said; “that is a good church to belong to.”
I suppose if we had questioned those people, we would have found that we belonged to a dozen different sects. But we found we were all one in Christ. Oh, that we might endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” not in contentiousness, not in quarreling, but all alike seeking to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.
In verses Ephesians 4:4-6 of Ephesians chapter 4 the apostle brings before us a sevenfold unity. Notice, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Seven different unities all linked up in one. These verses comprise one great confession, and yet it is easy to see that there are three distinct spheres indicated, becoming larger and larger. Verse 4 speaks of that unity which is absolutely vital, “There is one body.” That is the body of Christ, and as we have seen, that body is composed only of people who have been washed from their sins in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. They have been regenerated by the Word and by the Spirit, and thus made members of Christ. Then in the second place, “There is one Spirit,” and this is the one Holy Spirit by whose operation we have been baptized into the body of Christ. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Third, we are given one hope-“Even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” All believers have the same blessed hope, the hope of some day, some day soon, beholding the face of our Lord Jesus Christ and being transformed into His image. All real believers are included in this first sphere-one body, one Spirit, one hope of your calling.
But now the second sphere is a little bit wider. It does not necessarily include only those who are born again. It may include those who have made a profession that is not real. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” You see, there are those who say, “Lord, Lord,” who have never been born again. Jesus says that in the day of judgment many will come to Him and say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23). Take, for instance, that part of the world which we call “Christendom.” What do people write at the head of their letters? They write 1936 (this sermon was delivered in 1936). And what does that mean? It means, in the year of our lord 1936.1 suppose every racketeer and gangster in Chicago dates his letters that way. “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) There are lots of hypocrites in Christendom who call Him Lord, and yet show by their lives that they have never been born again.
Also in the second sphere is the one faith. This is not the faith by which we are saved, but the faith of the Christian church, “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). It is the one standard of truth that God has given to be proclaimed in the world, it is that which the apostle calls the faith. Faith in Christ is a personal confidence in Jesus, but the faith is the body of Christian doctrine.
Then there is baptism, the outward expression of allegiance to Christ. Some ask, “Do you think that baptism here is water baptism, or the baptism of the Spirit?” I say without a moment’s hesitation, “water baptism,” for we have seven unities. We have already had the baptism of the Spirit-“one body, one Spirit”-and we do not have the Spirit repeated here. If it were the baptism of the Spirit, you would have only a sixfold unity, but water baptism is the outward expression of allegiance to Christ. A man may profess to belong to Christ and be baptized, but that does not prove he is really born again. The mark of Christ has been put on some people and yet they have never truly received Him into their hearts. What a solemn thing this is! I wonder if any of you are in the wider circle. You have never been born again, you are not in the first circle but are among those who have made an insincere profession, therefore you are in the second circle. Can it be that the mark of Christ has been placed on you-that you have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost-and yet you have never trusted Christ? What an awful thing for a lost one in the pit of eternal damnation to have to say, “I bore Christ’s mark on earth; I was baptized in recognition of His death and suffering, and yet here I am lost for all eternity because I did not trust that Savior who suffered for me.”
Notice the third circle. This is very much wider than the others, for it takes in God’s relationship to the entire creation. “One God,” and as such He is in relationship to all His creatures. “And Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” This is not the modern doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man, but it means that God is the Creator of all men. He is a distinct personality. This is not pantheism, not God as a principle, but God, a divine personality, and yet immanent in grace, not far from any one of us.
He is the living, transcendent God over all, pre-eminent, directing all things, pervading everything. He is “in you all.” That is the distinction between God’s attitude toward the world as a whole and toward those who have been born again-”in you all.” If you have accepted Christ, if you have trusted Him, God dwells in you. What a marvelous truth this is! He said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them” (2 Corinthians 6:16). As we walk in this world we can realize that God is walking with us, and so we may well come back to the exhortation with which we began: “Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”
Gifts from the Ascended Christ (Ephesians 4:7-13)
Our attention in these verses is especially drawn to the gifts that the ascended Christ has given His church for its upbuilding. First observe that there are gifts for all-”Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” Certain gifts are more outstanding and visible, but every member of the body of Christ has something that he may contribute to the blessing of the whole. No matter how feeble, how insignificant, how relatively unknown he may be, he has received something from the risen Lord for the help of all the rest.
Many parts of our physical bodies are unseen and function without any outward evidence of their working. Yet they are very important in connection with the healthy growing and maintaining of the body. In the same way every believer has his place to fill in the body of Christ. If he is not functioning according to the will of God, in some respect he affects the whole body negatively; but if he is using his gifts according to the will of God, he affects the entire body of Christ for good. These gifts come from the ascended Lord.
Verse Psalms 68:8 is quoted from Psalm number 68: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive.” Just what is meant by that rather peculiar expression? It is a Hebraism, taken over literally from the Hebrew. Psalms 68:18 reads: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men: yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” Some scholars attempt to explain this expression, “captivity captive,” by translating it “a multitude of captives.” But when we realize that this is simply a translation of an expression in the Psalm, we have to inquire whether the Hebrew text could be translated, “A multitude of captives.” I think any Hebrew scholar would acknowledge that it could not. And that is not the only place where this expression is found.
In Judges chapter 5 we read the same expression. Deborah is praising the Lord for the great victory over Canaan. In verse 12 we read, “Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.” What does the expression mean there? It could only mean one thing-“Lead captive him who held you captive.” That seems to be the meaning ofPsalms 68:18; Psalms 68:18, and also of this quotation in the Epistle to the Ephesians.
In Isaiah chapter 14 we have a similar expression that would adequately interpret “captivity captive.” We read, “And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors” (Isaiah 14:2). This surely makes the meaning clear. In our present passage the teaching is this, that our Lord in His triumph over death led captive him who had the power of death up to that time, that He might deliver those “who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15). In other words, our mighty enemy, Satan, is now a conquered foe. He has been led captive at the chariot wheels of Christ, and our Lord has now ascended as man and taken His place on the throne of the Majesty in Heaven. There from His exalted seat in glory He gives these gifts to His church for its edification and blessing.
“Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” We are reminded that He who has gone up higher than any other man ever went, once for our redemption went down lower than any other man has gone. I wonder if our souls really take in the fact that He is a man like ourselves, only glorified, sinless, and holy, sitting today on the throne of God. A man’s heart beats in His breast, and there are no sorrows that come to His people but what He enters sympathetically, compassionately, into them. Therefore, having “not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are,” we may “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
There’s a Man in the glory I know very well,
I have known Him for years, and His goodness can tell;
One day in His mercy He knocked at my door,
And asking admittance knocked many times o’er.
But when I went to Him and stood face to face
And listened a while to His story of grace,
How He suffered for sinners and put away sin,
I heartily, thankfully, welcomed Him in.
And now I have the assurance from the Word of God that that Man sits there at the Father’s right hand, ever living to make intercession for His needy people as they go through this world. Go to Him in the hour of trial, “tell not half the story, but the whole,” and be assured that He will listen sympathetically and undertake for you according to the riches of His grace. He always has taken it upon Himself to work for His people in a marvelous way.
“He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” These are the gifts that Christ Himself has given. In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 Paul listed various operations of the Holy Spirit through the church in the beginning of its early conflict with heathenism and Judaism. But in Ephesians the gifts are for the building and maintaining of the church. They were given by the risen Christ to enable the church to carry the message to a lost world, and to build up its individual members in the knowledge of Christ.
Our Lord chose apostles when He was here on earth, but said that in the glorious millennial age, they would sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. As the ascended Christ He has given apostles and prophets to His church, but they are given from Heaven. They included the same apostles that He chose on earth, but it was after they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they were seen as given to the church. The apostles and prophets laid the foundation. We read in Ephesians 2:20: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” You do not lay a foundation for a building every few stories, but the foundation is built once for all and then the superstructure is erected. Long ago, nineteen hundred years ago, the apostles and prophets fulfilled their ministry. We are not looking for new apostles and prophets.
A young Mormon elder came to me at one time and asked, “What church do you belong to?” I knew at once what he had in mind, and so I replied, “I belong to the one true church that has apostles and prophets in it.”
“Oh,” he said, “then you must be a latter-day saint.”
“No, I am a former-day saint.”
“But ours is the only church that has apostles and prophets.”
“I do not think so. The church that I belong to is building on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and although they themselves have passed off the scene long ago they are still members of this church, for it does not exist only on earth. They are part of the host though they have passed from this world and are in the presence of God. They are still members of the church.”
“But we have apostles and prophets in our day.”
“But, you see,” I said, “the apostles and prophets were to lay the foundation, and if I understand the Word of God correctly, the temple of the living God-this wonderful church He is erecting-has been building for nineteen hundred years and it is now just about completed, and you do not put a foundation on the roof. It is away down, nineteen hundred stories below, and the temple has been rising on that foundation all through the years. We are now just putting the finishing touches on the roof. We are gathering in poor sinners, just one and another here and there. They are not coming in large numbers these days, but those that are coming are being added to the roof, and it will not be long until it will be complete and then we will all go to Heaven.”
The other gifts Paul listed are very obvious today. What is the evangelist? He is the bearer of glad tidings. The ministry of the evangelist is especially sent to the world outside of Christianity. If God gifts a man as an evangelist, He fills his heart with fervent love for a lost world and gives him the ability to proclaim the gospel in freshness and power. What a marvelous gift is that of the evangelist! We do not all have it in the way we should like to have it. It is a privilege to teach the Word and build up the saints, but when I think of the mighty men that God has qualified and sent out as evangelists to win the lost, I covet such a gift. If you are a young preacher and have the evangelistic gift, thank God for it, cherish it, do not despise it. Do not say, “I wish I could teach the Bible like certain men.” It is very good if God gifts you for that, but I would rather be used of God to win lost sinners to Christ than even to teach and instruct Christians.
Someone at one time reproved Duncan Matheson for preaching the gospel at a great conference of believers, and said, “You kept all these people sitting here for an hour listening to what they already know, when they came to hear a wonderful unfolding of new truth.”
“Why,” he said, “were there no sinners here today?”
“Oh, there may have been a few.”
“Very well, that is all right then. I did not make a mistake because if people are Christians, they will manage to wiggle awa’ to Heaven some way if they never learn another thing, but poor sinners will have to be saved or be in Hell.”
Never forget that. And if you are a lost sinner-Christless, hopeless-let me impress this on you: You must choose Christ or Hell, and to neglect the one is to choose the other. I wish I could proclaim that message in a way that dying men would hear, and hearing would believe and flee from the wrath to come. That is the special province of the evangelist. He goes out into the world and wins souls for Christ, and then the Spirit of God brings them into the church of God.
As we continue in Ephesians chapter 4 we read that He also gave the gift of pastors. The word means “shepherds.” A true pastor is a shepherd who has a heart for the sheep of Christ’s flock. Our Lord challenged Peter with the words, “Lovest thou me more than these?” After Peter earnestly confessed, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee,” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep…Feed my lambs.” With those words He constituted Peter a pastor of His flock. What a precious gift that is! The evangelist finds them as lost sheep wandering in the wilderness and brings them into the flock. Then the pastor seeks to lead them into the green pastures of God’s Word, to minister to them when they are sick, to be with them when they are dying, to point them to the cross in the hour when faith may be weak, to enter into their sorrows: that is the work of a real pastor. No theological seminary, no college or university can make a pastor. It is the Holy Spirit of God alone who gives a man a pastor’s heart, and fills him with yearning love for the people of God.
The next gift mentioned is that of the teacher. What is the difference between the pastor and the teacher? In 1 Corinthians 12:8 we read, “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.” We may say that the pastor has in a peculiar sense die word of wisdom, the teacher the word of knowledge. It is the special province of the teacher to explain the truth of God’s Word in a clear, orderly way so that people may grasp it and profit by it, that they may understand the divine plan and thus apply the truth to their own needs. And it is the responsibility of the pastor to press the truth home to the conscience in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Do you ever remember a time in your life when you were going through some special trial and perplexity? Perhaps you said, “I need to go to church,” and you went with a heavy burden. During the meeting someone stood up to expound the Word of God, and you were edified. He took a certain portion of Scripture and made it clear and beautiful, and it did you good, but as you left the place you said, “Well, his message didn’t touch my case at all. I have no more answers to my problem than I had when I came in. I am glad I came though, for I was blessed. I will always understand that portion of Scripture better than I have in the past.” But you went away with the same burden with which you came. On another occasion you returned to church, and again someone read a portion of Scripture. As he began to expound it you said, “Why, he seems to know exactly what I am going through. He seems to understand exactly what my problem is. That is just what I need.” And as the Word was unfolded, your soul was stirred and your heart blessed. You went away praising the Lord for giving such gifts to His people, and thanking Him that through the explanation of His Word your perplexity was removed. You were listening to the teacher in the first case, and in the second to the pastor. One had the word of knowledge and the other the word of wisdom. What is wisdom? It is knowledge applied to meeting a distinct and definite case.
Look at verse Ephesians 4:12. Why did Christ give apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The punctuation in the King James version of this verse would lead us to assume that the purpose was threefold-the perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ. And to what would that conclusion lead you? That the work of perfecting the saints and the work of the ministry and the edifying of the body belongs entirely to those who have been set apart in a special way as pastors and teachers and evangelists. That is the conclusion many have come to, and people are quite content to depend on the man in the pulpit and say, “Don’t we commission him to do the work of the ministry? Isn’t he to do the work of building up the body of Christ?” But there are no punctuation marks in the original text; they have simply been put there by editors. I am going to take the liberty of removing the commas in verseEphesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:12. Go back to verse Ephesians 4:11 - “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Do you see any difference? It is not that the pastors and teachers are a kind of close corporation whose business it is to do all these things. But when God gifts a man as a preacher or a teacher he is to exercise that gift for the developing of the saints in order that they might do the work of the ministry and thus build up the body of Christ. This is an altogether different thing.
A dear young fellow came to me and said, “Are any of your sermons copyrighted?”
“No, indeed they are not,” I said.
“I am glad to hear it, because I heard you a week ago and went out and preached your sermon at a mission. I wondered whether I had any right to do it.”
I said, “If something gripped your soul that you can pass on to somebody else and make it a blessing to them, I thank God for it. If you get a convert, you will be the father and I will be the grandfather.”
I read in Moody’s life story that years ago he would go on Sunday morning to hear the different preachers of the day, and then in the afternoon and evening he would be out in the missions and on the street corners preaching the sermons he had heard. He would come back and say to one of these ministers, “Doctor, I preached your sermon five times last week, and won about forty souls.” The preacher would look at him in a strange way, for he had probably not seen a soul saved for weeks or months. Our risen Lord gives some the gift of apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and some teachers, but it is in order that all may profit thereby, for all the saints are to carry on the work of the ministry for the building up of the body of Christ. Do not be content to come to the meetings and just be a spiritual sponge. Fill up, and then let the Lord do some squeezing. Give it out to somebody else, and then you will be carrying out the true principle of New Testament ministry.
How long will this go on? “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). What does that mean? It means that this work will continue until the entire church will be gathered home to Heaven, and Christ will be fully displayed in every one of us. What is the fullness of Christ? We read in Ephesians 1:23: “the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Christ is the Head in glory, we are the members of His body and constitute His completeness as the one new man. When at last we have gone home to Heaven, our day of toiling over, and we are in all perfection like Himself, then this kind of ministry will be ended. There will be no need for the ministry of the pastor, the teacher, or the evangelist in Heaven, for there we will all praise the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. No one will need to teach others for all will know Him from the least to the greatest.
Manifesting the Truth in Love (Ephesians 4:14-16)
I never knew until I became the father of children how much is involved in the words that occur in a well-known hymn, “No infant’s changing pleasure / Is like my wandering mind.” How children’s minds jump from one thing to another! How hard it is for them to concentrate! And many of God’s children are just the same. Often when one is trying to explain a truth to believers, he is embarrassed by the questions that are asked showing that his students have not been concentrating and therefore have not grasped the truth. As a result people are never truly established in the faith. It is in order to save us from this thing that God has set in His church those who are responsible to instruct and build up His saints, that they should not be like little children tossed back and forth, like leaves carried about by the wind or, using the figure the apostle had in mind, like little sailboats on the water, blown from their course and tossed by every changing wind.
Christians who are grounded in the truth of God are a blessing. But so many people always seem to be running after some new teaching, never seeming to have any discrimination. Let me give you an absurd case. Years ago as I sat in my office in Oakland there came in through the bookroom a man whose very appearance betokened a heretic. He was tall and gaunt, had long flowing hair coming down over his shoulders, and a long unkempt beard. He came up to where I sat writing. I did not want to be interrupted, for I felt that he was going to waste my time with some useless religious argument. He said, “I gather, sir, from the books I have seen in the window that you are a truth-seeker, and I thought I would come in and have a chat with you.”
“You are mistaken,” I said; “I am not a truth-seeker at all.”
“Oh, you aren’t? May I ask why you are not?”
“Why, because, sir, I have found Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and therefore my seeking is at an end. Once I was a truth-seeker, but now I am a truth-finder, for I know Christ.”
“Well, but are there not many things that you still need to know?”
“Oh, yes; there are a great many things that I need to know, but I have found the great Teacher, and I am not going around seeking truth any longer. He instructs me through His Word.”
“Well, as for me, I am always seeking; I go anywhere and everywhere that I think I can learn more.”
“Yes,” I said, “I was reading of you in my Bible the other day.”
“What did it say about me?”
“It said, ‘Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth’“ (2 Timothy 3:7).
“Why, that has no reference to me,” he said.
“Pardon me, but you said that you are always seeking and if a man is always seeking, he is never finding. But, you see, those of us who know Christ have found the Truth.”
Then he began to tell me some of his weird gospel.
What a lot of folks there are like him in some degree, just running from one thing to another and never getting anywhere. The apostle said, “Hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13), and you get sound words in the Book of God and nowhere else.
In our text we read, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14). This verse speaks of men who have selfish purposes to serve, and want to make disciples in order to profit from them. When men come to you with strange and new ideas, ask for a “Thus saith the Lord.” Ask them to give chapter and verse in the Bible for the strange doctrines they bring you. If Christians would only do this, they would not be running after these modern religious fads. God’s own Word has stood the test of nineteen hundred years, and you can depend on it. You can live on it and as you feed on the precious truth revealed in its pages you will grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
But now, although we want to insist on a good confession, we need to also insist on a godly, Spirit-filled life. So in verse Ephesians 4:15 we read, “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” It is an important thing to stand for the fundamentals, but as we seek to bear witness to the great fundamental truths, let us never forget that the greatest fundamental of all is love.
Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2-3).
It is a very interesting fact that in the original text there is only one Greek word for the three English words, speaking the truth. In the original it is a present participle formed from the word truth, and if we turn it into literal English we would have to translate it in a rather awkward way-“truthing”-“But truthing in love.” Perhaps a better rendering than “speaking the truth in love,” and more suited to our ears, would be “manifesting the truth in love.” In other words, it is not just the testimony of the lips, declaring that certain things are divine truth, but it is the life displaying the truth. I have heard people say of certain ones, “Yes, yes; he seems to say all the right things, but I don’t see much evidence of divine love in his life.” And then I have heard people sometimes bear witness of others in this way: “I believe what Mr. so-and-so says because he lives it out from day to day.”
A young man was asked the question, “What have you found to be the best translation of the New Testament?” Without a moment’s hesitation he answered, “My mother’s.” His friends said, “Your mother’s? I didn’t know she was a scholar. Did she translate the New Testament?” The young man quickly replied, “My mother was not a scholar, she could not read a word of Greek, but she translated the New Testament into her beautiful life, and that made more of an impression on me than anything else I have ever known.” That is what you and I are called to do, to manifest the truth in our lives.
We are ever to be “truthing in love.” The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and we are to reveal this love in all our dealings with others. Even, “When truth compels us to contend, / What love with all our strife should blend.” The Christian is never entitled to act in an un-Christlike way, no matter what the provocation. As we thus live in the power of the truth of God and are dominated by the love of Christ, we are growing up into Him, daily becoming more like Himself. Are people seeing more of Christ in you from day to day?
I remember years ago a young preacher came to the city of Toronto, where I was born and where I lived until I was ten years old. Though I was only about eight years old at the time, I recall being taken by my mother to hear this preacher, for she insisted that I must go and hear the gospel every Sunday night. She used to say, “It is far more important that my children hear the gospel than that they have sleep, or anything else. They must know Christ from childhood up.” Of course in Canada our gospel meeting used to begin at 6:30 in the evening, and children could attend and still be home and in bed in good time. Before I was ten years old I got to be quite a “sermon taster,” as the Scots used to say. I loved to come home and get on a chair and imitate the preachers, trying to give the intonations of their deep Scottish voices or those from Northern Ireland, for all the preachers I heard in those days had the old country brogue.
This one particular evening I listened to a young Irish preacher-a fine, tall, handsome young man. A little group came home with us after the meeting to spend an hour or so in singing around the old-fashioned cabinet organ. Someone asked the question, “How did you like the young preacher from Ireland?” One replied, “It did me good to hear the old tongue again. It was just grand.” Another said, “I thought he had a wonderful delivery; you could hear him so plainly.” Another, “He seemed to me to be most eloquent.” Another, “How well he knew his Bible. He opened up the truth in a beautiful way.” A lady sitting quietly was asked, “And what did you think of him?” “Well, you know,” she replied, “there was something about his behavior that appealed to me. He seemed the most like Jesus of any preacher I have ever listened to.” How we all might wish to have that kind of recognition-to be like Jesus. Some of us, as we try to preach His Word, are made very conscious of the fact that we are so unlike Him. There is so much about us that would never have been seen in Him. Never a night goes by but that we have to bow our knees before God and acknowledge our shortcomings. But as we walk with Him, as we seek to “truth” in love, we grow up into Him, and so we become more like Him as the days go by.
It is a beautiful thing to grow old gracefully, to exhibit more of Jesus from day to day. Our blessed Head is the One from whom we draw all our supplies for spiritual upbuilding. We read, “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Paul used the figure of the human body, and every part, every separate organ, every joint and sinew, every gland, working together for the growth of the whole body. That is the ideal picture of the Christian church and of Christian fellowship.
Have you ever read “Hebich’s Tub”? It tells the story of a quaint Dutch preacher in the East Indies. Many years ago he was conducting religious services for a group of British army officers. He was characterized by a shrewd, keen humor and taught the truth by using the most amazing illustrations. He happened to know that there were certain little dissensions among the group, and so on one occasion he took for his text, “That which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part.” He looked at his audience, and then with his eyes half-shut, using the illustration of a barrel, he said, “Did you effer see a tob? What iss it that makes a good tob? If you haff a good bottom to it, iss that a tob? No. If you haff a good side, iss that a tob? No. If you haff good hoops around it, iss that a good tob? No. But if you haff good boards for the bottom and fitly choined together, and then the good boards for the sides all fitly choined together, and then the good hoops and all of these things fitly choined together, you haff a tob. And it is the same with the Christian church. You haff got to haff every believer in his place, and all fitly choined together by the power of the Holy Spirit. You may haff choined the boards together, but if there iss a little pebble in between two of the staves, you do not haff a tob that will hold water. If the staves haff shrunk and drawn apart, it is useless. And if I am a Christian and haff some selfishness in me, if through selfishness or envy I do not haff real Christian fellowship, or if little things come in, I am useless. If the Colonel’s lady has some unkind feeling toward the Major’s lady and they come to church and join in prayer and in singing hymns and listen to the sermon, yet they are not fitly choined together, you don’t have real Christian fellowship.” How many little things there are that come in to hinder and keep believers from functioning as they ought!
“Fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth.” You have to contribute your share and I have to contribute mine, all for the good of the whole. And then what is the result? “According to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” May God give every one of us a deeper sense of our individual responsibility to live the truth in love for the blessing of all.
The Walk of the New Man (Ephesians 4:17-24)
“This I say therefore”-we may well ask, “Wherefore?” In view of all that Paul had written in the earlier part of this Epistle, he admonished his readers, “henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk.” Since, as Christians we have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy, and have been redeemed through His blood, and have been made members of His body, led by the Spirit, united to a risen Christ in glory, our lives are to be different from those around us. Christians are people called out from the world. A very common saying is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” but that does not apply to the Christian. No matter where you find him, he is to walk as a heavenly man, as one whose interests are really in another world, as a stranger and a foreigner to this world. He is called to refrain from everything that would in any way tarnish his pilgrim character.
“Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind.” The word translated “vanity” here does not mean what it does ordinarily-that is, “pride.” The original word rather means something like a mirage, an illusion, that which is imagined but not actually true. Unsaved men have illusions of the minds, they see mirages of all kinds and imagine them to be real, but they are not. They believe all sorts of theories, intellectual ideas, and such like, and would even judge God’s Word by their theories instead of judging their theories by the test of God’s Word. These poor Christless men, whatever their talents, culture, or education, have never been born of God, therefore their understanding is darkened, and they are incapable of understanding divine things. The Christian ought to be aware of this danger, and not walk in the delusions of the fleshly mind.
“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14). I wish our Christian young people would realize that. Many of them who are attending our colleges and universities are placed under the instruction of brilliant but unconverted professors who use their position to undermine faith in the Word of God. I wish these Christian young men and women could realize that the natural man, no matter what his intellectual qualifications, does not understand the things of God; they are foolishness to him because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). Without a new life and a new nature there can be no real comprehension of divine things, and so the greatest of this world’s scholars is an ignoramus when it comes to the things of God, until he has been regenerated.
Paul described the Gentile world of his day: “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18). In other words, they have no divine life. Some say there is a divine spark in every man, but that is not true. “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” Until Christ is received by faith, until people have accepted Him as their own Savior and Lord, there is no life whatever except, of course, this material, natural life. Paul continued his description, “Being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them.” They are wise in the things of this world, but utterly ignorant in the things of God “because of the blindness of their heart.” The word blindness is better translated “hardness,” and yet that does not give the thought sufficiently. It means a heart that is under the influence of an anesthetic. A person may be alive and quivering with pain, but when he is put under the influence of an anesthetic he is not awake to his true condition. Men and women have come under the influence of the awful deadening power of sin and their hearts are hardened. They are blinded, and they do not understand their own condition, the condition of their country, or of the world around them. Sin has a terrible, hardening, blinding, deadening, effect on people.
Notice the awfully graphic picture of the ancient world and the world today. “Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:19). “Being past feeling,” might be translated, “being beyond pain.” Do you remember how pained you were the first time you committed some sin that pricked your conscience? The hour of temptation came, and you hesitated and said, “Shall I commit this sin or not?” Conscience was roused and you did not see how you could go on and indulge in that evil, unholy thing. But perhaps lured on by godless friends who mocked your conscientious scruples, you said, “Oh, I’ll try anything once,” and you took the fatal step-you committed that sin and polluted your soul by it. But you remember the pain that came afterward, you remember as you walked home, or possibly it was in your own home, you could not bear the thought of facing those nearest and dearest to you. Perhaps you were not so much concerned about the fact that God had seen you, but you were concerned about what others might think of you. The temptation came a second time and again you plunged into the sin, more recklessly this time, and afterward the pain was less. And so on and on and on, and now you continue in that sin, in that evil course, and there is scarcely ever the least evidence of a sensitive conscience. We read of people whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron. In Ephesians 4:19 we have the description of an unsaved man going contrary to every divine direction until he is beyond pain. That is what sin does for people. Oh, what a mercy when the Spirit of God comes in and awakens one to see something of the terribleness of his sin in the sight of a holy God. Then the Spirit leads the repentant sinner to Christ, and out of the depths of an anguished heart he cries, “What must I do to be saved? God be merciful to me, the sinner.” There had been such crises in the lives of these Ephesians. Many of us have known what this means, and now these words of instruction come to us, as to them, regarding the manner of life that should characterize us.
We are not to be as we once were and as those still are who, having lost their sensitivity to pain, have given themselves over to lustful desires and all kinds of unholy thoughts resulting in unclean works. What a mercy that this is in the past for many of us. Am I speaking to anyone who is still living in these things? Does your heart sometimes cry out with a desire for purity, for holiness, for goodness? Do you sometimes say:
Tell me what to do to be pure
In the sight of all-seeing eyes.
Tell me, is there no thorough cure,
No escape from the sins I despise?
Will the Savior only pass by,
Only show me how faulty I’ve been?
Will He not attend to my cry?
May I not this moment be clean?
Oh yes; there is cleansing for you. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God has made His invitation so clear. The heart of the sinner may be made pure. There is a possibility that the dark red stains of sin may all be washed away, for it is written, “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanseth us from all sin.” And one cleansed by the blood should be characterized by an altogether different life from that which is common to the unsaved.
The apostle continued, “But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:20-21). I want you to notice particularly the way he used the divine titles. We know that Jesus is Christ and Christ is Jesus. We do not for one moment consent to the wretched theory that a good many hold today, popularized by Christian Science, which tries to draw a distinction between Jesus and Christ. According to that system, Jesus was simply a man, the natural born son of Mary, but Christ was a divine Spirit that came and took possession of Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan. That is an old gnostic heresy condemned by every right-minded Christian. Jesus is the Christ. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” But although that is true, this is also true-Jesus was His human name here on earth; He never had that name until He came to earth. Scripture says, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). But He was Christ from all eternity. In the eighth chapter of Proverbs, wisdom is personified, and we read, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Ephesians 4:22-23). The Hebrew term set up is the same word for anointed: “I was the anointed One from everlasting.” When Christ was baptized in the Jordan, the Spirit of God descended on Him confirming that He was the anointed One, the Christ from eternity. And when God raised Him from the dead, we read He made that same Jesus to be both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). He is the Anointed now as the risen and glorified One.
Paul was thinking of Christ as the risen One, sitting at the right hand of God, and we learn of Him as we take time to truly look at Him. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). But what does Paul mean by “the truth is in Jesus”? He means that when He was on earth as the lowly man called Jesus He was the demonstration of the truth. That is why He could say, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Suppose I want to know the truth about what God expects from man, where do I find it? In Adam? Oh, no. In Adam I see a man who listened to his wife, after she listened to the devil, and did what she told him to do. Adam was a man without a backbone, a man utterly untrustworthy. As we review human history, we see that all humanity is just a reproduction of that first man. But if I want the truth concerning man and his relationship with God, I find that it is written, “There is…one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” As we read God’s Word and notice Christ’s attitude and behavior when He was on earth, we see all that man should be for God. He is the full standard of humanity.
If I want to know the truth about God, where do I find it? Do I go to the universities of this world? No; they do not know anything about God. They cannot tell me anything about Him. But where shall I go? To the modernistic churches, with their unconverted preachers? They do not know anything more about God than unconverted college professors. Well, then, where shall I go? To Creation? Out in the woods? No, you will not learn about God there, you will get some evidences of His power and wisdom, but you will not find anything about His love and holiness there. Where do you learn about Him? In Christ. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” The truth has been made known in Jesus.
Suppose I want to find out about sin, where will I go? To some of our modern, humanistic philosophies whose teachers talk about behaviorism and actually try to make men and women believe that every tendency within the heart is perfectly lawful and perfectly right? No, not there. But where? To the cross of Jesus. There, as I behold my blessed Savior taking the sinner’s place, I see what sin deserved. The truth is in Jesus, and Christ in glory points me back to Jesus on earth and says, “If you want to know how you should walk as you go through this world, there is where you will find it.” “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
But how will I be able to live like this? I have an old nature; I once had a corrupt, sinful life, how am I going to live like Jesus? Here is what Jesus teaches: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). What do I mean when I speak of the old man? Some people confuse the old man with the old nature. You see, the old man is more than the old nature. The old man is what you once were before you were converted. Now you are through with the old man. If you are a Christian, you are not to live like that man any longer, but you are now to live in the righteousness and holiness of the new man. And who is the new man? The new man is the man of whom the apostle Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians chapter 12: “I knew a man in Christ.. .of such an one will I glory.” A man in Christ-that is the new man that I now am through infinite grace. I am through with the old man, the man after the flesh. I have put him off, his tastes, his appetites, all that he once delighted in, and I am learning the truth as it is in Jesus.
The old man was “corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,” and in our unconverted days we lived to satisfy these deceitful lusts. But now a great change has taken place, we have been born again. That does not mean we have attained perfection. The apostle Paul said:
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
“And be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). A better rendering is, “Being renewed in the spirit of your mind.” In what sense am I being renewed in the spirit of my mind? How am I being renewed in my physical strength? I am strengthened physically by eating those foods that are nourishing and that will build a strong body. Then how am I renewed in the spirit of my mind? I am strengthened spiritually by feeding on His Word, enjoying communion with Him and fellowship with His beloved people. In all these ways we are being renewed in the spirit of our minds. You never saw a strong Christian who was not a Bible-loving Christian. You never saw a strong Christian who was not one who delighted in communion with fellow believers. People who don’t want anything to do with other Christians, and go about with an “I am better than you” attitude, do not exhibit much real holiness in their lives.
We read that the new man “is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Righteousness is my behavior toward others. I am to be righteous in my dealings with my fellow man. As a new man I cannot be careful about my devotion to Christ while being careless in my life among others. A man got up in a meeting one day and said, “I want to tell you that I am standing in Christ on redemption ground.” Another man arose and said, “I want to call that man down. He says he is standing in Christ on redemption ground. I do not believe a word of it. He is standing in a pair of shoes he bought from me months ago, and he has not paid for them yet.” Righteousness is right dealing between men. The person who professes to be a Christian and is not careful about that which is right, is a disgrace to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Holiness has to do with my attitude toward God. It is in the heart; it is the inward life, holiness of thought. Holiness is seen as a heart separated to God in accordance with the truth of His holy Word. This is practical Christianity, and this is how you and I are called to exhibit the new life, to reveal the fact that we belong to a new creation.
Have I been setting the standard too high? I have not been setting it at all. I have been showing you the standard as set in the Word of God.
Unsaved one, are you saying, “I would like to reach this standard, but I do not see how I ever could”? You cannot. With all your trying you will never be able to reach it. Come to God as a poor, lost sinner, give up your trying, put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will give you a new heart, a new nature, and will enable you to live to His glory.
Grieve Not the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:25-32)
The most important part of this entire section is verse Ephesians 4:30, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” The word grieve means “to give pain.” Give not pain to the Holy Spirit of God. How do we pain Him? By walking in disobedience to any of the admonitions that are given us in this particular section. We have here the behavior that should characterize a believer. We have seen something of our wonderful privileges, our great blessings in Christ in the heavenlies, and now we are considering that part of the Epistle that underscores our practical responsibilities.
It is a poor thing to talk of living in the heavenlies if we are walking with the world. It is most inconsistent to glory in our privileges in Christ if we are living according to the flesh. And so in these verses the apostle emphasized the importance of true Christian living. He wrote, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour; for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). We have seen that as we look at the exalted Christ in glory our hearts turn back to consider the example set us by Jesus as He lived in this world and embodied all truth. The Jews came to Him on one occasion and said, “Whom makest thou thyself?” (John 8:53) And He said (using the exact rendering), “Altogether what I say unto you.” What a tremendous statement. He covered nothing; He hid nothing. In Him there was no sham, no pretense; He was exactly the same in the presence of God as He was before men. This indeed is truth in life, and you and I who have put our trust in Him are called to put away everything that is false.
The word translated “lying” is simply the Greek word that we have taken over into the English, pseudo-“that which is false.” We are to put away everything that is merely pretense or sham, and speak the truth with our neighbor. The Christian is called to be punctilious, to be honest even in little things, not to make bargains that he does not keep. A Christian business man should not overstate his case when he is trying to sell something. In Proverbs we read, “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth” (Proverbs 20:14). Deception on the part of the buyer is also contrary to the Holy Spirit of God. The Christian is called on to be true in everything; true in his behavior, true in his speech.
Notice the motive given for speaking the truth, “For we are members one of another.” Paul is thinking especially of our relation to fellow believers, as though he would say, “Why do you attempt ever to deceive a fellow believer? Why do you lie to another child of God? Why do you pretend to something that is not true when dealing with another Christian? Why are you unfaithful to a member of the same body to which you yourself belong?” Can you imagine the various parts of our natural bodies being false to one another? What is for the good of one is for the good of all; and so in the body of Christ, what is for the good of one member is for the good of all. The Christian is called to see that he never defaults in any way in his dealings with a fellow Christian.
Then we read in verse Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.” This verse has perplexed many people. Some imagine that it is always wrong to be angry. There are circumstances under which it would be very wrong not to be angry. Our Lord though absolutely perfect in His humanity was angry on more than one occasion. He saw the pretentious Pharisees going in and out of the temple of God with a great air of sanctity. Yet He knew some of them held mortgages on widows’ homes, and when occasion arose they foreclosed on them and turned the widows out into the streets because they could not meet their obligations. Our Lord’s indignation was aroused, His anger flamed up, and He said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation” (Matthew 23:14). If my spirit would not be stirred to indignation by this kind of behavior today, I am not the sort of Christian I ought to be. If I am not stirred to anger by seeing the helpless oppressed, I am not a Christian. There is an anger that is righteous. We read that our Lord Jesus on one occasion “looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” How, then, am I to be angry and sin not? A Puritan has put it this way, “I am determined so to be angry as not to sin, therefore to be angry at nothing but sin.”
You see the moment self comes in to the situation, my anger is sinful. You do me a wrong and I flare with anger. That is sinful anger. But you blaspheme the name of my Savior and if I am not stirred to anger, that is sin. If I am reconciled to God as I should be, it will arouse my indignation when I hear His name blasphemed, or see His truth dragged in the dust. But so far as I am concerned, I am to suffer all things, I am to endure all things. Men may consider me the refuse of the earth, they may do the worst they can against me, but if I become angry, I sin, for self is the object there.
Who is there then that is sinless? No one; that is why Paul said, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” If you are stirred to sinful anger, if you flare up, see then that you do not go to bed at night before you confess your sin. If you have lost your temper before another, see that you confess it to him and ask forgiveness. Many people have said to me, “I have such a bad temper. I have tried so hard to overcome it, but I get angry and say things that I regret afterwards. Then I make up my mind never to do it again, but I always fail.” I usually ask this question, “Do you make it a practice, when you have said angry words, to go to the person you have sinned against and confess it?” Sometimes I get this answer, “No, I never hold anything in my heart; I flare up, and then it is all over.” The memory may be over for you, but the memory of that anger is not all over. The other person remembers it. If every time you sin through anger you would go immediately to the one sinned against, and confess and ask forgiveness, you would soon get tired of going so often and you would check yourself. It would not be so easy to fly off the handle. But as long as you can flare up and pay no attention to it, or while you may confess it to God you do not do so to your brother, you will find the habit growing on you.
This expression, “Be ye angry, and sin not,” is a direct quotation from the Septuagint translation of Psalms 4:4. The King James version reads, “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” The Hebrew word translated “stand in awe” is a word that means “tremble”-tremble at the presence of God. But this is not necessarily all that it means. These words were probably recorded at the time that David was fleeing from Absalom, his own son, and his heart was stirred as he thought of his son’s disrespectful behavior. That son for whom he had so often prayed was bringing dishonor on the name of the Lord, and it moved his heart to indignation. But he said, “I am not going to sleep tonight until all that indignation is quieted down-‘Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.’” In other words, Just get quietly into the presence of God and then you will be able to look at things from a right standpoint. As you think of your own failures, of the many, many times that God in grace has had to forgive you, it will make you very lenient as you think of the failures of others. Instead of rising in judgment on another believer, it will lead you to self-judgment and that will bring blessing. Anger and a refusal to forgive will only harm your own spiritual life.
“Let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.” Why? Because anger cherished becomes hatred, and Satan works through a hateful spirit. He seeks to get control of Christians and have them act in malice toward fellow believers. All this grieves the Holy Spirit of God. These are searching truths, and we have to take them each for himself, “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Let us not avoid facing our anger honestly.
“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” There is many a person who steals who would not like to be called a thief. We have names for stealing that sound much better, for instance, pilfering and cheating. They mean the same thing but do not sound quite as bad as stealing. But the Spirit of God covers them all in the command, “Let him that stole steal no more.” Let him that appropriated that to which he had no right, steal no more. The Christian is to be intrinsically honest.
It is easy to become lazy along these lines. For instance, if you are working in an office you may say to yourself, “Oh well, they don’t pay me anything near what I am worth, so I have a right to certain little things around the office.” I knew one young man who had a habit of stealing pencils until he had accumulated a gross of them, and then his conscience smote him. One day he had to go back to the boss with the pencils and say, “I am a Christian and I am returning these pencils to you.” Christians are called to be faithful in very small things, things that others may not pay any attention to at all. What a pity that sometimes Christians cannot be trusted. The child of God ought to be the one who can be trusted anywhere, one who will be faithful in another man’s things just as much as in his own things.
But it is not enough that we refrain from thievery. The law says, “Thou shalt not steal,” but grace comes in and sets a much higher standard than that under law! It is not only, “Let him that stole steal no more,” but Paul added, “but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” I could live up to the righteousness of the law if I refrained from stealing, but I cannot live up to the holiness of grace until I share with others what God in His kindness gives to me. What a wonderful standard is that of Christianity.
Next Paul exhorted his readers regarding their manner of speech: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29). The Psalmist said, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalms 141:3). And James said, “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). I have met some “perfect” people; I knew they were perfect because they told me so. But when I was with them a while and listened to their speech-heard their careless, worldly chatter, noticed how critical of other people they were, heard the unkind, cutting remarks they could make concerning other people-I knew their perfection was all a delusion. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
What did Paul mean by “corrupt communication”? Corrupt communication comes from the old corrupt nature. The new nature produces holy communication. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying [that is, for the building up of those to whom you speak], that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” “Oh,” says somebody, “this is where my trouble is. My tongue is always getting me into difficulty. I make up my mind never to say anything unkind, and the next minute my tongue seems to be set on a pivot.” Very well, when you find that you just must talk and you cannot stop, say, “Now, Lord, this tongue of mine wants to get going; help me to say something good.” And then quote some Scripture and speak of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Speak of that which will build up your hearers, and you won’t go away with regrets and at the close of the day have to get down on your knees and say, “O Lord, forgive me for my careless chatter and un-Christianlike words today.” We are not made to be silent; some of us like to talk. But we are to talk about good things. We are to let Christ be the center of our speech, to present Him to others.
I have known men with whom it was a delight to spend a little time because I never left them without having learned more of the Lord Jesus. I am thinking of a friend of mine in whose company I have never been for more than ten minutes before he would say to me, “You know, I was thinking of such and such a Scripture, and while I was meditating the Spirit gave me such and such a thought.” How different it is with others at times. How different it has been many, many times with my own tongue. What sorrows it has brought on me when I have spoken unadvisedly.
And now we come to the crucial text-“And grieve not [pain not] the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” As we have already seen, the Spirit of God dwells in each believer. As a divine Person and heavenly guest, He is listening to everything you say and is taking note of everything you do. All that is said and done contrary to the holiness of Christ and to the righteousness of God, grieves that indwelling Holy Spirit. Have you ever known what it was to have someone in your home who did not approve of something you were doing? Perhaps nothing was said but you had the sense that this person was not pleased. That is the way it is with the Spirit of God if a believer is not walking in accordance with the truth.
Do we read, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, lest you should grieve Him away?” No, you are not going to grieve Him away. Jesus said, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). When He comes to indwell a believer, He never leaves. David, in the Old Testament dispensation, said, “Take not thy holy spirit from me.” But in the glorious dispensation of grace, that prayer is unnecessary, for when He comes to indwell us He never leaves us until we are presented faultless in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. The point is just this, that although He dwells within us and does not leave, He is grieved all the time that we are walking in disobedience to the Word. That is why many of us are never very happy; that is why we do not enjoy communion with God and sing songs of victory. As long as the Holy Spirit dwells in me ungrieved He is free to reveal the things of Christ to me, and that fills my heart with gladness. But the moment I begin to grieve Him He stops doing the work He delighted to do, He is not free to open these things to me. He has to convict me of my own failure and sin until I confess it.
Then, I have the joy of knowing that I am sealed-how long? “Unto the day of redemption.” What does Paul mean by that? Is not the day of redemption the day Christ died on Calvary’s cross? That was when Jesus died to redeem my soul. But there is the coming day of the redemption of the body when the Lord will return again to transform these earthly bodies and make them like His own glorious body. It is the redemption referred to inRomans 8:22-23; Romans 8:22-23:
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
We are sealed until the redemption of our bodies. When our bodies are redeemed, the old nature will be gone, we will not have to be on our guard any more against grieving the Holy Spirit. It is here and now in this body that we need to watch against this.
Paul concluded this section of Ephesians chapter 4 by saying, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” I wish that as Christians we would be obedient to this word of God! Is there any bitterness in your heart against anyone on earth? Do you say, “but you don’t know how I have been tested, how I have been tried, insulted, offended?” If you had not been offended there would be no reason for the bitterness at all, but Paul said, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” If you do not live up to that, you are not living a real Christian life. This is Christianity lived in the power of the Holy Ghost.
We are not merely told to put these sinful things away, but there is also the positive side of the command: “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” To what extent must I forgive? “I have forgiven over and over and over again, and I cannot go on forgiving forever,” you say. Wait a minute. What does the apostle say about the extent to which we are to forgive? “Even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Can you ever forgive others more than God has forgiven you? Has anyone ever wronged you as much as you have wronged God? But if you have trusted the Savior, God in Christ has forgiven you all your trespasses. Now this is the standard for Christians, we are to forgive one another even as God in Christ has forgiven us.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34