In Ephesians 4:17-32, the apostle Paul says this:
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling gave themselves up to [sensuality], to [practice] all uncleanness with greediness. But ye did not so learn Christ; if [it] be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that [is being corrupted in accordance with] the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that [according to the likeness of] God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have [something] to give to him that hath need. Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, [by] whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and [slander], be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.”
In this passage, Paul is now getting to the extremely practical section of his letter to the Ephesians. Before theses paragraphs, he began the whole practical section of the letter by calling them to live their daily lives in a way that is of equal weight and significance to the calling that he explained in detail in the first section of the letter. Then, he moved on to the greatest way to live in a way that’s worthy of that calling — maintaining their unity as members of the body of Christ. After that, he gave a general overview of the way in which they were to do that. Now, in these two paragraphs, he begins to explain to them how they are to live in a manner worthy of their calling, and to maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit, as individuals.
In the first paragraph, Paul begins this individual practical exhortation by comparing the Ephesians to the type of people that they once were, and reminding them of the change that took place in them when they were saved. First, he commands them to no longer live like the Godless people that they once were. Then, he describes how those people live. Next, he reminds them that they were taught to live in a completely different way when they were saved. This is how he puts it:
“But ye did not so learn Christ; if [it] be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that [is being corrupted in accordance with] the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that [according to the likeness of] God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
So, we see that this is the basis for the second paragraph. The Ephesians have learned how to live as new people, and have therefore put away their old selves, have been renewed in the spirit of their minds, and have put on their new selves, which has been created in the likeness of God — truly righteous and holy. In the second paragraph, Paul tells the Ephesians what they are to do since they have done all that. He has five basic commands:
- Be Straightforward in Speech
- Be Self-Controlled in Anger
- Be Self-Giving in Work
- Be Sanctifying in Speech
- Be Sympathetic in Heart
First, Paul tells the Ephesians to be straightforward in speech:
“Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.”
First, I’ll say again that the reason Paul uses the word “wherefore” or “therefore” is that he has just told the Ephesians that they have taken off their old selves as Godless people, and have put on their new selves as people who are like God in true righteousness and holiness. Thus, since they have done that, he first tells them what they are not to do:
“. . . putting away falsehood . . .”
What does this mean? Well, he’s again referring to this act of “putting away” or “taking off” certain things. Just as they have taken off their old selves with his former manner of life, they are now to specifically take off falsehood. In other words, they are to stop speaking falsehood. What is falsehood? It simply means lying, or that which is false. However, we have to remember that Paul has just said that the Ephesians have taken off the old self. That is, it’s not simply the act of lying that must go away, but it’s the motive behind the lying. The Ephesians mustn’t simply stop lying, but stop being false in any way, since they aren’t just living new lives, but are new people.
Next, Paul tells the Ephesians what they’re to do instead of speaking falsehood:
“. . . speak ye truth each one with his neighbor . . .”
This is simple enough, but what does Paul mean by “neighbor”? Well, the context shows us that Paul isn’t really talking specifically about the Ephesians’ conduct among just any type of person at all, but among themselves. What he says next tells us what he means specifically by “neighbor”:
“. . . for we are members one of another.”
What does Paul mean by this? Is he saying that he and the Ephesians are all members, or parts, of everyone else on earth? Well, we must understand what he means by “members one of another” in light of what he has just said in this letter:
“There is one body . . . the body of Christ . . . but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each . . .part . . .” (Eph. 4:4a, 12b, 15-16a)
Clearly, Paul is continuing his exhortations on how to maintain the unity of this body of Christ, and to work for its growth. More specifically, he’s now getting to the details of how the Ephesians are to speak truth in love as members of the body of Christ. Hence, when he says that they are “members one of another”, he’s not saying that they are members of everyone else on earth, but they are all members of the body of Christ.
So, what does he mean by “neighbor”? Well, first, he has to mean, in general, anyone with whom they interact. However, he then applies it specifically to their relationship to one another in the body of Christ, and tells them the reason they must speak truth to one another is because they are “members one of another”.
Now, what exactly does he mean by this? Notice that he doesn’t say that they are all members of the body of Christ, but that they are members of one another. Clearly, what he has in mind is that they belong to one another as members of Christ’s body. So, why is this the prime reason to speak truth to one another? Because to lie to one another would be, in effect, lying to their own selves, and it’s insane to lie to yourself. But, when Christians do that to other Christians, that’s what they’re doing, since they belong to one another, and are all members of the same body.
The second command that Paul gives the Ephesians is to be self-controlled in anger:
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil.”
In this case, Paul first gives the Ephesians a positive command — “be ye angry”. What does he mean by this? Is he telling them to be angry all the time? Clearly not, since he almost immediately tells them not to let the sun go down while they’re angry. Rather, he’s granting them permission to be angry, but not to sin by doing so. The fact that he immediately tells them to not sin implies that it’s possible to be angry in a sinful way, but that still doesn’t negate the fact that he’s telling them to be angry.
So, what exactly does he mean when he tells them to be angry? Well, he has recently said that their new selves were “created according to the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness of truth”, so we must see this characteristic of the new self in that way. What about the new self relates to being angry? The fact that he bears the righteous and holy likeness of God. Thus, any understanding of this anger must have something to do with God’s anger.
Isn’t it a natural thing to be angry with evil? Well, that anger doesn’t exist randomly, but exists because people bear the image of God, or are like God. In the same way, since Christians bear the likeness of God, when they are angry, they are to be angry in a similar way to how God is angry. And how is God angry? As a righteous response to sin. Thus, when Paul commands the Ephesians to be angry, he must mean that they are to be angry in a similar way to how God is angry — with sin.
However, the emphasis of this command isn’t on the need to be angry at sin, but to “sin not”. It’s right to be angry in a righteous way, but it is possible to be angry in a sinful way. Therefore, Paul tells the Ephesians how not to sin when angry:
“. . . let not the sun go down upon your wrath . . .”
First, we obviously notice the fact that Paul here uses a different word for anger. Why does he do that? Because in the first part of the command he’s using an adverb — angry — while here he’s using a noun — wrath. They are basically two ways of saying the same thing.
So, having settled that, what does he mean by this command? Well, it’s very simple — don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Now, this is clearly not a literal expression, but is figurative. He’s not saying that you literally have to stop being angry before the sun goes down. Rather, he’s telling the Ephesians not to bear grudges, or be controlled by their anger. Instead, he’s telling them to control their anger, and to not be characterized by it. This requires self-control.
Finally, Paul gives the reason that the Ephesians are to not let the sun go down on their anger:
“. . . neither give place to the devil.”
With the word “neither”, he’s implying that the act of being angry all the time, or of letting it control you, is a way of giving “place to the devil”. What does he mean by this? Well, the Greek word translated “place” could also be translated “foothold” or “opportunity”, so he’s saying that being sinfully angry gives the devil a place to tempt the believer to sin more. In other words, by being sinfully angry, the believer is opening himself up to further spiritual attack by the devil and his demons. If the believer is sinfully angry, then that’s a condition the devil can use to make him sin more.
At this point, let’s think about why Paul uses the title “devil” rather than the name “Satan”. The word “devil” is translated from a Greek word that literally means “slanderer” or “accuser”. With this word, Paul is pointing out that the devil is trying to accuse God of having a sinful child, and will take advantage of any situation where a believer is sinfully angry to do so.
Third, Paul commands the Ephesians to be self-giving in their work:
“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have [something] to give to him that hath need.”
In this command, Paul begins by telling the Ephesians to stop stealing. You may have never stopped to ask the question of what stealing exactly is, so what is it? It means to take, or use, something that doesn’t belong to you without the owner’s giving it to you to use or take. Paul tells the Ephesians to stop doing that in every form — to stop using other’s things without permission.
Instead of stealing, he commands the Ephesians to “rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good”. What does he mean by “labor”? The word “labor” is translated from a Greek word that literally means “work to the point of fatigue or exhaustion”. It could be better translated “toil” or “work hard”. Paul’s not just commanding the Ephesians to work, but to work as hard as they can.
But what exactly are they to do for work?
“. . . working with his hands the thing that is good . . .”
Now, in that society, most work was blue collar work, so it’s natural that Paul would tell them to work with their hands, but what does he mean by “the thing that is good”? The word “good” means “useful”, so Paul’s not commanding the Ephesians to do something of no practical value, but to do something useful.
And why are the Ephesians to do this?
“. . . that he may have [something] to give to him that hath need.”
This is the most practical reason to work hard, and to do something useful — so that the worker has something to give to those in need. Notice that Paul’s reason is not that the Ephesians will have money to support themselves, although that’s implied. Rather, the best practical reason in the context of the Christian life is so that the Christian worker has something to share with those in need.
The fourth command that Paul gives the Ephesians is to be sanctifying in speech:
“Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear.”
First, he begins with a prohibition:
“Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth . . .”
What does he mean by “corrupt speech”? The word “corrupt” is translated from a Greek word that would be better translated “unwholesome” or “rotten”. It refers to speech that has a rotten influence on its hearers. In other words, it is sinful, and tempts people to sin. He tells the Ephesians to let no such talk to come out of their mouths.
So, what kind of speech is to proceed out of their mouths?
“. . . such as is good for edifying as the need may be . . .”
Again, Paul tells the Ephesians to do something “good” — in this case to speak good things. And again, the word “good” means “useful”. For what?
“. . . for edifying as the need may be . . .”
What does the word “edifying” mean? Well it has the root “edify” in it, which is where we get the word “edifice”, or “building”, from. Thus, it literally means “building up”. So, Paul is commanding the Ephesians to speak that which is good for building up others.
However, he doesn’t stop there, but qualifies this speech by saying it’s only to be done “as the need may be”. What does this mean? It means that the speech is to be appropriate for the need that is recognized. Good speech is only good insofar as it fits the need, but it is always to be good for building up others.
So, why are the Ephesians to talk like this?
“. . . that it may give grace to them that hear.”
What does Paul mean by “give grace” here? Well, the word “grace” — charis in Greek — simply means “favor”, or “benefit”, so Paul is saying that the reason for speaking good things for building up others according to the need is so that it will benefit them. However, since he’s talking about building up other believers, and is using this in the sense of building up the body of Christ, he doesn’t simply mean any benefit at all, but a spiritual benefit. In other words, he’s implying that all speech to other Christians should always be aimed at helping them to become more like Christ, or to build them up.
The final main command that Paul gives the Ephesians is to be sympathetic in heart:
“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, [by] whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and [slander], be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.”
First, Paul introduces this command by summing up all the commands that have come before:
“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, [by] whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption.”
What does it mean for someone to be grieved? It means that they are saddened, and that is exactly what Paul says Christians are able to make the Holy Spirit. To put it another way, Paul says “do not make the Holy Spirit sad”. But why does he call Him “the Holy Spirit of God“? Because He’s not just the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit who is from God the Father. In other words, the Holy Spirit is a Gift from the Father to every Christian. Therefore, it is an abuse of God’s Gift to grieve the Holy Spirit.
However, Paul’s main argument for not grieving the Holy Spirit is that He is the One “by whom [they] were sealed unto the day of redemption.” What does this mean? Well, the word “sealed” refers to the act of stamping something to protect it from being opened, and to mark it as being owned by a particular person. In this case, the first aspect of sealing is what is emphasized here. The Ephesians are not to grieve the Holy Spirit because He is the One who is the very Seal who protects them “unto the day of redemption”.
What does that last part mean? It means that the Holy Spirit, since He lives inside the Ephesians, is making sure that they will be redeemed on the day of redemption. The word “redeem” means “to rescue by the payment of a price”. What will the Ephesians be rescued from? Well, as we can see from the context of this passage, they will be finally rescued from all aspects of their old selves — in a word, “sin”. Not only that, they will be finally delivered from “the lusts of deceit” and the devil that Paul mentions in these two paragraphs. In particular, they will be delivered from falsehood, sinful anger, stealing, and corrupt speech.
But what is the day of redemption? Paul describes it in Romans 8:18-23:
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit , the redemption of our body.”
From this passage, we see that this day of redemption will be when “the glory” will be revealed; “the sons of God” are revealed; “the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God”; and when believers will experience “the redemption of [their] body”. In other words, “the day of redemption” is the day when the whole creation will be redeemed by the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, which includes the creation of new, perfect and sinless, bodies for all believers, or “the redemption” of their bodies.
Hence, the best practical reason not to grieve the Holy Spirit is that He is the One who is protecting believers so they will be finally and perfectly redeemed on the day of redemption.
Having given the first reason to obey the command he’s about to give — so as not to grieve the Holy Spirit — Paul moves on to what the Ephesians are to do before they can obey the command:
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and [slander], be put away from you, with all malice . . .”
First, they are to “put away” or “take off” “all bitterness”. “Bitterness” means resentment. Second, they are to put away wrath. This refers to sudden outbursts of anger. Third, they are to put away anger, which refers to sinful, smoldering, anger. Fourth, they are to put away clamor, which could be translated “outcry”, referring to loud expressions of anger. Fifth, they are to put away slander, which means accusing someone of sin for no good reason. Finally, they are to put away all “malice”, which means evil intent, especially toward others.
Having commanded the Ephesians to put away, or stop committing, all these sins, Paul then tells them what to do instead:
“. . . and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.”
First, he tells them to be kind to one another. What does the word “kind” mean? Well, it comes from a Greek word that means generally good and useful toward others. Basically, it means to treat others well, no matter how they treat us. Again, Paul is using a word that has the idea of being useful to others.
Second, he tells them to be tenderhearted. This is pretty simple to understand — it means to have a heart that is tender, or sensitive. It is the exact opposite of a hard, stubborn, heart. It carries the idea of being compassionate and sympathetic toward others, and having a place for them in one’s heart. It therefore includes being considerate and sensitive toward others’ problems and needs.
The thing that follows these two characteristics is the logical result — “forgiving each other”. If someone is kind and tenderhearted, then he will be a forgiving person. But what exactly does it mean for someone to forgive another? Another word for “forgiveness” is “remission”, and it means “release” or “relief”. So, to forgive someone means to release them from any retaliation that we have the ability to react with. It means to not hold the wrong that’s been done to us against the wrongdoer.
But why, and how, are the Ephesians to do this?
“. . . even as God also in Christ forgave you.”
What does the word “even” mean? It first means “in the same way”, and also implies that this is the reason that the Ephesians are to forgive each other. They are to forgive each other in the same way that God forgave them. And how did He forgive them?
“. . . in Christ . . .”
What does this mean? Well, Paul is again using this expression that he used over and over in the first chapter, and that’s how we must understand it here. Here’s what Paul said that God did “in Christ” in verses 3 to 7a of the first chapter:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him[,] in love having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses . . .”
Here we see that Paul makes a distinction between God doing things in Christ, and through Christ. So, what does he mean when he says that God does something in Christ, specifically forgiving believers? It means that He forgives them because they are in Christ. And what does it mean to be in Christ? It means to be spiritually united to Him, so that everything that is true of Him in His humanness is true of the one who is in Him. That is, God treats those who are in Christ as if they have the exact same human goodness and perfection as Him. Thus, God simply will not hold their sins against them, but has to forgive them instead.
But how are believers to forgive others “in Christ”? They are to forgive because God has forgiven them in Christ. Further, they have another reason to forgive other believers — because the believer that has wronged them has also been forgiven in Christ, and who are they to withhold forgiveness, when God Himself has forgiven them?
Finally, we must also recognize, as Paul does in the first chapter, that the reason God forgives believers isn’t just because they are in Christ, but also because Christ died a bloody death because of their sins, thus redeeming them through His blood, and purchasing God’s forgiveness for them. By satisfying His wrath and justice against believers by punishing Christ by forsaking Him on the cross instead of them, God then was compelled to forgive them, all because of what Christ did on the cross. Hence, Paul’s argument is that, since God forgave the believer who has wronged you because of Christ, you must also.
So, have you stopped lying?
Are you speaking truth with your neighbor?
Do you get angry in a sinful way?
Are you controlling your anger?
Are you stealing?
Are you working hard at doing something useful, so that you have something to share with those in need?
Are you letting unwholesome talk come out of your mouth?
Are you speaking what’s good for building others up as the need may be, so that it will give grace to those who hear?
Are you grieving the Holy Spirit of God?
Have you put all bitterness away from you?
Have you put all outbursts of anger away from you?
Have you put all sinful anger away from you?
Have you put all angry yelling away from you?
Have you put all slander away from you?
Have you put all evil intent away from you?
Are you being kind to others?
Are you tenderhearted?
Do you forgive others?
If you are a liar, a hateful person, a thief, a filthy talker, a bitter person, a slanderer, or a malevolent person at heart — if you habitually practice any of those things as part of who you are, then you still are alienated from the life of God, and are one of His enemies. He has fixed a day on which He will judge people like through Jesus, and cast you into hell to be punished for your crimes against Him. But that’s part of the reason why He sent His divine Son to earth to become a man, to die on the cross for our sins, taking the punishment we deserve, to raise Him from the dead, and to give Him all authority in the universe. He commands you to change your mind and trust in Jesus, His death for our sins, and His resurrection, as the only grounds of His forgiveness, and the only terms of peace with Him. Please repent and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved from His wrath.
If you have done that, then:
- speak truth with your neighbor in Christ because you belong to one another
- be righteously angry when needed, but control your anger
- work hard at doing something useful, so you have something to share with those in need, especially your brethren
- only say that which is good for building up your brethren as needed, so that it will give them grace
- don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption
- be kind to your brethren, tenderhearted, forgiving them, just as God in Christ has forgiven you