Friday, December 19, 2008

Ephesians 4:25-28

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26"In your anger do not sin" [Psalm 4:4]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Paul helps us see what transforming grace looks like. He begins with “Therefore,” and we can view the negative commands found throughout v25-31 and v3-4 of chapter 5, as well as the positive exhortations found in v25, v28-29, v32, and v1-2 of chapter 5, as commands to us from Jesus and as exhortations that can only be obeyed in this life through Jesus working in us by the gracious resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. Paul gives us six specific instructions to help us live the Christian life, which is to be distinct from the world for God’s glory and for Christian unity as the Body of Christ. His unifying, God-glorifying instructions deal with transformation from: (1) lying to truth telling, (2) uncontrolled anger to self-control, (3) stealing to useful labor, (4) harmful speech to helpful speech, (5) a sinful disposition to a loving disposition, and (6) unrestrained sexual desires to a thankful acknowledgement of God’s gracious gifts.

First, in v25, Paul says to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” Satan is the father of lies. Lying, which includes all forms of deceit, hypocrisy, and cunning, is pervasive in our world, and sadly, even in the Church. And it has been for quite awhile. Seeing the vision of the holy God seated on His throne with the train of His robe filling the Temple, the prophet Isaiah said, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). We are to be distinct from the world by speaking the truth. Paul says to be sincere, truthful with our neighbors, recognizing that when we speak the truth to fellow church members (neighbors), we are literally speaking the truth to ourselves, because we are all in one body. So truth-telling, and not lying, is a fruit of God’s grace to His Church, a sign of His being at work in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13), and it is essential for maintaining and building unity within the Body of Christ.

Second, in v26-27, Paul commands us to manage anger appropriately. He alludes to Psalm 4:4, “In your anger, do not sin.” Of course, we know that anger is not sinful. Being angry is oftentimes an appropriate response to the world or to an offensive action. We can be angry not only at sin and sinful activity, but also at sinners. It is right for a woman to be angry with her husband when he has an affair. It would be wrong if she weren’t angry. But how we handle that anger is crucial. If we sin in anger, we disrupt the unity of the Body of Christ, and we fail to glorify God. Calvin says, “There are three faults by which we offend God in being angry. The first is when our anger arises from slight causes, and often from no cause whatever, or at least from private injuries or offenses. The second is when we go beyond the proper bounds, and are hurried into intemperate excesses. The third is when our anger, which ought to have been directed against ourselves or against sins, is turned against our brethren.”

Instead of clinging to anger and building contempt and malice inside, we need to seek reconciliation. Be ready to reconcile. Thus Paul says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” And in conclusion on his discussion of anger, having seen that practical unity displays God’s power of reconciliation, Paul, in v27, says not to give the devil a foothold; Satan likes to disrupt the unity of believers. And so we see that there is spiritual warfare going on in our efforts to live the Christian life. Paul will expound on that, especially in chapter six, but for now, we need to see that anger ought to point to us to God’s glorious grace. And we ought to reflect that to the world.

Third, in v28, Paul tells the audience not to steal, but instead to work with their hands in order to share with others. John Stott says, “‘Do not steal’ was the eighth commandment of Moses’ Law. It had, and still has, a wide application...not only the stealing of other people’s money or possessions, but also to tax evasion; to employers who take advantage of their workers; and to employees who give poor service, or who work short time in relation to their employers.” Failing to be generous and frivolous uses of wealth – gambling, excessive consumer debt, negligent payment of bills – violate this command of God. When Paul says, “Steal no longer,” he’s speaking in broad terms of the heart issue of selfishness. And Paul instructs his audience not to merely stop stealing, but to replace stealing with honest working. Elsewhere, in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul says to work with your hands “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” It’s for God’s glory and for unity.

Christians ought to be known for their honesty in labor. And beyond that, Christians ought to avoid stealing and work hard, so that they will be able to share with the needy. That motive requires a heart-transformation by the grace of God. Nobody naturally wants to share. John Stott said, “Christ must turn burglars into benefactors.” Paul was a great example of that kind of transformation. But Jesus is our best role model. We read in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” He shared His life with us, and He’ll do it for all eternity.

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