Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ephesians 4:29-32, 5:1-2

29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you... 1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Continuing with our list, the fourth command is found in v29. Paul deals with corrupt speech and points to the transformation as speech that edifies and builds up the Body of Christ. It’s a DC memory verse; “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Other versions (NKJV) talk about edifying speech as a means of imparting grace. “Unwholesome talk” can refer to just about anything that is not good – gossip, slander, foul or vulgar language (obscenities), crude jokes, or even empty words (like offensive or leading sarcasm) and foolishness, especially regarding sexuality, which Paul will mention later (Ephesians 5:4). Our speech ought to be encouraging, a blessing to those who hear. And it’s hard to tame the tongue; we have dirty mouths, for the simple reason that we have dirty hearts (Luke 6:45; James 3:6-10).

In v30, we see that the Holy Spirit is a Person, rather than an impersonal spiritual force (an “it”), since He can be grieved by our poor choice of words. However, He is not a frightened little girl or a pigeon that can be shooed away. Calvin says, “As God has sealed us by His Spirit, we grieve Him when we do not follow His guidance, but pollute ourselves by wicked passions. No language can adequately express this solemn truth, that the Holy Spirit rejoices and is glad on our account, when we are obedient to Him in all things, and neither think nor speak anything, but what is pure and holy; and, on the other hand, is grieved, when we admit anything into our minds that is unworthy of our calling.” With this thought, Paul refers to Isaiah 63:10, which reveals that he is simply reiterating an Old Testament concept and not teaching anything new. And it’s another reminder of the behind-the-scenes spiritual warfare going on. Words are powerful; and Paul commands that we use them to edify others by the power of the Spirit.

Fifth, in v31-32 and Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul uses a variety of commands to move us from an internal sinful disposition to a disposition of love. Unlike Paul’s previous exhortations, which clearly addressed outward actions (lying, uncontrolled anger, stealing, and unwholesome talk) this command is regarding more of an internal attitude, a hardhearted, sinful disposition (bitterness – resentment, rage – sinful wrath, anger – settled and sullen hostility with no room for forgiveness, brawling – obnoxious clamoring, slander – speaking evil of someone behind their back, and every form of malice – abusive hatred or ill-will toward others). Paul addressed the fruits of the internal problem, the sinful disposition. And now he says get rid of that natural bent toward bitterness. Ligon Duncan says:

“He’s talking about an attitude of heart, an outlook on life, that, when we receive blessings in this life we don’t adequately acknowledge that God has given those blessings; and then, when we come to hard things in this life and trials in this life, we become bitter because we think that somehow God has shortchanged us, that He doesn’t really care about us, that He’s not good...and that bitterness then turns into words, it turns into resentment, it turns into anger towards others. It’s expressed in verbal activity, but it’s also expressed in a heart attitude that bears ill-will to others, resents others who have blessings that we don’t have, doesn’t rejoice with others when they do have blessings, thinks that God is better to other people than to ourselves. He’s talking about a fundamental attitude issue here.”
Think of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal sons. This was his deal. But we are commanded to receive God’s providence with understanding that He is good. We are commanded to be kind and tenderhearted, compassionate, forgiving others as God forgives us, and loving others as Christ loves us (John 13:34; The Lord’s Prayer). But we need more than Paul to say to us, “Stop being bitter, angry, and slanderous. Be forgiving, compassionate, and loving instead.” Paul is teaching us a whole new pattern of thinking and behavior. We need the Holy Spirit to transform us by grace so that we can be imitators of God; in order to be like Christ, a fragrant offering to God (2 Corinthians 2:15), we need to be constantly reminded of the forgiveness and love we have in Christ and then yield that to others. And Paul will discuss additional motivations for these powerful lifestyle transformations in Ephesians 5:5-21.

No comments: