Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:14b “. . .tossed to and fro,. . .”
If a believer does not grow, if mind and body are not focused on increased maturity, one becomes susceptible to the destructive influence of false teachers. “Tossed to and fro” translates a single Greek word, a nautical term which literally means “billowed,” tossed by waves. This would have been a vivid metaphor to Paul. He had recently experienced this very sensation on his trip to Rome for imprisonment (AC 27:27). He knew what it meant to be in a ship totally at the mercy of dashing and surging waves.
Whereas mature believers are marked by stability, and proceed steadily on a prescribed course, the immature suffer instability, mental agitation, and are unsteady as the waves of a storm-tossed sea. Guided by neither compass nor rudder, having no fixed course, they are led by the violence of the tempest. Instead of being headed in one, right direction, the immature turn every which way, sometimes going one direction, sometimes another.
Be sure to remember this verse’s context. To keep an even keel, Christians have to mature, and a major part of successful spiritual growth lies in finding one’s place of service within the body. Generally, those who serve are the ones who grow. The others risk becoming like ships without ballast in a storm-tossed world bent on sinking straight to perdition.
Eph. 4:14c “. . .and carried about with every wind of doctrine,. .”
“Carried about” (Greek, periphero) refers to violent, circular motion which makes one dizzy. “Whirled about” (NEB) is a good translation. If “billowed” enough, a boat begins to ride the tops of boisterous waves, and can, like a feather or leaf in the breeze, be blown about by the wind at will.
Similarly, the “billowed” immature believer is endangered by “every wind of doctrine.” Every breath of heresy, each gust of false teaching, is a peril which might tip the floundering believer. This danger is ever-present, because there is never a shortage of false teachers. They seem to come from every direction. As in a squall or gale at sea, the wind seems to blow at the same time from the north, the south, the east, the west, from every point of the compass. We are literally surrounded by heresies. The ship of Zion is ever encrusted with barnacles seeking to penetrate the hull.
Notice, these false teachings of men are but “wind,” fleeting breaths. They howl, but have no solidity. Their teachings lack substance. Holy Writ alone has sure and steady words. Stay anchored in the Bible. Otherwise, we are subject to every sort of counterfeit truth–humanistic, cultural, pagan, superstitious, demonic, etc.–dangers worse than the wildest hurricane.
Eph. 4:14d “. . .by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness,. . .”
“Sleight” translates “kubeia,” from which we derive our word “cube.” It refers to dice-playing. People who professionally play with dice are notorious for practicing arts of deception through dice weighted and loaded to their advantage. Thus, “kubeia” became synonymous with dishonesty and trickery. Just as skill can be used to manipulate dice, even so immature believers are vulnerable and subject to being manipulated by heretics. “False teachers deal with truth and men as players with dice” (Luther).
A part of their deception is “cunning craftiness,” the clever ability to make error look like truth. There will always be adroit and dexterous impostors who possess the slyness to make ugly error look attractive and true.
Eph. 4:14e “. . .whereby they lie in wait to deceive;. . .”
“Lie in wait” translates “methodia,” root of our word “method.” It denotes a well-laid plan, a deliberate, organized scheme of action, something not happening by accident. The word was used of the systematic way a predator stalks its prey. The hunter is methodical, stopping at intervals to let its game think the danger is past. Once the victim has been lulled into a false sense of security, the predator strikes mercilessly.
Teachers of error are also orderly and deliberate. One reason these charlatans are amazingly successful is because they, like believers, have a well organized spiritual power source behind them. They are aided and abetted by the Lucifer, the Father of lies, and his demons. These spiritual forces keep track of us, remembering what caused us to fall in the past. To ensnare us, they watch our conduct, yearning to see signs of weakness or carelessness. When we do not grow, we tempt evil forces to tempt us, and make of ourselves attractive targets. When we give evidence of spiritual laxness, demons prompt false teachers to hound and pound on our weaknesses, as in an ambush, in order to deceive and destroy us.
The ministers of error know where to focus their attack. It always centers on some portion of the Bible, especially the creation and the Person of our Lord. In our culture, they subtly push God out of creation, replacing Him with a lifeless force known as evolution. They also craftily remove God out of the incarnation. Too clever to deny Jesus altogether, they say kind things about Him, but deny His absolute divinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses say He is a manifestation of Michael the Archangel. Mormons say He is god, but a lesser god below many superiors. Moslems deem Him a prophet, Eastern Orientals a great teacher, New Agers a worthy example. The Devil hates Jesus above all else, and seeks to detract from His glory as God.
These forces of evil are organized and formidable, but not invincible. They can be defeated and totally thwarted in our individual lives, but only in the way prescribed. Again, I point us to the context of our verse. We base our lives on truth written by apostles and prophets, spread by evangelists, and taught by pastor-teachers. We then allow ourselves to be perfected for the work of ministry to edify the body of Christ. The old adage is true, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, idle hands are his tools. He is thwarted in minds filled with truth, and hands put to the task of ministry.
Eph. 4:15a (part 1) “. . .but speaking the truth in love,. . .”
“Speaking the truth” translates “aletheuontes,” which literally means “truthing.” It denotes speaking and doing, dealing truly in every phase of life. Our lives, as well as our lips, should be truthful and authentic. “In love” is the element, the atmosphere, in which truth must be enacted.
“Speaking the truth in love” is the antithesis of the roguery and chicanery described in verse 14. Christians are not to use the dishonorable methods of devious men. Avoid error; act truthfully in all things. Avoid deceit; be open, above board. Avoid selfishness; be self-less. Every phase of our lives should be in absolute contrast to those mentioned in verse 14.
No better motto for Christian living can be found than this, “Speaking the truth in love.” Truth is a wonderful thing; love is, too; each is most wonderful when coupled with the other. Love without truth slips into mere sentimentality. Truth without love freezes into harsh orthodoxy.
Never separate truth and love. God put them together. God “is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 J 1:5), and His children “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 J 1:7). God “is love,” also, and His children abide “in love” (1 J 4:16). “Grace and truth came by Jesus” (JN 1:17).
In standing for the truth, we must be fearless, and at the same time gentle and kind, never harsh or bitter. What we say and the way we say it are both vital. In fact, the spirit in which the truth is spoken may be as important as the utterance of truth itself. Truth can be proclaimed in such an unpleasant way that it fails to win anybody. Cold truth is a blunt sledge hammer, a stern hard thing, like the bare branches of winter. Love softens and beautifies, like the green foliage on a summer tree.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (PR 25:11). However, “apples of gold” taken from “pictures of silver” and thrown at one’s head become instruments of pain, harm, and devastation. Words not “fitly spoken” may in themselves be good and true enough, but if uttered in a rude, insolent, arrogant way they result in bad rather than good. We need the spirit displayed by the shepherd of King Admetus, whose
“Words were simple words enough,
And yet he used them so,
“That what in other mouths was rough,
In his seemed musical and low.”
There is no virtue in a truth which leaves its hearer bleeding and smashed. Truth’s goal must ever be redemption. Our ultimate aim is to win people, not arguments. To accomplish this we must ever be winsome. Always speak with caution in your words, and with concern in your tone.
We are not at liberty to speak truth at all hazard, but rather discreetly and kindly. We are never entitled to act in an un-Christlike way, no matter what the provocation. This thought pierces me to the quick. All of us are hourly conscious of how unlike Jesus we are. Much about us would never have been seen in Jesus. Every night we all need to bow the knee, acknowledge our failure, and pray for grace to be more like Him.