Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:20a “But ye. . .”
Paul here begins what will be an extensive description of the Christian life. He has been using harsh and severe terms to portray the corruption of lostness (4:17-19). With the sudden use of “but,” a conjunction of contrast, Paul makes a dramatic and abrupt change in his message. By using the stark language of divergence, Paul hopes to shock his readers. He wants to make one point perfectly clear–believers are to be different from unbelievers. Being lost and being saved are diametrically opposed. They produce divergent mind-sets, and thus result in different lifestyles.
Sadly, the line of demarcation often becomes fuzzy, hard to define, not as stark as Paul meant to highlight here by his radical and sudden change in thought. A recent Gallup poll examined behavior categories–people who called in sick when they were not, people who puffed their resumes, people who cheated on tax deductions–and found “little difference in the ethical views and behavior of the churched and the unchurched” (cited in Charles Colson’s The Body). Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be. “Modern Christianity is often not vital enough to be hated by a godless world; and it is not hated because it only deserves to be scorned” (Maclaren). Something is wrong when we cannot tell the lost from the saved. “Our Lord could mix with publicans and sinners, but He was never mistaken for one of them” (Lloyd-Jones). The same should be able to be said of His followers.
Eph. 4:20b “. . .have not so. . .”
The life Paul described in verses 17-19 is totally contrary to the one we live in Christ. A Christian is one who joyfully left behind an old way of life to walk a new, straight and narrow way. A critical part of being saved is the decision to turn from sin. John the Baptist preached repentance (MT 3:2). Jesus preached repentance (MT 4:17). Peter preached repentance (AC 2:38). Paul preached repentance (AC 26:20). No one can be saved unless they repent. The call to come to Christ is a summons to leave behind the world and its sinful ways. At Pentecost Peter specifically called upon his listeners to “be saved from this perverse generation” (AC 2:40). From the very moment of conversion, a believer chooses to separate self from the life lived by the lost.
Eph. 4:20c “. . .learned Christ;. . .”
At our conversion, we “learned Christ” in a way which forbids us to remain as we were. We did not merely learn about Christ, we learned Him, a reference to having a personal relationship with Jesus. Christians are Christians because they personally know Jesus. We have to leave a life of sin behind because our lives become one with One whose life is sinless.
Having described lostness (4:17-19) as essentially a problem of the mind, Paul now describes salvation in mental terms, also. His analysis is based on words from the scholastic world. Paul was highly educated. He knew several languages and studied under the famed Gamaliel (AC 22:3). Being well-schooled, Paul knew the language of the classroom, and felt comfortable using the vernacular of academia. In Paul’s way of thinking, a believer is one who has enrolled in the University of Christ and is making progress therein. In this school Jesus is the book, the teacher, the lesson, the subject, the sum total of the curriculum, the all in all.
To become a Christian involves submitting the mind to learn a new lesson. It is yielding one’s mind to a new form of teaching, the result being a new way of living. Christian learning has behavioral implications.
Eph. 4:21a “If so be that ye have heard him,. . .”
Paul is not implying doubt about the genuineness of their conversions. He is certain they did hear Jesus, and truly were saved. Using the form of a delicate supposition, the Apostle calls on them to verify the experience.
The Ephesians knew from the first what they were getting into. They knew up front that receiving Jesus required the renunciation of their former lives in sin. Paul himself had come to their city and with his own mouth had preached unto them the need for “repentance toward God” (AC 20:21).
All believers, at the moment of their conversion, through the inner working of the Holy Spirit, “heard” the voice of Jesus. It was the voice of a Shepherd who expected to be obeyed immediately. From the first instant of salvation, we are sheep who hear our Shepherd and follow Him.
If we truly “have heard” Jesus in conversion, we can not continue in sin. We who believe in eternal security believe that everyone who is justified will someday be glorified. We also believe, though we do not talk about it as often, that everyone who is justified will also be sanctified.
Eph. 4:21b “. . .and have been taught by him,. . .”
What we listen to, and whom we learn from, affects what we think and do. Julian the Apostate, the awful tyrant who sought to obliterate the name of Jesus from the earth, was not solely a product of his own making. He was trained under two heathen tutors who exposed him to profaneness. To what and to whom are we giving our minds? What literature do we read? What movies and TV programs do we watch? Beware! What goes in the mind ultimately determines what comes out in behavior.
Jesus is the best teacher. He is to be our obsession. The phrase “by him” is literally “in him.” The underlying idea is one of union with Jesus. He is to be the atmosphere of all our learning, and we should be allowing nothing into our minds which would be unwelcome in His presence.
We learn in fellowship with Him. Truth apart from the presence and person of Jesus has little power. Abstract doctrines avail little. A preacher’s words can go only from his lips to a listener’s ears. Only Jesus can press a message home. As “true preaching takes place, Jesus is invisibly in the pulpit and walking the aisles personally teaching his own” (Hughes).
Eph. 4:21c “. . .as the truth is in Jesus:. . .”
The truth we learn as believers is not to be defined theoretically or left to our whimsical definitions. It can be objectively analyzed. In Jesus we have a definite and tangible measurement. “The truth is in Jesus.”
Paul rarely uses the name “Jesus” alone. Of the some 216 times Paul wrote the name “Jesus,” he modified it about 205 times with words such as Lord, Christ, Master, Son of God. Paul obviously had a deep respect for our Savior and did not want to risk taking Jesus’ name in vain. To show respect, Paul almost always added an extra term of veneration. Of the eleven or so times Paul used the name “Jesus” alone, his intent was usually to point to the life our Master lived in the flesh (RO 3:26; 8:11; 1 C 12:3; 2 C 4:10-11,14; 11:4; EP 4:21; PH 2:10; 1 TH 1:10; 4:14). Thus, in our text, Paul is emphasizing that Christ, in his historic incarnation and earthly life, was the manifestation of truth. Jesus embodied His own teachings. Jesus was the truth in person. Only He could say, “I am. . .the truth” (JN 14:6). Pilate cynically asked, “What is truth?” The poor blind deluded lost leader had truth standing before him, but did not recognize it.
All truth which really matters can be known for sure only in Jesus. In Jesus we see the true standard for conduct–the virtues, the motives, the purity, and the holiness required of His followers. In seeking to learn how we are to live, we are not at liberty to define terms in our own way, or with our own dictionary. We are to reproduce His life, to define everything in light of the life Jesus lived.
Our own Baptist Faith and Message declares, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” Words, terms, and concepts presented in the Bible are to be defined in light of the earthly life Jesus lived. We have two words from God, Jesus the living word, Scripture the written word. The two go together. The written word introduces us to the living word, who in turn provides expression for the written word.
What is holiness? We define it by Jesus’ life. What is devotion to God? Jesus set the standard for us all. What is truth, genuine reality? We look at Jesus to find out. What is love? It is defined in Jesus’ life. Thus, those who speak of a God of love who would not send the lost to Hell do not understand love, for Jesus spoke of Hell more than did anyone else in Scripture. We do serve a God of love, but love as defined in Jesus. What is peace? Jesus’ life clarifies it. Thus, those who say we should compromise with error in order to have peace are in error.
Any trait in life worth practicing is to be defined in terms of Jesus. His death gives us a new life; His life shows us how to live this imparted life. “The sum of all duty, the height of all moral perfectness, the realized ideal of humanity, is in Christ, and the true way to know what a man or a nation ought to do is to study Him” (Maclaren).
Apart from Jesus, the best philosophers and sociologists have only wild guesses and human hunches to offer on how people should live. Plato once said, “Perhaps one day there will come forth a Word out of God who will reveal all things and make everything plain.” Interestingly, the culture of Plato was the first to kneel en masse at the feet of Jesus. The gods of Olympus were the first to die in the march of the Nazarene. Fortunately for us all, Julia Howe’s words are still true, “His truth is marching on.”
Eph. 4:22a “That ye put off concerning the former conversation”
“Conversation” is Old English for life-style. Describing the Christian life from the vantage point of clothing, Paul says we should lay aside our former behavior patterns as an old garment we would be ashamed to be seen in. The imagery is easy to understand. We are to put off sinful living as a beggar who puts off rags as no longer necessary, as a prisoner who casts off prison clothes as offensive, as a laborer who removes street clothes as encumbering, as a runner who takes off his clothes as entangling.
Certain clothes are inappropriate for certain occasions. Dark, somber colors are out of place at a wedding; light, cheery shades are unbecoming for funerals. Similarly, claiming to be a believer, and yet acting like an unbeliever, is tantamount to wearing the wrong outfit for the occasion.
Some clothes serve as uniforms to identify certain people’s profession (eg. soldiers, policemen). Believers should also be recognizable by a uniform–outward deeds. We are to lay aside the old garments which label the unbeliever. It is not right for believers to wear the threadbare, ragged, and dirty garments of the past life. To be seen in them exposes us to shame.
Graveclothes were appropriate for Lazarus’ corpse, but not for his resurrected body. We, too, have been lifted from death. As we left the grave, we donned new wedding clothes in preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb. We belong to the wedding party, and should act like it.
Eph. 4:22b “. . .the old man,. . .”
“The old man” is the natural disposition we bring with us from our mother’s womb. “It is bred in the bone” (Henry). “The old man,” as old as Adam from whom we derive it, is the original us. This is a stumblingblock in salvation. Conversion requires renunciation of one’s own natural nature.
In a legal and judicial way, we put off “the old man” in conversion. He has been “crucified” (RM 6:6), his tyrannical power over us is broken, he can no longer bring us into condemnation (RM 8:1). Nevertheless, he is alive and harasses us. We have an old nature to contend with. If this were not true, the work of the Holy Spirit would be unnecessary. We need Him because He “breaks the power of cancelled sin” (Wesley). Sin is cancelled, its debt is paid, but it still exerts power in our lives.
Even after salvation, we continue to have trouble with “the old man.” The old garments feel comfortable and natural. We have worn them so long that they naturally fit on us. Sometimes we forget we are wearing them until the Holy Spirit rebukes us through His Word or His messengers. Our dilemma is made even worse by our having to live in a world which bombards us with stimuli which arouse “the old man” and appeal to him.
Eph. 4:22c “. . .which is corrupt. . .”
“Corrupt” is a present participle, and refers to an ongoing process. The old man is “sinking towards death” (NEB). Our old nature is disintegrating, dissolving. Morally decaying, it is already in an advanced state of ruin, and on its way to final ruin. Being under sentence of death, it seeks desperately to drag the whole person down with it into misery. Unchecked, the result is progressive moral disintegration which engulfs the whole self.
Each hour a lost man lives, he is a worse man. Every day it becomes harder for him to repent. Being saved means saying, “I have been wrong for a lifetime,” and the longer one lives, the more he has to say it about. As time passes, convictions die out, habits of neglect become fixed, sins of omission fossilize. Thus fewer and fewer get saved in the older years.
If not held in check by the Holy Spirit, “the old man” can drag a believer down into outward sin, and lead him into wearing repeatedly the old garments. The question is, how does the old man spread this moral decay in a person’s life? What is the vehicle through which he rots a life?
Eph. 4:22d “. . .according to the deceitful lusts;. . .”
“Deceitful lusts” is literally, “lusts of deceit.” Deceit is here personified, and pictured as using lusts as its servants and instruments to achieve its ends. Sin is deceitful, from the devil downwards. He is the father of lies, and seeks to manipulate everyone through the use of deceit.
His temptations are always a lie. He ever begins by bewitching. Allurement flaunts a golden mug, but what good is a beautiful cup if its contents are toxic? Sin is a sweet poison which tickles while it stabs. It comes in a grin, but leaves its victim in chagrin. Genuine satisfaction is never found in sin, for it leaves out the one thing man was made for–God.
Sin equals big promises with little performance. The prodigal son thought he would find pleasure and independence, but instead sank into misery and slavery. He, a Jew, had to feed pigs for a heathen master.
Thirty pieces of silver glimmered brightly in Judas’ eyes, but later burned his hands and put a noose around his neck. Absalom rebelled against his father. He thought his beautiful locks of hair deserved a crown, but they instead ended up tangled in an oak tree. And David, oh David! at the top of the wave, riding the crest, thought he saw pleasant days ahead, but heard instead, “The sword will not depart from your house.”
Lies, lies, lies! This alone is what Satan offers. He always begins from a premise of deceit, and then uses “lusts” as his weapons in warfare. “Lusts” are God-given impulses which have been allowed to grow out of control. A lust is an “affection,” a desire, which has become “inordinate” (CL 3:5). Nothing is wrong with the affection itself. The problem arises when it reels out of control. Our physical desires, such as longing for food, for drink, and for acceptance from others, are God-given impulses meant to be the means whereby life is sustained and satisfactory. Our impulses develop into a problem when they become our guides, the driving forces in our lives. They motivate, and force us to consider options, but are not to direct. “They are the wind, not the helm; the steam, not the driver” (Maclaren). God’s intended order is “down there, under hatches, under control, the strong impulses; above them, the enlightened understanding” (Maclaren).
In the Fall of Adam, everything jolted out of kilter. The impulses rebelled, and rose above their station. Rather than serve, they began to dominate. Whenever something meant to be under control takes control, the result is chaos. This is the dilemma faced by every human being, and its only remedy is salvation. At conversion, the Holy Spirit enters a life and restores order. He puts a rein on the beasts. He subdues the animal passions. Impulses return to being controlled by a mind controlled by God.
Only in this way can people find ultimate purpose and satisfaction in life. Our impulses, given by God to help make our lives satisfactory, gratify when controlled, not indulged. “The way never to get what you need and desire is always to do what you like. . . .Whoever takes it for his law to do as he likes will not for long like what he does” (Maclaren).
Whenever our impulses are allowed to get out of control, they become the instruments by which Satan mocks us. He deceitfully makes lusts look like servants, but they are tyrants. They appear harmless, but are ruinous. They promise secrecy, but bring shame. These lusts work upon us without thought for any consequence beyond their own gratification. These passions, unrestrained, become ever more ravenous. One needs more and more of the same thrill to maintain the same previous level of satisfaction.
Do you still wear the old garment often? In the old wardrobe, the chain of command in determining life-style is Satan working through deceit to have the impulses order the mind to enact certain deeds. In the new prayer closet, the line of command in determining life-style is God through truth (v. 21) governing the mind which controls the impulses and deeds. A crude and simplistic line analysis may help us see the difference:
Old: Satan, deceit, impulses, mind, deeds
New: God, truth, mind, impulses, deeds
The chain of command is different, and the final result is different. Therefore, let us “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.”
Eph. 4:23a “And be renewed. . .”
The Christian life is ever in danger of stagnating. We must continually work at it, always having as our goal to “be renewed.” Re-new means to make new again. It refers to returning repeatedly to a previous state, to one’s “first love” (RV 2:4). Whereas the old man is rotting (4:22), the new man is ever “renewed,” remaining in a state of “undying youth” (Barry).
Eph. 4:23b “. . .in the spirit of your mind;. . .”
Though this section of Ephesians deals primarily with behavior, Paul is still talking about our inner selves. He always dealt with the root of problems. If we merely try to change the outside, we drop from the spiritual level down to the moral level, which is what the world has to do.
To change the outside without dealing with the inside is to put sheep-skin over a wolfish nature (Goodwin). Before there can be new living, there must be new thinking. Right Christian behavior hinges totally on thinking which is initially altered and then continually renewed.
As Christians we let God fill our heads as well as our hearts. He is to be our teacher every day. The lost live “in the vanity of their mind” (4:17), but a believer’s mind is ever being “renewed in the spirit” by God.
Notice, the renewal is not done in the mind itself per se. In regeneration one does not receive a new brain. The mind, our faculty of understanding, feeling, and determining is a functioning organ which remains essentially the same. Natural powers of memory and perception are unaltered. We receive new moral and spiritual traits, but retain the same basic cognitive abilities. If a genius before conversion, one remains a genius. If one has a bubbly personality before salvation, the personality usually remains bubbly. If reflective and introspective before conversion, one tends to remain the same afterwards. Paul the Apostle had the same intensity and zeal before his Damascus Road experience as he did afterwards.
Then where does the change take place in us? What makes us “a new creature” (2 C 5:17)? The alteration is in the disposition, in the governing part. Whereas before, things were led in a wrong direction, now they are led in the right way. The change takes place in “the spirit” of the mind, in that which controls the mind. The spirit of the mind is “the bosom” (Trapp), “that central centre” (Parker), the guiding principle which gives the mind its bent. Spiritual renewal is not a psychological change, or a change in basic mental cognitive functioning. The change is not a convincing of the mind of a few errors here and there. It is not merely an altering of certain opinions. The alteration is not something limited to one particular part of the mind, but something which, when changed itself, radically alters the whole sphere and business of the mental mechanism. The ruling, motivating power which governs a mind is changed. This renewed spirit directs a mind’s bent and energies Godward, and furnishes the mind pure, proper impulses and motives whereby it acts and determines behavior.
Eph. 4:24a “And that ye put on the new man,. . .”
As we are constantly renewed in the spirit of our mind, we put off the old man (4:22), but this is not the only result of our being renewed. It also enables us to put on “the new man,” our new nature, “the happy cluster of heavenly graces” (Trapp). The old man is rooted in Adam, the new in Christ. We receive the old man when born, the new when born again. The new man entails the new position and power we gain in the new birth.
It is never enough to put off the old. We must substitute new virtues in place of the old vices. Christianity is more than renunciation. It is also appropriation. Some deal solely with the negative and thereby lead themselves into pessimism, depression, and legalism. Their whole walk with God is measured by deeds; communion with God, relationship, and warmth are overlooked. Be not obsessed with your sins. Never ignore or condone them, but do not see them only. To do so leads to being morbid and self-centered.
We are not to put off and put off until we are naked and comfortless. The goal of Christianity is not emptiness, nothingness, or a wasteland. For everything we are called on to give up for Christ, new worlds open to us of fresh interests and pleasures. Put on “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3).
We can all learn a lesson from the oak tree which sheds its leaves in the springtime. Winter cold and wind cannot dislodge the old leaves. The latter are pushed away only when new life begins to pulsate within, producing new buds which push off the old. In like manner, evil is best removed by displacement. Sometimes amputation is needed, but more often than not, they need to be supplanted, pushed out by new affections.
Do not constantly stress the negative. Our faith emphasizes many a “do” as well as many a “don’t.” If you have prayed about a certain sin for years without success, experiment. Try a different approach. You obviously have little to lose. Dwell on the evil less, emphasize the positive more. Enjoy God. Highlight communion, relationship, and warmth. Let His new life permeate your being so fully that the sin is squeezed out of your life.
Eph. 4:24b “. . .which after God is created. . .”
“After God” means according to what God is in Himself. The new man is patterned after what God is like. Being right with God results in our being like God. Regeneration restores to us what we lost in the Fall of Adam. The new man is like God, “created” as man was originally.
This cannot be accomplished in human strength. Man needs a radical transformation, one which penetrates to the bottom of the soul, an abyss God alone can reach. The new man, accomplished only by God’s almighty power, is as much a new creation as was creation in the beginning. A new man is ever “put on,” never evolved from within. “Our task is not to weave it, but to wear it. It is made and ready. . . .The garment with which He clothes our nakedness and hides our filth is woven in no earthly looms. As with the first sinful pair, so with all their children since, “the Lord God made them” the covering they cannot make for themselves” (Maclaren).
The new man is God’s gift to us, a garment made at huge expense and offered without cost. Here on earth, God the Father initially puts on each of us the best robe to replace the rags of the returning prodigal. This foreshadows a time when He shall in Heaven clothe us with fine linen clean and white. Heaven has no nudists. Its saints wear robes to remind us our salvation was something we donned, not something inherent within us. Our robes will be white because Christ’s is red. We shall thus be reminded for ever and ever that His blood made our blessed state possible.
Eph. 4:24c “. . .in righteousness. . .”
“Righteousness” here refers to doing that which is right. God’s inherent righteousness, imputed and imparted to us in conversion, manifests itself through righteous deeds. We work out what God works in. “Put on the new man” means be what we are. The new man is implanted in us. Now let us put him on, don him out in the open for everyone to see. In our daily living, we need to make an emphatic statement for God.
The outer man is extremely important because it is the only part of us others can see. Lost people judge God and the Church by how we act. This is unfair, but nevertheless a fact of life. The influence we have on others entirely depends on our public life. When God is renewing our mind, when we are putting on the new man, it will be obvious in our conduct.
Eph. 4:24d “. . .and true holiness.”
“Righteousness” points to the squaring of conduct according to a given law of duty. “Holiness” stresses not so much a code of conduct adhering to law, but a consecration adhering to a Lord. In the Greek construction, both “righteousness” and “holiness” are to be “true,” springing from truth. Our consecration is to be “true,” as opposed to outward and ceremonial.
Taken together, the terms “righteousness” and “holiness” express the all-encompassing nature of our faith. We cannot vacillate, opting to put the old off, and the new on, from time to time. Nor can we opt to wear both at the same time. We want only the new man all the time. We desire the old man gone and forgotten. Our choice must be absolute.
This is one thing I always appreciated about Dad. He raised us to believe every little particle of life had to do with God. To the farthest corner of every room, to the bottom of every drawer, to the remotest recess of the attic, to the essence of every soul, all was to be consecrated to God.
God. God! GOD!! Everything unto Him, nothing apart from Him. The desire to put on the new man for God’s honor and glory should be the obsession of our lives. There should be among us a panting after God, a craving for His smile. We preachers should never have to beg our people to do this. We should only have to exhort them. Rather than pleading with our people to begin “the race that is set before us” (HB 12:1), we should be cheerleaders urging on people who are running the race with all their might, seeking to be encouraged by the cries of their pastor.
Eph. 4:25a “Wherefore. . .”
Paul has been soaring, writing of lofty theological concepts, but now returns to mundane household duties. In his mind, the two went together. He easily shifted from the transcendent to the everyday level. Not satisfied to discuss our old man and new man in general terms, the Apostle presses ahead to delineate particular articles of clothing to put off or on. He gives specific examples of old-man rags and new-man regalia he is referring to.
Christianity is intensely practical, but some believers seek to make it totally ritualistic and formal. They want to do only “officially religious” things, such as pray, go to church, take the Lord’s Supper, etc. We are often like the nobleman who heard a preacher expound on the virtues of Christian behavior. The nobleman left the service in a huff, saying religion had gone too far when it began to meddle in our personal lives.
Paul would disagree with this. It matters little to talk of living in heavenly places if we live like worldlings. Conduct is vital. In the next few verses, Paul will provide detailed examples of how Christians should behave. Most of these illustrations are stated negatively and positively, providing a striking contrast of Christian virtues versus heathen vices, and reminding us we do not deal solely with the negative. For every article of the old man we have to put off, something of the new man is to be put on.
Eph. 4:25b “. . .putting away lying,. . .”
The Greek word “pseudo” refers to every type of falsehood, of which spoken lies are a prominent example. Paul’s admonition is to put away all pretence and sham. No sin was more typical of paganism than lying. Darius said, “When telling a lie will be profitable, let it be told.” Plato advised, “He may lie who knows how to do it in a suitable time.” Maximus Tyrius said, “There is nothing decorous in truth but when it is profitable. Yea, sometimes truth is hurtful, and lying is profitable to men.” A lie which gave self an advantage was preferred to a truth which hurt one’s situation.
Lying remains a vice deeply characteristic of heathenism. It is a way of life in many cultures. Lost people in our own country often share this attitude. Even worse, some believers do, too. “I wish that none but heathens had ever taught so loose and dangerous a doctrine” (Doddridge). We sometimes feel we can relate to the ancient philosopher who walked the streets of Athens and held up a lantern to the face of all he passed. When asked why he did this, he replied, “I am looking for an honest person.”
Lying abounds because it is part of our nature, our old man. One of the earliest vices to appear in children is deceit. Blessed be the parent who recognizes this, and deals with it quickly and decisively.
Lying abounds also because the old man convinces us it is a minor matter. The new man can never accept this premise. Dishonesty is serious business. “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (PR 12:22). The story of Ananias and Sapphira was God’s way of calling the attention of early believers and ourselves to the terrible character of this particular sin.
The world is what it is because of a lie. The first sin of man was the result of a lie. Mankind fell from paradise to perdition because Eve believed Satan’s lie against God. Even liars themselves confess lying is atrocious. They deny their own lies, which in turn is another lie. They also expect others to speak the truth to them, and complain when it is not done.
Lying is awful, yet we are sometimes almost trivial and flippant about it. A statue once presented Truth as a woman with a helmet and sword. At her feet lies the conquered Slander. Even as she steps on Slander, she lifts her robe to avoid its polluting touch–a sermon in stone worth heeding.
Lying abounds also because it is difficult for us to deal with. Confronting our lies forces us to come face to face with our own real, worst selves. No sin better reveals the true essence of evil. What is the cause of all sin? Self! In no evil is self more conspicuous than in lying. Through a lie, we seek to turn circumstances to our advantage. We lie because we want to be highly thought of, be praised, be the center of attention, be important, project the image of ourselves we want people to believe. We build up the facade, put on camouflage, appearing to be something we are not.
Because lying significantly gratifies self, the old man tries to be a genius in creating ways for falsehood to be committed. Lying comes in many shapes and sizes–betraying a confidence, excessive flattery, making excuses, cheating in school, falsifying income tax returns, whispering a rumor carelessly in some corner among combustibles, breaking promises, slander, statements made to mislead, not paying debts on time.
The most heinous lies are those which bring open reproach upon God and Christianity. We are enduring the agony of watching religious charlatans drop like flies. TV preachers have fallen into disrepute, well-known pastors have come under the cloud of suspicion, Catholicism is grimacing under the sex abuse scandal being revealed against its clerics. Baptists are also sharing in these days of shame. My dad once had to kindly rebuke an evangelist whose testimony was getting more dramatic and more embellished as time went by. Just this week we learned that one of our most respected educators, a college president in one of our highly distinguished institutions of higher learning, may have embezzled as much as three million dollars from the school during his tenure. An employee of Midwestern Seminary has been released after admitting to stealing some fifteen thousand dollars from the school. Falsehood, misrepresentation, pretending to be something we’re not–these sins abound around us, and unfortunately, among us.
Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be. Others may deem falsehood as acceptable, but the believer never has this option. We can fall into lying even as we can fall into any other sin, but it is not to be the ordinary everyday experience of a believer. Habitual lying is characteristic of the devil and his children (JN 8:44).
Eph. 4:25c “. . .speak every man truth. . .”
In this quote, taken from Zechariah 8:16, Paul gives us a positive to encourage in addition to a negative to discourage. One of the best ways to lose a negative trait is to displace it with a positive. To help us overcome lying, we need to rigorously cultivate the habit of speaking truth.
Work on speaking truth in trivial discussions of life. Beware exaggeration. Learn to be punctilious, honest even in little things. A Christian’s speech is to be adorned with candor and simplicity in all situations.
In small, informal settings we often deem it harmless to embellish stories, our intent being solely to attract attention and entertain. Even here we need to practice truth. Forming a good habit better enables us to stand when temptation hits. Be careful about seemingly harmless sins. All bad habits tend to grow. The whitest lie ever told is as black as perdition.
In every part of life, the Christian should exude truth. This is our only adequate response to being filled with God. Our Father is “a God of truth” (DT 32:4), “not a man that he should lie” (NB 23:19). It is “impossible for God to lie” (HB 6:18). Since it is a trait of God Himself, truth has an intrinsic excellence which makes it worthy of being manifest in our lives.
Honesty is the only proper form of conduct for people who are taught by Christ, “as the truth is in Jesus” (4:21). Jesus is “the truth” (JN 14:6), and the Spirit He sent to dwell within us is “the Spirit of truth” (JN 14:17), and the Word He gave us to live by “is truth” (JN 17:17).
Being in Christ placed us in the realm of right. Truth is our element. Only believers understand the facts about God, life, salvation. We must be careful to speak truth in every area of life. Falsehood is always designed to mislead, and this is the one thing believers must never do, whatever the topic. Otherwise, the lost will not believe us when we speak of God and salvation.
Does speaking the truth mean we need to tell everything we know? Absolutely not. Love often conceals matters. Some things need to be forgotten and dropped forever.
Does speaking truth mean we should be totally open, and unload all our feelings of anger and bitterness on others? No. Let God soften the hurt before you talk straightforwardly. Speak “the truth in love” (4:15).
Speaking the truth means the word of a Christian should be as good as his bond. Every syllable and action should be an expression of “truth in the inward parts” (PS 51:6). The truth we exhibit truth on the outside is an expression of the truth which resides inside.
May God make us people of integrity, and enable us to work out what He has worked in. May He give us a burning desire to be known as people of truth. Clovis Chappell used to tell a story from the frontier days. A Texas minister retired due to bad health and went to work for a wealthy farmer who trusted him. The minister was one day bringing $5000 from the bank on pay day. A passerby suddenly pointed a gun toward the man’s face and demanded the cash. The minister replied to the robber, “All I have to leave my boys is this team of mules and my good name. That good name is worth more to me than my life. Therefore, if you want this money enough to murder me, shoot. You will get it no other way.”
For the sake of our children yes, and even more for the sake of Christ, to a believer “a good name” truly “is rather to be chosen than great riches” (PR 22:1). Therefore, “putting away lying, speak every man truth.”
Eph. 4:25d “. . .with his neighbor:. . .”
In the Bible, “neighbor” usually refers to all people, but Paul’s next phrase makes it obvious his reference here is to Christians. This does not mean we have license to be dishonest with unbelievers. A good habit is easier to start with people we know and love best. As we practice speaking truth to believers, the custom will spread to our dealings with others.
A similar thought is expressed in Galatians 6:10, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” This verse is not meant to be exclusive. We are not to treat unbelievers as second class citizens. The passage gives ministry a focal point to begin, an epicenter from which influence can spread in all directions. Doing good and speaking truth are most effective when begun in the specific and expanded to the general. A church provides a beginning point, an experimental focus, from which good deeds can swell.
Eph. 4:25e “. . .for we are members one of another.”
Notice, we are not to be honest merely because “honesty is the best policy.” Anyone who solely advocates the latter motivation leaves the door open for a person to switch to dishonesty if it is deemed the best policy in a certain situation. We are to be honest because God commands it, and as Paul reminds us here, because we are all “members” of the same body.
We are not isolated from each other, or independent of one another. Nor are we a community of individuals voluntarily associated with each other for our own individual good. The body of Christ is divinely constituted and divinely created for the glory of God. A local church is a product of the Holy Spirit. We are all in this particular body by God’s design, as connected to one another as the members of our physical body are.
Any body, including Christ’s, works harmoniously and efficiently only when its members are absolutely honest with one another. If the eye sees a snake, does it lie to the foot? When the foot senses a hole or drop-off, does it lie to the brain? Lying hinders the proper functioning of a body.
When we lie to another church member, we essentially damage ourself, because we harm the body to which we belong. When we lie we infuse into the body a foreign, poisonous element, which weakens the body as it flows through it. Nothing divides Christians worse than falsehood and misrepresentation. Dishonesty causes sadness and devastation in the church.
Without openness and truth, there can only be trouble. Once trust is lost, people feel insecure, suspicions rise. “If fellowship is broken, you are in a kind of police state in which everybody is spying on everybody else” (Lloyd-Jones). My duty as pastor is to do all I can to prevent this from happening. If you ever feel a matter was finagled, accomplished in underhanded ways, speak to me about it. The way we do things is as important as the things we do. I want us to be able to speak freely in love to each other, for mutual confidence is the bonding cement of Christian fellowship.
Eph. 4:26a “Be ye angry,. . .”
This is not a mistranslation. It is exactly what Paul meant. Anger is a natural instinct put in us by God to achieve certain purposes. All our natural impulses are given to be used. Plutarch put it well, “Passions were given to man as winds to fill the sails of his soul.” Without them we would be blobs, jelly-like masses. Our passions are not poisonous plants in need of eradication, but wild plants in need of cultivation and careful control.
Anger has its rightful place, and is often a duty. We can sin by not being angry. Often a Christian must do more than shrug his shoulders and walk by. Anger is the only appropriate response to some situations.
Believers are not meant to be stoics, and nowadays need to display more anger. Proper anger is a sign of spiritual life and health. Lost people are the ones characterized as being “past feeling” (4:19). They are spiritually calloused and hardened. Their moral sensibilities are dull and blunted. Believers should not be governed by this old mentality. Complacency belongs to our past. Apathy is no virtue. Indifference is a mark of decadence. There may be no surer evidence of utter moral depravity than an inability to become angry. “Be ye angry.” Now we hasten to Paul’s next command.
Eph. 4:26b “. . .and sin not:. . .”
Paul had a remarkable grasp of human nature. He knew what begins as righteous anger often becomes perverted. His phrasing of this passage reminds us it is easy to pass from sinless anger to sinful anger. This particular path of duty is extremely narrow, with deep and precarious pitfalls on both sides. Anger is a dangerous passion, even for the best of men. Once blood boils, it is hard to control which channel it will flow through.
What, then, is proper anger? How can we tell the right from the wrong? The answer is found in looking at our perfect Savior. In seeing what upset Him whose life was sinless we learn what is okay for us to be mad about. Jesus’ anger blazed forth on at least two occasions.
He first of all became angry to protect the glory of God (JN 2:13-17). Stirred when evil men brought dishonor to His Father’s house, Jesus cleansed the temple. He made a whip, drove out the money-changers, and turned over their tables. He was in such a passion the disciples thought of the Psalmist’s (69:9) words, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”
Jesus’ second display of anger was for the good of others (MK 3:1-5). When discussing the man whose hand was withered, Jesus looked upon the Pharisees “with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.”
For the glory of God, and for the good of others–these are the justifiable reasons for anger. John Trapp put it succinctly, “He that will be angry and not sin, let him be angry at nothing but sin.” Herein is the purpose of anger. This passion, given to us by God, serves as an instinct which arms us quickly against wrong. Anger is meant to motivate us to do deeds for the honor of God and the help of others. A word of caution–once anger has motivated us do certain deeds, it must be subdued. Once deeds are set in place to deal with the error which prompted anger, calm thyself.
If we are not careful, our anger for sin and the wreckage it causes can sour and lead to hatred against a person. This makes us guilty of murder (MT 5:21-22; 1 J 3:15). Jesus became angry for the glory of God and the good of others, but He also, on the cross, prayed for His enemies. This is often forgotten by many, including the two pro-lifers who recently shot abortionists. Remember, the lives of abortionists are as sacred as the lives of the babies they abort. We are not to do evil that good that may come. Once anger stimulates proper actions, squelch it–“sin not.”
Another pitfall we must avoid is self-serving anger. Anger is sinful when it results from personal provocation or wounded pride. Jesus roused himself for the glory of God and for the good of others, but when affronted Himself, He yielded to a cross. Anger is safe and good when mingled with love for God and others. When mingled with love for self, anger is sinful. The moment self comes in, anger becomes “evil in itself, and dishonorable to God; being the vomit of a proud heart” (Thomas Boston).
We must all be careful about this, for our anger is quickly kindled by a personal slight or affront. Our old man is very sensitive. His pride gets wounded very easily. Be sure our anger has no selfish motives. Otherwise we prove self and the old man have regained control over us.
Be careful about anger, but do let it perform its God-intended role. Be angry over our own personal sins. Be angry about sins rampant in our culture. “A nature ardent for truth and justice burns with indignation against cruelty and wrong” (Findlay). Be roused to do something constructive. As sin abounds, we are ever in danger of becoming numb to it.
When confronted with sin, we should be shocked and aroused. Something is wrong if we can hear our Savior’s name blasphemed, and not be stirred, or if we can without concern view on TV and movies torrid sex scenes and portrayals of violence and injustice. Complacency is ever a danger. It is possible to become numb to sin around us.
Be sensitive to sin. The godly F. W. Robertson, coming upon a man who was trying to lure a young girl into prostitution, became so angry that he bit his lip until it bled. When inspired and directed by God, anger flashes forth with a marvelous, majestic power which thunders against evil. The world would be a worse place had it not been for Wilberforce’s blazing against slavery, and Shaftesbury’s anger against factory working conditions. We would not be here worshiping in this place had it not been for Luther’s anger against religious oppression and error. When he was handed the edict which contained news of his excommunication by the pope, Luther held the document high in the air and thundered, “And I, Martin Luther, excommunicate the pope.”
Be stirred when you see wrong. Let proper anger flow properly. “Be ye angry, and sin not.”
Eph. 4:27 “. . .Neither give place to the devil.”
This verse is connected to the previous phrase, and thus continues Paul’s analysis of anger. As we have already learned, “be ye angry, and sin not” (4:26a-b) requires us to become angry only for the right reasons, and to make proper reactions to our anger. Jesus demonstrated the right reasons: for the glory of God (JN 2:13-17), for the good of others (MK 3:1-5). Self-serving anger is disallowed. Proper reactions to anger entail deeds and words kept under control. Also, once deeds are set in place to deal with the error which prompted anger, self must be calmed, anger has to be subdued.
“Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (4:26c) presented another safeguard against the wrong use of anger. A rush of anger must never last more than a few hours. By sundown the spirit must be calm. This is for our own good; it removes inner tension and bitterness. Peace by dusk also helps our relationships with others; the longer a rift continues, the harder it is to mend. Being calm by sundown also helps our relationship with God. It gives a daily built-in deadline for taking spiritual inventory of ourselves.
Paul’s analysis of anger now expands to include a new personality. Anger can affect self, others, and God, and when mishandled, it also involves Satan. If we are not careful, our anger can “give place to the devil.” “Place” here refers to any portion of space marked off from the surrounding territory. To “give place” thus refers to allowing someone a foothold, a base which provides opportunity for acting. Anger, when abused, permits the devil to build within our hearts an outpost, a headquarters for operations.
Satan is no myth. He is a real, powerful, cunning, living personality, under whose influence all Christians are capable of falling. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 P 5:8). Satan stalks us, studies us, scrutinizes our defenses to find a hole in the wall. When Napoleon prepared for combat, he had fresh maps of the battlefield drafted and brought to him. He would spread out the maps upon the ground, and stay down on his knees poring over the documents until familiar with every physical feature. He memorized the locations of rivers, bridges, fords, hills, valleys, rock formations. Napoleon knew the war zone. Satan does the same with us. He pores over our hearts, and surveys our essence, seeking an entrance.
Satan finds opportunity to invade our hearts when he sees us overreacting to anger. An uncontrolled temper flings our heart’s door wide open to the devil. Whenever we have a fit of temper, he sees his chance and comes to investigate immediately. He enjoys fishing in troubled waters. When he sees the storm kindled, he loves to employ his bellows in keeping it churning, and in turning storms into hurricanes. During a tantrum, we are ships adrift upon troubled seas, having the devil as our pilot.
A fit of rage will “give place to the devil,” and allow him to construct within us an encampment from which he dictates behavior. This explains why “a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression” (PR 29:22, NASB). An angry man out of control is under the sway of Satan and thus capable of committing any sin known to man. In a fit of anger, Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel. As a result, on July 11, 1804, at Weehawken, New Jersey, America lost two of her greatest minds. Hamilton died; Burr was ruined. When Mordecai would not bow, “Haman was full of wrath” (ES 3:5). This fury set in motion cruel and sadistic edicts and events which Haman thought would destroy the Jews, but instead resulted in his own death on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. Anger can lead to any evil. The devil wants us to be depressed, to feel overly guilty, to hate, to envy, to murder. A temper fit allows him opportunity to involve us in all these at once. The devil loves a temper raging out of control.
Satan finds opportunity to invade our hearts when he sees us keep anger past sundown. Anger retained gives the devil “a half-open door” (Moule), and tempts him to tempt us. An old Latin proverb says it well, “He who goes angry to bed has the devil for a bedfellow.” When angry upon our beds, we throw ourselves into the arms of one who loves to seize every occasion to cast us down by doing dirty work within us at night.
When we slam shut our heart against reconciliation to another, we open it to Satan. He traces many victories, church fights, family squabbles, and divorces to nights when believers let the sun go down upon their wrath.
In the old school of Pythagoras, his students would throughout the day argue and engage in heated debate, but as shadows began to lengthen, they would gather round, embrace each other, and give one another a kiss of peace and brotherhood. If pagans could do this, surely our Christianity is shallow if we believers cannot settle accounts before tomorrow.
Even if you did not blow up at anyone during the day, do not hold in secret anger. Release it unto God at bedtime. Do not harbor smoldering resentment in the heart. Anger must not be cherished and nursed.
Brooding over anger can be as dangerous as temper fits. Anger unreleased can ultimately produce as cruel a deed as anger unleashed. The most infamous name in American history is Benedict Arnold. He turned traitor in 1780, after three years of letting his anger stew. In 1777 Congress promoted five men younger than he to Major General. Overlooked, he never released his anger, and for years sought a chance for revenge.
Anger prolonged readily aligns itself with our old man’s selfishness, producing a sinister duo which hacks away at the tender plant of love which is to dominate our hearts. Beware secretly retaining anger against others. Ruminating over it is fun. We lick our wounds, smack our lips, roll over our tongue the tasty morsel of upcoming revenge. Given time, such anger tends to overtake the psyche, and saturate one’s inner self.
Our anger may be caused for the right reasons, and our reactions in the day may be controlled and reasonable, but if retained, “good” anger becomes “bad” in the night. God can control and calm our anger by day, but somewhere in the night–Satan’s favorite time of day–the devil takes over, and whenever he, rather than God, gains control, the result is always sin.
Anger allowed to linger in the heart becomes a mighty weapon in Satan’s hands. After sunset, he begins to use our anger for his purposes. He turns our detained anger, which is an evil in itself, into a mother of evils. Anger, allowed to fester, bears a multitude of wrongs in its womb. In the dark, Satan spawns our anger into all sorts of evils–self-pity, self-righteousness, grudges, poisonous hatred, an unwillingness to forgive, vengeance, depression. Lucifer uses tonight’s anger to produce tomorrow’s sins.
These verses on anger (EP 4:26-27) force us to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of anger. We can never be effective for God until we deal with our temper-trouble. Anger has spiritual ramifications, and if abused, causes people to forfeit God’s favor. Naaman almost missed being healed in Jordan because he “was wroth” (2 K 5:11). One of Scripture’s most memorable revivals occurred when Nineveh responded to Jonah’s preaching. Some 120,000 souls were saved, but the prophet, missing out on the celebration of a lifetime, was miserable because he was angry (Jonah 4). One of the happiest scenes portrayed in Holy Writ is the party given at the return of the prodigal, but the elder brother did not enjoy it. “He was angry and would not go in” (LK 15:28). Even our prayers are ineffective when offered from a heart full of anger gone awry. “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 TM 2:8).
Be careful with anger. Permit it to rise only from proper motives. Let it prompt only controlled deeds and words. Never retain it past sundown. Right reasons, right reactions, right releases–heed all three, otherwise we will “give place to the devil,” something we never want to do.
Do not let the heart, our sacred temple of the precious Holy Spirit, be available for even a moment to the intrusive influence of Satan. Never “give place to the devil.” Do not open the heart’s door to him. Refuse to admit Satan. Do not let him in. Keep him out of the innermost citadel.
If we give the devil a foothold in but one place, he will soon cover the whole platform of the heart. Given an inch, he will take a mile and try to occupy all the inner throne-room. Give him no uncontested spot of ground to stand on. Whenever he attempts to land on the mat of our heart, make sure he is always having to wrestle. Let there be no yielding and no compromise with him. Satan must know two things: he is always unwelcome in our hearts, and if he tries to enter there, he will always have a fight on his hands. “Pray without ceasing.” Retreat often to our heavenly seat. Handle anger correctly–right reasons, right reactions, right releases.