Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
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.”