Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:28a “Let him that stole. . .”
Paul was a realist. “Him that stole” translates a present participle which should be literally rendered “the one stealing.” Our text is directed by Paul to stealers. Since Ephesians was written to Christians, not the lost, we know Paul realized there were thieves within the church membership at Ephesus. The Apostle knew believers are not perfect.
In the impoverished conditions of the ancient world, thievery was for many a means of survival. “What could not be begged had to be stolen” (Powell). Plus, what multitudes did for survival, many others did as a way of life for profit. Stealing was such a prevalent cultural vice that it tended to seep into the Church herself. Behavior and attitude osmosis from the world is always a problem the Church must be careful to avoid.
For several generations, churches in the United States enjoyed the luxury of being part of a culture which by and large abided by the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal” (EX 20:15). This ethic was at one time part of the warp and woof of American society. When a young store clerk, Abraham Lincoln, who was a reflection of his generation’s thinking in this matter, once accidentally charged a woman six and a half cents too much. At day’s end, before he slept, he walked several miles in the dark to return the overage. On another occasion, he weighed out a pound of tea for a customer. He later found a small weight on the scale. He immediately weighed out that quantity of tea and delivered it to the shopper.
Theft was essentially unknown on the American prairie. One man left a wagon of corn stuck in the mud for two weeks near a frequented road. When he returned, some corn was gone, but money had been left to pay for what was taken. Grandpa Marshall, whose attitudes were shaped in the early decades of this century, was still leaving his doors unlocked at night as late as 1980. Sounds like long long ago in a land far far away.
Sadly, times have changed. America has developed a serious problem with thievery. According to official FBI crime statistics, the number of reported burglaries, larcenies, auto thefts, and robberies increased from 3.2 million in 1960 to 13.1 million in 1989 (Reader’s Digest Almanac). Business people in our country, when assessing their liability considerations, now have to figure in stealing as a major factor. Shoplifting has become a monumental problem. In some large stores up to a third of the price of merchandise is used to cover theft losses of various kinds (MacArthur).
As the culture around us has an increasing problem with theft, we believers are becoming ever more susceptible to accepting its warped views on the subject. Paul was a realist. Let us also be realistic. Some believers steal, and we are all ever in danger of falling into this sin.
Stealing is an American problem which reaches even to the churches. A pastor friend of mine was forced to leave his church because he bought a television and other appliances and charged them to the church.
A pastor who preceded me at one church left unpaid bills at a local store. Each time I went in to witness to the elderly store owner, he would turn off his hearing aid. I finally paid off the former pastor’s bill. Next time I came in to witness to the store owner, he still turned off his hearing aid. That experience taught me a good lesson at a young age–unbelievers are lost essentially because they want to be lost. Their cries about hypocrisy among believers are a smoke-screen to cover the hardness of their own hearts. Despite the store owner’s intentional hardness of heart (and hearing), I felt good about paying the bill, because something had been done which would hopefully help clear the name of Christ and His Church.
Fellow believers, let us beware. In creating ways one can steal, the devil has a prolific imagination. There is seemingly no end to the ways we can steal: overdue bills, unpaid debts, pocketing what a clerk overpays in change, gambling, failing to report income to the IRS. Christians must not view government as an evil, an enemy to outsmart. Government is ordained of God. Paying taxes is a Christian duty (RM 13:6-7). When Jesus said “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” (MT 22:21), He was holding in his hand a coin minted by the Roman government. Taxes involve currency. If we wish to avoid paying taxes to the government, we must quit using its currency. Do not steal from the government.
Intense temptations to steal are often experienced on the job. In the work place we find stealing in the misuse of trust funds, unfair wages, intentional overestimating, falsified cost overruns, embezzlement, padding expense accounts, reporting more hours than are worked, using employer time for things other than work, arriving at work late, leaving early, stretching coffee breaks and lunch hours, pilfering business stamps for personal letters, making personal long-distance calls and charging them to the company.
Pastor Kent Hughes tells of a paper given at a recent American Psychological Association symposium on employee theft. Department and chain stores show an eight billion dollar inventory shortage every year–10% due to clerical error, 30% to shoplifting, 60% to employee theft.
When working for a large company or a wealthy boss, it is tempting to rationalize certain wrong deeds. One can easily become careless in their thoughts–“They do not pay me nearly what I am worth. They will not miss such a trifling amount.” Such wrong thinking often leads to wrong doing.
We can steal when young at home by taking money off dad’s dresser or out of mom’s purse. We can do it at school by stealing credit for someone else’s work, as in plagiarism or cheating on exams. Some steal at church by withholding from God the tithe which is rightfully His.
The list could go on and on. Just as sad, these practices are often accepted as normal by multitudes of people. Martin Luther said, “It is the smallest part of the thieves that are hung. If we are to hang them all, where shall we get enough rope? We must make all our belts and straps into halters.”
To some, stealing is merely a game in which the only cause for shame or regret is getting caught. The sin is so prevalent that we can agree with the saying, “The stars are still in the sky only because they are beyond the reach of man.”
Thievery is a problem, inside the church as well as outside. Paul was a realist.
Eph. 4:28b “. . .steal no more:. . .”
Paul was an optimist. He believed “the one stealing” could “steal no more.” Whatever the social conscience of the age, the Christian has a higher standard he can and must live by. The child of God is expected to be trustworthy anywhere in any circumstance, even in the smallest matters.
If Christianity does not make a man trustworthy, it does nothing for him. A believer should never take away what rightfully belongs to another. The believer is prohibited from every unfair, dishonest way one may transfer to self that which is the property of another. The Christian must not misappropriate to self the results of labor done by another.
These are standards expected of us, and attainable by us, even if we have a weakness in the very area of stealing. In our text, Paul is not telling the trustworthy man to quit stealing. The command is directed toward the thief, and every command of Scripture is also a promise of provided power to fulfill it. The Gospel is not given out to perfect, larger than life, paragons of virtue. It reaches to sinners and transforms them. The Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation” (RM 1:15). It rescues people from Hell and can deliver them from any sin known to man. A power which saves one from Hell can also thwart any deed from Hell. No believer should ever feel hopeless, or deem self in the throes of a sin impossible to overcome.
Paul settled this matter once and for all in his first letter to the Corinthians (6:9-11). He followed the list of those who shall not inherit the kingdom of God–“Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers”–with the phrase, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Gospel changes people.
If we do not believe the Gospel can change people we need to close our doors and devote our time and energies to something else. A lost person can be saved from Hell and a saved person can be delivered from any sin. Never despair. Never allow self to slip into utter hopelessness. If we ever do this, we have lost sight of what it means to be a Christian. If any one word can be used to describe the Christian life, it is “victory.”
At 4:1 Paul began this section of Ephesians which deals with the Christian walk, living the Christian life. He is presenting practices he actually expects Christians to implement in daily life. He expects the proud to become humble, the impatient to become long-suffering, the hard of heart to be loving. He says every Christian has a spiritual gift, and expects them to find it and to exercise it. He assumes the spiritually immature will grow up. He expects the liar to begin being honest, the angry man to gain control over every word and deed, and the stealer to steal no more.
Paul was a realist. He knew believers were not perfect. At the same time, Paul was an optimist. He fully realized a part of our birthright as believers is that we can overcome any sin by taking advantage of everything which is ours in heavenly places. Realism and optimism combined in Paul, enabling him to say, literally, “The one stealing, no more let him steal.”
Eph. 4:28c “. . .but rather let him labor,. . .”
Stealing is on the rise in American culture, and has seeped like sewage into the churches. This is happening despite the fact thievery is universally disdained. Even stealers condemn theft. We never hear of a thief who deems it okay for others to steal from him.
“Let him that stole steal no more” is an admonition still much needed today, but the Apostle does not end with this prohibition. He presses on to suggest a substitute behavior for thievery. A negative word is followed by a positive. In God’s strength, wrong deeds can be displaced by right deeds.
Paul’s encouragement to us is, “let him labor.” “Labor” here refers to toil, exertion, strenuous work which produces fatigue. Hard work has never been popular among thieves. The very purpose of stealing is to get things easily, to gain without exertion, to have the most while doing the least. The latter explains why stealing builds a person’s ego. A feeling of superiority is achieved by getting for nothing things which others sweat to obtain. A person working hard and gaining seemingly little is deemed ignorant, but the thief gets away with something, outsmarts society, and outwits others. He feels a cut above the rest. In fact, a successful thief is so proud, such a confirmed egotist, that his own bragging often leads to his arrest.
“Easy money” is a thief’s motto, but Christians disagree. We are not to be ashamed or afraid of manual labor. Hard work is a Christian duty. The Bible does not encourage asceticism, monasticism, or laziness.
Christianity was designed for busy people. Paul wrote, “This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 TH 3:10). A society should provide for people unable to work, but for those who can labor and choose not to, Paul bluntly settles the issue by saying they should not eat. “This solution remains the best approach for any society” (Criswell Bible). This attitude is so much a part of Biblical Christianity that our culture calls it the “Protestant work ethic,” a philosophy which had much to do with the two centuries of material success our country has enjoyed.
Idleness makes thieves. An idle mind is Satan’s workshop. Any unwilling to work tempt Lucifer to tempt them to steal. Thus, “let him labor.”
Eph. 4:28d “. . .working with his hands. . .”
Stealing can be stopped if hands are used for labor, in contrast to the former idleness or bad use of those same hands. Hands are meant to be used in labor rather than in robbing the hands of others.
Hands are wonderful instruments, marvels of creation, but a thief misuses these God-given limbs to accomplish devil-driven ends. Hands given to Satan reveal to whom the heart belongs. A believer is to entrust his way to God, but a stealer shows no faith in God’s ability to provide, and thinks, “God is not giving me what I want, so I will take it on my own.” The thief thus begins to yield himself to the dark sources of evil spiritual power, and uses “his hands” in a way which plays into the devil’s hands.
Satan, the master-thief who wrenched man from God and robbed man of innocence, seeks small replicas of himself. Judas, the thief who pilfered the disciples’ money (JN 12:6), was called a devil by Jesus (JN 6:70). Every other thief is also merely a cheap imitation of the wretched master-thief.
Eph. 4:28e “. . .the thing which is good,. . .”
This refers to jobs which are honest and honorable. To avoid thievery, we should earn money by means of a vocation which yields a good product or provides a worthwhile service, and which is ethical in every way.
Christians should not be in jobs which harm others. Any work whereby a man enriches himself by the loss of another is theft embellished and refined, vocational thievery. Gambling exemplifies this. Gamblers and thieves have much in common. Neither worries about their victims. The one who gains provides nothing worthwhile in exchange for what the loser loses. The winner and loser both craved something for nothing, and the loser cheated his own family to satisfy the craving.
Christians should not be in jobs which call for compromise of convictions, or require us to violate God’s commands. Tertullian once asked one of his parishioners why he was sculpting idols for pagans to worship. The craftsman said, “We have to live.” Tertullian replied, “Do we?” He later confirmed with his own blood the conviction of his words.
Through the years, I have seen many young people begin their slide away from God by taking a job which required them to work on Sunday and miss church. A boyhood friend of mine was recently arrested for committing the only triple murder in the history of my home town. He and I were close friends, we stayed overnight in each other’s home often, his dad was a deacon in the church where my dad was pastor. Upon hearing the disturbing news, I called Dad. In the conversation I mentioned being unable to remember much about my friend being at church after about age 15 or so. Dad immediately replied, “That’s when he took a Sunday job.” Dad went on to say he even went to the boy’s parents and discussed the matter with them, but they saw no harm in it.
For the Christian, work is to be honest and honorable. This concept of labor lifts it to a high and holy level. Our tasks at work are to be seen as acts of worship offered up to God. Labor thus comes to entail dignity.
A common misconception, even among believers, is that work is part of the curse God placed on humanity due to Adam and Eve’s transgression. This is dreadfully wrong. Work was given as a blessing. It was part of the original design in Eden. Genesis 2:15 says God put man in the garden of Eden “to dress it and to keep it.” Not until Genesis 3:17 does God say, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” God declared work would not be as productive as before, but work itself was part of the blessing.
Christians need a proper understanding of labor, for in our day there is an insidious mentality which despises work. Pleasure and fun are elevated to the supreme position, while labor is relegated to being a dreaded necessity. Work is deemed a nuisance, something to be escaped. No wonder many people are miserable on their jobs. They begin from the premise that work is bad. Thus, their attitude is skewed from the first.
The moment we begin to think of work as degrading or demeaning, we multiply our chances of being miserable on the job, and also increase our danger of committing theft. If our vocation is deemed a nuisance or a curse, we are more likely to be tempted to take advantage of it and our employer. However, if work is counted as worship, we will be trustworthy.
Eph. 4:28f “. . .that he may have. . .”
Scripture’s admonitions regarding thievery presuppose people’s right to private property. A legitimate, Biblical reason for earning money is “that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 TH 4:12b). Every individual has a right to his own possessions. A willingness to live by this rule draws boundaries within which we can securely live, and around which social order is possible.
A thief refuses to accept this God-ordained method of boundaries and limits, and decides he has the right to invade the private domain of others. Theft is a violation of another person. For every theft, someone somewhere eventually is hurt. Thieves see only property, potential possessions, and lose sight of the personal pains they inflict.
Refusing to accept the boundaries God has drawn for others and for self, a thief becomes his own deity. The result is a lack of respect for others and their possessions. He begins to think he has a right to anything he sees and desires. Self becomes God, taking is an idol, possessing is a graven image–what I want, and what I can snatch, takes priority. Others become self’s servants, and the God of Heaven is left out of the equation.
Eph. 4:28g “. . .to give. . .”
We work for remuneration in order to “have” (4:28f) and “to give.” We labor to secure some property which is private. We labor also to have some property which is not private. Communists say private property in and of itself causes social ills and destitution. They are wrong; the causes are selfishness and sin. Private property is not wrong when the owner remembers his possessions are to be shared with others. Private property is theft only when used for nothing but self-gratification.
Paul, realizing thievery is caused by selfishness, struck at the root of the evil. He hopes to turn the thief’s attention away from self and to the needs of others. Paul believed rousing the spirit of brotherhood could help a pilferer become honest. It is hard to steal from someone we love.
To end thievery, dethrone self, respect God’s intended order, value people’s rights. Others matter. We are to give, not to take. A thief thinks the world owes him, but we must face the fact we are debtors to God, family, friends, society. To withhold from them our best efforts is to steal what they invested in us. “A gentleman puts more into life than he takes out of it” (Bernard Shaw). We need to make a positive difference in this world by giving back more than we receive. This church gives me a chance to return in small measure what others invested in me (love, school, seminary, confidence, spiritual gifts). Most of us have a lot of giving back to do. We best do this by honest and honorable hard work, thereby receiving in order to give. As FDR said, “Never has a man of ease left a mark on history.”
Eph. 4:28h “. . .to him that needeth.”
Verse 28 provides a thorough analysis of, and remedies for, thievery. “Let him that stole steal no more”–Paul was a realist and an optimist; he knew there were thieves within the church at Ephesus, but also believed these people could, by God’s power, overcome this sin. “But rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good”–Paul offers honest and honorable work as a substitute behavior for stealing. “That he may have to give”–we labor to secure some property which is private, and some which is not private. Some thieves are not takers, but withholders, retaining what rightfully belongs to others. Paul now ends this verse by directing our attention to a group with whom we should be sharing what we have.
The Bible recommends three recipients for our giving. Our present text teaches us to give to the poor. By saying “to him that needeth” Paul is being true to his Jewish roots. The Old Testament, a book of compassion for the underprivileged, tells us to render special care for the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers. This mind-set carried over into the early church. Believers sold houses and lands, and then donated the receipts to the Apostles for the poor (AC 4:34-37). Early Christians also provided disaster relief, sending money to famine victims in Jerusalem (AC 11:29).
The Bible teaches us to give to our families. “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 TM 5:8). This refers to caring for aged parents, especially widows. Jesus Himself is our example. On the cross, He made sure His mother would be taken care of (JN 19:27). We are to care for our parents. We wage earners must also be sure to meet the needs of our spouse and children before our own desires are met. Our priority on “others” applies at home as well as in the marketplace and in the church.
The Bible’s third and most important recommended recipient of our giving is God. Since we cannot give money to YHWH directly, we give instead to His causes and to certain people who labor in His causes. Bibles, tracts, Christian books, and other literature need to be published and distributed. The Gospel needs to be proclaimed via radio, TV, and every other medium available. In addition to causes, we give to certain laborers. Paul encouraged Christians to give to enable certain people gifted and called by God to minister on a full-time basis. In the context of mission work and itinerant ministry, Paul said, “The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 C 9:14, NASB). In the context of local church leadership, Paul, referring to financial remuneration, says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 TM 5:17, NASB).
The Bible teaches we should give money to the poor, our families, God’s causes, and God’s called leaders. This truth places a tremendous stewardship on the Church, Christ’s body on earth. Each local church must spend funds entrusted to it in ways which agree with these Biblical, God-ordained guidelines. As the leading undershepherd of this flock, my responsibility is to help us accomplish this goal. I want to assure you, we are, as best as we know how, truly trying to do right with the funds you give.
Our church provides for the poor through our prenatal clinic and our gifts to Habitat for Humanity, Crisis Pregnancy Center, children’s homes, the rescue mission downtown, Clearinghouse, our AIDS caring project, etc.
Our church provides for families, ministering to people “from womb to tomb.” We begin with Cradle Roll before a baby’s birth; we provide a bereavement ministry after a death. In between, we seek to make every effort to provide an environment in which people of all ages can learn of God’s redemptive love. We have ministries specifically tailored for preschoolers, children, teens, college students, single adults, senior adults. We provide classes on marriage enrichment, parenting, and other family concerns.
Our church provides for God’s causes. We send money to the Baptist World Alliance, and to our beleaguered, yet nevertheless still great, national convention. Portions of our offerings go to the foreign and home mission boards, and to our six seminaries. We help support our state convention, and our local association. We are sponsoring a new local mission, Heartbeat Church. We give money to the American Bible Society, college BSU’s, and to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. We are still on target to give a million dollars to all mission causes within this and the following four years.
Our church provides for God-called leaders. Much of our mission money pays missionary salaries. Here locally, we now have five full-time staff members, men who have sensed the call of God to be leaders in a local church setting. The money we provide them is in direct obedience to the spirit of the New Testament. As the leaders of this fellowship, we are trying to be faithful stewards of the money you give in order that when you give money to our church you can confidently feel it is given to the Lord.
The burden of proper disbursement of funds rests squarely on the church and its leadership as a body. The burden of proper giving rests squarely on the church and its leadership as individual members.
Verse 28 has taught us to work in order “to have” and “to give.” The question is, how do we know how much to keep and how much to give away? Are we left on our own to decide the amount? Is this totally a subjective matter? Many believe it is. Forty percent of evangelicals say faith in God is the most important thing in their lives, yet those in this group who make $50,000 to $75,000 a year give an average of 1.5% of their income to charity, religious or otherwise, while spending 12% on leisure pursuits (Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 31). I think there is a better way.
Let me approach this matter by stating my philosophy of life. Seeking to be a Biblicist, I try to use the Bible as my sole rule “of faith and practice.” Scripture is to determine what we believe and how we act. In making decisions about life, I seek a Bible command, lesson, or principle which matches my given situation, and then try to implement what I learn. For example, due to my being a Biblicist, I spanked my children (PR 13:24), though many now condemn the practice; I believe we should be good to animals (PR 12:10); care for the environment (GN 1:26); never co-sign a note (PR 6:1-3; 17:18; 22:26); and I have Ruth do our home finances (PR 31:10ff).
For all issues in life, turn to Scripture. Believers are not under the Law, but neither are we under anarchy. There is no virtue in casting off Biblical principles of guidance. Spiritual giants of the ages have been disciplined saints “who have applied great and godly principles to their lives with relentless rigor, triumphing over the lax tendencies of the flesh” (MaCauley). If no Biblical command can be found, seek a guideline or principle.
Regarding how much to give, one command, guideline, and principle predominates–the figure of 10%. Some think tithing should be discarded as a standard of giving because they deem it part of the Mosaic Law. The latter is a fallacious assumption. Tithing was practiced long before Moses. The Law merely confirmed it. Abraham, over 400 years before the Law, was under no command to give Melchizedek a certain amount, and chose to give 10%. The Criswell Bible well says, Abraham commenced tithing (GN 14:20), Moses commanded it (DT 12:6), Jesus commended it (LK 11:42).
Christ spoke of Pharisees who “pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin” (MT 23:23). This was about the most trifling example one could give of the duty of tithing. Jesus scolded the Pharisees for having “omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” He told them to do these “weightier matters,” yet “not to leave the other (their tithing) undone.” Jesus affirmed their tithing should not be omitted. He did not discount tithing, but presented it as a beginning practice to be added to.
In many areas Jesus made former requirements more stringent. He came to fulfull the Law by lifting it to greater heights. Laws against murder were raised to laws against hate. Laws against adultery were elevated to laws against lust. Laws making divorce easy were lifted to laws making it difficult. The law of identical retaliation was raised to turning the other cheek. Loving our neighbor as ourself was elevated to loving others as Jesus loved us. Jesus came raising standards of deportment. Is it logical to think He singled out the area of giving, and lowered its standard alone?
I must admit, I have a real problem preaching about money. In our culture, due to abuses revealed in recent years, many see churches as gyp joints, and preachers as charlatans. Also, people often get angry when I preach about tithing. The left-hip-nerve beneath the wallet is the most sensitive one in the body. This anger about discussing tithing is ironic, because what we keep creates more misery for us than what we give away.
Often, the things we labor for are the very things making us miserable. In a former pastorate, a couple in our church retired early and decided to do volunteer mission work in Africa. They were materially successful–big house, good clothes, nice cars, etc. She was a registered nurse. He had been a Naval Air Pilot, and then took an upper level management position with McDonnel-Douglas Aircraft. To go to Africa, they began the tedious process of tying up affairs. They tried to rent out their house, find a place to store furniture, and tend to other details regarding physical assets. Nothing worked right. They finally made the difficult choice to sell all their physical assets. They divested themselves of everything, literally ending up owning nothing tangible except a few clothes and keepsakes. Before this, they had been nervous and anxious, but afterward, the wife said, “I have more peace than I’ve ever had. I did not know how bound I was by things.” Maybe, for our own good, we need more, not fewer, sermons on giving. Maybe we are enslaved by the very things we are clinging to. Jesus meant it when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (AC 20:35).
Eph. 4:29d Introduction
All my sermons are dependent on writers I read after. For this message, I am especially indebted to my favorite preacher-writer, Martin Lloyd-Jones, and to Dale Carnegie, a fellow Missourian and committed Christian whose classic work How to Win Friends and Influence People significantly affected my life a decade ago. The book helped me become a better steward of words. I skimmed the work again last week, and several items from it are in this message. The book remains one which every person should read.
Eph. 4:29d “. . .but that which is good to the use of edifying,. . .”
With regard to behavior modification, Paul again follows a negative with a positive. Christianity is more than a religion of “don’ts” and “nots.” Our goal is not zero. Removal of the vice is not enough. A key component of Christian living is displacement. A negative is to be replaced with a positive, as verse 29 again illustrates. Harmful talk is to be displaced with helpful talk, with words which edify, uplift, and encourage others.
Unfortunately, some Christians make us feel worse when we are around them. They may not curse or swear, they may be totally honest, and speak of spiritual things often, but they do not edify others. In battling my depression, I had to reduce the time I spent with a dear friend who was sharp and critical. Being in his presence was hurtful, not helpful.
Avoid being this way. Use words which build up and encourage others. Always find a way to make the people in our presence feel important, for they are! Every human being is created in the image of God. As a result, there is within us an innate feeling of self-importance. We realize there is something significant about ourselves. People want to matter.
We all have a need to feel important. Lincoln was correct in saying, “Everybody likes a compliment.” William James went even further, saying, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
Washington wanted to be called “His Mightiness.” Columbus sought the title “Admiral of the Ocean Sea.” Catherine the Great refused to open letters not addressed to “Her Imperial Majesty.” Victor Hugo sought to have the city of Paris renamed in his honor. The desire to be important can be blown out of proportion and become something ugly, but this does not negate the fact a genuine, basic need is present in us which needs to be met.
Christians need to seek ways to help people meet this basic need. Encourage others. Lift them up. Praise them. Avoid flattery, which is counterfeit, but do remember we are dealing with people made in God’s image. Find something good in them, and highlight it often.
We are all going to speak. People talk. Some even have the gift of gab. We all need to channel our chatter in the proper direction. To people like me who love to talk, I pass on Ironside’s prayer, “Now, Lord, this tongue of mine wants to get going; help me to say something good.”
Eph. 4:29e “. . .that it may minister. . .”
Even in our speech, a Christian is not to be selfish. Do not speak to be admired or wondered at. Words should carry concern for the listener.
Most of the people we see every day are hungering and thirsting for compassion. With genuine love, provide it for them. Hurok was at one time one of America’s greatest music managers. He claimed his success in handling famous temperamental stars was due to his three-fold response to their ridiculous idiosyncrasies: “sympathy, sympathy, and more sympathy.”
Paul’s admonition to use our words to “minister” cannot be obeyed without a willingness on our part to invest time analyzing and figuring out others. The only way our words can help people where they are is for us to take time to find out where they are. We need to take time to love others, to look deep into their eyes until we see to their very hearts and souls, thereby penetrating to the essence of their hurt. If we have fifteen minutes scheduled to discuss business, find a way to do it in thirteen and allow two minutes to reach into the heart of our listener. We can “minister” with our speech if we care enough to take time to get to know others.
Learn to talk about others. If you want to be a bore, talk incessantly about yourself. If you want to be a blessing, talk about the listener. Disraeli said, “Talk to a man about himself and he will listen for hours.”
After we become mindful of a person’s needs, we can use words to supply it, by counselling, comforting, informing, refreshing, or cheering. We can serve others by words as well as by deeds. “Sometimes a message of cheer has more value than a gift of gold” (Eerdman). Eliphaz complimented Job, “Your words have kept men on their feet” (Job 4:4, Moffatt). Apt speech is wonderful. “A word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (PR 15:23b). “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (PR 25:11). “He kisses the lips who gives a right answer” (PR 24:26, NASB).
People all around us are crying, “Help me!” These wounded and bleeding lambs can often be bandaged with healing words. “There are weary people round and about us, weary of sin, weary in sin, weary of life. There are Christian people round us carrying burdens, carrying loads, suffering illness and sickness, disappointment, the treachery of friends, some fond hope suddenly gone, dashed and vanished illusions; there are men and women round and about us who are weary! And as we meet them and speak to them, let us forget ourselves, let us not regard the meeting as an occasion when we can display how wonderful we are. God forbid! Let us pray that we may have this tongue of the learned that we may be enabled to speak a word in season to some poor, weary soul. . . .As we travel through this journey of life we are to help men and women by a word, a word of encouragement, a word of cheer, perhaps a word of rebuke, but a word that will remind them that they are under God, and that if they are in Christ they are precious to Him” (Lloyd-Jones).
Eph. 4:29f “. . .grace unto the hearers.”
A Christian, by his speech, should be a channel of “grace,” a trait of God Himself, to the listener. To “minister grace” is to converse in such a way that our words become vehicles on which the grace of God can ride. We need to use words “which God can use to help other people” (Philips).
Paul’s intent is that we strive to be nothing less than a reproduction of our precious Lord Jesus. The people of Nazareth “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (LK 4:22). People were awed by the grace of his words. The same trait should mark His followers.
Grace characterized Jesus’ words. Let it also characterize ours. We are saved by grace, kept by grace, and should live and speak grace. The standard for acceptable Christian speech is lofty. It is not enough to cease “corrupt communication.” It is not even enough to rise to the level of pure and honest words. We must fly even higher, soaring to the plane of Christ’s “gracious words.” Bad words must become good words, good words better words, better words best words. We need to be like Alexander Whyte, of whom it was said, “All his geese became swans.” All who come into the orb of our life should feel they have been in the presence of the Lord Himself.
Our duty is to “minister grace,” to impart a blessing, to convey divine influence, to say things which will aid others in their earthly journey. Some of our hearers will be unconverted; find a way to point them to the truth. Some listeners will be Christians; find a way to help them on their pilgrimage. Whether the listener is saved or lost, blessings and benefits should accrue to the hearer from the gracious words of the speaker.
Verse 29 reminds us we have an awesome stewardship with words. They take on lives of their own and have enormous power to destroy or to heal. When Count Leo Tolstoy died, his wife confessed to her daughters what they already knew, “I was the cause of your father’s death.” Her constant criticism, complaining, and harsh words literally drove Tolstoy to his grave. His dying request was that his wife not be permitted to come into his presence. What makes this even sadder is that no marriage ever began better. In the beginning their happiness seemed too perfect, too good. They even knelt together and prayed for God to continue the ecstasy which was theirs. Then came the years of harsh, cruel words. Finally, Tolstoy reached the point he could not stand to be near his wife. Words had destroyed their relationship. His wife realized too late the damage she had done. When old and heartbroken, starving for affection, she would come and kneel at Tolstoy’s knees and beg him to read aloud to her the wonderful and loving words he had written in his diary about her fifty years earlier. He would read the beautiful passages, but they knew those days were gone forever. Both of them would weep, grieving over a union destroyed by words.
What a contrast to Disraeli, who attributed his success to his wife. Whatever he undertook, Mary Anne simply did not believe he could fail. (Years ago, in my copy of Carnegie’s book, by this story I wrote, “sounds like Ruth Ellen.”) Robert and Elizabeth Browning had an idyllic relationship. They expressed their passionate love through letters, poems, and other word-devices. He treated her so kindly that she once wrote to her sisters, “And now I begin to wonder naturally whether I may not be some sort of real angel after all.” Thank God for people who know the value of good words. Oh the power of words! “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” God, make us good stewards of speech.
Eph. 4:30a “And. . .”
This conjunction links our present text with the previous one. Bad words hurt and good words help (4:29) the common fellowship we share in the Body. Since the Spirit is responsible for Christian fellowship, He is the One mentioned here (4:30), as opposed to the Father or the Son. The Spirit, responsible for the bond of fellowship, seeks to bless others through our words. God the Spirit is love, and wants to speak loving words through us.
Eph. 4:30a “. . .grieve not. . .”
“Grieve” means to make sorrowful, to cause emotional pain. When we do not let the Holy Spirit speak loving words through us, we sadden Him. He is hurt by speech which is not loving. A crime against the fellowship is a crime against the Spirit Himself, and brings Him pain. The love of God has its wrath-side, its servant-side, and yes, its grief-side.
This is one of the most moving verses in the Bible. The command itself implies a blessed and precious truth. The Spirit who indwells us is capable of feeling, and thus is a Person, not an it, a phantom, or a force. The Holy Spirit is a Person with a heart. At the heart of Heaven is a heart, upon the throne’s right-hand seat is a heart, and within our heart of hearts dwells another heart. Father-Creator cares, Son-Christ cares, and Spirit-Comforter also cares and feels.
Of Israel and God the Father, Isaiah (63:9) said, “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” At Lazarus’ tomb, God the Son “wept” (JN 11:35). Our present text tells us God the Holy Spirit is also given to emotional reaction. He is susceptible to grief, and it is in our power to grieve Him.
There is a tenderness in the words of our text. Paul avoided the term “anger.” When someone flashes forth with anger, we usually want to respond in kind. Grief, though, tends to elicit a response of tenderness. Anger begets anger, but grief should beget compassion.
Many have refrained from sin due to the grief it would cause a parent. The same motivation can help us if we deem the Spirit within us a Person capable of grief. As we contemplate He is a Person, we will be more likely to talk to Him, and commune with Him. As we ponder the fact He has feelings, we should be more motivated to make Him happy, not sad.
The very fact we are capable of grieving God is in and of itself an amazing evidence of His love. God has forever been totally self-sufficient. He has never needed anything, but chose to create beings which He allowed to gladden or sadden Him. This was infinite condescension and love.
“Whenever one loves someone, he lays himself open for hurt as wide as the sky” (Criswell). As Barbara Johnson has said in one of her books, to have children is to let your heart move outside your body and walk around. We open self to pain when we love. This is exactly what God did.
Deity grieving over frail creatures of dust is a marvelous truth. God does not reign over us in solitary isolation, separated from us by a vast gulf. Instead, He takes up residence in the cottage of our heart, a mere hut when compared to His heavenly home. Every believer has the honor to host this blessed, heavenly Guest. He indwells us, takes part in our day to day existence, and allows Himself to interact closely with what we are doing. We should desire that the Holy Spirit be able to dwell cheerfully within us, as in a pleasant and happy house. Deity should never be treated carelessly.
All sin hurts God, but evil in His children especially pierces the Spirit’s heart because He cannot escape the scene of the sin. Once He enters a believer’s heart, the Spirit never leaves. He cannot flee, and thus has to endure within the small confines of a heart-hovel the ugliness of our sins.
Rather than leave us when we sin, the Holy Spirit withdraws to a corner of our hearts to grieve. All spiritual empowerment for our lives grinds to a screeching halt. People burdened under a heavy heart cannot perform their tasks as they would otherwise; neither can the Spirit. If we grieve Him, He cannot cheer us, comfort us, teach us, help us. He never leaves us, but does withhold the manifestations of His presence.
Our sins cause the Spirit sickness of heart. They grieve Him for at least three reasons, the first being for our own sakes. He is alarmed at our choosing paths which are harmful to ourselves. He does not gloat over punishments we receive, but hurts over damage already done by the sin itself. The Spirit yearns for our circumstances to get better, not worse. Kind and caring, He desires us no ill. He is our warmest well-wisher.
Secondly, our sins grieve Him for Jesus’ sake. They open fresh wounds in our precious Savior. Jesus died to purchase our undivided loyalty. When our affections are expended elsewhere, the Holy Spirit grieves over the sadness in Jesus’ face.
Our sins grieve the Spirit, thirdly, for the lost’s sake. His assignment is to win unbelievers, a task made more difficult by the sins of believers. Sinners often justify their sins by the fact these same deeds are being committed by saints. “It is ill when Jerusalem comforts Sodom, and when the crimes of the heathens find precedents in the sins of Israel” (Spurgeon).
Imagine! Grief for us, grief for Jesus, grief for the lost–our sins cause the Spirit within us to suffer grief not merely doubled, but tripled. This may help explain some of the sadness we experience from time to time as believers. Being knit as one with the Holy Spirit, when He is cast down, it drags us down, too. A vital part of any close relationship is the intertwining of two people’s emotions. When Ruth is sad, I am sad; when I am sad, Ruth is sad. Our lives are so knit that oneness of feelings often characterizes us. Being in the presence of a sad loved one causes us to become sad ourselves. This truism applies in the case of believers and the Holy Spirit. We are closely knit with Him, and share a oneness with Him we cannot escape. We are in actual fact seated in heavenly places. The Holy Spirit and we are in the same place. When He is sad, we will be sad.
Sin makes us sad not only due to the Spirit’s fallen countenance. Sin saddens us also because it forces the Spirit to withhold from us heavenly joy. Sin is “the wrenching of myself away from the influences” (Maclaren) of heavenly gladness. Sin chokes the flow of joy. Joy from God is not given to us. The Spirit uses conviction and misery effectively. He has to keep us burdened, mindful of our sin, until we confess and forsake it.
Consecration by the Spirit, and contentment in the believer, have been made forevermore inseparable in the church. I fear we do not appreciate the Spirit enough. Jesus, being flesh and blood like ourselves, understandably receives the first impulses of our spiritual thoughts. We do not need to love Jesus less. We need to dwell more on the Spirit’s love for us, thereby being stirred up to grieve Him less.
The Holy Spirit was there in the eternal councils when the plan of salvation was conceived. He was one of its original designers. The Son offered to submit to the Father. The Spirit yielded to both Father and Son.
The Son volunteered to redeem us, and Someone had to retrieve us. The Spirit volunteered to come fetch us, to apply to us the redemption purchased for us by Christ. Jesus would not let us perish, the Spirit would not let us go. He determined to change our hearts and make us trophies of Christ’s power to save. We said “No!” but the Spirit said “Yes.” We said “Leave!” but the Spirit said “Come.” We would have dashed ourselves against the walls of Hell, but He grabbed us, and holds us fast. Jesus came down to a manger; where did the Spirit come down to find you and me? Jesus stooped to our level at Bethlehem; the Holy Spirit stoops repeatedly.
Who “opened your blind eye to see a dying Saviour? Who was it that opened your deaf ear to hear the voice of pardoning love? Who opened your clasped and palsied hand to receive the tokens of a Saviour’s grace? Who was it that brake your hard heart and made a way for the Saviour to enter and dwell therein? Oh! it was that precious Spirit” (Spurgeon).
For many of us, when the Holy Spirit found us we were but children, insignificant to the world, but precious in the Spirit’s eyes. He convicted us, touched our hearts, and brought us to Jesus.
Through our Christian life, how often would we have thrown ourself into sin had it not been for the Spirit’s gentle yet firm refraining influence? He is the One who energizes us and enables us to do what the Father commands. He is our teacher. All we have learned of God, He has taught us.
Our teacher is also our physician, binding our brokenness. How often would our broken heart have shattered to pieces had it not been for the Holy Spirit holding it together. When our heart was broken, and we sensed comfort come over us like a wave, did we stop to think it was the precious Spirit? He is the Comforter. The blessed ministry of spiritual comfort leads us to think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This is proper, and we do not need to think less of Jesus, but ought to appreciate the Holy Spirit more.
The Holy Spirit is the One who voices our prayers for us when they are unsayable. Often a prayer cannot be uttered. Words cannot be found. Vocabulary fails us. Sentences will not form, our agony too deep for words. When we hurt, the Spirit hurts. When we are bowed low, He bends low.
Do you not sense we have done an injustice to the sweet Spirit of God? The fact we can, and do, break the Spirit’s heart should break our hearts. Let us “grieve not the holy Spirit.”
Eph. 4:30b (cont.) “. . .grieve not. . .”
Scripture specifies at least four ways in which believers and unbelievers can wrongly respond to the Holy Spirit. Believers can “grieve” the Spirit, cause Him emotional pain. If Christians persist in this behavior, they eventually can “quench” (1 TH 5:19) the Spirit, absolutely stifle His blessing and power. Unbelievers “resist the Holy Ghost” (AC 7:51) when they refuse to let Him enter their lives. If the lost resist Him for a lifetime, and never receive Him, they become guilty of “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (MT 12:31), the unpardonable sin. There finally comes a time when saying “No” to the Spirit means “No” forever, and the Spirit comes no more.
There is a time, I know not when,
A place I know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.
There is a line by us unseen
That crosses every path,
The hidden boundary between
God’s mercy and God’s wrath. (W. A. Criswell)
Christians can grieve and quench the Spirit, the lost can resist and blaspheme Him. These four verbs all accent a prominent trait of the Spirit–sensitivity. He is exceedingly vulnerable, easily hurt. He is the gentle One, the One within the Trinity who most clearly manifests sheer tenderness. He is grace in action, mercy in motion, kindness moving and mobile. Delicate and soft, He assumed as a fitting symbol the form of a dove.
Unfortunately, this trait of soft gentleness within the godhead is a trait which men in our culture often overlook when defining “true masculinity.” God, presented in Scripture in masculine terms, is the ideal by which manliness is to be defined. Jesus was a man’s man. Taught the trade of a carpenter, he knew the meaning of manual labor. When necessary, He could be tough, as when He cleansed the temple. Jesus, who had the Spirit without measure, also knew how to bless little children, and women always felt comfortable around Him. He knew how to be strong; He knew how to be soft. Both are needed to be a good man, a good husband, a good father.
David at his best has ever been my ideal man. Strong and rowdy, he was able to slay with his own hands a lion and a bear, plus killed giants and Philistines. Yet he was mild and tender, a poet who wrote psalms. He was gentle with the lady Abigail, and a warm friend to Jonathan.
Do not overlook the gentle, precious traits of the Holy Spirit when defining total person-hood. We all, and in our culture especially men, could learn to emulate His tenderness.
Handle the sweet Dove of Heaven with care. In Judgment I fear we will be amazed at the multitude of times we were guilty of rudeness to the divine Tenderness within us. We must be ever mindful of Him. Often we hurt Him as a result of carelessness. “Sin is as easy as it is wicked” (Spurgeon). It might be an impure thought, an unkind word, a thoughtless gesture, or an uncaring deed, but whatever it is, the sensitive Spirit has to endure its pain. He deserves better, we owe Him better.
Eph. 4:30c “. . .the holy. . .”
The KJV is correct in not capitalizing “holy” here. The word is not used here as part of the Spirit’s official title, but added as an adjective to emphasize His nature. The Greek phrase literally reads, “Grieve not the Spirit, the holy One of God.” He who indwells us is holy. Holiness is the essence of His being. Thus, we can grieve Him not only by love wounded, but also by holiness offended. The holy One is hurt by what is unholy, grieved by anything contrary to the quality of His own purity. Holiness is always sensitive. Increasing purity ever results in increasing sensitivity.
Being holy, the Spirit labors in us to increase our holiness. He is at work. He has an assignment. He who will never leave us will also never leave off working on His assigned duty. His allotted task is to create holiness within us. We can try to hinder Him, but ultimately He will not be thwarted in this work of sanctification. The Spirit does not want to grab us by the hair of the head and lug us along. His desire is to “lead us,” not drag us, “in the paths of righteousness” (PS 23:3). However, if He has to, He will do whatever it takes to fulfill His duty. One thing which grieves Him is what He sometimes has to do to get us to cooperate. He has no joy when He has to bring pain into our lives in order to help us conform to the image of Jesus. The gentle Spirit does not wish to do this, but He will.
Putting self in the path of a bulldozer is dangerous, but mere child’s play compared to putting self in the way of predestination, election, providence, and sanctification. These big words have large meanings and cosmic significance. Do not try to impede their progress, or block their fulfillment. The holy Spirit in us intends to increase our holiness. Be wise. Cooperate.
Eph. 4:30d “. . .Spirit of God,. . .”
We believe in a triune God. At the baptism of the Son, the Father spoke, the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. Jesus commanded us to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (MT 28:19). Paul said, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 C 6:19), and only divinity lives in temples. The Spirit is “God of very God.”
Why emphasize the Spirit’s divinity? Because we have not done Him justice in this regard. We often neglect to give Him the esteem we have for the Father and the Son. The Spirit is “the inmate of our hearts, the instructor of our reason, the strength of our will” (Pusey), and yet we often do not think of Him as God in us. Maybe our worst insult to Him is when we go about our lives, acting as if He who indwells us is not divine.
Our conceptions of the Spirit are often hazy and defective. To many He is a mysterious manifestation, a force, an emanation of divine influence. Christians often have a theological “black hole” (Hughes) in their understanding when it comes to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In actual experience, we often “view the divine nature as a duality of Father and Son instead of a Trinity” (Hughes). This disregard for the Spirit is made even worse when we consider the role He plays in our salvation right now. . .
Eph. 4:30e “whereby ye are sealed. . .”
At our conversion, the Father seals us with the Spirit (see sermon on 1:13). The Spirit’s presence in us is our seal, the confirmation our salvation is a finished transaction. The Holy Spirit within us is the basis of our assurance and security. He is the One who applies the results of Calvary to us individually, and being the seal, is also the One who keeps us saved.
His presence makes it possible for the Christian to endure to the end, and makes it sure to happen. Here is security indeed. A seal is a seal. It would be meaningless for God to give us a seal if it could be broken and undone. Why have a seal in the first place if it can be nullified?
We are safe forever due to the Spirit. Can we know this and yet have the heart to grieve Him? As we dwell upon the assurance and security He provides, do we not have an overwhelming desire to walk away from our sins? We should yearn to walk in holiness out of sheer gratitude alone.
Anything deemed worthy of a seal obviously has inherent value to its owner. By sealing us, the Spirit certainly made a statement regarding how exceedingly valuable we are in His eyes. By the lives we live, for better or worse, we make a statement regarding how valuable He is in our eyes.
Eph. 4:30f “. . .unto the day of redemption.”
The Spirit’s presence in us proves the Son has bought us, and certifies the Father shall someday possess us one hundred percent. The Holy Spirit will not leave us. He is committed to indwelling us until the end, until our salvation is totally consummated on “the day of redemption.”
At Calvary Jesus redeemed us by purchasing salvation. He won the victory. Now we await “the redemption of the purchased possession” (1:14), the day when the full results of His redemption will be made obvious to all.
There is coming a day when believers will no longer have to be on guard against grieving the Spirit, when our every vestige of weakness and sin shall be removed. Every enemy will be crushed. Every knee shall bow before King Jesus.
We believers “groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (RM 8:23). We long for the day when our physical bodies shall be resurrected, transformed, and swallowed up into glorified bodies without spot or wrinkle. The Spirit will seal us until our bodies are redeemed, until every vestige of our old man is gone.
The Spirit is at work in our bodies fashioning them toward the perfection they shall possess when He presents them as flawless treasures to the Father. Since our bodies are a primary part of what the Spirit is securing for us, we commit treachery when we use them to grieve Him. May we not use as an instrument against Him the very thing He is working on in us to redeem.