The apostle Paul is teaching us how we can leave the past behind and have a fresh start in hope. In Ephesians 4:17-21 we were told that we have problems and those problems come from our way of thinking. The way we look at life, look at the world, look at other people, and even look at ourselves is broken, corrupt, and futile. Then in verses 22-24 we were taught that we must stop wearing these old, comfortable clothes that we have, change our way of thinking, and put on the new clothes that God is giving to us. You are created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. That is who you are and that is what God is transforming you back to after we have damaged the image because of our former way of life. I also want to remind us that what Paul is doing is describing some of the old clothes that we run back to and what the new clothes are to look like on us. Further, Paul is going to tell us why we need to make these changes. So this paragraph is teaching us how to leave the past behind and move forward in hope and why we should make this decision.
Clothes That Take (4:28)
In verse 28 we read that the thief is to stop stealing. When we think of a thief, we might think of a professional thief. We would never think of ourselves as thieves. But the Greek word is not a noun but a verb here. Whatever you are stealing, no longer steal. The old clothes take from people. God does not want us taking from others. Here is something important to consider: God does not give an excuse for stealing. God does not say to not take unless you really need it. God does not say that you can take or steal if you are hungry, thirsty, or homeless. There is no justification provided for stealing. We do not take from other people. Taking is selfishness, just like we saw with deception and anger. We are ridding selfishness from our lives by casting off these old clothes.
So what are we supposed to do if we are in need? How are we to take care of ourselves if we are not going to take from other people? The apostle Paul tells us that the new clothes means we do honest work with our own hands. God’s people do not expect to take from other people nor expect for things to be given to them. God’s people are supposed to work with their own hands so that they are financially sufficient. Other people are not supposed to take care of us financially.
But I want us to read the rest of verse 28 so that we can see why it is that we are not taking from other people or expecting other people to give to us. God tells us that we are to have something to give to others. We are to work with our own hands so that we can share with anyone else who has need. You will notice that God is aware that people are going to have needs. But taking from other people is not God’s solution. Rather, we work so that we can help others.
Think about what a different attitude this is than the way the world thinks. We do not work so that we can stack our possessions and become rich. Nor do we take from other people just because they may have more than us. We want to work so that we can give and share when there is opportunity to those who are in need. We must realize that God gave us our job and God gave us our money. We will trust in him to provide. We should view our job as the work God has given us to do. Do not despise work. It is not bad to make money. What is bad is if we do not use our money to do good to all, especially the family of faith. You may remember at the end of last year we were helping Marcia return to the Caribbean so she could help her mother. One evening in the foyer she and I were talking and we were alone for that moment in the foyer. She came in and told me she had found $20. I told her that she should keep it because God was providing for her at this moment because she needed it. She refused and put it in the collection box and said that God would take care of her. She was not going to take but wanted to give. This is the heart the people of God have. We give. We do not take from others.
Clothes That Corrupt (4:29)
Now the Lord wants to talk to us about how we talk. No corrupt words are to come from our mouths. The word can also be translated “unwholesome, rotten, putrid, evil, foul, impure, depraved.” Now we might start wanting to define what is corrupt or rotten talk. But God is going to give us a three point description of the kinds of words that are to come out of our mouths.
First, we are to only speak words that are good for building up. We are only to speak words that are good for building up that person. I hope we would think about this first filter. We may quickly realize that this first filter probably eliminates many of the conversations we have. There is no room for complaining. There is no room for arguing. There is no room for negative words or discouragement. There cannot be words that hurt or tear down. In short, we will not talk badly about anyone. We will not gossip. We will not slander. We will talk badly to people or about people. We will not talk with rotten words about what is happening in our culture or in our country.
Second, we are to only speak words that fit the need or fit the occasion. So not only must we say words that build a person up, but those words are to be said when they are needed. Our words are to be said at the right moment for the need of that moment. The picture is that there is a need in that moment and our words come in at that moment and lift up that person. This puts an end to the excuse that we just tell the truth and let the consequences fall where they might. We are not told to merely speak the truth. But we are to speak the truth for what needs to be heard by that person in the moment. There are times when our words are not helpful, even though they are true. For example, this is like telling the person who has stubbed their toe on the furniture that they should pay attention where they are going. True, but not helpful in the moment. Those words, though true, do not fit the need of the moment. You may think those words are helpful but they are not helpful at that moment.
Third, our words are to give grace to those who hear. Now we are truly showing ourselves to be made in the image of God. You might remember that this is what the people thought when Jesus spoke.
And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22 ESV)
Our words are to show grace. Our words are a gift to the other person who hears us. Our words show favor. Our words will be to the benefit of the person listening. Think about saying words that give grace. Now let’s stop here for a moment and add all of these things together. We are to only speak words that build up people, fitting the need of the moment, giving grace to the person who hears. Do we feel like we need to talk a lot less? James said that this is exactly what we need to do.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19–20 NIV)
We need to slow down our words so that we can filter if what we are about to say is going to build up the person, are the right words for the moment, and give grace to the person listening. So before we open our mouths, we should ask these questions. Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true? Our words will not be thoughtless or inappropriate. Jesus taught that we will give an account for every idle word that is spoken (Matthew 12:36).
Clothes That Grieve God (4:30)
Then the apostle Paul gives us a bigger reason why discarding our old clothes and putting on God’s new clothes is so important. You have been sealed for the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit. So do not grieve him. Now if you were part of our Holy Spirit study, you will quickly understand what this sentence means in verse 30. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. You belong to the kingdom of God, have received God’s blessings, and are his children who have been redeemed, brought out of darkness into light. But when we talk with corrupt words, that is, words that do not build up others, fit the need of the moment, and give grace to the hearer, we do not look like we belong to God. We do not look like we have been sealed with the Spirit. We do not look like we are being kept for the day of redemption. We do not look like we have been transformed at all.
Now let’s put some teeth on what Paul just taught us. Does what we say online grieve the Lord? Does what we say online show that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption? Do our posts, our shares, our comments, our likes, our memes, or anything else we write building up those who read it, are appropriate for the need of the moment, and give grace to those who are reading it? Social media has turned into a toxic cesspool where people complain, tear others down, rail at our government, rail at our culture, rail at other people, and simple do not give grace to those who read it.
If watching the news, listening to talk radio, reading social media, or listening to family or friends spurs within you an anger or a fire so that you think you need to say or post things that are inflammatory to some, argumentative, and tear people down, please disconnect from what is spurring that in you. Put that time in God’s word instead so that you will only say words that build up, are good for the moment, and give grace to those who hear. Listen more and speak far, far less. Do not grieve the Spirit of the Lord who has redeemed you and brought you into his family.
The old clothes take from others. The old clothes speak foul words. The old clothes grieve the Holy Spirit. The new clothes get a job so that we can help others. The new clothes only say words that are good for building up, fit the need of the moment, and give grace to those who hear. The new clothes show that we have been sealed by the Spirit and are ready for the day of redemption.