Paul has commanded us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). In Ephesians 4:17 Paul told us that this means we do not live like the world. We cannot behave like the culture around us. This was pictured as a three step process: put off the old self which is corrupted by our deceitful desires, be renewed in our minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. In Ephesians 4:25-32 we are going learn what it means to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self.” Paul sets this up with a set of contrasts. Paul will say that we must no longer do this and instead must do this. Paul is describing for us what the renewed mind and new self looks like. As we read these contrasts, I want us to remember that this is not simply a behavior change: “stop this and do this.” These actions come from the renewing of the mind. As our minds are being taken out of the world and into the word, then we will stop certain behaviors and will participate in other behaviors.
Put Away Falsehood/Put On Speaking The Truth (4:25)
The first behavior to put off is all falsehood. We live in a world full of deception. We cannot be anything like the world. That is what Paul commanded in Ephesians 4:17. We no longer live like this world and the world is full of lying and deception. Therefore, anything that is not true must be removed from our lives. It is so easy not to tell the truth. But truthfulness is part of the new self that is created in the likeness of God. Rather than lying and deceiving we are to speak the truth to our neighbor. This is a quote from Zechariah 8:16 where the prophet directed the remnant community to speak the truth to their neighbors. The motivation is also expressed by Paul: “Because we are members of one another.” We are a joined body that is to be unified (cf. Ephesians 4:1-16). We must tell each other the truth and not deceive each other. The world deceives one another. We cannot do the same thing. There is to be an openness and honesty that we are able to have with each other.
Truth speaking requires a renewal of the mind. We can become such habitual deceivers and may not even know it. We are so used to not being honest that it becomes our very nature. We must learn to speak truthfully to each other. Otherwise we will be simply hurting each other and will not be able to rely on each other or trust each other.
Be Angry and Do Not Sin (4:26-27)
So often I have heard this text be used to vindication what we call “righteous indignation.” But if this was what Paul was speaking about, I believe he would have been clearer in what he was referring to. I think the concept is fairly simple. We have emotions. We all experience emotions. God created these emotions within us. The question is what will we do with these emotions. In particular, what will you do with regard to anger? Do not let anger be mixed with sin. You may feel angry, but that do not authorize you to act in a sinful way. So often we feel justified in our sinning because we have felt the emotion of anger. Paul tells us we can control our actions from these feelings. You have control over what you do with your emotions. We have all exhibited this control in our lives. You may feel angry and are lashing out. Then the phone rings suddenly. We answer the phone in a pleasant voice. We show that we are able to exhibit control over our emotions. This is what Paul is commanded. The world blows up at other people when anger is experienced. The new self does not allow those emotions to spin out of control. This also shows us another false teaching of the world. The world tells us that it is bad to bottle up our emotions. God says it is good. Do not act on your feelings. Do not act on your impulses because that is acting like the world.
Further, Paul says to not let the sun go down on our anger. The point is to not allow our anger to simmer. Do not maintain your anger. Festering anger leads to bitterness, outbursts, slander, or malice. Anger is dangerous and becomes the foothold to other sins. This is the motivation Paul gives. Do not give an opportunity to the devil. Paul says this because clearly anger easily leads to sin. Anger easily gives us a great temptation to sin. Satan will destroy your soul and anger will be his tool. Deal with your anger and set it aside. Control your anger. Deal with it calmly. You have the power to do so. You must renew your mind to know that you do not have the right to explode. You must change your actions for when you feel anger.
Stop Stealing and Work (4:28)
Here is a great contrast that pictures the total reversal that occurs when a person learns Christ. The stealer turns into the giver. I think it is important to tell our young people today that God commands you to work. You do not take what other people have you. You work for it. Work is the means by which God is going to provide for you. Christianity is not about stealing from other people what they have worked for. We must have a willingness to share, not a willingness to take.
We must appreciate and love the motivation given. “So that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” We do not work to have. We work to give. We are to become a giving people. We need to consider that we have been physically blessed to share with anyone in need. This fits what we see in the book of Acts. When fellow Christians were in need, we read the first century Christians joyfully and willingly selling their goods and property to be able to give to the needy brothers and sisters in Christ. We must be ready to help one another with what we have. We must have the heart that we read in Acts of having all things in common (Acts 2:44; 4:32).
I hope that we will see that we have a joyful responsibility to one another. If there is a need for a Christian, the first step is not to run to the church treasury. The first step is for us to be generous and cheerful givers to our brothers and sisters. We should never have a hoarding, selfish attitude toward our wealth and possessions. If we do, then we fail to understand that all we have is given to us by God. We should have no attachment to our possessions. They should not be something that defines us. Enjoy the fruit of your labor knowing these things are given by God. Therefore, our blessings should instill a greater love for the gift-giver, not the gifts.
No Corrupting Talk But Talk That Builds Up (4:29-30)
Foul words must never come out of our mouths. Such language is the language of the world. Our words must not sound like them. We use different words. We will not use curse words. We will not use filthy words. We will not misuse the Lord’s name. We will not use words that cause rottenness in the souls of others. This also requires the renewing of our minds. We say the words we hear from others. This is a big reason why we need to stop exposing our minds and hearts to filthy television, music, and movies. These things change our hearts to want to say what they say. Words reflect our heart. We need a renewing of the heart and mind to be able to clean up our conversations. Being Christian is not just avoiding bad language. Being a Christian means saying words that build faith in others. Listen to what Paul continues to instruct.
Paul then describes what our conversations should be. What must come out of our mouths must be “good for building up.” This is the first test of our mouth. The words must be good for other people. Will this statement build the person up or am I tearing a person down? Am I saying destructive words or helpful words? Are my conversations the words of healing or the words of harm? Our words to be encouraging to each other. Friends, our words must be this to each other and in our marriages. No harmful words can come out of our mouths.
Further, our words must “fit the occasion.” Not only must words be helpful, but our words must be timely. They are the words that are needed at the moment and words that are needed for the person.
Even more, our words are to give grace to those who hear us. Our words are to be a benefit to others. We are going to do good for the person. This is the purpose of our words. You have been given grace by God. Now you are to give grace to those who hear your words.
Verse 30 may be understood as the motivation for good words or may be a stand alone statement that covers all of these instructions in Ephesians 4 & 5. I believe this command is tied to the corrupted, unwholesome talk that is being condemned in this section. Paul says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We saw this truth in Ephesians 1:13-14. Our identity is that we are heirs of God and sealed with the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? This comes from Isaiah 63:10.
In verses 7-9 of Isaiah 63, the prophet is recounting the goodness of God to deliver the people from oppression and slavery. The context fits the picture of the exodus from Egyptian slavery. God is pictured as kind and gracious to save them. Listen to what the people did in verse 10.
But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10 ESV)
Rather than responding in obedience because of the goodness of God to save them, they rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit. Rebellion in the face of grace is grieving the Holy Spirit, according to Isaiah. This message fits very well in Ephesians. The first three chapters of Ephesians explained that we were dead in our sins and were children of God. But God saved us and made us his children so that we can belong to his family. We grieve in the Holy Spirit when we see the grace of God and continue to live in rebellion to God. God has come to save. We cannot refuse to clean up our words. We cannot refuse to give to our brothers and sisters in Christ in need. We cannot refuse to put away lies and deception. We cannot refuse to control our anger. If we do, we are grieving God. Don’t rebel against God.
Put Away Harsh Traits and Take On Gentle Traits (4:31-32)
Paul continues in verse 31 with sweeping changes of our character. All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice must be put away from us. The world acts like this. A Christian cannot be bitter. We cannot be bitter against one another. We cannot be bitter in our marriages. We say that you don’t know what so and so did or what my spouse did. Paul says that you forgot what you did to God. There is no room for bitterness in our hearts when we see God’s grace and forgiveness to us.
Further, no human deserves our wrath. This is how we justify wrath in our minds. Someone does something and they deserve our wrath or anger. We are setting ourselves up as a god, as if our way must never be violated. Who do we think we are that we think anyone deserves the venting of our anger? We are being selfish and have forgotten God’s grace.
Clamor is a sin. Clamor means just like it sounds. Making noise out of anger. Slamming doors, banging objects, and the like out of your anger is sinful. We do that. Rather than yelling, some people slam everything to show their displeasure. That is just as much of a sin as wrath and slander. Remember, Paul said, “Be anger but do not sin.” There must not be ill-will toward others. Malice is such a dark word. We are not to have ill-will toward another, but goodwill.
Instead, be kind to one another. Be tenderhearted to one another. Do good to each other. Why do we think we do not have to be kind to each other? It is shocking to consider that we can often do more good to strangers than we do toward our brothers and sisters in Christ! We do good toward co-workers but not to our spouse! How can this be? We are to display kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. This is what the new self looks like. This also requires a renewal of the mind. We must change our way of thinking. We are not justified in our unrighteous behavior. That is the thinking of the darkened, futile, and ignorant mind. The new self does not harbor bitterness and ill-will. The new self shows love, kindness, goodness, and compassion. How can we possibly do this?
Here is the mind to have: “As God in Christ forgave you.” God had the compassion and kindness to forgive us of our sins and violations. God did not blow you up when you made a mistake. God did not slander you or show clamor when you sinned yesterday. God does not harbor malice to you when you showed disregard for Christ. God is still kind and still compassionate. Oh, how hard this is! But the renewed mind learns this by remembering Jesus.
Stop: falsehood, sinning from anger, stealing, corrupt talk, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice.
Practice: speaking the truth, resolving anger calmly and productively, working to share, speaking words that help and build up, kindness, compassion, forgiveness.
Renew the mind: by looking to Jesus who practices these things toward us everyday.