Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus, located in Asian Minor (modern day Turkey). The membership of that church was primarily Gentile.
Paul set the tone for these chapters when he said, “Walk worthily of the calling with which you were called” (4:1). That is the key verse for this section.
In verses 1-16, he talked about the unity of Christ’s body, the church: “One body and one Spirit…, one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all” (4:4-6).
While believers have various gifts and callings (apostles, prophets, etc.—4:11), we are called to build up the body of Christ (the church) “until we all attain to the unity of the faith” (4:12-13)—”knit together” (4:16).
In verses 17-24, Paul contrasts the way that Gentiles live with the way that believers live. In this context, Paul’s use of the word Gentile equates to non-believer. Believers have learned to put away their old corrupt being and to put on a new identity in the likeness of God (4:24).
EPHESIANS 4:25. WE ARE MEMBERS OF ONE ANOTHER
25Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members of one another.
“Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor” (v. 25a). Paul quotes Zechariah 8:16, where the prophet is encouraging the people of Judah to do those things that will build community—putting away falsehood being one of those things.
“For we are members (melos) of one another” (v. 25b). The Greek word melos (members) is often used to speak of the various parts of the body. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, Paul talks about feet and hands and ears and eyes and noses, each of which is vital to the human body. So also in the church, the body of Christ, each member is important to the well-being of the whole.
EPHESIANS 4:26-27. DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOUR WRATH
26“Be angry, and don’t sin.” Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, 27neither give place to the devil.
“Be angry, and don’t sin” (v. 26a). This is a quotation from Psalm 4:4, a fact that is not always apparent when reading the translations of that verse. Paul’s intent in quoting this verse is uncertain. He probably means, “If you are angry, don’t sin.”
There is, of course, a place for righteous anger—anger at oppression and other unacceptable circumstances. However, we must be careful lest we too quickly determine our anger righteous and the anger of our opponents unrighteous.
“Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath” (v. 26b). This is wonderful advice that a number of long-married couples have credited for their marriage success.
To bring anger under control requires determination and personal discipline. It is much easier to let anger simmer overnight than it is to bring it to a halt before sundown—but it is worth the effort to control it. That can save a marriage or a business or any number of relationships.
“neither give place to the devil” (v. 26c). If we allow anger lodgment in our hearts, the devil can use it to gain entry to our hearts. An angry person is easily tempted to act foolishly or to hurt other people. When we bring our anger under control, we cut off the devil at the root level.
EPHESIANS 4:28. STEAL NO MORE
28Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need.
“Let him who stole steal no more” (v. 28a). “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19) was one of the Ten Commandments. Now Paul says that a thief who has become a believer must lay aside his old behavior and steal no more.
Paul makes no mention of restitution here, although the Torah required thieves to “pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep” (Exodus 22:1). For the time being, he is satisfied to require that the sinner stop sinning.
“but rather let him labor (kopos), working with his hands the thing that is good” (v. 28b). Work is valued in both Old and New Testaments. The first demonstration of work was God’s creating the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1).
The word kopos suggests hard work. The purpose is to give the worker the opportunity to accomplish “the thing that is good.”
Paul places a high value on productive work. While carrying on his apostolic mission, he supported himself by making and selling tents—both to model a good work ethic and to avoid burdening others (2 Corinthians 11:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:9).
In his Second Letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul rebuked Christians who decided to quit working while awaiting Jesus’ Second Coming. He said:
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks in rebellion, and not after the tradition which they received from us. For you know how you ought to imitate us. For we didn’t behave ourselves rebelliously among you, neither did we eat bread from anyone’s hand without paying for it, but in labor and travail worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you; not because we don’t have the right, but to make ourselves an example to you, that you should imitate us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: ‘If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.’ For we hear of some who walk among you in rebellion, who don’t work at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are that way, we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).
“that he may have something to give to him who has need” (v. 28c). This is “the thing that is good” (v. 28b)—that the worker “may have something to give to him who has need.”
EPHESIANS 4:29. NO CORRUPT SPEECH
29Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear.
“Let no corrupt speech (sapros pas logos) proceed out of your mouth” (v. 29a). The Greek word sapros means rotten or corrupt. People used it to talk about rotten fruit or meat—foodstuffs no longer suitable for consumption, and disgusting in their smell and appearance.
People used the word sapros metaphorically to speak of corrupt behavior. Now Paul is saying that Christians must be careful not to use corrupt (foul, disgusting) language.
What would constitute corrupt speech today?
• The use of curse words and four-letter words would apply, not because they have great substance, but because they identify the person speaking as vulgar—not in keeping with our Christian witness.
• But there are forms of corrupt speech that are far more serious. Any words that are intended to belittle or humiliate others would apply, because those words can be profoundly damaging to others. The old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is not true. Humiliating words can cause great damage, and have even been known to drive people to suicide.
• Another form of corrupt speech has to do with the kinds of things that parents sometimes say to their children: “You’re no good!” or “You don’t know anything!” or “I hate you!”—the possibilities are nearly endless. Such words from the mouths of parents or other authority figures should be considered to be corrupt speech, and could even be considered a form of child abuse.
• Paul has already commented on false statements (v. 25), which are a form of corrupt speech.
• Likewise words spoken in anger (v. 26) are likely to be corrupt speech.
• Any words designed to disrupt good communal life could be considered to be corrupt speech.
“but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear”(v. 29b). This contrasts with corrupt speech, which wounds and tears down. Appropriate speech for a believer is encouraging speech—speech intended to build up rather than to tear down.
This should not be construed to forbid criticism. Parents and other authorities need to correct those who are behaving improperly. However, that can be done by defining limits clearly and enforcing them wisely. Speech designed to humiliate is unlikely to help the corrective effort.
EPHESIANS 4:30-32. DON’T GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT
30 (And) Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. 32And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.
“(And) Don’t grieve (lupeo) the Holy Spirit of God” (v. 30a). This translation fails to include the first word of this verse—”and” (Greek: kai). The verse properly begins, “And don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” The word “and” joins verses 29-30. A possible connection would be “Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth… and don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”
The word lupeo means to grieve someone or bring them sorrow. Paul says, “Don’t bring sorrow to the Holy Spirit of God.” How would we bring sorrow to God? The same way we would bring sorrow to a parent or loved one—misbehavior—disobedience—laziness—undependability. We would grieve the Holy Spirit if we were to ignore Paul’s counsel in verses 26-29—counsel to put away falsehood, etc.
“in whom you were sealed (sphragizo) for the day of redemption” (v. 30b). In Biblical times, seals were used to authenticate ownership or authority—in much the same way as we use signatures or branding irons today. A typical seal would have an image engraved in it. The owner of the seal would press it into clay or wax, leaving an impression that would signify ownership or authority.
Seals could also be used to protect documents—to prevent unauthorized people from using or misusing the documents.
When Paul tells these Ephesian Christians that they have been “sealed for the day of redemption,” he means that God has guaranteed them his protection until the day of redemption—also known as the day of the Lord—the final day of judgment.
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice” (v. 31).
“Bitterness” (pikria). This word is related to pikraino, which was used to speak of bitter or poisonous food or drink. The book of Revelation talks about people who died after drinking water that had been made pikraino (Revelation 8:11). That makes pikraino a fitting word to describe bitter and poisoned relationships.
There are various ways to think of bitterness. It is anger that has been nurtured and kept alive. It is a smoldering fire that consumes from the inside. It most often occurs when a person feels victimized, whether by a spouse, a boss, a co-worker, or whomever.
But Paul tells us how to deal with it. “Let (it) be put away from you.” The first step in that process should be prayer, because bitterness is sticky stuff that resists cleanup. We need God’s help to be able to forgive our opponent and to let go of our victim-posture. We need God to heal our wounds so that we find it easier to forgive.
“wrath” (thymos) and anger” (orge). The kind of anger represented by the Greek word orge is the kind of smoldering anger that lies hidden beneath the surface, just waiting for an excuse to erupt. Today a psychologist might call it hostility.
The kind of anger represented by thumos is more active. If orge is simmering, seething anger, thumos is explosive anger—orge let out of its cage.
The New Testament repeatedly encourages Christians to put away anger and wrath (Matthew 5:21-22; Romans 12:19; Galatians 5:20).
But how can we control our anger? How can we get rid of it?
• The first step is to understand anger’s corrosive nature so that we will be motivated to bring it under control.
• The second step is to remember that God says, “Vengeance belongs to me…. I will repay” (Hebrews 10:32). Justice doesn’t depend on our engaging in angry behavior.
• The third step is to engage in traditional spiritual disciplines such as prayer, devotional reading of the Bible, and participation in public worship and Christian fellowship. These disciplines can help us to develop self-discipline with regard to anger—and many other things.
“outcry” (krauge). This is public clamor. While there are times when public outcry is appropriate, believers need to consider carefully whether their outcry stems from righteous indignation or wrath and anger. If the latter, he/she will do well to step back and bring their anger under control before proceeding.
“slander” (blasphemia). I have always thought of blasphemy as disrespectful speech directed at God, but was surprised to find that it also applies to evil speech directed at people. Slander is a good translation, because it conveys the elements of evil intent and untrue charges. Reviling and cursing are also valid translations.
What would constitute blasphemia against other people? Examples would include any untruth intended to undermine a person’s credibility—backbiting—malicious talk about another person who isn’t present to defend him/herself—spiteful speech—gossip.
Blasphemia isn’t limited to spoken words. It would include verbal communication of any sort—written text, emails, postings on the Internet, texting, and whatever comes next. It isn’t the method but the intent that qualifies something as blasphemia.
“malice” (kakia). The word kakia is related to kakos, which means bad. Kakia is evil that is allowed to permeate the heart—and to inspire the person to plot against others.
“be kind” (chrestotes) (v. 32a) means kindness or gentleness. A kind person would tend to reach out to others, offering support of some sort—a kind word or a gift of food or money.
“tenderhearted” (eusplanchnos—from splanchnon) (v. 32a). Splanchnon is a gut-feeling word that refers to one’s inner organs—the bowels or intestines—what the Greeks saw as the center of one’s emotions. It is usually translated “compassion” or “affection”—but it expresses an intensity of feeling that those words might fail to convey.
“forgiving (charizomai) each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you” (v. 32b). Note the similarity between charizomai (forgiving) and charis (grace). In the New Testament, grace (charis) most often refers to the undeserved favor—the undeserved forgiveness given by God. However, it can also be used to refer to the loveliness of harmonious relationships—the kind of relationships that make it possible to drop one’s defenses—to resolve differences without rancor—to live without fear of physical danger or financial catastrophe or personal rejection. Obviously, if we are to enjoy those kinds of relationships, it must be in a context where we give and receive forgiveness.
just as God also in Christ forgave you.” When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?”—Jesus responded, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus then went on to give the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), the point of which is that God expects us to forgive as we have been forgiven—and that failure to forgive others can place our own salvation in jeopardy. The forgiveness that God gives, then, becomes the model for the forgiveness that God expects us to extend to others.
EPHESIANS 5:1-2. BE IMITATORS OF GOD
1Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children. 2Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance.
“Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children” (v. 1). Elsewhere, Paul told the Thessalonians to imitate him and his colleagues. That would be quite a challenge, because Paul practiced a truly sacrificial discipleship. But the greater challenge would be to imitate Christ (Matthew 4:19; Mark 10:21; Luke 5:27; John 1:43).
In this verse, Paul tells us to imitate God—to look at the love the Father has given us and to respond in kind—loving God and neighbor.
“Walk in love” (v. 2a). From very early times, Jews used the word “walk” to speak of the manner in which one conducted one’s life (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9; Psalm 1:1). When Paul says, “Walk in love,” he means, “Live your lives steeped in love—love for God and love for neighbor.”
“even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us” (v. 2b). Love is a powerful motivator. We love those who love us—and especially those who devote themselves to helping us.
Paul says that Christ loved “you” (singular)—making the message personal—”and gave himself up for us” (plural)—making the message inclusive.
“an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance” (v. 2c). The Torah required Israelites to make various kinds of sacrifices, to include burnt offerings. These were sometimes accompanied by incense. These offerings produced a sweet-smelling fragrance that was pleasing to God.
Christ’s sacrificial offering of himself on the cross was the culmination of the sacrificial system. It demonstrated his love for us, and gave us a model for loving one another.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan