Now if you would please take your own copy of Holy Scripture in your hands or turn in one of the church Bibles with me to the book of Ephesians, chapter 4; Ephesians chapter 4. If you’re using a church Bible it’s on page 978. You will remember in chapters 1 to 3 Paul gives us what you might call the largely theological section of his letter dealing with the sovereignty of God in salvation, how God has brought us from death to life by the work of the Holy Spirit into union with Jesus, and then incorporated us into the new community, the Church. That was chapters 1 to 3. We’ve been looking at the opening chapter of the more practical and applied section of the letter that takes those great themes of chapters 1 to 3 and brings them to bear upon our lives and hearts from the beginning of chapter 4 onwards. We are going to read from the seventeenth verse but our focus this morning will be on verses 25 through the end of the chapter. Before we read, let me invite you to bow your heads with me as we pray. Let’s pray together.
Lord our God, Your Word is before us. It is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword, piercing to the division of joints and marrow, soul and spirit. We pray as Your Word is read and then preached that the Holy Spirit would wield the Sword of the Spirit with great power and effect in our hearts, subduing and slaying sin, and conforming us to the pattern and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Ephesians chapter 4 from verse 17. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiven one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.
Paul’s Offensive “Meddling”
As we’ve begun to see when we looked at the previous two sections of Ephesians chapter 4, Paul has moved into the part of his letter, as I said a moment ago, where he is applying the truths of the Gospel to the lives of his readers. But now as we turn our attention to verses 25 to 32, he’s really going to start meddling. This is a meddling section of Scripture. As your pastor, I’m just giving you fair warning, okay? The passage really should come with a disclaimer; something like, “Warning: The following verses are dangerous to your spiritual complacency!” They are designed to shake us and call us to action, which means, of course, that they make for uncomfortable reading. We are fine aren’t we, at least I am, with big, broad brushstrokes – you know, generalizations about the grand themes of Scripture, abstract statements of doctrine. That’s a Christianity I can handle. It’s not meddling. It’s not too specific; except Paul gets very personal here. He gets up close and personal. He gets specific, doesn’t he? He wants to take those grand truths and show how they touch the details of the way we live, day by day. This is up-close and really very personal indeed.
I. Speak the Truth
If you’ll look at the passage, verses 25 to 32, you will see that there are six exhortations in these verses, all of them looking at our behavior. It’s a call to personal holiness in six key areas. You’ll see the first exhortation there in verse 25. Look at verse 25 with me. “Therefore, having put away all falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Now that might be a general call for integrity and honesty in the Christian life and we could all stand to hear an exhortation like that, couldn’t we? “Put falsehood away. Stop telling lies. Speak truthfully.” We need to hear that. We are called to be people of integrity as followers of Christ. That might be Paul’s point but I think there’s actually more going on here than that.
You may remember we saw last time how close the previous section of this letter, especially verses 17 through 19 are, how closely they’re connected to Romans chapter 1 verses 18 to 32. Paul uses the same language in Romans 1:18-32 as he uses in the passage prior to this one to describe the way unconverted people respond to the truth. We hear it, we receive it, we distort it, we suppress the truth. Romans 1:25 puts it this way – “We exchange the truth of God for the lie and worship the created thing rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” Now keep those words from Romans 1:25 in your mind for a moment and look again at Ephesians 4:25. Romans 1:25 – “We exchange the truth about God for the lie and we worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.” Ephesians 4:25 – “Having put away,” literally, “the lie.” It’s the same phrase from Romans 1:25. “Having put away the lie,” now that you’ve become a Christian, “let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.” We are, as verse 15 has already put it, “to speak the truth in love,” not simply to be truthful but we are to make a point now that the truth about God as He is revealed in the Gospel has captured our hearts we are to make it our business to be proclaimers, speakers of that Truth, capital “T,” Bible people, Gospel people, Word people. Now that the Truth has captured our hearts, it ought regularly to flow from our lips. That’s Paul’s point here.
And notice the motivation he supplies to reinforce and help us obey the exhortation. Paul here wonderfully, and throughout this passage, does not simply supply challenges for our behavior; he also shows us motivations to help us obey. We have a diverse array here of Gospel motivations for Christian obedience. Look at verse 25 and the first motive we have for the kind of obedience to which He calls us – “Put away the lie, speak truth with your neighbor, for,” here comes the motive, “for we are members of one another.” We are members of one another. We are to “speak the truth in love” as he’s put it back in verse 15 of chapter 4. We are to address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as he’ll go on to say in verse 19 of chapter 5. We are to engage in Word ministry with one another as the people of God because we are members of one another. We are profoundly connected. The only thing that can ever be permitted to divide a congregation is the irreconcilable difference between faith and unbelief. The only permissible division in this place, Sunday by Sunday, is the division between Christians and non-Christians. Nothing else is allowed. Not race, not economics, not education, not politics, not dress, not taste. Jesus is the dividing line! What you think about Him – that’s the central issue. But if you know Him, however different you may be on the surface, if you know Him you have been bound together with your brothers and sisters so that we are members of one another. We belong to and with each other.
That was the metaphor Paul has already been working with back in verses 15 and 16 of this chapter. Do you see it? Verses 15 and 16 – “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” We are members together of the body; each one has work to do. The work is speaking the truth in love, ministering the Word of God, the truth of God, the Gospel of grace to each other so that we might grow. We have a duty of care to one another because we belong together – to be Gospel people, seeking to bring the good news about Jesus to bear on each other’s lives so that the whole body may grow up into Jesus, that is, into the Head. The first exhortation here then is to speak the truth.
II. Be Angry and Do Not Sin
Then secondly, look at verses 26 and 27. The next exhortation has to do with anger. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” It’s not enough that we deal with the Word on our lips; we also have to deal with the anger in our hearts and so that’s Paul’s next stop. Two things to think through here. First, it’s clear on the surface of this exhortation that Paul is affirming the possibility of Christian anger, godly, righteous anger. John Stott even says – listen to this; this is fascinating. John Stott says, “There is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings,” says Stott, “We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the fact of blatant evil, we should be indignant, not tolerant; angry, not apathetic. If God hates sin, His people should hate it too. If evil arouses His anger, it should arouse ours too.” Perhaps part of the reason for our failure to withstand daily temptations is our unwillingness to hate sin, to be aroused to righteous indignation at its constant pollution and perversion of all that’s good and pure in God’s world. Some of us need to get mad at our sin much more than we do. Our indifference is deadly. Our indifference is deadly.
But having said that, there’s a warning in these verses, in this verse, that is equally important. Do you see it? Look at the passage again; verse 26. “Be angry and do not sin.” When Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple He was filled with anger; it was righteous anger, sinless anger. “He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Christ’s anger is a holy, pure anger. I suspect that for all of us, in fact I know for all of us, even at our godliest moments, in our most righteous moments, there is always something of sinful self in our anger. And so we need to work, I think, to cultivate an internal reflex as our anger begins to simmer that asks ourselves, “Why am I angry?” before it boils over. Am I angry because my pride has been wounded? Am I angry because I am embarrassed? Am I angry because my sense of personal entitlement has not been adequately accommodated? Am I angry with my teenager because they did not obey me and I am always obeyed? Or am I angry in defense of God’s standards? Am I angry at the offense that sin does to God’s glory? When I am angry, what is there of likeness to Jesus in my anger? Am I out of control in my anger? That’s an important question to ask and I suspect that is at least in part why Paul immediately says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” – inordinate anger. Anger that festers, anger that is out of control is going to settle down, if left unchecked for long, it will settle down into deep resentment and bitterness and become a festering source of division that will poison fellowship and ruin a church’s witness.
And again, notice the motive that Paul supplies here to help us. Verse 27, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” That’s what sinful anger does, you know. It provides an opportunity to Satan to wreak havoc in a church. He will work to make minor disputes into major battles. He will strive to turn momentary disagreements into simmering resentments. He will labor to keep the memory of perceived slights alive in our hearts, carefully stored away, often referred to and brought to mind and added to with every new infraction. He wants you to save a file on your internal hard drive, marked with the names of your brothers and sisters, your brothers and sisters, into which you can place every slight and every imagined offense until eventually you can barely think of them without a flash of self-righteous indignation or a sneer of contempt. Your brothers and sisters! That is the strategy of the evil one. What a field day Satan has among the people of God when we give place to ungodly anger. Do not give an opportunity to the devil. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Paul is saying to us, “No, instead keep short accounts. Do not delay. Go and make it right. Be reconciled to one another. Forgive and be forgiving”
III. Earn So You Can Share
Speak the truth, be angry and do not sin, then thirdly, verse 28 – “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Paul couldn’t be clearer, could he? It’s a very straight-forward exhortation. Taking what isn’t yours is incompatible with the Christian life. Instead, he says, we are to “work hard with our own hands, at honest work.” And again notice the motive, the motivation. Why should you work hard to make money? Well there are any number of good and laudable and godly motives – to provide for your family, to meet your responsibilities, to glorify God, to work at everything you do with all of your might as undo the Lord, not as an eye servant or a man pleaser. Those are all godly motives. The motive he supplies here is what? “Let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Why should you get up and go to work tomorrow and work hard and not cut corners? Ministry is Paul’s reason. Make money so you can give it away. That’s what Paul says. Work so you have something to share with people who are in need. It’s a pretty radical exhortation. It really does redirect our thinking about our work away from ourselves and our pleasures and our comforts and our own little world, our families. And it turns us outward when we think about our work, toward the world. Earn so you can share. Make work a means of ministry. That’s what Paul is saying.
IV. Make Your Mouth a Servant of Grace
Speak the truth, be angry and do not sin, earn so you can share, then fourthly, verse 29 – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” The word translated there “corrupting, corrupting talk” literally means “rotten” or “putrid.” It is the stench of something polluted and dead and decaying, something unclean. And we all know that kind of talk when we hear it, don’t we? Rotten talk, filthy talk, polluted talk. Though as with most sins, our ears are much less attuned to the sound of corrupting talk when it comes from our own mouths, isn’t that so? But Paul’s concern here, did you see, is not so much simply with identifying the filthiness of the speech but also with the danger such speech poses to others. It’s not merely corrupt talk; it is corrupting talk. Filthy speech isn’t just a problem for the speaker; it’s a problem for the hearer also. Instead, Paul says we are to build up with our words. And just to be clear, Paul doesn’t mean that we should flatter people. Flattery is not godly; flattery is dishonest. He’s not saying help them feel better about themselves. That’s not what he means by building people up. Instead, his concern is that we should be thinking about how to help other believers grow in grace.
And notice in verse 29, that little phrase – there’s so much help here about how to do that well. Verse 29, “Build others up, as fits the occasion.” That’s a very useful little exhortation or instruction. “As fits the occasion.” Be asking yourself, “How, given their circumstances, may I promote their spiritual good?” Speak only what will tend to build up as fits the occasion. It may not be the first nice word that comes to mind that they most need to hear. It may not be a word of congratulation but a gentle exhortation to keep pressing on that they need. It may not be a rebuke; it might be a word of gratitude for the way they’re trying to follow Jesus. It may not be more doctrinal instruction but a practical word of help as they seek to be faithful parents. Love looks to build up and so it studies the occasion for clues on how to do that well. Don’t assume that the first nicety that comes most easily to our lips is always best for building up.
And yet again Paul gives us a motive. Do you see the motive? What will the effects be of this kind of careful, loving attentiveness? To what will be most helpful in your brothers and sisters’ lives? This is extraordinary. Do you see what he says? When you speak words of truth that aim at building up, that are carefully chosen as fits the occasion, what will God do with such words? He will make them means of grace in the lives of your brothers and sisters, “that they may give grace to those who hear.” That’s what we need, that’s what I need to stay on the tracks, to press on and persevere and say “No” to sin and “Yes” to righteousness. I need grace. I need the supplies of grace. And God has placed you in my life and me in your life and you in one another’s lives that we may speak the truth to one another, building each other up, and as we do God’s supplies grace by His Word. We get grace. Here is a mandate beyond the particular and narrow call given to specific individuals to preach the Word, here is a mandate and a call for the whole church to do Word ministry and be the instrument and vehicle of grace in each other’s’ lives.
V. Do Not Grieve the Spirit
Speak the truth, be angry and do not sin, earn so you can share, make your mouth a servant of grace, fifthly, look at verse 30. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Paul has been pounding away at us from different angles on the subject of loving our neighbors and now he wants us to see that a failure to love our neighbor is at the very same time also a failure to love God as we ought. That a disruption in Christian fellowship entails a disruption in the experience of our communion with God. That malicious, spiteful, resentful behavior does not simply impair our relationship together as the people of God on a horizontal plane; it has vertical implications. It grieves the Spirit of God. He mourns over our sin.
And did you notice that the little connector with which verse 30 began that links the exhortation not to grieve the Holy Spirit with the exhortation that precedes it with corrupting talk? It’s important because Paul is saying your words, the particular sins he has in mind that would grieve the Spirit, is sins of speech. Or to be more concrete about it, he is saying you can’t say hateful things on Saturday night at the country club and expect the blessing of the Holy Spirit on your Sunday School lesson on the Lord’s Day Morning. You grieve the Spirit. That’s what he’s saying. He’s mourning over or sin. We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. He assures us we are bound for heaven, but when we live and act as though we did not belong there – not as citizens of heaven but rebels against the rule of God – we grieve Him deeply. May God have mercy on us and awaken us to the horror of grieving the Spirit of God.
VI. Be Kind, Tenderhearted, and Forgive
Speak the truth, be angry and do not sin, earn so you can share, make your mouth a servant of grace, do not grieve the Spirit, and finally verses 31 and 32 – “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiven one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The sinful motives of our hearts – anger, bitterness, malice – and the fruits of them in our relationships with others – clamor and slander and wrath – we are to put them away. That was the language he was using in the previous section. “Put off the old man, the old self. Put it off. You have no business indulging in them,” he’s saying. Or to put it a little bit differently, Christians have no right to be bitter, ever. You’re not entitled, believer in Jesus, to feel malice, ever. You have no right, I have no right, to sin, ever. Put it off. It doesn’t belong. I’m not free to disobey God. We must never allow ourselves to feel entitled in our rebellion.
Instead, Paul says “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgive.” It’s hard to do that sometimes, isn’t it? To be kind and tenderhearted and forgive. We are often provoked, often confronted by the malice and spite and venom of others. It’s easy to respond in kind; it’s hard to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgive. How do we do that? Paul tells us. Look at the motive again. “Forgive one another as God in Christ forgave you.” Remember the Gospel of grace. Remember the cost borne by your Savior who was Himself made the object of anger and malice and venom and hate, who bore your sin in His body on the tree. Remember how by the wounds of Christ God has forgiven you and then see if your sense of entitlement to hold onto your resentment can last for long. Come stand again under the shadow of the cross. Look again at what has been done for your soul in Jesus. And then ask if there is any place, if there should be any room anywhere in your life for the indulgence of rebellion against the God who has so loved you. Paul is asking us to allow the nail-pierced hands of your Savior to come and begin to prize open your grip of long-cherished sin and to let it go, long-cherished anger, long-cherished resentment and to let it go and to forgive because you have been forgiven. Unworthy of forgiveness though you are, you have been forgiven by grace. Here is the great motive, the master motive for Christian holiness – the self-giving love of the Lord Jesus Christ who held nothing back that He might make you a forgiven and a beloved child of God.
May the Lord be gracious to us and lead us again back to Calvary, show us again the wounds of our Savior, and there before Him enable us to let our sin go, to put our sin off, and live a life of renewed obedience to His praise and glory. Let’s pray together.
Father, we thank You for the Gospel, for the good news about Jesus, because of whose obedience for us and sin-bearing death for us we have been forgiven. Help us to take another look at our anger and our resentment and our pride and the festering pet sins that we’ve cultivated in our hearts in the crystal clear sunlight of the cross, at the Gospel, of the love of God in Jesus that we might see it all in its true ugliness and be enabled to let it go, to put it away because we know we have been loved and forgiven. Make us people who love and forgive, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.