CHRIST AND THE CHURCH:
PART 5 CHRIST AS THE EXAMPLE
Ephesians 4:17-32 A Christ-like walk.
SUMMARY OF THE PASSAGE
The apostle now turns from the collective responsibility of members of the church as they relate to one another, to consider the individual walk of the believer in the world. The passage looks at the subject in three ways, as follows:
STRUCTURE OF THE PASSAGE
Verses 17-19 Features of Adam in unbelievers.
Verses 20-21 Truth is in Jesus.
Verses 22-32 Features of Adam put off, features of Christ put on. Verses 17-19 Features of Adam in unbelievers.
Verses 17-19 FEATURES OF ADAM IN UNBELIEVERS
4:17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord- the chapter began with an exhortation on the basis of the teaching in chapters 1-3, and now a new section begins in a similar way. The practical exhortations of chapters 4-6 are solidly and logically based on the teaching of chapters 1-3. Paul solemnly testifies in full recognition of the Lordship of Christ. When He is gladly owned as Lord the exhortations of the passage will be willingly complied with.
That ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk- he begins with a negative example, and one they will easily recognize from their pre-conversion days. Henceforth means no longer, suggesting a clean break with the past. That they have to be exhorted like this even though they are believers shows they had not fully realized the implications of faith in Christ.
In the vanity of their mind- the apostle begins with the mind, because that is the seat of the thoughts, and as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he, Proverbs 23:7. Vanity as used here means emptiness of results, and is in stark contrast to the reality that is found in Christ. Whereas the natural man produces nothing that is pleasing to God, He was altogether pleasing to His Father.
4:18 Having the understanding darkened- understanding is literally a thinking through, so here the apostle reminds us that the thought processes of the unbeliever are darkened, or covered over, not allowing the light of God’s truth to penetrate.
Being alienated from the life of God- when Adam sinned the threatened punishment fell upon him, and he died. Despite continuing in the body for 930 years, he died the day he sinned. The Lord Jesus taught this in John 5: 24 when He spoke of men passing from death unto life. And since the life is spiritual life, then the death must be spiritual death. Not that man’s spirit is dead, for spirits cannot die, and man is able to use his spirit to worship demons, but as far as communion with God is concerned, man is dead.
Through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart- this ignorance exists because eternal life involves knowing God, and Jesus Christ, John 17:3, so those who have not this life are ignorant, however qualified they may be in the things of this world. Because men have closed their minds to the revelation of God, they are blind in heart. This situation is not without remedy, as John 9 illustrates. Reading verses 17-19 should makes us truly thankful that the grace of God has reached us, and should also make us more concerned about the plight of those still in their sins all around us. It is solemn to think that the population of the world increases by 270,000 people every day. That is not the number of people who are born each day, but rather the number of people who are born over and above the number of those who die each day. May the Lord give us wisdom in this situation.
4:19 Who being past feeling- as a result of this willing heart-blindness, men are not sensitive to the truth of God, and what is acceptable behaviour with Him.
Have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness- lasciviousness is lack of restraint, the direct result of refusing the Divine laws which should govern life on earth. See Psalm 2:3, and Romans 1:18-32. This in its turn results in uncleanness of every and any sort, and that with an attitude of heart which longs for more and more.
Verses 20-32 TRUTH IS IN JESUS
But ye have not so learned Christ- again the emphasis on the mind. We learn how to sin from Adam and his race, we learn how to live worthily through Christ’s example when here on earth. It is not simply that He taught how to live, but that He is the Life, John 14:6, for true life finds its fullest expression in Him; He is the subject of the lesson.
4:21 If so be that ye have heard Him- through the personal testimony of apostles and prophets, and the preaching of evangelists, pastors and teachers, the Ephesian believers had heard Him, as much as if they had been on earth when Christ was.
And have been taught by Him- literally, taught in Him. That is, as those who by faith were in Christ, they were in a position to take advantage of the teaching. Try as they might to imitate Christ, unbelievers have not the power to do so. The statement “Ye must be born again” comes before Matthew chapters 5-7, so only those who are born again can fulfil Christ’s commands.
As the truth is in Jesus- the true life is expressed in Jesus, the Man upon the earth who pleased God fully. This phrase is often misquoted as “the truth as it is in Jesus”, but this implies that truth in someone else is different. Christ alone is the full expression of the truth. Paul longed that the life of Jesus might be manifest in his mortal body, 2 Corinthians 4:10.
4:22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man- as we learn Christ through His example, and are taught of Him through His word, we are taught to put off the old man. In principle we did this when we turned to Christ, but there is an ongoing need for readjustment to Christ. The words “put off” mean to take off and lay aside, and are used of those who stoned Stephen, Acts 7:58. They took off their garments and laid them aside as being unsuitable for the task in hand. Clothing speaks of character in the Scriptures, and so we should take off and discard the characteristics of Adam, the old and out-of-date man, for those garments are not suitable for the task in hand of living like Christ. Our old man has been crucified with Christ, for Christ undertook to deal with what we were in Adam, and by association with Him in His death and resurrection we are freed from the consequences of what Adam did when he fell. See Romans 6.
Which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts- because the human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, it deceives the unbeliever into doing corrupting things, even things which will bring into ruin.
4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind- instead of being corrupted by a deceitful mind, we should be constantly adjusting to the new things that are found to perfection in Christ. The spirit of our mind is our attitude of mind, which is so governed by the Spirit of God that it can be called the mind of the Spirit, Romans 8:5. We must adopt the right attitude to the things mentioned here, if we are to be in the good of them.
4:24 And that ye put on the new man- this is the other side to the truth that we have been taught in Christ, for we have not only to put on, but put off as well. No doubt the garments of the two malefactors as well as Christ’s became the property of the soldiers at the foot of the cross. The question for us is which garments shall we put on, Christ’s, or the malefactors?
Which after God is created- likeness to Christ has to be created in us, for it does not come naturally. After God means with God as the model. God’s original design for Adam was that he be in the image and likeness of God. That likeness has been spoiled by sin, and Adam begat Seth after his likeness, not God’s, Genesis 5:1,3. Only because of Christ’s intervention as the second man, the last Adam, can God create anew after His likeness as expressed in Christ.
In righteousness and true holiness- this is the condition in which the new man is, ideally. It is our responsibility to put off all those things which are incompatible with righteousness and holiness. True holiness is holiness which is produced when we allow the truth to govern us. The truth in question being the truth in Jesus. The word for holiness here is not the usual one meaning separation. It has been defined as “that quality of holiness which is manifested in those who have regard equally to grace and truth”, Vine. Notice the three ideas of righteousness, holiness and truth, which could be used as summaries of the next few verses. They are in opposition to the corruption, lusts and deceit mentioned at the end of verse 22.
4:25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour- it is not suitable for those who claim to know Him who is the truth, to be found lying. As verse 15 has already told us, we should not only be truthful, but live the truth. In fact the word for lying used here suggests this, being the word for falsehood. May we be like the psalmist and hate every false way, Psalm 119:104,128. The apostle quotes here from Zechariah 8:16. As an Old Testament statement, it is a requirement under the law. How much more now that Christ has come, and grace reigns. Zechariah has fellow-Israelites in view when he speaks of neighbours, those who hope to enter the kingdom of the Messiah.
For we are members one of another- as fellow-members of the body of Christ we are members of His body, (for we are more than just neighbours), and what we do even with our bodies, 1 Corinthians 6:15, affects the Head in heaven.
4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not- sometimes the cause of truth demands that we be angry, with the sort of anger that Christ showed when He saw within the hardened hearts of men, Mark 3:5. That it is permissible for a believer to be angry at times is shown in that a bishop must not be soon angry, Titus 1:7, thus showing that controlled anger is permitted at times. One has said, “He that would be angry at sin, let him be angry at nothing but sin”.
Let not the sun go down upon your wrath:- justified anger is not to degenerate into that which smoulders in our hearts, for the apostle is quoting from Psalm 4:4, and the psalmist goes on to say, “Commune in your own heart on your bed”. We are to have quiet spirits, even in times when we have strong feelings about matters which affect the honour of Christ. “Anger resteth in the bosom of fools”, Ecclesiastes 7:9, with the emphasis on resteth.
4:27 Neither give place to the devil- the Devil delights to provoke us into emotional outbursts, and we should be aware of this, and not give him any opportunities to exploit situations, perhaps by exaggerated language or behaviour whilst under stress.
4:28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth- such is the transforming power of the gospel, that it not only enables a person to renounce that unlawful activity by which he gained a living, and begin to earn that living in an honest way, but to go further, and seek to make recompense as a believer for the sin of the past by meeting the needs of the poor. This is in the spirit of the trespass offering, which required that one who had stolen should pay back what was stolen, and add the fifth part thereto. See Hebrews 13:16, and also Zacchaeus’ attitude in Luke 19:8,9. The apostle himself worked with his own hands to supply not only his needs, but also the needs of those with him, Acts 20:34,35.
4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth- note the absolute terms the apostle uses. A corrupt communication is a statement which is bad and unprofitable.
But that which is good to the use of edifying- when we see gaps in the lives of fellow-saints, we should be concerned to fill them with words that build and encourage.
That it may minister grace unto the hearers- So we may not only benefit our fellow-believers by giving them material things, as verse 28 indicates, but we also have the opportunity of ministering to their spiritual needs too, by those things that we say. By this means those things which God is looking for from His people in response to His grace are fostered and encouraged.
4:30 And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God- every true believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God, who is a Divine person, and sensitive to the behaviour of God’s people. To grieve means to make sorry, to cause pain or grief. Note the connection with the foregoing references to corrupt communication. The Spirit is grieved by such a thing, for He is the Spirit of grace, Hebrews 10:29. The fact that the Spirit dwells within us should be a strong incentive to holiness, as the apostle makes clear in 1 Thessalonians 4:7,8, “for God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given us His Holy Spirit”. The expression used of the Holy Spirit here is very strong, being literally, “His Spirit, the Holy One”.
The following things may be said about the indwelling of the Spirit of God:
1. The Lord Jesus promised His own that the Holy Spirit would be given, John 14:16. He is not earned or merited, but given by God in grace. Also, He dwells within the believer, in his heart, and is not merely an external influence upon him.
2. The Spirit of God indwells the believer the moment he believes, Galatians 3:2, where the question is rhetorical, i.e. the answer is so obvious that it needs not to be stated. The Lord Jesus told His apostles to tarry at Jerusalem until the Spirit came, which they did. He had said to them in the Upper Room, “If ye love Me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father…John 14:15,16. They did keep His commandments, and the Spirit came. Now that the Spirit has come at Pentecost, when a person believes he becomes part of the one body, and is made personally to drink into one Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:13, John 4:10,13,14.
3. The Lord Jesus promised that once given, the Spirit would never leave them, John 14:16. The Spirit left King Saul, 1 Samuel 16:14, and David implored the Lord not to take His Holy Spirit from him, Psalm 51:11. These references remind us that the Holy Spirit was given in Old Testament times to empower for special tasks, in these cases to be king in Israel. If the Spirit had been taken, David would no longer have been king. As for ourselves, the permanent indwelling of the Spirit should not be used as an excuse for unspiritual behaviour.
4. The Spirit was to be personally in the believer. See John 14:17, where the contrast is between the Spirit being alongside of them as He indwelt Christ who was with them, and the Spirit abiding in them, when Christ was no longer walking physically with them.
5. The presence of the Spirit is known by the believer, John 14:17. The worldling can only appreciate things by the physical senses because he is not born of God. Because the Spirit cannot be physically seen, then the unbeliever cannot know Him. The Spirit makes His presence felt in the believer’s heart by encouraging spiritual exercises, Romans 8:16.
6. The Spirit acts as a comforter, strengthener and encourager, in the same way as the Lord Jesus acted towards His disciples when down here. This is the force of the word “another” in John 14:16, meaning “another of the same sort”.
7. The Spirit enables the believer to see Christ, John 14:19. He does this by announcing the things of Christ to us, John 16:14, so that Christ is glorified. Through this ministry of the Spirit, the Lord Jesus may be seen with spiritual insight just as really as the apostles saw Him with natural eyesight. John writes in 1 John 1:3 so that we may share the things he saw and heard, but he gives to us no physical description of the Lord. What really matter, therefore, are spiritual views of Him.
Whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption- The Lord Jesus has purchased His people, and we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Redemption of the body we do not yet have, however, for that will happen at His coming, see Philippians 3:220,21; 1 Corinthians 15:48-53. Note that it is unto the day of redemption, and not simply until, as if it is only a question of time. What happened when we were saved and sealed was in view of the redemption in the future. This is a strong reason to believe in the eternal security of the true believer, for God has done something in the past which guarantees the future.
4:31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice- these are features which the Spirit finds grieving, and which are contrary to Christ’s example. The truth in Jesus is totally opposed to these things. Clearly the anger is unrighteous anger, or else there is a contradiction with verse 26. We should only be angry at things Christ would be angry about.
4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you- this is the positive side, as verse 31 is the negative side. We should avoid being unkind, but also set out to be kind, for that is what God has done, taking the initiative in the matter. God forgave in Christ, meaning He forgave in view of all Christ is to Him, and all He did for us. Those who have been forgiven by God should be the special objects of our care, for this is Christ-like, and is the mark of a worthy walk before God.
Notice how high the standard of forgiveness is, being nothing less that the attitude of God. This reminds us of Peter’s question, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” Jesus saith unto him, “I say not unto thee, ‘Until seven times’: but, ‘Until seventy times seven’, Matthew 18:21,22. Then He told the parable of the ten thousand talent debt and the one hundred pence debt. Peter no doubt thought that to forgive seven times would be commendable; the Lord raised the standard not to 7 x 7 = 49, but to 70 to the power of 7, which is 8235430. This is a lifetime of forgiveness. There are 25550 days in 70 years. There are 322 times that number in 8235430. So if the same man came to Peter 322 times every day for 70 years, (that is every three minutes during his waking hours for the whole of his lifetime), and asked his forgiveness, then he was to forgive him. And so are we.
It is worth remembering that genuine forgiveness on the part of the one sinned against can only follow genuine repentance on the part of the one sinning. In the parallel passage this is emphasized- “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, ‘I repent;’ thou shalt forgive him”, Luke 17:3,4. So both grace and truth are to be in exercise; truth which rebukes and requires repentance, grace which grants that forgiveness when these conditions are met.
So it has been with God. His rich grace has forgiven us for the sake of Christ. His truth demanded that we repent before we knew that forgiveness.