17 March 2008

Verse by verse through Ephesians (4:28-5:2)

Ephesians 4:28-5:2

28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. 5:1 Therefore become imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Paul spends the first two chapters telling us who we are in Christ. We were once strangers and foreigners, lost in this world, without God. But now we have received the spirit of adoptions and have been sat in the heavenly places with Christ, and are a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. In chapter 3 he lets it be made known that he was given grace to preach the gospel to the people, even though he was the lowest of the low—below the bottom of the barrel, looking up at the gutter—and that now all who know Christ, both Jew and Gentile, are of the same family in Christ. He then spends the first 16 verses of chapter 4 explaining why we should walk worthy of the calling with which we were called, and that God has set up offices in His church to help us with that walk, so that we may not walk in ignorance and blindness and darkness, and that we are to put on the new man which was created in righteousness and true holiness. In verses 25 and 27 he tells us the first two things we are to “put off”: lying, and unrepentant wrath. We now pick up at verse 28.

Let him who stole steal no longer… Literally, The [one] stealing, be stealing no longer. The first “stealing” is present tense (the one still stealing), the second “stealing” is in the imperative tense. It is a command. “Stop stealing!” In fact, it is the eighth of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). Why is stealing such a filthy thing to do? Because what someone is saying is, “What I have is not enough. God has not given me enough, so I will use Satan's methods in order to obtain what I truly deserve.”

They could also be saying, “I really don’t feel like getting up off the couch and contributing anything to society in order to make this a better place. I will wait until I find someone who has labored for what they have, and when they have it I will take it from them.” When people steal, not only do they steal from the person, they steal from God. Against You and You alone have I sinned (Psalm 51: 4). The act of stealing is not simply a personal affront against the offended party. It is a sin against God.

Yet all we can think about is the loss of stuff. Of course it hurts when we have something valuable yanked out from under us. And if someone’s security is violated, we should feel concerned for the person. But why are we not more outraged that the person has offended God? A person who steals has sinned in the eyes of God and His wrath is ever with that person. Yet rather than pray that God grants the offender repentance (1st Timothy 2:25), we scream for humans to mete out justice. When we should in fact be more concerned with the justice of God.

…but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need… Let that person, who is now stealing stop stealing, so that he may get a job working with his hands, keeping those hands busy thereby also occupying his mind and time that he may not have time to steal. Thus, rather than try and take glory away from God, the person will have something to give to the poor and thus bring glory to God! This would be one mark of a true follower of Christ. “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments (1st John 5:3). This command to stop stealing is not only about not offending just one single person. It’s about what we can do for so many other people. After all, if one is always consumed with illegally obtaining what another has worked so hard for, then that person will never have the heart to think that someone else may have less than even they do.

Look at the last part of verse 28. That he may have something to give to the poor. Such a concept the thief does not know. They have it seared into their heart that they are so bad off and so downtrodden. Yet Paul says, in effect, “The poor have even less than the thief. Yet the poor man, the beggar, the homeless sleeping in the alleys and the woods. They have nothing yet they have enough honor to not take from another. So why do you who at least have something, act as though you have nothing? Therefore, do what is good, work with your hands (1st Thessalonians 4:11), so that when you see someone who has less than you do, you may give to that person, and in so doing you may honor your Lord.”

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. We know that “Actions speak louder than words.” But we also know that “those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man.” (Matthew 15:18-20). Not only should our actions mirror those of Christ, but our words as well. And if we learn to control our tongue, James tells us we are a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body (James 3:2). So what kinds of words are we to use (and not use)?

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth… Corrupt. Rotten, unfit for use, worthless. the Greek is saproV (sapros). The same word Jesus uses when talking about good fruit and bad fruit. “For a good tree does not bear bad (saproV) fruit, nor does a bad (saproV) tree bear good fruit” (Luke 6:43). If we are a good tree, then we will not bear saproV fruit. So what is an example of a saproV logoV? It can be, of course, cuss words. Paul here is telling us not to let our speech be like that of the lost.

But also, we humans have a tendency to expose others’ weaknesses. Of course, our intentions are always “good.” We’ll say, “Yeah, good ol’ Jim. Good fellow there. But he’s dealing with some things in his family right now, bless his heart!” Or when we’re in a small group, discussing something we should avoid, we may say, “You know, I was just telling Suzy about that. That’s something we need to pray she gets over.” The words that come out of our mouth should not be to make ourselves look better, or to expose another’s weakness. What good does that do the body? And don’t even get me started on gossip. That’s a whole 'nother message right there.

…but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. What are the qualities a pastor is to teach the young men to have? To be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned (Titus 2:6-8). In the Psalms, David prayed, Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). You see, when the only things people hear come out of our mouths are words of gossip and dissension and evil thoughts, these can cause a new believer to stumble. And that’s what Paul is warning against here. He’s telling these recent pagans to consider others before themselves. This was a concept foreign to most Greeks. They were living in a humanistic society that elevated self above everything else. But Paul was telling them to humble themselves so that those hearing their words would hear—not the words of a fallen human with eloquent speech—but they would hear the words of Christ Himself. Colossians 4:6Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Here we find the sixth imperative verb in this passage that starts in verse 25. So far we have been commanded to:
Verse 25put away lying!
Verse 26—be angry and do not sin!
Verse 27do not give place to the devil!
Verse 28do not steal!
Verse 29let no corrupt word proceed from your mouth!
Verse 30do not grieve the Holy Spirit!

Those who do not believe the Holy Spirit is a Person capable of feelings and such cannot reckon with this verse. The Holy Spirit can be grieved. When we are at odds with one another, when we put ourselves ahead of others, when we ignore the teachings of Christ. And if the Holy Spirit is just some “active force” (Jehovah's Witnesses’ description of Him), then why does Jesus say that “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32)? Now, this is not meant to be a discussion of “the unpardonable sin.” But rather to show that the Holy Spirit is indeed God, and He can be grieved. Let us, rather, consider the second part of this verse.

…by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Friend, do not miss this. When God plucks you up out of this world and translates you into the kingdom of His dear Son (Colossians 1:13), you are His forever. There are some who say that you can get saved, then lost, then saved again. There are still others who say that you can be saved, and then lost, and never saved again. But these are people who only look at salvation from a human point of view. People who look at us silly, foolish humans—rather than the spotless Lamb of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—as the author and finisher of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2).

Let’s look at “sealing” for a moment. When a king wanted to send correspondence to another land, he would put that letter in an envelope, and then pour some melted wax over the flap. Once that wax cooled slightly, the king would take a signet—some kind of stamp with the royal emblem on it, and usually a ring he wore so nobody could steal it—and press that signet into the wax. Now, this served two purposes. One, it showed the people receiving the letter that it was an official document that came from the hand of the king himself. Second, it served to prevent against anybody tampering with the contents of the envelope.

Well, when we come to know Christ as our Lord and Savior, god Himself sets a seal upon us. He hides our life in Christ (Colossians 3:3), then He seals us and puts His stamp upon us so that we know we are the genuine article, and no one—and I mean no one, not even us—no one can break that seal.
1st Corinthians 1:21-22Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
Ephesians 1:13-14In Him [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Friend, don’t let anyone tell you differently. When God seals you to Himself with the holy Spirit of promise, that is a guarantee that until the Day comes, and it is time for Him to redeem His purchased possession—that’s you, my friend, for you were bought with a price (1st Corinthians 6:20)—until that day, from the very first that you bow your knee to Christ and confess Him as Savior and Lord, there is no one that can take you away from Him.

Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I do not mean to sound like I’m advocating the popular teaching of easy-breezy Decisionism. Salvation is more than just saying a little prayer and asking Jesus into your heart then going on and living your life the same as you were before without bringing “fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8). However still, we are not saved by our works. Space does not permit the full treatment James 2 deserves. But I'll sum it up thus: We are not saved by good works, we are saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).

The Holy Spirit is the earnest of our expectation. An “earnest” was a promise made by someone taking on a debt that they would fulfill the terms of a contract. It was like a down payment, with the one giving the “earnest” promising to fulfill their obligation when the day came to redeem the contract. Now, God gives us the Holy Spirit as an “earnest”—a promise that He will possess His chosen ones, the ones He has purchased with His blood, and He will redeem them when the day comes. And no one can snatch them from His hand (John 10:28).

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. This is another of those imperatives. It’s an imperative, but it’s also in the passive voice. “Let it be being taken away!” It is a command to let something be done to you. In this instance, it is a command to let these things be taken away from you. Now, you may have said you accept Christ as your Savior and Lord. But if someone asks you if you’ve stopped committing some certain sin, do you say, “I’m just not ready to give that up yet”? Friend, if you aren't letting God take away some bad habit or some vice you have, can you truly say He is your Lord? Let it be being taken away!

Bitterness. Bitterness starts out as a root, and if you don’t rip it up out of the ground, it will grow tall as an oak before you know it. Of course, it has to have ground to grow in. A little fertilizer help, too. But heed the words of the writer of Hebrews 12:14-15Pursue peace with all people, and holiness,…lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. Rip up that root before you wind up with a tree so big you can't control how it grows.

With all malice. Every single type of evil—which is what the word kakia (kakia) literally means—should be taken up, thrown into a garbage can, and tossed in the incinerator. As if this list of things we are to divorce ourselves from was not complete; as if to say, “And if I have forgotten anything else, or if there should come along some sin we know not of yet, lump it in with these vices of the human heart, and get rid of it!” James adds this to the mix: Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls (James 1:21).

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Another imperative. “Be kind!” This is also an active voice verb. It requires action on our part. So many people think of kindness simply as “getting along.” But it is really much more than that. We are to show our kindness to one another. Love always involves action. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the word for “kindness” is crestoV (chrestos), a word almost identical to CristoV (Christos). It’s almost as if Paul is using a play on words, and telling us to “Be Christ to one another.”

Be tenderhearted!Pitiful, merciful. If you see someone bad off, don’t kick them while they're down. Rather, help them to their feet.

Be forgiving of one another, even as God in Christ forgave you!” Oh how quickly we forget, when someone wrongs us, how the grace of God has forgiven us through Christ Jesus! Someone steps on our toes, or pulls out in front of us in traffic, or cuts ahead of us in the checkout lane. Why, that’s something we just cannot forgive. Well, actually, it’s something we don’t want to forgive. We want to stew in our bitterness. We want to let that root grow into anger. And since we don’t want to control our anger, we might mutter something—either under our breath or out loud. Then the next thing you know it has grown into a full-scale clamor. We forget who we are and launch into evil speaking, being angry to the point of sinning, letting corrupt words issue forth from our mouth, and grieving the Holy Spirit of God.

Would it not be easier, and more edifying for the body of Christ if we would just be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving? Would we not do Christ more good if we would just remember the words He spoke—these words, remember, He said while a man was driving a railroad spike through His wrist, an offense much greater, I dare say, than losing a few moments and a spot in a line that we will pass through in mere minutes—“Forgive them, Father” (Luke 23:34). Why, you never know. Someone who has viewed those in the church as “liars and hypocrites” might just see your actions of kindness and humility, and “glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Therefore become imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. I bet you can't guess what mood the verbs “become” and “walk” are in. That’s right. They are commands. “Be imitating God!” “Be walking in love!” As Paul said in Romans 12:18, If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Now, how can we imitate God? How can we “be perfect even as your father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)? It’s not difficult, friend. It’s impossible! For no man has ever seen God (John 1:18). How can we imitate someone we have never seen? Ah, but friend! We have seen God! For we have seen the Son. Is it not written, Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner" (John 5:18-19). Though fully man, He was the Son of God. Though fully God, He was the Son of Man. He is the One we are to imitate, walking in all lowliness, humility, kindness, tenderheartedness, longsuffering, forgiveness, and love, always endeavoring to be an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

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