Ephesians - Part 8: Chapter 4 vv 17-34
Having seen that chapter 4 brings before us the desire of the Lord for unity among the saints and having provided what is necessary to see that unity carried out among us, we now see verses that manifest how we should live to make a display of that unity among us.
The final verses of the chapter bring before us three major thoughts:
- Our Past Condition – Degeneration, 4. 17-19;
- Our Present Change – Regeneration, 4. 20-24;
- Our Future Conduct – Transformation, 4. 25-32.
1) Our past condition – degeneration
We are reminded of our origins in verse 17 as the apostle has a word in season from the Lord regarding our walk. This must not be characterized by how we lived in a former day as Gentiles. It is to be noticed that we are not seen as Gentiles now; the word ‘other’ is not in the text, v. 17. Therefore, he instructs us not to walk like them in the vanity of their mind.
Gentiles are in mental darkness and spiritual death as they are alienated from the life of God. The rejection of the divine revelation has brought about this condition. This is put succinctly in Romans chapter 1 verse 21, ‘Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened’. If the mental condition is seen in verse 18, their moral corruption is exposed in verse 19.
The fallen condition of man is empha-sized by his physical depravity; having no sense of shame, which is openly manifested in our day, they are ‘past feeling’, v. 19. This carries the thought of being beyond pain. I recall a number of years ago when I fell and broke my ankle. I never forget the initial pain, but soon that pain subsided as the senses were numbed; such are the feelings of men.
Not only have men no sense of shame but they give themselves over to abandoned sensuality, as they give themselves to all forms of immorality. This is characterized by uncleanness and an insatiable appetite for their unbridled lust. Notice that it is said, ‘to work all’, v. 19; every effort and energy is put into the activities they desire. How sad is such reading, expressing as it does what we were before divine intervention transformed us?
2) Our present change – regeneration
I write regeneration for whereas new birth is new life, regeneration is a new state of things.1 The transformation begins when we have an appreciation of Christ, as verse 20 reveals.
Though we came to know Him as a glorified man, the truth was displayed in His life among us, hence the expression ‘as the truth is in Jesus’, v. 21. It would seem that the truth desired is that of living a practical and holy Christian life, the kind of life that was displayed in the Lord Jesus as He passed through this world. The Lord is looking for a life of purity, such as that seen in the movements of the Lord on earth. Our former life of verses 18-19 was far removed from that of the Lord in His humanity.
Abolish the Old Man, 4. 22
As the chapter has the thought of unity running through it, we come to features in a Christian’s life that can mar the unity of the body. That is when features of the old man are seen in us. It is for this reason that Paul declares that ‘ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man’, v. 22. The primary thought is that this is something already done, ‘having put of’; this happened at conversion. The former character of life being dealt with through the death of Christ, it is a fact done. Our conversation is simply our manner of life, how we lived. This is transformed through salvation, and its features should not be seen again. The old man refers to all I was in Adam. In Romans chapter 6 verse 6 we have his death, and in Colossians chapter 3 verse 9 his deeds. Now, we see his desires and all must be dealt with.
Activity of the mind, 4. 23
The transformation for the believer begins in the mind. How different the thought life of the believer has to be from his former days! As we saw in verse 17, the vanity of the mind controlled our actions then; we are now called to realize how the mind has a great effect on our Christian living.
Abound in the new man, 4. 24
When the verse bids us to ‘put on the new man’, the thought is the same as in verse 22. In both cases it is an act done, ‘having put off’, v. 22, and now, ‘having put on’ JND. This was done on conversion’s day when we became new creatures in Christ Jesus, 2 Cor. 5. 17. This new man is divine in origin and is new in character and constitution (kainos). The features of the new man will be seen and developed in verses 25-32, and will be displayed in the life of those transformed by salvation. We see that the very nature of the new man is ‘after God’, that is, in God’s image. As the first man Adam was made in the image of God, so we have another work of creation that brings us into conformity with Him who created us in righteousness and true holiness.
To maintain unity the tongue is the first member dealt with, v. 25. How much strife and division has been caused by believers not controlling the tongue! As God cannot lie, so, as believers, we must follow His character and not seek to deceive our neighbour, fellow-believers, as seen in the third expression in the verse, ‘for we are members one of another’. The word ‘member’ is ‘limb or part of the body’ Strong, indicating that Paul is carrying on the thought of unity in this verse.
It is evident why the apostle would speak of the control of our temper in verse 26. Many a Christian community has been badly damaged because of the lack of control of the temper. Even though we must not sin when provoked, we must not sleep on injury done, for if we carry our passion to bed with us, we will find the devil beneath the covers! What was anger will turn to seething, and seething to enmity, and enmity will soon become hatred.
The tyrant is introduced, v. 27, teaching us that we must not leave room for the devil to put division between the saints by our tongue or our temper.
Now our trade is introduced: Christianity transforms a man’s character. The person before us seems to be one who made a habit of providing for his needs by theft. He is called, in Darby’s translation, ‘the stealer’. Such practice must cease when one is born of God. He must use his hands in a very positive way. Rather than for stealing, by hard work, for such is the thought of ‘labour’, putting energy into his activities, he now has the means, not to take, but to give to him that has need. Generally, a thief is an idle man who only exerts himself when on his nefarious business of making an easy living. A Christian ought to seek active employment that is compatible with his position in Christ. Not every kind of work is suitable for a believer; it must be ‘that which is good’, v. 28. The word ‘good’ indicates that it must be good in disposition and quality, something excellent. His work is with a view to being able to give to others and not take from them. The purpose of his life is ‘that he may have to give to him that needeth’, v. 28. Giving is akin to the heart of God who is ever giving. Some have confused Christianity with communism, saying they are both the same. There is a vast difference between the two! Communism says, ‘What’s yours is mine’. Christianity says, ‘What’s mine is yours’. Communism takes, Christianity gives.
Our teaching, the utterances we make, must be that which is good. This is the same word as in the previous verse, that which is good in principle and ethical.2 In chapter 4 verse 28, it is ‘good ways’ that produce our earnings, as we help those in need. Now it is ‘good words’ that must proceed out of our mouths.
The use of the tongue is emphasized in these practical verses in the epistle. We have seen how we must put away lying in verse 25, how the tongue must be used for edifying our fellow believers. The tongue must not be used for foolish jesting in chapter 5 verse 4, but rather to thank God with, and, in chapter 5 verse 12, it is in relation to the world when we do not speak lightly of the secret things of iniquity, as this is a shame upon us.
If our lives are not consistent with the holy calling that we have, we find that this is a grief to the Holy Spirit within. It is, literally, a trial for the Spirit of God to bear with the misdemeanours of the saints, hence the appeal not to bring grief to Him by allowing the features of the old man to control us. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and this is the guarantee of our future salvation and a proof that we cannot be lost.
Our traits are now manifested and we are confronted with vices that arise from disputes and enmity between people. They are caused by an evil disposition that lies within, and, invariably, rise because we would want our own way in our affairs with one another.
It is easy to see how wrath and anger will lead to clamour, which is a shouting down of those we are opposed to. All this will lead to ‘evil speaking’, v. 31, literally to blaspheme the name of an opponent, seeking to run down their character to all who will give ear.
Finally, there should be tenderness seen by all. This is followed by a pleasant, caring nature, tender-hearted. No bitterness here, and no malice; rather, to be sympathetic and full of compassion. These are Christian graces that should be seen in every believer. We are to have a pardonable spirit, as we may have to cover a multitude of sins, 1 Peter 4. 8. We should have a forgiving nature, not holding a grudge. We must have kind and tender-heartedness, for love cares.
1 The word is found in Matthew chapter 19 verse 28 and Titus chapter 3 verse 5, both bringing before us the new state of things.
2 It is found also in chapter 2 verse 10 where we must produce ‘good works’.