Gathered Threads

EPHESIANS 4. 17 TO 5. 20

In this section Paul appears to catch hold of threads which he had inserted into the fabric of his letter and pulls them through, thus binding together the earlier doctrinal part with the later practical section, forming thereby a united whole. We will trace some of these threads.

"In Christ”. This is a phrase specially characteristic of the writings of Paul (see, e.g., I. 3 et ah). It denotes the position of the believer before God, but it has its practical implications. Our state should agree with our standing. Our condition should be in accordance with our position.

There is a difference between “in Christ”, and “in Jesus”, 4. 21. The latter refers to the days of His flesh and the manner of His life on earth. “In Christ” refers to the believer’s association with Him in His risen and glorified life in heaven. But there is more. Believers should model their lives now after the manner of the life of Jesus when He was here. It is assumed that they have heard Him as all the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice ("if so be”, 4. 21, does not imply doubt, but assumes the case to be so) and that He has become the “object lesson” for their daily behaviour. We are given more than ethics or morals; Christianity is not a philosophy. We are given a Person and His life for our imitation.

This is the very antithesis of the behaviour that characterized the society to which we once belonged. Paul’s descrip-tion of that conduct in verses 17-22 is very similar to what he wrote to the Romans touching those who are in the gutter of sin, Rom. 1. 20-32. But having now been taken out of that dire position, we should “walk, even as he walked”. As our position is “no more” what it once was (see Eph. 2. 19), so our walk should “no longer’ be what it used to be, 4. 17 R.v.

Saints. This noun and its cognate adjective “holy" are of frequent occurrence in this letter (see 1. 1, 4, 15, 18; 2. 19, 21; 3. 5, 8,18; 4. 12; 5. 3, 27; 6. 18). The avowed purpose of God, that we should be “holy and without blemish”, will ultimately be achieved, 5. 27. In the meantime Paul stresses that holiness of conduct should mark God’s children. The “uncleanness" which marks the world should not be present with us. Note the words used: uncleanness; corrupt; deceitful lusts; corrupt communication out of the mouth; fornication; filthiness; foolish talking; jesting (jokes with double meanings); whoremongery. What a list! No wonder the wrath of God comes upon these sons of disobedience, 5. 6. It is a shame even to speak of these things which are done of them in secret, but which are all seen by the eye of the All-seeing God, 5. 12, 13. The believer is indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit; his life, therefore, should be holy. The fact that we have been taken out of the gutter of sin., and put into the holy temple of God’s presence, requires that His people should tread in clean paths.

Grace. He has graced us in the beloved, 1. 6. The Greek word used here occurs elsewhere only in Luke 1. 28. It implies not merely that we have been made the objects of His grace, but that this grace has been freely bestowed upon us, or “wherewith he endued us”, Eph. 1. 6 R.v. marg. How appropriate, then, that we should be exhorted to be “kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving (showing grace to) each other, even as God also in Christ forgave (showed grace to) you”, 4. 32 R.v. How much grace God has shown toward us! We have read of “the glory of his grace”, 1. 6, “the riches of his grace”, 1. 7, saved “by grace”, 2. 5, 8, “the grace of God”, 2, 7, “this grace”, 3. 8, “grace given”, 4. 7, “give grace”, 29, “grace be with all”, 6. 24. God’s forgiveness sprang from His sovereign grace. The parable of the Lord recorded in Matthew 18. 21-35 should be considered in this connection. His kindness toward us, Eph. 2. 7, should find a practical response in our forgiving kindness towards our fellows.

The Spirit of Promise. The believer has been sealed with the Spirit of God. He is thereby marked out as His own special possession, secured unto the day of redemption, 1. 13. (Redemption is regarded both as a present possession, 1.7, and a future prospect, Rom. 8.23.) We, therefore, should not grieve Him, Eph. 4. 30. The context of this verse will indicate in what manner we may grieve Him. Dishonesty, impure speech, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, railing, and all malice cause the Spirit pain. He is not insensitive to the conduct of the one in whose body He resides.

Moreover, we should “be filled with the Spirit”, 5. 18. He should not be regarded as a guest in the house of our body, limited to certain apartments, but He should be regarded as the owner, and given access to the whole life. He should be shut out from nothing. A corresponding passage occurs in Colossians 3. 16 and it would seem (if we regard the word “spirit" in Ephesians 5. 18 as alluding to the spiritual part of our being as quickened by God’s Spirit) that the manner in which we may be “filled” is by allowing “the word of Christ” to dwell in us richly.

Instead of that exuberance and uncontrolled excitement which accompanies the intoxication of wine, there will be the joyful expression of the lips by psalms, hymns (praises) and spiritual songs, the psalms we feel being compositions addres-sed to God and the “songs" or “odes” being that which is addressed to men. (It is better to insert a semi-colon after the word “yourselves” in 5. 19 A.v. and to delete the comma after “songs".)

Enlightenment, The eyes of the heart of the believer have been enlightened, 1.18 R.V., so that he is no longer in darkness. They once were like the Gentiles “being darkened in their understanding" on account of the ignorance that is in them because of the hardening of their heart, 4. 18. But things are different now, and these saints have been enlightened, and as we saw when considering Paul’s prayer in chapter 1, they are capable of “knowing" the details of the divine counsel and working. Once they were “darkness" but now they are “light in the Lord”, 5. 8. They, therefore, should walk as children of light, or, changing the metaphor, they should bear fruit in practical goodness and righteousness, and truth. There should be no participation in the unfruitful works of darkness. “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?”, Rom. 6. 21. Having been made “fellow-partakers of the promise”, Eph. 3. 6 R.v., they should not be fellow “partakers" with these ungodly persons, 5. 7, nor should they have “fellowship" with their works, 5. 11. There must be no neutrality, no compromise, in this matter. Their shameful deeds should be exposed by the light – that is by the reproof which can be administered both by the Christian’s life and lips. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. They do them “in secret”, but when they are re-proved they are seen in their true colours. Christians who keep silence in regard to such things are guilty of treachery; the enemy thrives on it. For they are much like others on a battle-field where there are both dead and sleeping soldiers, looking no different the one from the other. These should “awake,… and arise from (among) the dead”, 5. 14. They will then become aware of the warmth and light of the presence of Christ. Paul does not seem to quote from any specific scriptures in 5. 14, but rather he gathers up the general sense from such passages as Isaiah 60. 1; 26. 19; 9. 2.

Walk. This is yet another thread in the fabric of this letter. He has used this verb in 2. 2,10; 4. 1,17; 5. 2, 8,15. “Walk” denotes behaviour, and that of the saints should now no longer be as hitherto, nor should it conform to that of the unregenerate world. They should “walk worthily of the calling”, and specially should they “walk in love”. Their Exemplar is Christ, who loved them and manifested that love in giving “himself up for us, an offering (in life) and a sacrifice (in death) to God for an odour of a sweet smell”, 5. 1 R.v. The benefit accruing from this is our “forgiveness”. We, therefore, should be imitators of God as dear children, and we should “walk … as Christ” walked.

Again, we should “walk as children of light”, 5. 8. Paul deals also with this in 1 Thessalonians 5. 6-8. Sleep and drun-kenness characterize those who are of the night. Watchfulness and sobriety should mark the believer who is of the day.

Furthermore, we should “look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise, buying up the opportunity, because the days are evil’, 5. 15 r.v. marg. As prudent merch-antmen we should corner the market, and make the maximum spiritual gain possible. The word translated “carefully” R.V., and “circumspectly” A.v., is better rendered “accurately”, and suggests a rule given by which oup walk may be regulated. That rule is, of course, the Scriptures, which indicate the path to be taken and the pitfalls to be avoided.

"New Man”. To this Paul refers in 2.15, and gathers up the thread in 4. 24. The first has to do with our position; the second with our behaviour. The “old man” is our former manner of life, which should be discarded as Elisha discarded his garments and donned those of Elijah, 2 Kings 2. 12, 13. These are the garments of “righteousness and holiness of truth”, Eph. 4. 24 R.v., Therefore lying should be abandoned; theft should be given up. There should be honest labour not merely with the view of preserving a healthy independence of others, 1 Thess. 4.11,12, but also in order to have wherewith we may help the needy, Eph. 4. 28.

One Body. This, too, Paul has mentioned in 2. 16. Now in 4. 25 he reminds them that they are members one of another, and therefore there should be a total absence of falsehood, and each should speak truth with his neighbour. It is inconceivable that in a healthy human body one member should act falsely to another, but it is so in a diseased body.

How remarkable it is that, in the letter which gives to us the highest New Testament doctrine, there are such practical, simple and ordinary exhortations as to daily living. Yet how easy it is for us to be adept in doctrine and careless in practice. That is why the Spirit of God, through Paul, gives such well-balanced directions both for the mind and for the feet.