So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
I have the honor of having a large number of followers in the UK, so British readers, how would it strike you if I sent you an email that said, “You must no longer live as the British do…”?
I also have quite a few readers in Australia, so Australians, how would you respond if I wrote you, “You must no longer live as the Aussies do…”?
My guess is that in both cases, you would not really appreciate that coming from a loud-mouthed Yank!
Along those same lines, I am really curious to discover how the Ephesians received this passage from Paul, the Jew, writing to Gentiles telling them they must not live “as the Gentiles do” when in fact they are Gentiles, and Paul is not.
Yet as I read through the passage, I can see that the word “Gentile” can be replaced with “American” “Brit” “Aussie” “Canadian” or any other nationality with the same result and meaning… and be every bit as fresh and meaningful as it was when Paul first wrote it.
As followers of Christ, we must no longer live just like everyone else does, for their thinking is futile and their priorities are on the wrong things. It makes sense when you think about it, for we have received the truth of Jesus Christ and the others have not, so how could they know God’s priorities and God’s ways? To a non-Christian, looking out for number one seems logical and practical, and if this world is all a person knows, what would you expect from them? Yes, I agree that it seems a tad harsh when Paul says that their hearts have been hardened and they’ve lost all sensitivity, but consider this: He seems to be referring to people who have refused to respond to the good news about Christ, and if that is the case then harsh or not, it is the truth… as opposed to the ones who just haven’t heard about Jesus yet.
The really important part of this text comes in the second paragraph, beginning at verse 20, because here Paul reminds all of us that we have been taught a different way of life. We have been taught to put off our former ways, to be new in the attitude of our minds, and to put on the new life in Christ and to follow His ways. Notice that Paul isn’t likening the “new” to the future, but rather to the present; by implication he seems to be asking what we’re waiting for.
Let’s be entirely honest: For many of us, maybe even for most of us, there is little difference between the way we live our lives and the way everyone else lives their lives.
So, what are we waiting for?
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
In verses 17-24, Paul told the Ephesians that they must no longer live according to their old ways, instead urging them to live lives worthy of their calling, according to the ways of the truth they had been taught in Christ. Here, in this passage he becomes more specific in his instructions.
It would be well for all of us to consider carefully his words here, for they are both wise and practical. I hardly need to elaborate, for there is nothing in these few verses that will be news to anyone. We know that we should take care in what we say, that dealing with each other truthfully is the right thing to do, and of course we all know that we shouldn’t let our anger carry us away into rage. Oh yes, we all are angry sometimes, and often with good cause― but anger for a good reason is no excuse for losing control; everybody knows that… don’t they?
Well, maybe not. I know one young lady who, with good reason may become angry, but she seems to feel that since she has been wronged… yet again… by a certain individual, that she can let her mouth go completely out of control, after all, she has been wronged again, so it’s OK.
Well, it isn’t OK. It’s pretty easy for me to see how this gives a foothold to the devil, particularly when the same incident is still the object of her wrath days later.
Stealing: Nobody is likely to tell me that stealing is OK, right? Well, of course if it’s just a box of pens from work, that doesn’t count, does it? Spending your time at work on Facebook: no of course that isn’t stealing; after all, you haven’t actually taken anything, right? Well, except for the money you were paid to do actual work― no that doesn’t count…
What does Paul say about that?
Gee, on second thought, maybe we can all take a little look into the mirror and ask how we can represent Jesus better in everyday life.
Notice how Paul redirects all of this: No, we shouldn’t steal; everyone should do something useful so they can have something to share with those in need! I would take away from this the notion that Paul wants us to consider the affect all of our actions have on others, and in the process perhaps we will worry less about ourselves. Now if I were irritated by the comment above about doing Facebook at work, shifting my focus onto how things I do can affect others might just stop the rationalizing about how wasting time at work is my right, for I would come back to the realization that others are supposed to be put first in all our lives.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
As we review these verses, it becomes pretty clear that Paul is addressing the role of “self” in our lives. Right off the bat, notice what he says about “unwholesome talk”; he does not say “Don’t cuss or you’re going to hell.” No, he tells us that our speech should be for the benefit of others. Yet he goes even further than that when he says our speech should benefit others according to “their needs.”
Who does that? Don’t most people talk about their own needs, express their feelings to resolve their issues, let you know how they feel? Don’t the shrinks tell us we need to express our feelings…?
I’ve often said in these posts that following Christ is counter-intuitive; this is one of those times.
He goes on, and raises a second question: What does he tell us is grieving to the Holy Spirit of God? Maybe we should come back to that one.
In the final piece of this text, Paul tells us to get rid of “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
What are we to replace these with? Kindness, compassion and forgiveness…
It’s beginning to sound like “love one another” isn’t it? Can we love one another if we are filled with bitterness and rage?
Are slander and malice expressions of love?
How about anger and brawling; are they expressions of love?
Now let’s try kindness, compassion and forgiveness; are these expressions of love?
Did you notice that all of the “no’s” were self-focused? Did you notice that the “yes” ones were outwardly focused for the benefit of others?
Yeah, I thought so. OK back to speech…
We all know that Jesus taught us to set our own interests aside and put the interests of others ahead of our own; what does this sound like when we speak? Is our speech grieving to the Holy Spirit within us?
I’ll let you answer those on your own.
A couple of sections back we spoke of spiritual maturity. To me, spiritual maturity is a fairly simple concept: deal with self. A mature Christian is one who puts others first… really. I don’t mean to help out when you have time or when you feel like it, or so you will be recognized. I mean really change our orientation and worldview.
Well, I said it was simple, I didn’t say it was easy. One thing is for sure: we won’t get there by following the ways of this world, and with that, Paul’s point is made.