{8}         Purity (Eph 4:17-32)

Introduction

PART II. CHRISTIAN DUTY. SECTION C. NEW STANDARD.

Some churches in the name of unity allow their members to believe whatever they wish to believe and behave in whatever way they want to behave—to make sure everyone is hapy and all stay together. For Paul, the most distinctive characteristic of the church is unity in Christ as one body. But this unity is not a unity described above. It is a unity with purity.

 

Question: On a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being most pure, how would you describe the purity of the church today? Explain.

 

Outline:

4:17-24            The doctrinal basis of the new standard

4:25-32            Behaviour which must be banished from life

 

Explanation

4:17     Paul’s commands are made in the authority of Lord Jesus, using the phrase “insist on it in the Lord”. The new status as God’s new humanity leads to (“therefore” in 4:1) new standards, and their new life in Christ leads to a new lifestyle.

Paul describes the 2 states in a contrast: their former pagan life (v.17-19) and their Christian life (v.20-24). These provide the doctrinal basis for the new standards.

[1]   Pagan life: The pagan’s wrong and useless thinking involves 4 progressive steps: [a] obstinacy or hardness of heart, [b] ignorance or darkness in their understanding, [c] alienation or separation from the life of God, [d] recklessness or indulgence in all impurities. These parallel the same 4 steps described in Ro 1:18-32: [a] Ro 1:18,21,28; [b] Ro 1:21,22,28; [c] Ro 1:24,26,28; [d] Ro 1:24,26,27,28,29-31.

4:18     The hardening of their hearts is a deliberate refusal of the moral light available to them in their own conscience. As a result, they are ignorant of God and their understanding is darkened. Therefore they are separated from the salvation of God and are under judgment and death.

4:19     With the hardening of their conscience, their inner being loses self-control and is now under the control of their own lust for sensuality. This is then expressed outwardly in “every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more”.

4:20     [2]        Christian life: “You, however” is a sharp contrast, sharper sense in Greek: “you did not so learn Christ!” Over against heathen hardness, darkness, alienation, and recklessness, the process of Christian education is described in 3 verbs, all in the aorist tense: [a] learned Christ (v.20) (Gr. emathete); [b] heard Christ (v.21a) (Gr. ekousate); [c] were taught the truth in Christ (v.21b) (Gr. edidachthete). All these have been completed.

4:21     The 3 verbs evoke the image of a school with 3 characters: [a] Christ is Himself the substance of Christian teaching, including His Lordship, His rule of righteousness, and His moral demands. [b] Christ is the teacher through the teaching by Christian teachers; where sound Biblical moral instruction is being given, it may be said that Christ is teaching about Christ. [c] Christ is also the context because truth is in Jesus (note the change from Christ to Jesus, referring to the historical Jesus). To sum up, Christ is the subject, the object, and the environment of the moral instruction.

4:22     What is the truth being taught that sets Christians free and leads them to righteousness? It is to grasp God’s new creation by putting off the old self like a rotten garment and putting on the new self like clean clothing created in God’s image, both metaphors of the way we dress. “You were taught”: the verbs “put off” and “put on” are not fresh commands. They were given to them when Paul was with them and of which he now reminds them. Both verbs are in aorist tense meaning that they have achieved both in the conversion.

To become a Christian involves a radical change, namely “conversion” (as the human side of the experience is usually called) and “re-creation” (the divine side): “putting off” the “old self” and “putting on” the “new self”.

The contrasts of the 2 selves, indicating their total incompatibility:

[a]   corruption vs. creation: the old was “corrupt”, in the process of degenerating, on its way to ruin or destruction; the new has been freshly created after the likeness of God;

[b]   passion vs. holiness: the old was dominated by “desires” or “lusts” or uncontrolled passions; the new has been created in righteousness and holiness;

[c]   deceit vs. truth: the desires of the old were deceitful, leading to falsehood; the righteousness of the new is true, leading to truth.

4:23     In contrast to the aorist tense in v.22 and v.24, the verb “to be made new” is a present infinitive, indicating that a continuous inward renewal of our outlook. A person’s internal attitude is the origin of all external actions. Actions are simply outward expressions of the inward attitudes. A change and renewal of one’s attitude is the main goal in spiritual growth. The restraint on sinful actions restrained based on practical considerations, such as the danger of being caught or the fear of retribution, is only temporary. The rejection of sinful actions based on internal attitudes is much more reliable (though temptations may occasionally win).

4:24     While the “putting off” and “putting on” are already achieved at conversion, resulting in a drastic change in attitude and behaviour, a new believer does not change completely in a short time as some attitudes and behaviour of the old self may surface from time to time. The positioning of the 3 steps may indicate a process described as sanctification: [a] the reduction and elimination of attitude and behaviour typical of the old self, [b] the daily renewal of attitudes by daily devotion, [c] the accumulation and endurance of attitude and behaviour typical of the new self. A Christian must aim to live increasingly like God, living in truth, being righteous and holy.

4:25     The rest of this chapter contains 5 practical commands on Christian purity. Each command consists of 3 common characteristics: [a] Each of them concerns our relationship with others. [b] Each of them contains a negative prohibition and a positive command. [c] Each of them is based on a theological reason.

[1]   Don’t tell lies, but rather tell the truth. The Greek word (pseudos) does not mean falsehood in the abstract but actual lies. Christians must forsake all lies and speak the truth. They should be known in their community as honest, reliable people whose word can be trusted. The theological reason for this command is because we are members of one body. The doctrine of the church as the body of Christ is the basis because a lie is a stab into the church as one body. Fellowship is built on trust, and trust is built on truth.

4:26     [2]        Don’t lose your temper, but rather ensure that your anger is righteous. There are 2 kinds of anger: righteous and unrighteous. The anger in v.31 is evidently unrighteous. But in 5:6 is the righteous anger of God which will fall on the disobedient. Christians need to feel this righteous anger. When we fail to feel and express it, we deny God, damage ourselves, and encourage the spread of evil. If God hates sin, we should hate sin too. If evil arouses His anger, it should arouse our anger also. Ps 119:53 says: “Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law.” True peace is not identical with appeasement. E.K. Simpson said, “The truest peace-maker may have to assume the role of a peace-breaker as a sacred obligation.”

But there is always danger with anger. There is a fine line between righteous and unrighteous anger. Therefore Paul qualifies his permissive “be angry” by 3 negatives: [a] Do not sin. Make sure that our anger is free from injured pride, spite, malice, animosity and the spirit of revenge. [b] Do not let the sun go down on your anger. The command must not be interpreted literally. Otherwise, will people living in the Arctic be allowed to be angry for half a year? For the Jews, the end of a day is the sunset so the command may mean “do not continue to be angry at the end of a day”. The command warns us against nursing and prolonging anger. Otherwise, anger (Gr. orge at the beginning of v.26) may degenerage into resentment (Gr. parorgismos at the end of v.26). We have to resolve the anger at the earliest moment, either apologize or be reconciled to the person concerned. “Never go to bed angry” is a good rule. The theological reason for this command is because anger can be righteous but can be excessive.

4:27     [c] Do not give the devil a foothold. The command is to handle anger responsibly because the devil may provoke us into hatred or violence or a breach of fellowship. We have to be mindful of the temptations from the devil while angry.

4:28     [3]        Don’t steal, but rather work and give. In today’s world, there are many methods of gaining possession of money or properties not lawfully owned by a person, including stealing or defrauding. The positive command is to earn one’s living honestly so that he will be able not only to support himself and his family but also to be generous to those in need. This theological reason is that this is the 8th commandment.

4:29     [4]        Don’t use your mouth for evil, but rather for good. Speech is a wonderful gift of God because it distinguishes us from the animal creation. But it also has immense power for good or evil as described by James (Jas 3:1-12). The passage here is an echo for what Jesus said: that we shall have to give an account on Judgment Day of every careless word we have uttered (Mt 12:33-37).

“Evil” (Gr. sapros) is a word used of rotten trees and rotten fruit. So it points to rotten speech which includes dishonesty, unkindness, and vulgarity. Instead, we should use speech for edifying, that is, to build people up (to help, encourage, cheer, comfort, stimulate), and the result is the imparting of grace to those who hear.

4:30     The “grieving” (Gr. lypeo, meaning to cause sorrow, pain, or distress) of the Holy Spirit is introduced in the middle of some practical commands and is slightly out of place. This is probably related to the command on speech although the command can be applied widely in its general sense. As the Holy Spirit is holy, unholy speech will grieve Him; as He is the Spirit of truth, falsehood will grieve Him; as He is the “one Spirit”, speech causing disunity and discord will grieve Him.

“Sealing” and “day of redemption” (referring to the future bodily redemption) point to the beginning and the end of the salvation process. As the Holy Spirit is to stay with us always from the beginning to the end, we are not to grieve Him during our whole Christian life. This is the theological reason behind this command.

4:31     [5]        Don’t be unkind or bitter, but rather be kind and forgiving. We are commanded to actively put away 6 unpleasant attitudes: [a] bitterness (Gr. pikria): a sour spirit and sour speech, an embittered and resentful spirit which refuses to be reconciled; [b] rage or wrath (Gr. thymos): passionate rage; [c] anger (Gr. orge): a more settled and sullen hostility; [d] brawling (Gr. krauge): getting excited and raising voices in a quarrel; [e] slander (Gr. blaspehmia): speaking evil of others, mostly unproven, usually behind their backs, aiming to defame and destroy their reputation; [f] every form of malice (Gr. kakia): ill will, wishing and probably plotting evil against people; since this term is slightly separated from the others and is also in a different form, perhaps this may be inclusive of the 5 preceding vices.

4:32     Instead of these vices, Christians are commanded to be kind and compassionate to one another, even to “the ungrateful and the selfish” (Lk 6:35). “Forgiving” each other: literally acting in grace. The theological reason is because God in Christ has forgiven us.

“One another” (Gr. allelon) expresses a mutual and reciprocal process. It is used 58 times in NT letters (40 times by Paul alone) to exhort Christians to engage in specific activities that would enable the body of Christ to function effectively and to grow spiritually. It reminds us every Christian has the obligation to return the love that we receive.

 

Summary

        This passsage is a stirring summons to the unity and purity of the church, but it is more than that. It is the integration of Christian experience (what we are), Christian theology (what we believe) and Christian ethics (how we behave). It emphasizes that being, thought and action belong together and must never be separated. For “what we are” governs “how we think”, and “how we think” determines “how we act”. We are God’s new society, a people who have put off the old life and put on the new; that is what He has made us. So we need to recall this by daily renewing of our minds, remembering how we learned the truth in Jesus and thinking Christianly about ourselves and our new status.

 

Application

        Holiness is not a mystical condition experienced in relation to God, in isolation from human beings. You cannot be good in a vacuum but only in the real world of people

 

Prayer

        Thank God for His call to a life of holiness. Ask Him to reveal to you sin that needs to be put off and the good garments tht He wants you to put on. Thank Him for the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.