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. 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. Ephesians 4:25-32
Integrity in the Body
Paul concludes chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians by highlighting the things that must be eliminated from the Christian life. He begins in verse 25 by admonishing the Ephesians to put off falsehood and speak truthfully to one another. That exhortation is in line with the 9th commandment that says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Falsehood has a way of infecting the quality of the relationship that should exist in the Body of Christ. Paul underlines the reason the Ephesians should speak truthfully to their neighbor, “for we are all members of one body.” In the human body, the senses and the nerves pass true messages to the brain, thus ensuring our health and wellness. If the nerves and senses were to send false messages, if, for instance, they told the brain that something was cool and touchable when in fact, it was hot and burning, we would suffer much, and ultimately die. If then, all Christians are bound into one spiritual Body. That spiritual body can function properly only when we speak the truth. In verse 26, Paul exhorts the Ephesians not to allow the sun to go down while they are still angry. He is not saying that Christians should not be angry. However, we should not allow our anger to cause us to sin. Some things should anger believers. We should be angry about racism, oppression, poverty, and the marginalization of the lowly. However, we must have righteous anger. The type of anger that leads to bad temper, bitterness, and irritability is sinful.
When we allow bad temper to sour our disposition and infest our hearts, we give the devil a foothold in our lives. Such anger is selfish and causes physical and spiritual harm to the body of Christ. However, when we take a stand for truth, justice, and equity, we are practicing selfless anger, which ultimately is a form of spiritual resistance against ungodliness. Throughout the Synoptic gospels, “There were times when Jesus was terribly and majestically angry. He was angry when the scribes and Pharisees were watching to see if he would heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day (Mark 3:5). It was not their criticism of himself at which he was angry; he was angry that their rigid orthodoxy desired to impose unnecessary suffering on a fellow Christian. He was angry when he made a whip and drove the changers of money and the sellers of victims from the Temple courts (John 2:13-17).” In verse 27, Paul reminds the Ephesians that sinful anger allows the devil to have a foothold in the Body of Christ. What does that mean? If there is trouble in a Church or a fellowship or any society where believers meet. There must be reconciliation at once. The longer the conflict is left unaddressed, the more division it will cause. The devil only gets a foothold in the church when there is no forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. In verse 28, Paul tells the Ephesians, “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.” That is both advice and an admonition. “In the ancient world, thieving was rampant. It was very common in two places, at the docks and above all in the public baths. The public baths were the clubs of the time, and stealing the belongings of the bathers was one of the commonest crimes in any Greek city.”
Paul expected the believers in the church at Ephesus to reflect Christ-like characteristics. He acknowledges that thievery was a problem, even in the Ephesian church. He does not cast aspersion on the reputation of those who were stealing. Instead, he gently challenges them to stop stealing. Then he instructs them to work so they can have something to share with others. That is a new idea and a new ideal--working to give away. In verse 29, Paul reminds the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what helps build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Paul’s admonition about Christian integrity extends beyond stealing. In this verse, he stresses the necessity for wholesome talk. The Greek word he uses for “unwholesome” means corrupted by one and no longer fit for use. It also means something rotten and putrefied. Paul is simply saying to the Ephesians; some of the languages they used as pagans are no longer fit for use by Christians. The prayer of the believer is that the words of his or her mouth and the meditation of his or her heart be acceptable to God (Psalm 19:14). Our words should be edifying to one another and glorifying of God. In Colossians 4:6, we are reminded that “our speech must always be gracious, seasoned with salt so that we know how we ought to answer each person.”
Paul puts a positive spin on his admonition about a wholesome talk by encouraging them to say things that help build others according to their needs. That exhortation has spiritual implication as well as others that are listening will benefit from their words. Non-believers do expect wholesome talk from Christians. It is difficult, if not impossible, to proclaim Jesus to those who hear putrefied words coming out of our mouths. In verse 30, Paul admonishes the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an It. He is the Third Person in the Holy Trinity. In as much as we can break the heart of God (Genesis 6:7-9), we can also grieve the Holy Spirit. How does one grieve the Holy Spirit? Through willful disobedience to the word of God, through a rebellious and obstinate spirit. To grieve is to be sad. The Spirit experiences sadness whenever we sin. The previous verses capture all the practices that could grieve the Holy Spirit, i.e., lying, ungodly anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, and every other sin. Paul ends the chapter with a list of ungodly attitudes and disposition the Ephesians should avoid. They include bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice (v. 31). He brilliantly offers the Ephesians an alternative to these sinful attitudes and disposition in verse 32. He told them to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Throughout Ephesians 4, Paul discusses practical steps for helping the Ephesians to strengthen their spiritual walk. He begins the chapter by urging the Ephesians to live a life that is worthy of the calling they have received. In the latter part of the chapter, he provides detailed instructions on how that calling can be lived out in the world.
What strikes me is the straightforwardness of Paul in admonishing the Ephesians to avoid practices that are inconsistent with their Christian witness. Paul’s language reflects an intimate knowledge of the socio-cultural reality in the church at Ephesus. He does not mince words in detailing the specific practices he admonishes the Ephesians to avoid.
This type of teaching is no longer well-received in many of today’s churches. In many instances, political correctness is siphoning off the boldness of spiritual leaders to decry sin, and to admonish Christians to abstain from ungodly practices. Many pastors risk losing their pastorship if they dare speak out against the practices that are condemned in the Bible. Others are vilified and labeled as intolerant and bigots for daring to expect Christians to live according to the ethical standards of the Bible.
Paul is not at the least concerned with any criticism he may receive. He brilliantly juxtaposed his admonitions with positive exhortations and recommendations. In the end, readers can see that he is genuinely concern about the spiritual health of the Body of Christ. He is not judging the Ephesians for their sinful ways as much as he is instructing them about godly living.
Blessed Lord, may those who are called by your name not grieve the Holy Spirit and live with spiritual integrity