Connected Through Words
The Point: Our words matter.
Christian Behavior: Ephesians 4:25-32.
 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. [ESV]
[25-32] “In these verses, Paul mentions negative ways of behaving from which his readers are to refrain. In each example, each negative prohibition is balanced by a corresponding positive exhortation. The apostle urges his readers not only to give up lying, stealing, and losing their temper; they are also to speak the truth, work hard, and be kind to others. Further, a motivating clause for each command, which is tantamount to a theological reason, is given or implied. Verse 25, with its opening therefore, is logically connected with the preceding paragraph as Paul moves from the more general to the more specific exhortations. The consequences for those who have been created in God’s likeness are now spelled out as Paul presents a series of specific exhortations aimed at fostering behavior appropriate to the new person. Let them now put away falsehood, which characterized their old manner of life with its harmful and deceitful ways. But it is not enough to give up lying. Let each of the readers speak the truth to his or her neighbors. Paul balances his negative prohibition with a corresponding positive command. They have put on the new self, created after the likeness of God . Accordingly, the truth which come from God Himself  and is found in Jesus , should be the distinguishing mark of their speech. The exhortation to tell the truth is undergirded by an appeal to the fact that we are members of one another. The idea of the church as Christ’s body has already been mentioned in the letter, and the mutual dependence of members of the body was taken up specifically at 4:15 and 16. The means by which this body is built, according to 4:15, is speaking the truth of the gospel in love. Here at 4:25, the apostle’s point is that, in the body which is a model of harmonious relationships, there is no place for anything other than the truth. We are no longer alienated, independent beings, but people who now belong together in unity with others whom we must not rob of the truth according to which they will decide and act. [26-27] In God’s new society believers are not to sin by indulging in anger, for this is a serious obstacle to harmonious relationships within the body. Unlike the other exhortations in these verses, this second topic sentence begins with a positive admonition, follows with a negative exhortation, and then gives the reason for dealing with anger promptly . Paul cites Psalm 4:4 here. The Old Testament context is important for understanding its use in Ephesians. The Psalmist has been accused quite unjustly, of some crime or sin, and though he knows he is innocent, the reproach of this hangs heavily upon him. But God replaces the anger which resulted from the lies of others , giving him instead a heart full of joy and peace [7-8]. So he admonishes his hearers, as he further consoles and strengthens himself, not to sin in their anger. What Paul then urges of the new person has already been foreshadowed by the Psalmist’s own experience. The two imperatives in the sentence, be angry and do not sin, have puzzled commentators. Why is Paul commanding his readers to be angry? Since anger is not explicitly called sin, it has been suggested that the reference here is to righteous indignation, while the anger of verse 31 which is to be put away is evidently unrighteous anger. There is a proper place for righteous anger, but also the subtle temptation to regard my anger as righteous indignation and other people’s anger as sheer bad temper. If ours is not free from injured pride, malice, or a spirit of revenge, it has degenerated into sin. In order to prevent anger from degenerating into sin a strict time limit is to be put on it: do not let the sun go down on your anger. This expression with its reference to sunset is used as a warning against brooding in anger or nursing it. It is to be dealt with promptly, with reconciliation being effected as quickly as possible. The third exhortation in relation to anger, give no opportunity to the devil , provides the motivation for dealing with anger promptly. If it is prolonged, Satan can use it for his own ends, exploiting the strains that develop within the Christian community. Anger can give the devil an opportunity to cause strife within the life of the individual and the community. Such discord is to be avoided by managing the anger properly and speedily.  The third topic which illustrates the change from the old way of life to the new is that of believers working hard, rather than stealing, so that they will have something to share with those in need. Following the pattern of verse 25, there is first a negative injunction, then a positive exhortation, followed by a motivation for the latter. If stealing had been part of the way of life of some Christians before their conversion, they are to practice it no longer. It is inconsistent with their having put on the new person whose lifestyle is characterized by righteousness and holiness . Instead, stealing is to be replaced with hard work. The ingenuity and effort devoted to theft are now to be given to honest labor. Instead of using their hands to steal, believers are to put them to good use through hard work. In the present context, working hard with one’s hands is viewed as doing what is good and, in the light of the motivation which follows, points to the means of sharing with the needy. Exhortations to care for the poor and needy reflect the emphasis on the sharing of goods among the early Jerusalem Christians which led to the collection made among the Gentile churches for them. Generosity, particularly to fellow-believers, was to be part and parcel of the Christian lifestyle.  The fourth sentence returns to the topic of speech, this time, however, in terms of good and evil rather than truth and falsehood. In verse 28 the contrast between good and evil was associated with action; here it is linked with speech, with the mouth rather than with the hands. And, in both, the wellbeing of others is the goal of the apostle’s exhortations. Believers are to achieve what is good with their mouths as well as with their hands, and this good is described in terms of what is beneficial to others. Christians should keep their lips free not only from lying but also from unwholesome language of any kind. Paul’s exhortation is comprehensive: it is directed to all his readers who have put on the new person, and stresses that no word they utter should be harmful. What is prohibited is harmful speech of any kind, whether it be abusive language, vulgar speech, or slander and contemptuous talk. Lips given to this kind of utterance not only defile the speaker but are also destructive of communal life. Our Lord had already warned that people would have to render account on the final day for every careless word they speak [Matt. 12:36]. By contrast, the Christian’s words should be well chosen so that they may edify others and have a beneficial effect on them. Having spelled out the negative admonition, Paul now follows with the positive counterpart: but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion. The conversation of Christians should be wholesome and beneficial  so that it edifies others, rather than harming or destroying them. We are to use our special gift of speech in this constructive way whenever the need arises. The motivating purpose of this positive exhortation is that it may give grace to those who hear. Having put on the new person, we will want to develop new standards of conversation so that our words will be a blessing, perhaps even the means by which God’s grace comes to those who hear.  After the fourth exhortation a further prohibition follows in which the readers are urged to do nothing to distress the Holy Spirit of God. The coordinating conjunction and links this exhortation to the negative imperative of verse 29, so that the two clauses can be rendered: let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths … and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. This latter prohibition serves as a motivation for the preceding advice about speech and parallels the motivating element of verse 27, give no opportunity to the devil, which also took the form of a prohibition. The Spirit, who is the divine agent of reconciliation and unity in the body [2:18,22; 4:3-4], is especially grieved when unwholesome speech is uttered by members against one another. At the same time, this admonition not to grieve the Spirit, which is of central importance to the whole paragraph [4:25-5:2], provides a further motivation for the earlier warnings, not simply that of verse 29. The Spirit, who plays a leading role in assuring the readers of Christ’s victory over the powers, is appropriately set over against the devil in this important exhortatory material. Accordingly, the Spirit is grieved when God’s people continue in any of the sins that divide and destroy the unity of the body. The exalted title used in Paul’s exhortation, the Holy Spirit of God, is a rich expression not usually found elsewhere. It emphatically underscores the identity of the one who may be offended, and thus the seriousness of causing Him distress. He is the Spirit who is characterized by holiness, and therefore sensitive to anything unholy. And He is none other than the Spirit of God, who is at work in those who have been created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness  that comes from the truth. Paul understands the Spirit in fully personal terms, since only persons can be grieved or feel pain and distress. Anything incompatible with the unity of purity of the church is inconsistent with the Spirit’s own nature and therefore grieves Him. The following clause, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption, furnishes the motivation for Paul’s exhortation. By sealing believers with His Spirit, whether Gentile or Jewish, God has stamped them with His own character and guaranteed to protect them until He takes final possession of them on the day of redemption. How ungrateful would they be if they now behave in a manner which grieves the very Spirit by whom they have been marked as God’s own. The day of redemption, which is unique to Ephesians, refers to the final day of salvation and judgment, that is, the goal of history. Believers have already experienced a present redemption which includes the forgiveness of sins [1:7]; but one element of that redemption is yet to be realized. On the final day God will redeem His own possession, and the guarantee He has given of this is His sealing of them with the Spirit. [31-32] The sixth sentence returns to the topic of the second – anger . Once again the threefold pattern observed in this paragraph appears: first, there is a negative exhortation (a call to remove anger and related vices ), which is then balanced by a corresponding positive admonition to practice mutual generosity, mercy, and forgiveness . Finally, a motivating clause (as God in Christ forgave you), which is tantamount to a theological reason, rounds out the topic. As is fitting for those who have stripped off what belongs to the old self [4:22,25], anger in all its forms and the vices associated with it are to be removed totally from the readers. Paul’s list appears to be climactic, progressing from an inner resentful attitude, through its indignant outburst and seething rage, to public shouting and abusive language or cursing. Although verse 26 recognizes that in exceptional circumstances one may be angry without sinning, so great are the dangers of this passion that on all other occasions it is to be rooted out comprehensively. The language is emphatic: the introductory adjective all signifies every form of anger. Five different aspects of rage are specified, and there is a generalizing addition all malice. These features show that human wrath and the vices associated with it are to be rejected completely. The first to be removed is bitterness or resentment. This is followed by wrath and anger, two terms that are often used synonymously. If any distinction is intended here, then the first signifies an indignant outburst of rage while the second points to a steady festering or seething of anger. Both are destructive of harmony within the body of Christ and must be put away. The fourth term, clamor, is used of the sound of a loud scream or shout. It can denote a shout of joy [Luke 1:42], a cry of weeping [Rev. 21:4], or the shouting of people back and forth in a quarrel [Acts 23:9]. A lack of restraint is in view here. The final word in this list of five vices is slander or blasphemy, which was used in nonbiblical Greek of profane or abusive speech. In both Old and New Testaments the term most frequently referred to speech against God, and therefore was rendered blasphemy. Against others it has the sense of defamation and covers any type of vilifying, either by lies or gossip. The rhetorical effect of this accumulation of terms for anger is powerful, and together with the summarizing phrase, along with all malice, indicates that anger in all its forms, together with every form of malice associated with it, is to be removed completely from them. In contrast to practicing these vices which destroy the unity of the Christian community, the readers are urged to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. This list of three graces is shorter than its parallel in Colossians 3:12-13, which mentions five. According to the Old Testament, kindness is a quality which God Himself demonstrates concretely, to all men and women as His creatures, but especially to His covenant people. As a response to His merciful kindness those who have put on the new self are to be kind to others in the Christian community. This does not come naturally and cannot be produced from one’s innate resources; it is a fruit of the Spirit [Gal. 5:22]. Nevertheless, like the other graces it is urged on those who have been taught the truth that is in Jesus [Eph. 4:21]. Next, the readers are encouraged to be tenderhearted or compassionate. Compassion is regularly used in the New Testament of God or Christ to speak of their unbounded mercy to sinners [Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 18:27; Luke 1:78; 7:13; 10:33; 15:20]. The Ephesians are to be tenderhearted, which will mean being sympathetic to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, they are to be forgiving one another. The motivation for this response is of the highest order: as God in Christ forgave you. This statement is part of the New Testament’s conformity pattern, in which God or Christ’s saving activity, especially Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, is set forth as a paradigm of the lifestyle to which believers are to conform. What God has done in Christ for believers, which has been so fully set forth in chapters 1-3, provides both the paradigm of and the grounds for their behavior. Here God’s forgiveness of them is the model of their forgiveness of one another.” [O’Brien, pp. 334-352]
Questions for Discussion:
1. Therefore connects this passage to the previous verses. How do the two passages connect [17-24 and 25-31]? (Note the put off, put on, put away language. Verses 25-31 are specific ways God wants believers to put off the old self and put on the new self).
2. Write out each of the negative ways of behaving, the positive exhortation, and the motivating clause that Paul gives in these verses. Think about ways you can apply Paul’s teaching here to your life.
3. Why do you think Paul emphasizes the importance of our words in these verses? Why does Paul connect speaking harmful words with grieving the Holy Spirit? Think of times when you have seen spoken or written words harm the unity of your local church. Pray that God will use your words as a means of encouragement and the building up of your fellow believers.
Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.
The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.
The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.
Ephesians, Frank Thielman, BENT, Baker.