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Ephesians 4:25:5:2

Lesson Focus: We are called to live holy lives, not because it is good for us as individuals, but because it is good for the church’s unity.

Lesson Outcomes: Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand that vices like lying and stealing damage the unity of the church.

  2. Understand that the church’s unity is essential for its ability to participate in the church’s mission.

  3. Seek to become imitators of God so that we, as the church, might be and do all that God wants us to be and do.

Catching Up… Paul has been encouraging us to properly understand our past alienation from God. At the same time, Paul reminds us that, through Christ, God has broken down the dividing wall of hostility that has existed between God and us and between us and each other. Because God is at work through Christ, we are being unified into one body, the Church.

This unification does not mean uniformity. We will not all be the same, but we will be unified in our worship of God and our participation in the mission that God has given to the church. Unity will not be easy. Paul’s prayer for us is that we might know the fullness of God’s love for us through Christ so that we might develop the habits of humility, gentleness, and patience. The reality is that our fellowship will not be perfect. We will sin, and those around us will sin. Our proper reason is to deal with those sins and shortcomings with Christ-like maturity and love so that we may continue to be built up into the body of Christ.

In the section directly preceding this week’s passage, Paul encourages us to live no longer like pagans with darkened minds, ignorance, and hardness of heart. Instead, we’re to continue to have our minds renewed by the working of God’s Holy Spirit. The renewal of our minds results in newness in the way that we act and think.

This week’s passage begins with a conjunction that connects what follows with the preceding section. Since we have been encouraged to put on the new shelf through the renewal of our mind by the Spirit, we are to “put away falsehoods…”

What follows in this section is a set of ethical injections (vices and virtues) aimed at helping the Ephesian Christians more fully live into the calling to which they have been called. As with the rest of the letter, unity within the body of Christ, the church, is a significant theme.

Falsehoods… The first vice that Paul lists is lying. Falsehoods have no place in the Christian life or the life of Christ’s church. Indeed, falsehoods are a characteristic of the old self that Paul has previously admonished us to remove. With this first vice, Paul establishes a pattern that will follow for the rest of the vices. We are not told not to do something just because it is sinful. Paul always reminds us that any prohibition against an activity or action is put in place for a reason. The reason that we are not to lie is that we “are members of one another.”

The phrase is clunky, but the meaning is clear, as members of the body of Christ, we all belong to one another. We are playing on the same team, and when members of a team lie to each other, defeat ensues. One commentator says it like this,

“In this body, which is a paradigm of harmonious human relationships, there is no room for lies which poison communication and breed suspicion instead of mutual trust. As Mackay (God’s Order, 185) puts it graphically, ’a lie is a stab into the very vitals of the body of Christ.’ The point has already been established a little earlier in 4:15, where the writer insists that the essential means of building up the body of Christ is speaking the truth in love.” (Lincoln, 302).

Untruthfulness and love cannot exist in the same space. Some might begin to argue that Paul’s admonition toward truthfulness is only applicable to our neighbors within the church. If we are paying attention to Paul, we cannot make this assumption. While Paul is mainly concerned with building up the body of Christ, Paul is also always concerned with the Church’s outside focused mission. Again, we cannot love our neighbors outside the church if we are untruthful with them.

Anger… In verse 26, we come to the second admonition, “Be angry but do not sin…” It must be said that Paul is not encouraging us to be angry. Rather, Paul is pointing to the reality of human emotions. We will inevitably get angry, and anger is not itself a sin.

Indeed, there are many things about which it is right to be angry, namely injustice, abuse, and the like. While anger might be justifiable, it is always disruptive to the body (Fowl, 157). What gets us in trouble is how we deal with that anger. Our anger mustn’t cause us to enter into sin.

What Paul suggests for us is to put a time limit on our anger. We must deal with our anger in an appropriate and timely manner. We may not always be able to seek reconciliation or restoration of a broken relationship by the time the sun goes down, but the point is not lost. Anger must not be allowed to fester. Again, Paul gives us a clear reason to deal with our anger in a timely fashion. Holding on to our anger allows the devil a foothold in our midst. Keeping in mind the context of this letter, we must understand that Paul is not talking to us as individuals. Rather, Paul is concerned about how our anger shapes our everyday lives together in the church. Just as untruthfulness sows seeds of discord in the church, so too does anger. We cannot be unified in our worship or our mission if we are untruthful. We cannot be unified if we are angry.

Stealing… Paul continues his interconnected list of vices with an admonition against stealing. As with the previous two vices, Paul has in mind the conduct of members of the Ephesian church toward each other. While Paul might have in mind general acts of stealing, using dishonest scales in the marketplace, taking from a master or employer, or even stealing food, this is not his primary concern. Instead, Paul’s concern might be how members of the congregation might be withholding assistance from each other or those who might be living as parasites of the church’s charity (Fowl, 157).

Some might have done this if they imagined that Jesus was going to return in short order. Why work for yourself if it won’t matter shortly anyway? Either way, the point is clear, stealing leads only to division and antagonism between the members of Christ’s church. Positively, though, Paul encourages each member of the church to work hard so that they might be able to share from the fruits of their labors. “When this ethical sentence is taken as a whole, it illustrates beautifully the radical change involved in the call to put off the old humanity and put on the new. The thief is to become a philanthropist, as the illegal taking of the old way of life is replaced by the generous giving of the new” (Lincoln, 304). The change from old humanity to new humanity, through the power of the Spirit, always benefits the ongoing unity and mission of the church.

Evil Talk… In verse 29, Paul returns to vices that are explicitly verbal. In light of the entire verse, we might define “evil language” as anything that is not constructive and beneficial for building up the body of believers. With this admonition comes the confession that within the body of Christ, there will be times where talk is not of the edifying sort. A believer will gossip about another believer. Harsh words will be spoken. People will not think before they talk. Destructive criticism that is not seasoned with love will take place. These types of verbal behavior do not need to be the norm. In fact, they cannot be the norm if the church is a unified, growing body built upon Christ, who is the cornerstone.

While we should not seek to speak “evil language,” we can respond to it through the giving of grace. We can develop habits of grace that, like Christ, absorbs the abuse returning only love and forgiveness. Don’t hear that I am saying that you must stay in abusive relationships. That’s not what Paul is talking about. Furthermore, as we develop those habits of grace, we can limit and even remove the instances of language that does not build up the body of Christ, the church.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit… We might be prone to take a phrase like “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…” and assign to it some grave sin. Grieving the Holy Spirit is not some particular, outrageous sin that rises to levels only the most egregious sinners might attain. Paul lines out for us what the results of living cooperate, and individual lives marked by truth-lessness, anger, stealing, and evil words will be in the middle of this vice list. When we fail to put off the old self, with its lies and the like, we actively destroy the church and its unity, simultaneously working against the work of the Spirit. We sin against the Spirit when we sin against each other, thereby tearing down the church’s unity.

Our engagement in the vices listed so far is that much more egregious because we have been sealed with the Spirit. That is, we have been stamped with the character of God as made known to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is because of what God, through Christ, has already done in and through us that our failure to live in unity is so destructive to the church and so saddening to the Spirit.

Because we have been sealed with the Spirit, because we have been stamped with Christ’s character, we need to put away all “bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” This list is not comprehensive, but again they indicate habits and behaviors that are destructive to the unified life of the Church. If we are to put away those vices, Paul encourages us to put on kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness. That we are to forgive because God has forgiven us is unmistakable. We must go so far as to say that Paul believes that we should be kind and tenderhearted because that has been God’s posture toward us as well.

At this point, kindness is more than just a random or small gracious act toward another. Paul has already used a form of the word to describe God’s work in moving us from death to life. In God’s “kindness,” we receive salvation. As that same kindness works through us, the church is built up, and the world continues to receive salvation.

Imitators of God… The final verses of this section provide a further foundation for avoiding the above-listed vices and engaging in the listed virtues, the character of God. We have been incorporated into God’s family, and we are now called to live and love like Christ, resembling our loving Father. At the same time, we are not left up to imitate the nature of God in Christ in our own power. No, our inclusion as adopted children of God gives us the power and ability to begin to look like our Father in heaven.

So What? It is often easy to read a list of vices and virtues and simplify and reduce them to an overly individualistic formula. Something like, “If you want to be a good child of God, you won’t lie, steal, be angry, or swear.” To do so almost completely misses the point. For Paul and Jesus, any ethical admonishment is always tied to a particular reason that transcends the individual. Particularly in the context of this letter to the Ephesians, Paul’s main concern is the unity of the church. Therefore, Paul does not want us to lie because it causes division and hostilities where they ought not be. The same can be said for stealing, anger, and any type of talk that causes division.

It’s not just that we are trying to maintain the unity of the body, but it is who we are now supposed to be as adopted children of God who have had God’s nature stamped upon us. Our old life, the old image of humanity, is being slowly replaced by the image of God in our lives. We do not lie or steal or cause division because that is not who we are becoming as children of God. And it is our becoming children of God, through the power of the Spirit, which will enable us to resist these vices and to begin to make the habits of kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness a regular occurrence. With all of this in mind, it is helpful to understand that we are all in process. We have not yet fully attained the restored image of God in our lives. We will stumble, and we will fall. Therefore, we must continue to seek to be imitators of God, living in and freely giving of the love that Christ has given us.

Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. Paul says we should not lie, sin in our anger, steal, or speak “evil language.” These are common vices that every Christian should know not to do. In the past, what reasons have you been given for not doing these things?

  2. What are Paul’s reasons for not doing those things?

  3. What is “evil language?”

  4. What do you think it means to “grieve the Holy Spirit?” Given the context of the vices listed and Paul’s theme of unity, what do you think Paul meant by “grieve the Holy Spirit?”

  5. Have you ever caused the Holy Spirit to grieve? In what way?

  6. What does it mean to be “marked with a seal for the day of redemption?”

  7. Paul tells us to “forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” What does it look like to forgive as Christ has forgiven us? How does that aid the unity of the church? How might that help the church be more fruitful in its ministry to the world?

  8. What does it look like to be imitators of God? How might you better imitate God in our church and your regular sphere of influence?

Works Cited: Stephen E. Fowl, Ephesians: A Commentary, ed. C. Clifton Black, M. Eugene Boring, and John T. Carroll, First Edition, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012).

F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984).

Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, vol. 42, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1990),