Yesterday, I wrote about the three-stage process of change Paul teaches in Ephesians 4.17–24:
- Put off your old self (verse 22).
- Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (verse 23).
- Put on the new self (verse 24).
In Ephesians 4.25–32, Paul applies this process to five case studies.
First, lying: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (verse 25). Dishonest speech violates the Ninth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20.16). It also violates Jesus’ commandment to speak with absolute integrity: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5.37). Lying is an old-self behavior that needs to be exchanged for new-self truth telling. Why? A renewed mind understands that truth telling is indispensable for building strong relationships, and in the church, “we are all members of one body.”
Second, anger: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (verses 26–27). Anger is a legitimate response to injustice, at least initially. But it is possible for “righteous anger” to become “unrighteous rage,” which is why Paul writes both “Be angry” and “do not sin” in the same sentence. Unrighteous anger is the old-self behavior that needs to be put off. Quick resolution of grievances is the new-self behavior that needs to be put on. Why? A failure to deal with anger allows a little bit of hell into your heart.
Third, theft: “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” (verse 28). Paul is most likely referring to individuals who are freeloading off the church’s generous social welfare programs. Such freeloading by able-bodied workers is tantamount to theft. The antidote to freeloading is hard, honest work. Why? We work to provide our own needs, as well as the needs of others.
Fourth, unwholesome speech, that is profanity, obscenity, sarcasm, and insult: “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” (verse 29). The antidote to unwholesome speech is praise, encouragement, sincere compliments, and constructive criticism. A renewed mind recognizes that our words are means of divine grace to others.
Fifth, divisiveness: “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” (verses 31–32). Notice the stark choice: The old self divides a community through malice, but the new self unites it through kindness. A renewed mind knows that we must pass along to others the very same forgiveness God has given us through Christ.
Let us strive to change every behavior that grieves the Holy Spirit (verse 30), whatever that may be!