Friday, July 20, 2018

Walk as Children of Light – Ephesians 5:8-14

In verse 8, we come across this little word “walk” again.  The implications of the gospel upon one’s daily life are powerful and pervasive.  We are to walk in unity (4:1-16), in holiness (4:16-32), in love (5:1-7), and now in light (5:8-14).  Of course, there are overlaps between these categories, for you cannot walk in holiness without walking in love.  And light is a Biblical metaphor for both holiness and joy.  We are told that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and that “if we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:5-7).  We are also reminded that “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart” (Ps. 97:11).  So walking in light is walking in holiness and in the joy that springs from a life of godliness.  They do go together: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).  If, as Christians, we are not happy, it could be that it is because we are not holy as we ought to be.  True holiness ought not to produce gloomy and morose people, but people who rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh (cf. Phil. 3:3).

The emphasis in the Ephesian passage, however, is more upon the aspect of holiness than it is upon the joy.  Paul’s emphasis in the second half of this epistle is that believers should live in accordance with the truths they profess in the gospel, and this means living a life separate from the world.  After all, the purpose of God’s electing purpose was that “we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4).  In chapter 4, we have learned that we have been given a new nature for a new life, and are now growing up into conformity to Christ. 

In some sense, the apostle is only repeating what he has already said.  This is just a different way of saying it.  Again, we are exhorted to live in holiness.  You will notice that he has used different ideas to emphasize the necessity of holy living.  He has used the imagery of the body of Christ (4:12-16), the metaphor of creation (4:24), and the picture of family (5:1).  Now he uses the metaphor of light.  The point is always the same, as he exhorts the saints to turn from sin and to walk in ways that are consistent with following Christ the King.  It just goes to show that we need to hear these things over and over again, even as believers.  We should beware of thinking that we have somehow “arrived.”  In my experience as a teacher, I have come to the conclusion that the worst student is that student who has familiarity with the topic being taught, but who never really mastered it in the past.  The problem is that this familiarity breeds an attitude of indifference and a consequent lack of intentionality in trying to understand the concepts being taught.  And the result is almost always the same: failure.  In the same way, we have to guard against an attitude of familiarity with respect to the need for holiness.  We need to be reminded of it again and again.

It’s interesting, though, how the apostle develops this idea through the imagery of light.  He shows that there are essentially three movements in the life of the Christian, and he maps them out for us in these verses.  The first movement is the passage from darkness to light, and the apostle deals with that in verses 8-10.  The second movement is when the believer begins to shine this light upon others, and the apostle deals with that in verses 11-13a.  The third movement is when the light which the believer shines penetrates into the conscience and heart of the lost or wayward, and brings others into the light as well, and the apostle deals with that in verses 13b-14.[1]  This, of course, leads to a cycle, so that those who are now enlightened go on to shine their light on others so that the circle of gospel influence grows wider and wider.  So let us look together at these three movements, remembering all along that if we are believers this ought to be describing us.

First Movement: From Darkness to Light.

One of the mottos of the Protestant Reformation was the Latin phrase Post Tenebras Lux (“After darkness, light”).  It underscored how the spiritual darkness that had enveloped the Middle Ages was giving way to the light of the gospel as it was being preached again in churches all over Europe.  But this could also be the motto of every Christian, for there was a time when we were in darkness.  And then the Lord came and his light penetrated our hearts and we came into the light of the gospel: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (ver. 8).

I think it is interesting that the apostle does not say, “You were at one time in darkness.”  No, he says that “You were darkness”!  And then he says that we changed from darkness into light.  It was not that our environment changed.  We changed.  The problem is not that we are surrounded by darkness, though that is true.  The problem is that the darkness was inside us; in fact, it defined us.  We were the problem.  People who talk about the inner light that dwells in each of us haven’t really come to grips with the desperateness of our situation outside of Christ.  If we are darkness, we cannot generate light.  In fact, apart from the work of the Spirit upon our hearts, we are all like black holes that suck in light but never release it. 

To the Colossians, the apostle reminds them that they ought to give thanks “unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:12-13).  We were darkness, and we were held in the grip of the power of darkness.  Later in Ephesians, the apostle will talk about how we “wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).  This is consistent with the way Paul describes our condition as dead in sin: when we walked “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).  In other words, our state of darkness was one of spiritual death, one in which we were under the power of the Devil.  It is the state of many, many people all around us, and it was the state we were in prior to our conversion.

In that state, we walked “according to the course of this world.”  Our walk, our habits, and the pattern of our daily behavior, was determined by the world in rebellion against God.  We joined them in it, and willingly so. 

The point I want to make with all this is that it is a mistake for us to blame our environment for our own transgressions, as is fashionable in these days.  That doesn’t mean we aren’t influenced by our surroundings; the verses above settle that matter – we are influenced: by the world, the flesh, and the devil.  But the reason why the surrounding darkness affects us so is because by nature we are already darkness. The darkness without finds a ready alliance with the darkness within.

And then another point that needs to be made is that we need something outside of ourselves to save us.  Darkness does not produce light.  We are darkness, and if we want to become light, we have to be changed by a source of light outside ourselves.  And that source is the power and grace of God.  This is why the apostle says, “but now are ye light in the Lord.”  Not just that we shine our light for the Lord, but that he is the source of the light in the first place.  As our Lord himself put it, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).

Now, if Christ has changed us from darkness to light, if the Son of God has done a transformational work in your heart, then it is simply ridiculous to think that there will be no change.  What?  Shall the one who spoke the world into existence, who said, “Let there be light!” and there was light – shall he speak light into our souls only to leave us in darkness?  Therefore, it is totally reasonable that the apostle should go on to say, “Walk as children of light.”  Don’t walk as children of disobedience, but walk as children of light.

What does this mean?  Paul elucidates in the next two verses.  First, in verse 9, which though it is parenthetical, yet helps us to understand what it means to walk in light by giving some of its characteristics.  Now, though the KJV reads, “the fruit of Spirit,” it is fairly universally agreed that it should read “the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (ESV).  There is no material difference because the light here is itself a fruit of the work of the Spirit of God.  Talking about the fruit of something is a way of describing its effects; the fruit of the light are the things it produces in the life of the believer.  The apostle says that light produces goodness, and righteousness, and truth.  The fruit of light is to make us good people, and righteous people, and people who speak the truth.  If we don’t exhibit this fruit in our lives, then we need to re-examine ourselves. 

Since verse 9 is parenthetical, verse 10 attaches grammatically directly to verse 8.  In other words, the way we are to walk as children of light is by “proving what is acceptable to the Lord.”  The point here is that the overriding concern for the followers of Christ is that they please him.  Those who walk according to the course of this world lick their fingers to see which way the wind is blowing.  They are more concerned about what most people think and what is popular – that is what guides their decisions and choices.  Not so the Christian.  For the Christian, the smile of Christ is more important than all the applause of the world.  The believer says of God, what Paul said, “Whose I am, and whom I serve” (Acts 27:23).

Now how do we do this?  Verse 10 is very like what Paul says to the Romans: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2).  That is, we do it by being transformed by the renewing of our mind, which means that our thinking becomes more and more Biblically informed and that our hearts and affections are more and more influenced and affected by its truth.  We certainly don’t do it by checking in at the library of worldly thought.

And this is necessary, for if as Christians we are going to influence our world, we have to be different from it.  Salt only serves as a preserving and savoring influence in meat if it is chemically different from the meat it is in.  Christian culture can only have transformative power as long as its culture is counter-culture, when we shine our lights amidst the surrounding darkness.  “Be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16).   And that brings us to the second movement.

Second Movement: Shining the Light

The apostle goes on write, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.  For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (ver. 11-12).  The Christian who is now light in the Lord cannot help but shine that light.  And this is done negatively and positively.  Negatively, in that Christ calls us to have no fellowship with the world.  We are to live separate lives.  To not have fellowship with the works of darkness means that we are not to participate in the kinds of talking and doing that characterizes those who are still in darkness.  Now this doesn’t mean that we have to put walls around us and to have as little to do with the world as possible.  That would be to hide our lights.  No, we are to be in the world but not of it.  Note that the apostle does not say that a believer cannot befriend an unbeliever (our Lord did that all the time!).  Rather, what he says is that we should have no fellowship with their works.  Don’t do what they do. 

On the other hand, the believer is to rebuke the works of darkness.  The word “rebuke” means to bring something to light or to expose it for what it is.  That is what people who are light do; they expose the deeds of others for what they are.  The deeds are shameful, but the world does all it can to turn shameful things into things which are celebrated.  You see this in particular in our day with the various people in the abortion industry who call on women to celebrate their abortions.  To kill a human being and then celebrate it!  That is what sin does to people.  “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good, evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20).  We shine our light so that evil is shown up for what it is.

However, we should not see in this word “rebuke” a merely negative, censorious spirit.  The purpose of this rebuke is to convince those who are involved in the shameful behavior that it is, in fact, shameful and wrong.  And to do that, we also need to make a positive case.  That is, we not only seek to show wrong behavior for what it is, but also to offer a better alternative.  That is what the Christian is supposed to do.  It is what Paul exhorted Titus to do: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able both to exhort and to convince [the same word as in Eph. 5:11] the gainsayers [those who oppose the gospel]” (Tit. 1:9). 

Recently, Timothy Keller spoke at the British Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast.  If you have not listened to his presentation, I would highly recommend it.  In it, he quotes a historian of early Christianity who asks why so many people became Christians in the first few centuries when there was no cultural benefit to do so.  He dismisses the offer of community inherent in the Christian church, for the simple reason that most people then already had community.  He also dismisses the offer of miraculous healing – also for the reason that other religions offered the same thing.  What then made Christianity different?  Simply put, it was the gospel.  Every other religion proclaimed a works-based path to bliss in the afterlife.  The appeal of Christianity was that it said that you don’t gain the favor of God by things you do but you gain God’s favor by what he has done for you on the cross, by dying for sins in our place as our substitute.  That was the appeal of the gospel, and it is still the appeal of the gospel.  In the end, it is really the only thing we have to offer: “But we preach Christ crucified . . . For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2).  This is the truth that we need to convince people of. 

One thing we need to remember is that though the world may turn shameful things into things to be celebrated, they still know in the end that what they are doing is wrong.  In other words, we have their own conscience on our sides.  What they do, they often do in “secret.”  Why?  Why else, than because they know it is wrong?

Because of this, people will always want to cover up their sin.  As our Lord put it, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (Jn. 3:19-20).  They don’t want to come to the light, so it is the necessary job of the church to shine the light everywhere it can.  When we “reprove” others, whether in the church or outside it, we are shining this light.  Thus the apostle goes on to say, “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light” (Eph. 5:13).  Light makes things visible and discovers what the world wants to hide.  That is what we do when by our lips and lives, our words and works, we shine the light of truth and the gospel in this world. 

But again, the point of this is so that the light will chase away the darkness, that lost people and backslidden believers will come to the light.  And that brings us to our final point.

Third Movement: The Light Penetrating the Darkness

Before we begin considering this final movement, there is a matter of translation that we need to deal with.  In the KJV, the last part of verse 13 (first part of ver. 14 in ESV) goes, “for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.”  Most modern translations have the verb “manifest” as passive rather than active.  Thus, it could be translated “for whatsoever becomes manifest is light,” or, as the ESV puts it, “for anything that becomes visible is light.”  Which is correct?

The problem is not that some manuscripts have a passive verb and others have an active.  It turns out that there are some verbal forms in Greek which can be interpreted either as an active or a passive, and it turns out the particular form for the Greek verb behind “manifest” is one of those.  Because of this, it is theoretically possible to translate this as an active verb, as in the KJV.  However, when you look at the grammatical evidence in the NT overall, this is not very plausible or likely.  Thus, I think the translation of the ESV is preferable: “anything that becomes visible is light.”  But this being so, what is the apostle saying?

Remember that the apostle had previously said that in their conversion, the believers turned from being darkness to being light.  Now, what he is saying is that when the light that shines out from the witness of believers under God penetrates the darkness of the lost, they too become light.  As Charles Hodge puts it, Paul “does not say, ‘Reprove evil, for you are light;’ but, ‘Reprove evil; for evil, when reproved by light, is manifest, and, when manifest, it is light,’ that is, it is changed into light, or corrected.”[2]  In other words, the apostle is encouraging the believers to shine their lights because it is in this way that God brings others to embrace the truth of the gospel and to be transformed by it truth.

This interpretation is confirmed by the following verse: “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”  Here the lost are described as being asleep in spiritual death.  But then the light of Christ comes upon them and they are awakened from the sleep of death.  As Charles Wesley wrote: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night/ Thine eye diffused a quickening ray/ I woke, the dungeon flamed with light/ My chains fell off, my heart set free/ I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!” 

This is either a quotation from the OT,[3] or a quotation from an ancient hymn.  It doesn’t really matter which it is; however, I am of the opinion that this is a loose paraphrase of Isa. 60:1, which reads, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.”  In both verses, you have a call that goes out to those dead or asleep to rise and to receive the light, and a promise the Lord will shine his light upon them.

This should remind us that it is not in virtue of our own light that people are rescued from the darkness of sin and wickedness.  This is because our light is a borrowed light; it is not our own.  We are like the moon which receives its light from the sun; we, too, receive ours from the Son of God.  His light must shine upon us if we would be saved.  The light which we reflect will only penetrate the darkness when the Lord makes it powerful to that end.  The power of the gospel does not come through our ability to convince people but to the Lord’s faithfulness to draw out his people through the word by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Have you been saved by the grace of Christ out of sin and into the favor and blessing of God?  Have you been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light?  Then thank God, and walk as children of light!  Walk in the truth, speak and share the truth in convincing, winning ways.  And know that if you are a Christian, you are light.  You are a beacon of hope in the midst of a dark world, no matter where you are, no matter how great or small your talents or opportunities.  Can there be any greater calling? 

On the other hand, if you feel the darkness closing around you and in you, there is hope for you.  Now I do not offer you some program of self-improvement because neither you nor I can turn darkness into light.  Only God has the power to speak light into the darkness.  So I point you to him.  Do not look to or into yourself; look away from yourself to Christ who has the power to save.  He has the power to save because he is the Son of God; because he became a man who could represent us before God; because he is the perfect sacrifice who gave up himself to death for us, not because he deserved death but because he chose to die the death we in fact deserved; because God has promised that all who believe in his Son will have the benefits of Christ atoning death for them.

What does it mean to believe on Christ so that we might live through him?  It means that we trust in him and rest on him entirely for the hope of our acceptance with God.  It means that we receive him completely as he is presented to us in the Bible, as the Son of God and Savior of the world, as our prophet to teach us, as our priest to atone for our sins, and as our king to rule over us for our good and his glory.  It means to look to him, as God through the prophet put it, “Look unto me, and be ye saved: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22).

[1] In the ESV, ver. 13b is actually the beginning of verse 14.
[2] Charles Hodge, Ephesians (Banner of Truth; reprint, 1856), p. 215.
[3] In Eph. 4:8, the exact wording precedes a quotation from Psalm 68:18.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Living Out the Grace of Christ – Ephesians 4:31-32

If you are a New Testament Christian, you believe that you are saved by grace and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9).  You believe that you are justified before God not on the basis of merit but solely on the basis of what Christ has done for you (Rom. 4:5).  We must believe this, for Scripture teaches us that we have no ground of boasting before God.  There is nothing that we can point to in ourselves or that we have done that made us worthy of God’s good and saving favor.  Moreover, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to confess that this is true.  We know that they are sinners and worthy of God’s eternal judgment.  We know that left to ourselves we would have never come to God.  The only way we can have any assurance that we are saved is if the ground of our salvation lies outside of ourselves.  If salvation were based on what we are or do, we could never be sure that we were pure enough or had done enough.  We would forever be suspended in painful doubt, wondering if death would bring us before God’s blessing or God’s judgment.  The grace of God is the foundation of all the joy we have in our religion.

The grace of God is certainly central to Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians.  In this letter, we are told that the praise of the glory of God’s grace is the very reason we are saved (1:6).  He tells us that redemption from sin flows from the riches of God’s grace to us (1:7).  Twice he tells us that we are saved by grace (2:5, 8) and that in eternity God looks forward to lavishing upon his people the boundless riches of his grace (2:7).  The apostle owes his ministry to the grace of God (3:7-8).  God’s grace furthermore equips all the saints with spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ (4:7).  God’s grace saves us and equips us for ministry.

Grace is unmerited favor.  It is glory bestowed upon the shameful, riches given to helpless debtors, strength and power given to spiritual corpses. 

Now when Paul exhorts us to behave in the manner depicted in verse 32, the reason he gives is: “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Now this verb “hath forgiven” is the verb charizomai, which is clearly related to the word charis, the NT word for “grace.”  The same word is used in Rom. 8:32, where it is translated freely give: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  The basic meaning of the verb is to be gracious to, to show grace to someone.  Certainly, this idea includes showing forgiveness, but this is an idea that is included in the larger concept of showing grace.  So yes, Paul is telling us to forgive others as God has forgiven us, but this is an implication of the exhortation to show grace to others as God has shown grace to us.  Being gracious is set in verse 32 in contrast to all the ugly and wicked attitudes and actions of verse 31.  We are to be gracious people because God has been gracious to us.  It is the obvious application in a book which is so centered around the grace of God.

The implication of the apostle’s teaching here is that those who have experienced the grace of God and who have embraced the gospel of the grace of God ought to be gracious people.  By nature, we are all like people with the attitudes depicted in verse 31, bitter and wrathful and angry and loud and abusive.  Then the grace of God comes and changes us.  We become or start becoming people who are kind and tenderhearted and gracious and forgiving. 

And yet, we are not yet perfect, and we need to be reminded of these things.  It is so easy to slide back into these things.  We also need to be reminded of how clear a break with such sins we need to make.  It is not only easy to slide back into sins, it is also easy to be give ourselves excuses with respect to such attitudes and dispositions and behaviors.  We need to be told again to “put away” such things.  We are not to trifle with our sins.  We are radically separate ourselves from them.  How radical does such a break need to be?  I think this can be illustrated by the word the apostle uses.  It is the same word used in Mt. 24:39, where our Lord is describing the extent of the destruction of Noah’s flood: “And [they] knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”  The verb “took . . . away” is the same verb Paul uses, “put away.”  As one commentator on Eph. 4:31 put it, “As a flood swept away the inhabitants of the earth . . . so should all these negative characteristics be swept away ‘from you’.”[1]  The destruction of the flood was complete; even so, let our warfare against the sins and wicked dispositions of our hearts be total.  Let there be no quarter taken and none given.  Put away your sins!

You see this also in the word “all” at the beginning and at the end of verse 31.  We are to put away everything associated with these sinful dispositions and acts.  We are not to fight against these some of the time, but all of the time.  We are not to fight with some of these things, but with all of them.  We are not to attack these sins when it is convenient, but when it is not convenient.  Put them all away.

Well then, what are we told to put away here?  The controlling word in verse 31 is “malice.”  The thing is, as we have seen, is that anger is not necessarily sinful.  We are to be angry and sin not.  Moreover, God’s wrath against sin is a holy wrath.  The word “clamour” doesn’t necessarily always involve something sinful.  It sometimes, in fact, describes a cry of joy, such as Elizabeth’s shout of joy when Mary the mother of our Lord came to see her (Lk. 1:42).  This is where the word “malice” comes in.  This word is just a general word for wickedness and badness.  By it the apostle is letting us know that all the things he is describing in verse 31 are bad things.  Yes, there are occasions when it is right to be angry.  But there is also such a thing as sinful anger and wrath.  There is a time when loudness is a megaphone for our frustrations and impatience and at that moment it is wicked and sinful.  We are to put all such things away.

First of all, the apostle tells us to put away “all bitterness.”  In its most basic sense, this word conveyed the idea of something sharp, like arrows.  It came to be applied to smells which were pungent, pains which were penetrating, and sounds which were piercing.  With reference to a person’s temperament, it came to mean bitter and resentful.[2]  John Stott, quoting Armitage Robinson, describes it as “an embittered and resentful spirit which refuses to be reconciled.”[3] 

Sharpness is an apt description of a bitter person, because their words tend to be arrows which sink painfully into those against whom they are bitter.  Paul, in his letter to the Romans, in describing man in sin, says that his “mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom. 3:14).  We come across the phrase “the gall of bitterness” in Acts 8:23, which seems to refer to the fact that bitterness not only makes a person unpleasant but also bitterness becomes poison in their very heart and soul.  In Hebrews 12:15 we are told to beware “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”

There are people in and out of the church who have settled into an attitude of bitterness.  They are sour and they make life sour for everyone who is around them. 

Does this describe you?  Are you resentful and bitter, for any reason?  Do you refuse to be reconciled?  Have you become one of these unpleasant people who, because they feel wronged, want to take it out on everyone around them?  If so, you need to beware of justifying this and attitudes like it by saying, “Well, but that’s just who I am.”  Very well, it may be so, but then it needs to stop immediately!  Christ changes who you are.  That’s what grace does.  So put it away, all of it!  You cannot be bitter and obedient at the same time.  You must choose one or the other.  Of course, if we are serious about our walk with Christ, the choice is obvious.  We will put bitterness away.

I think I hear someone saying at this moment, “Well, this may be good advice for some people, but I can’t forgive and forget; I can’t help but be resentful, because of all the very bad things I have had to go through.”  If that is your excuse, fine; but it means then that you are not a Christian.  Christians are not bitter people; they are people who are able to put all things into the hands of their sovereign Lord, knowing he has forgiven all their sins and is committed to justice for all who have been sinned against.

The next terms we come across are “wrath and anger.”  As we have already considered the problem of sinful anger in 4:26-27, we will only comment on this in passing.  Let us remember that though there is such a thing as righteous anger and wrath, it is much more likely that when we are angry we are doing so from a selfish point of view.  And in that instance we have sinned.  Remember that “charity suffereth long” (1 Cor. 13:4) and when we become prickly with anger and wrath it is often because we are not longsuffering and therefore not loving.

Next, Paul mentions “clamour.”  This word refers to those who, in anger, cry and scream and shout and in other ways loudly vent their frustrations upon all who are their unfortunate victims.  In contrast, our Lord is described from an OT prophesy as one who “shall not strive, nor cry [the verb here is kraugazo; the noun Paul uses is krauge]; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets” (Mt. 12:19).  What is interesting is that right after this description, the prophesy goes on say, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory” (Mt. 12:20).  In these two verses, there seems to be a connection between our Lord’s gentleness with hurting people (expressed in verse 20) and our Lord’s quietness (expressed in verse 19).  You see this also in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, in dealing with difficult people: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).  If you truly want to help people and if you truly care about them, you are not going to try to foist your will and way upon them by being louder than they are.  We all know that you don’t convince people by shouting them down; you may cause them to cower, but you will not change their hearts.  If anything, you may cause them to double down and harden in their opposition.

Again, this clamoring is just an expression of a selfish and sinful attitude.  It is an example of the malice which the apostle forbids.  It is an expression of a lack of self-control and of a desire to play God with the people around me.  We must repent of it.

Finally, Paul says that we should put away “evil speaking.” The word here is the same word that is elsewhere rendered “blasphemy” (cf. Mt. 12:31).  Other translations put this as “slander” (cf. ESV).  Hoehner defines it as “profane or abusive speech.”[4]  What began as bitterness becomes anger and wrath and is expressed through shouting and slander.  It is part of the “corrupt communication” that the apostle forbids in verse 29, and which grieves the Holy Spirit (ver. 30).  There are many ways to do this today, unfortunately.  In our day, social media has become a hotbed for this kind of “evil speaking.”  It is easier to type abuses on a computer screen as an anonymous person than it is to confront someone to their face.  And so Facebook and Twitter and a thousand other places on the internet have bred this kind of sinful speech.  As Christians we must repent of it.  Nor must we justify abusive language by arguing that we are just “speaking against sin.”  Yes, we must do that, but we must do so in a way that expresses a concern for the souls of men, and not just to score a victory for our side of the argument.

That is what we must put away.  But as we have seen, sanctification is not just putting away (4:22) but also putting on (4:24).  We don’t just die to sin but live to righteousness.  We don’t just empty the house but fill it with good things.  And so the apostle goes on to address the situation positively in verse 32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  As we have already noted, the verb translated “to forgive” is probably better rendered as “to be gracious to” which of course includes the idea of forgiveness.  We are to be gracious to others as God has been gracious to us for Christ’s sake.

How are we to show grace?  The apostle begins by saying that we are to “be . . . kind.”  Stott notes that the “word is chrestos, and because of the obvious assonance with the name of Christ (Christos), Christians from the beginning saw its peculiar appropriateness.”[5]  To be kind is to be like Christ, who like his Father, is kind even to unthankful and unholy (cf. Lk. 6:35).  The basic meaning of the word is to be good and to do good to others.  The Christian is not a great person but a good person.

Someone who is bitter and angry and loud and abusive is a person who is turned in upon themselves.  As a result their words and attitudes are poisonous and hurtful to others.  In contrast, a Christian looks outside of themselves to others.  They overflow in grace to show kindness to others.  They are aware of the needs of those around them and they move to meet those needs as they are able. 

The next word is one I think we ought all to think about with the aim of becoming more like this: we are to be “tenderhearted.”  I think this is a marvelous word.  This describes people who are sensitive to the needs of others.  That is the “tender” part of the word.  But they are not only sensitive to the needs of others, their heart is moved toward the need rather than away from the need.  That is the “hearted” part of the word.  Of course, we are talking about compassion here. 

We need Christians who are tenderhearted, compassionate people.  They are like our Lord, who when he saw the people around him “scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” was “moved with compassion on them, because they fainted” (Mt. 9:36).  There are some people who are only aware of their own need.  Their world extends no further than their own frustrations.  But as we become more and more like Christ, we become less and less concerned about our own needs and more and more concerned with the needs of others.  Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we can’t not help those who are in need.  We are moved by the hurt of others. 

This is of course in contrast to those who are hardhearted.  They are not moved by the pain others are experiencing.  As long as they are comfortable, that is the most important thing to them.

This is an essential component to any healthy relationship.  Do we want to have unity in the church?  We need to be tenderhearted toward each other.  Do we want to have healthy marriages?  Then we need to have husbands and wives who are tenderhearted toward each other.  I have seen marriages on the rocks precisely because either the husband or the wife was hardhearted instead of tenderhearted toward the needs of their spouse.  So many problems would disappear if we would stop obsessing over our own “concerns” and start being moved by the needs and hurts of others.  We need tenderhearted Christians.

Such people are gracious, forgiving people.  They forgive, as Christ has forgiven them.  How has Christ forgiven you?  He has forgiven you graciously and completely and forever.  There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).  We did not earn his favor, but moved with love he conquered our rebellious and hateful hearts (cf. Tit. 3:3-9).  Though I agree that we are to hold people accountable for their sins in order to help them repent, that does not mean that we are allowed to have a bitter, unforgiving spirit toward them.  We are to immediately and graciously forgive all who have sinned against us.  We are to forgive completely and forever.  There is no way you can justify holding a grudge against someone if you take verse 32 seriously and apply it honestly.  We are to show grace as Christ has shown grace to us, and grace is by its very nature unconditional.

Now how can a Christian do this?  We can do this for two reasons.  First of all, we have received the grace of God and God’s grace changes a person.  Yes, by nature we are foolish and disobedient and deceived, serving lusts and sinful pleasure and living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another (Tit. 3:3), but God does not leave us in that condition.  Grace doesn’t just change our status, it changes our nature, makes us new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  Grace severs the root of sin in our hearts and lives. 

Now if you feel still in the grip of these sins it could be for several reasons.  One reason could be that you are not claiming the truth that in Christ you are dead to sin.  The apostle exhorts you then to “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof, neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.  For sins shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:11-14).  Note the fact that being under grace is not an argument that it’s okay to continue in sin but an argument to kill sin.

On other hand, it could be that you are actually in the grip of sins.  If this is the case, you need to be saved.  You need the grace of God to change your heart and save you from your spiritual deadness.  You need to cry out to God to show mercy upon you through Christ. 

How can a Christian do this?  Not only because God’s grace makes it possible, but because God’s grace also makes it plausible and desirable.  We can be kind because Christ has been kind and good to us.  And God’s goodness so fills up the heart of the Christian that it cannot help but overflow in kindness to others.  Moreover, the Christian can be tenderhearted to others because he or she sees how God was moved with compassion towards him/her in their spiritual need.  They look at the humiliation of Christ for them, the incarnation and the cross, and then at their own unworthiness and wonder how God would have ever been moved to save them.  There was never anything in us.  And yet, Christ gave up his glory in order to enter in upon our miserable existence to save us.  How can we believe that and not have compassion for the lost?  How can we believe the gospel and not show grace and extend forgiveness to others?

Grace causes us to die to ourselves and to live for others, as Christ died for us so that we might live in him.  As the hymn puts it:

What grace is mine that he who dwells in endless light

Called through the night to find my distant soul

And from his scars poured mercy that would plead for me

That I might live and in his name be known.

So I will go wherever he is calling me

I lose my life to find my life in him

I give my all to gain the hope that never dies

I bow my heart, take up my cross, and follow him.[6]

[1] H. W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker, 2002), p. 637.
[2] Ibid, p. 634.
[3] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (IVP, 1979), p. 190.  Robinson, in turn, was quoting Aristotle!
[4] P. 636.
[5] Stott, p. 190.
[6] Kristyn Getty

Sealed and Standing (Rev. 7)

At the end of the previous chapter, when John sees the breaking of the sixth seal of the scroll, we see Christ coming again in judgment upon...