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. Ephesians 4:29, ESV.
Paul called the church in verses 23-34 “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self.” He illustrated what that would look like by issuing specific commands to integrity in speech, self-control over anger, and an honest and generous work ethic. He concludes this list with verse 29, a call for gracious speech.
The words that come out of our mouths should not tear down but build up, suit the situation, and be gifts of grace. Dishonest, unkind, or vulgar words only serve to tear down (literally, bring rottenness to) the listener. Truth, kindness, and wholesome language builds up. When Paul speaks of talk that “fits the occasion,” he is likely indicating that these words improve the situation for the listener. They are words that sweeten the aroma instead of adding a stench. They put out fires instead of starting them. The listener should walk away from the conversation having just experienced God’s grace in the words spoken.
As we bring this command forward a couple of millennia to our day, I believe we need to add “from your thumbs or fingers” to “out of your mouths.” Paul’s words are focused primarily on the words spoken by Christians to Christians. Even so, I cannot imagine him isolating this exhortation from Christians who put their words out there on the internet for anyone to read. When our words are on a screen, we need to take extra care. The artificial courage of the keypad does not make obedience to Ephesians 4:29 easier. Every post should be written as though it is a word being spoken face to face with every potential reader. We must eliminate words that tear down or do little but throw gasoline on the fires of controversy. We must build up and offer grace. My experience may differ from yours, but there seem to be too many examples online of professing believers doing just the opposite.
May God forgive us for our disobedience to His Word in our speech and grant each of us control of our tongues and our thumbs, on this day and every day. That is my prayer.
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. Ephesians 4:28, ESV.
We have seen how Paul applies his verse 23-34 call “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self” with commands to replace lies with truth and anger with self-control. He adds even more specific instruction in verse 28. Here he commands the thief to quit stealing, do honest work, and use his income to help others.
The first thing that strikes me about this verse is how Paul transitions from “do this” and “don’t do that” to “stop it.”. In the early church, just like her contemporary counterpart, some saints struggled with sin. There are thieves in the body of Christ at Ephesus and Paul is calling them out. John Stott observes that this command “had and still has a wide application, not only to the stealing of other people’s money or possessions, but also to tax evasions and customs dodges which rob the government of their dues, to employers who oppress their workers, and to employees who give poor service or work short time.”
What is the thief to do once he is stealing no longer? He is to earn his keep! He is to quit taking what is not his and instead work for what he receives. A fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage is part of God’s design for human flourishing. God’s people are not to seek to get something for nothing. Where God has granted the ability to work, He expects His people to use that ability to provide for their own needs.
But the end to thieving and beginning of honest labor is not the end of God’s plan. The one who earns through labor is to understand that they are also earning to provide for those in need. Given the context of Ephesians 4, it seems likely that this is a specific call to care for those in need in the church. What a transition—from greed-driven stealing to generous caring!
I pray that God enables you to know the joy of a living a life where you earn your own provision and give generously to help those in need. Or, if you are that saint who is in need, I pray you will be blessed by the generosity of a brother or sister in Christ who has been enabled to work and earn.
 John R. W. Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: IVP, 1979), 187.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV.
As we continue to look into Paul’s specific applications of the call to put on Christ and walk in the Spirit, we come to the issue of anger. With our news and social media sites overflowing with expressions of anger, there can be little doubt as to the relevance of this topic for us as Christians!
Paul opens with a reference to Psalm 4:4. Noting this is important as we try to understand why Paul would ever say, “Be angry.” After all, he is the same apostle who is about to write, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (4:31). How can he say in the same paragraph to be angry but get rid of all anger? The solution to this puzzle is in Psalm 4. The Hebrew word David uses for anger in that Psalm could also be translated as “agitated.” Some things in our lives will evoke strong emotional responses; one of them is anger. Christians are not called to be stoics.
The issue is not whether anything ever gets your ire up; it is whether or not you will let your emotions rule you and lead you into sin. This can happen in a couple of ways. The first is when you let your anger take control and hang around. The emotional response of anger is one thing, clinging to angry thoughts is another. When I was a child, my father enforced this rule quite literally. We worked through things before he left my room and turned out the lights at night. I remain grateful for that lesson! The second way our angry emotions become sinful is related to the first. When we cling to anger, we not only let it rule us, we let its master use us for his evil schemes. The devil loves division and discord. If you let anger control you, he can use you to destroy your family or your church.
Are you an angry person? It is time for that to change. It is time to repent, repair the damage your anger has done to others, and, trusting the God who will one day right all wrongs, live in peace. Seek help if you need it. I will be praying for you as you fight this common foe.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:25, ESV.
In Ephesians 4:25-32 Paul transitions from a general call to put on Christ and walk in the Spirit to specific applications of that call. Given the challenging days in which we find ourselves, each of these applications warrants a close look.
Verse 25 commands to live out our shared life in Christ with integrity. Is it any surprise that following the Savior who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” entails truthfulness? God has always called for His people to practice integrity. Consider what the Old Testament declares:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:6
Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Proverbs 4:24.
No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. Psalm 107:7.
These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace. Zechariah 8:16.
In today’s verse, we are specifically directed to speak the truth with our neighbors because “we are members of one another.” We are to practice integrity in the church. Since we are all brought together by God’s grace into one new man in the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22), we depend on one another in a particular way. The body of Christ is as it should be when all the members are unified in their task (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). This kind of functional unity only occurs when members of the body are honest with one another.
Where does dishonesty sneak into the body of Christ? It shows up when some pretend that they are inherently good people, not redeemed sinners. It shows up when personal preferences are packaged as biblical truth. It shows up when suffering saints hide their pain from saints who are ready and willing to minister. It shows up when cultural practices are treated as religious necessities. It shows up when we say we are family but act like strangers. And this brief list only scratches the surface.
Are there falsehoods that you need to put away today? I pray that God will open all of our eyes to these barriers to unity and help us repent and turn toward integrity, for our good and His glory.
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24, ESV.
What is a Gentile? In the Old Testament, you were either a Jew, one of the people in covenant with God, or you were not. If you were not a Jew, you were called a Gentile. Paul carries the label Gentile forward into the letter of Ephesians with a similar but slightly altered meaning. To be a Gentile is still to be outside of the covenant people of God. The covenant Paul is referring to now with is the new covenant. Paul is telling the church to quit living like she is outside of the new covenant in Christ.
To live like a Gentile is to live in the dark: not understanding God because your heart is hard against Him. To live like a Gentile is to sell out to sin: not loving God or His righteous ways. This kind of life is incompatible with life in the new covenant. Thus, Paul implores them to quit living like they are still Gentiles.
Those who are in Christ also need to quit this Gentile lifestyle because, as His new covenant people, they have come to Christ through the knowledge of the gospel. This gospel that saves by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10) demands that the saints shed their old corrupt and deceived way of life and that their minds be spiritually renewed in Christ, putting on His image of “righteousness and holiness.”
This goes beyond, “You are saved, so be good.” It means that, because you have been changed, you need to wrap your mind around that reality and start living in it. This is “the way you learned Christ.” Convicted and converted, you have been changed by the Spirit of God. It is time to “put on the new self”: start dressing and walking in a manner that reflects your new identity in Christ.
Living a lie means living in darkness, bondage, and fear. But there is freedom and peace for those who are in Christ and live in light of that truth. I pray that you will experience the joy of that reality today!