Paul continues by addressing how we put into practice the putting off of the “old man” and putting on the “new man. Instead of listing all the vices to be discarded and another list to be cultivated, Paul counter balances each sin with a virtue. He first states the negative command – what we are not to do, then the positive command – what we should do and concludes with the reason for how we are to live.
“Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, because we are members of one another”. This is truth in practice, we are to live the truth in Christ Jesus, the new creation in us – the “new man” rather than continue to practice the deceit of the “old man”. Leviticus 19:11 says, “‘you must not steal, you must not tell lies, and you must not deal falsely with your fellow citizen”. God’s law was designed to promote harmony and holiness between the Israelites, and then God expands this law to the “resident alien” any Gentile living among the Jews. In the New Testament Jesus expands God’s intention for us even further with the parable of the Good Samaritan – our neighbors are anyone we come into contact with.
The next area of putting off the “old self” is anger: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity”. This is not an encouragement to “be angry”; it is rather presented as a warning – if you become angry – beware! Anger, and the related sins, is the epitome of socially destructive and alienating actions, which are so characteristic of the old creation.
“The Bible doesn’t tell us that we shouldn’t feel angry, but it points out that it is important to handle our anger properly. If vented thoughtlessly, anger can hurt others and destroy relationships. If bottled up inside, it can cause us to become bitter and destroy us from within. Paul tells us to deal with our anger immediately in a way that builds relationships rather than destroys them. If we nurse our anger, we will give the devil an opportunity to divide us. Are you angry with someone right now? What can you do to resolve your differences? Don’t let the day end before you begin to work on mending your relationship”. LIFE Application
Paul writes in Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. Sometimes we think of “burning coals” on your neighbor’s head as receiving just consequences for their wrong behavior. However the point we are to get is this: it is kindness to one’s enemy to give him water or give him coals to restart his fire; these are acts that make friends not enemies. Additionally, we are not to start or continue in retaliation or vengeance, we as people of the “new man” we are to break the cycle of revenge and leave justice to God alone. Another thought about “heaping burning coals” is that it reflects a ritual of the Egyptians, in which a person would carry coals on their head as a sign of their repentance; therefore treating your enemy kindly may lead him to repentance.
Paul clearly warns the Ephesians that uncontrolled anger puts you in danger from Satan. “If we allow anger to take hold of us and control us, we are overcome by sin and give the devil opportunity to perpetuate all sorts of evil. By the cross, God has effectively dealt with our sin- the penalty of it and the power of it. We are no longer controlled by sin, and unrighteous anger is sin”.
Paul’s next area of instruction is theft, “The one who steals must steal no longer; instead he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he will have something to share with the one who has need”. There are many ways that we can steal from others, it is not merely the loss of property, we can steal another person’s honor or reputation and theft of any kind destroys the trust of the community causing people to defend their space or possessions rather than being inclusive. Paul tells the former pagans who usually got ahead by taking advantage of others (stealing), that they must begin to labor with their hands, doing good and sharing with those in need – this is a complete change in mindset – instead of taking they are now to give freely.
The final area that Paul addresses in this paragraph is the words that come out of our mouths. “You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it would give grace to those who hear, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it would give grace to those who hear.” We are to put off our old self, anger, rage and unwholesome language and only speak what is beneficial for building up the body. Use language and arguments that show grace – speak grace, speak mercy and speak the truth in love.
Proverbs 10:32 says, “The lips of the righteous know what is pleasing, but the speech of the wicked is perverse”. Perverse is defined as showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences. The concept we should understand from Paul’s writing is this: the “unwholesome word” is deliberate defiance of God’s commands – our words can kill or give life, our words can defame God or praise God, our words can build the church and our neighbors or destroy the church’s witness to the world. “The good person out of the good treasury of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasury produces evil, for his mouth speaks from what fills his heart”. Luke 6:45
“In place of these socially destructive activities, Paul advocates corresponding ones that are cohesive, up–building, and pattern the new–creation existence epitomized and brought into being in Christ: the erstwhile thief should turn philanthropist instead; speech should not be used to befoul and tear down, but for good; in place of anger, the believer should show the forgiving character of God and the self–sacrificial love of Christ who died to atone for us”.