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Put Off and Put On (4:25-32)

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In his inspired letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells the followers of Christ that they have been created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (4:24) In view of this he instructs them to put away or put off their ‘old man’ and to put on the ‘new man.’ But how does one do this? Paul tells us how in chapter 4, verses 25 through 32, “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members of one another. “Be angry, and don’t sin.” Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, neither give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need. Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.”

In this passage Paul gives practical instructions in six areas of our lives. He tells us what to ‘put off’ or ‘get rid’ of, what behavior should take its place and the reason for doing so.

Area one: Ethics. Paul writes that Christ’s followers must put away falsehood. He had already said in verse 21 that truth is in Jesus. It follows then, that those who claim Christ as their Lord should turn away from what is not true. Though the primary application is to speech, it is obvious that the principle of putting off falsehood involves much more than just what we say. For example, Jesus pointed out that “...For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) If we are to turn away from lying, we must remove falsehood from our hearts. Lying takes many forms. Not only do we say or write what is not true, but we also can deliberately give a false impression or mislead others by how we act. All forms of falsehood are to be rejected. In the place of falsehood, the follower of Christ is to speak truthfully. We are to be totally genuine. It is worth noting that speaking truthfully involves speaking! We should not remain silent if our silence causes someone else to believe something which is not true. But, though we must speak the truth, as Paul already instructed in verse 15, it must be done in love so that we will grow in our relationship to Christ. The reason Paul gives for putting off falsehood and speaking the truth is that all the followers of Christ are members of one body. When we lie to a fellow believer, we are lying to the body of which we are a part. When we speak the truth in love, we build up the body.

Area two: Emotions. We may not always be able to control how we feel. But we certainly can control how we act as a result of our feelings. In view of this, Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 when he writes, “Be angry, and don’t sin...” (4:26) To become angry is not, in itself sin, for even God expresses anger, but it can easily lead us into sin. In verse 31 Paul instructs the followers of Christ to get rid of anger altogether. We must not nurture it. On the contrary, we are to not “let the sun go down on your wrath.” What this means is that we are to settle problems daily. The reason Paul gives is so that the devil will not gain any opportunity. If we settle problems daily while they are still small, they won’t have the chance to grow large.

Area three: Employment. Many people have the idea that the world owes them a living. They justify stealing because they feel they deserve the things they take. But the follower of Christ may not steal. Paul writes that those who have been doing so are to stop. Instead, they are to work, doing something useful with their hands. There are some who feel that manual labor is beneath them. But any labor dedicated to the Lord, is holy. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) Christ Jesus Himself worked as a carpenter. Should those who follow Him be too proud to work with their hands? The reason Paul gives for finding honest employment is so we will have something to share with those in need. In another place Paul writes, “For this is not that others may be eased and you distressed, but for equality. Your abundance at this present time supplies their lack, that their abundance also may become a supply for your lack; that there may be equality...” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

Area four: Speech. The follower of Christ is to not let any “corrupt speech” (NIV, “unwholesome talk”) come out of his mouth. The literal meaning of the word Paul uses is something which is rotten or spoiled. In the context it is any speech which would corrupt, harm, destroy or tear down another person or a relationship. It would include such things as slander or gossip. In contrast to this we are to say only what will help build others up. It is worth noting that what we say is to be according to need. All too often we say far more than is needed. The reason for this instruction is so that those who listen may benefit. If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that much of what we say is either beside the point or is of no benefit to anyone.

Area five: Spirituality. The next instruction to Christ’s followers is to not grieve God’s Holy Spirit. In chapter 2, verse 22 of this letter Paul had already written, “in whom [that is, Christ] you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” Since God lives in us by His Spirit, it is obvious that if we desire to have God in our lives, we should do nothing which would drive His Spirit away. In other words, we need to make our lives a place where God would want to live! The reason Paul gives is that it is through God’s Spirit that we are “sealed for the day of redemption.” Paul had already explained this in chapter 1, verses 13 and 14. The Spirit is the mark of God’s ownership on the follower of Christ.

Area six: Interpersonal relationships. Not only is a follower of Christ to make his life a place where God would want to live, but he must also root out anything which would destroy his relationship with fellow believers. Bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice have no place in the life of one who has given himself to Christ. These negative and destructive traits are to be replaced by kindness, compassion and forgiveness. The reason Paul gives for forgiving one another is that God forgave us. Shouldn’t we show the same mercy to others as God has shown to us?