In the Epistle to the Ephesians Paul shows us how we must be imitators of God. This can only come about by allowing the Word to dominate our thoughts and emotions and it will then be seen in all aspects of our life. It involves a “putting off” and a “putting on” or, in actual fact, a “putting off” by a “putting on”. It presents to us, both the negative and positive sides of our life in the Truth. It is summarised in Romans 12:21, which says “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”.

In Ephesians chapter 4:25 to chapter 5:5 Paul illustrates a very important principle in overcoming sin. It will NOT be achieved simply by will-power or the determined effort of destroying that which is evil, but rather by replacing the evil with that which is good.

This is illustrated in the parable in Matthew 12:45, where the house which was garnished and clean, having been left empty, became the habitation of seven spirits worse than the first one. This most important principle which Paul illustrates in Ephesians in each of the six sins he enumerates, can be expressed in the words, “SUBLIMATION IS BETTER THAN REPRESSION”. That is, to overcome sin we must elevate our mind above the problem until we find that the problem itself becomes of no account.

Brother Carter states—“When we wish to subjugate an appetite, it is not enough to simply check it, however harshly. All the locks and bolts of mere repression will not suffice. Rather must we seek till we find, and can foster, some other desire in the presence of which, the obnoxious appetite may find it hard to live. If once heart and mind be filled with strong positive interest, the rest will come of itself.”

The problem areas identified by Paul fall into the following categories and are very pertinent to the life of the brother or sister living in this twenty first century:-

1 LYING—Ephesians 4:25

“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” Having stated that we are members one of another and of the body of Christ, it becomes apparent, even as with the natural body, that if the members of the human body gave and received false directions there could be no continuation in life. On the spiritual plane, the head (Christ) gives the instructions and consequently if any members of the body should block these instructions by lying, this can cause the whole body to become confused and ineffective. How then, can we cure lying? Paul tells us, “by speaking every man truth with his neighbour”. This sounds altogether too simplistic but to establish his point, Paul quotes from Zechariah, the background of which was set in the time of the return from Babylonian exile: “These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth with his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, saith Yahweh” (Zech 8:16,17).

It should not even require to be mentioned that truthfulness and honesty between brethren and sisters in the ecclesial environment is essential for the harmonious functioning of the Body of Christ. It is impossible to “do business” with a brother whose word cannot be trusted and who, for one reason or another (usually to escape distasteful consequences), misrepresents the facts or withholds the whole truth. The antidote to such behaviour is so simple that we may overlook its power—speak truth! Paul has already exhorted believers to be no more children “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth [or, ‘speaking truly’ RV] in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (verses 14 and 15). It is obvious that in order to speak truth we must daily partake of the Word of Truth that our minds might be rightly directed in matters of doctrine and practice.

Lying, along with so many other vices, has become almost an acceptable part of social behaviour: so we have “white lies” which, presumably, are just very little “harmless” lies but very useful to get one out of a spot! Integrity in politics and government is now a myth: lies are well and truly in vogue and require no apology. But the believer in this society cannot be a participant in such behaviour whatever the consequences. Truth must be told and the Truth preached to our neighbour in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

2 ANGER—Ephesians 4:26,27

“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.” Anger can be a divine characteristic. The principle is seen in Hebrews 1:8 where, speaking of Christ Paul says that, “he loved righteousness and hated iniquity”. Further instances of righteous anger are found in Mark 3:5; 10:14; 11:15; Psalm 7:11; Romans 12:19: but on the other hand, it can be a sin (Psa 37:8; Jas 1:19; Prov 15:8).

Paul in this passage quotes from Psalm 4 which finds its setting in the life of King David at the time of the revolt of his son Absalom. The quotation in Ephesians is taken from verse 4 which reads (in the AV) “stand in awe and sin not” or more correctly as Paul renders it, “be ye angry and sin not”. The anger of Abishai (2 Sam 16:9–12; 19:21,22) was not free from sin and he was an adversary to David. He was just in his anger against the rebellion and that Yahweh’s anointed should have been cursed by Shimei but he was not free from personal animosity.

Christ’s anger was at the perversity of men who ought to have known better in their treatment of divine things. Paul, in quoting from Psalm 4, is particularly pointing out that we must never allow anger to descend to mere conflict of personalities but that righteous anger is justified when a divine principle is violated. It is easy to see, however, that even though our motives may be honourable at the outset, the weakness of the flesh can soon lead to anger becoming sinful. Hence, when Paul exhorts “be ye angry and sin not” his message is undoubtedly that we should exercise self-control.

The word “wrath” which Paul uses here is rendered “provocation” in the RV margin and points more especially to that which provokes the wrath. What may have begun as a just cause is lost in an irrational outpouring of emotion and perhaps harsh words for which we may later have reason for bitter regret. Paul’s admonition is that we should not be provoked into such loss of self-control and destructive behaviour but that we should speedily resolve any differences from the scriptures in a patiently reasoned and loving manner. Anything less than this is purely carnal as the apostle warned the Corinthian believers, “… ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor 3:3): “… if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal 5:15). Sometimes we quote James, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle…”, to justify an aggressive approach to a problem, but James continues, “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace”. The apostle has already condemned the contrary behaviour when he said, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work”.

3 STEALING—Ephesians 4:28

“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Here is an obvious case of the replacing of a negative practice—stealing—with a positively generous way of life. Stealing does not have to mean simply taking some article that belongs to another or helping ourselves to something from the supermarket shelf without paying—that, of course, is stealing and is punishable by law. Misappropriation of time or money may be more subtle and difficult to detect but is just as bad: nor are there gradations of theft—it’s just that the consequences can be more severe in some cases. Stealing is still stealing. The Israelite under the law was held accountable if he robbed God of service as was the thief who stole from his neighbour.

It is common practice in the prison system to encourage those convicted of theft to produce goods to be given to the poor or underprivileged thus enacting the basic principle outlined here by the apostle—replacing a negative appetite with a positive virtue.

4 CORRUPT COMMUNICATION—Ephesians 4:29,30

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” For “corrupt communication” rsv says “evil talk”. “Corrupt” literally means “rotten” or “putrid”. Rotherham says, “let no putrid discourse out of your mouth be going, but if anything is good, suited to the needful upbuilding” (cp Col 3:8; 4:6). Corrupt communication, swearing, and so on are negatives and only serve to give vent to the uncontrolled feelings of the flesh. “Double” or suggestive talk is commonplace in our society amongst all classes in office or factory.

Such speech affects the speaker, the hearer and God Himself as Paul points out from Isaiah 63:7– 10. The servant of God should not be drawn into the doubtful talk of his workplace or other worldly environment. Again, the antidote urged upon us by Paul is that we speak “that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers”. Speaking “like one of the crowd” is certainly not in harmony with this advice, nor is it likely to persuade our hearers to seek that pure and lofty word of salvation. The principle is expressed beautifully to Titus (chapter 2:7,8): “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you”.

5 BITTERNESS , WRATH, ANGTER, CLAMOUR etc—Ephesians 4:31,32

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Whereas many of the foregoing sins may be influenced by environment, these which Paul here enumerates are present wherever there is human nature. Notice the progression of thought descending to the ultimate of malice, which is described as “a settled sullen disposition”. On the positive side as the antidote— “be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you”. Bitterness is characterised by intense animosity: wrath is defined as “hot anger, passion”; anger is described as the strongest of all passions: clamour krauge, is a onomatopoeic word in the Greek imitating the raven’s cry and Paul uses it here to describe the tumult of controversy: and evil speaking, which in the RV is translated “railing” and is the Greek word blasphemia from which we can easily recognise our English word “blaspheme”. Vine states that this word is “practically confined to speech defamatory of the Divine Majesty”.

Certainly this is not a description of Christlike behaviour—and yet how very readily the flesh can resort to this kind of confrontational stance in discussion or argument. Even when we are contending for a right cause such an attitude towards our brethren and sisters is indefensible, untenable and unacceptable before out God.

6 IMMORALITY, COVETOUSNESS —Ephesians 5:3,4

“But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” The Diaglott translates these verses as: “Now let not fornication, and all impurity, or unbridled lust, be even named among you (as becomes holy persons); also indecency, and foolish talking or loose jesting; things not consistent; but what is more becoming, thanksgiving”. Paul describes the danger of such a situation in Romans 1:21: “… when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened”. “Filthiness” is defined as anything base or vile in words or acts; “foolish talking” as that which exposes another to contempt (rsv “silly talk”); “jesting” (rsv “levity” or nasb “coarse jesting”), an immoral or “borderline” type of talk.

It is a truly sad fact that we are surrounded with such things every day and everywhere in the society in which we have to live and the effects are increasingly felt in the ecclesia of God. Paul’s solution, once again, is plainly stated: “Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light; (For the fruit of light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)… And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph 5:7–11).

Paul’s instruction is not only to refrain from such things but not even to allow our minds to dwell upon them. He says, “let it not be once named among you”.

Brother Carter makes the following comment (Letter to the Ephesians, pg 133). “Under such conditions, Paul may well prohibit the discussion of it. He himself names it only to condemn it. But saints are separated from the world and it becomes them not to let the mind dwell on the sins of the world. The mind insensibly is affected by the stream of thoughts passing through it, and it is desirable to have the stream as pure as possible. A mind famil iarised by pictures of evil is not strongly fortified if sin should assail.”

The way to overcome is “by the giving of thanks”. An individual who is mindful of that for which they have been called out and of the abundant grace which God has bestowed upon them must at all times be in a state of thanksgiving and if in such a state of mind, then the foregoing sins can find no place either in thought or in deed.

The basic root cause in all these sins is selfishness— the desire to gratify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Paul warns that no such person—no “covetous man, who is an idolator, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”. To indulge the flesh is to make an idol of it (Rom 8:9, Gal 6:7,8). The covetous man has set up an idol in his life—himself—as an object of worship beside God.

The Apostle’s appeal is, “See then than ye walk circumspectly [‘with an accuracy which is the outcome of carefulness’], not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil”.

What cause then we have for “giving thanks always for all things unto God”: the signs abound speaking of the nearness of our Lord’s return.