Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:29-5:2
Paul in today’s passage is giving us sound advice on how to live a Godly life. He starts off by telling us not to “let any unwholesome talks come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” To those for you who cannot understand Paul’s flowery language here, let me put in simple and easy to understand terms for you: If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.
Paul then goes to say in the very next verse (verse 30), “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” What exactly does Paul mean when he says “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”? The Holy Spirit, who lives within Christians, is a person who can experience deep grief or sorrow, as Jesus himself did when he wept over Jerusalem or grieved on other occasions. As believers we can cause the Holy Spirit grief or pain when we ignore his presence, inner voice or leading. We can also grieve the Holy Spirit through unwholesome conversation and through hurtful or violent emotions and behavior. Grieving the Spirit leads to resisting the Holy Spirit, which can lead you to “put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and finally to insult “the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). Insulting the Spirit leads to blasphemy against the Spirit, for which there is no forgiveness. That is why Paul tells us to get rid of “all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice”, because all of these things are the sinful acts of the flesh and they run counter to the fruit of a Spirit filled life. And this where verse 32 comes in.
In verse 32 Paul says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” What is this forgiveness that Paul is talking about here? To truly understand what Paul means by “forgive” we have to go back to Luke 17:3-4 which says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and it they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” We can observe the following things from Jesus statement about forgiveness: (1) Jesus is concerned that we maintain an attitude that desires to forgive and help those who offend us, rather than an attitude of revenge or hatred. (2) Forgiveness and the end result of a restored relationship cannot truly occur until the offending person acknowledges his or her wrong action and sincerely repents (expresses true sorrow and makes a complete change). However, our willingness to forgive should not depend on the other person’s attitude. Keep in mind that Jesus was not referring to same offense being constantly repeated. In addition, forgiveness does not necessarily mean that we should foolishly trust someone who continually wrongs us or others. (3) We must forgive anyone who sincerely repents. Jesus’ statement about forgiving “seven times in a day” is not meant to give his approval of habitual sin (the same offense over and over). Nor is he saying that we must allow someone to severely mistreat or abuse us repeatedly. Instead, he teaches that we must maintain an attitude that is always ready to help and forgive others.
All this leads us into the last two verses in today’s passage (5:1-2), which say, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul here is telling us though we are spiritually saved by God’s grace-his unearned favor and love and enablement-we must continue to work out or walk out our salvation to the end. We must finish our race and faithfully complete our journey on earth. This does not imply an attempt to gain salvation or favor with God by works. Rather, it is an expression of our salvation through ongoing spiritual growth and development. Salvation is not simply a gift received once and for all; it is lived out and fulfilled through a continual process of surrender to Christ and following his purposes. This often takes great determination if we are to remain steadfast and continue to mature spiritually.
Just as we are not saved by good works, we do not work out or walk out our salvation by mere human effort. Rather, we must continue to rely on the same things which brought us salvation in the first place: God’s grace and the Spirit’s power given to us.
In order to work out or walk out our salvation we must resist temptation and sin and follow the desires of the Holy Spirit within us. This involves a sustained effort to use every God-given means available for defeating evil and experiencing Christ’s life. This is part of the process of sanctification-the process of being spiritually purified, refined and set apart for God’s possession and purposes through ongoing spiritual growth and development.
We work out or walk out our salvation by continually growing closer to Christ. In doing so, we take on his character and desires as well as the power fulfill God’s purposes for our lives. And working out or walking out our salvation is so necessary and important and, at times, so emotionally involved that it must be done “with fear and trembling”.
We must remember that we are not saved by our actions, good or bad, but our actions do reflect to whom we truly belong.