How to Treat Others: Ephesians 4:29-5:2
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. (NIV)
Here in this six verse section of his letter to the Ephesians Paul gave not only the Ephesians but us a crash course on how to treat others. He starts off by telling us what not to do and he ends with what to do instead. But in order for us to better understand what Paul is in fact telling us here we must take a deeper look at these six verses.
In 4:29 Paul tells us, “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.” The word “unwholesome” that is used here can refer to that which is spoiled, rotten or putrid (Matthew 7:17-18 and 13:48). However, here it is used figuratively for what is harmful and tears down instead of what builds up (Ephesians 5:4 and Colossians 3:8).
In 4:30 Paul tells us, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Paul is warning us, his readers (both those in his time and those in the future), not to commit the same sin as the Israelites when they “rebelled and grieve [God’s] Holy Spirit” in the wilderness (Isaiah 63:10). That then begs the question: How do we “grieve the Holy Spirit of God?” The answer is very simple: We grieve or cause the Holy Spirit sorrow by our sin, including our unwholesome talk. What Paul is telling us here is in essence is that we should avoid using “unwholesome” language not only because it is harmful to others, but more importantly it causes grief and sorrow to the Holy Spirit, who has sealed you (Ephesians 1:13) for the day of redemption (the final day of salvation or judgement when Christ returns; Luke 21:28 and Romans 8:23).
In 4:31 Paul tells us, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” This fivefold reference to various sins here, the use of the word “all” (signifying every form of the sins mentioned), and the additional prepositional phrase “along with every form of malice” together emphasize the comprehensive manner in which these sins are to be avoided. In other words, Paul is telling us to avoid at all costs every form of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and “malice” or hatred.
In 4:32 Paul goes on to tell us, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Paul, as he usually does, follows prohibitions up with commands of what to actively pursue. Here he tells us we are to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Being “compassionate” (or, “having healthy intestines” which is what the Greek word used here would literally translated as) refers to having internal feelings of concern for another (1 Peter 3:8). Having “tender hearts” toward others involves having forgiving hearts as well. But our compassion and tender hearts, which leads to our forgiving others, comes from having freely received grace from God through the sacrificial work of Christ.
Paul finishes up this section of his letter to the Ephesian church with the example we to follow that is found in 5:1-2, which says:
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.
Forgiving one another as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32) is in fact imitating God or following God’s example. The command to “walk in the way of love” is an expansion of what it means to imitate God. Paul then illustrates this exhortation with the example of Christ.
The sacrificial death of Christ provides both the pattern and motivation for us as believers to love others. Christ’s love was eminently displayed when he took the initiative in his atoning death and gave himself up for us. His death was an offering and sacrifice that fulfilled the purpose of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Paul considered the cross of Christ a “fragrant” offering because it was acceptable and pleasing to God.
Here is Paul’s whole point in this short but important section of Ephesians: We as followers of Christ are to reflect the nature of God’s love by serving others rather than ourselves. And Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the supreme illustration of this. Remember, Christ’s sacrifice was a fragrant offering and, therefore, it was acceptable to God. And similarly, when we as followers of Christ love others by seeking what is best for their lives, it will smell good to God.
Today’s Bible Readings:
Micah 5-7, Revelation 7, Psalm 135:1-21 and Proverbs 30:5-6
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