This is a letter written by the Apostle Paul believed to not be designed for just one congregation, but intended to be passed around to several churches in the area surrounding Ephesus. The epistle itself is in the form of a general document dealing with a particular or in this case several subjects rather than as a letter written to a specific church. For example, there are no specific exhortations or personal greetings, as with most of Paul’s letters.
Unlike other epistles written to specific churches, this epistle does not deal with specific problems in a local congregation. Instead, Paul addressed great themes that pertain to the Christian's position in Christ, as a member of the body of Christ, the church.
This letter to the church at Ephesus encourages, admonishes and teaches believers even today of God’s plan for His church. Paul offers so much information in these six chapters. When you read and study this book you can understand that the Holy Spirit gives the believer what they need to be saved, holy and God-honoring.
The central thought of the letter is that Jesus has brought to a disunited world the way to unity. This way is through faith in him and it is the Church's task to proclaim this message to all the world. And now Paul turns to the character the Christian must have if the Church is to fulfill her great task of being Christ's instrument of universal reconciliation between man and man, and man and God within the world. In this session we finish up our study of how God made provision for those in the church to live and work together in unity and to grow together into maturity and love, and we move to the realization that Christians must become imitators of God.
To hear an audio recording of the session click the YouTube link at the end of the notes.
Today we are going to complete what we started last week when we talked about the things that Christians must leave behind when they place their trust in Jesus Christ and become a part of His Body. We must remember that we are now seated in heavenly places with Christ so we can’t take some things with us. Things like lying, unjust and unrighteous anger and fits of angry passion.
THINGS WHICH MUST BE ABANDONED
Ephesians 4:17-24 NLT With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
Paul has just been saying that when a man becomes a Christian, he must put off his old life as a man puts off a coat for which he has no further use. Here he speaks of the things which must be banished from the Christian life.
Ephesians 4:25-32 NLT So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
(i) There must be no more falsehood. Because we are all members of the same body. If then we are all bound into one body. that body can function properly only when we speak the truth.
(ii) There can be anger in the Christian life, but it must be the right kind of anger. The anger which is selfish and uncontrolled is a sinful and hurtful thing, which must be banished from the Christian life. But the selfless anger which is disciplined into the service of Christ and of our fellow men is one of the great dynamic forces of the world.
Christian must never let the sun set upon his wrath. Deal with it right away described by Jesus
Matthew 18:15-17 NLT “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
Because you don’t want to give the devil his opportunity." An unhealed breach is a magnificent opportunity for the devil to sow dissension. Many a time a Church has been torn into factions because two people quarreled and let the sun set upon their wrath.
Let's continue today
Ephesians 4:28-30 NLT If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
(iii) The man who was a thief must become an honest workman. This was necessary advice, for in the ancient world thieving was rampant. It was very common in two places, at the docks and above all in the public baths. The public baths were the clubs of the time; and stealing the belongings of the bathers was one of the commonest crimes in any Greek city.
The interesting thing about this saying is the reason Paul gives for being an honest workman. He does not say: "Become an honest workman so that you may support yourself." He says: "Become an honest workman so that you may have something to give away to those who are poorer than yourself." Here is a new idea and a new ideal--that of working in order to give away.
(vi) Paul forbids all foul-mouthed speaking; and then goes on to put the same thing positively.
Ephesians 5:4 NLT Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.
The Christian should be characterized by words which help his fellow men.
(vii) Paul urges us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the guide of life. When we act contrary to the counsel of our parents when we are young, we hurt them. Similarly, to act contrary to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is to grieve the Spirit and to hurt the heart of God, the Father, who, through the Spirit, sent his word to us.
Paul ends this chapter with a list of more things which must go from the Christian’s life.
Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
(a) There is bitterness. The Greeks defined this word as long-standing resentment, as the spirit which refuses to be reconciled. So many of us have a way of nursing our wrath to keep it warm, of brooding over the insults and the injuries which we have received. Every Christian might well pray that God would teach him how to forget.
(b) There are outbreaks of passion, the kind of anger which is like the flame which comes from straw; it quickly blazes up and just as quickly subsides.
(c) There is loud talking and insulting language.
So Paul comes to the summing up of his advice. He tells us to be kind. The Greeks defined this quality as the disposition of mind which thinks as much of its neighbours affairs as it does of its own. He tells us to forgive others as God forgave us. So, in one sentence, Paul lays down the law of personal relationships--that we should treat others as Jesus Christ has treated us.
The two great commandments
Matthew 22:34-40 NLT But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Having described the need to walk in unity and in purity, he now wants them to imitate God and "walk in love 11 with Christ as their example. Such love requires that all forms of immorality and filthy speech not even be named among them. Since the wrath of God is to come upon the sons of disobedience, Christians must not be deceived by nor partake with those who engage in such evil deeds
Ephesians 5:1-9 NLT Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
Paul sets before his Christian people the highest standard in all the world; he tells them they must be imitators of God.
When Paul talked of imitation he was using language which the wise men of Greece could understand. Imitation was a main part in the training of an orator. The main part of their training was the study and the imitation of the masters who had gone before. It is as if Paul said: " Since you are training in life, you must imitate the Lord of all good life."
Above all the Christian must imitate the love and the forgiveness of God. Follow the example of Christ, whose sacrifice was sweet aroma to God.
What does that mean?
In the times of the Law and Sacrificial System when a sacrifice was offered on an altar, the odour of the sacrifice went up to heaven.
The phrase “a pleasing aroma to God” occurs almost fifty times in the Old Testament and Paul uses it for the sacrifice that Jesus brought to God.
Leviticus 1:7-9 NLT The sons of Aaron the priest will build a wood fire on the altar. They will arrange the pieces of the offering, including the head and fat, on the wood burning on the altar. But the internal organs and the legs must first be washed with water. Then the priest will burn the entire sacrifice on the altar as a burnt offering. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
Leviticus 1:17 NLT Then, grasping the bird by its wings, the priest will tear the bird open, but without tearing it apart. Then he will burn it as a burnt offering on the wood burning on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord .
Leviticus 2:9 NLT The priest will take a representative portion of the grain offering and burn it on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord .
The sacrifice of Jesus was well-pleasing to God.
What was that sacrifice? It was a life of perfect obedience to God and of perfect love to men, an obedience so absolute and a love so infinite that they accepted the Cross. The only way that you can imitate God is by loving men with the same sacrificial love with which Jesus loved them and forgiving them in love as God has done."
Paul goes on to another matter. It has been said that chastity was the one new virtue which Christianity introduced into the world. It is certainly true that the ancient world regarded sexual immorality so lightly that it was no sin at all. It was the expected thing that a man should have a mistress. The great temples were staffed by hundreds of priestesses who were sacred prostitutes and whose earnings went to the upkeep of the Temple.
When Paul stressed moral purity, he was erecting a standard which the ordinary heathen had never dreamed of. We must remember the kind of society from which these Christian converts had come and the kind of society with which they were encompassed. There is nothing in all history like the moral miracle which Christianity wrought.
We must note two other warnings which Paul gives.
(i) He says that these shameful sins are not even to be talked about.
(ii) He says that Christians must not allow themselves to be deceived with empty words.
What does he mean? There were voices in the ancient world, even in the Christian Church, which taught men to think lightly of bodily sin.
In the ancient world there was a line of thought called Gnosticism. Gnosticism began from the contention that spirit alone is good and that matter is always evil. If that be so, it follows that only spirit is to be valued and that matter must be utterly despised. Now a man is composed of two parts; he is body and spirit. According to this point of view only his spirit matters; his body is of no importance whatsoever. Therefore, some at least of the Gnostics went on to argue, it does not matter what a man does with his body. Bodily and sexual sin were of no importance because they were of the body and not of the spirit.
Christianity met such teaching with the contention that body and soul are equally important. God is the creator of both, Jesus Christ for ever sanctified human flesh by taking it upon himself, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and Christianity is concerned with the salvation of the whole man, body, soul and spirit.
(iii) There were those in the Church who perverted the doctrine of grace.
Ephesians 5:6 NLT Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him.
Their argument ran like this. "Do you say that God's grace is the greatest thing in all the world?" "Yes." "Do you say that God's grace is wide enough to cover every sin?" "Yes." "Then let us go on sinning, for God's grace can wipe out every sin. In fact the more we sin the more chances God's grace will get to operate."
Paul talks about that in Romans too.
Romans 6:1-3, 15-18 NLT Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.
Grace is not only a privilege and a gift; it was a responsibility and an obligation. It was true that God's love could and would forgive; but the very fact that God loves us lays on us the obligation to deserve that love as best we can.
The gravest disservice any man can do to a fellow man is to make him think lightly of sin.