Well, so much for trying to get these posts out sooner…thanks for your patience, folks! I’m excited to get back into Ephesians 4 with you today. If you missed part one you can check it out here, or for more from this series, you can select “bible study” in the drop-down menu under “Browse Stories.”
Today we pick up in verse 17. In this second section of chapter 4, Paul gives the Ephesians some practical ideas for walking in the Christian life, tangible ways the church can be living out unity and maturity with one another, building each other up. He does this by juxtaposing the old life, which we are to put away, with our new life as believers in Christ.
Put Away The Old Life
There’s a few things Paul uses to identify what our “old self” looked like before we began to walk with Jesus and encourages us to put this old way behind us. According to him, the non-believer has “futility in thinking” (v.17) and is “darkened in understanding” (v.18). This kind of “ignorance” has nothing to do with intelligence, or enlightenment as it would have been called back then (ESV Study Bible, 2269). But combined with their “hardness of heart” (v. 18; in other words, a blindness to God’s glory and a lack of knowledge of His love and who He is), all intelligence and education is futile in the end.
These descriptors, such as “impure”, “callous”, and “greedy”, apply to the believer’s old self, which we cast off when we enter into our new life with Christ. We talked about this moving from death to life in chapter 2. A new life requires a death to an old life. There’s a stopping and a starting that comes with this new life, things lost and better things gained. It’s turning away from something and towards another…this is called repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Walk In The New Life
Up to now, we have seen the blessings that all believers enjoy when they enter into new life in Christ. Now we begin to see how this new life benefits us in a communal way, not just as individuals. Paul identifies what this new life, walking with Jesus by the power of the Spirit, looks like in community. He calls it a renewing of the mind, a putting on of the new self created in the likeness of God (v.23-24). This requires an intentional repentance from our old ways.
This repentance is illustrated in verse 28: someone who was formerly a thief, if he now has new life and new identity, has to leave behind his old lifestyle and begin a new one, working with his hands and earning so that he’s able to share and bless others. There’s a loss and a gain in this change of heart.
So the believer, then, having their hearts and minds renewed by the Holy Spirit, will display this renewal in community by turning away from old-life things and toward new-life things in a number of ways: Speaking the truth in love, rather than speaking lies (v.25); not being consumed by anger and letting the devil gain opportunity (v.26); speaking in a way that builds one another up instead of tearing down and corrupting (v.29); replacing bitterness, rage, slander and malice with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (v. 31-32). These are ways Christians build one another up in community as they walk with Jesus individually, turning away from selfish desire to allow the Gospel and the fruits of the Spirit to characterize their lives.
You may have noticed Paul says that, as believers, we are not to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (v.30). I know the first time I read that I didn’t know what to make of it…what would I have to “grieve” over because of the Holy Spirit? Upon some research, I learned I was reading it completely wrong. Paul’s saying to not cause the Holy Spirit sorrow by being consumed by sin (ESV Study Bible, 2269). The grieving is in the person of the Spirit when I walk out of step with Him. In other words, it actually causes God sorrow when we sin…the God who dwells within us, sealing us for redemption.
No wonder we feel so convicted when we do something we know isn’t glorifying to Him. It’s the Holy Spirit grieving within us.
Finally, we get some timely advice in verses 31-32. But notice, Paul doesn’t say “be kind and compassionate because people deserve it” or because “that’s what good people do.” No…our kindness and compassion is born out of first being shown the ultimate kindness and compassion in Jesus. Recall in Ephesians 2 that we are shown the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in His “kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). I John 4:19 says “We love because He first loved us”. If we are living in the light of the Gospel, we will love our neighbor, because we have now been characterized by the one who paid the price to equip us to build one another up in this way. All this is to the glory of Him who made us, just a hint of what is to come in eternity.
Imagine if we really lived that way. What would our churches look like? How would our churches improve their relationship to the cities around them? How would you yourself treat people differently in your community if you lived like this was true of your life and character?
Questions for Reflection
- What are some of the pieces of “the old life” that try to creep back into your new life? What do you find hard to turn away from?
- What pieces of “the new life” do you find difficult to intentionally pursue? What are the “old life” things that get in the way of that?
- Think of an example of something you’ve had to die to or let go of as you’ve turned towards a life with God. How did that change you as a person? Where does the power come from for that kind of repentance?
- Take some time in the next week to read through 1 John. See what connections you can make to Paul’s message so far in Ephesians. Does anything stand out to you or help you understand these themes better?
For God’s glory,
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