Chrysostom’s Homily on Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2

“And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you. Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.”

The events which are past have greater force than those which are yet to come, and appear to be both more wonderful and more convincing. And hence accordingly Paul founds his exhortation upon the things which have already been done for us, inasmuch as they, on Christ’s account, have a greater force. For to say, “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Matt. vi. 14.), and “if ye forgive not, ye shall in nowise be forgiven” (Matt. vi. 15.),—this addressed to men of understanding, and men who believe in the things to come, is of great weight; but Paul appeals to the conscience not by these arguments only, but also by things already done for us. In the former way we may escape punishment, whereas in this latter we may have our share of some positive good. Thou imitatest Christ. This alone is enough to recommend virtue, that it is “to imitate God.” This is a higher principle than the other, “for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matt. v. 45.) Because he does not merely say that we are “imitating God,” but that we do so in those things wherein we receive ourselves such benefits. He would have us cherish the tender heart of fathers towards each other. For by heart, here, is meant lovingkindness and compassion. For inasmuch as it cannot be that, being men, we shall avoid either giving pain or suffering it, he does the next thing, he devises a remedy,—that we should forgive one another. And yet there is no comparison. For if thou indeed shouldest at this moment forgive any one, he will forgive thee again in return; whereas to God thou hast neither given nor forgiven anything. And thou indeed art forgiving a fellow-servant; whereas God is forgiving a servant, and an enemy, and one that hates Him.

“Even as God,” saith he, “also in Christ forgave you.”

And this, moreover, contains a high allusion. Not simply, he would say, hath He forgiven us, and at no risk or cost, but at the sacrifice of His Son; for that He might forgive thee, He sacrificed the Son; whereas thou, oftentimes, even when thou seest pardon to be both without risk and without cost, yet dost not grant it.

“Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us an offering and sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.”

That thou mayest not then think it an act of necessity, hear how He saith, that “He gave Himself up.” As thy Master loved thee, love thou thy friend. Nay, but neither wilt thou be able so to love; yet still do so as far as thou art able. Oh, what can be more blessed than a sound like this! Tell me of royalty or whatever else thou wilt, there is no comparison. Forgive another, and thou art “imitating God,” thou art made like unto God. It is more our duty to forgive trespasses than debts of money; for if thou forgive debts, thou hast not “imitated God”; whereas if thou shalt forgive trespasses, thou art “imitating God.” And yet how shalt thou be able to say, “I am poor, and am not able to forgive it,” that is, a debt, when thou forgivest not that which thou art able to forgive, that is, a trespass? And surely thou dost not deem that in this case there is any loss. Yea, is it not rather wealth, is it not abundance, is it not a plentiful store?

And behold yet another and a nobler incitement: —“as beloved children,” saith he. Ye have yet another cogent reason to imitate Him, not only in that ye have received such good at His hands, but also in that ye are called His children. And since not all children imitate their fathers, but those which are beloved, therefore he saith, “as beloved children.”

Ver. 2. “Walk in love.”

Behold, here, the groundwork of all! So then where this is, there is no “wrath, no anger, no clamor, no railing,” but all are done away. Accordingly he puts the chief point last. Whence wast thou made a child? Because thou wast forgiven. On the same ground on which thou hast had so vast a privilege vouch-safed thee, on that selfsame ground forgive thy neighbor. Tell me, I say, if thou wert in prison, and hadst ten thousand misdeeds to answer for, and some one were to bring thee into the palace; or rather to pass over this argument, suppose thou wert in a fever and in the agonies of death, and some one were to benefit thee by some medicine, wouldest thou not value him more than all, yea and the very name of the medicine? For if we thus regard occasions and places by which we are benefited, even as our own souls, much more shall we the things themselves. Be a lover then of love; for by this art thou saved, by this hast thou been made a son. And if thou shalt have it in thy power to save another, wilt thou not use the same remedy, and give the advice to all, “Forgive, that ye may be forgiven”? Thus to incite one another, were the part of grateful, of generous, and noble spirits.

“Even as Christ also,” he adds, “loved you.”

Thou art only sparing friends, He enemies. So then far greater is that boon which cometh from our Master. For how in our case is the “even as” preserved. Surely it is clear that it will be, by our doing good to our enemies.

“And gave Himself up for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.”

Seest thou that to suffer for one’s enemies is “a sweet-smelling savor,” and an “acceptable sacrifice”? And if thou shalt die, then wilt thou be indeed a sacrifice. This it is to “imitate God.”

Ver. 3. “But fornication, and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints.”

He has spoken of the bitter passion, of wrath; he now comes to the lesser evil: for that lust is the lesser evil, hear how Moses also in the law says, first, “Thou shalt do no murder” (Ex. xx. 13.), which is the work of wrath, and then, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. xx. 14.), which is of lust. For as “bitterness,” and “clamor,” and “all malice,” and “railing,” and the like, are the works of the passionate man, so likewise are “fornication, uncleanness, covetousness,” those of the lustful; since avarice and sensuality spring from the same passion. But just as in the former case he took away “clamor” as being the vehicle of “anger,” so now does he “filthy talking” and “jesting” as being the vehicle of lust; for he proceeds,

Ver. 4. “Nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting; but rather giving of thanks.”

Have no witticisms, no obscenities, either in word or in deed, and thou wilt quench the flame—“let them not even be named,” saith he, “among you,” that is, let them not anywhere even make their appearance. This he says also in writing to the Corinthians. “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you” (1 Cor. v. 1.); as much as to say, Be ye all pure. For words are the way to acts. Then, that he may not appear a forbidding kind of person and austere, and a destroyer of playfulness, he goes on to add the reason, by saying, “which are not befitting,” which have nothing to do with us—“but rather giving of thanks.” What good is there in uttering a witticism? thou only raisest a laugh. Tell me, will the shoemaker ever busy himself about anything which does not belong to or befit his trade? or will he purchase any tool of that kind? No, never. Because the things we do not need, are nothing to us.

Moral. Let there not be one idle word; for from idle words we fall also into foul words. The present is no season of loose merriment, but of mourning, of tribulation, and lamentation: and dost thou play the jester? What wrestler on entering the ring neglects the struggle with his adversary, and utters witticisms? The devil stands hard at hand, “he is going about roaring” (1 Pet. v. 8.) to catch thee, he is moving everything, and turning everything against thy life, and is scheming to force thee from thy retreat, he is grinding his teeth and bellowing, he is breathing fire against thy salvation; and dost thou sit uttering witticisms, and “talking folly,” and uttering things “which are not befitting.” Full nobly then wilt thou be able to overcome him! We are in sport, beloved. Wouldest thou know the life of the saints? Listen to what Paul saith. “By the space of three years I ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears.” (Acts xx. 31.) And if so great was the zeal he exerted in behalf of them of Miletus and Ephesus, not making pleasant speeches, but introducing his admonition with tears, what should one say of the rest? But hearken again to what he says to the Corinthians. “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears.” (2 Cor. ii. 4.) And again, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” “Who is made to stumble, and I burn not?” (2 Cor. xi. 29.) And hearken again to what he says elsewhere, desiring every day, as one might say, to depart out of the world. “For indeed we that are in this tabernacle do groan” (2 Cor. v. 4.); and dost thou laugh and play? It is war-time, and art thou handling the dancers’ instruments? Look at the countenances of men in battle, their dark and contracted mien, their brow terrible and full of awe. Mark the stern eye, the heart eager and beating and throbbing, their spirit collected, and trembling and intensely anxious. All is good order, all is good discipline, all is silence in the camps of those who are arrayed against each other. They speak not, I do not say, an impertinent word, but they utter not a single sound. Now if they who have visible enemies, and who are in nowise injured by words, yet observe so great silence, dost thou who hast thy warfare, and the chief of thy warfare in words, dost thou leave this part naked and exposed? Or art thou ignorant that it is here that we are most beset with snares? Art thou amusing and enjoying thyself, and uttering witticisms and raising a laugh, and regarding the matter as a mere nothing? How many perjuries, how many injuries, how many filthy speeches have arisen from witticisms! “But no,” ye will say, “pleasantries are not like this.” Yet hear how he excludes all kinds of jesting. It is a time now of war and fighting, of watch and guard, of arming and arraying ourselves. The time of laughter can have no place here; for that is of the world. Hear what Christ saith: “The world shall rejoice, but ye shall be sorrowful.” (John xvi. 20.) Christ was crucified for thy ills, and dost thou laugh? He was buffeted, and endured so great sufferings because of thy calamity, and the tempest that had overtaken thee; and dost thou play the reveler? And how wilt thou not then rather provoke Him?

But since the matter appears to some to be one of indifference, which moreover is difficult to be guarded against, let us discuss this point a little, to show you how vast an evil it is. For indeed this is a work of the devil, to make us disregard things indifferent. First of all then, even if it were indifferent, not even in that case were it right to disregard it, when one knows that the greatest evils are both produced and increased by it, and that it oftentimes terminates in fornication. However, that it is not even indifferent is evident from hence. Let us see then whence it is produced. Or rather, let us see what sort of a person a saint ought to be:—gentle, meek, sorrowful, mournful, contrite. The man then who deals in jests is no saint. Nay, were he even a Greek, such an one would be scorned. These are things allowed to those only who are on the stage. Where filthiness is, there also is jesting; where unseasonable laughter is, there also is jesting. Hearken to what the Prophet saith, “Serve the Lord in fear, and rejoice with trembling.” (Ps. ii. 11.) Jesting renders the soul soft and indolent. It excites the soul unduly, and often it teems with acts of violence, and creates wars. But what more? In fine, hast thou not come to be among men? then “put away childish things.” (1 Cor. xiii. 11.) Why, thou wilt not allow thine own servant in the market place to speak an impertinent word: and dost thou then, who sayest thou art a servant of God, go uttering thy witticisms in the public square? It is well if the soul that is “sober” be not stolen away; but one that is relaxed and dissolute, who cannot carry off? It will be its own murderer, and will stand in no need of the crafts or assaults of the devil.

But, moreover, in order to understand this, look too at the very name. It means the versatile man, the man of all complexions, the unstable, the pliable, the man that can be anything and everything. But far is this from those who are servants to the Rock. Such a character quickly turns and changes; for he must needs mimic both gesture and speech, and laugh and gait, and everything, aye, and such an one is obliged to invent jokes: for he needs this also. But far be this from a Christian, to play the buffoon. Farther, the man who plays the jester must of necessity incur the signal hatred of the objects of his random ridicule, whether they be present, or being absent hear of it.

If the thing is creditable, why is it left to mountebanks? What, dost thou make thyself a mountebank, and yet art not ashamed? Why is it ye permit not your gentlewomen to do so? Is it not that ye set it down as a mark of an immodest, and not of a discreet character? Great are the evils that dwell in a soul given to jesting; great is the ruin and desolation. Its consistency is broken, the building is decayed, fear is banished, reverence is gone. A tongue thou hast, not that thou mayest ridicule another man, but that thou mayest give thanks unto God. Look at your merriment-makers, as they are called, those buffoons. These are your jesters. Banish from your souls, I entreat you, this graceless accomplishment. It is the business of parasites, of mountebanks, of dancers, of harlots; far be it from a generous, far be it from a highborn soul, aye, far too even from slaves. If there be any one who has lost respect, if there be any vile person, that man is also a jester. To many indeed the thing appears to be even a virtue, and this truly calls for our sorrow. Just as lust by little and little drives headlong into fornication, so also does a turn for jesting. It seems to have a grace about it, yet there is nothing more graceless than this. For hear the Scripture which says, “Before the thunder goeth lightning, and before a shamefaced man shall go favor.” Now there is nothing more shameless than the jester; so that his mouth is not full of favor, but of pain. Let us banish this custom from our tables. Yet are there some who teach it even to the poor! O monstrous! they make men in affliction play the jester. Why, where shall not this pest be found next? Already has it been brought into the Church itself. Already has it laid hold of the very Scriptures. Need I say anything to prove the enormity of the evil? I am ashamed indeed, but still nevertheless I will speak; for I am desirous to show to what a length the mischief has advanced, that I may not appear to be trifling, or to be discoursing to you on some trifling subject; that even thus I may be enabled to withdraw you from this delusion. And let no one think that I am fabricating, but I will tell you what I have really heard. A certain person happened to be in company with one of those who pride themselves highly on their knowledge (now I know I shall excite a smile, but still I will say it notwithstanding); and when the platter was set before him, he said, “Take and eat, children, lest your belly be angry!” And again, others say, “Woe unto thee, Mammon, and to him that hath thee not;” and many like enormities has jesting introduced; as when they say, “Now is there no nativity.” And this I say to show the enormity of this base temper; for these are the expressions of a soul destitute of all reverence. And are not these things enough to call down thunderbolts? And one might find many other such things which have been said by these men.

Wherefore, I entreat you, let us banish the custom universally, and speak those things which become us. Let not holy mouths utter the words of dishonorable and base men. “For what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity, or what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. vi. 14.) Happy will it be for us, if, having kept ourselves aloof from all such foul things, we be thus able to attain to the promised blessings; far indeed from dragging such a train after us, and sullying the purity of our minds by so many. For the man who will play the jester will soon go on to be a railer, and the railer will go on to heap ten thousand other mischiefs on himself. When then we shall have disciplined these two faculties of the soul, anger and desire (vid. Plat. Phædr. cc. 25, 34), and have put them like well-broken horses under the yoke of reason, then let us set over them the mind as charioteer, that we may “gain the prize of our high calling” (Philip. iii. 14.); which God grant that we may all attain, through Jesus Christ our Lord, with Whom, together with the Holy Ghost, be unto the Father, glory, might, and honor, now, and ever, and throughout all ages. Amen.

Chrystostom’s Homily on Ephesians 4:31-32

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.”

If we are to attain to the kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough to abandon wickedness, but there must be abundant practice of that which is good also. To be delivered indeed from hell we must abstain from wickedness; but to attain to the kingdom we must cleave fast to virtue. Know ye not that even in the tribunals of the heathen, when examination is made of men’s deeds, and the whole city is assembled, this is the case? Nay, there was an ancient custom amongst the heathen, to crown with a golden crown, —not the man who had done no evil to his country, for this were in itself no more than enough to save him from punishment;—but him who had displayed great public services. It was thus that a man was to be advanced to this distinction. But what I had especial need to say, had, I know not how, well nigh escaped me. Accordingly having made some slight correction of what I have said, I retract the first portion of this division.

For as I was saying that the departure from evil is sufficient to prevent our falling into hell, whilst I was speaking, there stole upon me a certain awful sentence, which does not merely bring down vengeance on them that dare to commit evil, but which also punishes those who omit any opportunity of doing good. What sentence then is this? When the day, the dreadful day, He saith, was arrived, and the set time was come, the Judge, seated on the judgment seat, set the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left; and to the sheep He said, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat.” (Matt. xxv. 34.) So far, well. For it was meet that for such compassion they should receive this reward. That those, however, who did not communicate of their own possessions to them that were in need, that they should be punished, not merely by the loss of blessings, but by being also sent to hell-fire, what just reason, I say, can there be in this? Most certainly this too will have a fair show of reason, no less than the other case: for we are hence instructed, that they that have done good shall enjoy those good things that are in heaven, but they, who, though they have no evil indeed to be charged with, yet have omitted to do good, will be hurried away with them that have done evil into hell-fire. Unless one might indeed say this, that the very not doing good is a part of wickedness, inasmuch as it comes of indolence, and indolence is a part of vice, or rather, not a part, but a source and baneful root of it. For idleness is the teacher of all vice. Let us not then foolishly ask such questions as these, what place shall he occupy, who has done neither any evil nor any good? For the very not doing good, is in itself doing evil. Tell me, if thou hadst a servant, who should neither steal, nor insult, nor contradict thee, who moreover should keep from drunkenness and every other kind of vice, and yet should sit perpetually in idleness, and not doing one of those duties which a servant owes to his master, wouldest thou not chastise him, wouldest thou not put him to the rack? Tell me. And yet forsooth he has done no evil. No, but this is in itself doing evil. But let us, if you please, apply this to other cases in life. Suppose then that of an husbandman. He does no damage to our property, he lays no plots against us, and he is not a thief, he only ties his hands behind him, and sits at home, neither sowing, nor cutting a single furrow, nor harnessing oxen to the yoke, nor looking after a vine, nor in fact discharging any one of those other labors required in husbandry. Now, I say, should we not punish such a man? And yet he has done no wrong to any one; we have no charge to make against him. No, but by this very thing has he done wrong. He does wrong in that he does not contribute his own share to the common stock of good. And what again, tell me, if every single artisan or mechanic were only to do no harm, say to one of a different craft,—nay, were to do no harm, even to one of his own, but only were to be idle, would not our whole life at that rate be utterly at an end and perish? Do you wish that I yet further extend the discourse with reference to the body also? Let the hand then neither strike the head, nor cut out the tongue, nor pluck out the eye, nor do any evil of this sort, but only remain idle, and not render its due service to the body at large; would it not be more fitting that it should be cut off, than that one should carry it about in idleness, and a detriment to the whole body? And what too, if the mouth, without either devouring the hand, or biting the breast, should nevertheless fail in all its proper duties; were it not far better that it should be stopped up? If therefore both in the case of servants, and of mechanics, and of the whole body, not only the commission of evil, but also the omission of what is good, is great unrighteousness, much more will this be the case in regard to the body of Christ.

Moral. And therefore the blessed Paul also, in leading us away from sin, leads us on to virtue. For where, tell me, is the advantage of all the thorns being cut out, if the good seeds be not sown? For our labor, remaining unfinished, will come round and end in the same mischief. And therefore Paul also, in his deep and affectionate anxiety for us, does not let his admonitions stop at eradicating and destroying evil tempers, but urges us at once to evidence the implanting of good ones. For having said, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and clamor, and railing be put away from you, with all malice,” he adds, “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other.” For all these are habits and dispositions. And our abandonment of the one thing is not sufficient to settle us in the habitual practice of the other, but there is need again of some fresh impulse, and of an effort not less than that made in our avoidance of evil dispositions, in order to our acquiring good ones. For so in the case of the body, the black man, if he gets rid of this complexion, does not straightway become white. Or rather let us not conduct our discourse with an argument from physical subjects, but draw our example from those which concern moral choice. He who is not our enemy, is not necessarily our friend; but there is an intermediate state, neither of enmity nor of friendship, which is perhaps that in which the greater part of mankind stand toward us. He that is not crying is not therefore necessarily also laughing, but there is a state between the two. And so, I say, is the case here. He that is not “bitter” is not necessarily “kind,” neither is he that is not “wrathful” necessarily “tender-hearted”; but there is need of a distinct effort, in order to acquire this excellence. And now look how the blessed Paul, according to the rules of the best husbandry, thoroughly cleans and works the land entrusted to him by the Husbandman. He has taken away the bad seeds; he now exhorts us to retain the good plants. “Be ye kind,” saith he, for if, when the thorns are plucked up, the field remains idle, it will again bear unprofitable weeds. And therefore there is need to preoccupy its unoccupied and fallow state by the setting of good seeds and plants. He takes away “anger,” he puts in “kindness”; he takes away “bitterness,” he puts in “tender-heartedness”; he extirpates “malice” and “railing,” he plants “forgiveness” in their stead. For the expression, “forgiving one another,” is this; be disposed, he means, to forgive one another. And this forgiveness is greater than that which is shown in money-matters. For he indeed who forgives a debt of money to him that has borrowed of him, does, it is true, a noble and admirable deed, but then the kindness is confined to the body, though to himself indeed he repays a full recompense by that benefit which is spiritual and concerns the soul; whereas he who forgives trespasses will be benefiting alike his own soul, and the soul of him who receives the forgiveness. For by this way of acting, he not only renders himself, but the other also, more charitable. Because we do not so deeply touch the souls of those who have wronged us by revenging ourselves, as by pardoning them, and thus shaming them and putting them out of countenance. For by the other course we shall be doing no good, either to ourselves or to them, but shall be doing harm to both by seeking ourselves for retaliation, like the rulers of the Jews, and by kindling up the wrath that is in them; but if we return injustice with gentleness, we shall disarm all his anger, and shall be setting up in his breast a tribunal which will give a verdict in our favor, and will condemn him more severely than we ourselves could. For he will convict and will pass sentence upon himself, and will look for every pretext for repaying the share of long-suffering granted him with fuller measure, knowing that, if he repay it in equal measure, he is thus at a disadvantage, in not having himself made the beginning, but received the example from us. He will strive accordingly to exceed in measure, in order to eclipse, by the excess of his recompense, the disadvantage he himself sustains in having been second in making advances towards requital; and the disadvantage again which accrues to the other from the time, if he was the first sufferer, this he will make up by excess of kindness. For men, if they are right-minded, are not so affected by evil as by the good treatment they may receive at the hands of those whom they have injured. For it is a base sin, and it is matter of reproach and scorn for a man who is well-treated not to return it; whilst for a man who is ill-treated, not to go about to resent it, this has the praise and applause, and the good word of all. And therefore they are more deeply touched by this conduct than any.

So that if thou hast a wish to revenge thyself, revenge thyself in this manner. Return good for evil, that thou mayest render him even thy debtor, and achieve a glorious victory. Hast thou suffered evil? Do good; thus avenge thee of thine enemy. For if thou shalt go about to resent it, all will blame both thee and him alike. Whereas if thou shalt endure it, it will be otherwise. Thee they will applaud and admire; but him they will reproach. And what greater punishment can there be to an enemy, than to behold his enemy admired and applauded by all men? What more bitter to an enemy, than to behold himself reproached by all before his enemy’s face? If thou shalt avenge thee on him, thou wilt both be condemned perhaps thyself, and wilt be the sole avenger; whereas, if thou shalt forgive him, all will be avengers in thy stead. And this will be far more severe than any evil he can suffer, that his enemy should have so many to avenge him. If thou openest thy mouth, they will be silent; but if thou art silent, not with one tongue only, but with ten thousand tongues of others, thou smitest him, and art the more avenged. And on thee indeed, if thou shalt reproach him, many again will cast imputations (for they will say that thy words are those of passion); but when others who have suffered no wrong from him thus overwhelm him with reproaches, then is the revenge especially clear of all suspicion. For when they who have suffered no mischief, in consequence of thy excessive forbearance feel and sympathize with thee, as though they had been wronged themselves, this is a vengeance clear of all suspicion. “But what then,” ye will say, “if no man should take vengeance?” It cannot be that men will be such stones, as to behold such wisdom and not admire it. And though they wreak not their vengeance on him at the time; still, afterwards, when they are in the mood, they will do so, and they will continue to scoff at him and abuse him. And if no one else admire thee, the man himself will most surely admire thee, though he may not own it. For our judgment of what is right, even though we be come to the very depth of wickedness, remains impartial and unbiased. Why, suppose ye, did our Lord Christ say, “Whosoever smiteth thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”? (Matt. v. 39.) Is it not because the more long-suffering a man is, the more signal the benefit he confers both on himself and on the other? For this cause He charges us to “turn the other also,” to satisfy the desire of the enraged. For who is such a monster as not to be at once put to shame? The very dogs are said to feel it; for if they bark and attack a man, and he throws himself on his back and does nothing, he puts a stop to all their wrath. If they then reverence the man who is ready to suffer evil from them, much more will the race of man do so, inasmuch as they are more rational.

However, it is right not to overlook what a little before came into my recollection, and was brought forward for a testimony. And what then was this? We were speaking of the Jews, and of the chief rulers amongst them, how that they were blamed, as seeking retaliation. And yet this the law permitted them; “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” (Lev. xxiv. 20.) True, but not to the intent that men should pluck out each other’s eyes, but that they should check boldness in aggression, by fear of suffering in return, and thus should neither do any evil to others, nor suffer any evil from others themselves. Therefore it was said, “eye for eye,” to bind the hands of the aggressor, not to let thine loose against him; not to ward off the hurt from thine eyes only, but also to preserve his eyes safe and sound.

But, as to what I was enquiring about,—why, if retaliation was allowed, were they arraigned who practiced it? Whatever can this mean? He here speaks of vindictiveness; for on the spur of the moment he allows the sufferer to act, as I was saying, in order to check the aggressor; but to bear a grudge he permits no longer; because the act then is no longer one of passion, nor of boiling rage, but of malice premeditated. Now God forgives those who may be carried away, perhaps upon a sense of outrage, and rush out to resent it. Hence He says, “eye for eye”; and yet again, “the ways of the revengeful lead to death.” Now, if, where it was permitted to put out eye for eye, so great a punishment is reserved for the revengeful, how much more for those who are bidden even to expose themselves to ill-treatment. Let us not then be revengeful, but let us quench our anger, that we may be counted worthy of the lovingkindness, which comes from God (“for with what measure,” saith Christ, “ye mete, it shall be measured unto you, and with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged”) (Matt. vii. 2.), and that we may both escape the snares of this present life, and in the day that is at hand, may obtain pardon at His hands, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom, to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, both now and forever and ever. Amen.

The Depth of Christ’s Love: Its Cost

by John Piper – Listen

Ephesians 4:32-5:2

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Review

If love for one another is going to flourish and grow in our church, we must be rooted more deeply in love. That was the point of last week’s message. In other words becoming a loving person means living with the roots of your life sunk deep in the love of Christ for you. Being loved by Christ is the ground of becoming loving. And the root that you send into that ground is the faith that you are loved.

There’s a phrase in 1 John 4:16 that describes this root:

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.

We have come to know, and have believed the love which God has for us. The love that God has for us is the ground of our becoming loving people. And the root that we send down into that ground, to be nourished by it, is faith—”we have believed the love that God has for us.” Believing the depth of God’s love for me is the key to my growing into a loving person.

And the key to believing the love that God has for us is seeing it revealed in the word of Scripture. A few people were allowed to see Jesus in the flesh and touch him and watch him teach and heal and suffer and die and rise. We might feel jealous that our faith in the love of Christ can’t be based on that kind of first hand sight and touch. But that was not God’s plan. When Jesus prayed for his disciples in John 17:20, he said, “[Father], I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.” It was the plan of God that we come to faith, not by seeing the love of Christ in the flesh, but by seeing the love of Christ in the word of those who knew him.

Focusing on the Depth of Christ’s Love for Us

Because of all that, here’s the plan for the next four weeks. I hope this will help you prepare yourself in prayer and meditation for what’s coming. And I hope it will help you know when God is moving you to invite others to attend with you. My aim in this series is that our love for one another and for those outside would grow and deepen. But this will happen only as we are rooted—that is, as we believe—more and more deeply in the love of Christ for us. And that belief comes by seeing the depth of Christ’s love for us revealed in his Word. So for four weeks climaxing on Easter Sunday I want to direct our attention to the depth of Christ’s love for us.

As I have pondered the love of Christ for us, and the different ways that the Bible presents it to us, I have seen four ways that the depth of Christ’s love is revealed. We will spend a week on each of these.

  1. First, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by what it costs him: if he sacrifices his life for us, it assures us of deeper love than if he only sacrifices a few bruises. So we will see the depth of Christ’s love by the greatness of what it cost him.
  2. Second, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by how little we deserve it. If we have treated him well all our life, and have done all that he expects of us, then when he loves us, it will not prove as much love as it would if he loved us when we had offended him, and shunned him, and disdained him. The more undeserving we are, the more amazing and deep is his love for us. So we will see the depth of Christ’s love in relation to how undeserving are the objects of his love (Romans 5:5–8).
  3. Third, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by the greatness of the benefits we receive in being loved. If we are helped to pass an exam, we will feel loved in one way. If we are helped to get a job, we will feel loved another way. If we are helped to escape from an oppressive captivity and given freedom for the rest of our life, we will feel loved another way. And if we are rescued from eternal torment and given a place in the presence of God with fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore, we will know a depth of love that surpasses all others (1 John 3:1–3). So we will see the depth of Christ’s love by the greatness of the benefits we receive in being loved by him.
  4. Fourth, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by the freedom with which they love us. If a person does good things for us because someone is making him, when he doesn’t really want to, then we don’t think the love is very deep. Love is deep in proportion to its liberty. So if an insurance company pays you $40,000 because you lose your spouse, you don’t usually marvel at how much this company loves you. There were legal constraints. But if your Sunday School class makes all your meals for a month after your spouse dies, and someone calls you every day, and visits you every week, then you call it love, because they don’t have to do this. It is free and willing. So we will see the depth of Christ’s love for us in his freedom: “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).

That’s what I see in the New Testament. There are specific texts that stress each of those four ways of seeing the depth of Christ’s love for us. We’ll take one a week. And if you pray earnestly, and the Fasting Forty seek the Lord, then perhaps God will answer the prayer of Ephesians 3:17–18, that we would be rooted and grounded in Christ’s love and have power to comprehend the height and depth and length and breadth of his love—and so become like him in his love.

The Depth of Christ’s Love Revealed in Its Costliness

Today I want us to see the depth of Christ’s love revealed in its costliness. Let’s look at Ephesians 5:1–2,

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Be sure to see four plain and wonderful things here.

  1. First, be sure you see that Paul is showing us the depth of Christ’s love for you. Verse 2: “Christ loved you, and gave himself.” The giving of himself is the demonstration of his love.
  2. Second, notice that the cost of his love was himself—his life. It was not just money or time or energy or inconvenience or even suffering; it was the full extent of sacrifice. He gave himself.
  3. Third, notice that this love and this self-giving was for you. “Christ loved you, and gave himself. Paul is talking about believers (Ephesians 2:8). He gave himself for you.
  4. Finally, notice that God the Father was pleased with this act of self-sacrificing love. Verse 2: “Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” When God bowed down over the love that his Son poured out for us on the cross, it was a fragrant aroma to him. God loves the Son’s love of us.

An Illustration of Costly Love

Sometimes we are so familiar with spectacular it doesn’t move us as it should. We have to look at something lesser, be amazed, and then look back to really feel the wonder of the original. Chuck Colson told the story of a group of American prisoners of war during the Second World War, who were made to do hard labor in a prison camp. Each had a shovel and would dig all day, then come in and give an account of his tool in the evening. One evening 20 prisoners were lined up by the guard and the shovels were counted. The guard counted nineteen shovels and turned in rage on the 20 prisoners demanding to know which one did not bring his shovel back. No one responded. The guard took out his gun and said that he would shoot five men if the guilty prisoner did not step forward. After a moment of tense silence, a 19-year-old soldier—the age of my Ben—stepped forward with his head bowed down. The guard grabbed him, took him to the side and shot him in the head, and turned to warn the others that they better be more careful than he was. When he left, the men counted the shovels and there were 20. The guard had miscounted. And the boy had given his life for his friends.

Can you imagine the emotions that must have filled their hearts as they knelt down over his body? In the five or ten seconds of silence, the boy had weighed his whole future in the balance—a future wife, an education, a new truck, children, a career, fishing with his dad—and he chose death so that others might live. Jesus said in John 15:13, “”Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” To love is to choose suffering for the sake of another.

An Infinitely More Costly Love

Jesus has loved you this way. Only, O so much more! Consider the life he laid down. One of the reasons that story hits us so hard is because the boy was 19 years old. If he had been 89 years old and the others 19, we might say it was a beautiful act of love, but with a full life behind him it would not feel like the same kind of sacrifice as when your whole life stretches in front of you. So consider the life that Jesus sacrificed for you.

1. Jesus Was Young

First of all, he was young too. He was about 33 years old. His ministry was three years old. He was cut off, as we say, before his prime.

2. He Was the Oldest Son of a Widowed Mother

Second, he was the oldest son of a widowed mother. One of the last acts of his life was to see that she be taken care of.

When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26–27)

The life he was giving up for you was young and, from a human standpoint, it was a life needed by his mother.

3. He Was Sinless and Perfect, the Most Worthy of Living

Third, he was the most kind and caring and wise and courageous man who ever lived. Peter testified, “He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Even his enemies knew they could find no fault in him (Matthew 22:16) “I find no guilt in him,” Pilate said (John 19:6). So the life he gave for us was no ordinary life of human value—which would be great enough. It was a sinless life. A life of perfectly balanced joy and sorrow, tenderness and toughness, justice and mercy, grief and anger, speech and silence, prayer and action. This life, of all the lives that have ever lived, was the most valuable life. The most worthy of living, the least worthy of dying. This is the life he gave for you—that you might live.

4. He Was the Son of God

Fourth, he was the Son of God. Which means he was God as well as man. United to his human nature was a divine nature, in the mysterious unity of one person. The dignity and worth of this life was not just relatively superior to other human lives. This life was of infinite value—not the way other humans are of value, but the way God is of infinite value, namely, as the basis of all human value. Humans have value to the degree that we reflect the image of God. But that means that if the image has so much value because of the original, how much more value must belong to the original? With this life Jesus went to the cross for you. This is how much it cost to cover our sins against the holiness of God. And he paid it willingly so we could live.

5. He Was Supremely Loved by His Father

Fifth, as the Son of God Jesus was supremely loved by his Father in heaven. “This is My loved Son,” the Father said, “with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5). Suppose that 19-year-old prisoner of war was the son of the President of the United States—and he knew that there were powers available to him to escape not only the death he died but also the prison camp—and suppose that you find out that his father, the President, not only had a massive love for the boy, but also approved of his dying for you, and wanted to meet those of you for whom he died, and give you some of the boy’s inheritance. Would not the worth of that life be so unspeakably precious as to make you feel absolutely overwhelmed with love?

Consider Also What the Sacrifice Involved

And consider now not only the life that Jesus sacrificed for us, but consider also what the sacrifice involved. To get to the point where he could die, Jesus had to plan for it. He left the glory of heaven and took on human nature so that he could hunger and get weary and in the end suffer and die. The incarnation was the preparation of nerve endings for the nails of the cross. Jesus needed a broad human back for a place to be scourged. He needed a brow and skull as a place for the thorns. He needed cheeks for Judas’ kiss and soldiers’ spit. He needed hands and feet for spikes. He needed a side as a place for the sword to pierce. And he needed a brain and a spinal cord, with no vinegar and no gall, so that he could feel the entire excruciating death—for you.

The 19-year-old boy was a wonderful picture of love. But compared to Jesus he was only a picture. His death was quick and relatively painless. Jesus’ death was one of the worst kinds of torture devised for human pain. So when Ephesians 5:2 says, “Christ loved you and gave himself up for us,” don’t breeze over the words: “gave himself up.” His love is great in proportion to the costliness of his sacrifice. And his sacrifice was horrendous.

How Personally Should We Take This Love?

We should ask in closing, how personally should we take this demonstration of love? Should you feel personally loved this way this morning and later on today and tomorrow morning? Or should it remain a kind of general, great, historic wonder that you look at from a distance with admiration—like the depths of the Grand Canyon? The answer is given by the testimony of the same writer, Paul, in Galatians 2:20b,

The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.

This is what the apostle and the Lord himself are calling you to this morning. To see the depths of the love of Christ for you. To believe the love that he has for you. And to send the roots of your life down, down, down into this bottomless love. And say with Paul,

The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me [me, personally], and gave himself for me.

__________

Used by permission: John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Forgive Just as God in Christ Also Has Forgiven You

by John Piper – Listen

Ephesians 4:32-5:2

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Last week I talked about what forgiveness is—what it looks like and what it’s not. I quoted Thomas Watson’s definition which included

  1. resisting revenge,
  2. not returning evil for evil,
  3. wishing them well,
  4. grieving at their calamities,
  5. praying for their welfare,
  6. seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you,
  7. and coming to their aid in distress.

How Do We Truly Forgive? Gospel-Flying

This week I’m asking, how can we do that? What gives us the freedom and the ability and the incentive and the power to forgive those who sin against us? Some of you have been wronged so deeply and hurt so badly that forgiving would be as great a miracle as flying.

But recall the little poem of John Bunyan:

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

Two wings, six feathers.

And that includes the “flying” of forgiveness. So I want God to show us our gospel wings this morning. Forgiving is a flying you can do in the power of the gospel. In fact six feathers are enough for this flight—three on one side and three on the other make two strong wings for gospel-flying—or gospel forgiving.

Two Wings, Six Feathers

I find all six feathers in these three verses (Ephesians 4:32–5:2),

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

There are two wings in this text for gospel-flying—just like a bird has two wings. Each wing has three feathers. All six feathers are things God the Father and God the Son have done for us without our help. They are all works of his sovereign grace. I am talking to Christian believers now. If you are not one yet, I hope you will listen and be drawn in. What I am describing here about gospel-flying (forgiving) is yours freely if you will lay down the weights of unbelief and trust Christ.

There are two wings. One wing with its three feathers is what Christ did for us before we even existed. And the other wing with its three feathers is what God did for us in our own lifetime. So if you are drawing the sermon today, you need to draw a bird with two big wings each having three feathers, and then write on each feather one of the things God has done so that we can fly with forgiveness to each other.

Wing #1: What God Did for Us Before We Existed

The first feather in this wing is this:

1. God Loved Us with a Special Saving Love

Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” And verse 2: “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you.”

The first feather in the wing of gospel-flying—gospel forgiving—is the unspeakable reality of being loved by God. But to feel the force of this, you need to know that this is not merely the general love that God has for all the world—the love that gives life and breath and food and rain and protection and family and job and many evidences of his truth and power and greatness. It is an amazing thing to be loved like that, and should cause us to turn to him in gratitude.

But if that is all you know of the love of God, your gospel wings will be weak. This text speaks of love like a Father has for a child and love that moves Christ to take our place in death. Now that is something more than the general love of God for the world. That is a saving love—a love that goes beyond the offer of the gospel and actually undertakes to save us effectively, infallibly. It does what needs to be done to get us forgiven and saved.

Here is the evidence for this: in Ephesians 1:4–5 Paul says that this love of God chose us for adoption as children of God.

[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 he predestined us to adoption as sons.

So God has loved you with a love that is precious beyond words because it is a love that he gave you before you were born and that moved him to predestine you to be a child of God in holiness.

So the first feather in the wing of gospel forgiving is the feather of God’s special saving love—call it covenant love. It is not mere general love. It is love that fixed personally, particularly on you as an individual and chose you and pursued you and brought you to himself, because he means to have you. If you get gripped by being loved like that, you might only need one feather to fly.

The second feather is

2. Christ Gave Himself for Us as a Sacrifice

Ephesians 5:2b, “[Christ] gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.”

According to Ephesians 2:3 we were all by nature children of wrath. We all deserve to perish and be punished in hell for the sins of our thoughts and imaginations and attitudes and tongues and hands and whole bodies. But the covenant love of God for us moved him not only to choose us but to give his Son as a sacrifice in our place: “Christ gave himself up for us”—that is, in our place, so that we don’t have to perish. “He became a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

To feel the full force of this and to make the feather really strong for flying, we need to realize again that this is not merely a general thing Christ did the same for everybody. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” In other words Christ’s giving himself up to die as a substitute for the church is part of a covenant love that he has for his bride.

In love he chose you to be his bride and in love he lays down his life for you. You, individually, particularly, were in view as the goal of his loving and his dying.

Chuck Colson told the story (at the 1994 Ligonier Conference in Dallas, Texas) of a prison camp where 20 men came in from digging and lined their shovels up on the wall as they always did for the counting. When they were counted, the officer found only 19. He demanded that the one who didn’t bring his shovel step forward. None did. Then he threatened that if no one stepped forward, he would choose ten men at random and shoot them. A young man of about 19 stepped forward and was immediately taken a few paces away and shot as an example to the others.

But then as they were dismissing, the shovels were counted again and there were 20 after all. The officer had miscounted.

The difference between what that boy did for his friends and what Jesus did for you is that Jesus knew which ten men he was dying for and he knew that we were all unworthy. But he did it anyway, because he had a very special covenant love for you that is far above human love.

The first feather is that you have been loved with a special saving love. And the second feather is that Christ gave himself as a sacrifice to take your place so that you will never perish.

The third feather for gospel-flying (forgiving) is

3. God Was Satisfied with Christ’s Sacrifice

Ephesians 5:2b, “[Christ] gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

When Paul calls the death of Jesus for us a “fragrant aroma” to God he means that God was satisfied with what Christ did. He did not look down and say, “You can’t do that. You can’t die for others. Every person has to bear their own guilt. Don’t be so foolish to think you can take the curse and condemnation of another.” On the contrary, the Father looked down and (with tears in his eyes, I think) took tremendous pleasure in the honor that the Son gave to the Father in obeying his commission—the Father had sent him (John 3:16).

So Christ did not die in vain. God received his offering. It satisfied the Father’s justice. It removed God’s wrath and judgment.

Be ye glad, O be ye glad!
Every debt that you ever had,
Has been paid up in full by the blood of the Lamb,
Be ye glad, be ye glad, be ye glad.

Words and Music by Michael Kelly Blanchard
1980 Paragon Music Corp.
(ASCAP)/Gotz Music (ASCAP) ICS. ARR. UBP.
Of The Benson Company, Inc., Nashville, TN.

God was satisfied with the blood of Christ. That’s the third feather in the first wing of gospel-flying and forgiveness.

That’s the wing of God’s work before you were born:

  1. God loved you with special saving love;
  2. Christ gave himself for you as a sacrifice; and
  3. God was satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice. Your debt is paid.

Wing #2: What God Did for Us During Our Lifetime

The other wing for gospel-flying has three feathers in it also.

1. God Put Us in a Saving Relationship with Christ

God put you into a saving relationship with Christ, so that you are united to Christ like a vine is united to the branch.

Ephesians 4:32b, “Forgive each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

We are “in Christ.” That means we are in a relationship with Christ—we are united to Christ—in a way that makes us acceptable to God because he is acceptable to God. How did we get into this relationship? 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “By [God's] doing you are in Christ Jesus.” God awakened faith in our hearts and put us into a saving relationship with Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10, 13; Romans 16:17).

If he hadn’t done that, all his other work (loving us, giving his Son to die for us, being satisfied with the Son’s sacrifice) would have been in vain. But he did it. He is doing it all. His love will not be frustrated in pursuing you for himself. His personal, individual, particular love is moving him all the way. Nothing will stop him from saving you.

So the first feather in wing #2 for gospel-flying is God’s putting you into a relationship with Christ like a vine in a branch.

2. God Adopted Us and Made Us Rightful Children

The second feather for gospel-forgiving is that God adopted you into his family and made you a rightful child of God.

Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

In other words realize that when God united you to Christ, you became with Christ a child of God. And heir. This is what God had been aiming at all along. Ephesians 1:5 says that “God predestined us unto adoption.”

Some parents have children accidentally. And if they are cruel and heartless parents, they might even tell their children they didn’t want them. But God has no unwanted children. They are all planned—from eternity, with great expectation and joy. They are all pursued. Christ’s death is like an unspeakably high payment through heaven’s Micah Fund.1

The second wing of gospel-flying in wing #2 is the truth that you are loved not just in some random, general, impersonal way, but as a child of God that he sought out and adopted at great cost.

3. God Forgave Us for Our Sins

Finally the third feather in wing #2 for gospel-flying (forgiving) is that God forgave you for your sins.

Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

Review

Before you were born (wing #1):

  1. God has loved you with a special, personal, saving love from all eternity.
  2. His Son gave his life for you to take the place of your judgment.
  3. God was satisfied by the substitute and sacrifice of the Son. The debt was paid.

Then after you were born (wing #2):

  1. God brought you to faith and put you in a saving relationship with Christ.
  2. God adopted you into his family as a child of his own.
  3. And God forgave all your sins and there is no condemnation.

These are the wings John Bunyan had in mind:

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

It bids us forgive—and give us gospel wings. If you believe in your heart that God has done all of this for you and in you, you will fly. You will forgive.

Closing Remarks from Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon tells how his heart was set on wing by the pardon of God:

My life was full of sorrow and wretchedness, believing that I was lost. But, oh, the blessed gospel of the God of grace came to me, and with it a sovereign word, “Deliver him!” And I who was but a minute before as wretched as a soul could be, could have danced for the very merriment of heart. And as the snow fell on my road home from the little house of prayer, I thought every snowflake talked with me and told of the pardon I had found, for I was white as the driven snow through the grace of God.2

But years later he added this:

To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it. But yet there is one thing sweeter still, and that is to forgive. As it is more blessed to give than to receive, so to forgive rises a stage higher in experience than to be forgiven.3

It rises higher because it is gospel-flying. Spread your wings with me in these days at Bethlehem and let’s fly together.


1 The Micah Fund is an adoption ministry at Bethlehem that helps covers the cost of adopting minority infants who might otherwise have been sacrificed in abortion.

2 Volume 15, p. 156, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.

3 Volume 31, pp. 287f., Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.

__________

Used by permission: John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Be Kind to One Another

by John Piper – Listen

Ephesians 4:31-5:2

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

This text is so rich that we could take almost any of its phrases and dwell on it for hours. But I have decided to gather our thoughts around the simple commandment in verse 32, “Be kind to one another.”

Five Aspects of Christian Kindness

As I have pondered these verses it seems to me that they tell us five things about Christian kindness:

  1. the extent of Christian kindness,
  2. the depth of Christian kindness,
  3. the pattern of Christian kindness,
  4. the instrument of Christian kindness, and
  5. the source of Christian kindness.

Let’s look at these one at a time. And as we do let’s pray that the Spirit of God would honor his Word by causing us to be changed by it.

1. The Extent of Christian Kindness

How much kindness should we show? This is addressed in verse 31. Christian kindness is so extensive that it replaces, “All bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander . . . with all malice.” The word “all” is used twice: at the beginning, “all bitterness,” and at the end, “all malice.” These are part of the old corrupt self that must be put off. And kindness is the opposite new self that must be put on. Paul is still giving specific illustrations of the principle in verses 22–24.

Anger and Kindness

But the question rises whether all wrath and anger should be replaced by kindness. Bitterness, yes. Outbreaks of clamoring belligerence, yes. Rumor-mongering and evil speaking behind backs, yes. Malice, yes. All these, no exceptions, all these must go. But what about wrath and anger?

We spent the whole evening together two weeks ago trying to sort this out. Verse 26 says, “Be angry but do not sin.” And James 1:19 says, “Be slow to anger.” And Mark 3:5 says that Jesus looked on the Pharisees with anger. Does the kindness of Jesus always extend to the Pharisees? Is it kind to say to them, as Jesus does in Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs”? Is it kindness when he says in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cross sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves”? Was it kindness when Jesus made a whip of cords and drove out the money changers from the temple and turned over their tables (John 2:15, Matthew 21:12)?

If you walked up to Jesus after he had done these things and said, “Jesus, that was unkind of you to say that to the Pharisees,” what would he have said? There are two possible things he could have said. He could have said, “Sometimes a heart of love and a passion for the truth don’t express themselves in the form of kindness.” Or he could have said, “There is a sort of kindness that can be hard as nails and tough as leather.” Which do you think he would have said: “Kindness is big enough to include whipping and woes”? Or: “Kindness is one form of righteousness, but not always the best one”?

As I have looked over all the uses of the word “kindness” in the New Testament, I think we would honor the the special tenderness of the word more by saying that Jesus was not being kind to the Pharisees. He was being severe with them. And Romans 11:22 separates the kindness of God and the severity of God. So kindness is not an absolute virtue. It is not always the most loving thing to do. It may involve a compromise with evil so serious that in the long run it hurts more people than it helps.

The Imprecise Extent of Christian Kindness

So when Paul says in Ephesians 4:26 that we should be angry but not sin, and then says in verses 31–32, get rid of anger and be kind, what I take him to mean is this very thing: All inner bitterness and malice must go. Their eruptions in slander and brawling must go. But when it comes to emotional indignation and you perceive that the teaching of Christ is disobeyed and the glory of God is diminished and the good of the church is in jeopardy, then, under the sway of the Holy Spirit, you must choose: shall I give vent to my anger in severity because the cause of truth and holiness is at stake, or shall I mortify my anger with kindness because there is too much of self in it?

Both are possible in the path of righteousness. And so the extent of Christian kindness is not precise. It may be wider or narrower than we think. This is a call for deep self-examination in the light of Holy Scripture and the deceptiveness of our own heart.

2. The Depth of Christian Kindness

The point here is that Christian kindness is not merely an external change of manners; it is an internal change of heart. Verse 32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted. . .” Christian kindness is tenderhearted. If the heart is hard on the inside and the manners are meek and polite and helpful on the outside, it is not Christian kindness.

The idea behind “tenderhearted” is that our insides are easily touched. When your skin is tender, it doesn’t take a very hard touch to make it feel pain. When your heart is tender, it is easily affected. It feels easily and quickly.

When you stop and think about it, it is remarkable that this is commanded by the apostle. You can’t just decide to be tenderhearted and turn it on like a faucet. It is a deep character quality. Where does it come from? How can we obey this command to make our kindness to each other deep and heart-felt, not superficial and cool? We will see as we move on.

3. The Pattern of Christian Kindness

Two patterns of Christian kindness are given for us in the text. First is the forgiveness of God. Second is the love of Christ.

The first we see in verse 32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” So when kindness calls for forgiveness, the pattern is the forgiveness of God in Christ.

The second pattern is seen in 5:2, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” So when love expresses itself in kindness, the pattern is the love of Christ giving himself up for us.

Four Qualities of God’s Forgiveness

What do these two patterns of kindness teach us about being kind to each other? Let’s take them one at a time. What does the pattern of God’s forgiveness teach us about our own? Four things come to mind:

  1. God’s forgiveness takes sin seriously and so should ours. Forgiveness is not flippancy toward sin. It sees it and names it—and then covers it. God forgives what he hates. When I called a man recently to apologize for something I had said and seek his forgiveness, he didn’t say, “It makes no difference.” Or: “I didn’t hear it.” He said earnestly and warmly, “Forgiven, and forgotten.” And I got the deep impression he really meant it.
  2. God’s forgiveness reckons with a real settling of accounts and so should ours. Every sin that has ever been committed will be justly punished—either in hell or on the cross. God never sweeps one little lie under the rug. Someone always pays. So when kindness calls us to forgive a wrong that has been done against us, we are sustained by the truth of God’s holiness. That wrong is going to be dealt with: either the person who committed it against us will trust Christ in the end, in which case the wrong they committed is punished in the wrath that was poured on Christ when the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4–6); or the person who committed the wrong against us is not going to trust Christ in the end, in which case the wrong that they committed will be punished in the sufferings of hell. And in neither case should we fear to forgive as though there were no settling of accounts in the universe.
  3. God’s forgiveness was costly and so is ours. It cost God his Son. And it will cost us the sweet taste of revenge and the pleasure of savoring a grudge and the pride of superiority.
  4. God’s forgiveness is real and ours should be too. There is no sham in it. When he forgives, we are really restored. Nothing is held over our heads for later blackmail. It is gone: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). And so we fall short of our divine pattern if we forgive a wrong but secretly plan to keep it in the back of our minds for a later touché. When we forgive, let us really forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave us.

Three Qualities of Christ’s Love

That is the pattern of God’s forgiveness and four things we can learn from it in pursuing the path of kindness. The second pattern for our kindness is the love of Christ in 5:2, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” What does the pattern of Christ’s love teach us about our own? Out of all the things we could say let me just mention three.

  1. The love of Christ for us is undeserved, and so we shouldn’t insist that people earn our love and our kindness either. Jesus said in Luke 6:35, “Love your enemies, and do good . . . and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” None of us has ever qualified to be loved by Jesus Christ. Freely we have received it; freely we should give it (Matthew 10:8).
  2. The love of Christ for us is holy and ours should be holy. The aim of the love of Christ is the holiness of his church: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her . . . and present her to himself in glory . . . that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25–27). And therefore we should put away all notions of love that are driven by mere sentiment and emotion. Love aims at the holiness of a man and a woman, not at their approval or their worldly happiness. Christian kindness is not a strategy to avoid conflict. It’s patterned on the love of Christ and aims to promote holiness.
  3. The love of Christ for us was sacrificial and self-denying, and ours should be too. This is basically the same thing we said earlier, namely, that the love of God was costly. But it is good to say it again. Because every one of us knows that the hardest thing about Christian kindness is to show it when it hurts. I have never forgotten the kindness shown to me by Frau Dora Goppelt in 1974 during the weeks following the unexpected death of her husband, my Doktorvater in Germany. It is a miracle of grace when the pain of loss is so great that you don’t know if you can last another day, and yet you reach out in kindness to a foreign student and reassure him that three years of labor will not be lost with the death of his mentor.

A miracle of grace! That brings us to the fourth thing that this text teaches us about Christian kindness. We have seen the extent of Christian kindness in replacing all bitterness and malice and slander. We have seen the depth of Christian kindness in tenderness of heart. We have seen the pattern of Christian kindness in the forgiveness of God and the love of Christ. Now we look at:

4. The Instrument of Christian Kindness

What do I mean by the “instrument” of Christian kindness? I mean to ask, What is it that we must employ or exert in order to become kind and tenderhearted?

A Passive Verb

The answer is hinted at in the form of the verb in verse 31. Literally it says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be taken away from you.” The verb is passive. This is a hint that the instrument of our kindness is not simply ourselves. If left to ourselves, we will no more be able to get the bitterness and malice out of our heart than we can lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. It doesn’t lie within us.

They must BE TAKEN from us. “Let all bitterness . . . BE taken away from you.” Someone else is at work here besides us. It is the same thing we saw in verse 23: “BE renewed in the spirit of your mind.” (Another passive verb!) There must be a renewing power or person. There must be a power that takes bitterness and malice from my heart and makes me tenderhearted and kind.

The Holy Spirit and Faith

And we know what that power is (who that person is!) because Galatians 5:22 says very plainly, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness . . . ” If the Spirit of God does not come into our lives to do a supernatural work, we may be able to spruce up the outward manners of kindness, but the poison within will remain. Of that Paul says, “Let it BE taken away.” This is a cry for the work of the Spirit to conquer the old self and clothe us with the new.

But the question is not fully answered. We must still ask, What is the instrument with which I appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit? And the answer is faith. The Spirit flows in the channels of faith. Paul cries out in Galatians 3:2–3, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”

And our answer should be a resounding, NO! I am not trying to overcome my bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice in the power of the flesh! I am looking to the Holy Spirit to bear his fruit in my life. How am I looking? What am I doing? I am doing what I did to receive him in the first place: I am believing. I am trusting.

Which leaves one last question: What must I believe, in order to see the Holy Spirit conquer the bitterness and anger and malice of my heart and make me tenderhearted and kind? That is the fifth thing that our text teaches us about Christian kindness.

5. The Source of Christian Kindness

The text tells us what we must believe if the Spirit of God is to conquer unkindness in our hearts. Three things:

  1. We must believe that Christ died in our place. Verse 2: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That is simply an awful sentence—that the slaughter of his Son smelled good to God!!! There are in this sentence realities so great and so awful and so wonderful and so devastating that when we believe them, they are the power of God unto sanctification and a great uprooting of unkindness.
  2. We must believe that God has forgiven all our sins. Verse 32: ” . . . forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” In order to be kind, you must be forgiven. In order to be kind, you must believe that you are forgiven for all the sins you have ever committed and will ever commit. To know and believe that every slap in God’s face has been forgiven freely in Jesus Christ breaks a Christian’s heart and makes it lowly and tender and kind.
  3. Finally, we must believe that we are loved by God. Verse 1: “Be imitators of God, as loved children.” As LOVED children! Child of God, you are loved by God! Believe this with all your heart, and you will behold a miracle in your own life—the fruit of the Spirit, the gift of God!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us believe these things, and be kind to one another! Amen.

__________

Used by permission: John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

John Wesley’s Notes on Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4
Verse 1. I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord – Imprisoned for his sake and for your sakes; for the sake of the gospel which he had preached amongst them. This was therefore a powerful motive to them to comfort him under it by their obedience.

Verse 3. endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit – That mutual union and harmony, which is a fruit of the Spirit. The bond of peace is love.

Verse 4. There is one body – The universal church, all believers throughout the world. One Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father – The ever-blessed Trinity. One hope – Of heaven.

Verse 5. One outward baptism.

Verse 6. One God and Father of all – That believe. Who is above all – Presiding over all his children, operating through them all by Christ, and dwelling in all by his Spirit.

Verse 7. According to the measure of the gift of Christ – According as Christ is pleased to give to each.

Verse 8. Wherefore he saith – That is, in reference to which God saith by David, Having ascended on high, he led captivity captive – He triumphed over all his enemies, Satan, sin, and death, which had before enslaved all the world: alluding to the custom of ancient conquerors, who led those they had conquered in chains after them. And, as they also used to give donatives to the people, at their return from victory, so he gave gifts to men – Both the ordinary and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Psalm lxviii, 18.

Verse 9. Now this expression, He ascended, what is it, but that he descended – That is, does it not imply, that he descended first? Certainly it does, on the supposition of his being God. Otherwise it would not: since all the saints will ascend to heaven, though none of them descended thence. Into the lower parts of the earth – So the womb is called, Psalm cxxxix, 5; the grave, Psalm lxiii, 9.

Verse 10. He that descended – That thus amazingly humbled himself. Is the same that ascended – That was so highly exalted. That he might fill all things – The whole church, with his Spirit, presence, and operations.

Verse 11. And, among other his free gifts, he gave some apostles – His chief ministers and special witnesses, as having seen him after his resurrection, and received their commission immediately from him. And same prophets, and some evangelists – A prophet testifies of things to come; an evangelist of things past: and that chiefly by preaching the gospel before or after any of the apostles. All these were extraordinary officers. The ordinary were. Some pastors – Watching over their several flocks. And some teachers – Whether of the same or a lower order, to assist them, as occasion might require.

Verse 12. In this verse is noted the office of ministers; in the next, the aim of the saints; in the 14th, 15th, 16th, the way of growing in grace. And each of these has three parts, standing in the same order. For the perfecting the saints – The completing them both in number and their various gifts and graces. To the work of the ministry – The serving God and his church in their various ministrations. To the edifying of the body of Christ – The building up this his mystical body in faith, love, holiness.

Verse 13. Till we all – And every one of us. Come to the unity of the faith, and knowledge of the Son of God – To both an exact agreement in the Christian doctrine, and an experimental knowledge of Christ as the Son of God. To a perfect man – To a state of spiritual manhood both in understanding and strength. To the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ – To that maturity of age and spiritual stature wherein we shall be filled with Christ, so that he will be all in all.

Verse 14. Fluctuating to and fro – From within, even when there is no wind. And carried about with every wind – From without; when we are assaulted by others, who are unstable as the wind. By the sleight of men – By their “cogging the dice;” so the original word implies.

Verse 15. Into him – Into his image and Spirit, and into a full union with him.

Verse 16. From whom the whole mystical body fitly joined together – All the parts being fitted for and adapted to each other, and most exactly harmonizing with the whole. And compacted – Knit and cemented together with the utmost firmness. Maketh increase by that which every joint supplieth – Or by the mutual help of every joint. According to the effectual working in the measure of every member – According as every member in its measure effectually works for the support and growth of the whole. A beautiful allusion to the human body, composed of different joints and members, knit together by various ligaments, and furnished with vessels of communication from the head to every part.

Verse 17. This therefore I say – He returns thither where he begun, ver. Verse 1. And testify in the Lord – In the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus. In the vanity of their mind – Having lost the knowledge of the true God, Rom. i, 21. This is the root of all evil walking.

Verse 18. Having their understanding darkened, through the ignorance that is in them – So that they are totally void of the light of God, neither have they any knowledge of his will. Being alienated from the life of God – Utter strangers to the divine, the spiritual life. Through the hardness of their hearts – Callous and senseless. And where there is no sense, there can be no life.

Verse 19. Who being past feeling – The original word is peculiarly significant. It properly means, past feeling pain. Pain urges the sick to seek a remedy, which, where there is no pain, is little thought of. Have given themselves up – Freely, of their own accord. Lasciviousness is but one branch of uncleanness, which implies impurity of every kind.

Verse 20. But ye have not so learned Christ – That is, ye cannot act thus, now ye know him, since you know the Christian dispensation allows of no sin.

Verse 21. Seeing ye have heard him – Teaching you inwardly by his Spirit. As the truth is in Jesus – According to his own gospel.

Verse 22. The old man – That is, the whole body of sin. All sinful desires are deceitful; promising the happiness which they cannot give.

Verse 23. The spirit of your mind – The very ground of your heart.

Verse 24. The new man – Universal holiness. After – In the very image of God.

Verse 25. Wherefore – Seeing ye are thus created anew, walk accordingly, in every particular. For we are members one of another – To which intimate union all deceit is quite repugnant.

Verse 26. Be ye angry, and sin not – That is, if ye are angry, take heed ye sin not. Anger at sin is not evil; but we should feel only pity to the sinner. If we are angry at the person, as well as the fault, we sin. And how hardly do we avoid it. Let not the sun go down upon your wrath – Reprove your brother, and be reconciled immediately. Lose not one day. A clear, express command. Reader, do you keep it?

Verse 27. Neither give place to the devil – By any delay.

Verse 28. But rather let him labour – Lest idleness lead him to steal again. And whoever has sinned in any kind ought the more zealously to practice the opposite virtue. That he may have to give – And so be no longer a burden and nuisance, but a blessing, to his neighbours.

Verse 29. But that which is good – Profitable to the speaker and hearers. To the use of edifying – To forward them in repentance, faith, or holiness. That it may minister grace – Be a means of conveying more grace into their hearts. Hence we learn, what discourse is corrupt, as it were stinking in the nostrils of God; namely, all that is not profitable, not edifying, not apt to minister grace to the hearers.

Verse 30. Grieve not the Holy Spirit – By any disobedience. Particularly by corrupt discourse; or by any of the following sins. Do not force him to withdraw from you, as a friend does whom you grieve by unkind behaviour. The day of redemption – That is, the day of judgment, in which our redemption will be completed.

Verse 31. Let all bitterness – The height of settled anger, opposite to kindness, ver. 32. And wrath – Lasting displeasure toward the ignorant, and them that are out of the way, opposite to tenderheartedness. And anger – The very first risings of disgust at those that injure you, opposite to forgiving one another. And clamour – Or bawling. “I am not angry,” says one; “but it is my way to speak so.” Then unlearn that way: it is the way to hell. And evil speaking – Be it in ever so mild and soft a tone, or with ever such professions of kindness. Here is a beautiful retrogradation, beginning with the highest, and descending to the lowest, degree of the want of love.

Verse 32. As God, showing himself kind and tenderhearted in the highest degree, hath forgiven you.

John Darby’s Commentary on Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4

The faithful were to seek-in the dispositions mentioned above-to maintain this unity of the Spirit by the bond of peace. There are three things in this exhortation: first, to walk worthy of their calling; second, the spirit in which they were to do so; third, diligence in maintaining the unity of the Spirit by the bond of peace. It is important to observe, that this unity of the Spirit is not similarity of sentiment, but the oneness of the members of the body of Christ established by the Holy Ghost, maintained practically by a walk according to the Spirit of grace. It is evident that the diligence required for the maintenance of the unity of the Spirit relates to the earth and to the manifestation of this unity on the earth.

The apostle now founds his exhortation on the different points of view under which this unity may be considered-in connection with the Holy Ghost, with the Lord, and with God.

There is one body and one Spirit; not merely an effect produced in the heart of individuals, in order that they might mutually understand each other, but one body. The hope was one, of which this Spirit was the source and the power. This is the essential, real, and abiding unity.

There is also one Lord. With Him was connected “one faith” and “one baptism.” This is the public profession and recognition of Christ as Lord. Compare the address in 1 Corinthians.

Finally there is one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.

What mighty bonds of unity! The Spirit of God, the lordship of Christ, the universal ubiquity of God, even the Father, all tend to bring into unity those connected with each as a divine centre. All the religious relationships of the soul, all the points by which we are in contact with God, agree to form all believers into one in this world, in such a manner that no man can be a Christian without being one with all those who are so. We cannot exercise faith, nor enjoy hope, nor express christian life in any form whatever, without having the same faith and the same hope as the rest, without giving expression to that which exists in the rest. Only we are called on to maintain it practically.

We may remark, that the three spheres of unity presented in these three verses have not the same extent. The circle of unity enlarges each time. With the Spirit we find linked the unity of the body, the essential and real unity produced by the power of the Spirit uniting to Christ all His members: with the Lord, that of faith and of baptism. Here each individual has the same faith, the same baptism: it is the outward profession, true and real perhaps, but a profession, in reference to Him who has rights over those that call themselves by His name. With regard to the third character of unity, it relates to claims that extend to all things, although to the believer it is a closer bond, because He who has a right over all things dwells in believers.[17] Observe here, that it is not only a unity of sentiment, of desire, and of heart. That unity is pressed upon them; but it is in order to maintain the realisation, and the manifestation here below, of a unity that belongs to the existence and to the eternal position of the assembly in Christ. There is one Spirit, but there is one body. The union of hearts in the bond of peace, which the apostle desires, is for the public maintenance of this unity; not that there might be patience with one another when that has disappeared, Christians contenting themselves with its absence. One does not accept that which is contrary to the word, although in certain cases those who are in it ought to be borne with. The consideration of the community of position and of privilege, enjoyed by all the children of God in the relationships of which we have now been speaking, served to unite them with each other in the sweet enjoyment of this most precious position, leading them also, each one, to rejoice in love at the part which every other member of the body had in this happiness.

But, on the other hand, the fact that Christ was exalted to be in heaven the Head over all things, brought in a difference which appertained to this supremacy of Christ-a supremacy exercised with divine sovereignty and wisdom. “Unto every one of us is given grace [gift] according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (that is to say, as Christ sees fit to bestow). With regard to our position of joy and blessing in Christ, we are one. With regard to our service, we have each an individual place according to His divine wisdom, and according to His sovereign rights in the work. The foundation of this title, whatever may be the divine power that is exercised in it, is this: man was under the power of Satan-miserable condition, the fruit of his sin, a condition to which his self-will had reduced him, but in which (according to the judgment of God who had pronounced on him the sentence of death) he was a slave in body and mind to the enemy who had the power of death-with reservation of the sovereign rights and sovereign grace of God (see chap. 2:2). Now Christ has made Himself man, and began by going as man, led by the Spirit, to meet Satan. He overcame him. As to His personal power, He was able to drive him out everywhere, and to deliver man. But man would not have God with him; nor was it possible for men, in their sinful condition, to be united to Christ without redemption. The Lord however, carrying on His perfect work of love, suffered death, and overcame Satan in that his last stronghold, which God’s righteous judgment maintained in force against sinful man-a judgment which Christ therefore underwent, accomplishing a redemption that was complete, final, and eternal in its value; so that neither Satan, the prince of death and accuser of the children of God on earth, nor even the judgment of God, had anything more to say to the redeemed. The kingdom of Satan was taken from him; the just judgment of God was undergone and completely satisfied. All judgment is committed to the Son, and power over all men, because He is the Son of man. These two results are not yet manifested, although the Lord possesses all power in heaven and in earth. The thing here spoken of is another result which is accomplished meanwhile. The victory is complete. He has led the adversary captive. In ascending to heaven He has placed victorious man above all things, and has led captive all the power that previously had dominion over man.

Now before manifesting in person the power He had gained as man by binding Satan, before displaying it in the blessing of man on earth, He exhibits it in the assembly, His body, by imparting, as He had promised, to men delivered from the enemy’s dominion gifts which are the proof of that power.

Chapter 1 had laid open to us the thoughts of God; chapter 2 the fulfilment, in power, of His thoughts with regard to the redeemed-Jews or Gentiles, all dead in their sins-to form them into the assembly. Chapter 3 is the especial development of the mystery in that which concerned the Gentiles in Paul’s administration of it on earth. Here (chap. 4) the assembly is presented in its unity as a body, and in the varied functions of its members; that is to say, the positive effect of those counsels in the assembly here below. But this is founded on the exaltation of Christ, who, the conqueror of the enemy, has ascended to heaven as man.

Thus exalted, He has received gifts in man, that is, in His human character (compare Acts 2:33). It is thus “in man,” that it is expressed in Psalm 68, from whence the quotation is taken. Here, having received these gifts as the Head of the body, Christ is the channel of their communication to others. They are gifts for men.

Three things here characterise Him-a man ascended on high-a man who has led captive him who held man in captivity-a man who has received for men, delivered from that enemy, the gifts of God, which bear witness to this exaltation of man in Christ, and serve as a means for the deliverance of others. For this chapter does not speak of the more direct signs of the Spirit’s power, such as tongues, miracles-such as are usually termed miraculous gifts. But what the Lord as Head confers on individuals, they are the gifts, as His servants for forming the saints to be with Him, and for the edification of the body-the fruit of His care over them. Hence, as already remarked, their continuance (till we all, one after another, grow up to the head) is stated as to power, by the Spirit; in 1 Corinthians 12 it is not.

But let us pause here for a moment, to contemplate the import of that which we have been considering.

What a complete and glorious work is that which the Lord has accomplished for us, and of which the communication of these gifts is the precious testimony! When we were the slaves of Satan and consequently of death, as well as the slaves of sin, we have seen that He was pleased to undergo for the glory of God that which hung over us. He went down into death of which Satan had the power. And so complete was the victory of man in Him, so entire our deliverance, that (exalted Himself as man to the right hand of God’s throne-He who had been under death) He has rescued us from the enemy’s yoke, and uses the privilege which His position and His glory give Him to make those who were captives before, the vessels of His power for the deliverance of others also. He gives us the right, as under His jurisdiction, of acting in His holy war, moved by the same principles of love as Himself. Such is our deliverance that we are the instruments of His power against the enemy-His fellow-labourers in love through His power. Hence the connection between practical godliness, the complete subjugation of the flesh, and the capacity to serve Christ as instruments in the hand of the Holy Ghost, and the vessels of His power.

Now the Lord’s ascension has immense significancy in connection with His Person and work. He ascended indeed as man, but He first descended as man even into the darkness of the grave and of death; and from thence-victorious over the power of the enemy who had the power of death, and having blotted out the sins of His redeemed ones, and accomplished the glory of God in obedience-He takes His place as man above the heavens in order that He may fill all things; not only as being God, but according to the glory and the power of a position in which He was placed by the accomplishment of the work of redemption-a work which led Him into the depths of the power of the enemy, and placed Him on the throne of God-a position that He holds, not only by the title of Creator, which was already His, but by that of Redeemer, which shelters from evil all that is found within the sphere of the mighty efficacy of His work-a sphere filled with blessing, with grace, and with Himself. Glorious truth, which belongs at the same time to the union of the divine and human natures in the Person of Christ, and to the work of redemption accomplished by suffering on the cross!

Love brought Him down from the throne of God, and, being found as a man, [18] through the same grace, into the darkness of death. Having died, bearing our sins, He has gone up again to that throne as man, filling all things. He went below the creature into death, and is gone above it.

But while filling all things by virtue of His glorious Person, and in connection with the work which He accomplished, He is also in immediate relation with that which in the counsels of God is closely united to Him who thus fills all things, with that which has been especially the object of His work of redemption. It is His body, His assembly, united to Him by the bond of the Holy Ghost to complete this mystical man, to be the bride of this second Man, who fills all in all-a body which, as manifested here below, is set in the midst of a creation that is not yet delivered, and in the presence of enemies that are in the heavenly places, until Christ shall exercise, on the part of God His Father, the power that has been committed to Him as man. When Christ shall thus exercise His power, He will take vengeance on those who have defiled His creation by seducing man, who had been its head down here and the image of Him who was to be its Head everywhere. He will also deliver creation from its subjection to evil. Meanwhile, personally exalted as the glorious man, and seated at God’s right hand until God shall make His enemies His footstool, He communicates the gifts necessary for the gathering together of those who are to be the companions of His glory, who are the members of His body, and who shall be manifested with Him when His glory shines forth in the midst of this world of darkness.

The apostle shews us here an assembly already delivered, and exercising the power of the Spirit; which on the one side delivers souls, and on the other builds them up in Christ, that they may grow up to the measure of their Head in spite of all the power of Satan which still subsists.

But an important truth is connected with this fact. This spiritual power is not exercised in a manner simply divine. It is Christ ascended (He however who had previously descended into the lower parts of the earth) who, as man, has received these gifts of power. It is thus that Psalm 68 speaks as well as Acts 2:33. The latter passage speaks also of the gifts bestowed on His members. In our chapter it is only in the latter way that they are mentioned. He has given gifts unto men.

I would also remark, that these gifts are not here presented as gifts bestowed by the Holy Ghost come down to earth, and distributing to every one according to His will: nor are those gifts spoken of which are tokens of spiritual power suited to act as signs upon those that are outside: but they are ministrations for gathering together and for edification established by Christ as Head of the body by means of gifts with which He endows persons as His choice. Ascended on high, and having taken His place as man at the right hand of God, and filling all things, whatever may be the extent of His glory, Christ has first for His object to fulfil the ways of God in love in gathering souls, and in particular towards the saints and the assembly; to establish the manifestation of the divine nature, and to communicate to the assembly the riches of that grace which the ways of God display, and of which the divine nature is the source. It is in the assembly that the nature of God, the counsels of grace, and the efficacious work of Christ are concentrated in their object; and these gifts are the means of ministering, in the communication of these, in blessing to man.

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers: apostles and prophets laying, or rather being laid, as the foundations of the heavenly building, and acting as coming directly from the Lord in an extraordinary manner; the two other classes (the last being sub-divided into two gifts, connected in their nature) belonging to ordinary ministry in all ages. It is important to remark also, that the apostle sees nothing existing before the exaltation of Christ save man the child of wrath, the power of Satan, the power which raised us up (dead in sins as we were) with Christ, and the efficacy of the cross, which had reconciled us to God, and abolished the distinction between Jew and Gentile in the assembly, to unite them in one body before God-the cross in which Christ drank the cup and bore the curse, so that wrath has passed away for the believer, and in which a God of love, a Saviour God, is fully manifested.

So the existence of the apostles dates here only from the gifts that followed the exaltation of Jesus. The twelve as sent out by Jesus on earth have no place in the instruction of this epistle, which treats of the body of Christ, of the unity and the members of this body; and the body could not exist before the Head existed and had taken His place as such. Thus also we have seen that, when the apostle speaks of the apostles and prophets, the latter are to him those exclusively of the New Testament, and those who have been made such by Christ after His ascension. It is the new heavenly man who, being the exalted Head in heaven, forms His body on the earth. He does it for heaven, putting the individuals who compose it spiritually and intelligently in connection with the Head by the power of the Holy Ghost acting in this body on the earth; the gifts, of which the apostle here speaks, being the channels by which His graces are communicated according to the bonds which the Holy Ghost forms with the Head.

The proper and immediate effect is the perfecting of individuals according to the grace that dwells in the Head. The shape which this divine action takes, further, is the work of the ministry, and the formation of the body of Christ, until all the members are grown up into the measure of the stature of Christ their Head. Christ has been revealed in all His fulness: it is according to this revelation that the members of the body are to be formed in the likeness of Christ, known as filling all things, and as the Head of His body, the revelation of the perfect love of God, of the excellency of man before Him according to His counsels, of man the vessel of all His grace, all His power, and all His gifts. Thus the assembly, and each one of the members of Christ, should be filled with the thoughts and the riches of a well-known Christ, instead of being tossed to and fro by all sort of doctrines brought forward by the enemy to deceive souls.

The Christian was to grow up according to all that was revealed in Christ, and to be ever increasing in likeness to his Head; using love and truth for his own soul-the two things of which Christ is the perfect expression. Truth displays the real relation of all things with each other in connection with the centre of all things, which is God revealed now in Christ. Love is that which God is in the midst of all this. Now Christ, as the light, put everything precisely in its place-man, Satan, sin, righteousness, holiness, all things, and that in every detail, and in connection with God. And Christ was love, the expression of the love of God in the midst of all this. And this is our pattern; and our pattern as having overcome, and, as having ascended into heaven, our Head, to which we are united as the members of His body.

There flows from this Head, by means of its members, the grace needed to accomplish the work of assimilation to Himself. His body, compacted together, increases by the working of His grace in each member, and edifies itself in love.[19] This is the position of the assembly according to God, until all the members of the body attain to the stature of Christ. The manifestation alas! of this unity is marred; but the grace, and the operation of the grace of its Head to nourish and cause its members to grow, is never impaired, any more than the love in the Lord’s heart from which this grace springs. We do not glorify Him, we have not the joy of being ministers of joy to each other as we might be; but the Head does not cease to work for the good of His body. The wolf indeed comes and scatters the sheep, but he cannot pluck them out of the Shepherd’s hands. His faithfulness is glorified in our unfaithfulness without excusing it.

With this precious object of the ministration of grace (namely, for the growth of each member individually unto the measure of the stature of the Head Himself), with the ministration of each member in its place to the edifying itself in love, ends this development of the counsels of God in the union of Christ and the assembly, in its double character of the body of Christ in heaven, and the habitation of the Holy Ghost on earth-truths which cannot be separated, but each of which has its distinctive importance, and which reconcile the certain immutable operations of grace in the Head with the failures of the assembly responsible on the earth.

Exhortations to a walk befitting such a position follow, in order that the glory of God in us and by us, and His grace towards us, may be identified in our full blessing. We will notice the great principles of these exhortations.

The first is the contrast [20] between the ignorance of a heart that is blind, and a stranger to the life of God, and consequently walking in the vanity of its own understanding, that is, according to the desires of a heart given up to the impulses of the flesh without God-the contrast, I say, between this state, and that of having learnt Christ, as the truth is in Jesus (which is the expression of the life of God in man, God Himself manifested in the flesh), the having put off this old man, which is corrupt itself according to its deceitful lusts, and put on this new man, Christ. It is not an amelioration of the old man; it is a putting it off, and a putting on of Christ.

Even here the apostle does not lose sight of the oneness of the body; we are to speak the truth, because we are members one of another. “Truth,” the expression of simplicity and integrity of heart, is in connection with “the truth as it is in Jesus,” whose life is transparent as the light, as falsehood is in connection with deceitful lusts.

Moreover, the old man is without God, alienated from the life of God. The new man is created, it is a new creation, and a creation [21] after the model of that which is the character of God righteousness and holiness of truth. The first Adam was not in that manner created after the image of God. By the fall the knowledge of good and evil entered into man. He can no longer be innocent. When innocent, he was ignorant of evil in itself. Now, fallen, he is a stranger to the life of God in his ignorance: but the knowledge of good and evil which he has acquired, the moral distinction between good and evil in itself, is a divine principle. “The man,” said God, “is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” But in order to possess this knowledge, and subsist in what is good before God, there must be divine energy, divine life.

Everything has its true nature, its true character, in the eyes of God. That is the truth. It is not that He is the truth. The truth is the right and perfect expression of that which a thing is (and, in an absolute way, of that which all things are), and of the relations in which it stands to other things, or in which all things stand towards each other. Thus God could not be the truth. He is not the expression of some other thing. Everything relates to Him. He is the centre of all true relationship, and of all moral obligation. Neither is God the measure of all things, for He is above all things; and nothing else can be so above them, or He would not be so.[22] It is God become man; it is Christ, who is the truth, and the measure of all things. But all things have their true character in the eyes of God: and He judges righteously of all, whether morally or in power. He acts according to that judgment. He is just. He also knows evil perfectly, being Himself goodness, that it may be perfectly an abomination to Him, that He may repel it by His own nature. He is holy. Now the new man, created after the divine nature, is so in righteousness and holiness of truth. What a privilege! What a blessing! It is, as another apostle has said, to be “partakers of the divine nature.” Adam had nothing of this.

Adam was perfect as an innocent man. The breath of life in his nostrils was breathed into him by God, and he was responsible for obedience to God in a thing wherein neither good nor evil was to be known, but simply a commandment. The trial was that of obedience only, not the knowledge of good or evil in itself. At present, in Christ, the portion of the believer is a participation in the divine nature itself, in a being who knows good and evil, and who vitally participates in the sovereign good, morally in the nature of God Himself, although always thereby dependent on Him. It is our evil nature which is not so, or at least which refuses to be dependent on Him.

Now there is a prince of this world, a stranger to God; and, besides participation in the divine nature, there is the Spirit Himself who has been given to us. These solemn truths enter also as principles into these exhortations. “Give no place to the devil,” on the one hand-give him no room to come in and act on the flesh; and, on the other hand, “grieve not the Holy Spirit” who dwells in you. The redemption of the creature has not yet taken place, but ye have been sealed unto that day: respect and cherish this mighty and holy guest who graciously dwells in you. Let all bitterness and malice therefore cease even in word, and let meekness and kindness reign in you according to the pattern you have in the ways of God in Christ towards you. Be imitators of God: beautiful and magnificent privilege! but which flows naturally from the truth that we are made partakers of His nature, and that His Spirit dwells in us.

These are the two great subjective principles of the Christian-the having put off the old man and put on the new, and the Holy Ghost’s dwelling in him. Nor can anything be more blessed than the pattern of life here given to the Christian, founded on our being a new creation. It is perfect subjectively and objectively. First, subjectively, the truth in Jesus is the having put off the old man and put on the new, which has God for its pattern. It is created after God in the perfection of His moral character. But this is not all. The Holy Spirit of God by which we are sealed to the day of redemption dwells in us: we are not to grieve Him. These are the two elements of our state, the new man created after God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit of God; and He is emphatically here called the Spirit of God, as in connection with God’s character.

And next objectively: created after God, and God dwelling in us, God is the pattern of our walk, and thus in respect of the two words which alone give God’s essence-love and light. We are to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us a sacrifice to God. “For us” was divine love; “to God” is perfection of object and motive. Law takes up the love of self as the measure of love to others. Christ gives up self wholly and for us, but to God. Our worthlessness enhances the love but, on the other hand, an affection and a motive have their worth from the object (and with Christ that was God Himself), self wholly given up. For, so to speak, we may love up and love down. When we look upward in our affections, the nobler the object the nobler the affection; when it is downwards, the more unworthy the object, the more pure and absolute the love. Christ was perfect in both, and absolutely so. He gave Himself for us, and to God. Afterwards we are light in the Lord. We cannot say we are love, for love is sovereign goodness in God; we walk in it, like Christ. But we are light in the Lord. This is the second essential name of God and as partakers of the divine nature we are light in the Lord. Here again Christ is the pattern. “Christ shall give thee light.” We are called on, then, as His dear children to imitate God.

This life, in which we participate and of which we live as partakers of the divine nature, has been objectively presented to us in Christ in all its perfection and in all its fulness; in man, and in man now brought to perfection on high, according to the counsels of God respecting Him. It is Christ, this eternal life, who was with the Father and has been manifested unto us-He who, having then first descended, has ascended now into heaven to carry humanity thither, and display it in the glory-the glory of God-according to His eternal counsels. We have seen this life here in its earthly development: God manifest in flesh; man, perfectly heavenly, and obedient in all things to His Father, moved, in His conduct to others, by the motives that characterise God Himself in grace. Hereafter He will be manifested in judgment; and already, here below, He has gone through all the experiences of a man, understanding thus how grace adapts itself to our wants, and displaying it now, according to that knowledge, even as hereafter He will exercise judgment with a knowledge of man, not only divine, but which, having gone through this world in holiness, will leave the hearts of men without excuse and without escape.

But it is the image of God in Him, of which we are now speaking. It is in Him that the nature which we have to imitate is presented to us, and presented in man as it ought to be developed in us here below, in the circumstances through which we are passing. We see in Him the manifestation of God, and that in contrast with the old man. There we see “the truth as it is in Jesus,” save that in us it involves the putting off of the old man and putting on the new, answering to Christ’s death and resurrection (compare particularly as to His death, 1 Peter 3:18; 4:1). Thus, in order to attract and to lead on our hearts, to give us the model on which they are to be formed, the aim to which they should tend, God has given us an object in which He manifests Himself, and which is the object of all His own delight.

The reproduction of God in man is the object that God proposed to Himself in the new man; and that the new man proposes to himself, as he is himself the reproduction of the nature and the character of God. There are two principles for the Christian’s path, according to the light in which he views himself. Running his race as man towards the object of his heavenly calling, in which he follows after Christ ascended on high: he is running the heavenward race; the excellency of Christ to be won there, his motive-that is not the Ephesian aspect. In the Ephesians he is sitting in heavenly places in Christ, and he has to come out as from heaven, as Christ really did, and manifest God’s character upon earth, of which, as we have seen, Christ is the pattern. We are called, as in the position of dear children, to shew our Father’s ways.

We are not created anew according to that which the first Adam was, but according to that which God is: Christ is its manifestation. And He is the second Man, the last Adam.[23] In detail we shall find these characteristic features: truthfulness, the absence of all anger that has the nature of hatred (lying and hatred are the two characteristics of the enemy); practical righteousness connected with labour according to the will of God (man’s true position); and the absence of corruption. It is man under the rule of God since the fall, delivered from the effect of the deceitful lusts. But it is more than this. A divine principle brings in the desire of doing good to others, to their body and their soul. I need not say how truly we find here the picture of the life of Christ, as in the preceding remarks it was the putting off of the spirit of the enemy and of the old man. The spirit of peace and love (and that, in spite of evil in others and the wrongs they may do us) completes the picture, adding that which will be easily understood after what has been said, that, in “forgiving one another,” we are to be imitators of God, and to walk in love as Christ has loved us, and has given Himself for us. Beautiful picture, precious privilege! May God grant us so to look at Jesus as to have His image stamped upon us, and in some sort to walk like Him.

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[17] To recapitulate, there is, first, one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling; second, one Lord, with whom are connected one faith and one baptism; third, one God and Father of all, who is above all things, everywhere, and in all Christians. Moreover, while insisting upon these three great relationships in which all Christians are placed, as being in their nature the foundations of unity, and the motives of its maintenance, these relationships extend successively in breadth. The direct relationship applies properly to the same persons; but the character of Him who is the basis of the relationship enlarges the idea connected with it. With regard to the Spirit, His presence unites the body-is the bond between all the members of the body: none but the members of the body-and they, as such-are seen here. The Lord has wider claims. In this relationship it is not the members of the body that are spoken of; there is one faith and one baptism, one profession in the world: there could not be two. But although the persons who are in this outward relationship may stand also in the other relationships and be members of the body, yet the relationship here is one of individual profession; it is not a thing which cannot exist at all except in reality (one is a member of Christ’s body, or one is not). God is the Father of these same members, as being His children, but He who maintains this relationship is necessarily and always above all things-personally above all things, but divinely everywhere.

[18] The descent into the lower parts of the earth is viewed as from His place as man on earth; not His coming down from heaven to be a man. It is Christ who descended.

[19] Verse 11 gives special and permanent gifts; verse 16, what every joint supplies in its place. Both have their place in the forming and growth of the body.

[20] I have already noticed, that contrast of the new state and the old characterises the Ephesians more than Colossians, where we find more development of life.

[21] In Colossians we have “renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created us.”

[22] There is a sense in which God is, morally, the measure of other beings-a consideration that brings out the immense privilege of the child of God. It is the effect of grace, in that, being born of Him and partaking of His nature, the child of God is called to be the imitator of God, to be perfect as His Father is perfect. He who loves is born of God, and knows God, for God is love. He makes us partakers of His holiness, consequently we are called to be imitators of God, as His dear children. This shews the immense privileges of grace. It is the love of God in the midst of evil, and which, superior to all evil, walks in holiness, and rejoices also together, in a divine way, in the unity of the same joys and the same sentiments. Therefore Christ says (John 17), “as we are,” and “in us.”

[23] It is useful to note here the difference of Romans 12: 1, 2, and this epistle. The Romans, we have seen, contemplates a living man on earth; hence he is to give his body up as a living sacrifice-alive in Christ, he is to yield his members up wholly to God. Here the saints are seen as sitting in heavenly places already, and they are to come out in testimony of God’s character before men, walking as Christ did in love, and light.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Ephesians 4:17-32

The apostle having gone through his exhortation to mutual love, unity, and concord, in the foregoing verses, there follows in these an exhortation to Christian purity and holiness of heart and life, and that both more general (v. 17-24) and in several particular instances, v. 25-32. This is solemnly introduced: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord; that is, seeing the matter is as above described, seeing you are members of Christ’s body and partakers of such gifts, this I urge upon your consciences, and bear witness to as your duty in the Lord’s name, and by virtue of the authority I have derived from him.” Consider,

I. The more general exhortation to purity and holiness of heart and life.

1. It begins thus, “That you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk—that for the time to come you do not live, and behave yourselves, as ignorant and unconverted heathens do, who are wholly guided by an understanding employed about vain things, their idols and their worldly possessions, things which are no way profitable to their souls, and which will deceive their expectations.” Converted Gentiles must not live as unconverted Gentiles do. Though they live among them, they must not live like them. Here,

(1.) The apostle takes occasion to describe the wickedness of the Gentile world, out of which regenerate Christians were snatched as brands out of the burning. [1.] Their understandings were darkened, v. 18. They were void of all saving knowledge; yea, ignorant of many things concerning God which the light of nature might have taught them. They sat in darkness, and they loved it rather than light: and by their ignorance they were alienated from the life of God. They were estranged from, and had a dislike and aversion to, a life of holiness, which is not only that way of life which God requires and approves, and by which we live to him, but which resembles God himself, in his purity, righteousness, truth, and goodness. Their wilful ignorance was the cause of their estrangement from this life of God, which begins in light and knowledge. Gross and affected ignorance is destructive to religion and godliness. And what was the cause of their being thus ignorant? It was because of the blindness or the hardness of their heart. It was not because God did not make himself known to them by his works, but because they would not admit the instructive rays of the divine light. They were ignorant because they would be so. Their ignorance proceeded from their obstinacy and the hardness of their hearts, their resisting the light and rejecting all the means of illumination and knowledge. [2.] Their consciences were debauched and seared: Who being past feeling, v. 19. They had no sense of their sin, nor of the misery and danger of their case by means of it; whereupon they gave themselves over unto lasciviousness. They indulged themselves in their filthy lusts; and, yielding themselves up to the dominion of these, they became the slaves and drudges of sin and the devil, working all uncleanness with greediness. They made it their common practice to commit all sorts of uncleanness, and even the most unnatural and monstrous sins, and that with insatiable desires. Observe, When men’s consciences are once seared, there are no bounds to their sins. When they set their hearts upon the gratification of their lusts, what can be expected but the most abominable sensuality and lewdness, and that their horrid enormities will abound? This was the character of the Gentiles; but,

(2.) These Christians must distinguish themselves from such Gentiles: You have not so learned Christ, v. 20. It may be read, But you not so; you have learned Christ. Those who have learned Christ are saved from the darkness and defilement which others lie under; and, as they know more, they are obliged to live in a better manner than others. It is a good argument against sin that we have not so learned Christ. Learn Christ! Is Christ a book, a lesson, a way, a trade? The meaning is, “You have not so learned Christianity—the doctrines of Christ and the rules of life prescribed by him. Not so as to do as others do. If so be, or since, that you have heard him (v. 21), have heard his doctrine preached by us, and have been taught by him, inwardly and effectually, by his Spirit.” Christ is the lesson; we must learn Christ: and Christ is the teacher; we are taught by him. As the truth is in Jesus. This may be understood two ways: either, “You have been taught the real truth, as held forth by Christ himself, both in his doctrine and in his life.” Or thus, “The truth has made such an impression on your hearts, in your measure, as it did upon the heart of Jesus.” The truth of Christ then appears in its beauty and power, when it appears as in Jesus.

2. Another branch of the general exhortation follows in those words, That you put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, etc., v. 22-24. “This is a great part of the doctrine which has been taught you, and which you have learned.” Here the apostle expresses himself in metaphors taken from garments. The principles, habits, and dispositions of the soul must be changed, before there can be a saving change of the life. There must be sanctification, which consists of these two things:—(1.) The old man must be put off. The corrupt nature is called a man, because, like the human body, it consists of divers parts, mutually supporting and strengthening one another. It is the old man, as old Adam, from whom we derive it. It is bred in the bone, and we brought it into the world with us. It is subtle as the old man; but in all God’s saints decaying and withering as an old man, and ready to pass away. It is said to be corrupt; for sin in the soul is the corruption of its faculties: and, where it is not mortified, it grows daily worse and worse, and so tends to destruction. According to the deceitful lusts. Sinful inclinations and desires are deceitful lusts: they promise men happiness, but render them more miserable, and if not subdued and mortified betray them into destruction. These therefore must be put off as an old garment that we should be ashamed to be seen in: they must be subdued and mortified. These lusts prevailed against them in their former conversation, that is, during their state of unregeneracy and heathenism. (2.) The new man must be put on. It is not enough to shake off corrupt principles, but we must be actuated by gracious ones. We must embrace them, espouse them, and get them written on our hearts: it is not enough to cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (v. 23); that is, use the proper and prescribed means in order to have the mind, which is a spirit, renewed more and more.” And that you put on the new man, v. 24. By the new man is meant the new nature, the new creature, which is actuated by a new principle, even regenerating grace, enabling a man to lead a new life, that life of righteousness and holiness which Christianity requires. This new man is created, or produced out of confusion and emptiness, by God’s almighty power, whose workmanship it is, truly excellent and beautiful. After God, in imitation of him, and in conformity to that grand exemplar and pattern. The loss of God’s image upon the soul was both the sinfulness and misery of man’s fallen state; and that resemblance which it bears to God is the beauty, the glory, and the happiness, of the new creature. In righteousness towards men, including all the duties of the second table; and in holiness towards God, signifying a sincere obedience to the commands of the first table; true holiness in opposition to the outward and ceremonial holiness of the Jews. We are said to put on this new man when, in the use of all God’s appointed means, we are endeavouring after this divine nature, this new creature. This is the more general exhortation to purity and holiness of heart and life.

II. The apostle proceeds to some things more particular. Because generals are not so apt to affect, we are told what are those particular limbs of the old man that must be mortified, those filthy rags of the old nature that must be put off, and what are the peculiar ornaments of the new man wherewith we should adorn our Christian profession. 1. Take heed of lying, and be ever careful to speak the truth (v. 25): “Wherefore, since you have been so well instructed in your duty, and are under such obligations to discharge it, let it appear, in your future behaviour and conduct, that there is a great and real change wrought in you, particularly by putting away lying.” Of this sin the heathen were very guilty, affirming that a profitable lie was better than a hurtful truth; and therefore the apostle exhorts them to cease from lying, from every thing that is contrary to truth. This is a part of the old man that must be put off; and that branch of the new man that must be put on in opposition to it is speaking the truth in all our converse with others. It is the character of God’s people that they are children who will not lie, who dare not lie, who hate and abhor lying. All who have grace make conscience of speaking the truth, and would not tell a deliberate lie for the greatest gain and benefit to themselves. The reason here given for veracity is, We are members one of another. Truth is a debt we owe to one another; and, if we love one another, we shall not deceive nor lie one to another. We belong to the same society or body, which falsehood or lying tends to dissolve; and therefore we should avoid it, and speak truth. Observe, Lying is a very great sin, a peculiar violation of the obligations which Christians are under, and very injurious and hurtful to Christian society. 2. “Take heed of anger and ungoverned passions. Be you angry, and sin not,” v. 26. This is borrowed from the Septuagint translation of Ps. 4:4, where we render it, Stand in awe, and sin not. Here is an easy concession; for as such we should consider it, rather than as a command. Be you angry. This we are apt enough to be, God knows: but we find it difficult enough to observe the restriction, and sin not. “If you have a just occasion to be angry at any time, see that it be without sin; and therefore take heed of excess in your anger.” If we would be angry and not sin (says one), we must be angry at nothing but sin; and we should be more jealous for the glory of God than for any interest or reputation of our own. One great and common sin in anger is to suffer it to burn into wrath, and then to let it rest; and therefore we are here cautioned against that. “If you have been provoked and have had your spirits greatly discomposed, and if you have bitterly resented any affront that has been offered, before night calm and quiet your spirits, be reconciled to the offender, and let all be well agaiLet not the sun go down upon your wrath. If it burn into wrath and bitterness of spirit, O see to it that you suppress it speedily.” Observe, Though anger in itself is not sinful, yet there is the upmost danger of its becoming so if it be not carefully watched and speedily suppressed. And therefore, though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, it rests only in the bosom of fools. Neither give place to the devil, v. 27. Those who persevere in sinful anger and in wrath let the devil into their hearts, and suffer him to gain upon them, till he bring them to malice, mischievous machinations, etc. “Neither give place to the calumniator, or the false accuser” (so some read the words); that is, “let your ears be deaf to whisperers, talebearers, and slanderers.” 3. We are here warned against the sin of stealing, the breach of the eighth commandment, and advised to honest industry and to beneficence: Let his that stole steal no more, v. 28. It is a caution against all manner of wrong-doing, by force or fraud. “Let those of you who, in the time of your gentilism, have been guilty of this enormity, be no longer guilty of it.” But we must not only take heed of the sin, but conscientiously abound in the opposite duty: not only not steal, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing that is good. Idleness makes thieves. So Chrysostom, To gar kleptein argias estin—Stealing is the effect of idleness. Those who will not work, and who are ashamed to beg, expose themselves greatly to temptations to thievery. Men should therefore be diligent and industrious, not in any unlawful way, but in some honest calling: Working the thing which is good. Industry, in some honest way, will keep people out of temptation of doing wrong. But there is another reason why men ought to be industrious, namely, that they may be capable of doing some good, as well as that they may be preserved from temptation: That he may have to give to him that needeth. They must labour not only that they may live themselves, and live honestly, but they may distribute for supplying the wants of others. Observe, Even those who get their living by their labour should be charitable out of their little to those who are disabled for labour. So necessary and incumbent a duty is it to be charitable to the poor that even labourers and servants, and those who have but little for themselves, must cast their mite into the treasury. God must have his dues and the poor are his receivers. Observe further, Those alms that are likely to be acceptable to God must not be the produce of unrighteousness and robbery, but of honesty and industry. God hates robbery for burnt-offerings. 4. We are here warned against corrupt communication; and directed to that which is useful and edifying, v. 29. Filthy and unclean words and discourse are poisonous and infectious, as putrid rotten meat: they proceed from and prove a great deal of corruption in the heart of the speaker, and tend to corrupt the minds and manners of others who hear them; and therefore Christians should beware of all such discourse. It may be taken in general for all that which provokes the lusts and passions of others. We must not only put off corrupt communications, but put on that which is good to the use of edifying. The great use of speech is to edify those with whom we converse. Christians should endeavour to promote a useful conversation: that it may minister grace unto the hearers; that it may be good for, and acceptable to, the hearers, in the way of information, counsel, pertinent reproof, or the like. Observe, It is the great duty of Christians to take care that they offend not with their lips, and that they improve discourse and converse, as much as may be, for the good of others. 5. Here is another caution against wrath and anger, with further advice to mutual love and kindly dispositions towards each other, v. 31, 32. By bitterness, wrath, and anger, are meant violent inward resentment and displeasure against others: and, by clamour, big words, loud threatenings, and other intemperate speeches, by which bitterness, wrath, and anger, vent themselves. Christians should not entertain these vile passions in their hearts not be clamorous with their tongues. Evil speaking signifies all railing, reviling, and reproachful speeches, against such as we are angry with. And by malice we are to understand that rooted anger which prompts men to design and to do mischief to others. The contrary to all this follows: Be you kind one to another. This implies the principle of love in the heart, and the outward expressions of it, in an affable, humble, courteous behaviour. It becomes the disciples of Jesus to be kind one to another, as those who have learned, and would teach, the art of obliging. Tender-hearted; that is, merciful, and having tender sense of the distresses and sufferings of others, so as to be quickly moved to compassion and pity. Forgiving one another. Occasions of difference will happen among Christ’s disciples; and therefore they must be placable, and ready to forgive, therein resembling God himself, who for Christ’s sake hath forgiven them, and that more than they can forgive one another. Note, With God there is forgiveness; and he forgives sin for the sake of Jesus Christ, and on account of that atonement which he has made to divine justice. Note again, Those who are forgiven of God should be of a forgiving spirit, and should forgive even as God forgives, sincerely and heartily, readily and cheerfully, universally and for ever, upon the sinner’s sincere repentance, as remembering that they pray, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Now we may observe concerning all these particulars that the apostle has insisted on that they belong to the second table, whence Christians should learn the strict obligations they are under to the duties of the second table, and that he who does not conscientiously discharge them can never fear nor love God in truth and in sincerity, whatever he may pretend to.

In the midst of these exhortations and cautions the apostle interposes that general one, And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, v. 30. By looking to what precedes, and to what follows, we may see what it is that grieves the Spirit of God. In the previous verses it is intimated that all lewdness and filthiness, lying, and corrupt communications that stir up filthy appetites and lusts, grieve the Spirit of God. In what follows it is intimated that those corrupt passions of bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, and malice, grieve this good Spirit. By this we are not to understand that this blessed Being could properly be grieved or vexed as we are; but the design of the exhortation is that we act not towards him in such a manner as is wont to be grievous and disquieting to our fellow-creatures: we must not do that which is contrary to his holy nature and his will; we must not refuse to hearken to his counsels, nor rebel against his government, which things would provoke him to act towards us as men are wont to do towards those with whom they are displeased and grieved, withdrawing themselves and their wonted kindness from such, and abandoning them to their enemies. O provoke not the blessed Spirit of God to withdraw his presence and his gracious influences from you! It is a good reason why we should not grieve him that by him we are sealed unto the day of redemption. There is to be a day of redemption; the body is to be redeemed from the power of the grave at the resurrection-day, and then God’s people will be delivered from all the effects of sin, as well as from all sin and misery, which they are not till rescued out of the grave: and then their full and complete happiness commences. All true believers are sealed to that day. God has distinguished them from others, having set his mark upon them; and he gives them the earnest and assurance of a joyful and glorious resurrection; and the Spirit of God is the seal. Wherever that blessed Spirit is as a sanctifier, he is the earnest of all the joys and glories of the redemption-day; and we should be undone should God take away his Holy Spirit from us.