“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:25–29, NASB95)
Continuing from the last post we are continuing to look at Paul’s practical examples of putting off activities reflecting our old self as we come to understand how we are to live, and then putting on those new and right practices which reflect who we are in Christ. Last time we focused on telling the truth and dealing with our anger. This time we move on to look at the issue of stealing and our speech in general.
The third very practical example is found in verse 28, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” Stealing is to have no place in the life of the believer. It is a basic principle that was clearly laid out in the Ten Commandments. “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15, NASB95) Therefore, as Christians we are not to steal, and if we have a pattern of stealing then we are to stop it. God’s answer for what to do in response is for us to put our nose to our work and focus on how we can use what He has given us to bless others in return.
For many this is easier said than done. Living on the edge is a difficult thing to do, but God is faithful even to those edges. When we are tempted we have His truth to direct our steps and to encourage our hearts. We see this in verses such as 1 Corinthians 10:13 where we read, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB95) God never minimizes our struggles, but compared to His infinite power all of our struggles pale in comparison to His power to help. He calls us to trust Him to get us through. How this works itself out may vary and even vary in intensity, but God will get us through, remembering that the outcome of the situation is often an aside to the outcome of what God does on the inside.
It may be that the situation does not get resolved to our expectations, but God proves His ability to bring us through. It may mean that He shows us a way to an answer. And, in may even turn out that in getting us through that He might even come to our aid through another who has followed this principle of “performing works with His own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” The same Spirit works in all of us, and our God knows how to move His people for His glory and our best. The principle here is that rather than taking “short cuts” and stealing that which is not ours, we are to keep our eyes on God and do what He has set before us such that we might even be a blessing to others.
The fourth “Put off-Put on” is found in verse 29 where we read, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” I think we’ve all been in situations where cutting words have been said, and I know that I have been guilty of them myself. James called the tongue a “restless evil.” We read in chapter 3 of his letter, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of this way.” (James 3:8–10, NASB95)
Apart from Christ it might seem like a pretty hopeless statement to say that “no one can tame the tongue,” but this statement is restricted to the power of man. Christ in us does amazing things. The core of who we are is changed at the moment of our salvation. We have a new identity, and as we grow in Christ our actions are to be conformed more and more to Him. This means that there is hope for this restless evil, and that help is found in practicing the very instructions that we have in passages such as here in Ephesians 4:29 where we put off unwholesome words. The King James, New King James, and English Standard translations use a stronger word than “unwholesome.” They use “corrupt” or “corrupting.” The Greek word is ‘sapros,’ which is best represented by these other translations. When something is corrupted it no longer reflects the original. It becomes defective, unusable, and worthless. For those who have owned and used a computer you are probably familiar with what a corrupted hard drive does to the computer. It makes the whole computer worthless. Angry words are very destructive, and according to James these words should not come out of the mouth of anyone who professes to bless the Lord.
Rather, we are to put off those words and put on words that build up rather than tear down, words that encourage and bless rather discourage and condemn. Paul said we are to speak “only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Returning once again to James 1:19 we are to be quick to look to God for our response, respond with words that are building up for the moment, and look to the grace that will be shown to those who hear rather than the anger that comes from an otherwise quick and rash response.
In every single one of these we see a change in focus. As we take our eyes off of ourselves and protecting our own desires to focus on the good of others we change the way we act. Being a Christian means being continually changed for God’s glory and the building up of others.