Raw Material for Christian Unity
Ephesians 4:17-32
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you from now on walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,…

It comes upon us with something like a surprise, the exhortations of the present passage after the glories which have gone before. But they are instructive in that they bring out the raw material out of which Paul hoped to manufacture Christian unity. It is evident that he despaired of none, even supposing they had been guilty of the gravest crimes and characterized by the deepest pollution. Does not his grand hope rebuke our faint-heartedness?

I. CONSIDER THE MORAL BEACONS HERE BROUGHT BEFORE THE EPHESIANS. (Vers. 17-20) Paul presents in the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans a frightful picture of the immorality of the heathen. He had studied the question carefully, as a missionary to the heathen must. He here gives a briefer analysis, but one exceedingly vivid and instructive. The terrible fact was that many of the Gentiles had "given themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness," and Paul gives us here the reason of it. They had got utterly "hardened" and "past feeling." This was through their ignorance of the holy God, from whose life, with all its purifying power, they were consequently alienated. They had nothing for it in these circumstances but to follow the glimmer of their own darkened understandings, and to walk in the vanity of their minds. It was a case of alienation and isolation from the only Source of purity and of life. Paul consequently holds up the licentious Gentiles as beacons to warn the Ephesians away from the paths of sin, that they may walk worthily as the children of God.

II. CONSIDER THE SPIRITUAL RENEWAL TO WHICH HE SUMMONS THEM'. (Vers. 21-24.) The unconverted and lascivious heathen only showed to what excess of sin the old nature within each of us will proceed, if it be not put away. The beacons show the possibility of every sinful soul if it be not converted unto God. Hence Paul counsels the Ephesians to "put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Revised Version). The "old man" is the sinful nature which we all possess as children of Adam; the "new man" is the better nature which God creates within us. But this new nature does not assert itself as new faculties and new powers, but utilizes the understanding and affections and will, which it finds already within us, so that according to proper mental laws we experience our renewal. The means by which this renewal is brought about are Christ and his offices and benefits; in other words, it is effected by "the truth as it is in Jesus." The moral manifestation is in "righteousness and holiness of truth."

III. CONSIDER THE SERIOUS SINS AGAINST WHICH HE WARNS THE EPHESIANS. (Vers. 25-29.) It is evident, from the way in which he mentions them, that they prevailed in heathenism, and that the Ephesians had been previously guilty of them. They bring out vividly the raw material with which he had to work, and they should sustain the hope of missionaries still.

1. Falsehood. It is evident that the veracity of the heathen could not be calculated on; and what was true in Paul's time is true still. The testimony of missionaries is to this effect, that you cannot rely on the word of the heathen. An interesting fact may here be quoted in illustration. "A Christian Santal was once going through several villages to make an extensive purchase of rice. In the first of the villages he got part of what he required, in the second also he got some baskets, and so forth, all for cash payments. But when he had brought out his money at the last village, he saw that he had not enough. He was twelve shillings short of the sum necessary to pay what he had bought. It is a thing unheard of among the Santals to give any goods on credit, so that the man saw that he had no alternative but to ask the seller to take back twelve shillings' worth of the rice. Meantime the seller had perceived that he had to do with a Christian, and as this impression was confirmed on his directly putting the question, he declared, without more ado, that he would be content in the mean time with the partial payment, and would trust to the buyer that he would soon bring him the balance. Unfortunately, the tax-collector came next day to the village to collect the dues. The man who had given his rice on credit was not able to pay his dues fully at once, and told, by way of excuse, what had befallen him. But the official deemed it incredible that a Santal should part with his goods without getting the money for them. His suspicion was confirmed by the fact that the man could give neither the name nor the residence of his debtor, and only took his stand upon this, that he was a Christian, and would certainly pay the twelve shillings ere long. Even the other villagers did not believe the story, and the collector sentenced the supposed liar to a suitable measure of stripes. A few days after, that Christian returned and paid his debt. His creditor had scarcely recovered from his undeserved ill treatment; but he forgot his pains through the joy of being able to vindicate himself and his honorable debtor before his neighbors and acquaintances. He called them all together and said triumphantly, 'You laughed at me lately because I trusted the word of a Christian. There he is. Look well at him. I have not dunned him for his debt. I knew neither his name nor where he lives, and yet he has come to pay me the twelve shillings.' "This interesting circumstance brings out at once the falsehood that exists in heathenism and the veracity fostered by the gospel. Before leaving this first sin, however, it is well to notice on what Paul grounds his appeal for veracity. It is on our being "members one of another." "Truth-speaking," says Mozley, "is not a universal isolated obligation which we are under - a law to say truth under all circumstances, and in whatever relations we stand to the other party; but it supposes certain relations, viz. the ordinary relations of man with man, the natural terms of fellowship with man - that we are bound to perform all the offices of humanity to him, and to behave to him as a brother. When we speak of the certain and obvious obligation to sincerity, these are the relations which we suppose; and St. Paul places the duty of veracity upon its proper basis, and gives the law of truth its proper position in the frame and system of morals, when he assigns the duty of truth-speaking this large and deep source, this intelligible connection, and this inclusive rationale." We do not proceed further in the quotation, but he infers that the relations of man to man may so vary, as when a man turns out assassin, that we are under no obligation to tell truth to him, if it would further his diabolical designs.

2. Sinful anger. This is another sin which is prevalent among unregenerate men. Paul's appeal implies that there is such a thing as sinless anger. God is angry with the wicked, for example, every day. David, again, at the very time when he was calling on God to search him and to try him, could say calmly in the Divine presence, "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies" (Psalm 139:21, 22). But a great deal of the anger indulged in, both in heathen and in Christian lands, is selfish passion, and so sinful anger. It is against this selfish phase Paul warns them, and as we are peculiarly open to assaults from Satan when thus angry, the Ephesians are warned in this connection not to give place to the devil.

3. Laziness. The heathen will not work if they can help it. They would rather steal than work. Hence the gospel has always had an important mission in the "exaltation of labor." The monks in the Middle Ages did immense service in this direction, and really prepared Europe for the vast development of modern industry. This is one great feature also of modern missions. They give an impulse to industry wherever they are established. But it is to be observed that "the apostle does not honor all industry: far from it. He always reprobates the covetous, money-getting spirit. Fie even says, 'The love of money is the root of all evil,' and he calls covetousness idolatry.... He admires industry, but it must be industry which is consecrated by the nature which he requires; for it is that of duty - when a man fulfils in the fear of God the task which is allotted to him." In the present instance he exhorts them to give up the laziness which would prompt a man to steal, and to work earnestly that they may be able to help others. Labor is exalted when disinterestedness enters in and consecrates it.

4. Filthy conversation. We need not tarry upon this. It is known to be one of the great trials of missionary life in heathen lands. What they hear is something awful. Some time since an enterprising and able young man disguised himself and spent some nights in the model lodging-houses of Glasgow, to report on the way in which they are conducted. His testimony was that it was not so much what he saw or smelt which gave him such pain, as what he heard. This exactly illustrates the point before us. Paul's ear, we may be sure, had been the avenue of exquisite torture as he heard "the filthy conversation of the wicked." He calls upon his converts, consequently, to cultivate a gracious and edifying discourse. It is by speaking that human usefulness is chiefly realized. Men are to be talked into better things (Romans 10:17).

IV. CONSIDER HIS WARNING AGAINST GRIEVING THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD. (Ver. 30.) Now, if Paul's ears were grieved with the immoralities of heathenism, how much more must we believe will the Holy Spirit be offended! How needful that those in whose hearts he dwells should abstain from all appearance of evil, and so give no offence to the holy Guest! More especially should this be the case when he condescends to seal souls "unto the day of redemption." If he has come to abide with us forever, surely we ought not to trifle in his presence or to offend his pure and blessed Being!

V. LASTLY, CONSIDER HIS APPEAL FOE MUTUAL FORBEARANCE AND KINDLINESS. (Vers. 31, 32.) He brings in the forgiveness of God to us as a reason why we should be forbearing and forgiving to one another. In this way he expects to bring the Ephesians, who bad been so unholy, into the glorious unity of Christian love. The material on which he worked was raw and rough indeed, but not worse than human nature still. But out of the roughest stone hewed from the quarry of nature Divine grace can make polished stones fitted for God's palace. - R.M.E.

Parallel Verses
KJV: This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,

WEB: This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind,

Kept from Mental Vanity
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