Thursday, August 10, 2006

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 4:25-5:2

The first two passes at this weekend's Bible lesson are here and here.

In this post, we'll take a verse-by-verse look at the passage.

4:25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
(1) Walter Taylor sees the lesson before us as a single unit composed of seven exhortations, each of which "brings out the implications of putting off the old humanity" and putting on the new creation we've become by faith in Christ.

There is, as we have seen in other areas addressed in the book of Ephesians, an already given/but more to be taken element operating in this passage. That we are children of God and members of Christ's body is an already accomplished fact of God's grace, imparted through Christ and mediated through Baptism. Yet, just as we are free to embrace or repudiate our natural lives and the disciplines needed to fulfill their promise, we are free to fully live the life of a Christian, which includes full participation in the Church, the Body of Christ, or not.

In all of these exhortations, we're called to repudiate vice and embrace virtue in gratitude to Christ for new life, for the welfare of the one community to which all followers of Christ belong, or in deference to the Holy Spirit.

(2) The New Interpreter's Bible sees the section of Scripture of which our lesson is a part as being organized slightly differently. It calls 4:17-32 a single unit (excluding 5:1-2) and entitles it, Two Ways of Life. The section begins, in verses 17-24, by contrasting the "futile" life styles of Gentile unbelievers, the life styles formerly lived by the majority of Ephesian Christians, who were Gentile converts, to life with Christ.

In it, Paul--or whoever wrote Ephesians--encourages "you Gentiles" (2:11) to separate themselves, not socially necessarily, from "the immorality of the Gentiles." The grace of God, granted in Christ, has given these Gentile converts a privilege once only enjoyed by the Jews, a relationship with God. Paul's purpose is to school the Gentile converts in what it means to live in community with God and other believers and not as indviduals answerable only to their own desires.

(3) In encouraging believers to put off falsehood, Paul seems to have in mind not using lying as a means of gaining advantage over others. This is the cunning way of the world. Believers in Christ are called upon, as Jesus put it, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. In other words, Christians aren't to be naive. But they're called to voluntarily refuse to employ their clear-eyed understanding of the world in underhanded ways.

(4) In speaking of being "members of one another," Paul is saying that this advice deals specifically with how Christians--Gentiles and Jews--are related to one another. All Christians are part of the Body of Christ and for one portion of the body to treat the other with cunning calculation is destructive of everyone. Whenever Christians mistreat one another, both spiritual fratricide and spiritual suicide are being committed.

(5) Note the pattern we mentioned yesterday in this passage:
  • Vice (Don't do this)
  • Virtue (Do this)
  • Reason (In this case, the reason is our being part of the Body of Christ)
(6) Put away, in the Greek apotithemi, can mean put off, lay aside, put away and can be seen as the action of jettisoning an old habit.

(7) This virtue, like many enumerated in this passage, is not necessarily unique to Christianity. But the reasons given for jettisoning the old way of life and for embracing the new creation are all uniquely related to faith in Christ.

26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.
(1) Anger, in and of itself, is not inherently bad. Jesus, Who didn't sin, for example, became angry and sometimes expressed frustration with people, even with those to Whom He was close.

(2) The problem with anger is that it can lead us to sin. This happens when we let anger fester and we begin to harbor hateful feelings toward others. Such bitterness, Jesus tells us, is a violation of the Fifth Commandment, "You shall not kill." (See here.)

(3) The problem with allowing conflict to go unresolved within the Church is that it gives the devil an opening in our lives. Jesus outlines a procedure by which Christians are to resolve conflict here. Such a process is not to be entered into lightly and notice, too, that it's triggered when one member of the Body of Christ feels that another one has sinned against them. For the ordinary dust-ups that happen when people live together in community, forgiveness is essential.

28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
(1) This list of exhortations is very similar to a similar set in Colossians 3, except when we come to this verse.

(2) Paul speaks a lot about working with one's hands in his letters, maybe because even though he was an apostle, he made his living as a tentmaker.

(3) The motivation for working hard is that it affords one the ability to help others. Taylor: "The goal of work is not acquisition but contribution."

29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
(1) The Biblical tradition frequently discusses the power of our words. It reminds us that we can bring healing with what we say: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver," says Proverbs 25:11. But it also tells us of the harm we can do: "...the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James 3:5-6)

The Eighth Commandment tells us to not use our words to bear false witness against others. Martin Luther reminds us that the command is intended to do more than to keep us from telling falsehoods about others:
We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
(2) Even when we need to say something critical to fellow believers, our motive should be to build them up, to encourage them.

(3) And what is our motive for adopting the virtue of being encouraging to others? To avoid grieving the Holy Spirit. It's the Holy Spirit Who calls us to faith, gives us the capacity to believe, provides believers with words and actions by which they tell others about the new life that comes to all with faith in Christ, and most importantly, "calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." So, when we misuse the gift of speech to be malicious toward fellow believers, we disrupt the unity the Church and this saddens Him.

This is a unique motive for a virtue, peculiar to Christians. Who but a Christian cares whether the Holy Spirit is saddened or not? Yet for us who are part of Christ's family, this is serious business.

31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
(1) The vice to be avoided is malice, which is ill will or spite. The virtue is forgiveness. The motivation is that we have been forgiven by God in Christ. When He taught what's known as the Lord's Prayer, Jesus said, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

(2) It's true, as the old saying puts it, that if two people agree on everything, at least one of them is irrelevant. But it's also true that forgiveness is the thing that sustains all relationships, even through periods of disagreement. This is no less true of God's Family, the Church, than it is of any other grouping of people. In fact, it's more true, especially because the Church is charged with the most important mission in the world and has the power of God and the example of Christ to draw on in living our forgiveness for one another.

5:1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

(1) Our memory verse for the week...and powerful stuff!

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