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John

Summary of the Text

Taking Off the Old Clothes and Putting on the New: Our passage continues Paul’s teaching on “the putting off of the old self” (anthropos) (of sin, corruption, and death) vs.22 and putting on the “new self” (which Paul defines as being “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness vs.24). This takes the very specific form of teaching related to our mouths (aka our words) and our relationship to work. 

A Seemingly Unnecessary Imperative: You Ought to Work For Your Bread: The gospel draws people from all walks of life, including, at times, those who steal to get by. Paul speaks outright that everyone should work to earn their living. He gives us two reasons to work: one is to support ourselves, to be able to provide for ourselves without resorting to the kind of pilfering that was apparently taking place in Ephesus, and the second is to give to those in need out of the abundance created through our work. It’s rather simple when you think about it.

The Importance of Healthy Talk: But let us return to the subject of our mouths, what does Paul have to say about our speech? Here Paul does not simply say, “use wholesome language, do not lie, etc.” but instead, he grounds the conversation in the life of the body of Christ. When Paul tells the Ephesians to avoid slandering their neighbor, he justifies the statement in his understanding of the church: “we are all members of the one body” (vs.25). 

Paul’s (and Jesus’) High Ecclesiology (doctrine of the church): Like Jesus when he confronts Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus, the idea is that when anyone in the church is hurt, the entire body hurts. “Saul,” Jesus says in Acts 9:4, “why are you persecuting me?” Notice what Jesus doesn’t say, “why are you persecuting my followers”, but “me.” In the same way here, when you lie, cheat or steal from a member of the church, you are not simply hurting an individual, but Jesus himself (and yourself for that matter as part of the body). As the great church father John Chyrsostom once said, “If the eye sees a serpent, does it deceive the foot? if the tongue tastes what is bitter, does it deceive the stomach?’ In other words, it should be unnatural to speak or act against your own body: we only hurt ourselves when we speak harshly against the church. 

This is a hard word for us westerners who tend to look at the world through highly individualistic eyes. The idea that my gossip or malicious words could actually be hurting the church universal is extremely strange to us, but as God’s Word, it ought not be ignored. Perhaps each of us ought to meditate on how we speak about other members of the church and our churches in general. Are we hurting the body? Are we hurting Jesus?

An Important Caveat: With that said, it is important to recognize that we are not talking about keeping quiet about abuse, or other behavior that is completely inappropriate in a church setting. Those situations should always be reported. What we are talking about is the more common gossip, factionalism, and in-fighting that can paralyze the body of Christ from fulfilling its mission to demonstrate the beauty of the gospel to the world. 

A Christian Ethic for Work: If Christ has made us righteous and holy (again from vs.24) by giving us a new identity, then our behavior ought to match their identity. As Francis Foukes says in the Tyndale Commentary series, “Christians are to work for their own living. More than that, they are to work to be able to give to those in need.” The Christian motive for earning is not merely to have enough for oneself and one’s own, and then perhaps for comforts and luxuries, but to have in order to give to the needy.”

Simple in concept, but not always easy in practice. As John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church once said, “The last part of a [hu]man to be converted is his [or her] wallet.” And so Paul is delicately but firmly encouraging his audience to give with the generosity that Christ himself would give.

Wrapping Things Up: As we close our discussion, there are a number of swirling questions in the back of my mind. Do we in the Western church take conflict, dissension, etc. as seriously as Paul did? Do we really believe that when we speak harsh words against a brother or sister in Christ that we are actually hurting the body of Christ? What about work and the wages that come as a result? Do we see them first and foremost as a chance to take care of our needs and then the needs of those less fortunate? According to Paul, this is, at least in part, what it means to put off the old self of sin and death, and to put on the new humanity, where beauty and truth and goodness shine through for all to see.

Stu Headshot

Stuart Strachan Jr. is an ordained Presbyterian Pastor as well as the founder and lead curator of the Pastor’s Workshop. His primary passion is equipping the saints for the ministry of the church (Ephesians 4). He loves preaching, teaching, and helping churches cast vision for what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st Century. He has served churches in a variety of capacities in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Stu is married to Colleen, who currently serves as a spiritual formation lead at Compassion International in Colorado Springs. Stu and Colleen have two children (Jack and Emma) whom they love deeply.

In his free time, Stu enjoys gardening, golf, reading a good book, and watching baseball.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

My soul is like a house, small for you to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see: this I know and do not hide. But who is to rid it of these things? There is no one but you.

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Or 

The Church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.

C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis, 7 December 1950

Key Illustration

Healing A Wound in the Body

In a letter of Justin Martyr, written in the second century, there is a remarkable passage. He writes to a friend and explains to him how essential it is that this man, who had sinned, should come back to the community, should be reintegrated into the fellowship both of God and of the Body of Christ, because, he says, by your sin you have wounded the Body of Christ with a wound which no one can heal except you; and if you do not come back, this Body remains wounded.

There was an acute sense of the oneness and the wholeness of the total Body, including God, including Christ, the Word of God incarnate. It was an act, therefore, not only of personal salvation, but with regard to God and to every other person, to come back and to be reintegrated, and also to give back integrity to the wounded Body. It was something that was an act of faith and an act of devotion, of loyalty, of fidelity to God and to others, and not only an act by which a person who had found himself in a wrong situation placed himself in the right one.

Anthony of Sourozh, Coming Closer To Christ, Confession and Forgiveness, SPCK, 2009.

Additional Sermon Resources