Living Christ in the World

Ephesians 4:17‑29  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Another result is seen in the next admonition, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil." vv. 26,27. Our Lord was angry with certain persons, "being grieved for the hardness of their hearts" (Mark 3:55And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. (Mark 3:5)). There is therefore an anger which is of God, but the abiding wrath which springs from vindictive feeling is not of God. Even the anger kindled by godly indignation against evil may too readily degenerate into fleshly passion. We must beware therefore that in anger we "sin not," and guard against vindictive feeling by watching that the sun goes not down on our wrath. Otherwise the tempter may come in, and we are not to "give place to the devil."
The next exhortation is a little startling from its very obviousness; "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." v. 28. We must remember that the early assemblies were formed of persons just brought out of heathenism with all its abominations, and consisted in part of slaves, an oppressed and degraded class, among whom theft was practiced without scruple or shame. The exhortation too goes beyond open theft, and in principle condemns all taking of unfair advantage, such as even the fuller morality of our own day often but feebly condemns. But the interest of the exhortation lies rather in the motive than in the course of conduct enjoined. If believers had been under the law, a simple appeal to the eighth commandment of the decalogue would have been enough. But we are not under the law, but under grace. What is the obligation then imposed by this position? Not only to do "the righteousness of the law," but a great deal more. Did Christ stop with doing the righteousness of the law? On the contrary, He went far beyond it. The law requires that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, but it does not require us to lay down our lives for our neighbor. This, however, was what Christ did; and if the life of Christ is in us, "we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:1616Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)). So extreme a sacrifice may indeed be rarely demanded, but the spirit of it may always be shown. Christ not only did not injure man, but "though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich." 2 Cor. 8:99For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9). His whole life was one of self-sacrificing love. How beautifully this reappears in Paul—"I will very gladly spend and be spent for you" (2 Cor. 12:1515And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. (2 Corinthians 12:15)). The Christian should walk in the same path, as he has the same life, not only refraining from stealing or taking unfair advantage, but working to have the means of ministering "to him that needeth."
Thus the Holy Spirit, by one of the simplest exhortations in Scripture,—an exhortation which from its commonplace character might to our blind reasoning seem hardly worthy of a place in such an epistle—brings out one of the most striking differences between law and grace. Law simply prohibits evil; grace delights in doing good. Law is what God demands from man; grace is what God is in Himself. How sad then to see believers who have been brought into liberty and associated with Christ, falling back into the lower class of motives and principles, and putting themselves again in bondage under a system to which they are declared to be dead by the body of Christ. The whole "righteousness of the law" shone out in the ways of Christ, and will shine out in the ways of one who is abiding in Christ. But how infinitely beyond the grace revealed in every action of that perfect life! And this is what will appear, of course in a vastly inferior degree, but still is a real fruit of abiding in Him and walking in the power of the new life in which we are quickened together with Him.
The same thing may be observed in the next exhortation. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." v. 29. A special class of corrupt communications, such as might be expected from Gentiles who wrought "all uncleanness with greediness," is alluded to in the next chapter; but here the exhortation has a wider scope. "How can ye, being evil, speak good things?" asks our Lord of the Jews (Matt. 12:3434O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (Matthew 12:34)). A corrupt tree can only bring forth corrupt fruit. The words as well as the works will bear the character of the heart from which they proceed. But it is not enough that the believer merely abstains from corrupt communications, such as naturally belong to "the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." He has put on the new man, of which Christ is the perfect representative. Did Christ merely refrain from evil in His conversation? No; His words, like His life, ministered "grace unto the hearers." And so will the words of one who is in communion with Christ. Just so far as we walk after "the new man" will our words resemble the words of Him of whom it is written, "Grace is poured into Thy lips: therefore God hath blessed Thee forever" (Psalm 45:22Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever. (Psalm 45:2)).