Message: Individually Faithful, Corporately Fruitful | Scripture: Ephesians 4:25 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
- Unfortunately, not everything was discussed about this passage. One of the things not discussed was that the middle portion of Eph 4:25 is a quotation from Zechariah 8:16. What is the significance of Paul’s quotation of this Old Testament Text? As a clue, look at the context of Zechariah 8:1-15–who is the prophet writing to, what is their significance in the kingdom of God? How should this affect their attitude in how they live/behave?
- Are Christians required to reject sin and obey? Is there a problem using language like this? If so, why? What particular word creates an issue for you? Can that word be changed to another?
- What is the reason for God’s creation of man?
- What does the Law reveal? Are Christians required to keep the Law in the same way as the Jews? Why/why not?
- Are Christians required to follow any law? Why/why not? If so, what kind of law do we follow?
- How does the law of the Old Testament continue in the New Testament?
- How has the law progressed from Adam to Christ?
- What are the grounds to the ethical requirement in Eph 4:25?
- How are these two grounds related to one another–what do they reveal about our relationship to God and to one another?
- How important do we hold to our membership at church? What does it mean to be covenanted to one another?
- Do we live as those covenanted together or simply associates of one another? Why (for whichever you choose)?
- What is the truth?
- Why does Paul choose the first ethical requirement of Christians to be one about speaking the truth?
- Who is the neighbour that Paul is referring to in this passage? How are we to speak to that neighbour?
- Do we, as a church, actively speak the truth to/with one another (not just at one another)?
I have said to you before that the indicative gives rise to the imperative. What that means is that when you have a set of facts, and you believe those facts to be true, then the way you acknowledge their truthfulness is by living like you believe them. For example, when I was a kid. I believed that if you sat on a dirty chair, the dirt on that chair would absorb into your clothes, which, since those clothes are attached to my body, would slowly make its way through my clothing onto my skin, which would slowly make its way into my internal organs, which would slowly destroy all my health, and inevitably, by sitting on this dirty chair, I would die. So, for a very long time, I would not sit down unless I thought the chair was clean. I remember whenever we went to a wedding or special event where you have your seat picked out for you, I would always run to the table before my parents could get there, scanning to see where the cleanest chair was, and switching my chair with that chair. See, I believed in the fact that dirt kills you. I believed it so much that I wanted to avoid not just touching it with my hands but even with my clothes, and so I’d inconvenience other people just to satisfy this conviction I had. The indicative that dirt kills gave way to the imperative not to touch dirt at all costs, otherwise I’d die.
Today, we’re dealing with the facts of Ephesians 1-3—the facts regarding our sin, regarding the grace of Christ, regarding the new humanity—and seeing how these facts—facts that are found all throughout the book of Ephesians—give way to the imperatives in our lives. Paul gave us general commands in Eph 4:17-24. But now, he is about to communicate his specific instructions for what it means to be faithful Christians, and we don’t want to waste another minute being apart from his instruction, so read with me here Ephesians 4:25 (from the ESV). TWoL.
Ephesians 4:25 [ESV] – Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another.
Our proposition this morning is based upon everything we’ve just learned from Ephesians 4:17-24. Where we are called to be resolved not to sin, to know Christ, and to live a new life as those covenanted to God as one people, we are now called to live in a certain, ethical way. There’s an ethic to what we are supposed to do and what we are not supposed to do. And Paul, here in verse 25, begins by telling us our ethical obligations as Christians. Thus, our proposition based upon this verse is as follows: Ethical Living Begins with Ethical Speaking. And the way I want to unpack this proposition for us today is by first providing you with an introduction as to what the ethic of Paul is—how we make sense of it as Christians who are saved by grace. Then, looking specifically at verse 25, we’re going to look at the two grounds of the first ethic. Lastly, we’ll talk about the first ethic itself, and what it reveals about us as those created to live in light of everything that God has done for us.
1) An Introduction to the Ethic of Paul
What needs to happen here in this first section is to answer the question of what Paul is doing in Ephesians 4:25-5:2. And I’ve already sort of told you: he’s introducing our ethical requirements as Christians. But maybe we’ve read this book too many times to slow down when we get to this section because something should strike us as soon as we set our eyes upon it. Paul has just spent all this time talking about the sorrowful state of our birth and the miracle of our rebirth. The simple fact of Ephesians 1 and 2 is that we have done absolutely nothing to merit our salvation. What we have, what we’ve received in Christ, is wholly by grace. We were purchased by his blood into the love and acceptance of God. Faith is the gift of God, not a result of works, say Ephesians 2:8-9. Thus, it seems like the law is no more for Christians! Where the law served only to condemn, Christians have received grace! Where the law was impossible to fulfill, Christ has fulfilled its requirements and imputed his righteousness to us!
So, what ought to strike us as we come to this section in chapter 4 is that it seems like Paul is once again enslaving us to the law. Just look at the language of verse 25, “Therefore, because you put off falsehood, each of you speak the truth with his neighbour, because we are parts, members of one another.” The ESV uses the word “let each one of you,” which actually makes the command sound lighter than the Greek conveys—almost like something we are to permit. But in the Greek, it’s a flat-out imperative, second person, plural. You are to speak truth! It’s a black and white command. There’s no overt rule that forces us to use language of permission. “Let’s” is just an easier way to read it, but don’t misunderstand. Paul isn’t asking you. He’s commanding you.
Where have we seen this commanding kind of language before? Well, most notably, this particular command sounds a lot like Exodus 20:16: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” In other words, it sounds exactly like the law—it sounds like he’s making the Christian life about following a moral code of principles!
This ought to catch our attention. What’s the point of grace if we now are required to do certain works? Why does it seem like Paul is introducing the law here and sending Christians back into the requirements of the Old Testament?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not setting this up to say that there is no law over Christians. Paul is undoubtedly introducing and requiring obedience to a law here. Some might call this the law of Christ or the ethic of Paul, and it’s an ethical system that we, as Christians, are called to abide by.
The answer to this dilemma comes in what we often call the Continuity and Discontinuity of the Old Testament within the New Testament. There are elements of the Old Testament law that continue, and there are elements that are discontinued. But what are those elements? Are the laws of the Old Testament still imposed upon us, and if they are, are they all imposed or only some? And if only some are imposed, then which ones are we required to follow? These are weighty questions.
Allow me to briefly teach you how we deal with the law as Christians because it’s easy to get this wrong. Hopefully, all of us in this room know to some degree that the Bible progresses from Genesis to Revelation. As we walk from the beginning to the end, there is a story being told, and as that story unfolds, things become more and more clear. Just as this is true for history, and the story of God that it unveils, it is also true for the law.
If we start in Genesis, nothing is written down for Adam and Eve, but there is a law. God creates them and gives them a mandate. If they fulfill it, then they will be rewarded. If they fail it, they will be cursed. He tells them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over all of creation in Gen 1:28. All things on earth were to be submitted to human rule just as all things in the cosmos are submitted to God in his rule. This is why God created man: to image him. And this imaging him wasn’t something unnatural to man, it was something built into the very fabric of humanity. Humans are to display God, and if we display God, then what we get is the pleasure and fellowship of God himself. This was the portrait of Eden prior to the fall.
The problem is that the first humans chose not to image God. They failed to display his character and became ashamed of what they looked like because of their failure. So, fast forward in time, and God appoints a new representative: Israel. Now, because of sin and man’s propensity to reject the image of God in himself, God provides Israel with an explicit law. First, telling Israel to remember all that he’s done to save them from Egypt, he writes down on tablets of stone ten specific laws so that what was implicit with Adam and Eve in creation is now made explicit post-Exodus. Humanity is, again, meant to display the holy character of God as his created and redeemed people, and now there’s no guesswork involved. See, there’s a radical difference here from Adam to Israel because Adam had to figure out what he was supposed to do based on his innate conscience, but he let the devil twist his conscience and confuse him. So, instead of making it a matter of conscience, God now provides the means so that even if the conscience is tempted by sin, there’s something to point you back to who God is, and what it looks like to display him in our lives.
The problem for us is that when we read the Old Testament, we get bogged down in the specific time and context of Israel. You see, God engraved these ten laws, but because of Israel’s context and ease of being misled, he also instructs Moses in the ways that these ten laws are to be applied in particular circumstances. This is why on top of the ten commandments we see laws for certain foods, tithing, sacrifices, refugees, acts of justice, etc.: these ten commandments were to be applied to every facet of life and worship, and this is why there are so many additional requirements. And yet, we must remember that only the ten commandments were written down by God upon tablets of stone.
What mattered to God, then, were these ten commandments. Why? Because they displayed the character of God—the character that God hoped Israel would adopt as their own because of the grace he’d shown them in Egypt. Furthermore, to emphasize the importance of these ten commandments, Sinclair Ferguson points out to us these ten laws are the only laws sealed within the ark of the covenant underneath the mercy seat. What housed the dwelling place of God in the ark? His commandments—the symbol of his character. And, whenever Israel sinned, what did the priest have to do? He would take blood from a spotless lamb and pour it out over that mercy seat down the sides of the ark. The blood covered the law to symbolize that atonement had been made for breaking them. This symbolic act shows us not only the importance of the ten commandments, but how their importance is constantly tied to Israel. When the law of God is broken, blood is poured out to cover transgression. It’s this act of pouring out blood upon the mercy seat over the tablets that ensures the continued relationship between God and Israel. God, in reference to the law, is concerned above all with the integrity of these ten laws because these ten laws represent who he is on earth—they are the very commands that he makes unmistakably clear to Israel because they have to do with him. Breaking these laws was tantamount to declaring war against God because it defames his character. That’s why he provides them with a method of atonement—to keep the law and his relationship to his people intact. It is also why he writes them down explicitly on the tablets while sealing them within the ark of the covenant. He desires to uphold, honour, and vindicate his character no matter what we do.
Then Christ comes, and he does what Adam and Israel could not do. He is perfect in his obedience to the law. He perfectly images God in his earthly life. And yet, despite his obedience, it’s not enough because while he is righteous, all of us remain unrighteous. So, he rectifies not only the problem of imaging God in the world, but he also rectifies the problem of our not imaging God in the world by dying upon a cross. This act of perfect love and sacrifice is what paves the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit—there is now something God can apply broadly as a means to permanently keep his law and his relationship with his people intact. It is because of Christ that what was once written by God upon stone is now written by God, the Spirit, upon our hearts. What was sealed in the ark of the covenant under the mercy seat is now sealed within our inner being because of the Spirit’s testimony of Christ’s cross. What was once an external requirement for Israel has now become an internal desire for Christians. The law of God is now placed inside of us having been fulfilled by Jesus Christ’s righteousness and death, so that the character of God might be lived out in us and by us. In other words, there is a law to follow.
But the law of God is now the law of Christ. Christ has transformed the law to show us that obedience to it does not come outside of us working inwards, but that it comes from within us working outwards. What continues isn’t the weight or the many applications of the law upon Israel, but the purpose of the law to bring us into conformity with what we were created to be. What once was impossible for Adam and Israel is now not only made possible for us but joyful for us, because it’s who we are. Our desires, our very hearts are transformed by the gospel. Unlike Israel who had prophets and kings external to them to remind them of God’s deliverance, we have received the Holy Spirit waving the flag of the gospel so that we don’t forget what’s been done for us. Israel forgot constantly. We do not! We have God himself residing within us. We have God himself reminding us. We have God himself transforming us. And so, as he reminds us, as he brings us back to the gospel, we orient our lives to live in such a way where this gospel is not only in our minds, but our very lives are centered upon it. Nothing we do stands apart from it, and all that we are makes much of the God who’s given it to us.
This is what Paul is reminding us of here in Ephesians 4! Does faith in Christ, which we’ve received by grace, mean that there is now no law for us to follow? Absolutely not! We do not destroy the law, just as Christ did not come to destroy the law. “No,” says Paul, “We strengthen it. We embolden and, in some ways, enlarge it. For Christ came to fulfill the law so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Rom 8:4). This is how we know what law we’re supposed to follow. This is how we know what continues and doesn’t continue from the Old Testament. We are called to do everything that displays the character and image of God in a world that has forgotten him, and he’s given us the gospel and the power of the Spirit to do it. The ethic of Paul does require us to follow a law, but it is not exactly the same law as that of the Old Testament. The difference is Jesus, and no ethic on earth makes sense or is made possible without him.
2) The Grounds for the First Ethic
Look at verse 25, again, with me. It starts with “Therefore,” and it’s pointing us to the truth of verses 17-24, which, as we’ve discussed in previous weeks, reflects the truth of all that has already been said in chapters 1-4:16. Be resolved not to sin. Be resolved to know Christ. Be resolved to live a new life as the newly defined people of God. Now, because you are resolved to these lofty goals, let me spell out for you the specific ways you can achieve them. Let me tell you what true righteousness and holiness look like, as Paul says in verse 24.
However, before I tell you how to be righteous and holy, let me remind you once more of the reasons why you are to be holy and righteous: (1) because you have put away falsehood, and (2) because we are members of one another.
We can achieve the righteousness and holiness described in verse 24 because we’ve put away, or more literally, put off the lie of sin. Paul, here in verse 25, is borrowing the covenantal language of verse 24. Remember, putting off and putting on reflects the covenant made by God to us first in Adam, then in Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Israel, David, and, most prominently and permanently, in Christ. In those instances, putting off or tearing off clothes signified remorse and sorrow over sin, while putting on always signified the coming or inauguration of a covenant. So, Paul is borrowing that covenantal language and drawing us back to what we’ve done to prepare for the putting on of the new man and of the new covenant that’s come in Jesus. He’s reminding us of what we’ve put off once-and-for-all, and what we’ve put off is the lie—the lie, particularly, of sin.
Sin deceived us into believing that we can find our ultimate joy not in God but in ourselves. Sin deceived us that our desires are not found in God but in created things. Sin deceived us that salvation comes by merit and not by grace. Sin deceives us that we can both be Christian and keep doing that thing that the Bible tells us is wrong. The first ground as to why we can follow the law of Christ is because we’ve put off this deception. We’ve put it off by being created anew. We’ve put it off by God’s putting in us a new heart through the gospel and his Spirit. We honour that new heart by working alongside the Holy Spirit who dwells in us to do the things that bring glory to God. This is our first ground to ethical living—we have put off the deceit of sin.
Secondly, we are able to obey the law of Christ/the ethic of Paul because we are members of one another. Literally stated, the second ground reads that we are parts of one another. We are joined together. But I think the word that the ESV uses, “members” is the better word to use because it harks back to the covenantal language of the first ground. God has covenanted with us through the gospel, and he has put a new heart in us, so we put off the old self. There is an allusion to the covenant in the first ground that exists between us and God. But this second ground isn’t about the covenant between us and God. It’s about the covenant that we have with each other as members, as one body under one Christ.
What does this covenant look like? Well, we aren’t just joints of a body that can dislocate ourselves from it whenever we want. No, we’re stuck together, and happily so. I don’t know a single person who likes to actively dislocate parts of their body—in fact, most people are happiest when all their joints are kept together. There was this time that we were on the ski hill, and I’m an avid skier. So, I took my somewhat inexperienced friend down a double black diamond because it was faster to get to the other side of the mountain, and what’s worse is that I didn’t wait for him. I remember getting to the bottom of the hill, waiting for 10 minutes, and thinking, “where’s Phil?” So, I went back up the hill and, to my utter shock, found him lying down on his back screaming at the top of the hill. That friend ended up falling so hard that he dislocated his shoulder, and we were forced to wait in his agony and in the cold for the paramedics to come. When joints fall out of place, the whole body feels out of place, and Scripture says here that as Christians part of the same community, we are bound together like joints or parts of a body.
This is what membership as those within the body of Christ looks like. This is what membership in a particular local assembly looks like. Paul is writing to the Ephesians telling them that they belong in covenant membership together. There is a bond that cannot be easily severed between you, and when it is, it is usually because irreparable damage and pain has been inflicted. This is the seriousness to which we are called, in this passage, to take our membership as a church. These are our two grounds for ethical living: we are, first, covenanted to God, but that covenant translates into the dedication and love that we have for one another as the same body. Thus, we recognize that when one of our members starts to pull away, we do everything in our Spirit-given power to draw them back and to encourage them to live holy lives once again. We have been saved into a covenant with him, and that covenant is effective because we have been saved into a covenant with and for the sake of preserving one another in the gospel.
3) The First Ethic Itself
Look at the middle portion of verse 25 with me, “let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour.” Because we put off sin’s deceit and entered a new covenant, and because we are members of one another, each one of us is to speak the truth with his neighbour. This is Paul’s first specific command to us. He’s given us a lot of theology and broad imperatives up to this point, but now he gets pointed. Let’s break this down into its component parts.
His first command regards us individually. This really is what Ephesians 4 emphasizes. Ephesians 1-3 is about what God has done for us in Christ and for each other. Then, Ephesians 4 starts the discussion about the implications of God’s action, namely, we are called to be faithful people. We are called to be faithful individuals. How are we to be faithful? Each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour. Each of us have this obligation. It doesn’t matter if the person sitting next to you is lying to your face. Their obligation is not your concern right now. What Paul is concerned with is that we are aware of ourselves, and our propensity to judge others and to keep others accountable instead of ourselves. So, Paul wants to be very clear here that we are to be accountable for ourselves. We are to lay aside our sin. We’re to consider one another greater than ourselves. In other words, we’re to be aware of ourselves in such a way that we forget ourselves and get out of our own way when it comes to honouring and displaying God in our lives. This is the first part of the imperative. We are to live ethically as individuals who put off lies in pursuit of the truth.
Not only is this command to us individually, and not only are we to pursue the truth, but we, ourselves, are to speak the truth. We know the truth. The truth is that God in his infinite holiness and love desired to display and share his glory with the universe, so he created man in his own likeness so that, on earth, all of creation might know who God is and why he is worthy of our praise. But we exchanged our desire to worship the immortal God for mortal things, and we stored up for ourselves the guilt and wrath of a God who requires recompense for our sin. God determined in himself to provide this recompense through his own Son. His Son, the second person of the Triune God, came in the form of human likeness, vulnerable, and tempted by sin, and yet, he never sinned. In his righteousness and holiness, we condemned him, and he died nailed to a cross in our hatred. Yet, he did not despise us. Rather, because he hung there upon that tree, because he was spotless and righteous in his life, God set upon him our sin as his blood was poured out as our atoning sacrifice. God laid upon him all of his wrath and all of our punishment. And there, he died under divine wrath and was laid in a tomb for three days. BUT, brothers and sisters, he is no longer there. No, he is risen, and he reigns in glory. He appeared first to the twelve and then to other witnesses, and then he ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father interceding for us by sending us the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and call us to repentance and belief. Now, whoever confesses that Christ is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised him from the dead, he or she shall be saved.
This is the truth that we speak. But don’t be so dense as to think that being ethical is about reciting the gospel. No, this is why Paul is sure to remind us that we’re to speak the truth with our neighbour. And by neighbour, he means our other members of the body—to one another. If you are a part of this church. If you call yourself Christian. Then you are one another’s neighbours! And as neighbours, we’re not to simply recite the truth at each other, we’re to speak it as those who are made a part of the same community. When Paul uses the word neighbour here, he’s not talking about the guy you don’t know who lives next door—he’s telling you about the proximity of your new relationship. You were as distant as possible before, and now, you’ve been brought near—and not just geographically, but you share a common bond. You share the same Spirit. You possess the same Christ. As such, speak the gospel to one another. Confess your sins. Pray for one another actively. Encourage good works. Call one another out in kindness and compassion. In other words, don’t recite, exhort and expose the gospel! Speak to reconcile. Speak to forgive. Speak to exalt. Speak to glorify. Speak to edify. Speak as one who has been spoken to in your heart. Each of you know the depths of the gospel’s effect in your lives. Each of you ought to strive after seeking that gospel effect in one another’s lives.
So, what does it mean to speak the truth? It means that we are called to display the very character of God to one another, and thus, fulfill the law as he intended from the very beginning. What is the first act of creation in all the Bible? “And. God. Said.” The first act of creation in all of history is God’s speaking. What’s more is that God’s speaking was not empty or without power. No, when God spoke life, breath, and order came out of nothing.
In the same way, Paul makes speaking the truth the first specific ethic of Ephesians 4 because he desires us to image God in all that we do. When we speak the truth to one another, we’re doing it to impart life. Just as God’s first act is to speak life into the universe, we, too, by our speaking, give life to the world, and that starts with our neighbour—the people closest to us. God did not abandon those whom he loves when they became wayward in their sin. Instead, he sent his only Son to save us. So too, we do not abandon one another in our sinfulness or waywardness. We remember God has spoken his own Son into our midst, and so, we speak of his Son in the midst of our own sin. From his speaking, he creates us anew, he reestablishes his image, and he makes us representatives of him in all that we do. This, then, is what we do. We speak the truth, because we speak of God. And we do this for one another unceasingly! This is our call first and foremost as Christians—ethical, God-exalting living means ethical, God-exalting speech. Following the law of Christ means speaking the gospel of Christ to one another as the basis for our obedience.