Ephesians 4:17–5:20. Morals: Imitate God!

Key Notes: Not what you know, but Whom you know. Small lies and thefts. Settling quarrels. People of the Day.

After Paul has discussed the church in its unity of the Spirit and diversity of gifts, he talks about Christian living in every-day  activities, again comparing their behavior and attitudes with those of the pagans around them. He will oscillate back and forth between describing the pagans and the exhorting the Christians:
            4:18–19 The Gentiles are hardened.
4:25–31 Put off your old nature.
            5:3–12 Sinners are in the dark.
5:17–18 Live in the light.

4:17 “I affirm and testify (Gr. word for " martyr"  indicating his earnestness) that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do….”  They are
            futile in mind
          darkened in understanding
        alienated from the life of God
     hard of heart
  calloused and
given over  to lusty, dirty lives.

Make a list of American celebrities of the last 50 years — artists, musicians and writers, actors, actresses, and sports figures and you will see that our society looks painfully corrupt and decadent,  like Greco-Roman society of the first century.

4:20 You did not learn Christ that way.
            Surely you have heard Him.
            Surely you were taught the truth in Jesus.
Paul speaks of Christ Himself communicating with the believers:  you learned Christ; you heard Christ, and you were taught the truth in Him. The words learned “about” or heard “of” are not in the Greek. Our faith is not about “it”— Christianity--- it is Him, knowing Christ, hearing Him and being taught in Him.
“I know whom I have believed…..”(IITim.1:12)
“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection….” Phil.3:10

Our faith, our knowledge is of a loving, speaking Savior and Parent,  not an impersonal rule-book.

4:22–24 Put off your old nature, your old ways, corrupted by lust.
            Put on the new nature, created in the likeness of God.
Similar teaching on putting on and putting off is found in Col.3:8–14, Rom.13:13–14, and Gal.3:27.

Put off falsehood.
Do not sin in your anger.
Do not steal.
No evil talk.
No bitterness, anger,  fighting, slander,
Instead,  show kindness, tender hearts and forgiveness.

These instructions seem abstract until we apply them in the laboratory of the home. In close quarters, we  disobey these commands easily and often.
Falsehood? “I love  your dress."
                   “I’ll be there in a minute.”
                    “I’m fine."
                   “You’re the most beautiful girl in the world.”

Our ordinary speech simply cannot be trusted. but we can learn to speak the truth in love.
“It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying that there is so much falsehood in the world.” (Attributed to Samuel Johnson. The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. W. Barclay. Westminster,’76, p.155.)
We can learn to be careful what we say. We will not only sound wiser, we will be wiser and more kindly.

Be angry and do not sin. David is quoted:
“Be angry and sin not; commune with your own hearts on your beds and be silent.” (Psa.4:4). He concludes
“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for Thou alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psa.4:8)
David had many troubles as a spiritual and political leader in his society, where Paul refers more to the home. David’s word is that we should not continue our quarrels but make peace, if only by ourselves. Forgiveness is often a one-way street but it quenches anger.

Paul’s teaching is applicable to couples because it is not desirable — perhaps impossible --- to simply detach oneself from the conflict. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath? It is miserable to go to bed angry at your spouse. It is just as miserable to try to reconcile. How many times do we have to go back over it? The trouble is that anger not pacified leads to temptation: bitterness,  alienation and unforgiveness. revenge and  hate. A pillow-fight may be the perfect solution. By the time the combatants are breathless and the feathers fly, the argument is forgotten. “Kiss and make up ” is a sweet peace.

Do not steal. Evidently professional thieves became Christians and had trouble giving up their business. Our thefts are much more subtle. We steal time from those closest to us. The average father spends less than 30 seconds a day with his child. We withhold love that is rightfully due to our spouse. Some men withhold money necessary to manage the household. There are a thousand diversions, even  cyber-buddies to give our attention and affection to. A neighbor suffered with an intestinal bloating and diarrhea for twenty years before her gastroenterologist husband made the diagnosis of sprue. He was not unkind. He wasn't listening to his wife.

No bad words. It is especially important never to curse another person, or use a name that will wound and never be forgotten. Children are especially vulnerable. Build up and do not tear down the person closest to you. Support and comfort others as you pray God will comfort you.

Do not grieve the Spirit of God. It is possible to find Christians arguing with each other over who has the Holy Spirit and who does not. Shall the Holy Spirit be pulled this way and that? Can some claim priority over others based on their perceived spiritual endowment? How can the Holy Spirit be used as a weapon  by some Christians against others? Are there “real” Christians and “chaff” Christians based on whether or not they have received a second blessing?

5:1–14 Be imitators of God, as beloved children. It is a daunting command, to imitate God, an unimaginable task. The rest of this lesson contains a useful approach.

5:6 “Let no one deceive you with empty words”: don’t let people try to talk you out of your spiritual progress.

Fornication, impurity, silly talk are forbidden. Thanksgiving is to be our attitude.
A list of those who will not inherit the Kingdom includes the fornicator, the impure and the covetous who has made “stuff” his god. There are three other longer lists of those excluded from the Kingdom: ICor.6:9–10; Gal.5:19–21; Rev.22:15. But Paul gives us hope because after his list of those excluded from the Kingdom in ICor.6:9–11, he says “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. “
So the excluded are not necessarily forever lost, they are just not saved yet.

Our approach to the works of darkness is to be light, rejecting the darkness from which we came, and those who work in darkness. John said:
“And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than Light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the Light that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (Jn.3:19–21)

Thieves, prostitutes, and drug-dealers work at night hoping they will not be seen. We are  to throw light in dark places. Light exposes the dirt, the blemishes, and the decay in the culture. Light, salt, and yeast are all analogies that describe our penetration of society and our quiet Spirit-empowered influence on a decadent society.

5: 4–20 Then Paul makes a transition from light to wakefulness in our use of time. I Thes. 5:3–8 has a similar theme. Since’45 we live in an age of ever -decreasing expectations of survival. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists used to show a clock with the hands three minutes before midnight. It is no longer used, but the truth is even more apparent, and it is the subject of conversation around the world. Killer viruses, global warming, green-house gases, pollution of water and air,  and terrorist nuclear threats  are daily topics of conversation. We must be busy in the Master’s service. Being drunk is a suicidal response to stress.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit, addressing each other in song and thanksgiving is our obligation and our pleasure.

But how can we imitate God? (5:1). He is beyond comprehension.
Let us remember three “is” words that describe Him.
            God is Love. I Jn.4:16
            God is Light. I Jn.1:5
            God is Spirit. Jn.4:24
Paul works all three into his text.
“…as beloved children, walk in love." (5:1–2)
“…walk as children of the light." (5:8)
“…be filled with the Spirit." (5:18)

Paul has given us the answer to the challenge. It is not ethereal  but practical to imitate God.