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290

CHAPTER XXI.

DISCARDED VICES.

“Wherefore, having put away falsehood, ‘speak ye truth each one with his neighbour’: for we are members one of another.

“‘Be ye angry, and sin not’: let not the sun go down upon your provocation: neither give place to the devil.

“Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need.

“Let no worthless speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption.

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you. Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as the Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odour of a sweet smell.

“But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints; nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not befitting: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no man deceive you with empty words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.”—Eph. iv. 25—v. 6.

The transformation described in the last paragraph (vv. 17–24) has now to be carried into detail. The vices of the old heathen self must be each of 291 them replaced by the corresponding graces of the new man in Christ Jesus.

The peculiarity of the instructions given by the apostle for this purpose does not lie in the virtues enjoined, but in the light in which they are set and the motives by which they are inculcated. The common conscience condemns lying and theft, malice and uncleanness; they were denounced with eloquence by heathen moralists. But the ethics of the New Testament differed in many respects from the best moral philosophy: in its direct appeal to the conscience, in its vigour and decision, in the clearness with which it traced our maladies to the heart’s alienation from God; but most of all, in the remedy which it applied, the new principle of faith in Christ. The surgeon’s knife lays bare the root of the disease; and the physician’s hand pours in the healing balm.

Let us observe at the outset that St Paul deals with the actual and pressing temptations of his readers. He recalls what they had been, and forbids them to be such again. The associations and habits of former life, the hereditary force of evil, the atmosphere of Gentile society, and added to all this, as we discover from chapter v. 6, the persuasions of the sophistical teachers now beginning to infest the Church, tended to draw the Asian Christians back to Gentile ways and to break down the moral distinctions that separated them from the pagan world.

Amongst the discarded vices of the forsaken Gentile life, the following are here distinguished: lying, theft, anger, idle speech, malice, impurity, greed. These may be reduced to sins of temper, of word, and of act. Let us discuss them in the order in which they are brought before us.

292 1. “The falsehood”127127   Διὸ ἀποθέμενοι τὸ ψεῦδος. Despite the commentators, we must hold to it that the lie, the falsehood is objective and concrete; not lying, or falsehood as a subjective act, habit, or quality,—which would have been rather ψευδολογία (comp. μωρολογία, v. 4; and 1 Tim. iv. 2, ψευδολόγων), or τὸ ψευδές. So in Rom. i. 25, τὸ ψεῦδος is “the [one great] lie” which runs through all idolatry; and in 2 Thess. ii. 11 it denotes “the lie” which Antichrist imposes on those ready to believe it,—viz., that he himself is God. Accordingly, we take the participle ἀποθέμενοι to signify not what the readers are to do, but what they had done in renouncing heathenism. The apostle requires consistency: “Since you are now of the truth, be truth-speaking men.” of verse 25 is the antithesis of “the truth” from which righteousness and holiness spring (ver. 24). In accepting the one, Paul’s Gentile readers “had put off” the other. When these heathen converts became Christians, they renounced the great lie of idolatry, the system of error and deceit on which their lives were built. They have passed from the realm of illusion to that of truth. “Now,” the apostle says, “let your daily speech accord with this fact: you have bidden farewell to falsehood; speak truth each with his neighbour.” The true religion breeds truthful men; a sound faith makes an honest tongue. Hence there is no vice more hateful than jesuitry, nothing more shocking than the conduct of those who defend what they call “the truth” by disingenuous arts, by tricks of rhetoric and the shifts of an unscrupulous partizanship. “Will you speak unrighteously for God, and talk deceitfully for Him?” As Christ’s truth is in me cries the apostle, when he would give the strongest possible assurance of the fact he wishes to assert.128128   2 Cor. i. 18, 19, xi. 10. The social conventions and make-believes, the countless simulations and dissimulations by which the game of life is carried on belong to the old man with his lusts of deceit, to the universal lie that runs through all 293 ungodliness and unrighteousness, which is in the last analysis the denial of God.

St Paul applies here the words of Zechariah viii. 16, in which the prophet promises to restored Israel better days on the condition that they should “speak truth each with his neighbour, and judge truth and the judgement of peace in their gates. And let none of you,” he continues, “imagine evil in his heart against his neighbour; and love no false oath. For all these things do I hate, saith the Lord.” Such is the law of the New Covenant life. No doubt, St Paul is thinking of the intercourse of Christians with each other when he quotes this command and adds the reason, “For we are members one of another.” But the word neighbour, as Jesus showed, has in the Christian vocabulary no limited import; it includes the Samaritan, the heathen man and publican. When the apostle bids his converts “Follow what is good towards one another, and towards all” (1 Thess. v. 15), he certainly presumes the neighbourly obligation of truthfulness to be no less comprehensive.

Believers in Christ represent a communion which in principle embraces all men. The human race is one family in Christ. For any man to lie to his fellow is, virtually, to lie to himself. It is as if the eye should conspire to cheat the hand, or the one hand play false to the other. Truth is the right which each man claims instinctively from his neighbour; it is the tacit compact that binds together all intelligences. Without neighbourly and brotherly love perfect truthfulness is scarcely possible. “Self-respect will never destroy self-seeking, which will always find in self-interest a side accessible to the temptations of falsehood” (Harless).

2. Like the first precept, the second is borrowed 294 from the Old Testament and shaped to the uses of the New. “Be ye angry, and sin not”: so the words of Psalm iv. 4 stand in the Greek version and in the margin of our Revised Bible, where we commonly read, “Stand in awe, and sin not. Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” The apostle’s further injunction, that anger should be stayed before nightfall, accords with the Psalmist’s words; the calming effect of the night’s quiet the apostle anticipates in the approach of evening. As the day’s heat cools and its strain is relaxed, the fires of anger should die down. With the Jews, it will be remembered, the new day began at evening. Plutarch, the excellent heathen moralist contemporary with St Paul, gives this as an ancient rule of the Pythagoreans: “If at any time they happened to be provoked by anger to abusive language, before the sun set they would take each other’s hands and embracing make up their quarrel.” If Paul had heard of this admirable prescription, he would be delighted to recognize and quote it as one of those many facts of Gentile life which “show the work of the law written in their hearts” (Rom. ii. 15). The passion which outlives the day, on which the angry man sleeps and that wakes with him in the morning, takes root in his breast; it becomes a settled rancour, prompting ill thoughts and deeds.

There is no surer way of tempting the devil to tempt us than to brood over our wrongs. Every cherished grudge is a “place given” to the tempter, a new entrenchment for the Evil One in his war against the soul, from which he may shoot his “fire-tipped darts” (vi. 16). Let us dismiss with each day the day’s vexations, commending as evening falls our cares and griefs to the Divine compassion and seeking, as for ourselves, 295 so for those who may have done us wrong forgiveness and a better mind. We shall rise with the coming light armed with new patience and charity, to bring into the world’s turmoil a calm and generous wisdom that will earn for us the blessing of the peacemakers, who shall be called sons of God.

Still the apostle says: “Be angry, and sin not.” He does not condemn anger in itself, nor wholly forbid it a place within the breast of the saint. Wrath is a glorious attribute of God,—perilous, indeed, for the best of men; but he who cannot be angry has no strength for good. The apostle knew this holy passion, the flame of Jehovah that burns unceasingly against the false and foul and cruel. But he knew its dangers—how easily an ardent soul kindled to exasperation forgets the bounds of wisdom and love; how strong and jealous a curb the temper needs, lest just indignation turn to sin, and Satan gain over us a double advantage, first by the wicked provocation and then by the uncontrolled resentment it excites.

3. From anger we pass to theft.

The eighth commandment is put here in a form indicating that some of the apostle’s readers had been habitual sinners against it. Literally his words read: “Let him that steals play the thief no more.” The Greek present participle does not, however, necessarily imply a pursuit now going on, but an habitual or characteristic pursuit, that by which the agent was known and designated: “Let the thief no longer steal!” From the lowest dregs of the Greek cities—from its profligate and criminal classes—the gospel had drawn its converts (comp. 1 Cor. vi. 9–11). In the Ephesian Church there were converted thieves; and Christianity had to make of them honest workmen.

296 The words of verse 28, addressed to a company of thieves, vividly show the transforming effect of the gospel of Christ: “Let him toil, working with his hands what is good, that he may have wherewith to give to him that is in need.” The apostle brings the loftiest motives to bear instantly upon the basest natures, and is sure of a response. He makes no appeal to self-interest, he says nothing of the fear of punishment, nothing even of the pride of honest labour. Pity for their fellows, the spirit of self-sacrifice and generosity is to set those pilfering and violent hands to unaccustomed toil. The appeal was as wise as it was bold. Utilitarianism will never raise the morally degraded. Preach to them thrift and self-improvement, show them the pleasures of an ordered home and the advantages of respectability, they will still feel that their own way of life pleases and suits them best. But let the divine spark of charity be kindled in their breast—let the man have love and pity and not self to work for, and he is a new creature. His indolence is conquered; his meanness changed to the noble sense of a common manhood. Love never faileth.

4. We have passed from speech to temper, and from temper to act; in the warning of verses 29, 30 we come back to speech again.

We doubt whether corrupt talk is here intended. That comes in for condemnation in verses 2 and 3 of the next chapter. The Greek adjective is the same that is used of the “worthless fruit” of the “worthless [good-for-nothing] tree” in Matthew xii. 33; and again of the “bad fish” of Matthew xiii. 48, which the fisherman throws away not because they are corrupt or offensive, but because they are useless for food. So it is against inane, inept and useless talk that St Paul sets his face. 297 Jesus said that “for every idle word men must give account to God” (Matt. xii. 36).

Jesus Christ laid great stress upon the exercise of the gift of speech. “By thy words,” He said to His disciples, “thou shalt be justified, and by thy words condemned.” The possession of a human tongue is an immense responsibility. Infinite good or mischief lies in its power. (With the tongue we should include the pen, as being the tongue’s deputy.) Who shall say how great is the sum of injury, the waste of time, the irritation, the enfeeblement of mind and dissipation of spirit, the destruction of Christian fellowship that is due to thoughtless speech and writing? The apostle does not simply forbid injurious words, he puts an embargo on all that is not positively useful. It is not enough to say: “My chatter does nobody harm; if there is no good in it, there is no evil.” He replies: “If you cannot speak to profit, be silent till you can.”

Not that St Paul requires all Christian speech to be grave and serious. Many a true word is spoken in jest; and “grace” may be “given to the hearers” by words clothed in the grace of a genial fancy and playful wit, as well as in the direct enforcement of solemn themes. It is the mere talk, whether frivolous or pompous—spoken from the pulpit or the easy chair—the incontinence of tongue, the flux of senseless, graceless, unprofitable utterance that St Paul desires to arrest: “let it not proceed out of your mouth.” Such speech must not “escape the fence of the teeth.” It is an oppression to every serious listener; it is an injury to the utterer himself. Above all, it “grieves the Holy Spirit.”

The witness of the Holy Spirit is the seal of God’s possession in us;129129   See ch. i. 13, 14, and 18 (last clause). it is the assurance to ourselves that298 we are His sons in Christ and heirs of life eternal. From the day it is affixed to the heart, this seal need never be broken nor the witness withheld, “until the day of redemption.” Dwelling within the Church as the guard of its communion, and loving us with the love of God, the Spirit of grace is hurt and grieved by foolish words coming from lips that He has sanctified. As Israel in its ancient rebellions “vexed His Holy Spirit” (Isai. lxiii. 10), so do those who burden Christian fellowship and who enervate their own inward life by speech without worth and purpose. As His fire is quenched by distrust (1 Thess. v. 19), so His love is vexed by folly. His witness grows faint and silent; the soul loses its joyous assurance, its sense of the peace of God. When our inward life thus declines, the cause lies not unfrequently in our own heedless speech. Or we have listened willingly and without reproof to “words that may do hurt,” words of foolish jesting or idle gossip, of mischief and backbiting. The Spirit of truth retires affronted from His desecrated temple, not to return until the iniquity of the lips is purged and the wilful tongue bends to the yoke of Christ. Let us grieve before the Holy Spirit, that He be not grieved with us for such offences. Let us pray evermore: “Set a watch, O Jehovah, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”

5. In his previous reproofs the apostle has glanced in various ways at love as the remedy of our moral disorders and defects. Falsehood, anger, theft, misuse of the tongue involve disregard of the welfare of others; if they do not spring from positive ill-will, they foster and aggravate it. It is now time to deal directly with this evil that assumes so many forms, the most various of our sins and companion to every other: “Let all bitterness, 299 and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing be put away from you, with all malice.”

The last of these terms is the most typical. Malice is badness of disposition, the aptness to envy and hatred, which apart from any special occasion is always ready to break out in bitterness and wrath. Bitterness is malice sharpened to a point and directed against the exasperating object. Wrath and anger are synonymous, the former being the passionate outburst of resentment in rage, the latter the settled indignation of the aggrieved soul: this passion was put under restraint already in verses 26, 27. Clamour and railing give audible expression to these and their kindred tempers. Clamour is the loud self-assertion of the angry man, who will make every one hear his grievance; while the railer carries the war of the tongue into his enemy’s camp, and vents his displeasure in abuse and insult.

These sins of speech were rife in heathen society; and there were some amongst Paul’s readers, doubtless, who found it hard to forgo their indulgence. Especially difficult was this when Christians suffered all manner of evil from their heathen neighbours and former friends; it cost a severe struggle to be silent and “keep the mouth as with a bridle” under fierce and malicious taunts. Never to return evil for evil and railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing,—this was one of the lessons most difficult to flesh and blood.

Kindness in act, tenderheartedness of feeling are to take the place of malice with its brood of bitter passions. Where injury used to be met with reviling and insult retorted in worse insult, the men of the new life will be found “forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave” them. Here we touch the spring of Christian virtue, the master motive in the 300 apostle’s theory of life. The cross of Jesus Christ is the centre of Pauline ethics, as of Pauline theology. The sacrifice of Calvary, while it is the ground of our salvation, supplies the standard and incentive of moral attainment. It makes life an imitation of God.

The commencement of the new chapter at this point makes an unfortunate division; for its first two verses are in close consecution with the last verse of chapter iv. By kindness and pitifulness of heart, by readiness to forgive, God’s “beloved children” will “show themselves imitators” of their Father. The apostle echoes the saying of his Master, in which the law of His kingdom was laid down: “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be called children of the Highest: for He is kind to the thankless and evil. Be ye therefore pitiful, as your Father is pitiful” (Luke vi. 35, 36). Before the cross of Jesus was set up, men could not know how much God loved the world and how far He was ready to go in the way of forgiveness. Yet Christ Himself saw the same love displayed in the Father’s daily providence. He bids us imitate Him who makes His sun shine and His rain fall on the just and unjust, on the evil and the good. To the insight of Jesus, nature’s impartial bounties in which unbelief sees only moral indifference, spoke of God’s compassion; they proceed from the same love that gave His Son to taste death for every man.

In chapter iv. 32–v. 2 the Father’s love and the Son’s self-sacrifice are spoken of in terms precisely parallel. They are altogether one in quality. Christ does not by His sacrifice persuade an angry Father to love His children; it is the Divine compassion in 301 Christ that dictates and carries into effect the sacrifice. At the same time it was “an offering and a sacrifice to God.” God is love; but love is not everything in God. Justice is also Divine, and absolute in its own realm. Law can no more forgo its rights than love forget its compassions. Love must fulfil all righteousness; it must suffer law to mark out its path of obedience, or it remains an effusive, ineffectual sentiment, helpless to bless and save. Christ’s feet followed the stern and strait path of self-devotion; “He humbled Himself and became obedient,” He was “born under law.” And the law of God imposing death as the penalty for sin, which shaped Christ’s sacrifice, made it acceptable to God. Thus it was “an odour of a sweet smell.”

Hence the love which follows Christ’s example, is love wedded with duty. It finds in an ordered devotion to the good of men the means to fulfil the all-holy Will and to present in turn its “offering to God.” Such love will be above the mere pleasing of men, above sentimentalism and indulgence; it will aim higher than secular ideals and temporal contentment. It regards men in their kinship to God and obligation to His law, and seeks to make them worthy of their calling. All human duties, for those who love God, are subordinate to this; all commands are summed up in one: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The apostle pronounced the first and last word of his teaching when he said: Walk in love, as the Christ also loved us.

6. Above all others, one sin stamped the Gentile world of that time with infamy,—its uncleanness.

St Paul has stigmatized this already in the burning words of verse 19. There we saw this vice in its 302 intrinsic loathsomeness; here it is set in the light of Christ’s love on the one hand (ver. 2), and of the final judgement on the other (vv. 5, 6). Thus it is banished from the Christian fellowship in every form—even in the lightest, where it glances from the lips in words of jest: “Fornication and all uncleanness, let it not even be named among you.” Along with “filthiness, foolish talk and jesting” are to be heard no more. Passing from verse 2 to verse 3 by the contrastive But, one feels how repugnant are these things to the love of Christ. The perfume of the sacrifice of Calvary, so pleasing in heaven, sweetens our life on earth; its grace drives wanton and selfish passions from the heart, and destroys the pestilence of evil in the social atmosphere. Lust cannot breathe in the sight of the cross.

The “good-for-nothing speech” of chapter iv. 29 comes up once more for condemnation in the foolish speech and jesting of this passage. The former is the idle talk of a stupid, the latter of a clever man. Both, under the conditions of heathen society, were tainted with foulness. Loose speech easily becomes low speech. Wit, unchastened by reverence, finds a tempting field for its exercise in the delicate relations of life, and displays its skill in veiled indecencies and jests that desecrate the purer feelings, while they avoid open grossness.

St Paul’s word for “jesting” is one of the singular terms of this epistle. By etymology it denotes a well-turned style of expression, the versatile speech of one who can touch lightly on many themes and aptly blend the grave and gay. This social gift was prized amongst the polished Greeks. But it was a faculty so commonly abused, that the word describing 303 it fell into bad odour: it came to signify banter and persiflage; and then, still worse, the kind of talk here indicated,—the wit whose zest lies in its flavour of impurity. “The very profligate old man in the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus (iii. I. 42–52), who prides himself, and not without reason, upon his wit, his elegance and refinement [cavillator lepidus, facetus], is exactly the εὐτράπελος. And keeping in mind that εὐτραπελία, being only once expressly and by name forbidden in Scripture, is forbidden to Ephesians, it is not a little notable to find him urging that all this was to be expected from him, being as he was an Ephesian by birth:—

Post Ephesi sum natus; non enim in Apulia, non Animulæ.”130130   Trench: N. T. Synonyms, § xxxiv.

In place of senseless prating and wanton jests—things unbefitting to a rational creature, much more to a saint—the Asian Greeks are to find in thanksgiving employment for their ready tongue. St Paul’s rule is not one of mere prohibition. The versatile tongue that disported itself in unhallowed and frivolous utterance, may be turned into a precious instrument for God’s service. Let the fire of Divine love touch the jester’s lips, and that mouth will show forth His praise which once poured out dishonour to its Maker and shame to His image in man.

7. At the end of the Ephesian catalogue of vices, as at the beginning (iv. 19), uncleanness is joined with covetousness, or greed.

This, too, is “not even to be named amongst you, as becometh saints.” Money! property! these are the words dearest and most familiar in the mouths of a large class of men of the world, the only themes on304 which they speak with lively interest. But Christian lips are cleansed from the service both of Belial and of Mammon. When his business follows the trader from the shop to the fireside and the social circle, and even into the Church, when it becomes the staple subject of his conversation, it is clear that he has fallen into the low vice of covetousness. He is becoming, instead of a man, a money-making machine, an “idolater” of

“Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell

From heaven.”

The apostle classes the covetous man with the fornicator and the unclean, amongst those who by their worship of the shameful idols of the god of this world exclude themselves from their “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

A serious warning this for all who handle the world’s wealth. They have a perilous war to wage, and an enemy who lurks for them at every step in their path. Will they prove themselves masters of their business, or its slaves? Will they escape the golden leprosy,—the passion for accumulation, the lust of property? None are found more dead to the claims of humanity and kindred, none further from the kingdom of Christ and God, none more “closely wrapped” within their “sensual fleece” than rich men who have prospered by the idolatry of gain. Dives has chosen and won his kingdom. He “receives in his lifetime his good things”; afterwards he must look for “torments.”


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