A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:17-5:4. A new set of clothes.
The apostle continues to describe the new standards which are expected of God’s new society, or the life which is worthy of God’s call. Called to be ‘one’ people, he has argued, we must cultivate unity. Called to be ‘holy’ people, he goes on to argue now, we must also cultivate purity. Purity is as indispensable a characteristic of the people of God as unity.
Paul opens this section on the church’s purity, just as he opened the former section on the church’s unity, with an assertion of his authority as an apostle of Christ.
Verse 1 *I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you…*
Verse 17 *Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord…*
The phrase *in the Lord* means ‘in the Lord’s name’ (GNB). He is making the solemn claim that he writes to them with the authority of the Lord Jesus. NIV brings out this emphasis: ‘I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord.’
The gist of his message is plain: *you must no longer live as the Gentiles do*. He is generalizing of course. Not all pagans were (or are) as dissolute as those he is about to portray. Yet just as there is a typical Christian life, so there is a typical pagan life. When each life is true to its own principles, it is fundamentally opposed to the other. His readers knew from experience what he was saying; for they had been pagans themselves, and they were still living in a pagan environment. But they must live that way *no longer*, even if all around them others continued to do so (*as the Gentiles do*). Once they were pagans and so lived like pagans; now they were Christians and must live like Christians. They had become different people; they must behave differently. Their new status as God’s new society involved new standards, and their new life in Christ a new lifestyle.
The way Paul handles his theme is to begin with the doctrinal basis of the new life (4:17-24), and then move on to its practical outworking in everyday behaviour (4:25-5:4).
1). The doctrinal basis (4:17-24).
It is essential at the outset for his readers to grasp the contrast between what they had been as pagans and what they now were as Christians, between their old and their new life, and further to grasp the underlying theological basis of this change.(Read Ephesians 4:17-24. Ed).
What is immediately noteworthy is the apostle’s emphasis on the intellectual factor in everybody’s way of life. While describing pagans, he draws attention to *the futility of their minds*, adds that they are *darkened in their understanding* and attributes their alienation from God to *the ignorance that is in them*. He thus refers to their empty minds, darkened understanding and inward ignorance, as a result of which they had become callous, licentious and insatiably unclean. But in contrast to them the believers had ‘learned’ Christ, ‘heard’ him, been ‘taught’ in him, all according to the ‘truth’ which is in Jesus. Over against the darkness and ignorance of the heathen Paul thus sets the truth of Christ which the Christians had learned. Scripture bears an unwavering testimony to the power of ignorance and error to corrupt, and the power of the truth to liberate, ennoble and refine.