A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:28. c). Don’t steal, but rather work and give.
‘Do not steal was the eighth commandment of Moses’ law. It had and still has a wide application, not only to the stealing of other people’s money or possessions, but also to tax evasions and customs dodges which rob the government of their dues, to employers who oppress their workers, and to employees who give poor service or work short time.
In echoing the commandment (*let the thief no longer steal*), however, the apostle goes beyond the prohibition and draws out its positive implications. It is not enough that the thief stops stealing. Let him start working, *doing honest work with his hands*, earning his own living. Then he will *be able* not only to support himself and his family, but also *to give to those in need*. Instead of sponging on the community, as thieves do, he will start contributing to it. And none but Christ can transform a burglar into a benefactor!
d). Don’t use your mouth for evil, but rather for good (verses 29-30).
The apostle turns from the use of our hands to the use of our mouths. Speech is a wonderful gift of God. It is one of our human capacities which reflect our likeness to God. For our God speaks, and like him we also speak. Speech distinguishes us from the animal creation. Cows can moo, dogs bark, donkeys bray, pigs grunt, lambs bleat, lions roar, monkeys squeal and birds sing, but only human beings can speak.
So *let no evil talk come out of your mouths*, Paul says. ‘Evil’ here is *sapros*, a word used of rotten trees and rotten fruit (Mt.7:17-18 and 12:33). When applied to rotten talk, whether this is dishonest, unkind or vulgar, we may be sure that in some way it hurts the hearers. Instead, we are to use our unique gift of speech constructively, for *edifying* that is to build people up and not damage or destroy them, *as fits the occasion*. Then our words will *impart grace to those who hear*.
Jesus taught the great significance of speech. Our words reveal what is in our hearts, he said, and we shall have to give an account on judgment day of every careless word we have uttered (Mt.12:33-37). So James was only echoing the teaching of his Master when he emphasized the immense power of the human tongue for good or evil (Jas.3:1-12). If we are truly a new creation of God, we shall undoubtedly develop new standards of conversation. Instead of hurting people with our words, we shall want to use them to help, encourage, cheer, comfort and stimulate them. I have myself often been challenged by the contrasting speech of the wise man and the fool in Proverbs 12:18: ‘There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing’.
It is not immediately clear why Paul now introduces the Holy Spirit: *Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption* (verse 30). But the apostle was constantly aware that behind the actions of human beings invisible personalities are present and active. He has just warned us to give no opportunity to the devil (verse 27); now he urges us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. It is evident from this that the Holy Spirit is fully personal, for *lypeo* is to cause sorrow, pain or distress, and only persons can feel these things. But what grieves him? Since he is the ‘holy spirit’, he is always grieved by unholiness, and since he is the ‘one spirit’ (2:18; 4:4), disunity will also cause him grief. In fact, anything incompatible with the purity or unity of the church is incompatible with his own nature and therefore hurts him. One might add that because he is also the ‘Spirit of truth’, through whom God has spoken, he is upset by all our misuse of speech, which has been Paul’s topic in the preceding verse.
We notice also in verse 30 the references to being *sealed* with the Spirit and to *the day of redemption*. The sealing (as Paul has already explained in 1:13) took place at the beginning of our Christian life; the Holy Spirit himself, indwelling us, is the seal with which God has stamped us as his own. The day of redemption, however, although we already have redemption in the sense of forgiveness (verse 1:7), looks on to the end when our bodies will be redeemed, for only then will our redemption or liberation be complete. So the ‘sealing’ and the ‘redemption’ refer respectively to the beginning and end of the salvation process. And in between these two termini we are to grow in Christlikeness and to take care not to grieve the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is a sensitive Spirit. He hates sin, discord and falsehood, and shrinks away from them. Therefore, if we wish to avoid hurting him, we shall shrink from them too. Every Spirit-filled believer desires to bring him pleasure, not pain.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:31-5:2. e). Don’t be unkind or bitter, but rather kind and loving.