Why putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.
The apostle here enumerates five vices pertaining to the old man, or Gentile state, and shows how they are contradicted by Christianity.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Wherefore, putting away falsehood." Lying sufficiently indicates what is meant, if we take it as including falsehood in act as well as falsehood in speech. It is the intention to deceive that makes the lie, whatever its manifestations. The goodness of the motive does not alter its character. We may be saying what we do not think, to convey a compliment. Or we may be advancing an argument in which we do not believe, to serve our party. Or we may make a strong denial, to cover the fault of a friend. We may, by some half-truth, be getting rid of a slight inconvenience to ourselves. But all the same, there is an offence committed against truth. And we must understand from the teaching here that Christ emphatically says no to it in every form. We are to put away lying, and the context plainly suggests that we are to put it away as belonging to the old man. We need not wonder at it characterizing the old man, when we remember that Scripture dates the original of evil in us from the result of a lie told by the father of lies. Many of the heathen were like the Cretans, of whom Paul testified, in a quotation from one of their own poets, that they were always liars. It is a vice which is known to be very prevalent among non-Christianized peoples. There is not so much of shameless lying among Christian nations; but in less open forms, where there is not saving grace, there is the same disposition to be false, to state false reasons for our conduct, to keep up false appearances, to cover our faults by a denial of fact. "Do not," says Ruskin, "let us lie at all. Do not think of one falsity as harmless, and another as slight, and another as unintended. Cast them all aside; they are an ugly soot from the smoke of the pit, and it is better that our hearth should be swept clean of them, without overcare as to which of them are largest or blackest."
2. The positive of Christianity. "Speak ye truth each one with his neighbor." In Zechariah 8:16 it is said, "Speak ye every man truth to his neighbor." The change from "to his neighbor" to "with his neighbor" has the effect of defining the circle contemplated here as the Christian circle. Why are we to hold the truth sacred? The ethical reason given by Kant is that we are to do so out of reverence to the humanity subsisting in our person. The Christian reason as given by the apostle here is virtually this, that we are to do so out of regard to the Christ that is in us. His words are, "For we are members one of another." That is, my Christian neighbor is a part of myself; and why should I wrong him? Not inaptly Chrysostom says, "If the eye were to spy a serpent or a wild beast, will it lie to the foot?" We must do by our Christian neighbor as we would do by a part of ourselves which we would not see hurt. But what is it that makes our Christian neigh-bout so closely related to us? It is the Christ that is in him and in us. And in lying we are not only dishonoring our common humanity, but, in the Christian circle, we are dishonoring Christ who has made us one. The habit of speaking the truth each one with his neighbor is of difficult acquisition. There is so much that is false in the conventionalism of society, and such a desire in men to appear better than they really are, that there is often the spectacle of truth "fallen in the street." The way to acquire it is to put Christ before us in our neighbor as him whom, by the slightest divergence from the truth, we must not demean.
II. SINFUL ANGER.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." The word is rather exasperation (already an evil form of feeling), which, if nursed, fast settles down into wrath. It was a custom of the Pythagoreans that, if betrayed into railing by passion, before the sun went down they shook hands, kissed one another, and were reconciled. It is one of the uses of night that it is a call to be placable. "We are not bad gods or demons in our impetuosity, but men, men that go to sleep as children do and. must. Being spaced off in this manner by stoppages, we consent to limits. We are softened and gentled in feeling more, perhaps, than we would like to be. A man must be next to a devil who wakes angry." The Christian reason against nursing wrath is that it is a giving place to the devil. For it is in connection with wrath that it is said, "Neither give place to the devil." He who rises from his bed unsoftened, who seeks about for new reasons for his wrath, is giving the devil peculiar opportunity. And when the devil gets in through the door of passion that is nursed, a man will do deeds then that, in his cool moments, he would have shrunk from with the utmost abhorrence. Vindictiveness was a characteristic of the heroes of the ancient heathen world, and does not call forth from such a delineator of them as Homer an expression of disapprobation. It is still found in not dissimilar form in the savage, who ruthlessly pursues his enemy until he has scalped him. Within the Christian sphere indulgence of anger is peculiarly unbecoming, and must result in the ejection of Christ and, with him, of peace and right guidance.
2. The positive of Christianity. "Be ye angry." And we need not wonder at the injunction when we take into account that anger is a hundred times in Scripture attributed to God, and also that it is said of Christ that he looked round about on the hypocrites among his hearers with anger. "We are so made that pity is not more naturally awakened by the sight of suffering, fear by the approach of danger, delight by the vision of beauty, gratitude by deeds of generous kindness, than anger by many kinds of wrong-doing. The men whose hearts never glow with enthusiasm at witnessing lofty self-sacrifice, never burn with indignation against cowardice, falsehood, and profligacy; the men whose eyes never flash, whose pulse never quickens, whose words move on m an unbroken flow, and never rush along tumultuously like a cataract, either in praise or blame, - never yet did any work worth doing either for God or man" (Dale). But, as if special danger attended anger, the injunction to it is followed up, and thrown into a certain subordination, by the caution - "And sin not."
(1) Anger is to be proportioned to the offense. There must be justice in our anger. The passionate man is often causelessly angry. His passion is roused by a mere inconvenience to himself for which no one is to blame, or by a hasty view of the action at which he takes offence. A mere personal slight is not a sufficient cause for anger, especially when we remember him who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. Rather are we to reserve our anger for what hurts the truth in us or in others. Let our indignation be poured out on the attempt to corrupt our principles, to steal our fair fame, on the cowardice that keeps a man from standing by his convictions, on the selfishness that can keep a wife and family miserable, on the dishonor that is done to God by our want of faith and niggardliness in supporting his cause. "It does not appear," says Butler, "that the feeling of indignation, generally speaking, is at all too high amongst mankind." "Yea, what indignation!" says the apostle, in enumerating the fruits of godly sorrow.
(2) Anger is not to interfere with love. While Christ looked round on the hypocrites with anger he was at the same time grieved because of the hardening of their hearts. And we must ever draw this distinction between the sinner and his sin. Grievedness of heart for the sinner and strong condemnation of his sin can and should go hand-in-hand. Even as we love him we must show him how we regard his conduct so far as that is calculated to do him good. Such going forth of anger (having justice in it) is fitted to sustain love.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Let him that stole steal no more." Whether we translate the first part of the injunction "him that stole," or, as is often done, "him that steals," the latter part, "steal no more," implies that there was danger of some in the Ephesian Church falling into this sin. And we need not wonder at this, when we consider their pre-Christian state. They were accustomed, in heathen society, to theft being punished (which would keep up a certain moral sentiment against it), but at the same time, they were brought up in a certain laxity with regard to what was theirs and what was their neighbor's. And is not the Ephesian Church in this respect representative? While there are very few connected with our Churches who will steal, so as to expose themselves to the punishment of the law, there are those who are chargeable with what, if strictly looked into, is dishonesty. They do not give value in labor for money received. Or they contract debts, or come under obligations which they have no reasonable expectation of meeting; or they are not doing their utmost, in the way of exertion and economy, to get out of debt. Or, under the pressure of competition, they fall in with the evil custom of the trade, and adulterate. There are many ways of unjustly hindering the wealth or outward estate of our neighbor. There may be dishonesty even in the desire to have what does not belong to us. But nothing could be more emphatic than the declaration here that, whatever our temptations, whatever losses it may entail, we are not to steal at all.
2. The positive of Christianity. "But rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need." There is presented here the Christian aspect of labor. It is according to the rule of Christ that we should work and not be idle. And if it is in literally working with our hands that we spend our energies, yet is that not demeaning, for Christ sanctified such work by working as a carpenter. It is further according to the rule of Christ that we should work the thing that is good, that is to say, have an honest business and do our best (time and circumstance considered). There is further the motive with which we are to work. There is the incentive of providing for our own, and specially our own household, and of providing for our household not merely for the present, but, in view of the uncertainty of our life, also as we can for the future. And if any one of ours needed special nourishment or change of air, that would be a reason for our working hard that what was needed might be supplied. But in the language here employed there is a look to the needy in body or in soul beyond our own immediate circle. And it is taught that the Christian is to labor with the view and in the hope of having something over, after making all reasonable allowance for his own, to bestow on the poor and to send the gospel to the heathen. It is this in our aim which is needed to make labor, however assiduous and lawful, distinctively Christian. And the exhorter here himself set a Christian example, "In all things I gave you an example, how that so laboring ye ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." And he, even the humblest laborer, who strives in his labor to have something over for Christ (in him that hath need), will not fail, or if he can be said to fail, yet will his effort lead to his labor being accepted of Christ. And if this is the true gospel of labor, then how much labor is there which must be rejected in which there is a wrong done to Christ in his not receiving his dues or acknowledgment?
IV. UNWHOLESOME SPEECH.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth." "Perhaps the image which the word (corrupt) calls up was not distinctly present to the apostle's mind; but it might have been, for it is a very just one. The epithet is used to describe vegetables, meat, and fish which are beginning to go bad; and there are some people whose conversation is quite as unwholesome as food which is not quite fresh. Unsound itself, it injures the moral health and vigor of those who listen to it." Without being poisonous, words may be unwholesome. Falsehood he has already condemned. Violence and detraction in speech fall under the next head. Filthiness and foolish talking and jesting come up in the beginning of the next chapter. Words may be neither false, nor violent, nor defamatory, nor foul, nor senseless, nor profane, and yet be unwholesome. And to such we limit our attention here. There are some who give the chief place in their conversation to business or household affairs. There are others who give it to fashion, pleasure, amusement. There are others again who give it to the little affairs of their neighbors or to politics. Conversation may properly enough turn upon these things; but when it is so occupied with them as to rouse the impression that the world in one or other of these forms is everything, as to shut out the thought of God, as to take away the feeling of the seriousness of life, then (like food that is not quite fresh) it is fitted to do harm. There is not, in such conversation, nutriment for the moral being, exercise for the moral powers. It is to be said, too, that the spirit of worldly conversation is gathered up in certain worldly maxims such as these: that we must look after ourselves; that we must take the good of the world; that we must have our time of gaiety; that we must be like our neighbors. These maxims (as excuses for selfishness, thoughtlessness) are unsound; and the apostle, speaking for Christ, would say emphatically, "Let no such corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth." And the peculiarly Christian reason against that kind of speech is given in the words, "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption." It will be seen that the apostle regards speech in a sacred light - he would have it as a medium or organ of the Holy Spirit. It is taught that the Divine Spirit is intensely interested in all the movements of our life. There is not a department to which his interest does not extend, and which he would not have permeated with his holy influences. And when he is thwarted in his holy ends he is grieved as a mother is grieved when a son whom she loves as none else can is not acting according to her wishes and prayers. And it is to be noticed that what is represented as grieving the Spirit is that which is hurtful, not so much by its heinousness as by its commonness. Against graver faults we are placed more on our guard; but we do not think how we grieve the Holy Spirit by the feeble moral tone of our conversation. The Spirit is grieved with the conversation of the unconverted (which is necessarily unwholesome); but he is especially grieved when Christians thwart him by a conversation which is not of him. For on them, as already expressed in the first chapter, his seal was placed, against the day of their final redemption. You, then, who have the seal of the Holy Spirit of God on you, as marked for redemption, grieve him not by unedifying conversation.
2. The positive of Christianity. "But such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear." The Christian element in conversation is that a regard be paid to edification. We are made to communicate with others by speech, not that we may impose on them, or play with them, or regard them carelessly, but that we may edify them. There is not only that which is edifying, but edifying for the occasion. And "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." And what constitutes its fitness is not its mere artistic form or reconditeness, but especially a depth of feeling in it, and a moral discrimination, that make it meet a need and prove a blessing to them that hear. A word of this kind, that may not be wanting in sharpness, but can convey comfort too and direction and incitement to good, what an accomplishment it is to be able to speak it! And, however far we are behind, let us strive after the Christian ideal of conversation which is here placed before us.
V. BAD TEMPER.
1. The negative of Christianity. "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice." By bitterness here we are to understand all want of sweetness of temper. This is indicated by what are mentioned as its manifestations. It takes the form of wrath, or a sudden outburst of passion. Or it takes the form of the more settled feeling of anger. The wrath, again, takes the form of clamor, or violent speech. And the anger takes the form of railing, or more deliberate and continued speaking against a brother. And the evil temper in these its manifestations, in all the varieties that belong to it (as is indicated by the word "all"), is represented as having its subsistence in malice, by which we are to understand ill feeling, and that not simply in its worst form, but (as is also indicated by "all") in all its forms. This apostolic analysis of bad temper shows that he regarded it in a serious light. He did not regard it as some would, as a mere physical infirmity. Constitution has to do with it in this respect, that some have more to contend against than others. But, whatever our constitutional temper is, we are bound to bring it under law to Christ. Bad temper, therefore, is a sin, an unchristian state, of which we are to repent, and from which we are, according to the thought here, to be forcibly delivered. For "put away" here is stronger than "put away" in the twenty-fifth verse, and implies the putting forth of something like force upon us (by the stronger than we), in order that we may get rightly away from it.
2. The positive of Christianity. "And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you." The kindness here inculcated is that good feeling toward others which keeps us Prom unseemly manifestations, and sweetens our whole bearing as brethren. And this kindness is to extend (where there is occasion) to tenderness of heart (or, as it used to be in Colossians 3:12, with the same allusion as here, "bowels of mercies"). And this tenderness of heart is to take the very beautiful and distinctively Christian form of forgivingness. For God in Christ forgave us. The allusion is to the historical fact of Christ once for all putting away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Thus God not only showed himself forgiving, but actually made forgiveness a gospel reality. It is after the manner of the apostle to ground deep human duty. He has especially a satisfaction in falling back on the great fact of the atonement. Forgiveness is not an optional matter with us, or something that we may want without losing our Christianity; but it is that to which we are peculiarly, indissolubly bound by the fact that God has gone before us in it in his dealing with us. Let us, then, have that nobility, generosity of disposition, that emanation from God himself, which will lead us to forgive those that sin against us. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.