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Study Guide Prepared by: John McVay

Key Texts: Eph 4:1-16

Key Questions

  1. In Eph 4:17-32 Paul is very interested in the quality of speech practiced by Christians, especially within the fellowship of believers. Why is this such a big deal for him? How are we doing on this today?
  2. How do we build a culture of intra-church communication that mirrors Paul’s counsel in Eph 4:17-32? (See the [overly-idealistic?] addendum to the lesson, “Take the Pledge!”)
  3. What does Ephesians 4:30 suggest with regard to the themes of the “personhood” and full divinity of the Holy Spirit? Compare Eph. 4:3-6; Matt. 12:31, 32; Acts 5:3, 4; 16:6, 7; Rom. 8:16, 26, 27; 1 Cor. 2:10, 13; 12:11; Gal. 5:17, 18. (See Wednesday’s lesson)

How is Eph 4:17-32 related to the earlier segment, Eph 4:1-16? In Eph 4:1-16, Paul celebrates the thoroughgoing transformation experienced by believers in Ephesus, one indicated by the use of speech to build up one another. Close parallels between Eph 4:1 and Eph 4:17 suggest that Paul is not taking up a new theme in Eph 4:17–32 but addressing the same theme—unity—from a different and initially more negative point of view.

His emphasis in Eph 4:1–16 has been on the positive, on building up the unity of the church. Now he addresses the pattern of living that undermines that unity, the calloused, selfish pattern exhibited by Gentiles (Eph 4:17–19, 22), contrasting that pattern to the new, Christian one (Eph 4:20–21, 23–24). Offering negative exhortations against divisive behavior, which undermines the unity of the Christian fellowship (Eph 4:25–31), Paul concludes with a positive exhortation about kindness and forgiveness, one that echoes the pattern of life he affirmed at the beginning of Eph 4:1–16 (Eph 4:1–3). In this understanding, Eph 4:1–16 and Eph 4:17–32, while separate sections, are closely related. Both deal with the theme of unity in the church, banning patterns of behavior that undermine it and affirming attitudes and behavior that nurture it.

How might we outline Eph 4:17-32?

  • Eph 4:17-24 The contrast between Gentile and Christian Lifestyles
    • Eph 4:17-19 The Gentile pattern of life: futile, darkened, alienated, calloused, spiraling downward into increasing impurity (note the echo of this assessment in Eph 4:22)
    • Eph 4:20-24 The Christ-shaped pattern of life: Renewed, the new self, reflecting the righteousness and holiness of God
  • Eph 4:25-32 The use of speech to advance the health and unity of the church
    • Eph 4:25-30 Negative exhortations against divisive behavior
      • Eph 4:25 Avoiding falsehood and exhibiting truth
      • Eph 4:26-27 Limiting expressions of anger
      • Eph 4:28 (In an interesting thematic shift) The thief turns to honest labor and philanthropy
      • Eph 4:29-30 Jettisoning “corrupting talk” in favor of speech that “builds up” and “gives grace,” which avoids grieving the Holy Spirit
    • Eph 4:31-32 Concluding contrast: What is to be put away—bitterness, wrath, anger, etc.—and the Christ-patterned life of forgiveness that is to be adopted

How does Paul’s emphasis on speech in Eph 4:25-32 connect with the rest of the letter? “Paul imagines his Epistle to the Ephesians being read out in house churches in greater Ephesus, turning written language into speech. In his letter-speech he has a great deal to say about harmful speech (“corrupting talk,” Eph 4:29), such as boasting (Eph 2:8-9), name-calling (Eph 2:11), sharing false doctrine (Eph 4:14; 5:6), falsehood (Eph 4:25), sexually explicit conversation (Eph 5:3-4), and provoking and threatening others (Eph 6:4, 9). He also discusses and exemplifies Spirit-inspired, healthy speech—truth-telling (Eph 4:25) that “builds up” (Eph 4:29) those who hear it. To speak in such a way is to pattern our speech after Jesus Himself who is the preacher of reconciliation, preaching peace (Eph 2:17), a vocation Paul inherits (Eph 3:8-9). In place of damaging speech such as angry, slanderous outbursts (Eph 4:31), Paul offers the replacements of praise to God (Eph 1:3-14), tender-hearted words of forgiveness (Eph 4:32), thanksgiving and songs of worship addressed to God (Eph 5:4, 18-20), and praying for others (Eph 6:18-20; a pattern of speech Paul himself repeatedly illustrates: Eph 1:15-21; 3:14-21).” John McVay, Ephesians [the companion book to the study guide] (Pacific Press, 2022), 68.

Does Eph 4:26 offer a vigorous defense for “righteous indignation”? Paul is quoting Ps 4:4, which advocates careful thought, silence, and trust in God (Ps 4:4-5). In Eph 4:31, Paul bans anger and angry speech. This suggests that Paul’s statement about anger should be understood as a concessionary one: “Should you become angry, do not allow your anger to bear fruit in full-blown sin.” That Paul is interested not in defending the exercise of anger but in limiting it is confirmed by his additional command, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26).

Does Paul’s command “do not give place to the devil” (diabolos; Eph 4:27) signal that Paul is thinking of the cosmic conflict? The use of the term in Eph 6:11 suggests the possibility of an intra-textual echo, with Eph 4:27 serving as a “prequel” of Eph 6:10-20. Might Eph 4:27 constitute a brief, “cosmic conflict” reference? Is Paul already on the battlefield here, urging the militia Christi to hold the battle line? Note that Eph 6:11 shares not only vocabulary but also the thought of a devious, demonic adversary looking for every possible way to gain an advantage over believers.

What Spirit-inspired speech filter does Paul assume will be active in the minds and hearts of believers? Every phrase of Eph 4:29 offers valuable counsel. Paul asks believers to adopt an internal, Spirit-inspired interrogation of their speech that applies three criteria before releasing any statement:

  1. Is it “good for building up”? Will it encourage (or discourage) the hearer? Will it build their faith and fuel their hope?
  2. A word may be positive, but does it also “fit the occasion”? Is it a timely, fitting word? Is it appropriate in the specific context you are about to speak it?
  3. The culminating test is this one: Does the statement “give grace to those who hear” it?

How does our misuse of speech impact a member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit? See Eph 4:30 and Wednesday’s lesson.

How does Paul tie together “vertical forgiveness” and “horizontal forgiveness”? Paul invites us in our speech to model God’s treatment of us (cf. Eph 4:32), to convey to others the “grace”—the undeserved favor, blessing, and forgiveness—that God has practiced toward us in Jesus.

Tim Keller, recently deceased, activates this principle of dual forgiveness. For him, forgiveness is both a process and a promise in which one must first make the promise to activate the process. Forgiveness is granted before it is felt. Forgiveness has two important steps: (1) Remember you are a sinner (I live by God’s grace; Christ did not take vengeance on me); (2) Making a commitment not to throw this thing back up to the perpetrator, to others, or to rehearse it yourself. If you work on this, slowly but surely you start to feel it (The Russell Moore Show—Bonus Episode: Tim Keller’s Heavenly Hope, c. 12:00-15:30;

How might we summarize the lessons of Ephesians chapter 4 concerning speech? Our speech should foster the unity of the church (Eph 4:1-16) and should minister to the emotional and spiritual health of its members (Eph 4:17-32). Speech should not be a flippant, thoughtless act but should signal that we are followers of Christ, acting in concert with the divine, ultimate goal of cosmic unity in Him (Eph 1:9, 10).

Take the Pledge!

John McVay

I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church at times and places where those small, local church fellowships seemed marked by joy and love for one another. They were excited about being Seventh-day Adventists and about worshiping and serving together. They even relished doing Ingathering in the snow so they could drink hot chocolate together afterwards!

Today, all-too-often, our local churches and larger gatherings become mere opportunities to argue for some narrow agenda or, worse still, the locales for real acrimony and conflict.

We must change that environment. And by the grace of Christ, we can do so. By taking—and living—The Pledge:

  1. I wish for my influence within the Seventh-day Adventist Church family and beyond to be positive, uplifting, faith-building and morale-boosting.
  2. Avoiding unnecessary dissension and narrow agendas, I will do everything in my power to contribute to my Seventh-day Adventist Church being a joy-filled, Spirit-filled place where the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—abounds. (Rom 16:17; Titus 3:9-11; 
Gal 5:22-23)
  3. Recalling Christ’s calls for unity amidst our diversity and love as the mark of His church, I will expend more energy affirming those doing and saying things I believe to be good than in pointing out the failings of those I believe to be wrong. (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23; 
1 Cor 12; Eph 4:1-6; 1Thess 5:9-11)
  4. I will be more conscious of my own faults and failings, which I acknowledge to be many and which I will make the focus of concerted and prayerful effort to amend, than I am of the failings of others, which I will seek to minimize and dismiss. (Matt 7:1-5; Gal 6:1-5; 
Phil 2:1-5)
  5. When I do disagree with someone and feel the need to share my view, I will make my respect for my fellow believer clear. I will assume his integrity and her commitment to Christ. I will offer my differing opinion gently, not stridently, and will trust my fellow church members to reflect on the issue without the need of raising my voice or offering any threat. (Eph 4:31-32)
  6. When I perceive some wrong that I believe demands wider attention, I will carefully follow the way of Jesus outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. I will seek to explore and understand before I feel the need to condemn. I will work within established structures toward a redemptive end. (Matt 18:15-17; Gal 6:1)
  7. I will remember that leaders do not forfeit their status as brothers and sisters in Christ. I will honor leaders as gifts from our risen Lord and will avoid inaccurate or false accusations against them. If I am a leader, I will be a caring one, remembering that I am both a member of the flock and an “undershepherd” of Jesus. (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17-20; Heb 13:7, 17; 1 Pet 5:1-4)
  8. I will bear in mind that humility is always becoming for humans and that there exists always the distinct possibility that I could be wrong. (1 Pet 3:8)
  9. I will trust the risen Christ, who is the Bridegroom of the church, to perfect the bride, smoothing every wrinkle and correcting any flaw. (Eph 5:25-27)
  10. I will live joyfully, looking for every opportunity to build up and affirm my fellow church members, as I await the return of Christ. (Gal 6:2; Eph 4:29-30; Heb 10:24-25)

Signed: ____________________________
Date: ____________

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