In Ephesians 4, Paul writes about the importance of church unity and healthy fellowship. Paul is concerned about how we support each other. In v20-24, we are instructed to put off our old selves and the deceitfulness of our own desires. We should put on our new selves in Christ, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. We are therefore instructed to behave in a godly manner, with Christ’s help.
Verse 25 tells us to ‘put off falsehood and speak truthfully to each other, for we are members of one body’. What does this mean? Clearly it means that we should not lie to each other, but it is not limited to this. Speaking the truth means being honest and accountable to each other in every aspect of our lives. As part of the body of Christ, we have the responsibility to speak to another person when see that their behaviour or attitude is not consistent with a righteous and holy life. We should also be prepared to listen to other peoples’ feedback about how we conduct ourselves. We should do this with love, to encourage and help each other in our walk with God. Since we are part of one body, it is necessary for every part of the body to be walking in unity with each other. Division, disobedience, refusing to be accountable, and failing to admonish another in Christ, leads to disunity which is very damaging to everyone in the fellowship.
Verses 26-27 tell us, ‘In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold’. Whilst this verse is commonly interpreted as advice to a married couple to resolve any disputes urgently and not to dwell in anger, it is also a warning to Christian fellowship. Church disputes should be resolved urgently, with care and love. We should try our very best to avoid sinning whilst we are under the influence of our emotions. The devil will use any unresolved conflict in our lives, if we do not guard ourselves against it. If you are admonished by a fellow believer about your behaviour or attitude, you will need to react according to God’s word, acknowledge your sin and repent. Otherwise, you are likely to react with denial and anger, and risk giving the devil a foothold into your life. This provides the devil with an easy entry into your heart and your life, with the deadly opportunity to destroy your faith, and to cause untold damage to you and the people around you. As Christians, we should be aware that the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The devil wants to control our minds and our hearts; do not give him any opportunity to do so.
Verse 28 tells us to repent and stop stealing, but instead to work doing something usefully with our own hands that we may have something to share with those in need. This verse tells us that we must all do our part and contribute to the fellowship. Do not just expect to take and receive from others, without giving something yourself. The work of the Kingdom of God is substantial, and we all have a responsibility to work and contribute to benefit of other people. Do not leave it to others.
Verse 29 advises to speak unwholesome words but instead to speak wisely in order to build others up and to benefit those who listen. This means that we should be aware that we need to speak and act in accordance with God’s love for everyone and by His measure of righteousness. We should avoid gossip, slander, bullying, talking down, or any malicious talk. Our role in every fellowship is to help and encourage others. Tearing each other down can unfortunately happen in fellowships. This kind of destructive behaviour can cause a lot of harm, pain and discouragement. Learn to speak gently and avoid harsh words that sir up anger. Choose your words wisely and avoid having a mouth that gushes folly, be mindful that the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, and aim to having a soothing tongue that gives life rather than a perverse tongue that crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:1-4). Speaking unwholesome words, would also risk us grieving the Holy Spirit of God (v30).
Finally, we are told to get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (v31). When there is disunity, in-fighting, resentment and jealousy in a fellowship, the damage that is done can often lead to bitterness and anger. It is absolutely heartbreaking to experience these things, especially if we have invested a lot of effort into the fellowship. The Bible warns us to manage our emotions and not to give in to bitterness or anger, not to participate in foolish talk, and not to allow ourselves to act in our anger. If we have done wrong, we should be willing to repent and apologise to others. If we have ourselves been wronged, we may never get the apology or the closure that we want. However, we need to remind ourselves daily that God forgave us all our sins, and Christ died for us willingly in order to save us from the punishment for sin. God chose to forgive us, before we repented and said sorry. Therefore, we can choose to be kind and compassionate to others. We can choose not to seek revenge or vindication. Let us believe with confidence like Job did, that God will vindicate us (Job 13:18). We can choose to behave with integrity and to trust that our lives are in God’s hands. God’s plan for the church is unity, righteousness and holiness through His son, Jesus Christ. Only if we obey Him in this, can we be effective witnesses of His love to others who desperately need Him. We should desire to fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith and claim the crown of righteousness which the Lord will award to all those who have longed for Him (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Be encouraged, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Almighty God, forgive me for the times when I have sinned against you, when I have failed to encourage others, when I have spoken foolish words and harboured anger in my heart against others. I repent of these sins. Transform my heart and help me to speak and behave as You have taught me, to live in truth and to show kindness and compassion. Help me to encourage others in their walk with You. I pray too for my fellowship, that the members will behave in a righteous and holy manner, with Your help. I pray that we will be a united and loving fellowship where we may serve one another and build each other up in You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.