Do Not Give The Devil A Foothold
By Teddy Hembekides
Key Verse 4:30
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, the first three chapters were like an intensely bright light that illuminated their hearts and opened their eyes to see the spiritual world and reality as they had never seen it before. What did they see? They saw Christ in the heavenly realms, Victorious over all God’s realms, Sovereign Possessor and Benefactor of all blessings and Gifts; They saw Christ the Peacemaker of God, the Uniter of all races of mankind, The Destroyer of Evil and Tumbler of Barriers, Reconciler of God and Men, The Head of the Body— United in Him as the Dwelling Temple of Father God. They saw that God had done that to the Glory and Honor of Christ. And as they deeply studied these chapters they also saw themselves as the church-body of Christ seated with him in the heavenly realms. And that was an image to remember! How would that image then be significant?
As a prisoner of the Lord, Paul’s worldly reality was a suffering reality. And to a certain extent, so was the earthly reality of the Ephesian members and the church’s earthly reality as well. However, their spiritual reality was so much different! They were all with Christ in His Kingdom of glory, in His glorious Majesty, victors along with Him. This was their actual reality— the truth of things! When Paul wrote to them such powerful words and visions, it was for a good reason. They needed to understand how important it is for them to mature together in the unity of their faith— and in their knowledge of the Lord— and in their love for Christ Jesus and for each other— so that they might become more Christ-like. Their maturity would strengthen their unity as a church. Why is this so important for them to do? And why was God so keen on helping them reach that unity goal? Because through the Body of Christ [the church] and its unity, God wants to reveal the glorious grace of his Son not only in “The present AGE but also in the [AGE] one to come” and also for all “The coming AGES” (1:21; 2:7); And God wants to [manifest] show off the glorious grace not only to the powers of this world but also to “The rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (3:10) too; And there’s more! God wants to do reveal Christ’s glory not only in this life through his redeemed church, but for in the life to come through the entire church of God! This is what Paul wanted them and us to see, that God is preparing the church to accomplish his purpose not only here in this world, but also for the age and Kingdom to Come! [It’s a perspective that makes us stop and think how precious each of us is, and how significant our little church fellowship is in God’s eternal heavenly purpose. It makes us fall on our knees and say “Lord, your will be done. We are at your service. Use us to accomplish your purpose.”]
When Paul gave the church at Ephesus such glorious knowledge, what do you think he intended for them to do with all that knowledge? Let’s have Paul answer that question himself. Do you know how many times the words, “therefore”, or “so” (depending on the version you use) are repeated in the 2nd [applications] part of this letter? Almost eight times— maybe more! And why? Most probably to emphasize something— that the knowledge he passed on to them so far in the 1st part [theological] needed to be practiced as all Scripture is intended to. Those who accumulate knowledge without practicing it, as the Scriptures says end up “puffed up”, that is, they end up proud and useless to God, and ineffective to God’s purpose and worthless to those for whom God would have them minister to. On the other hand, those who truly love God naturally also would love others; so instead of hoarding knowledge, they gladly dispense it in order to “build up” others in the very word of God they had received through love. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3) That’s love at its best when it’s shared through the word of God, when it is shared rather than kept hidden away. Why would anyone light a lamp and keep hidden such as selfish Christians do is beyond comprehension. That wasn’t Jesus’ intention when he shined the saving grace of his gospel light into our hearts and called us to do the same.
So when Paul shared that glorious knowledge with the church at Ephesus, certainly it wasn’t so that they might hoard that knowledge in their hearts! It was so that they might share it in love, because that’s the way they would continue to mature in faith, in love and in unity and become more Christ-like. That’s how the body of Christ would “grow up” into Christ— the Head to become a formidable stronghold— a Temple able to do God’s work and to do his will. (4:15) Paul understood that for that Ephesian church living in that godless society, what he expected and prayed for them as individuals and as a church body didn’t seem reasonable. The church was facing an ever present evil and so many enemies. [Look at 4:14] Remember that if we don’t take a firm stand on the truth, how easy it is to become prey to the lies and deceptions of the devil and his cronies. They’re everywhere and they’re ever preaching half gospel truths designed to emasculate Christians who follow them and to destroy church bodies who listen to them— and many have. Yet if Paul thought for a moment that it was unreasonable to resist or to defeat the devil he would never have written this glorious letter to them and to us.
Paul determined to teach the Ephesian church the glorious secret of “bodybuilding” [as Timothy put it his Sunday Sermon 2 weeks ago]. It’s what it takes to “build up” the body of Christ. With the Spirit’s help, it’s a joint effort done through the love and sacrifice of all its gifted members; It’s their willing offering; since they recognize that the grace given to them is the free gift of God, and so in return they offer their God-given gifts in love to “build up” each other; this way the church-body is also “built up”. In this beautiful picture of “bodybuilding”, there’s no room for selfishness or for selfish Christians who deny Jesus’ grace; or who would rather hoard Jesus’ grace for their own personal use; or to apply that grace in a manner of their own choosing. Many post-modern Christians who have grown and been breast-fed on today’s “self-seeking” ideologies, much like the rest of the society, have been influenced to worship at the altar of “self”, and they have abandoned the fellowship of believers as well as the church. Many of them claim they don’t need the church to worship God. They have deluded themselves that worship is personal and private and in that way they have justified abandoning church togetherness. On the other hand, there’s the fellowship of believers who know God’s will, who come together to share the Lord’s grace together. It’s not always easy to do so because we are different one from another and we have our differences. But for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the body, they come together to “build up” the body because they love God and would obey his will.
But for the body to keep growing healthier in its unity of faith and love, Paul taught us Christians another incredible principle to follow. In his Sunday Sermon last week Ebube already stated for us what it takes: It takes “Speaking the truth in love”. Paul was careful to advise that the word of God spoken among brothers and sisters be done in love. Why? Because truth can be spoken in anger of heart or out of spite or out of sheer duty. And when truth is spoken in any manner outside of the bounds of love, it does more harm than good to others. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees frequently spoke truth straight from the Bible. They knew to point out people’s sins and mistakes and weaknesses very well. It often led those judged to prisons of self condemnation and despair. Yet when the Lord Jesus spoke the truth, so many were led out of their prisons of sin and judgment and right into the arms the loving God. Why? Because when Jesus spoke the truth, every word of truth he spoke manifested itself in Love! How can we ever forget the words he spoke from the cross about all of us who crucified him: “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34) Only when truth is spoken in love will it “build up” others and promote true unity among the body of believers. The question now is; how are Christians even able to speak the truth in love, and continue to do mature in this most holy practice?
The answer, and Paul “Insists on it in the Lord” is to completely abandon the old sinful life they had lived before God showed them mercy through the saving grace of the Lord Jesus. Their lives had been terribly sinful— wickedly corrupt and under God’s judgment. But when they heard the gospel, [those who heard that the Lord Jesus offered his life in exchange for theirs, and shed his blood to cover the huge ransom for their sins— those who heard this gospel of grace broke down, as any conscience-stricken person would, and] they repented. They renounced their sins, accepted God’s forgiveness and put off the old self. So God filled them with the Holy Spirit who began to shape and recreate in them a new self. And the new person that came out no longer resembled the depraved and degenerate person they were before. Instead the new person they became was created in the image of God to be like God in righteousness and holiness. Their whole life had changed— inside out! They were in every way a new person “In Christ”. “The old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) [They were indeed a new person: as the prophet Samuel once prophesied would happen to Saul. “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.” (1 Samuel 10:6)]
Their way of thinking changed. They were no longer consumed with futility thoughts about markets and profits and pleasures of life and devious plans. Instead their thoughts now were on God’s will and how to be good shepherds of the flock. Their whole lifestyle had also changed! They no longer were preening for hours before a mirror to change their appearances. Also no one could tell the high-born from the low-born among them for the simplicity of their new lives “In Christ”. People who knew them— family, friends— may have even thought them to be unreasonable since their lives now centered on Christ and his word, on prayer and on a “kingdom not of this world”. They studied Bible with their whole hearts and committed themselves to Jesus’ teaching which Paul had passed on to them. There was no doubt that their lives had been changed. But they also knew that maintaining that new life “In Christ” wasn’t easy at all. In fact it was a battle, actually a war! [As Paul concludes his letter with a treatise on how to fight the spiritual war being waged on the new self and the church-body] Paul had warned them countless times that now that the Lord had blessed with a new life, that does not in any way guarantee smooth sailing through spiritual life. In fact Paul had warned that the old self isn’t to be trusted at all. He warned that the old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, is ever vulnerable to all kinds of temptations and if and when an opportunity is given, would pounce to bite and to snare the Christian. Paul wants the Christian to be vigilant, keep that old self in the grave, and learn how to nurture the new self that God has so graciously given us, which is created to be like God in holiness and righteousness.
How does Paul admonish the church and its members to do that? And how often? That’s the question here! As we said earlier, Paul’s letter has many such words as “therefore” and “so”, and we have spoken about them meaning that God’s word are to be put into practice. And that’s exactly how we need to nurture the new self God has given us. Paul gives much advice in verses 25-32 and beyond that would certainly nurture the new man and woman of God who obey them. But they would mostly greatly nurture the church-body and build it up if believers truly take it to heart and practice it together.
Read verses 25-27. “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘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.” Paul isn’t straying from his original admonition to them: “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do”. Every one of you has to put aside dishonestly, lies and deception and all such things and speak truthfully to one another. King David once, in deep disappoint said: “All men are liars” (Psalm 116:11) and generations later Paul affirmed it in contrast with God who Alone is the Standard for all Truth. (Romans 3:4) Lying and deception is of the devil and his language. He lied to us in the Garden and passed on to us this most vicious and unholy vice and we have been carrying it with us generation after generation as if it were some torch of salvation. But it’s an instrument of evil. It has ruined so many people and homes and nations and churches. It’s not easy to break the habit of lying. But in Christ who Alone is our “Truth”, went to the cross and died and shed his blood because of our lies and deceptions throughout the ages. He took it all upon himself on the cross, so as to free us from these things and to bring us to truth and honesty and integrity of heart. No member of a body who truly belongs to the body and loves the body would not make Truth his or her banner because it is Christ’s banner. When Truth is spoken, even at the cost of discomfort, or temporary shame or sometimes even a person’s life, it reflects the new self created in God’s image and honors Christ and God.
“In your anger do not sin” does not prohibit the Christian from showing anger. What kind of a Christian is the Christian who sees blatant godless behavior which openly dishonors God and does not get angry! What sort of a Christian is he or she who hears blasphemous words that belittle the Lord or his servants and does not get angry! What kind of Christian is it that sees and hears and smells the stench of sin and just sits around to revel with those who are enjoying it! That’s not a believer! That’s a senseless person who cares little for God or man. Jesus often got angry at the Pharisees who refused to even answer simple questions because of their hard and stubborn hearts. It doesn’t say that we shouldn’t get angry! But anger should not develop into something else. We should never let it develop into hatred or malice or bitterness or whatever else comes grows out of unresolved anger. Christians who get angry at an offense, and do not resolve that anger run the risk of having their anger take root and grow to places they may not be able to control. How to resolve anger? The Bible is very clear about that. Forgiveness! Forgiveness is the only way. Especially to a church-body, when anger is not resolved, and forgiveness is not practiced regularly, deliberately, obediently to the Lord, troubles grow and keep on growing until that church-body is torn apart. Why? Satan has taken a foothold there when God’s people have chosen to let the sun go down on their anger.
Listen to what Paul tells the Ephesian Christians in verses 31-32. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” The contrast in these two verses is stark. All these vices, bitterness and rage, anger and brawling, slander and malice— all do not belong in any way to the new self God has bestowed upon us “In Christ”. They belong to the old self, that wretched wicked miserable person for whom Christ died, and crucified once for all so that he or she may never again lift his or her head to hurt you or me and especially the church-body we belong to. On the other hand, Paul in contrast tells the church how to engage and nurture the new self already created to cherish and embrace all the virtues of the godly image. Kindness and compassion, and especially forgiveness emphasized through the example of Christ himself who forage us for all our sins. Forgiveness is the antidote to anger and to bitterness and to all such vices. It blesses the church-body and strengthens it rather than tearing it down just because its members choose not to forgive but to remain in their anger. And most importantly forgiveness gives absolutely no foothold to the devil among us at all. It evicts him!
Read verses 28-29. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Stealing is in the blood of sinners. Just as all human beings are liars, so also all are thieves in some way. If we see an opportunity, we take it. I used to love stamps when I was growing up, and I bought many collections, but when the vendor wasn’t looking, I also stole many too. One day when the store owner who knew my dad couldn’t or didn’t want to take it any more, and reported me to my dad, and I was punished so severely that I never stole again from any store in my life after that. But I began to steal money from my brother’s hidden stash, until he found out and began to hide them where I couldn’t find them. When I became a Christian I thought I was done with stealing. But then I stole toilet paper from the Chicago center. I don’t know when I stopped stealing toilet paper from Chicago center, but I did— and I deeply understand Paul’s urgent words to the Christian church. “Don’t steal. Instead work hard and learn how to share with those who are in need”. Stealing really reflects or reveals the beggarly image of a sinner, the image of the sick sick man who would take and take even when he does not need to take. [like me stealing stamps when I did not need them] That is real sickness. It’s degeneracy to the core! On the other hand, Christ who died to set the thief free recreated us in his own image to be givers. If we don’t have, then we should work hard, even harder until we have— so that we might give as he gave. That “Giver” image is the reflection of the new man, the Christ-like man or woman who can “build up” the church rather than tear it down just because he cannot help taking and taking from it.
What about unwholesome talk? I think we all know what that is. It’s that objectionable, sometimes harmful talk that usually comes out of the mouth— whether accidentally or deliberately makes no difference— it shouldn’t belong in the mouth of a church member who loves the Lord and is concerned with building up the body of Christ. Let me tell you something about the words that we speak. I say this because even Christians these days blurt out words and speech without even thinking what they’re saying. Where does this unwholesome talk come from? To quote Jesus: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’” (Matthew 15:18) The youngsters seems to like to mimic what they hear on screen, mindlessly repeating words spoken by those they idolize. But as the Bible says: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33) even if that company is only streaming unwholesomeness through a screen. What we cultivate in our hearts which eventually makes its way to our mouth in speech— is critical! It can be damaging to our own spiritual health or it can help us mature. It is also critical to the health of the church-body the Lord sacrificed everything in order to “build up” through us. Our Lord Jesus was speaking the truth in love when he said: “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37) This maybe out of context, but it does tell us volumes about how seriously the Lord takes the things that come out of our mouths. If your heart dwells on God’s grace and forgiveness and on the word of life and the will of God in order to please him— imagine what words would come out of your mouth!
Let’s read our key verse together 30. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of God by whom we are sealed for the day of redemption, guaranteeing our transition when the day comes, the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth” as the Lord Jesus described Him on several occasions. Jesus told us: “You will know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17) Christians instinctively know that God the Holy Spirit— who is the Spirit of Christ— lives in their hearts. He is also the Spirit who testifies about Christ (John 15:26), and guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Now you can understand why we may grieve him. The Holy Spirit guides you and me in the Truth, and testifies to Christ Jesus who died to set us free from all that is contrary to the Truth. Whatever we do that is not in harmony with that Truth grieves the Holy Spirit. And when he is grieved, He is troubled and miserable on our behalf, and we are troubled and miserable as well, because the Spirit will not let us rest until we repent and embrace forgiveness in Christ and walk in the truth again. Sometimes Christians are miserable to the point of despair and cannot find peace nor rest— that’s because the Holy Spirit seeks to reconcile with them again. He seeks to lead them back to the Truth through confession, repentance and trust in the Lord who is ever faithful to his redeemed children— for they are sealed through him for redemption. Let us put into practice the truth we learned in this chapter. Let us read verses 30-32 together. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”