The apostle Paul is teaching us how we can leave the past behind and have a fresh start in hope. In Ephesians 4:17-21 we were told that we have problems and those problems come from our way of thinking. The way we look at life, look at the world, look at other people, and even look at ourselves is broken, corrupt, and futile. Then in verses 22-24 we were taught that we must stop wearing these old, comfortable clothes that we have, change our way of thinking, and put on the new clothes that God is giving to us. You are created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. That is who you are and that is what God is transforming you back to after we have damaged the image because of our former way of life.
Now as we continue through this paragraph in Ephesians 4, I want us to observe two things. First, Paul is not giving us a list of things to do. What I want us to see is that Paul is describing some of the old clothes that we have problems with that need to be replaced with new clothes. So do not read this as “do this.” Rather, read this as here are the old clothes that we keep going back to. Here are the new clothes we need to wear. Second, throughout this paragraph Paul is going to tell us why we need to make these changes. So Paul is not going to merely say, “Just do it!” He is going to teach us why putting on these new clothes is so important. Watch for these two things as we move through this paragraph over the next few lessons. So let us look at some of the clothes we might be wearing and the clothes we need to switch them out for.
Do You Wear Deceptive Clothes? (4:25)
In verse 25 we are taught that we are to put away falsehood. The former way of life is being deceptive with other people. We do not lie to other people. We do not deceive other people. But let’s consider for a moment why we lie. Why do we choose to be deceptive? I think the common answer is that we are fearful of the consequences. The reason we choose to deceive is because we are trying to avoid negative consequences. We are afraid of what will happen if we are completely honest. But I want us to see that this is a selfish motivation. Lying and deception is not thinking about others but about ourselves. Lying is not self-sacrificing but self-seeking and self-preservation. We deceive because we want people to think highly of us, which is also self-serving. Stopping our lying and deceiving is far more involved than just telling ourselves to tell the truth. We need to see what is causing our deception: selfishness. We will not stop deceiving other people until we see that we are simply being selfish when we lie. The people of God are not selfish and therefore they are not deceptive.
Paul continues that the new clothes speak the truth to people. But why should we do this? Listen to the rest of what Paul teaches. He says that we are members of one another. We are members of each other. We are connected. As much as we try to be disconnected, we actually are very connected. Think about it like this: where have some of your greatest pains in your life come from? I believe that many of your life pains have come from people lying to you and being deceptive toward you. Lying hurts other people. Not only does lying inflict pain on others, but we then lose confidence in each other. Trust is broken when we are not truthful. Marriages are severely damaged when there is deception. Friends are ruined when there is lying. The church is wrecked, which seems to be the most direct idea that Paul is talking about here. We cannot be united and trust each other with our lives if we are deceptive with each other. Deception damages people. So as soon as we want to lie, we need to tell ourselves that those are the old clothes. I know that they are comfortable clothes, but those are old clothes. God is clothing us with new clothes that are in his image. God does not lie. God is not deceptive. Neither are his children liars and deceivers.
Do You Wear Angry Clothes? (4:26-27)
Paul has another piece of old clothing that we are to take off and put away. Paul says in verse 26, “Be angry and do not sin.” This might be a passage that we easily misuse. I think we easily justify ourselves that our anger is acceptable. So we need to stop and break down this teaching that Paul is giving us. It is worth noting that in verse 31 Paul says that all anger is to be put away from us. So how can Paul say to be angry but do not sin when later he will tell us to rid ourselves completely of anything resembling anger?
We should start by realizing that the emotions we feel are God-given emotions. Anger is one of those emotions that God has given to every person. We feel anger because God gave us that capability. We also realize that there are things that we should be angry about. We should be angry to see an innocent person harmed by a wicked person. We should be angry when there is murder, rape, and abuse. We should feel anger when there is a school shooting. There is anger when we see injustice happen. You might even remember that the scriptures tell us that Moses angry with the people of Israel because of their repeated sinning.
But we even must be careful about this because sometimes are emotions are incorrect and ungodly. It would be too simplistic to say that all feelings of anger are right. This is not true. Can you think about times in your life when you were angry when you should not have been? Think about how many times there are trivial things in life that we get angry about that we should not get angry about. Have you ever been angry because of something someone said? It is not some injustice that we ought to be angry about. We just did not like what the person said. How about if we have ever been angry because you are working on the car and you cannot get a part to work? That is not an anger from injustice but from selfishness. Have you ever been angry because you had to stand in line? That is not an injustice but selfishness. We do not like what is going on. So we need to see that just because God gave us an emotion does not mean that it has been perfectly trained to respond at the right times.
God gave a good example of how this can happen through his prophet Jonah. Jonah was sent to go preach to the large city of Ninevah. But Jonah did not want to preach to them because he felt that they were worthy of judgment. To be fair, the city was worthy of judgment. But Jonah reluctantly goes and preaches to the city and the people repent and obey the Lord. Notice what we are told in Jonah 4:1, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” Look at verse 4. “The Lord asked, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’” We need to see that not all anger is good anger. The Lord is asking Jonah if is anger is right with the implied answer that it is not. A little later Jonah went out of the city and sat under a plant that was giving him shade. But God made a worm eat the plant so that it withered and made scorching wind come and beat on Jonah’s head. Listen to Jonah. “And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’” (4:8). God asks Jonah the same thing again. “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant.” Now listen to Jonah. “Yes, it’s right! I’m angry enough to die!” (4:9).
Have you ever had this happen to you? You are angry and your spouse or your friend come to you and ask if this is really worth being angry about. What do we like to response? Yes! Just like Jonah we say yes! I am right to be angry. But we are not. Our first warning about anger is that not all anger is right. While God has given us the emotion of anger, it does not mean that are anger is activated at the right times. Often our anger is activated out of selfishness.
But even when our anger is right, notice that Paul says that we cannot sin when we are angry. The problem is what we do with our anger. Unfortunately, modern psychology has told us that it is bad for us to bottle up our anger. They tell us that we need to let it out. They tell us that we need to vent our anger. Where does God ever say this? Where does God ever say that you need to vent your anger because if you do not, it will eat you up and hurt yourself on the inside? Maybe we should listen to the Creator who made us about how to handle anger rather than other people. Interestingly, most counselors have now rejected this modern idea but it still gets passed around today.
What we do with our anger is typically sin. We usually blow up. We usually vent our anger. Even if our anger is right, which often it is not, what we do with our anger is sin. This is what Paul means when he says in verse 27 to not give opportunity for the devil. Anger gives the devil a chance in your life. Anger opens the door for the devil to tempt us to say the wrong things and do the wrong things. Anger opens the door to sinning. We need to be honest about our anger. We like to use every other word in the book about what we are except anger. We like to say that we are distressed, frustrated, upset, hurt, worried or some other word when if we were honest and not deceptive with ourselves, we would admit that we are angry and we are sinning. Sinful anger comes from thinking about ourselves. The reason we need to stop wearing angry clothes is because we are making a large space in our lives for the devil to walk into and tempt us to serious sins.
So what does it look like to put on the new clothes? Paul says that we are not let the sun go down on our anger. Immediate reconciliation is what we are offer when we are angry. If something is bothering you and you have the right to be angry, then do not let the day go by without dealing with that situation. Handle the situation you are in immediately. Do not handle it sinfully. Calmly and clearly seek to solve the problem. Look for reconciliation. But I hope that we see what this means. This means that we have control over our anger. There is no such thing as someone making you so angry that you did what you did. You have complete control over your anger because God has told you not to sin with your anger. You have control. You are deciding that you want to be angry and express that anger.
Have you noticed this is the emotion that God is telling us will give us the most trouble. Isn’t it interesting that God did not have to tell us to be sad but do not sin. He did not have to say to be happy but not sin. He told us to be angry but do not sin because it is really, really easy to sin when we are angry. It is the open door to the devil. We need to quickly handle our anger so that we do not sin, do not hurt others, and do not destroy a relationship that we have.
So how can we put off those angry clothes? First, when you feel anger ask yourself, “Am I right to be angry?” Is my anger coming from selfishness and things happening that I do not like or truly a righteous injustice? Second, when you feel angry ask yourself what can you do to solve the situation. What can I do to reconcile the situation that has provoked this anger? Third, look to fix the problem not make the problem worse. The goal is to let someone know how wrong they were and they are such a terrible person. Be a peacemaker and look to restore the relationship.
In short, wear clothes that are made in the image of God. Did God have the right to be angry with you? Yes. Is he right to be angry? Yes. What does he do about this? He looks to fix the problem by giving his Son so that you can be reconciled. Let us do the same when we have anger that we are right to have.