Be excellent to each other.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 August 2018

Ephesians 4.17-32.

In Romans Paul pointed out the reason pagans sin is because while they totally know better, they still don’t care to have anything to do with God, so he lets ’em live with their own self-deception. And lets ’em get worse and worse. Ro 1.21-32 But once a pagan becomes Christian, we should snap out of that behavior and follow God. Right?

Right. But we don’t always. Because some of that self-deception is pretty strong. Loads of Christians imagine it’s the sinner’s prayer, not the Spirit’s fruit, which confirms our salvation and proves he’s in us. Loads of us imagine we needn’t do any good works, because since we’re not saved by them, so what’s the point? Or we imagine the good works solely consist of believing all the right things, and not so much doing the right things.

Hogwash, but popular hogwash. And old hogwash; people were washing hogs with it back in ancient times too. Plenty of ancient Christians figured all they had to do was confess Jesus, believe what the apostles taught, and they were ready for heaven. It’s why the apostles regularly included a bit in their letters where they instructed Christians to behave themselves. Like this bit here.

Ephesians 4.17-30 KWL
17 So I say this, and testify in the Master:
You’re no longer to live like the other gentiles.
They walk in the meaninglessness of their minds, 18 being darkened in their thinking.
Alienated from God’s life by their ignorant existence, by their hardened minds,
19 they don’t care any more, and give themselves up to immorality,
into the practice of every dirty thing, of pure greed.
20 So you don’t do likewise, you learn Christ!
21 Truth is in Jesus!—if you listen to him, and are taught goodness by him.
22 Learn for yourselves to be rid of following the previous lifestyle,
the old humanity, corrupted by lusts and lies.
23 Have your mind made new by the Spirit,
24 putting on the new humanity, like God created—righteous and truly holy.
25 So, putting aside fraud, speak truth—each one to their neighbor:
We’re body parts of one another.
26 Be angry and sinless: The sun mustn’t set on your anger,
27 nor should anger give space for the devil.
28 Thieves: Stop stealing. Get a job instead, using your hands for good work
so you can give generously to those who have needs.
29 Don’t let any corrupt word come from your mouth,
but speak only if it’s good to build up the needy, so it can give grace to its hearers.
30 Don’t make God’s Holy Spirit sad—
you’re marked for the day of redemption by him!
31 Every kind of bitterness, outrage, rage, whining, slander:
Get it, with every kind of evil, away from you.
32 Become kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving one another same as God forgave you in Christ.

In a nutshell: Stop acting like the pagans you used to be. Be good. And be good to each other. Because if you truly are following Jesus, you’re gonna do better than you currently are!

The old humanity and the new.

The word ánthropos/“human” can either refer to one person or all humanity. You know, like the KJV’s translation “man”—one being, or every being. Hence when Paul writes about the palaión ánthropon/“old human” Ep 4.22 and the kainón ánthropon/“new human” Ep 4.24 we wind up with a lot of preachers talking about “the sin nature” versus “the new nature” or “the spirit nature” or some other synonym for a person who’s following the Holy Spirit. The old me versus the new me.

I lean more towards the idea of an old and new humanity. There’s humanity as it currently is, depraved by sin, self-centered and not getting any less so. Then there’s humanity as God wants it, as he originally intended it, motivated by love same as God. That’s the humanity Jesus demonstrates, and intends to bring the rest of us around to.

The old humanity is closed-minded. Really it has no mind at all: It’s driven by emotion, not thoughtfulness. It does what feels right, instead of working on actual righteousness; after it does as it’s gonna do, people look for excuses or justifications for why their actions were right, which might salve their consciences but isn’t fooling anyone but themselves. We all know self-centered behavior when we see it. We just happen to have blinders on when its our own self-centered behavior.

But those of us who’ve been studying Jesus should be way more self-aware than that. We’re deliberately watching out for that sort of behavior. The Holy Spirit keeps pulling those blinders off. Good thing—when we listen to him, and don’t assume fruit just magically grows on its own.

The old humanity walks in the very same ways Paul tells the Ephesians not to be:

  • Not putting aside fraud; Ep 4.25 tricking and conning and scamming one another, in order to get any advantage. ’Cause old humanity doesn’t consider itself body parts with one another; it rejects this idea as hippie rubbish. It’s about healthy competition—which isn’t always that healthy sometimes. Every person for themselves. Survival of the fittest. Social Darwinism.
  • Being angry, but not sinless. Ep 4.26 Because anger provides us every justification for doing all sorts of evil to one another. They made us angry, so we yelled at ’em, punched ’em, destroyed their property, took revenge. And if others get just as angry, they’ll look the other way at every violent thing we did.
  • Giving plenty of space to the devil, Ep 4.27 because the ends justify the means. If the result is going to be good, peaceful, prosperous, comfortable, safety, or anything we consider positive, we can do any evil thing to achieve that goal. Rob anyone, torture anyone, sacrifice anyone, kill anyone.
  • Theft. Ep 4.28 Because if you can justify it, if you can squeeze through a loophole in the law—heck, if you can get away with it—people will applaud. Look at all the heist movies where we cheer the thieves whenever they’re made the heroes of the story. Look at all the people who cheat their bosses, cheat on their taxes, cheat the restaurants and shopkeepers, and people admire how they come out ahead. True of a lot of other crime too.
  • Corrupt speech. Ep 4.29 Popular culture loves those who can rip into other people: Insult comics, “roastmasters,” sarcastic characters in the sitcoms who tear down everyone around them for laughs. It’ll get called “keeping it real,” “keeping it 100,” “speaking truth to power,” and all sorts of complimentary things—and it builds up nothing, encourages nothing, fixes nothing, changes nothing. On the contrary: Those who are insulted now feel they have justification for taking revenge.

The Holy Spirit expects, and is encouraging, better from us. With him in our lives, we’re supposed to move away from old humanity and become new people. New creations in Christ Jesus. People who act like we have a relationship with God, like he actually rubs off on us. Not people who are still a--holes but shrug, “I’m not perfect; just forgiven.” Yeah we’ve been given a clean slate; now let’s try to keep it clean, shall we?

So all the typical old-humanity behaviors Paul lists in verse 31: “Bitterness, outrage, rage, whining, slander”—you know, the stuff all your political friends specialize in—needs to be gone. Needs to be replaced with fruitful Christian behavior, like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. The same kind of forgiveness God extends to us. Grace paid forward.