"Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:25-29)To make his message of putting of and putting on more clear, Paul gives us several concrete examples of how this can work in our lives. Along with the what of putting off and putting on, Paul also, as a bonus, gives us the why of putting off and putting on. For many, Christianity can become a system of dos and don'ts; a series of rules the follow without ever really understanding the "why" of the rules they are following. Understanding the why is critical to our understanding of the life we have been called to live. I have found this especially true in raising children. When our children were young, our rules were absolute and we expected them to follow them because, "I said so," but as they grew up, it became important for us to explain to them why we had the rules we had. If we only know the rules then we will only ever be able to keep those rules in the context we learned them. However, if we understand the "why" of the rules then we can apply the "why" to other situations not directly covered by the rules. Understanding the "why" helps us to transition from a life lived by rules to a life lived by principles.
Paul gives us four concrete examples of laying off, putting on, and the reasons for laying off and putting on. The first has to do, not only with lying, but with any and all forms of falsehood in our lives. Paul's command covers our words, our actions, and our intentions. God's remedy for falsehood in our lives is to speak the truth to one another. It is interesting that Paul explicitly mentions our neighbor. In the Greek this references someone near, or close, to us. We must first learn to practice truth with those closest to us; speaking what is true and speaking what is right. The reason we are to speak truth, one with another, is because we are all members of one another. This word for "members" can refer to a limb or body part. When we lie to one another, we are harming that which we are a part of. Lying destroys the bonds of relationship that binds us together as one body of mankind. Lying has the power to destroy friendships, marriages, and any since of community we have with our neighbor. In Christ we are one in Him, but also in this world we are one body of mankind before God. Lying destroys this body and separates us one from another. That is why we mist put off lying and put on the truth that we might preserve the unity of our relationships with one another.
Secondly, Paul says that, though we are angered, we must not sin. Anger is a natural emotion common to all of us, but it is what we do with this anger that determines if we slide into sin or remain in righteousness. The key to overcoming anger is learning to properly resolve it and to release it before it consumes our life. Those who hold onto anger harbor a fire within them that consumes them, and most often, the relationships they have with other people. Paul's advice is to resolve our anger the very day we are angered; to not let the day end before we resolve and release the anger we are holding inside. One of the worse things you can do for your marriage is to go to bed angry. As you sleep, that anger burns and grows and, as the new day dawns, that anger continues to work against your marriage with ever growing heat. We must learn to work though our anger; to resolve it quickly, and to restore peace and harmony within our relationships with ever growing efficiency and speed. The reason we must be quick to resolve anger is because, if we do not, we yield a place in our heart to the enemy to work corruption and evil will within us. Giving place is like giving the enemy and landing strip in our lives where he can come and go at will. This is what unresolved anger does in our lives. When the enemy has place in our lives, nothing good comes of it. Let us deny him place by resolving our anger quickly and not holding on to it any longer than we need to.
Thirdly, those who are given to thievery must put off stealing and learn to work with their own hands to earn their own living. More than this, they ought to learn to become givers rather than takers. When we are takers, we think only of ourselves; what we need and what we want. We become so self-focused that we loose sight of other people. Stealing is a prime example of self-centeredness. We become so consumed with our wants and desires that we become callous to thee needs, wants, and rights of others. The key to transitioning from self-centeredness to other-centeredness is learning to give. Our goal in working must not be to only provide for our own needs, but to earn and live in a way to have extra to give to those in need. This not only means working hard to have the resources to give, but living a moderate lifestyle that we might have something left over to give to those in need. One of the reasons to become people who give is to establish equity one with another. There will always be those in need, and sometimes that person will be us. God has established giving as a way to ensure equity for all. Paul wrote, "For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality — at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.'" (2 Corinthians 8:13-15) Giving ensures equity, taking only leads to our own want.
Finally, we must be careful in what we say and must choose our words wisely in order that we might build others up instead of tearing them down. We are told that, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (Proverbs 18:21) There is no such thing as an empty word. What we speak has power; power to give life and power to produce death in those to whom are words are directed. We must learn to speak with purpose. This means that we must think before we speak. We must consider not only what we are going to say but what effect those words will have on the person we are speaking to. Will our words bring life or will our words bring death and harm to those we are conversing with? The answer is up to us. James counsels us to be, "quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." (James 1:19) The goal of our speech ought to be two-fold. First to encourage and build up one another and, secondly, to enable and produce grace in our hearer to allow them to respond in a positive way to what we are saying. This is especially true when there are issues in a relationship that mus be addressed and/or conflicts that must be resolved. Our words can either impart grace that allows the other person to respond in a positive way, or we can speak in a way to put them on the defense and actually make it harder for them to hear and respond to what we have to say. We must take the time to ask ourselves, "How would I respond to the words I am about to say? Will my words communicate grace or something else? Would my words help the matter or just make it worse?" Our goal should be the edification and empowering by grace of the other person, not just our own satisfaction in releasing our emotions,expressing our anger, or simply "blowing off steam." We must always remember the words of Jesus, "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37)