Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not this... but that. (Ephesians 4-5)

This morning, I was paying attention to the string of contrasts in Ephesians 4 and 5. Each of them explains the first contrast, found in Eph 4:22-24: lay aside the old self... put on the new self.

not falsehood... but truth
don't steal... but work so you can be generous
don't use rotten words... but give gracious, edifying words
not bitterness, anger... but kindness, compassion, forgiveness
don't be unwise... but wise
don't be foolish, but understand the will of the Lord
don't get drunk, but be filled with the Spirit

For several of the contrasts, Paul explains a little more of what he means. For example, being "filled with the Spirit" in Eph 5:18 is explained in the rest of the sentence (found in vv. 19-21): "speaking to one another in psalms... giving thanks... submitting to one another..."

When Paul says "understand the will of the Lord" (Eph 5:17), it's easy to misunderstand him. Usually, Christians use that sort of language to refer to big decisions like what job to take, whom to marry, or what church to attend. But for Paul, "the will of the Lord" is the opposite of the items in the first column, and it is like the items in the second column. So "the will of the Lord" is not lying, stealing, rotten words, foolishness or getting drunk, and it includes truthfulness, generosity, gracious words, kindness, and wisdom.

What I like about this is that it makes "the will of the Lord" something that is within reach. The will of the Lord is not this... but that. God's will is not about which job or church I pick, but about rejecting my "former conduct" and putting on the new self (Eph 4:22-24). I can be certain that I am "in God's will" when I am being kind, forgiving, wise, thankful, and worshipful, regardless of whatever "big decisions" I may be struggling with.

The picture: a depiction of the book of Ephesians, from Biblia ectypa: Bildnussen auss Heiliger Schrift (an illustrated Bible) by Christoph Weigel, 1695. Image courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library.