“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:28–32).
Third, Paul told them to be hardworking — “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” We are to put off thieving and put on honest work because we want to share with others.
Many in the Gentile world had a past life of thievery of some kind or another. Thieving says, “I deserve this and will take it for my own.” Stealing property from others, stealing time from employers, or stealing a good grade through cheating are all various forms of thievery. Since so many early believers had come from the criminal class, they needed to know not to steal any longer. That was the old life.
The positive command is simple: do honest labor. The Proverbs teach that “lazy people irritate their employers, like vinegar to the teach or smoke in the eyes” (Proverbs 10:26, NLT). Christians are to become hard-working people. We aren’t to become obsessive clock watchers, making sure we don’t work one minute more than we have to. Instead, we do honest labor. We should be teachable and moveable in the workplace. We should improve our skills over the years, rather than allow our talents to erode with time. We are to bring a positive attitude into our workplaces. We must be team players who are easy to work with, reliable in every way.
But why would a believer want to become a hard-working, honest, and reliable laborer? Because, as Paul wrote, we want to “have something to share with anyone in need.” In other words, my new nature pulls me toward generosity like Christ, to become a provider for others. In a Romans society where people scraped and clawed to get theirs, Christians were to be known for working hard to get for others. Jesus always had His sights set on caring for those around Him (He saw the hungry crowds). Believers, with the new nature Christ has given them, long to have the same vision.
Fourth, Paul told them to edify with their speech — “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We are to put off corrupting talk. We are to put on speech which builds up and imparts grace. We are not to grieve the Holy Spirit.
Believers have an opportunity to be the most encouraging people on earth. Jesus, when He looked at His disciples, and when He looked at you, saw past what was and on into what could be. He sees the best version of every person, what is possible if they allow Him to redeem their lives. As we become more like Christ, we ought to see a little more of that potential in others also. We then become encouraging. But too often believers allow corrupting words of ridicule to flow from their mouths! As James said, “from the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 3:10).
But why would a believer want to become someone who edifies with their speech? Because, as Paul said, we do not want to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom we were sealed for the day of redemption.” In other words, the existence of my new nature means the Spirit can lead me. From the day He sealed me to the day I receive my fully redeemed and eternal body, the Spirit of God is by my side. He would never author corrupting words but is the one who would author life-giving words. Since my new nature makes his leadership possible, I must give Him time to lead me and my words.
Fifth, Paul told them to be kind and tender to one another — “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We are to put off six cancerous attitudes. We are to put on a Christlike manner. We are to do this because God has so wonderfully forgiven us.
These six deadly vices — bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice — are often more deadly for the person engaging in them. They are like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. You are hurting yourself as you participate in them. Paul tells us we can put off this behavior, giving way to a Christlikeness that is kind and tender. Even the roughest person, with Christ, can become sweet and gentle.
But why would a believer want to become kind and tender? Because “God in Christ forgave” us. In other words, my new nature means I stand forgiven. Forgiven people, especially those who are continually growing in their understanding of how much they have been forgiven of, tend to become a kind and tender and forgiving people. The forgiveness of God has pummeled them. Wave after wave of His grace has brought them low. No longer on their prideful pedestal, they become gentle and kind and loving.