The invitation to “the good life” is ubiquitous. Whether it is the newest car, the retirement plan that will lead to an easy street or the latest iPhone; we are told that the good life is out there if we will just put in the effort (and money) to make it happen. While everyone will define for themselves what the good life is for them, we have, in Ephesians 4:17-32, a good life that God calls us to, a life that is united together in the Spirit, devoted to carrying out the truth of the gospel in the lives of one another as we pursue a maturing faith with one another. It is a life that is the complete opposite of what we were before Christ, but one that is truly the good life.
Living the good life involves a clear recognition and response to the futile walk of those without Christ, who have not been given the grace of being called by God into fellowship with Him. Unfortunately for us, much of this life that we are to recognize and turn from is precisely what the advertisers are telling us is a good life. We are tempted to believe that if we live for ourselves, seeking what our heart desires that we will arrive at the good life. But Paul makes it clear that those who think this way are “darkened in their understanding” (Eph. 4:18). They are walking in the futility of their minds but are so clouded in their thinking that they believe it is the good life they are pursuing. In doing so, they become calloused to the needs of others, alienated from God, and on the path to destruction. Paul’s challenge here is to see with the eyes of God, that this is not at all the good life, but rather a mirage that is destined to disappoint rather than satisfy.
Now, before launching into a discussion on the good life Paul is urging, it is important that we be clear about how we define “good.” By this, I am not suggesting the good life is achieved by doing good things. Rather, I refer to this as the good life simply that in living out our faith in these areas, we experience the joy of fellowship with God, which is what I am calling the good life.
Living the good life as God defines it begins with the putting off of the works that are part of the futile life of our past. Paul tells us to “put off your old self”, which is Paul’s way of summarizing the things that are not pleasing to God. We are to put off the sinful and selfish attempts to find the good life in things of this world, in serving ourselves rather than serving others. This is where we must recognize the futility of such a life and respond by setting it aside.
Living the good life continues as our minds are renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2 that we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If our lives before Christ were characterized by darkened minds, then it stands to reason that we must have our minds renewed by God in order to live the good life. This comes as we allow God’s Word to influence our thinking and the Holy Spirit guides us into truth.
In the remainder of our passage, Paul gives some concrete examples of what living the good life looks like. Living the good life, as God sees it, will involve
- Honest (vs. 25): Paul tells us that in the context of relationships, we must be truthful in our communication rather that speaking falsehood or shading the truth in a way to put us in a better light. Truth telling honors our fellow member by esteeming them worthy of being honest.
- Anger management (vs. 26): Based on what Paul tells us, it is possible to angry without sinning. This kind of anger can be considered a righteous anger: having the right concern about a wrong action. However, it can also be something that is used in a positive way, in a way that motivates us to solve a problem. When my boys leave their toys on the floor and I step on one and hurt my foot, I become angry. Now, I can be angry and sin by yelling at my boys, or I can be angry and allow that to motivate me to clean up the toys with the boys. In the body of Christ, there will be people that put stress on relationships. Quite often it will be us who are the problem, but in any case, anger situations can be a time when great things are accomplished, though there may be painful discussions to get there. Letting anger simmer, however, is a welcome mat for our adversary to enter in and turn anger into bitterness.
- Sharing with rather than taking from others (vs. 27-28): Stealing seeks to have what I want at your expense. Sharing seeks to give you what you want at my expense. In a way, it pictures the truth of the gospel, that Jesus gave us what we needed at His expense.
- Edifying communication (vs. 29) Verse 29 is often quoted as a challenge to avoid profanity and inappropriate talk. While this may be part of what Paul is emphasizing here, the context points rather to the need for our words to edify one another and give grace to those in need. Words are a powerful thing. We live in a world where we are quick to be critical in our speech, to point out the flaws and weaknesses in others, and to poke fun at every mistake. Paul takes us down a different way than this, in that he calls us to view our words as a tool to build up and encourage one another. Think about a time when someone purposefully encouraged you. How did it make you feel? What did it inspire in you? I am not advocating for a self-esteem movement here, but Paul does make it clear that we can use our words in a positive way and have a positive effect on one another.
- Pleasing, rather than grieving the Holy Spirit (vs. 30): to me, this seems to be a catchall for any behavior that has not been mentioned above which would be contrary to the commands and principles of God and His Word.
A final put off and put on concludes our chapter. We are to put off bitterness, etc., and put on kindness, etc., which is the essentially living out the gospel in the lives of people. We are to remember our position in Christ, remember that we have been given grace by God and extend such grace to one another. It may feel better to respond in anger rather than grace, but the truly good life is found as we live our lives the way God desires and the way Jesus has demonstrated. May each of us find joy in the good life God desires.