Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit of God
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Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit of God

Ephesians 4:29–32  (ID: 3238)

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit indicates that a person has been sealed, forgiven, and redeemed in Christ. Because of this great work, Christians should not grieve the Holy Spirit. Alistair Begg emphasizes the importance of forsaking unrighteousness and instead emulating Christ in His kindness and forgiveness. Because Christ saved us from sin to do good works, the Christian church should be overflowing with kindness toward each another and toward the world.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ephesians, Volume 7

The New Self Ephesians 4:17–32 Series ID: 14907

Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to read from the Bible, just the section that we read earlier today, and then we’ll pray together. Ephesians and chapter 4 and from verse 25 to the end. Ephesians 4:25:

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. 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.”


Well, let’s pray together:

Speak, Lord, in the stillness
While we wait on thee,
Hushed our hearts to listen
In expectancy.[1]

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, we looked this morning at verses 25–28 under the overarching heading from verse 27—at least as it is translated in the NIV—“Do not give the devil a foothold.” And now, as we come to these closing verses, 29 through to 32, we want to look at this from the perspective of not grieving the Holy Spirit, which comes right there in much the same way as the directive concerning the devil comes in the heart of that opening section: “Don’t let this corrupt talk come from your mouth. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Let’s just start with the Holy Spirit, if we may, and then come back up to 29 and then back down to the concluding verses.

We would do well to have a series, I think, on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and we should tuck that away for the future. We could acknowledge this evening, I think, that we routinely make mention of the person and the work of the Holy Spirit, recognizing all that God the Holy Spirit does in making us alive with Christ, in filling us, in enabling us, in guiding us, in teaching us, and so on. And I think that that recollection and emphasis on our part is both understandable and wonderfully helpful and right. I sometimes think that as I listen to myself and then as I hear others speak as well, that we may not give just as much attention to the fact that we’re dealing with a person when we talk about the Holy Spirit. It’s not uncommon to slip into the mistake of referring to the Holy Spirit not as a person but as “it” or “its” or “this,” and in point of fact, nothing could be more wrong.

The Holy Spirit Can be Grieved

It’s clear from the Bible and particularly clear, I think, from this verse that the Holy Spirit is someone who can be grieved. That’s why Paul gives the directive in this way. And it is a staggering thought when we put it in these terms. It is possible for us to make the Holy Spirit sad. It is possible for us to make the Holy Spirit sad. If that were not the case, then the directive would make no sense at all. “Make sure,” he says, “that you do not grieve the Holy Spirit with whom you have been sealed for the day of redemption.” That reference to the sealing goes back to 1:13; we mentioned it this morning: “In him”—that is, in Christ—“you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit was given to us as a sign and a seal of the fact that we are no longer what we once were, but we are now made new in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an important emphasis and one that we do well to dwell on: namely, the fact that not only—and again mentioning chapter 1—not only have we had “redemption” and “through his blood” (verse 7) and “the forgiveness of our trespasses,” but also, God has poured out the blessing of the indwelling Holy Spirit on and in our lives. In fact, if anyone does not have the Spirit of God, says Paul when he writes to the church at Rome, then he doesn’t belong to God at all.[2] The indication of the presence of God in a life is the indwelling Spirit. And so it is important for us to simply acknowledge the fact that we are not then referring merely to a power or to a force but to a person. The cults—for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular—do not have a Trinity, as you will know, and they give the name Holy Spirit to this misunderstood and denied force, as they put it. When we read our Bibles, we find that that is completely wrong.

So, he is a person, and also he is God. You will notice that in “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”: that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are coequal, and they are coeternal. And also, the adjective is important: he is the Holy Spirit. He’s the Holy Spirit. And consequently, because he is holy, he is grieved by impurity. It is therefore inevitable that he will be grieved by your sin and by mine. He is the Spirit of truth, and therefore, he will inevitably be saddened by falsehood. That’s why, as we saw this morning, Paul has said, “Having put away all falsehood, make sure that you speak in truth to one another. Because not only does it have an effect on you and on your brother and sister, but it actually impacts the living God”—that the Holy Spirit is grieved when this takes place. When we get to chapter 5, we’re going to see that when we are filled with the Holy Spirit… In fact, if your Bible is open there, your eyes can scan it in verse 18: “Do[n’t] get drunk with wine … [that’s] debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” And what is the impact? Well, then we will be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and “singing and making melody to the Lord with [all] your heart,” and “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father,” and living in a mutuality of submission to one another that is quite remarkable in a world that is full of broken relationships.

When we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, then, what is to flow from our lips is that which is stirred in our hearts—namely, praise to our God. Therefore, it is inevitable that he will be grieved when what flows from our lips is actually corrupting talk. He is also the Spirit of unity, and therefore, he will be inevitably saddened by our disunity.

The Holy Spirit was given to us as a sign and a seal of the fact that we are no longer what we once were, but we are now made new in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, Paul, addressing it in this way, has probably in his mind the prophecy of Isaiah. You needn’t turn to it, but I’ll tell you where it is; you can find it later. In Isaiah chapter 63, the people are said to have grieved the Holy Spirit: “They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.”[3] God had given them clear direction, they went against his direction, and as a result of that, the Holy Spirit was grieved. And so Paul, recognizing what has happened with the people of God, as it were, in the past, is essentially saying to the Ephesians now, “You are the new people of God. You are a new creation. God lives in you by the Holy Spirit. And make sure that you do not do what those folks did way back there, 600 BC.”

Sealed in the Lord

The last thing I want to say by way of introduction is—and it is an important thing, and it is this: that Paul’s exhortation and his appeal here is based on the security of our position. Based on the security of our position. It’s based on the fact that he says, “You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. It is because you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and have been sealed”—notice in the phrase here in 30—we have been “sealed for the day of redemption.” And Paul makes much of this all the time. For example, in Romans chapter 8: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”[4]—the certainty and security of the completed work of Christ. “[Being confident] of this,” he writes to the Philippians, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[5] So his appeal to them in this way is not on the basis of any insecurity but rather on the security that is theirs.

The same thing, actually, later in Philippians, where he says to them, “We’re not like the folks around us here whose end is destruction. Their god is their belly. They glory in their shame. Their minds are filled with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[6] What is he doing? He “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”[7] So, he is making it perfectly clear that the security of the believer is not in our health. The security of the believer is not in our wealth. The security of the believer is not in our giftedness. The security of the believer is in Christ alone. The Holy Spirit reminds us through the Word. He says, “You have been sealed with me. I have been placed in you as a guarantee of all that is still yours to come.”[8]

And the magnificent thing about the sealing of the Spirit, when you think about it—because I often pose this question to you rhetorically, and it was in my mind again as I was reading my notes before this evening. I was thinking again about what it is that gives one such an assurance of salvation. What is it that gives one such a conviction about the authenticity and the reliability and the sufficiency of the Bible? Why is it that we come together in this way and listen as we turn to the Scriptures again and again? Well, it is an indication of the fact that you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit assures you of these things. As you hear the Word of God, the Spirit of God is saying to you, “This is true.” He’s saying to you, “This must be applied.” He’s saying to you, “See to it,” and so on. It’s a magnificent and a wonderful thing.

And it is not only that to which we look back but also to which we look forward. When he talks about our redemption in chapter 1, around verse 6 and 7, he’s referring to what we sing about when we sing,

Oh, perfect redemption, the purchase of [God],
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.[9]

That’s what he’s referring to at the beginning of the verses in chapter 1. What he’s referring to here is the end of our redemption. We presently know what it is to have been removed from one kingdom into a new. We presently know what it is to have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. We presently know what it is to be forgiven. But we also know that there is a new day coming. We also know that he has saved us not only from something, but he has saved us for something. He has taken us not only out of a realm, but he has taken us into a new realm and to prepare for us a realm that is beyond our ability to comprehend. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them who love him.” Then finish the verse: “But his Spirit has revealed it to them.”[10]

So our friends and our neighbors say, “What are you talking about, you’re going to be with Jesus? What do you mean your sins are forgiven? Where do you get all this stuff from?” Well, we get it in the Bible. You say, “Well, I read the Bible; I never saw any of it.” No, you didn’t, because the Spirit of God has not opened your eyes. You should cry out to him that he might open your eyes and show you who you are and show you who Christ is and show you why you even exist. This is the great glory in it. And that is the context.

The security of the believer is not in our giftedness. The security of the believer is in Christ alone.

Isaac Watts wrote a hymn that begins, “Come, ye that love the Lord, and let your joys be known.” It’s a golden oldie, and it has the refrain “We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground to fairer worlds on high.” And we don’t sing any of these hymns anymore, I fear. And here’s the stanza that struck me when I referenced it:

There we shall see his face,
And never, never sin!
There from the rivers of his grace,
Drink endless pleasures in.

And here, before we rise
To that immortal state,
The thought of such amazing bliss,
Should constant joy create.[11]

It’s a good hymn: “Come, ye that love the Lord.”

So: sealed, remission of our sins, forgiveness of our trespasses, redeemed, and about to be redeemed. And in between, we need the Spirit of God at work within our hearts in order to make sure that we are following hard after the Lord Jesus Christ. Our prayer and our perspective in these things is based upon our position in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“No Corrupting Talk”

Now… Actually, as a random thought, but I was thinking as I was studying this again earlier in the week, about when you used to go to the doctor, he told you to stick out your tongue. I don’t know if doctors do that anymore. But it was the only time I was allowed to stick out my tongue when I was small. “Well, if I go to the doctor, can I stick out my tongue?” “Yes. In fact, it will be demanded of you.” But in other words, “Let me have a look at what’s going on inside you. I think I’ll get something just by such a simple scan.” And here in these verses, we’re kind of sticking out our tongues, and we give an indication of what’s going on inside us.

That’s why the clarity of instruction regarding falsehood and anger and stealing is now followed up by his return to the matter of speech again. Back he comes—and we understand why, don’t we? At least many of us do. Because our tongues get us into so much difficulty. James reminds us of what a restless evil the tongue is. How easily we find, he says, that blessing and cursing comes out of the same source.[12] And he says, “Now, my brothers and sisters, that should not be.”[13] So Paul says, “Make sure that there’s no corrupting talk that’s coming out of your mouths.”

The word there for “corrupt” is the word, in Greek, saprós, which means rotten. Rotten. It’s the word that would be used of a rotten apple or a rotten piece of fruit, which, if you found it in a barrel, you would tend to say, “I think this should simply be removed, for surely to leave it in there, it may impact some of the rest of the fruit around it.” And, of course, that is in part the point. Paul is essentially saying, if we can summarize it, “It’s imperative that you say no to destructive talking and you say yes to corrective talking.” Because after all, the concern of the believer is for the building up of the body of Christ, for the maintaining of the unity, for the expression of purity, and so on. So when in a congregation we begin to tolerate corrupting talk, then what we discover is that instead of it actually building people up, it actually tears things down.

“As Fits the Occasion”

And it is insufficient—as we said this morning, looking at the issue of stealing—it’s insufficient simply to say that there is no corrupting talk coming out of my mouth. That’s the negative side; but the positive side is that there’s supposed to be good, upbuilding talk that comes and that it is to be fitting to the occasion: “as fits the occasion.” It’s kind of proverbial, isn’t it? The Proverbs have a lot about the importance and the timeliness of words. “A word in season,” says Solomon, “how good it is!”[14] “In season.” “As fits the occasion.”

It’s an interesting little phrase, that. ’Cause some of us are pretty good at saying the right thing at the wrong time or in the wrong way. “Well, the only reason I’m saying this is because it’s true.” The fact that it’s true doesn’t demand that it is said. “Oh, you said the Bible says that you’re supposed to make sure that you speak in truth.” Yes, you are, “as fits the occasion.” Will this be the right occasion to say this? Is this the time to say this in front of somebody? “As fits the occasion.” Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? “As fits the occasion.” Elsewhere we’re told that our words are supposed to be “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt.”[15] Some of us have got that completely upside down; our words are full of salt and seasoned with a little grace.

I’ve told you before that one of the lasting phrases out of my father’s mouth for me, as he heard me preach as a younger man, was this: “Son, it’s not what you say that gets you in trouble; it’s how you say it.” Here I am all these years later; still his words ring in my ear—still confronted by it. I’m encouraged by the fact that Isaiah, who is the great prophet of God, when he encountered God, said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”[16] I think each of us has something we might learn in this.

Kindness Replacing Bitterness

From there to verse 31 and 32. If we can try and take them together, we can summarize his exhortation or his appeal in a simple phrase: kindness should replace bitterness. Kindness should replace bitterness. He starts with bitterness, and then he comes to kindness. He starts with the negative, and then he comes to the positive.

In verse 31, we have, as John Stott refers to it, “six unpleasant attitudes and actions.”[17] And they are unpleasant, aren’t they? You come to this, and you remind yourself again that the call for this new behavior is consistent with the fact that we’ve been made new people. “So make sure,” he says, “that all bitterness…” He likes that word, “all.” It’s so challenging: not some bitterness or a little bit of bitterness but all the bitterness and all the wrath and all the anger and all the clamor and all the slander and all the malice—the whole shooting match. This is a zero-tolerance program. If the church is going to live together in unity and purity, in effectiveness, if it’s going to reach the world, it will not be able to tolerate this stuff within it, because when the world comes in, they will say, “But this is exactly what we get in our office. This is the exact same kind of nonsense that I have with people talking behind their backs. This is the same stupid slander that exists everywhere else. If this Jesus thing really transforms people, why in the world are you as you are?” That’s the challenge of it, you see. Bitterness. Aristotle referred to it as “an embittered and resentful spirit which refuses to be reconciled.”[18] “An embittered and resentful spirit which refuses to be reconciled.” The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers about a “root of bitterness”[19] which, if not dealt with, will trouble not only the individual who is the source of the bitterness but all of the others who are affected by it.

And Paul in Romans, when he talks about the kindness of God… I think it’s in that context, in… Yeah: “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” If the gospel doesn’t soften your heart, it will harden your heart. “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” And “he will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” They didn’t earn it, but by these things they revealed the fact that they had been sealed with the Spirit and made new. But here we go: “But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will [simply] be wrath and fury.”[20] The progression is clear: you hear the gospel; if God’s kindness does not soften your heart and bring you to repentance, if you continue down that path, if you continue to seek your own glory, if you do not obey the truth, if you commit yourself to unrighteousness, the only end result is wrath and fury.

Come back to Ephesians. What does he follow “bitterness” with? “Wrath and anger.” “Wrath and anger.” “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger…” The word for “wrath” here is the word for the flaring up of passion, the temper when it is provoked. “Anger,” the word orgḗ in the Greek, is a reference to a kind of more settled and sullen hostility, a kind of smoldering resentment that is certainly as damaging as the fiery outburst. In fact, it may actually be even more damaging. At least if you’re dealing with Mr. Fiery Outburst, it usually passes, you know? It’s like a big thunder cloud that comes and just [makes exploding sound]. It’s not nice, not nice, but we get it over with, as opposed to the [makes humming sound]. You can just—it’s just there. It just [makes humming sound]. “What is that noise?” That’s resentment right there, that’s “Nyah. I am angry.” [Makes humming sound.]

“No,” he says, “you’ve been sealed with the Spirit of God. You’ve been made new. You’re not going to make the Holy Spirit sad, are you, by carrying on like that? You’re not,” he would say to us tonight, “going to sing, ‘Take my lips and let them be,’[21] and then let your lips be other than what you sang about. That’s hypocrisy.” But so easy to do!

“Bitterness,” “wrath,” fury, or “anger,” and “clamor.” It’s an interesting word, clamor, isn’t it? How many times last week did you use the word clamor? I think the only time I used the word clamor is talking about those who would clamor for attention. I used it in that way. But when I looked at it, the word clamor, actually, is a noun that speaks of the kind of loud, aggravational assertions of an angry person who has decided that it is important that everyone is aware of their grievance. Okay? So it’s not simply somebody who’s doing the [makes humming sound]. This somebody’s doing the “Argh! And I want everybody to know, I am mad about this, and you should know, and since I’m mad…” You know. That’s clamor. Not nice.

If you continue to seek your own glory, if you do not obey the truth, if you commit yourself to unrighteousness, the only end result is wrath and fury.

And just when you thought we were doing well, “slander.” “Slander.” The devil’s work. The devil slanders God to us, he slanders us to God, he slanders us to each other, and when slander becomes part and parcel of a life, it proves the fact that we are leaning far on the wrong side.

Peter, when he writes in a similar vein, refers to it, doesn’t he? When he has spoken to them about the wonder of their salvation, again: that “you’ve been chosen by God the Father. You are sprinkled by the blood of Christ. You are sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”[22] And look at what a wonder it is: “You’re a new creation in Christ,”[23] and “See now what God has done, sending his only Son, Christ the beloved one.”[24] “And can it be,”[25] da-da-da, diddly-dee, so on. Oh, everything’s perfect. It’s swimmingly beautiful. These scattered Christians must have been a fantastic group. And then he gets to chapter 2, and he says, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”[26]

There’s a measure of encouragement in this, isn’t there? Right? That, for example, the way that Paul writes… So, when he writes to the Corinthians, as he begins the Corinthian epistle, he says, you know, “You folks, in Christ, are terrific, you know. You’re a wonderful group, and I’m really jazzed about you.”[27] But the same group that he refers to as the saints are the people of whom he has said, “There’s stuff going on at your Communion services that the pagans don’t even do.”[28]

So the exhortation and the appeal is not theoretical. It’s intensely practical. And when we take to heart the instruction of God’s Word, as we do here, we realize that if we’re going to grow together, if the Ephesian believers were going to make sense of all of this, if they were going to maintain unity, then any kind of negative speaking in this way—the kind of slander where we speak of one another rather than to one another; when we under, you know, sort of pseudo-Christianese that use the old introduction, again, “You know, the only reason I’m mentioning this to you, of course, is I know that you care immensely about Brother Freddy,” you know. And it’s like, “Okay, what do you got for me?” We love prayer. We love prayer circles, prayer groups, prayer trios, and everything else. But there’s more gossip passed along in prayer services than in most other places in the Christian church. The fact that something has been disclosed to you does not give you the freedom to disclose it to somebody else, and certainly not under the disguise of prayer.

“No,” he says, “the slander must go. And along with that, all malice. All malice.” I wonder if “malice” just isn’t the collective term. What is malice? Well, I think it’s bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander, and they’re all thrown together in a very, very ugly pie. Or, if you like, if bitterness is the kind of sourness that can be concealed for a while within the human heart, it will eventually reveal itself, and when it does, it will be in a kind of unconcealed ill will that is malicious and plots the downfall of others.

Well, it’s thoroughly depressing, isn’t it? It really is. It’s dauntingly challenging. There’s none of us are able to step back from it and say… Although I did have a number of people come to me this morning and say, “It was a wonderful talk. I wish Mr. So-and-So had been here.” And I understand how to do that as well: “This would have been terrific for her. This would have been great for him.” Well, let’s just stay with the “me” for the moment.

“Be Kind”

And let’s turn finally to the positive side of it. If this stuff is to go, what should be in its place? You see, because it’s not simply enough to take the weeds out of the garden. The flowers are to be cultivated. And that’s, again, the wonderful thing: “Stop stealing, do honest work with your hands, so that you will be able to give. Stop telling lies, and be a man or a woman of the truth. And make sure that you’re dealing really vociferously with these elements which are so undermining to the well-being of spiritual discipleship and growth in grace and so on. And instead, here’s what to do: be kind.” The word in Greek is chrēstós, which is just one vowel away from Christos, which is, of course Christ, the name of Christ. And I’m sure that many, when they would have used it in the Greek in that way, would have remarked on what I now remark on to you: that kindness and Christlikeness go together.

And the kindness of the Lord Jesus, the kindness of God, is not a selective kindness. When Jesus is giving instruction in this way to his followers in Luke chapter 6, he makes this very point. It’s in the section where he talks about loving your enemies and being good to those who hate you and blessing those who curse you and so on[29]—which is like, “Oh, come on! You know, this is tough! What? No.” “If you do good to those who do good to you, that’s no big deal. Sinners do that. If you lend to those who are who are paying you 4.5 percent, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Most High.”[30] Here we go! Listen to this: “For he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” “He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”[31]

“Love your neighbor.”[32] They said to him, “Who is my neighbor?”[33] “Tell me who it is. Tell me who the little group is that I have to love so that I can exclude all the people that I don’t like and I don’t want to love—especially the evil ones and the ungrateful ones and the people that are on the wrong side of this equation.” And remember what Jesus says. He says, “Okay, I’ll answer that question. A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment and departed, leaving him half dead.”[34] And then he describes the arrival of the people who most ordinarily would be the ones that you would expect to do something. And then he says, “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own donkey, and brought him to an inn, and asked the innkeeper to take care of him, and he said to him, ‘And if you spend any more than the money I’ve left with you, when I come back through this way, I will pay the rest to you.’”[35] And the Pharisees and the religious leaders were offended, because Jesus used as a picture of genuine neighborliness a man who didn’t fit their framework. No, you see, this kindness is not selective kindness. Kindness “to the ungrateful” and to “the evil.”

Tenderhearted and Forgiving

“Tenderhearted.” “Tenderhearted.” Not hard-hearted. This word actually is only found two places in the New Testament: here and again in 1 Peter. It’s amazing how much Peter and Paul have a unity in this. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” And how will that be expressed? “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”[36] In other words, it’s a radical, radical, Holy Spirit–created transformation.

Kindness and Christlikeness go together.

And “forgiving one other”: charizomenoi. Charizomenoi. Charis: grace. In other words, acting in grace towards one another. “But I don’t want to. I would prefer not to.” Okay. “I would rather harden my heart. I’ve been disappointed before. I went to the individual, and I spoke to them, and they turned their backs on me. They threw me out.” Okay. Well, you’ll notice what it says here: “forgiving one another” not because God forgave you but “as God in Christ forgave you.” In other words, he says the forgiveness of the believer—and he’s going to go on to begin chapter 5 and exhort the Christians to become imitators of God[37]—the forgiveness in the life, in our lives as believers, is supposed to have a God-like dimension to it. In other words, it’s a kind of forgiveness that can only ultimately be found in the family of God. Because it is not simply the logical “I think things will be better if… Well, pragmatically, I think this is… Anything for a happy life!” kind of stuff. No, this is that which the Holy Spirit, who has sealed us for the day of redemption, produces in our lives.

Three Illustrations

Well, let’s draw it to a close. Our time is gone, isn’t it? It’s seven o’clock.

The chapter has been all about unity and purity and harmony. And when we get this right—to the extent that we get it right, as the Ephesians were exhorted to get it right—then the Evil One, who is behind all this bad stuff… The Evil One! It’s Screwtape Letters now, right? C.S. Lewis, and he sends out all his nephews and everybody to do their dirty business, and they keep coming back and going, “We can’t get these guys. We can’t get ’em.”

You see, when the Spirit of God among the people of God creates this reality, then it sends a signal to the Evil One of what the Bible says is true: he is a defeated foe. He is a defeated foe. It’s checkmate. There is no way that he can alter the outcome from Calvary. But he still wants to play the moves out on the board. And as he plays the moves out on the board, he seeks to live in the realm of anger and wrath and slander and disappointment and hatred and heartache and so on—all the things that we are just so naturally susceptible to and often, if we are honest, very glad to entertain. But when the Spirit of God is at work filling and transforming and renewing, then the devil himself realizes, “These folks have got me beat.”

And isn’t it great that there’s nothing particularly flamboyant about any of this? I mean, this is just ordinary stuff. This is ordinary stuff in the lives of ordinary people in the routine of life. In fact, what he’s really saying is “By the enabling of the Spirit of God, you ordinary folks can live in an extraordinary way as a result of the grace and goodness of God.”

Let me give you three illustrations, and I’m done.

One is from Fred Mitchell, whom I’m sure you are all very aware of. Fred Mitchell was the general director of the China Inland Mission after D. E. Hoste, who was the general director after Hudson Taylor. And my thought here is: Here we all are. It’s Monday tomorrow. Same old stuff, right? Most of our lives are routine. They are. You put your socks on, check your emails, do your stuff. Tuesday: socks, emails, stuff. Tonight’s a little different: no socks. But that’s just breaking the routine. You see, and that’s where we live our lives. And this is why I wanted this. Here is the abiding message of Fred Mitchell’s life:

He accomplished no great thing. His name was linked with many Christian organizations, but he [founded] none [of them]. He turned the feet of many into paths of righteousness, but not more than others of his contemporaries. He made no spectacular and inspiring sacrifices. He effected no reforms. For the first forty-five years of his life the pathway he traversed was similar to that of thousands of other … moderately successful business men. “From village school to chemist shop”…

To the pharmacy, yeah.

“From village school to [the pharmacy]” would have been an appropriate summing up of his outward course.

Here’s the sentence:

On that ordinary, hum-drum track, however, he walked with God, climbing steadily in spiritual experience.[38]

On the “ordinary hum-drum track.” Okay?

T. S. Mooney, my favorite Irish Presbyterian, who’s been gone for a long time now, was a Crusader leader. You don’t need to know all that means, but he taught boys for fifty years on Sunday afternoons. In this little biography that they did of him, one of the chapters is on his role as the leader in this class:

His prayerful concern for his boys led him to take a real practical interest in each one of them.

“So, what are you doing that’s spiritually effective, Mooney?”

“Well, I’m a bank manager. I teach a Bible class.”

“Hm! No one’s ever heard of you, Mooney.”


He was always at class at least half an hour before the starting time to give himself plenty of time to greet the boys on their arrival, to chat to them and find out more about them. For years the junior boys were invited in small groups to have Sunday tea at No. 9 Clarence Avenue. That their leader would take an interest in them made a profound impression on many of them, and one said, “From first going to Crusaders, Mr. Mooney got to know my name, and from then on he took a consistent interest in my life.” Another states, “I will always remember T. S. as being someone who took a personal interest in me as an individual. If I ever missed class for one reason or another, he would be at my door during the week to say, ‘Missed you last Sunday.’”

And this is the sentence I was looking for. (Sorry to read so much.)

“After my father died, Mr. Mooney asked me about my mother every Sunday for a year as we filed out at the end of class.”


Ambrose was the bishop of Milan. Ambrose was by all accounts a powerful character, very effective in his proclamation. He was greatly used in the conversion of Augustine. And Augustine, reflecting on how he came to faith under the bishop’s ministry, said, “It was not your great teaching—I scarcely expected to find that in the church in any case—but that you were kind to me.”[39] “But that you were kind to me.”

You see, we overestimate that which is apparently gifted and spectacular, and we underestimate what God actually is accomplishing on the hum-drum traffic of life. And I see it by observation in you as I move among you. Someone said the other day of someone, “The gracious way in which they approached me meant a great deal to me”—someone again and again and again.

And so, we want to pray that the Spirit of God will be increasingly at work within us as individuals and as a church. We’re certainly not the finished product, but we do have a sense that God has his hand upon us for good. And so let’s take to heart his Word to us in these closing verses of Ephesians.

Let us pray:

Well, Lord, we do want just to say again, “May the mind of Christ, my Savior, live in me from day to day … him exalting [and] self abasing, [for] surely this is victory.”[40] We pray that you will come and visit us by the Holy Spirit. As we come into these summer months, Lord, when we have a lot of coming and going, going here and going there, we pray for a lovely sense of your hand upon us as we gather in worship and in the study of your Word; that as life groups are set aside for a while, that instead of it being the occasion of disappointment or the absence of something, that it may actually become the occasion of people having opportunity to bind with one another in ways that hadn’t happened because of the structured way in which so much is done. Only you can accomplish this, and we pray for your grace in doing so. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Emily May Crawford Grimes, “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness” (1920). Lyrics lightly altered.

[2] See Romans 8:9.

[3] Isaiah 63:10 (ESV).

[4] Romans 8:30 (ESV).

[5] Philippians 1:6 (ESV).

[6] Philippians 3:19–20 (paraphrased).

[7] Philippians 3:21 (ESV).

[8] See 2 Corinthians 1:22.

[9] Fanny Jane Crosby, “To God Be the Glory” (1875).

[10] 1 Corinthians 2:9–10 (paraphrased).

[11] Isaac Watts, “Come, Ye That Love the Lord” (1707). Lyrics lightly altered.

[12] See James 3:8–10.

[13] James 3:10 (paraphrased).

[14] Proverbs 15:23 (ESV).

[15] Colossians 4:6 (NIV).

[16] Isaiah 6:5 (ESV).

[17] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1979), 190.

[18] Armitage Robinson, St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: A Revised Text and Translation with Exposition and Notes (London: Macmillan, 1904), 194, quoted in Stott, Message of Ephesians, 190. Robinson’s words are in summary of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics 4.11.

[19] Hebrews 12:15 (ESV).

[20] Romans 2:4–8 (ESV).

[21] Frances Ridley Havergal, “Take My Life, and Let It Be” (1874).

[22] See 1 Peter 1:1–4.

[23] 2 Corinthians 5:17 (paraphrased).

[24] Timothy Dudley-Smith, “Name of All Majesty” (1984).

[25] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be, That I Should Gain?” (1738).

[26] 1 Peter 2:1 (ESV).

[27] 1 Corinthians 1:4–8 (paraphrased).

[28] 1 Corinthians 5:1; 11:17–22 (paraphrased).

[29] See Luke 6:27–28.

[30] Luke 6:33–35 (paraphrased).

[31] Luke 6:35 (ESV).

[32] Matthew 5:43 (ESV). See also Luke 10:27.

[33] Luke 10:29 (ESV).

[34] Luke 10:30 (paraphrased).

[35] Luke 10:33–35 (paraphrased).

[36] 1 Peter 3:8–9 (ESV).

[37] See Ephesians 5:1.

[38] Phyllis Thompson, Climbing on Track: A Biography of Fred Mitchell (London: China Inland Mission, 1953), 11–12.

[39] Augustine, Confessions 5.13.23. Paraphrased.

[40] Kate Barclay Wilkinson, “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” (1925).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.