7.19 Ephesians -- Warnings
Having just laid out the welcome mat for the Gentiles, Paul immediately warns his readers to
"no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking" (Eph 4:17).
His meaning here would be clearer if he had used the word "pagans." He means the idolaters who participate in profane activities in honor of Greek gods and goddesses. Many of his readers may have come from that background.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24).
Here is the key to making diversity work -- not that we uncritically respect all the cultures of men, but that we disown the lot of them wherever they contradict the new life in Christ. This was as true for Jew as for Gentile, except that the points of conflict were different. If the Jews' weak point was the Law, the Gentiles' was lawlessness. Each was equally an obstacle to the new community. When one comes to Christ, there must be a renunciation of portions of the home environment, and a "putting on of the new self." This new self is the non-cultural self, it is the new man in Christ, it is freedom from the bondages and prejudices of the old worldview.
If we analyzed Paul's attitude to culture, we would classify him as a rejectionist. That is, in looking about him at the activities of men, he disapproved of the large percentage of them. As an evangelist, he could speak well of the Greek philosophers, but even Greek wisdom would not lead a man to Christ, much less would Greek religious rites. Likewise, he loved his own people and yearned for their salvation, but knew that their religious attitudes and acts were futile. In both cases, a convert had to renounce the beliefs and practices of his upbringing, and make it a matter of discipline to train himself in new thinking and acting. Paul was attempting to build a new man (character) and a new culture (community) on different values than were modeled anywhere in the surrounding environment. He believed that as men and women lived in the Spirit, their words and acts would build up both the personal and corporate life.
Most of what he says involves just getting along with other people: put off falsehood, speak truthfully, don't hold anger, don't steal, don't talk loosely. Wrong acts "give the devil a foothold" (Eph 4:27). All of these social sins also injure the temple of God. Above all,
"do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" (Eph 4:25-30).
Paul does not specifically say what grieving the Spirit involves, but the context lists hostile behaviors: bitterness, anger, rage, slander, malice. On the other hand, kindness and forgiveness build up the church.