June 12 – The Importance of Truth

Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.

Ephesians 4:25

Why is it so important to tell the truth? Because we are members one of another. When we don’t speak the truth with each other, we harm our fellowship. For example, what would happen if your brain told you that cold was hot and hot was cold? When you took a shower, you’d either freeze to death or scald yourself! If your eye decided to send false signals to your brain, a dangerous curve in the highway might appear straight and you would crash. You depend on the honesty of your nervous system and of every organ in your body.

The Body of Christ can’t function with any less than that. We cannot shade the truth with others and expect the church to function properly. How can we minister to each other, bear each other’s burdens, care for each other, love each other, build up each other, teach each other, and pray for each other if we do not know what is going on in each others’ lives? So be honest, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).[1]

4:25 Paul now moves from the believer’s standing to their state. Because they have put off the old man and have put on the new man through their union with Christ, they should demonstrate this startling reversal in their everyday lives.

They can do this, first, by putting away lying and putting on truthfulness. Lying here includes every form of dishonesty, whether it is shading of the truth, exaggeration, cheating, failure to keep promises, betrayal of confidence, flattery, or fudging on income taxes. The Christian’s word should be absolutely trustworthy. His yes should mean yes, and his no, no. The life of a Christian becomes a libel rather than a Bible when he stoops to any form of tampering with truthfulness.

Truth is a debt we owe to all men. However, when Paul uses the word, neighbor, here, he is thinking particularly of our fellow believers. This is clear from the motive given: for we are members of one another (cf. Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12–27). It is as unthinkable for one Christian to lie to another as it would be for a nerve in the body to deliberately send a false message to the brain, or for the eye to deceive the rest of the body when danger is approaching.[2]

25. The apostle now advances from the general to the particular: Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each (of you) with his neighbor. That there is a connection between this admonition and the preceding paragraph is clear from the repetition of the word “putting off” or “laying aside” (same verb in the original; cf. verses 22 and 25) and of the reference to “truth” (cf. verse 25 with verses 15, 20, 24). Based upon this evident connection one might interpret Paul’s thinking at this point as follows: “In view of the fact that ‘in Christ’ you have been taught to put off the old man and to put on the new man, therefore, put off (or: lay aside) falsehood and speak truth.”

One is, however, immediately confronted with a rather incisive difference of opinion among commentators with respect to the translation and meaning of these words. Perhaps the best way to bring out this difference would be to summarize the view of one representative of each of the two opposing theories. The first view is this: What Paul is saying is that since the Ephesians have once for all laid aside falsehood, namely, when they accepted the truth of the gospel, they should now speak truth each with his neighbor. The second is: “There is no need to render ‘having put away,’ which would seem to imply a separation in time between the two actions [that is, between laying aside falsehood and speaking truth].” Grammatically both renderings—“having put away” and “putting away” (or: “laying aside”)—are possible. In favor of the first view it can be argued that the Ephesians had experienced basic conversion. They had, therefore, already decisively repudiated the lie, namely, when they accepted the truth. The meaning of 4:25 could therefore be: “Be consistent. Let your life adorn your confession. Having put away falsehood, now practice the truth.” This line of reasoning would also be entirely in harmony with Paul’s logic as expressed, for example, in 4:1 ff. and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, although the possibility of the correctness of this theory must be granted, it would seem to me that the opposite view has the best of the argument. Why is it that so very many translators and interpreters have adopted it? With minor variations the rendering which I also favor, namely, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each (of you) with his neighbor” is that which one will find in A.V., A.R.V., R.S.V., and in substance also in the versions of those who use two imperatives: “Have done with falsehood; tell the truth to one another” (Bruce; and cf. Phillips, N.E.B., Williams, Beck, etc.). The reasons, no doubt, are as follows: a. it is felt that putting away falsehood and telling the truth are simply two sides of one and the same coin; and b. it is also rather apparent that the apostle, on the basis of his previous paragraph, is now beginning to list particular areas in which Christian conduct must reveal itself, one of them being the practice of truthfulness. To most interpreters these facts must have seemed so obvious that in their comments on this passage they do not even discuss the possibility of the opposite view.

Every missionary who has worked for a while with those still living in darkness can testify that not only thinking false thoughts but also definitely telling lies and spreading false rumors is characteristic of the heathen world. For those who had been converted rather recently it must not have been easy to break away from this evil habit. That could well be the reason why Paul, whether directly or indirectly, refers again and again to the necessity of putting a decisive end to the past manner of behavior in this respect, and of adopting an entirely new set of rules. Some, with an appeal to 4:15, 22, 25; 6:14, have even suggested that in and around Ephesus church-members behaved rather dishonestly (see Grosheide, op. cit., p. 69). However that may have been, falsehood and dishonesty are typical of the Gentile way of life (Rom. 1:29) then as now.

The best way to kill the lie is by telling the truth. That is what Paul is actually saying, as by “Speak truth each (of you) with his neighbor” he is substantially quoting Zech. 8:16. Especially for those in the congregations addressed who were acquainted with the Old Testament, that is, for the Jewish Christians, the fact that this was a quotation from sacred literature must have added strength to the exhortation. In the opinion of Hodge the word “neighbor,” though having the general sense of fellow-man of any creed or nation, here refers to fellow-Christian (op. cit., p. 268); not as if it would be perfectly proper to lie to unbelievers, but because the context demands this interpretation. I believe Hodge is right, the context being: for we are members of one another. This recalls 2:13–22; 3:6, 14, 15; 4:1–6, 16, all of which stress the idea that though believers are many, they are also one, namely, one body with Christ as head. Lying is not only wrong because it makes light of the intrinsic excellence of the truth, but also because it causes trouble, friction, disunity and sadness in the church. The law of love certainly implies truthfulness.[3]

From Lying to Speaking the Truth

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (4:25)

This second therefore of the chapter (see v. 17) provides an anticipated response to the general description of the new life in Christ described in verses 20–24 and introduces the first specific command for the new walk.

Liars will not inherit the kingdom of God. “For the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9). A believer can fall into lying just as he can fall into any sin, but if his life is a habitual flow of lies that proceed from a heart that seeks to deceive, he has no biblical basis for believing he is a Christian. The person who continually lies as a regular part of his daily living shows himself to be a child of Satan not of God (John 8:44). Satan lies about God, Christ, life, death, heaven, hell, Scripture, good, evil, and everything else. Every religious system apart from Christianity is built around various deceptions of Satan. Even the few and limited truths that may be found in human religions are scheming parts of a greater network that seeks to deceive.

Ever since the Fall, lying has been a common characteristic of unregenerate mankind. Our society today is so dependent on lying that if it suddenly turned to telling the truth our way of life would collapse. If world leaders began speaking only the truth, World War III would certainly ensue. So many lies are piled on other lies, and so many organizations, businesses, economies, social orders, governments, and treaties are built on those lies that the world system would disintegrate if lying suddenly ceased. Resentment and animosity would know no bounds, and the confusion would be unimaginable.

Lying includes more than simply telling direct falsehoods. It also includes exaggeration, adding falsehood to that which begins as true. Some years ago a Christian man became widely known for his powerful and moving testimony. But after several years he stopped. When asked why, he replied with some degree of integrity, “Over the years I embellished the story so much that I no longer knew what was true and what was not.”

Cheating in school and on income tax returns is a form of lying. Making foolish promises, betraying a confidence, flattery, and making excuses are all forms of lying.

The Christian should have no part of any kind of lying. He is to be characterized by laying aside falsehood, because falsehood is incompatible with his new nature and unacceptable to his new Lord. Apotithēmi, from which laying aside is derived, has to do with discarding, stripping off, casting away, and the like. It is the word Luke used of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who, as they were stoning Stephen, “laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). They laid aside their outer garments so they could more freely do their wicked work. The Christian lays aside falsehood so he can be free to do the righteous work of the Lord.

Quoting Zechariah 8:16, Paul goes from the negative prohibition on to the positive command, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor. Christ is Himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6); the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” (v. 17); and God’s Word is truth (17:17). When a person becomes a believer he steps out of the domain of falsehood into the domain of truth, and every form of lying therefore is utterly inconsistent with his new self.

It should be said that telling the truth does not require telling everything we know. Truthfulness is not in conflict with keeping a confidence or other legitimate secrets. Everything we say should be unqualifiedly true, and to purposely withhold information in order to deceive and mislead is a form of lying. But truthfulness does not demand our telling everything we know with no regard for its impact. Nor does it demand that we unburden all our ill feelings, doubts, and hatreds on those whom we dislike—in the kind of pseudo–honesty promoted by Freudian psychology and other such philosophies. Our concern as Christians should be for God to deal with our wrong feelings and remove them, not to wantonly express them in some inept attempt at self–justification or in the misguided expectation that simply expressing them will somehow make them go away or will mend relationships they have caused to be broken. To readily admit as Paul did that we are not perfect or free of sin (Rom. 7:15–25; Phil. 4:12–14; etc.) is one thing; to broadcast detailed accounts of our sin is quite another.

God’s economy is based on truth, and His people—either as individual believers or as the corporate church—cannot be fit instruments for His work unless they live in truthfulness. We are to speak truth, each one of [us], with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. The word neighbor is defined by the phrase members of one another and means fellow Christians. We are to speak truth to everyone and in every situation, but we have a special motive to be truthful with other believers, because we are fellow members of Christ’s Body, the church, and therefore members of one another.

Our physical bodies cannot not function properly or safely if each member does not correctly communicate to the others. If our brain were suddenly to start giving false signals to our feet, we would stumble or walk in front of a moving truck instead of stopping on the curb. If it falsely reported hot and cold, we could freeze to death because we felt too warm or be scalded in a hot shower while feeling chilly. If our eyes decided to send false signals to the brain, a dangerous curve in the highway might appear straight and safe, and we would crash. If the nerves in our hands and feet failed to tell our brain that injury was occurring, our foot could be mangled or our fingers burned without our knowing it. That is precisely the great danger of leprosy—injuries, disease, and other afflictions devastate the body because nerves fail to send danger signals of pain.

The church cannot function properly if its members shade the truth with one another or fail to work together honestly and lovingly. We cannot effectively minister to each other or with each other if we do not speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), especially among our fellow believers.[4]

25 Paul begins with the strongly inferential conjunction “therefore” (dio). In view of what has preceded, he calls the believers first to put away falsehood and speak truthfully with their neighbors (the final phrase is a quote from Zec 8:16 [LXX], though Paul changes the original preposition “to” [pros] to “with” [meta]). In the body, believers speak “with” each other, for we are members of one another. The participle occurs with an imperatival force here: “you must put off”; Paul uses the aorist tense as though to stress the action he demands. Lying (pseudos, GK 6022) has no place in the Christian community. (“Neighbor” makes clear that Paul speaks of insider relationships.) This internal perspective probably carries throughout the section—Paul seeks to cleanse the body of any worldly elements. He expresses the positive alternative with a present tense: keep on speaking the truth (cf. 4:15; 5:9). He also supplies a reason (hoti) for this appeal: believers are members of one another, an intriguing circumlocution for the body of Christ (5:30; cf. 1 Co 12:12, 27). Dishonesty attacks the very fabric of the body and must be purged. Each person in the church is a member of all the others in Christ and must speak truthfully to them.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 181). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1938–1939). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 216–217). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 182–184). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 129–130). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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