28Let 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. 29Let 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. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
For a guy who preached a lot against legalistic Jews, Paul sure seems to have a lot of rules. Then again, so did Jesus. So how does one understand all of this?
I see it this way, Paul (and Jesus for that matter) was not telling us what to do as much as he was showing us what it should look like. How many times did Jesus say, "The kingdom of God is like..." Showing us, not telling us. Saying, in the kingdom of God, you don't steal, you share with those in need. In the kingdom of God, bitterness and anger do not rule. In the kingdom of God, tenderness and forgiveness reign.
I think of the parable of the servant, who was forgiven a large debt by the king, and then had a man who owed him money put in jail. So some people went and told the king, and the king was angered and had the man whose debt he had forgiven thrown in jail. Why? I see two possible answers.
Number one: We make this an exact model of the kingdom of God. Therefore, when the king says that because I forgave you, you should have forgiven others. File this under legalism. The king is being petty, because there was no tit-for-tat response. If we base our interpretation of this passage only on the facts presented here, couldn't we carry it farther? Couldn't we also say that those who are not forgiven are those who have others tattle-tale on them? For the man who owed the king would not have been called back before the king unless someone had told the king. So God needs tattle-tales.
Number two: Jesus is sharing a kingdom principle here. And that principal is not that we forgive just because we have been forgiven. It is because we serve a gracious king. I don't think the king was angry because the man did not forgive his fellow man as much as it is because the man insulted the king by not responding to the king's grace. It was not the legalistic lack of forgiveness that bothered the king, but the fact that having been forgiven such a large debt, the man's life was unchanged. How could you come into the presence of the king, your very life in his hands, be set free when you deserve imprisonment or even death, and not be changed? Is that not the wickedness that angered the king?
And so it is with Paul. Either one, he is giving us a bunch of requirements that if we meet them, God will give us grace. Or two, he is showing us, all of us, who live in sin and have sinful hearts that tend to focus on ourselves that this is what the grace you are now living in should look like.
In light of what I have already read through in the book of Ephesians, I vote for number two. I vote for the grace that I can only attain as I continue to walk in Christ, and not the grace that God gives me as a result of what I do.