ONE OF THE REMARKABLE FEATURES of Paul’s letters is that much space is devoted to teaching people how to live. Indeed, the Bible as a whole is interested in teaching us what to believe (because these things are true), and it is no less interested in teaching us faithful conduct. Nowhere is such balance more evident than in Paul’s letters.
The reason for this comprehensiveness lies in the nature of God. The God of the Bible, the God who is there (as Francis Schaeffer taught us to say), is God of everything. He is not the God of thoughts only, or of some spiritual or religious realm exclusively. He is God. As our Maker and providential Ruler, his interests and writ extend to every aspect of our being, beliefs, utterances, and conduct. Thus to preserve some horrible tension between our belief systems and our conduct is not only an invitation to schizophrenia, it is also an insult against God, a horrible rebellion no less ugly for being selective.
This means that our teaching and preaching must include not only truths to be believed, but also instruction on how to live. Entirely exemplary in this respect is the example of Paul in Ephesians 4:17–32. No one seriously doubts that this epistle contains rich doctrine. Here, however, we find Paul insisting that his readers “no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Eph. 4:17). He ties this “futility” to their ignorance of God on the one hand, and to their disgusting conduct on the other. “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way” (Eph. 4:20). You were “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). That means “put[ting] off” the old self, and being “made new in the attitude of your minds” and “put[ting] on” the new self (Eph. 4:22–24).
All of this could remain a little ethereal. Paul will not allow such an escape. The rest of the chapter is frank and practical. The conduct Paul expects includes truthful speech—“for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25), and a practical commitment to let no day end in anger, lest the devil be given a foothold (Eph. 4:26–27). Converted thieves must steal no more. They must work, doing something useful, learning to be generous with what they earn (Eph. 4:28). Our talk must not only eliminate what is blasphemous, vulgar, or “unwholesome,” but must learn to utter “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Eph. 4:29). Comprehensively: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:31–32).