The word of the day is “put.” Who would continue to wear old, dirty, and worn-out clothing when we have brand new clothes in our closet? Yet unless we are intentional about our spiritual way of life, this is what we might do. In our reading of Ephesians 4:25-32, Paul gives examples of how the faithful at Ephesus are to live and grow according to the calling of their baptism. The apostle continues to use the metaphor that is taken from the exchange of the old, soiled garments and the new robe of righteousness given in baptism. The baptized puts off the one set of clothes and puts on the other.
The Rhetorical Pattern of Putting Off and Putting On
The rhetorical structure of the change of clothing depicts the way of life of the baptized. We see this device in the two-fold set of vices and virtues in verse 25: “Therefore putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor.” This teaching adapts the sentence construction that would read in full: “putting away lying and putting on speaking the truth.”
Again we see the same sentence structure in verse 31: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God in Christ forgave you.” That is, according to the rhetorical pattern, put away bitterness, etc. and put on kindness, etc.
We find his balance of vices and virtues throughout, even though Paul uses the phrase “put off” only twice and never uses the term “put on” But these phrases from verses 22-23 set the pattern for the reader’s thought.
Pulling Up Weeds and Planting Flowers
This rhetorical analysis teaches us an important insight into the new life of the baptized as St. John Chrysostom points out. He states, “And therefore the blessed Paul also, in leading us away from sin, leads us on to virtue” (NfPf1:13, 126). He asks, “What is the use of pulling up the weeds of vice but failing to sow the seeds of virtue” (NfPf1:13, 126)? When we do the one but fail to do the other, we will find that we are caught in the same vice again. If we try to stop our tendency to tell falsehoods but do not replace it with a commitment to tell the truth, we are bound to fail. If we attempt to root out the heart’s bitterness but do not nurture the growth of kindness, we will not succeed. Something is always growing in the field of the soul, whether it be a crop of evil or good.
Replacing Vices with Virtues
Chrysostom explains why this is so. Speaking of the vices and virtues, he says, “For all these, are habits and dispositions. And our abandonment of the one thing is not sufficient to settle us in the habitual practice of the other” (NfPf1:13, 126-27).
The question is whether we will continue the way of life of the “old self” in Adam or the way of the “new self” in Christ? For example, should lying or telling the truth be our style of living? Either one is a habit that inclines us to think and act accordingly. Or should harboring bitterness or kindness be our lifestyle? Either one is a habit and a tendency to think and act in that manner
Note that we must choose one or the other way of living. As Chrysostom says, “He that is not “bitter” is not necessarily “kind,” neither is he that is not “wrathful” necessarily “tenderhearted” (NfPf1:13, 127)
In summary, we learn from today’s reading that we should be intentional about our growth in the new life of Christ. As Chrysostom says, “There is need of a distinct effort, in order to acquire this excellence,” of replacing vices with virtues (Chrysostom NfPf1:13, 127). To advance in the baptized way of life, we must be sure to “weed out” the negative while cultivating the positive.