As with the old man, Paul describes the new man as clothes. He mentions four of them: speak the truth, moderation of anger, share of one’s things, and wholesome talk.
Speaking the truth is connected to members of the church. Taking the illustration of the body, imagine the confusion and mess if the eye did not tell the hand all it could see, or if the ear did not convey the danger it heard to the rest of the body. Such is the effect of lying and pretence in the church. It destroys any corporate spiritual progress.
Anger is a dangerous attitude, even when held righteously because it is so close to wrong anger.
Sharing one’s things is not to be an add-on in Christian living. The word that Paul uses for ‘labour’ (v. 28) means work to the point of exhaustion. It is the response of the person who sees a need and determines to do something about it. We live in a society where the state deals with most financial and bodily needs, but there are believers in other countries in real poverty. The words of John are very searching: ‘But if anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?’ (1 John 3:17).
Wholesome talk refers to the content of our speech. ‘Corrupt’ here is a different word from that used in verse 22; here it has the meaning of ‘worthless’. Perhaps this is the biggest problem today when Christians meet. They often speak about everything but the things of God.
Each of these features requires thought beforehand. The wrong alternatives are discovered by self-examination and the replacements are also enabled by right thinking. Truthful speech is a result of a resolve to ensure there are no lies; desires for revenge and vindication are given to God once we have thought about the situation; seeking to help others is done after discovering information about them; edifying speech comes out of a heart that thinks of these things.
If these features are lacking, it is because we are not renewing our minds and being in a spiritual state in which we can put on the new man. The remedy is not merely to resort to prayer, but also to think as a Christian. Such thinking will be prayerful, but prayer cannot be made a substitute for thinking as a Christian should.
As we think of the new man, two comments can be made. First, it means increasing in Christlikeness. Jesus, as a man, had all these features in balance and fullness. He always told the entire truth, he did not retain his anger but committed his case to God, he shared with others, and he never spoke unhelpful words.
Second, the old man behaviour should not be seen in the church. As we noted concerning verse 17, Paul regarded walking like the Gentiles as the biggest threat to unity; so behaving as the new humanity maintains the unity of the Spirit. How often in church troubles are the negatives Paul mentions brought to the fore. Disputes sometimes are inevitable, but in our dispute let us make sure that we continue to tell the truth, curb our anger, share our possessions and speak edifying things, for the opening will be there to do otherwise.