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Ephesians 4:17-31 (ESV)

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let 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. 29 Let 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

What did Paul mean by "and give no opportunity to the devil"? Opportunity for what? Could Paul be meaning that Satan would somehow gain "legal access" or have an "open door" to influence the lives of the Ephesians if they willfully sinned?

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  • The surrounding passages appear to answer the question: falsehood, anger, theft, corrupting talk. It is also apparent that we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God through bitterness, clamor, slander, and malice. Just some thoughts.
    – Xeno
    Jun 13 at 0:54
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Although I don't see a legal right to temptation arising from these verses on their own (though Paul certainly acknowledges they will be tempted, see appendix for more on free will), I propose that three of Paul's prior statements shed light on his meaning:

you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding (vss. 17b-18a)

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds (vss. 22-23)

do not let the sun go down on your anger (vs. 26b)

In Paul's metaphor (and many other Christian metaphors), the influence of the devil is darkness and the influence of God is light (e.g. "I am the light of the world").

Paul's counsel is to replace that darkness with light--much as someone overcoming addiction must replace bad habits with good ones, or the resulting vacuum will lead to relapse, Paul wants the negative influences of sin (he's just outlined several) to be replaced with the light and influence of the Holy Ghost.

People do irrational things when they are angry--Paul's counsel in verse 26 is not that if you are tempted to anger you are an immediate and permanent failure, but that the Ephesians should learn to bridle their feelings and come around quickly from anger--rather than letting it drag on for days (said another way, you still have imperfections, but when you err, repent quickly and minimize the error).

Staying angry and chasing away the light of the Spirit will give the devil opportunity to lull them back into bad habits and sinful ways. Paul is speaking to people who have repented (turned) and he is giving them counsel to help them not repent of their repentance, turning back to the lives they led before.

Appendix

The question was tagged with "free will". I submit that most of Paul's counsel here is entirely irrelevant if the Ephesians don't have free will. So yes, this passage supports free will, even if that's not Paul's specific focus here.

Paul taught the Corinthians:

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13).

Putting these 2 passages together I conclude:

  • God puts limits on the temptations to which a person can be subjected so that they won't be tempted beyond their ability. If you couldn't possibly resist a temptation then that would challenge the reality of free will. So God limits temptation to preserve free will.
  • People can put themselves in situations where the temptations become more severe and their free will is compromised. There are many examples of people committing terrible wrongs while under the influence of anger or drugs--they used free will to put themselves in a place where their free will was compromised. Paul is telling the Ephesians not to do that.
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  • "Staying angry and chasing away the light of the Spirit will give the devil opportunity to lull them back into bad habits and sinful ways" - i.e. some form of "open door" or "legal right" for Satan to drag them back their old ways (assuming there is some kind of legal rights system in the spirit realm)? Jun 13 at 1:54
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator I updated my post to discuss free will, which I missed in the initial response. I believe God does place limits on the extent to which Satan can tempt people...but people can act in ways that infringe upon their own future free will. No wonder Satan is such a big fan of addiction. Jun 13 at 2:03
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator so does Satan obtain greater right to tempt? I'm not convinced that is so. Do anger, drugs, etc increase Satan's offense or just reduce people's defense? Jun 13 at 2:07
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    I think we can be sure that Satan will always make the most of every inch of space he is given, so I would say it's very likely both. Jun 13 at 2:16
  • @Spirit well said Jun 13 at 2:24

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