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Put Off Bitterness and Anger – Put On Kindness and Forgivenessand Forgiveness

Monday, January 16, 2023

Here is the last in a series of dirty clothes Paul instructs Christians to take off and clean clothes to put on in their place, and this one is a doozy. He began this list in Ephesians 4.25, and we have now come to Ephesians 4.31–32:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Take Off These Corruptions

The first set of attributes, which we are to remove from our persons, reminds us of storybook villains.

Bitterness eats us like spiritual cancer, doesn’t it? We harden our hearts towards one another, and over time our unresolved conflicts and untreated wounds result in irreconcilable differences. Bitterness traps our hearts in quicksand which swallows up our joy of living and stains our relationships.

The next two words—wrath and anger—seem synonymous.

The first (wrath in the ESV) is thumos in the Greek and only appears a handful of times. In Acts 19.25, a crowd in Ephesus became enraged (thumos), and the Nazareth Jews were filled with wrath (thumos) when Jesus contrasted their unbelief with the faith of Gentiles (Luke 4.28).

The second word (anger in the ESV) is orgē in the Greek and is translated variously “wrath” and “anger” in different verses. Jesus displayed this anger in Mark 3.5, as he saw the hardness of the Jewish leaders’ hearts towards a man with a withered hand. Orgē is often used for the “wrath of God.” In the context of these two verses in Ephesians 4, this has to do with wrath and anger we have towards one another.

Interestingly, Paul already dealt with anger just a few verses prior in Ephesians 4.26, “Be angry and do not sin.” He used the verb form of orgē, orgizō. Like we observed when we examined that verse, anger is not necessarily a sin in itself, but it can quickly lead to sin, and it becomes sin when we let it fester and grow.

ArgumentClamor has to do with loud cries—a high volume of sound. Hebrews 5.7 uses this same word saying that Jesus used “loud cries and tears” in crying out to the Father. In Acts 23.9 a great clamor arose among a crowd of Jews as they argued with one another. What kind of clamor does Paul address here? We should not be yelling at one another! We should not be contending, fighting, arguing with one another. We all know that guy or that gal who is always pushing back, raising the temperature, and getting into arguments.

Slander is the Greek word blasphēmia, from which we get “to blaspheme” and “blasphemy.” It means to speak against someone. Why would we speak against one another? Why would we tear down a brother’s or sister’s good name and cultivate mistrust and suspicion? Slander does that. Even if elements of truth exist in the slander, it leans hard on negative characteristics, so a hearer walks away upset and disgusted at the slanderer’s target.

Finally, we are to put away all malice. This word is variously translated “wickedness,” “trouble,” “evil,” and “malice.” When you intend evil towards someone, when you devise wickedness in your heart toward someone, you act maliciously. You intend for someone to fret, to fail, to fall.

Put On These Graces

It would be wonderful if none of us harbored any bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, or malice toward another. Every man, in his flesh, will act this way at times. It takes the grace and power of God to eliminate these corruptions from our lives and to cultivate mercy and grace in our hearts.

Therefore, by the power of Christ and his Holy Spirit, we should replace those evil things with:

Kindness! For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness… Love is patient; love is kind. If God is kind to the ungrateful and to the evil (Luke 6.35), how much more should we, being listed among the evil, be kind to our neighbors and our brethren?

And we are to be tenderhearted. First Peter 3.8 also uses this word: tender heart. We should be sensitive to the troubles of our brethren, weep with them when they weep, and rejoice with them when they rejoice. Help them when they hurt.

Forgiveness! We should forgive each other as God has forgiven us, and that’s a high calling! Here, God teaches us how to overcome bitterness. Why do we think we will lose when we forgive someone of an offence? Don’t we, though? We think we will lose power, our right to retaliate. Satan is selling his lies again. In fact, we will lose heartache and the bitterness of soul that eats away at us. We will lose the desire for retaliation. If we let go of the offense, we may gain a fast friendship. How fully has God forgiven us when we asked? Has he not given us everything we’ve asked for? How can we still harbor resentment and evil thoughts towards our brethren?

As we complete this short list of things to take off and put on, I hope we can see the secrets Paul reveals to show us how to enjoy healthy and holy relationships with our brethren. He lights the path of peace; we just need to trust and obey! God has promised awesome rewards down this road.

Take Off Anger - Deal With It

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Picking back up in Ephesians 4.26–27, we read, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

What angers you?

Not all anger is sinful, of course. God demonstrates righteous wrath. Jesus was angry with the Pharisees in Mark 3.5 because of the hardness of their hearts towards a fellow Jew. I imagine he was angry with those money sellers in the temple when he overturned their tables and ran them out of his Father’s house (Mark 11.15–16).

However, we are told that outbursts of anger are sinful (Gal. 5.20), to put anger away (Eph. 4.31; Col. 3.8), not to provoke our children to anger (Eph. 6.4), and to be slow to anger (James 1.20).

We often trick ourselves into thinking our anger is justified and righteous, but it’s probably rare that we think rightly about our anger.

Again, what angers you?

We will find most of the time our anger comes from hurt pride, unmet expectations, or selfishness. In other words, we don’t have a right to be angry most of the time. Are we right to be angry because someone else got the job we wanted? Is anger justified because the spouse did not put the dishes away (again!) the way we like? Are we right to be angry when traffic is bad and someone swings in front of us at the last minute and slows us down further?

Other times, we justify our anger because another person did something against us. Siblings fight because one called the other a hurtful name. We are angry at a thief who stole a package off our front doorstep. We are angry on behalf of our neighbor whose brother is mistreating them. Those kinds of situations do seem to lean more towards the righteous anger category, don’t they?

But what does Ephesians 4.26 tell us? Anger itself may not be sinful, but letting that anger burn is sinful. God tells us to deal with our anger in godly ways. Be angry and do not sin, because anger gets a hold of us and, if left unchecked, motivates us to lash out in some way towards another. I may be angry at the guy who stole my package off my front doorstep, but if I discovered where he lived and then went and burned his house down, I would sin grievously! I should remember vengeance belongs to the Lord, and God has instituted the government as his arm of justice to wield the sword against evildoers. It’s not my job, I don’t have the authority, and neither is it loving to forge my own path to vengeance.

The second verse gives me another hint at the reality of letting anger burn – it gives the devil an opportunity. It gives Satan a foothold in my heart. Instead of taking every thought captive to the glory of Christ, I give ground to the evil one. It is within my power (with God’s help) to resist the devil.

So be sensitive to yourself this week. Do you get angry often? Why? Figure out what triggers your anger and learn to deal with it. We often need help in this adventure. We need to talk through what troubles us, get it out in the light, and then kill it.

Let us put off anger and learn to deal with it in a godly way.