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God said in the beginning: “It is not good for man to be alone.” He made a woman to be man’s helper, a fully compatible partner who completed him. In creating marriage, God taught all men and women that we are not to be lone wolves or isolationists.
Now, God was not saying that all men and women must marry—marriage is not a mandate. But God created marriage as the norm, and we should raise our children to understand that marriage is good, right, and holy.
There’s more to learn, though, in the words, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
When Satan tore Job’s world down, three of his friends gathered around and sat with him in silence for seven days and seven nights to help him bear his misery. Men and women of the ancient world thrived and survived in communities, small towns, and cities, travelling with their tribes.
Abraham had a household of several hundred. When King Chedorlaomer and three other kings took Abraham’s nephew Lot captive, Abraham rallied the trained men of war who had been born in his household—318 men—to retrieve what had been stolen (Gen. 14).
Jesus surrounded himself with men, and when he sent them out, he sent them in pairs (Luke 10.1)—no loners. In Acts, when Antioch sent men on missionary journeys, they always sent at least two together (Paul with Barnabas, Paul with Silas), and at points we find Paul travelling with a larger retinue (Acts 20.4).
God has always spoken of his faithful ones as a covenant people. Yes, God saves individually, but individuals are never saved in isolation. God’s assembly supports, encourages, lifts up, heals, helps, prays for, teaches, admonishes, rebukes, forgives, loves—each other. Paul needed to be with the brethren whether he was in Ephesus, Philippi, or Corinth because they fed him just as he fed them. God’s mercy and comfort is not meant to be accepted from him and then kept for ourselves—God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1.4).
God designed us to be team players.
We live in an isolationist world. Ironically, we hold the illusion that we are super-connected and have hundreds of friends, yet how many real friends do we have? Do our online communities fulfill us the way God intended, the way he designed us? When we post our latest success on Faceplant or Instapotty and our digital network throws thumbs and hearts at us, is this healthy human interaction God’s way? A sizeable percentage of our eight billion brothers and sisters now seem to accept this online fiction as reality.
And they are so lonely.
Because it’s not real.
God created us to be together, to talk face-to-face, to literally be there for one another.
Anyone need some help with some chores around the house? Let me know
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.
Clamor 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.
As we near the end of Paul’s list of things to take off and put on from Ephesians 4.25–32, we arrive at this passage:
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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Eph. 4.29–30)
Some talk corrupts truth, corrupts beauty, corrupts reputations.
One destructive form of speech is gossip, which is talk behind someone’s back with the intent of painting them in a bad light. Gossip is not motivated by love; the gossiper is not trying to aid or encourage the target of conversation. Perhaps she gossips just to score points with her hearer, who hangs on to every juicy word. Perhaps she envies those she talks about and so speaks of their faults whenever possible. At the root of gossip lies a bent and selfish heart.
Slander is closely related to gossip, comprising falsehoods intended to smear a person’s name.
Backbiting involves returning evil for evil, which we are told never to do (Rom. 12.17). Picture a dog whirling around to snarl and snap at another that nipped him.
Boasting is almost the opposite of gossip. Instead of tearing someone down by focusing on their faults, the boaster builds himself up by focusing only on his strong points, often inflating reality in the process.
Sadly, filthy language pervades our society. In Ephesians 5.4, Paul writes, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Never should filthy talk pass our lips. Filthy talk comes from filthy minds. Never should we tell a crude joke or gush foolishness. This includes “potty mouth” language, when we use words which describe baser bodily functions and toss them flippantly into sentences. There are times and places when some of these words are useful and proper. Turds  belong in the toilet and a bitch is a female dog, but how often are those words used properly? The world uses “ass” in disgustingly versatile ways. Jokes about sex and sexual acts demean men and women and throw what is lovely into the garbage.
Profanity uses words which describe holy things in flippant, common, and sometimes blatantly unholy ways. For instance, using “God” or “Jesus” or “holy” in flippant ways devalues our Lord and what is truly holy. Hopefully, we use those words often in good and right ways, but we should take care not to profane what is holy, like the world constantly does.
Instead of tearing people down, we should build them up.
Instead of speaking what is out of place, we should speak what fits the occasion.
Instead of speaking filthiness, foolishness, or crudeness, we should give grace to our hearers.
“If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man” (James 3.2). “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3.5–6).
You have much power in that little tongue of yours. Will you edify or demolish? Will you give grace or maintain malice? Will you reply with a soft answer or a harsh word? We make this choice many times a day, and it’s a choice that has consequences!
As a final admonition, Paul finishes with, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Corrupting speech grieves God’s Holy Spirit. How often do we grieve him? Let us strengthen our hearts, ask for God’s help, and work on controlling our tongues—to the praise of his glory!
 Microsoft Word flagged the word “turd” and informed me “This word may be offensive to your reader.” Indeed.
Paul wrote, “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4.22–24). He then began to list a series of activities we should take off and their opposites to replace them.
We cannot just stop bad habits; we must replace the bad habits with good habits.
We’ve looked at replacing lying with speaking the truth (Ephesians 4.25) and replacing anger with quickly dealing with it (Ephesians 4.26–27). Paul next addresses stealing.
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. (Ephesians 4.28)
How many thieves do you know? You may picture guys in black balaclavas sticking up a bank or a dark figure with a knife demanding someone’s wallet in a back alley, but there are many kinds of thievery.
One thing God hates is a false scale. “Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good” (Proverbs 20.23). “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 20.10). These are people who write “16 oz” on the bag but only put in 15. They don’t top off the measuring cups they use. They secretly put a finger on the scale.
Hourly employees who arrive late and leave early rob their employers; they take payment for the full hour, but they didn’t work the full hour. Likewise, employees who twiddle their thumbs on the job, spend a significant time on their smart phones, texting with friends, checking their social media accounts, also steal from their bosses.
More egregious forms of stealing include identity theft, ransomware attacks on individuals and businesses, phishing attempts, etc. Fraudsters and cyber thieves exist in significant numbers these days, expending massive amounts of creative energy to come up with plans for swindling others out of their hard-earned livelihoods.
Paul says the opposite of this mentality starts with doing honest work with your own hands—but it doesn’t end there.
The real opposite mentality is an intention to give your wealth away to those who have needs.
Instead of thinking of this world as a winner-take-all fight fest in which you must scratch, claw, and bite your way to owning anything, think of it as your Father’s world in which he gives liberally and abundantly. You cannot outgive God. Whatever I give to another, God can easily replace. God is the greatest of all givers, the giver of all good and perfect gifts (James 1.17).
“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9.8–11).
If we do not have a mindset to give, we will have a mindset to take from others. It’s one or the other, and God says we should take off that old man and put on the new! Trust him to provide all your needs, engage in honest work, and he will bless you in that—guaranteed.
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.