I want to begin tonight by drawing our minds to the cross, and ask this question: How do you imagine Christ could forgive you? As He is hanging between heaven and earth, bearing the wrath of His Father for sins and enduring the hatred of men, how could this unblemished Lamb see past the incomprehensible emotional, spiritual, and physical suffering to pardon anyone? He is God the Son, perfect in all of His actions and thoughts and desires, as He is suffering for our sins, even for people who put Him on the cross, how could He show grace to those who were so undeserving of it, or better said, of Him? I want us to keep that question in mind tonight as we look to our passage, and we ask the same question of ourselves - how is it that we can forgive another person, even when they are clearly guilty of sinning against us.
We find ourselves tonight at the end of Paul’s list of exhortations that began back in vs. 17 with the admonition: “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds,” where we are urged 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, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (vs. 22-24). Paul has been telling us the kinds of things we need to put off, and those we need to put on, and then each time gives us a motivation for doing this work. Our passage tonight follows the same pattern.
Paul begins our passage tonight with a command - “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Paul here lists six things, from emotions to the reactions that come from them that we are to “put away.” Do note that Paul lists these six things because we are likely to think too generally in dealing with our sin. So let us be warned tonight to be careful in being too general in our confession of sins. As Martin Lloyd Jones warned, “It is not enough to confess sin in general, we must confess particular sins. It is rather a dangerous thing to confess sin in general” (pg. 279). So Paul is very specific in what he tells us to put away. Look at these words.
Bitterness. To be bitter is to be resentful, envious, or jealous. This is the same word that is used in Acts 8 when Simon the magician becomes jealous of the apostles “power” to impart the Holy Spirit to those on whom they laid their hands, and even offers to pay them for it. Peter confronted him and told him to repent, because he was in “the gall of bitterness,” that is, he was envious of what they had Now, what Simon wanted was a noble thing, wasn’t it - “so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter saw quickly that Simon’s heart wasn’t right, and that this inward resentment was eating away at him. Paul tells us that if we are bitter towards someone, we are to put it off, because that is not how you learned Christ.
Wrath and anger. These next two characteristics of the old self that Paul tells us to put off are often used together. There isn’t much difference between the two, but they serve to intensify each other. This is the next step down the ladder of sinful anger. First, you become resentful - hiding in your heart the hateful desires you have towards another person. But eventually those desires, like rancid meat, will push its way out into outward fits of wrath and anger.
A couple of years ago, I was leaving for a trip to Oklahoma for the Founders Conference, and before I left I smelled something awful around our backdoor. I thought at first a bird had flown into our dryer vent and had died, but as I began to investigate that possibility, and I leaned over the small freezer we had next to the dryer, I realized that the smell was coming from the freezer. It seems that a little toddler foot had accidently flipped off the freezer, and it had been without power for some time, just long enough for everything inside to go bad. Raw hamburger meat, chicken, steaks, pork mixing with now thawed blueberries, lima beans, and corn - mmm, mmm, good. Not to mention the pregnant wife who was dry heaving behind me. I had to carry the thing out into the front yard, still full of stink, and wash it out very quickly - it was so bad that my cleaning didn’t touch it. I had to go, though, and was very thankful that Don was so kind in coming over while I was gone and cleaned it out thoroughly. What is my point? The freezer was sealed. But the stink-nastiness was so bad, so rotten, that it pushed its way out. That is what bitterness does. And when bitterness grows, it turns into wrath and anger.
These words connote an intense desire for the destruction their object. Wrath and anger. This is the right emotion of a righteous God. We see in Romans 2:8 that these should be the expectation of all who sin, who are not united to Christ. “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Thumos and orgh. But when these emotions are found in fallen people, they are not good things. They are remnants of the old self. “But didn’t Paul tell us a few verses back in Eph. 4 that we are to be angry, only without sin?” Yes he did, and we’ll revisit that passage in a moment. But for now, do see that we are to put off wrath and anger, because that is not how you learned Christ.
Clamor. So if bitterness erupts into wrath and anger, into what do wrath and anger erupt? Clamor. Literally, shouting and screaming. Now, I’m sure this never happens in your house, right? One child gets upset because another has something he wants. The resentment grows until he’s had enough and wrathful destruction begins to take place, and quickly clamor begins to happen. Toys being grappled over, crying begins, yelling to try to establish dominance. Maybe not at your house? Oh, I’m sure this never happens among adults, right? Well, it does, because Paul addresses it, and it is those who have learned Christ who must be about putting these things away. Again, God is specific in speaking through Paul. He doesn’t just tell us, “Don’t be sinfully angry.” He breaks it down for us - don’t be bitter, and don’t allow bitterness to explode into anger, and don’t allow that anger to descend into clamor, for that is not how you learned Christ.
Slander. Well to what does clamor descend? To slander. Literally, blasphemy. Speaking against another person to cause injury to their reputation. When bitterness has moved outward into wrath and anger, and they have moved outward into clamor, clamor often moves into words that attempt to injure or destroy the other person. It could be bold and flagrant, or it could be passive-aggressive, maybe in a comment spoken in seeming jest, but meant truthfully at the root. It may be repeating something that you heard, or joining into a conversation where slander is going on already. In all of its forms, we are to put off slander, because we did not learn Christ in that way.
Malice. This means evil. Paul is summarizing the other words by telling us what our envious, angry, noisy, and degrading feelings and works are - they are evil. Hateful feelings. Not good. Not loving.
Maybe you’ve noticed that our passage tonight deals with different forms of anger, anger which increases from the inner man, this inner resentment of another, to outward sins, wrath and shouting and slander. If you remember, Paul has already spoken to angry emotions a few verses previous, when he tells us to “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (vs. 26-27). In the context of those verses, Paul tells us that there are appropriate times to be angry, but in those situations, when you’ve been sinned against, you are not to hold onto that anger, for if you do, you will then be sinning. So what is the expectation? Get rid of your anger before the sun goes down! Put it away, immediately!
When we looked at that passage, I brought our attention to Matthew 18, and I would like to do that again. [Read Matt. 18:15-17]. In that sermon, I told you that the purpose of emotions is to move us to do something, not to revel in the emotion itself. So, when we have the emotion of anger, it is urging us to do something. Jesus tells us that when we are wronged, and thus have the opportunity to be angry, instead of letting the opportunity turn into bitterness, and then wrath, and then shouting and then slander, we are to do something about it, namely, address the person or people who sinned against us and seek reconciliation. We are on the edge of danger when we hold onto our anger in pride, blaming others for what is happening to us. Paul calls that evil. When you hold on to wrongs, you are like the futile, ungodly Gentiles - “they are alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous... (vs. 18-19).”
But how do we become not like them? How do we “put off” these feelings and expressions of anger? Better yet, what do we put in their place? The answer to these questions is actually the same. If you want to put off anger, you can only do that by putting on what Paul commands us next in vs. 32.
We all are familiar with the “love chapter” in 1 Cor. 13. “Love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Paul’s command to us in Eph. 4 is strikingly similar to 1 Cor. 13. We rid ourselves of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice by putting on love. We don’t try to slowly begin filtering out the bad stuff before we introduce the good. Evil hides in the face of love. It cannot bear the presence of it. As Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The way to get rid of the defects is to cultivate the virtues” (pg. 283). So this is what Paul introduces next.Be Kind. This word, kind, was the rallying attribute for Christians in the early church. One reason was that the word, chrestos, looked and sounded like the word Christ - Christos. And kindness was the overwhelmingly evident attribute of our Lord, Himself. He said of Himself - “My yoke is easy” - easy is the same word used here for kind by Paul. And even in the context of the wrath and fury of God that is coming to those who obey unrighteousness, we are told in Romans 8:4 not to “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” How did God show us His kindness? In sending His Son, and the Son coming to deliver us, to purchase us by falling to the hands of bitter, angry, and slanderous men. In fact, you will recognize kindness as a fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit in Gal. 5:22.
Kindness is a disposition to love and help others. When we put on kindness, we don’t look at someone and immediately begin to size up their faults, because when we do, we are not treating them as God has in showing them grace (that is in not treating them how they deserve). We treat them as God has treated us in His Son - with kindness.
Tenderhearted. Paul explains what he means by kindness by this next word, tenderhearted. If the old self is characterized by “hardness of heart that is calloused,” then the new self is characterized by having a tender heart. We are to be compassionate. Always ready to help those in need, whether they are physically, emotionally, or spiritually in need, as Christ did.
And we are to do this even to those who wrong us. Especially to those who wrong us. As Chris read earlier from our covenant - the covenant that we take upon ourselves at this meal we of which we are about to share - “To watch over one another in brotherly love, remember one another in prayer, aid one another in sickness and distress, be sympathetic in feeling and courteous in speech, slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation and to secure it without delay.”
Forgiving. This reconciliation that we are to secure without delay can only come when we forgive. This word for forgive is literally, “to act in grace towards another.” If grace by definition is something we don’t deserve, forgiveness is acting towards others in a way they don’t deserve. Lloyd-Jones said rightly: “It is only the Christian that can do this, for he has become able to look at the offender now with a new eye. Before, he saw him as a victim of sin, a pawn and a dupe of the devil; and he says, Yes, he is like that and I was like that, and there are relics and remnants of that in me still; who am I to say I will not forgive that man” (pg. 287)? Can you imagine if we treated everyone the way that they deserved? It would be death and destruction everywhere! All of those bitter feelings that you have toward people, that keep you from speaking to them in the hall, or from helping them at home, or from calling them up and meeting together to pray and study the Word - if those bitter feelings were to come to fruition through anger and wrath and clamor and slander in all of its malicious forms - who would be left? And if any were left, it would be just because those people haven’t gotten on your bad side, yet. No. We are to treat people with grace. We are to act toward them not how we feel they deserve, but the way that the Lord has - with kindness and compassion and grace.
And here we find our motivation for putting off the old self and putting on the new with regards to anger and kindness - instead of harboring bitter, angry, malicious feelings and actions, we are to show compassionate kindness by forgiving - and we do this because this is how Christ has treated us. What we’ve seen in the first three chapters of Ephesians now becomes our paradigm for how we are to treat others.
Did Christ have reason to be bitter towards us? You bet. Each time we sin we are attempting to disown His rightful rule over our lives, and we give reason yet again for His death for our sin. Does Christ have the right to show His wrath and anger? We’ve already read that that is our expectation if we are not brought into the Father’s house by Him. Not to mention the great clamor that will happen at the great judgment. But for now, Christ treats us graciously so that He will bring in all whom He died to save, even when we were dead in our trespasses.
It is worthy to note how it is that we are to forgive like Christ. How did Christ forgive? It wasn’t by demanding payment for what He was wronged. He also didn’t simply say, “Na, don’t worry about it.” In order for God to forgive anyone, He had to bear the suffering Himself in His own Son. Thus Paul says that we are forgiven “in Christ.” You are not forgiven based on your own goodness or your religiousness - it is all because we are united with the only Righteous One. So, how could you not forgive when you consider what Christ has borne for you? Are you like the unjust servant from Matt. 18? Having been forgiven much, do you turn and exact payment for sins against you? Sins of much less magnitude, which have incurred much less debt? Will you not show grace when the punishment for your sins has been taken by another?
In closing, remember the question I asked at the beginning - “How do you imagine Christ could forgive?” He forgave until it hurt. Let me urge you, then, to examine your heart and find the bitterness and hurt that you’ve been storing down deep. Recognize that it is sinful for you to have this in your heart, and that it may yet erupt and cause even more damage. See that you have been forgiven so much more than you need to forgive. As Lloyd-Jones reminds us, “A man who knows forgiveness has got a broken heart; he realises [sic] he is a vile wretch to whom God owes nothing, but for whom God sent His only Son, and the Son has borne all his sin and iniquity; and salvation has been given as a free gift entirely and altogether and only in Christ” (pg. 290). And it is this freely given gift that we remember now as we partake of the Lord’s Supper.
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