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.
(Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV)
Today Paul wraps up his list of five behavioral changes that should accompany anyone who becomes a member of God’s family through repentance of their sin and acceptance of God’s forgiveness [John 1:12]. The first four changes were: we should stop lying, we should have appropriate anger, we should work hard, and we should speak well of others. Today we are told to control our emotions.
It is not acceptable for any child of God to exhibit bitterness, wrath, anger, quarrelling (clamor), slander, or malice. These words describe our emotions and how we deal with them. The world around us is fueled by their emotions. We’ve all read too many stories of road rage, or other violent outbursts. Earlier this year two men came to blows in the stands at a major league baseball game over a $5 foul ball. Our culture clearly has issues with controlling our emotions.
God’s children are human beings just like anyone else. It would be understandable for us to behave similarly. But it would not be acceptable. God wants us to remove all such behavior from our lives. The Greek word for “all” is πασ (pronounced: pas) which means “each and every”. As a pastor in Chandler, Arizona likes to say “all means all and that’s all it means”. No exceptions. No excuses. When God says “all” he means 100% and not one iota less.
The world is filled with sin and therefore we will all be wronged by others. There is no way around that. But God does not want His children to respond in-kind. We are to instead be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. This is not something we can do in our natural selves. Human beings are filled with sin. We need an outside force to change us. That outside force is the Holy Spirit, who is God, living inside us. The Holy Spirit makes us “new” [Titus 3:5].
The reason God calls on us to control our emotions and to forgive, is simple: God in Christ forgave [us]. None of us are innocent. We are all guilty. We’re all up to our ears in sin with no ability to redeem ourselves. The only thing that can help us is having our slate wiped clean. And that is exactly what God has done through Jesus.
God took all our sin, placed it upon Jesus, and poured out the penalty for that sin on Christ. He remembers our sin no more [Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; Micah 7:18-19 et. al]. When we are forgiven and know we are forgiven the proper way to live our lives is with forgiveness towards others [Matthew 18:21-35].
Our culture demands justice. We jump at the chance to take others to court for the slightest infraction. God does not approve of this. He does not want His children to seek revenge. He wants us to forgive. I don’t think there is a more powerful testimony we can make to the unbelieving world around us than to exhibit forgiveness quickly, willingly, and freely.
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