31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31–32)
Charles Dickens wrote the classic, A Christmas Carol, the story of a man named Scrooge who hated Christmas…I believe his words were, “Bah! Humbug!” Scrooge’s problem was that he loved money, hoarding as much as it as possible. Christmas is about giving, so it was the very opposite of what Scrooge cared about.
The root of Scrooge’s problem was, of course, a love of money. But it’s a rare sin that stands alone. Scrooge was bitter and angry and given to clamor and evil speaking. Listen to what he tells his nephew, Fred, when Fred wishes him a Merry Christmas:
“…If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol [Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997])
On another occasion, when two portly men hit Scrooge up to make donations to the poor and destitute, Scrooge suggested that the poor could just go to prison or to a workhouse, and there be cared for—he supported those establishments with his taxes and that was enough.
The men responded:
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol [Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997])
Scrooge was no Christian, but his clothes of bitter anger are sometimes seen on Christians. So, as another practical example of how a Christian, as a new man in Christ, ought to behave, the Bible tells us to…
I. PUT AWAY THE CLOTHES OF BITTER ANGER
Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
I sum up all six of these words with just two: bitter anger.
1) “bitterness,” Bitterness is a hostility that comes and takes up residence in your heart; Somebody does something we do not like, so we harbor ill will against him or her.
Sadly, the people who shouldn’t ever be bitter, Christians, struggle with bitterness. We’re bitter about someone else’s sin; we’re bitter about God not giving us what we want; congregations are bitter at their pastors and pastors are bitter at our congregations.
Someone said that “bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Bitterness poisons you, it changes you into a ticking bomb, ready to explode at the slightest annoyance. That leads to the second and third words:
2,3) “wrath, and anger”—Wrath and anger are basically the same thing, although one Bible scholar pointed out that “wrath” is an outburst of rage, while the “anger” refers more to “a steady festering or seething of anger” (Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999], 350).
One day, two monks were walking through the countryside. They were on their way to another village to help bring in the crops. As they walked, they spied an old woman sitting at the edge of a river. She was upset because there was no bridge, and she could not get across on her own.
The first monk kindly offered, “We will carry you across if you would like.” “Thank you,” she said gratefully, accepting their help. So the two men joined hands, lifted her between them and carried her across the river. When they got to the other side, they set her down, and she went on her way.
After they had walked another mile or so, the second monk began to complain. “Look at my clothes,” he said. “They are filthy from carrying that woman across the river. And my back still hurts from lifting her. I can feel it getting stiff.” The first monk just smiled and nodded his head.
A few more miles up the road, the second monk griped again, “My back is hurting me so badly, and it is all because we had to carry that silly woman across the river! I cannot go any farther because of the pain.”
The first monk looked down at his partner, now lying on the ground, moaning. “Have you wondered why I am not complaining?” he asked. “Your back hurts because you are still carrying the woman. But I set her down five miles ago.” (Dr. Anthony T. Evans, Guiding Your Family in a Misguided World qtd in Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations [Biblical Studies Press, 2002].)
Bitterness and anger can fester in our hearts until we are angry on the outside. We need to recognize this and leave bitterness and anger behind us.
4) The word for “clamour” (κραυγὴ, κραυγή, NNSF) means a loud cry or shouting. Here it has the idea of raised voices in an argument, screaming and shouting at one another.
5) The Greek word for “evil speaking” (βλασφημία, βλασφημία, NNSF) is blasphemy. Blasphemy in it’s basic form just means to slander or defame someone else (e.g., 1 Corinthians 10:30), not necessarily God, although that is what the word blasphemy has come to mainly mean.
6) “with all malice” (κακίᾳ, κακία, NDSF) means to be mean-spirited or desiring to do ill-will toward someone else (BDAG). Some say that Paul means this as an additional word in his list, and others say that “malice” is a way of summing up all these words of anger.
Either way, you can see that Paul has been building angry-type words one on top of another. This just isn’t being a little angry, it’s being very terribly angry—bitterly angry. It’s the kind of anger that we say, “I just can’t forgive them.” Yet what does the next verse tell us that we are to do?
II. PUT ON THE CLOTHES OF FORGIVING KINDNESS
Ephesians 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Where six words describe what we are to take off, here three words describe what we are to put on in their place. First, we are to put on…
First, we are to be “kind” (χρηστοί, χρηστός, JNPM). Kind literally means, “…what is suitable or fitting to a need.” So being kind is looking out for other’s needs and attempting to meet those needs.
Jesus even tells us to repay those that hurt us with kindness:
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:43–44)
A pastor from Oklahoma, Lanny Freeman, described this lesson he learned at summer camp as a young boy:
I didn’t have much spending money to take with me. One of my few, inexpensive enjoyments was a box of mini-chiclets. One particular day I had bought a packet, and after chewing a few, I placed the remainder under my pillow on my cabin bed.
Later that day I went to get my chiclets and discovered that the box was gone. As I was leaving the cabin, a boy walked by me holding a box of chiclets, and giving me a “what are you going to do about it” look.
Of course this was a disaster, and my camp counselor saw how down I was. I eventually told him what had happened. He said to me, “We just need to teach him a lesson don’t we?”
This was his plan: He bought me two boxes of chiclets and told me to find the boy and share one package with him!
I asked my counselor, “Aren’t you going to punish him”?
“No, that would only make him mad at you.”
Of course I protested, “But he’s a thief.”
The counselor replied, “I know. But try it… see what happens.”
I reluctantly tried what he said, and before the week was over, the little thief had become my best buddy! In fact, he bought me chiclets every day!
Kindness is something that doesn’t come naturally to us. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Even the kindness shown by an unbeliever can traced back to God’s common grace to all men. All of us are created in the image of God, and it makes sense that, although the image is broken in man, pieces of us still reflect the character of our Creator. Part of God’s character is that he is kind, and he is kind to all people:
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. (Luke 6:35)
If the unbeliever can be kind because he still retains some of the image of God in him, shouldn’t the believer, who is being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, be even more kind?
Along with kindness, the Christian must also put on…
“tenderhearted” (εὔσπλαγχνοι, εὔσπλαγχνος, JNPM, Only other use is 1 Peter 3:8) means to be compassionate or to have tender feelings for someone (BDAG).
As with kindness, the reason that we all have at least a little tenderness in our hearts is because we were made in the image of God and God is tender.
8 The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; Slow to anger, and of great mercy. 9 The LORD is good to all: And his tender mercies are over all his works. (Psalm 145:8–9)
Jesus also displayed tenderness when he walked among us:
1. He was tender toward children:
13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13–16)
2. Jesus was tender toward those who were sick:
14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14)
3. He was tender toward those who were grieving:
32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, 34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 35 Jesus wept. (John 11:32–35)
Charles Dicken’s Scrooge did not care for others or the situations they found themselves in. If they were poor and destitute, that was their problem. Not an ounce of compassion could be found in his heart for them—until, that is, the end of the book, when Scrooge, now a changed man, bought the largest turkey and sent it to his nephew’s house as a surprise. He gave to the charity that the portly gentlemen had asked him about the day before. He, as Dickens wrote,
He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows: and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk —that anything—could give him so much happiness. (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol [Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997])
A Christian is someone who is being made into the image of Christ and so should becoming more and more tender as the years of walking with Christ go by.
And, although there will be times that showing tenderness might be hard—especially to an enemy—it will be something that, in the end, like with Scrooge, will make us happy—because we will be doing what our Savior saved us to do. We will be wearing the same clothes that he wears.
The Christian wears the clothes of kindness, tenderheartedness, and finally…
1. Forgive One Another
Verse 32 closes with, “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Look at the phrase, “forgiving one another” (χαριζόμενοι, χαρίζομαι, VPUP-PNM). The word here harkens back to the Greek word for grace and giving. Forgiving someone is being gracious to them. It is giving them a pardon, perhaps even when they don’t deserve it. Forgiveness is showing goodwill toward someone by releasing them from a debt.
It’s helpful to understand what forgiveness isn’t:
1) Forgiveness is not agreeing with someone who is wrong. Forgiveness doesn’t sacrifice truth on the altar of relationship. A wife can forgive her husband for getting them lost in New York City even if he still insists that he doesn’t need a map!
2) Forgiveness is not giving the person our complete trust. If a church treasurer swindles thousands from the church, he can be forgiven, but it would be unwise to let him be treasurer again.
3) Forgiveness is not forgetting. Whoever thought up the phrase “forgive and forget” must have had short-term memory loss. Most people simply can’t forget something easily (unless, of course, it is something that we want to remember, like where we put our keys!)
The Bible says that God doesn’t remember our sins (Hebrews 8:12), but that doesn’t mean that he wipes them from his memory. The word “remember” can mean to recall events or information, but it also means to be “concerned about something, to keep it in mind.” God chooses not bring up the our sins that he has forgiven.
Sometimes the memory of what someone did to us will haunt us for years, but we can choose whether or not to “keep it in mind.” Forgiveness is a choice, and sometimes, with some people, it is a choice that we have to make every single day.
2. As God Has Forgiven You
What is forgiveness? It’s best to look at God to define forgiveness, as Paul did say that we are to forgive one another “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” How has God forgiven us?
He forgives us “for Christ’s sake,” because Christ died for us. God is both a loving and a just God. He loves us, but in order for him to be just, payment for our sins must be made by someone in order for him to forgive us—otherwise he would be an unjust judge.
So he sent his Son, Jesus, to be born in a humble stable, to live a sinless human life, and to die a humiliating death on a cross. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so that, when we place our faith in him, God can lovingly forgive us and at the same time, remain just.
We can forgive other Christians, when we remember that Christ has died for their sins. They, like we are, are covered with Christ’s blood—nothing else needs to be done for God to forgive them, so we might as well too!
If it is an unbeliever that we must forgive, then we hope and pray that our example of forgiveness will cause them to pursue the one that motivated our forgiveness—Christ. We pray that they will seek the one that enables us to forgive them.
We are supposed to pattern our lives after what God did for us in saving us. As he has forgiven us in Christ, so we forgive others.
Any child would tell you that the worst Christmas present you can get is clothing. Auntie So and So sends socks every year, you can feel them through the wrapping paper—they’re soft and the paper crinkles. You can easily check by poking your little finger through the paper—yep, black socks.
The only question is if you open it first and get it over with, or do you stuff it under the couch until mom finds it when she is vacuuming.
For the Christian, however, the best gifts that God gives us are new clothes.
A. A Robe Of Righteousness
First, there is the clothing of righteousness that God gives us when we place our faith in Jesus Christ.
Our sin is covered by his righteousness. This truth is explained in passages like Romans 3:22 and 2 Corinthians 5:21, but it’s beautifully described in Isaiah 61:10—
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness… (Isaiah 61:10)
Only when you have Jesus’ robe of righteousness covering you can you be fit for living in Heaven. Have you, by faith in Christ, put them on?
B. The Clothes Of A New Man
Then, what we have learned in Ephesians 4:20-32 is that salvation is not just about going to Heaven someday, it’s about changing our clothes and living as a new person in this time.
That’s because the new clothes are the new Christ-like behaviors that gradually replace the old sinful ones as the Spirit changes our desires (2 Corinthians 3:18). Lying, stealing, rotten language, and bitter anger slowly drop off. In their place, we put on clothes like truth, self-control, gracious speech, and kindness.
These are the clothes of a changed life—these are the clothes of a Christian.