American elections are way too nasty. “Too far” is the aberrant, common understanding of “Freedom of Speech.” Free Speech however was never intended to be a license for slander – especially now that we live in a highly loquacious, instantaneous, intractable mediated culture; steroidal slander is now virtually insurmountable. Where the character of another is involved, it’s a lethal weapon.
What’s the remedy? For one, someone needs to start modeling a higher standard! And of all people, the followers of Christ who hold public office ought to be the ones who model a higher standard! Christ must make a difference in this area of your life, too!
Ephesians 4:31 states “put away all slander.” That passage is our study for this week; it should help you in this regard. Read on, my friend!
This week I would like to examine Ephesians 4:31 and 32. It is a summary passage at the end of the first chapter in Ephesians that relates to the practical aspects of being saved and called in Christ. At the start of chapter 4, Paul begins the practical portion of his epistle by characterizing believers – in response to walking in a manner worthy to their calling in Christ (4:1) – believers must be typified by humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance. These words must be descriptive of the Spirit believers – and for those He assigns to public office – in order for them to be effective ambassadors for Christ. In this vein of thinking, it follows that Paul would later address the elements of an opposite spirit – and he does by the end of the chapter. In our passage of study this week he arrests the manifestations of a contrary spirit, and then in summary comes full circle. Now note our passage with this aforementioned context in mind….
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, tender-‐hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Such makes for your good witness for Christ to a country dead in its sins while in public office. Herein is biblical instruction as to the micro and macro attitude every true believer and community of believers must possess if we are to be good witnesses. This week let’s examine each of the above specific characteristics in detail so as to gain a better understanding of what the Bible means by what it says here. Learning and acting out on who we already are in Christ is essential to spiritual growth.
I. CHARACTERISTICS TO PUT OFF
In writing this passage, The Apostle Paul is not so much interested in the objective of reformed and refined moral conduct (although that is in view) as he is providing a Spirit-led list of indicators that reflect the characteristic elements of the believer’s new life in Christ. The positive elements of these attitudes and actions are incumbent in a life indwelt by God! The intent of all apostolic instruction is not to moralize us, but to illuminate to us what will always be attributes of true and genuine regeneration! What follows in the first portion of this passage are the habits of an old (meaning pre- Christian), unregenerate man – the believer’s former self – and therefore need to be put off.
The Greek word for the noun bitterness is pikria. It denotes the emotional status of a person who can’t get over the pains associated with past disappointments. All who are unregenerate struggle with bitterness. Characteristic of the unsaved to some degree is a desire to nurse past injustices and to dwell on them. There is a deliberate bringing up and rehearsing of hurts, hurts that are sometimes real, and sometimes (as you listen) imaginative and speculative. States one commentator:
Bitterness is a state of the spirit. It denotes a sort of persistent sourness and an absence of amiability. It is an unloving condition. Indeed, it is a condition which never sees any good in anything, but always contrives to see something wrong, or some defect or deficiency…because the person himself is jaundiced and bitter, everything he looks at is tinged by the same thing; it is looking through coloured spectacles.1
Paul states herein that believers should let all bitterness (along with the four other descriptors that follow) be put away from you. Put away airo means, “to raise, take up, lift.” Paul is saying when we become followers of Christ, God gives us the power to rise above being bitter all the time! Rather than dwelling on bitterness….
THE BELIEVER IS TO FORM NEW HABITS OF MENTAL DISCIPLINE. SIMULTANEOUSLY, THE HOLY SPIRIT APPROPRIATES AND EMPOWERS THE BELIEVER TO FORGIVE AND FORGET!
The opposite of bitterness is forgiveness — the new, characteristic nature of someone who has been called by Christ! The Apostle Paul personally illustrates his own victorious living patterns in this regard when he says, “I forget that which lies behind…” (Phil. 3:13). You may have heard the saying that holding a grudge over a past injustice is letting the devil live rent-free in your heart. Paul didn’t do that, nor should you. In contrast, Paul states in Philippians 4:8…
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Believers are not to be cynical spoilsports who continually dwell on defects in others as a way of life. Rather, forthrightly and clearly, believers are commanded here to put away all bitterness! It follows that to refuse to put away all bitterness is to be disobedient to God’s clear instruction in and for your life; it is a desire to wallow in sin! In a practical sense, your obedience to put off your past will lead today to a genuinely better life! Forget what lies behind and reach toward what lies ahead! The past is finite; the future is infinite!
IN RELATION TO THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD, AND THE FOREORDINATION OF THE BELIEVER, CHRISTIANS HAVE NO BASIS FOR BEING BITTER AT ANY TIME
It is only by allowing the above theology to inform your thinking that you will find victory over bitterness, my friend. Consider this in regards to good theology informing your thinking and emotions: Joseph had concluded in his mind, after his brothers had thrown him in a pit and left him to die, that, “what you intended for evil, God intended for good to bring about this present result.” Wow! Joseph allowed his theology to inform and govern his emotions! Now that’s spiritual maturity!
B. ANGER AND WRATH
These two words are often used together in Scripture, as is the case in this parallel passage, Colossians 3:8: “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath…” The Greek words for anger and wrath are orge and thumos respectively. Whereas the former has to do with an internal smoldering and deep-seated negative emotion with an aim to exact punishment and get even, the later relates to wild rage and passion for the moment; wrath is the acting out on the inner anger. It is a common unregenerate person’s response to injustice. Note that in Titus 1:7 a believer who is still orgilos or quick-tempered is characteristic of spiritual immaturity and keeps him from being qualified to lead in the Church. Why? In Galatians 5:20 thumos follows the word translated jealous which together connote the idea of a strong, manifest selfish desire. In other words, people who get manifestly upset are spiritually immature. Conversely, when the believer understands theologically that he or she has been “crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20) then they possess no biblically legitimate reason to harbor anger and react violently every time someone hurts them! Why? Because they are already dead to self anyway! For them to live is Christ! Theology informs the thinking and emotions of the spiritually mature.
When bitterness, wrath and anger exist in a person, it comes out in their speech. Clamor krauge denotes such resulting speech: brawling, which includes shouting and violence. The Greek word is onomatopoeic, (änəәˌmatəәˈpē-ik)2 imitating of the raven’s cry. It is used in Acts 23:9, “And there occurred a great uproar krauge; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly…” The Pharisees were crowing! Clamorous speech then, is when people raise their voices and are out of control. No believing Public Servant should be characterized by crowing speech in their campaign mail, speeches in the district, on the floor in the Capitol, his or her office, or at home! To do that is to deny your new identity in Christ! Conversely, one of the fruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of the regenerate is “self-control” (Gal. 5:22). As a believer you are empowered and enabled from and by Heaven to manifest refrain in your speech. You are a noble ambassador, not a clamoring crow.
Next in his collage of terms depicting the speech of the unregenerate, Paul instructs the Ephesian believers to put off slander blasphemia. This is a compound Greek word consisting of: blapto meaning, “to injure,” and pheme meaning “to speak” i.e. “injurious speech.” Slander is “the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.”3 It is also translated as “railing.” All are English synonyms. To slander means you defame someone; it is evil speech that arises out of a bitter heart. States Luke 6:45 in regards to this progression….
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
Slander is the attempted cool and calculated form of self-centered communication with the evil intent to put down another in order to build up oneself. But slander, as heard by anyone worth influencing, one who is discerning and mature, hurts the purveyor in a much greater way because time and truth run hand in hand. What largely concerns me is the way some Members end up dealing with this in the meantime: Many become recluses while in DC, avoiding one another due to past hurts. “Why risk being transparent?” they reason.
SLANDER IS RAMPANT IN THE PUBLIC SERVANT INDUSTRY. BE IT WHISPER CAMPAIGNS, HIT MAIL DURING ELECTIONS, OR CLANDESTINE BLACKBALLING – SCRIPTURE LABELS IT SIN
Slander is a political tool and worldly technique that is off-limits to the believer. Whereas slander is common fare in the world, it can damage the body of Christ and its witness when resorted to by believers.
As if the aforementioned is not enough, the Apostle adds malice kakia to his list of facets. It means “ill will.” Kakia is an all-encompassing word denoting evil in the NT. It is used therein fifty times. States Bible commentator Jones,
Malice means wicked desires with respect to others, a determination to harm others, again a kind of settled spirit which so hates others that it thinks of ways of harming them, plots such ways, gloats over them, and then proceeds to put them into practice; it is a kind of malignity.4
This understanding of malice parallels that of its English definition.
Intention or desire to harm another usually seriously through doing something unlawful or otherwise unjustified: willfulness in the commission of a wrong: evil intention.5
Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice are all characteristics of those who are “dead in their trespasses and sin” (Eph. 2:1) and are to be put off from the practice of believers. People in the Capitol will know you are a Christian because of your attitude and resolve to never resort to such oral and behavioral patterns. Fortunately, Paul now goes on to explain what the believer should put on in replacement….
II. CHARACTERISTICS TO PUT ON
In continuation, but now in contrast, Paul lists three things that a Christian should be defined by. Notice that he does not leave us with a list of negative commandments, but rather a set of positive replacements. Thomas Chalmers called this, “the expulsive power of a new affection.” Here’s a good illustration of that concept: i.e. putting on in order to put off….
Lesson From A Red Oak Tree
The way in which the dead leaves of winter are removed from a red oak is not through tedious plucking, but by the power of the spring buds; the new shoot replaces the old. So it is with new life in Christ. As you concentrate your energies on putting on what follows, the old nature will pass from sight by itself. The blossoming characteristics of new life in Christ include the following….
What is kindness? In the origin of the Greek and Hebrew words it meant, “To be useful, to be helpful.” In contrast to bitterness, which takes from and detracts, kindness is to give and be of value. Whereas bitterness is on a mission to find fault, kindness is forbearing and seeks to give praise. Kindness is characteristic of our Lord; therefore it should be a quality that is growing in every true believer. The Greek word is chrestos and is used to describe God Himself in Luke 6:35b, “for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” This passage signals something important….
KINDNESS CARRIES THE IDEA OF AN UNCONDITIONAL ATTRIBUTE THAT IS TOTALLY INDEPENDENT FROM THE WAY ONE IS TREATED
For example, Jeremiah the Prophet speaks of the kindness of God toward the unrepentant sin of Israel: “…Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, For the LORD is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting…” It is this ominous and continuous amount of kindness that motivated our salvation according to Titus 3:4 & 5….
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
Whereas God’s response to a rebellious and sinful mankind was to nonetheless kindly give to the point of the redemption and salvation of lost souls, so should the believer possess similar attitudes and actions in speech toward those who are undeserving. Importantly, in order to achieve kindness, one does not need to sacrifice truth or principle. They can and must exist simultaneously. In Scripture, these qualities are often held in tension. Note for instance Proverbs 3:3: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.” Similarly, Paul states in 1Corinthians 13:6, “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” Jesus Christ expects every one of His followers to be both kind and truthful simultaneously. In actuality, kindness devoid of truth is spinelessness and truth devoid of kindness is harshness. The mature believer is both truthful and kind.
The next attitude Paul mentions that the believer is to put on is tenderheartedness. The root word splagchnon means “the inward parts, the emotions”6 This word can also be translated “compassionate” and it has to do with the feeling of empathy and pain relative to another’s needs or situation. The believer is to be genuinely sympathetic toward others even if he or she does not feel like it. This stems from one’s conversion and the imputation of God’s love. Cold-heartedness is not Christlikeness.
Cold-hearted people are those who are so occupied with self that they are unconcerned about “regard[ing] others as more important than yourself” (Phil. 2:3). Someone who attempts to excuse cold-heartedness with, “but I am not very emotional” is attempting to avoid the real issue….
TO LACK COMPASSION IS TO COMMUNICATE SELF-OCCUPATION
To the degree you are others-centered is the degree you are tenderhearted. Discipline yourself to be more interested in others and you will blossom with compassion! Show me a legislator who is absorbed in his career and self-advancement and I will show you a struggling mate, and a bad parent. Every Christ-filled temperament has a place for tenderheartedness toward others!
In Philippians 1:8 we find this quality existing in large measure in the Apostle Paul, who in turn was emulating Christ. He states, “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Whereas pagans are hard-hearted and self-centered, believers are instructed that in Christ they are tenderhearted and others-centered. Summarily, if you have no desire to change in this area, if what I am saying here in strong terms doesn’t move you in the least, then you should “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” (2Cor. 13:5). True believers are others-centered and are deeply convicted when they are not.
The final characteristic that Paul lists in this putoff, put-on section of Ephesians is forgiveness charizomai. It means, “to bestow a favor unconditionally.”7 The necessity of the believer capturing and holding on to this imbued attitude is singled out by the author of Ephesians with specialized, compelling reasoning…. just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
III. THE COMPELLING CULMINATION
Perhaps the most poignant illustration of the necessity of God’s forgiveness being emulated in the life of the believer is underscored by the parable found in Matthew 18:21-35. You may recall this parable: someone who had been forgiven for a massive amount of money would not forgive the debt of someone who owed him a little. The parable serves to illustrate the incongruity of any believer’s unforgiving heart. The Lord severely chastised the man who was unforgiving. Matthew’s instruction herein is stereophonic to the concluding Pauline clause we are examining. The believer, who has been forgiven, must not be hypocritical.
A deep understanding of Christian theology directly aids and benefits personal behavior. Short of learning biblical truth, there will be no change; there will be no spiritual growth. We will become kind, tenderhearted, forgiving people to the degree we understand the biblical instruction and underlying theological truths that relate to God being the same to us. Apart from that, there is no reason or impetus to change. May God grow your kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness! This is who you are in Christ! Model these virtues to an on-watching world in the upcoming election!
1D. Martyn Lloyd Jones An Exposition of Ephesians: Darkness and Light (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982) p 279
2The formation of words in imitation of natural sounds: the naming of a thing or action by a more or less exact reproduction of the sound associated with it. (Merriam-Webster).
4Jones, p. 282
6The ancients invariably placed the physical seat of emotions in the region of the bowels. Paul herein is literally saying, “Have strong bowels of compassion.” When Jeremiah cried out with suffering anguish in his feelings he said in Hebrew, “my bowels, my bowels.” And truly, when you do feel deeply about something it reflects a feeling which seems to stem from deep in the stomach.
7W.E. Vine An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1952) p 452