31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:31–5:2 ESV)
The apostle Paul has been presenting pictures of the old clothes that are to be taken off because they are part of our former way of life and putting on the new clothes that are made in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness. So today we are going to ask if we are wearing beautiful clothes. The put off and put on picture of clothing continues in Ephesians 4:31.
Remove Ugly Clothes (4:31)
Listen to what the apostle Paul says to remove in verse 31. All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice are to be put away from us. We know what these words mean and I just want us to slow down and consider our hearts as we hear what God is teaching us. Do you have bitterness toward someone? Maybe it is someone at work. Maybe you are bitter in your marriage. Maybe you have bitterness toward your parents or your children. Maybe you are bitter about what another Christian said or did to you? Maybe you have bitterness about a friend of your. God says we need to get rid of all bitterness. Bitterness is part of the former way of life and are not the new clothes that we are wear from our God. This goes back to what we learned in verse 26. We cannot let the sun go down on our anger. Bitterness arises when we do not resolve the anger problem from whatever has happened to us. Do not be bitter. Go solve the problem.
Not only bitterness, but wrath, rage, anger, clamor, brawling, and shouting need to be put away from us. These are the common expressions that we use when we are angry. These are sinful expressions for our anger. We fight, we yell, we throw something, we slam something, we storm out, we make a scene, or we make a lot of noise. We lash out and say hurtful things to that person or about that person. All of these behaviors are sinful. None of them are justified. None of them are excused behavior for our anger. A good summary of all of these words is malice. The idea is being mean-spirited, having ill will, or a vicious attitude. It is a word that represents the opposite of moral excellence. In short, any kind of ugly behavior is the old way of life that is to be removed from us.
Be Kind (4:32)
Instead, be kind and compassionate to one another. Please think about how this is pictured for us. Rather than having bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, or malice, be kind and tenderhearted with each other. We just need to keep in our minds that whatever we are dealing with, whatever is going on, or whatever someone is doing, we need to be kind and compassionate. Listen to what is said about the Lord who we are modeling.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35 ESV)
Did you catch what is said about our Lord? He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. So what is our excuse for being bitter, wrathful, slanderous, or malicious? The Lord is kind and compassionate to all, even the wicked. This means that we have to change the way we look at people. We wear the old clothes of verse 31 when we are thinking about ourselves. When we think selfishly, then we have bitterness, wrath, clamor, anger, slander, and malice. So the Lord is telling us to stop thinking about ourselves and think about the other person. Be tenderhearted toward them. Be compassionate toward them. Be kind toward them because that is what God does. We cannot say that we do not have to be kind because that person is terrible. We have to be kind anyway. This is when our faith is put to the test. It is far easier to be kind and compassionate toward those who are kind and compassionate toward us. But that is not modeling the example of our Lord. Our Lord is not kind and compassionate only toward those who are kind and compassionate toward him. Our Lord was kind and compassionate to the whole world of sinners. He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
So let us boil down this teaching into a simple picture. Be kind, no matter what is happening. Be kind regardless what a person has said or done to us. Just be nice. Do we not need to tell our culture this right now? Just be nice. Just be kind. There is a loss of kindness in this world and we need to be bringing the kindness of God to people. Whatever that is happening, as wrong as it may be or annoying as it is, there is nothing keeping us from being nice through the whole process. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be tenderhearted. It is a good thing if people think we are kind and compassionate.
Another part of the new clothes we are to wear is that we are to be forgiving of one another, just as God forgave us in Christ. Forgiveness is such a misunderstood concept and a misused term today which can cause us to misunderstand what God is calling for us to do. I want us to see that from this text “forgiveness” is not a lack of bitterness, anger, wrath, clamor, slander, or malice. Sometimes that is how the word is used. Someone will say that they forgive that person but that is not really what is happening. What they mean is I am not bitter toward that person. They mean that they are not angry at that person. They mean that they do not harbor ill-will toward that person. They mean that they are not going to retaliate against that person. But none of those things are what God means when he speaks of forgiveness.
Think about this from God’s perspective just as verse 32 tells us to. What does God do when he forgives us? What is happening? What is happening is that reconciliation is occurring. Forgiveness means that the relationship has been restored. Forgiveness means that the debt we occurred is no longer hanging over our heads. God is saying that the wrong we have done is no longer counted against us. So I want us to see that forgiveness is about canceling the debt and restoring the relationship. I think this is very important because we can think that we have forgiven someone when what we have really done is reconciled within ourselves that we will not be angry, bitter, wrath, vengeful, slanderous, or malicious. As we have noticed, we are never allowed to exhibit these behaviors.
Now think about verse 32. How are we to forgive each other? We are to forgive just as God forgave us. God’s forgiveness is proactive. God did not wait around to see if we would want to be with him or not. God sent his Son before we even considered the idea of being reconciled to him. Therefore, forgiving others means that we do not wait back with crossed arms to see if the person will come crawling back to us groveling. We are reaching out trying to restore the relationship. We are trying to reach across the fracture of the relationship and looking to restore it if that person wants it to be restored. You see that God cannot forgive us if we do not want to be forgiven because forgiveness is about canceling the debt and putting the relationship back together. If we do not want a relationship with God, then it cannot be restored nor the debt forgiven. In the same way, we can reach out to restore relationships, but if they do not want to restore the relationship, then there is nothing we can do. But God wants us to be proactively looking to forgive those who wrong us and setting things back to right, just like God does with us.
Imitate God (5:1-2)
In short, follow God’s example. Imitate God. Look like his children. That is always the funny thing about children. They model many things about their parents. We even have sayings that the child is “a chip off the old block” or “the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.” This is should be true about what people see in us. Our clothes should be beautiful, just like God because we are his children. We represent him. We follow his example. We imitate him.
Listen to verse 2. Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. What the new clothes look like is to look to the love of Christ. Love other people like Jesus showed his love for you. He showed you love by completely sacrificing himself for you. He gave his life for you. He showed you what love looked like. This walking in love and giving of himself for us was a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. We present ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord by walking in love and giving ourselves in the same way that Jesus did. Do to others what Christ did for you. Show that kind of love when you are work. Show that kind of love in your family. Show that kind of love in the church. Show that kind of love in the world.
Let us remember how this whole series started which was back in Ephesians 4:17. All of this starts with the battle of the mind. We have to change our thinking about our old clothes and desire the new clothes that the Lord is giving to us. We can leave the past behind if we will accept these new clothes and wear them as God wants us to. Be kind and compassionate. Do not be malicious, angry, or bitter. Be forgiving because God forgave you. Ask yourself how you can look like the Lord in this moment of difficult because we are his children. These are the ways that we can leave the past behind and move forward in hope.
Look back over the old clothes and ask where these things have put you in life. Our anger only makes things worse. Corrupting speech only makes things worse. Deceiving others only makes things worse. Thinking like the world only makes things worse. Bitterness, wrath, malice, clamor, and slander only makes things worse. These behaviors do not improve our lives but make things worse. This is what God is trying to show us. Put on these new clothes and see how your life can change for the Lord for the better.