And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.~Ephesians 4:30-32
Dear People of God,
They say negativity is contagious. I’m inclined to agree. I myself know that “bitterness and wrath and anger” are powerful emotions. If I have felt wronged by someone, whether or not it is actually true, it’s like someone ignited a raging fire within me. If it’s not under control, it can soon consume me and anyone close to me. Letting these things smolder gives feed for slander and malice toward others. Which is why it must be put out immediately. Otherwise, like the smoky haze we’ve had so much this summer, life will be miserable for the one who harbors their bitterness as well as all those around them. Our Lord has an interest in not only putting out the smoke of slander and malice, but the fire of bitterness, wrath, and anger within. That is, he cares both about the root and the symptoms. And, like a good gardener, he pulls out the roots.
When we have been wronged, we definitely feel we have a right to hold on to the bitterness that grows within us. Especially when we subscribe to the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” mentality. Meaning, we think, “If someone has wronged me, I have every right to wrong them back, or at least to remain angry with them.” But this is not so.
When bitterness, wrath, and anger are allowed to grow we are not living freely as Christ would have us. We are in bondage to those emotions. Thing is, Christ does not want us to be in bondage. He has come to set us free. And so we learn God’s will, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
When we are encaged by bitterness, wrath, and anger we are turned in on ourselves. And we tend to feel awfully righteous. But in instructing us to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving one another, God has other plans for us. He turns us away from ourselves and our own sense of righteousness, and to our neighbors. He turns us inside out. As you are being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving you don’t have time to stew in the negativity. And here you get a sense of the freedom to which God calls us. Freedom found in the exercise of your faith—faith active in love.
Not only does God turn you away from yourself and to your neighbor, but he turns you to God. “As God in Christ has forgiven you.” If we wish to be Christians, we forgive others when we have been wronged. After all, God is merciful, and if he hadn’t shown mercy to you, you would still be lost and in bondage to your sin. In Christ, God has forgiven you freely and without strings attached. Forgive both neighbor and enemy, freely and without strings attached.
Peace and joy,
Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church
Rock Springs, WY