And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
(Ephesians 4:32, NASB).
This sounds like a wonderful verse, when stripped of context like this! Who doesn’t like kindness, tender-heartedness, quick and beautiful forgiveness? In real life this can be a bit more of a challenge! Let’s give the verse a little bit of context:
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you, WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.
28 Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
(Ephesians 4:25-32, NASB).
I am in the middle of a situation with someone with whom I am upset right now. I am angry, and I am trying to navigate the waters of being angry without sinning. Of course I do not think I am doing a very good job of it. I could not get a handle on it so I walked out of the middle of church. Smooth move, Mr. Gracy Pants. In fact I went to sleep again last night without having resolved anything. I would rather not talk to anyone concerned about this because I hate confrontation.
This is not to say that my anger is not warranted. I think if I told the details, you, my dear reader, would be angry as well. You would think I am right to be angry. I don’t think Paul means to say that our anger is unwarranted. He doesn’t say that we shouldn’t have anger. God Himself has wrath, but He has invented an awesome way to deal with it. If there were no real sin, there would not be the need for real forgiveness. But we have two choices: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice, or kindness, tender-heartedness, forgiveness, and grace. Which one will we choose?
This is not a rhetorical question. This is a “grace-on-the-ground” kind of question. The stuff I’m mad about is a chronic and hurtful and just plain irritating situation that is hurting people and affecting many others in negative ways. Sometimes I wonder if the group in question is going to survive all of this. I think that there is some righteousness in my anger and malice and wrath – someone has to stand up to all of this craziness to save things. We’ve been skirting the issue and putting up with it to the point where many tempers are beginning to flare and people are dropping like flies. I don’t know that it is healthy to forgive!
Or so my fleshly mind goes. No one chooses bitterness and wrath and slander and malice as a conscious choice. It is more a choice for righteousness and for doing the right thing. At least, it is about boastful and bold gossip about doing the right thing, it isn’t really about doing the right thing. But for the past few days at least, this is the choice I have been making.
Thank God I am forgiven in Christ. Thank God this isn’t my church. It is God’s church. No problem ever got solved through bitterness and malice, no matter how right the cause. Better the mess with forgiveness and grace and love, than a tidy death. Coffins are much tidier than a house full of young children, but which one would you prefer to occupy? In the church, we are all little children, and sinful ones at that.
Father, show us how to be tender hearted and kind and forgiving just as You have forgiven us! Forgive me, I confess my bitterness and wrath and anger and malice. I choose kindness, and I confess my embarrassment for having ever chosen otherwise. Open the door for healing and forgiveness. All of my passions and vision and so-called wisdom have only been fronts for common bitterness and anger and malice, and I confess it. I trust You to keep Your promise, to forgive me and cleanse me of all unrighteousness! Amen.