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. 5 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
Dear Church Family,
In my letter last week, “God’s Gracious Glasses,” I showed how grace changes the way we see ourselves. Grace gives us confidence that God accepts us, but grace rules out arrogance since everything we have comes from him. I’d like to develop the idea of “glasses” by pointing out that glasses are not usually used to give you a better view of yourself, but of the world around you. In a similar fashion, the grace of God should also change the way we view others.
Early Christians were drawn from a varied lot: Jews, Romans, Greeks, slaves, free, male, female, etc. Consequently, they struggled with unity. Paul had to encourage the Ephesians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). Several passages present the Spirit as the source of Christian unity. For example, 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV) states, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
The Spirit makes us members of one body. Still, humans need concrete examples to show us how to live, so Scripture repeatedly holds up Christ himself; he shows us how to treat one another (John 13:1-17, Philippians 2:5-8, Romans 15:2-3). Jesus Christ demonstrated God’s grace, so in Ephesians 4:31-5:2, when Paul was looking for an example of putting away wrath, of being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving towards one another, he pointed to Jesus Christ. When we follow the example of Christ, we treat others the way God has treated us.
The “us” in my last sentence is very important. Jesus is the example of God’s grace to you and me. Knowing that God has been gracious to you should change the way you treat others. As a pastor, I occasionally have to interact with imperfect people (shocking, I know). I have occasionally found myself thinking something like, “Well, I know I’d never do THAT.” Perhaps not, but I’ve done plenty of other things that required the Son of God to die for me.
Paul was also dealing with imperfect Christians. Think about the attitudes he listed in Ephesians 4:31: bitterness, wrath, malice, etc. Those attitudes would destroy the unity of any group, and Paul is trying to eradicate them from Christians. His solution is to remind the Ephesians that God has dealt with us entirely differently than we deserve. In Christ, God put away his wrath. He did not harbor malice towards us, but grace. Think of it this way: as soon as I lose my temper with someone, I have forgotten how much patience God has had with me. His grace to me shows how I should be gracious towards everybody else. When I’m not, my vision is distorted.