“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31
The next step in walking like a brother deals with the bad things family members can do to each other: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking. One of the biggest shocks to young Christians is how mean Christians can be to each other. The words of Jesus and His Apostles in the New Testament hold out both the ideal and the real. The ideal shows Christians loving each other, serving each other, and honoring and preferring others before themselves. That’s the ideal. The real is that Christians are forgiven sinners. God forgave us, but we still sin against Him and against each other.
At the beginning of this section in Ephesians, Paul wrote something insightful and powerful about the Christian life: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) Paul knew from the Holy Spirit and his own experience with Christian churches that walking like a brother would not be easy. Jesus came to save sinners, so that means everyone who attends church is a sinner. Some are lost sinners and some are saved sinners, but we’re all sinners. Our human nature is to sin, so we sin. God knows that, so He inspired Paul to write that Christians need to work hard to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That’s because of our sin nature. If we didn’t sin, there would be no need to work hard to keep unity among believers. We’d do it naturally – if our nature were not to sin. However, because we are sinners we will do things that require hard work to keep unity among us. We do that through all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.
Lowliness is the Greek word tapeinophrosune and means “lowliness of mind, humbleness.” Unity in churches – which is of paramount interest to God – begins with humility. Next comes gentleness – prautetos means “meekness,” but not in the sense we understand it today. Modern English looks at meek people as weak, but not so in the ancient Greek. Meekness in the Bible demonstrates great strength that comes from an understanding and acceptance of the decisions of a higher power. It is the quiet attitude of a heart and mind at rest in the choices of God. It is an attitude ready to do whatever God commands. It is a balanced lifestyle that demonstrates itself in great strength and resolve to do what is right.
Longsuffering is makrothumis and means “forbearance, patience, long temper.” We may be hard pressed at times to suffer long with other Christians, but it’s important to remember that God suffered long with us first. What if God was impatient and had a short temper with us? I doubt any of us would be saved if that were the case. Fortunately for us and every other believer, God is patient and longsuffering. That’s how He wants us to be with other believers: patient and longsuffering. Bearing with is anechomenoi and means “forbear, hold up, endure.” God does that for us and expects us to do the same for other believers. There will be many times in a Christian’s life that he or she will need to “endure” with other believers.
Endeavoring is spoudazontes and means “to make haste, to be zealous, be diligent.” God wants us to be quick and diligent to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That is the ideal of the relationship Christians should have with each other, but it takes hard work to get it and keep it. To keep is terein and means “to preserve, watch over.” That ideal for Christian fellowship – unity in the Spirit – is worth preserving and watching over. If we don’t have it in our church, we need to humble ourselves and do everything we can to bring it about. If we have it, we need to humble ourselves and do everything we can to preserve it.
That is the background of Paul’s direction about step 6 in walking like a brother: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” None of these actions – bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, malice – are part of a humble lifestyle. If we are lowly, gentle, longsuffering, patient, bearing with one another, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we will find that bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking with all malice will find no place in our hearts and minds. The two types of attitude – humble and proud – cannot exist together. They will war with each other. That’s why Paul writes that they must “be put away from you.” Let’s take a quick look at the attitudes involved, then the action necessary to cleanse our hearts of the wrong attitude.
All bitterness is pasa pikria and is used without the article in the Greek. That means the definition is “every kind or variety of bitter fruit.” The word pikria was used in ancient times of the fruit of a wild vine or bitter gourd that was so bitter as to be a kind of poison. Have you ever thought how bitterness between brothers is like a poison? If left unchecked, bitterness can destroy friendships and fellowships.
Wrath is thumos and means “indignation, wrath as the outburst of a vengeful mind, intense anger with passionate outbursts, rage, angry heat.” Thumos is a quick emotional temper that usually settles soon after the outburst.
Anger is orge and means “violent emotion intent on getting revenge.” Orge is an anger that takes longer to build than thumos, but lasts much longer.
Clamor is krauge and means “to cry an outcry, shout, uproar, brawl, contention” and signifies the tumult of controversy.
Evil speaking is blasphemia and means “slander, defamation of character, speech that causes injury to another person’s good name, abusive language, railing speech, wounding someone’s reputation by evil reports.”
Malice is kakia and means “badness in quality, bad character, malignant, vicious character, ill-will, desire to cause injury to another, wickedness as an evil habit of the mind, depravity, desire to cause trouble and affliction to another.”
Unfortunately, we can all probably put names to Christians we’ve known who exhibit one or more of these attitudes. I wish that were not true. My great desire for the Body of Christ is for unity because as we are one in spirit and purpose, we are able to bring the greatest glory to God. I’m reminded of our Lord’s prayer just before His arrest:
“Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are … I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” John 17:11b, 20-23
The unity of His Body was paramount on the mind of Christ as He went to the Cross to die for our sins. However … the history of the Church for the last 2,000 years demonstrates how little God’s people care about what He wants. That needs to change, but how? “Let all … be put away from you.” Apotithemi means “put away, lay aside, cast aside.” It is in the Middle Voice in the Greek. That means the subject of the verb initiates the action and participates in the results of the action. It’s something Christians have to choose to do. It is the supernatural outcome of their putting off the old man and putting on the new man. Believers have to choose to put away all wicked behavior from themselves. If they do not make that choice – if they choose to act like they did before they were saved – they and those around them will suffer the consequences of their bad character and behavior. This is serious business. So much is at stake.
We have just one more step to go in walking like a brother. Join us for step 7 in our next study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”