31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you
An unforgiving spirit is the devil’s playground and before long it becomes the Christian’s battleground.
Uncontrollable anger fueled by hurt and resentment is a huge problem in our society. You would be naïve to think that Christians are exempt from this. Angry people often split churches. Christian homes are often torn apart by anger. Marriages are broken because spouses cannot control their tempers. Christian parents angrily abuse their children both verbally and physically. And then we stand back and wonder why our lives are a mess? Why our children are rebelling? We pray and ask for God’s blessings but then act like this.
Little did I know that when I chose this particular verse to write about, that I would in fact be speaking to myself about a current situation I was struggling with. Funny how God works like that! Out of the 30 Bible verses to choose from, this one kept calling out to me. And I believe this is why. God knew that I would be facing an issue where I would need to be reminded of the power of forgiveness. Back a few weeks ago, someone in the church had said something to me that really hurt. The saying is true, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Tone is everything! Whether it was deliberate or unintentional, I found it hard to let it go and forgive them. Before I knew it, I had begun to develop bitterness not only toward that individual. My heart was becoming hard even towards the church. It was so easy for me to find any excuse to just not come to church for the simple sake of not seeing this person. Just the thought of them would reignite that fire and hurt. So I just chose to avoid the whole thing. Maybe if I missed enough, that person that hurt me would miss me and reach out to me? Truth is, I allowed that bitterness and hurt and anger in my heart set up so hard that it caused me to disconnect from the church and treat other just the way Satan wanted me to do. He never comes dressed in the red cape and horns like we envision him. He comes disguised in every weakness we have. And he knows them. Sometimes better than we do. In the end, it was myself that lost. I isolated myself from what I needed the most. That love and encouragement and spiritual growth that I received each time I came to church. This lesson really hit home with me. It opened my mind and heart to things I had selfishly put ahead of what God asks of me and brought to light one of the secrets of a happy Christian life – to forgive and forget.
The distinguishing mark of sinful anger is selfishness: “I didn’t get my way and I want it! I didn’t get my rights and I demand my rights!” We sinfully use anger to try and dominate and control others. If we justify it by thinking, “we are owed or entitled”, or “we are the boss”, we are only masking our selfish sinfulness. The apostle Paul does not give us an inch of wiggle room when it comes to the sin of anger. “Let ALL bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with ALL malice” (Eph. 4:31-32, emphasis added). Notice the word ALL is repeated twice for emphasis. Getting rid of all except a little bit of anger isn’t good enough! You cannot justify it by saying, “Well I’m only human and everyone gets angry!” We need to call it what it is and just like the Bible calls it: Anger IS sin and we cannot tolerate even the smallest bit in our lives. Paul says that we must put away ALL of it. In other words, STOP SINNING! Put away all anger as you would cast off dirty, smelly clothes!
To overcome sin it is vital to recognize that sin originates in the heart or mind. Sinful anger is a heart issue and it must be dealt with on the heart level (Mark 7:21-23). This means we cannot fake a smile but on the inside be cursing or planning the destruction of a person you are angry at. We are commanded to treat others as we want to be treated and to love like Christ loved. Thus Paul says that to tame your temper, we must put off all bitterness and anger and replace it with kindness and forgiveness. Then he gives us the profound motive and reason: Remember always, as foremost, how God in Christ has forgiven you (4:32). We should all begin each day at the foot of the cross, marveling at the amazing grace of God that He sent His own Son to bear the wrath that we deserve. If you think that you somehow earned or deserved God’s forgiveness because of your own good works, you obviously do not understand the gospel. The fact is, each of us has wronged God tens of thousands of times from childhood up. Even if you were raised in the church, your sins are too numerous to count. God’s forgiveness is by grace. So we must grant forgiveness to others not because they deserve it, but rather because we have been shown grace. He forgave you “in Christ”. That means that He couldn’t just shrug off your sins as no big deal. To do that would have compromised His justice and holiness. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came and bore on the cross the penalty we deserve. While forgiving others is never that costly for us, it still costs. There may be a legitimate place for requiring restitution as a means of teaching responsibility. But even then, forgiveness is costly. God forgave you and me far more than we can ever forgive anyone else. Jesus graphically made this point clear in response to Peter’s question about forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35. The point of the story is, no one could have wronged you as much as you have wronged God. Since He freely forgave you, so you must forgive others.
In order to experience freedom from anger and resentment, we must keep practicing the instant forgiveness experiment in Christ. In our hearts we must not only instantly let go of the first prison wall of revenge, we also must instantly let go of the second wall of resentment. To accomplish this, we (1) pour out the bitter and (2) drink the sweet. We must pour out the bitterness from anger and resentment when wounded by another. As the offense occurs, immediately give it to Christ. When we drink in the sweet, we instantly receive God’s restoration and forgiveness and release the same to the offender through kindness and compassion.
Please pray with me…
“Heavenly Father this is a cry for help. I cannot handle these situations alone. Through the power of Your Holy Spirit, please help me to let go of all condemnation or resentment toward __________ for ________. I can’t do it on my own, but through Christ in me, You can! Give me wisdom to establish boundaries that might be necessary for freedom. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us. Father God allow my heart to be humbled by Your grace every day. Fill me to the brim with Your grace so that it overflows and spills over onto those who have wronged or hurt me. Let my anger be replaced with kindness, love, and forgiveness. Lord help me to structure my life for positive change. Throw me to my knees before Your throne of grace to pray for those I have hurt or those that have hurt me instead of being filled with anger and resentment. Cover me with the Holy Spirit and teach me how to let the Holy Spirit control my tongue, my mind and my emotions, freeing me from that sinful bind. It is in Your blessed and holy name I pray. Amen.”
Anger and resentment may be a lifelong battle for some, but if you engage in the fight, by God’s grace you will tame your temper!