“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
The final mindset and behavior change that Paul tells us to make is from the vices of the old man to the virtues of the new man. From the attitudes of the flesh to the attitudes of Spirit. Paul admonishes Christians to stop quarreling, gossiping, and fighting.
Instead, our relationships should be guided by love, forgiveness, respect, and kindness. The example we have is our own experience of receiving love and forgiveness from God. As he has loved and forgiven us, so we should love and forgive others.
Bitterness (pikria) is a sour spirit and sour speech. It is sad (and draining) to be around people that have a negative and cynical outlook on life.
Wrath (thymos) and anger (orge) are obviously similar, the former denoting a passionate rage and the latter a more settled and sullen hostility.
Clamor (krauge) describes people who get excited, raise their voices in a quarrel, and start shouting, even screaming, at each other.
Slander (blasphemia) is speaking evil of others, especially behind their backs, and so defaming and even destroying their reputation.
Malice (kakia), or ill will, is wishing and even plotting evil against people.
These are toxic, relationship-destroying behaviors that are fueled by a distorted attitude of mind. They are old nature ways of thinking and behaving. To eliminate them from our life requires the renewing of the mind that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:23.
Having told us what we should not do, Paul now tells us what we should do. He lists the kind of qualities that reflect the image of God in us. We are to be kind to one another. We are to be tenderhearted and forgiving toward one another. The word for “forgiving” is charizomenoi, and it means literally ‘acting in grace’ towards one another, just as God in Christ has acted in grace towards us.
What gets my attention about this passage is the mental/emotional nature of our behavior. Everything on Paul’s list (the good and the bad) is mental before its behavioral. Every action you take has two creations: the first is in your mind, the second is in your behavior.
Life in Christ requires a great deal of inner work. Much more, I think, than most people realize. The kingdom life is lived inside-out. Mental discipline drives behavioral discipline.
This means that you will not and cannot change your behavior without changing your mind. You will not and cannot have disciplined and intentional action without disciplined and intentional thinking. The quality of your inner work determines the quality of your outer work. Which is precisely why Paul says in Ephesians 4:22-24 that the primary mechanism for putting off the old nature and putting on the new nature is “the renewing of your mind.”
It is not easy to move from an attitude of bitterness and anger to a mindset of love, kindness, and forgiveness. It can be a very big challenge to move from a mindset of fear to a mindset of faith. The mental/emotional habits of the old nature are not easily defeated or replaced.
The good news, of course, is that through His death and resurrection Jesus has defeated sin and death, and He has put His Spirit in our hearts. Jesus doesn’t just call us or command us to renew our minds, He empowers us in the “inner man.” We must do the work, but we are able to do the inner work only because the Lord is there within us doing His work.
Truly we serve a mighty God who loves us deeply!