Background Scripture: Ephesians 4:25-32
Quotes of the Week:
"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
"Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall."
Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls
Words have power, don't they? You probably remember the saying from younger days which said "Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me" - (uh….yeaaahhh) I would venture to say that we could all easily recall some very painful words that were spoken to us even as young children - so try as we might to loosen the grip those words have on us, we find they are as stuck in our minds as an overcooked egg is on a frying pan.
The power words have is amazing. On one hand, words can bring encouragement and be a salve to a broken heart. Do you know certain people that always seem to have an encouraging word for you? Aren't they the ones that you would want to talk to, when life is most difficult? On the other hand, words can be used as weapons with the intent to destroy another person. Have you ever found yourself wanting to avoid somebody that makes a habit of using words as weapons?
Paul makes us aware of the new life we have in Christ, and its associated platitudes in the book of Ephesians. While it is worthwhile to learn who we are in Christ, we all need to have more tangible application of what that actually means. We are not supernaturally given all of the concepts of God, and we do not all immediately become experts at living. In fact, most people tend to partition their lives - some will gladly give part of their lives to God, but then there are other parts that they are satisfied with keeping as is. All of us operate in the knowledge of what we've been taught, what we've seen and experienced. Have you ever considered how much of the way that you handle life is based on what you saw demonstrated as you were growing up? For some people, the Christian life may have been emulated in the home, but for each of us, there are changes that are required to live in the way that God has in store for us. And, while God's way may seem to be difficult to carry out, we learn that God's ways are the keys to living. Changes don't happen overnight, and it requires real effort to learn and apply these changes to our lives, which can be difficult.
Several years ago, the group I work with had a meeting of the minds to set our course for the future. It became obvious that, although everyone had something to contribute, and nearly everyone was technically proficient, there were some deep divisive issues that caused some of us to look at something from one mindset and others viewed the same thing from a different mindset. It's not that one view was necessarily right or wrong, but for us to come to a common point of agreement required somebody to make a change. That can be a difficult thing to do. You can say you agree with something, and go along with it, but when you are going against what your mind is telling you is the correct way, you will always experience problems. It is not until you have lived in the new mindset for a while and changed the way you think that you can be successful and not have this continual drag on yourself. Many Christians are living in this dilemma now, because they haven't truly allowed their mindset to match that as described in Scripture.
Paul says that we need to lay aside lying, and speak the truth. Nobody likes to be called a liar, and we would likely feel embarrassed if we were caught in a lie. We have all reached a point in our lives where it "seemed" that lying would be more appropriate. On the other hand, there are some people who seem to propagate lies as if they are the truth; so much so that they appear to actually start to believe what they are saying. At times, it is really hard to understand that these people are lying, as they seem to be dead set against that type of behavior normally. These types of people can inflict damage on many others, by causing them to believe a lie, without knowing better and without even questioning what is said. Lies have a way of creeping up on us and causing more problems than the truth ever would. Psalm 64:3 - 8 talks specifically about this kind of behavior.
It says, "They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows. They shoot from ambush at the innocent; they shoot suddenly, without fear. They encourage each other in evil plans, they talk about hiding their snares; they say, 'Who will see it?' They plot injustice and say, 'We have devised a perfect plan!' Surely the human mind and heart are cunning. But God will shoot them with his arrows; they will suddenly be struck down. He will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake their heads in scorn."
I don't know about you but that last part makes me want to stand and cheer and holler out a big ole 'BOOYAH!!!!' (as my kids used to say). It means that 'they' got what was coming to them. The innocent party received validation and the liars were uncovered and everyone who had believed their lies, now looked on THEM with scorn. If you've ever been slandered, then you understand why there is so much emotion experienced in these verses. To have your name dragged through the mud, to have lies purposely told about you and worse, to have them believed, can be one of the most maddening experiences for a person. It's hard to take the high road, to not stoop to their level. But our faith has to be in God and at the end of the day we may have to take comfort in simply knowing that God knows the truth and is pleased with ME. There is absolutely nothing wrong with defending yourself against false accusations but we can't control other people and there are times that when they are shown the proof of the deceitful persons actions (by the things the person wrote and stated) they still won't be able to let go of their 'allegiance' and see the truth. In those instances I find myself praying for God to remove the scales from their eyes and to let them see the truth. And then I have to move on, hard as that may be.
"Words can lift us up or words can break us down. They can start a fire in our hearts or put it out" (Hawk Nelson) So before you let words fall from your mouth or type them out - think about the impact they will have on those who hear and see them - and they will also have an impact on you - and how you are viewed and regarded. As it has been so often stated, "I would rather keep my mouth closed and let people think me a fool, then to open my mouth and thus prove them right"
Have you ever considered how some people can even start gossip by simply sharing prayer requests? The initial request may be valid, but can be stated in such a way that it is easily changed and modified, so that it does not really represent the original request at all. In the past, I used to send out prayer requests from my Bible Study class to our email list, but then I began to see that context was not always given in those requests. In some cases, people were not present when a request was mentioned, so they may make assumptions and in other cases, people may take what was said and turn them into seeds of gossip. Sharing falsehoods or sharing 'too much' with others can be damaging within a community of believers and may cause harm to relationships. Just because the lie didn't start with you does not give you the approval to pass it on.
There is one other key thing to do with truth - Have you ever thought about how hard it is to lie consistently? One good thing about the truth is that it remains the same. You don't have to try and remember what you said, especially if you changed what you said from one person to the next. Sometimes, the truth doesn't paint us in the best light, so we convince ourselves that lying is some sort of self preservation. What we realize over time is that lying will cause more damage than telling the truth. Lies can cause credibility issues and can destroy relationships. That lie that you tell, or that lie that you spread, impacts others as well.
Paul speaks of anger. It is clear that anger is not sin, but anger could lead to sin. How do you deal with your anger? Personally, I have had the unfortunate problem of absorbing all types of emotions. I would get angry and not say anything - I would just hold it in. Over time, it would build until when it showed, it would be somewhat like a mini eruption. This can become a pattern and eventually lead to a shutdown of emotions. How much different might things have been if anger would have been handled appropriately at the start? How many opportunities do we give Satan to ruin our lives because of the lack of desire to perform maintenance? Most of us wouldn't ignore warnings in our vehicles, because it might cost a lot to fix it later, or a new vehicle would be a big burden. On the other hand, I hear that there are some people that will drive forever with their "Check Engine" light illuminated. We know that can be a problem, but on the other hand, many of us ignore these signs in our lives, as if our lives aren't as costly as a car.
Anger is a key part of life. Jesus was angry, so how could we expect to not experience anger? We are told to be angry, but to not sin. I've heard that there is a progression of anger when it isn't handled. Anger can lead to wrath. Wrath can lead to hatred. Hatred can lead to contempt. Contempt can lead to a desire for revenge. At what point does anger become sin in this progression?
We have all experienced times when we have festered on something, causing it to get bigger and bigger in our minds. If anger isn't dealt with right away, it becomes larger and more difficult to manage. Paul says do not let the sun go down on your anger. Sometimes that is impossible to do, but the key point is to not seethe in your anger, allowing it to make you bitter and potentially destroy something you want to keep (which you may realize once you are out of your fit of anger). Psalm 4:4 says "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent." When you can't approach the other party, you can approach God and take it to Him. When we hold onto our anger, it allows the devil a foothold. It starts to impact our thinking and we can easily be sidetracked. Be careful how you handle your anger.
I would imagine we all remember things that we wish we wouldn't have said or done in our anger. Most of these things lead to stupid responses to anger, thereby ruining families, friendships and even relationships within the church. In today's technological age, it is likely that the initial response is not even spoken, but sent electronically without giving any time to think about what is communicated. Electronic communication carries a 'recording' of what was said, which can often lead to a much direr situation. If you've been guilty of responding to an email that upset you without taking the time to process it, you can do a world of damage that you never really intended.
As an aside, it is important for us to realize that we will at times have to deal with words that challenge our thinking. At the first blush, we may be very angry, but if we respond right away and are not thinking about what has been communicated with us, we may respond very inappropriately and make a situation even worse. Often, it is best to communicate through written letters, as opposed to email and texting. This gives the party that receives the letter time to read it and work through their emotional response before sending an answer back. As with email and texting, we huff and puff and rapidly craft the perfect response with the hope that we convey EXACTLY what we are feeling (which in hindsight, may not be the best feeling to have conveyed). This isn't to say that people don't take pen to paper and create a rant that can be pages long. However, you would hope that this person might hold off on actually putting that letter in the mail and sending it - but that doesn't always happen either. When someone is hell bent on destruction, the destruction becomes the focus and the means by which to convey it becomes secondary.
Have you ever been thankful that your spoken words aren't recorded? Even if not recorded, words that are spoken can never be taken back. You can say that you are sorry, but words spoken in anger can be very hurtful to others. Things that are broken sometimes cannot be fixed. As one person said, you can't unscramble an egg, try as you may. Don't be governed by your off the cuff emotional responses, but deal with your anger appropriately.
In verse 31, Paul mentions other things that need to be put away from us. We need to remove all hints of bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander, along with all malice. You can sense that Paul is talking about an overhaul of our lives. This isn't just a minor tweak in this area or that, but a change that impacts the way we talk and walk and live. It changes the way we work and the way we play. It changes the way we are around others and when we are by ourselves. This doesn't say that we should shun the world and hole up in a monastery someplace, but rather that we become the light of Christ in a lost world.
If you become a bitter individual, people will not want to be around you and you will find yourself having a harder time experiencing God's peace. If you are wrathful and prone to fly off the handle, people tend to walk quietly around you. There are many people that have grown up in a family where they felt that there was no option other than following the rules (or else). If you messed up, you paid for it. If you are always angry, others tend to not share issues with you. If there is clamor, slander or malice - there is some intention to do harm. Some people think they are doing it in a 'godly' manner, but slander is slander. When you see yourself starting to exhibit these types of behaviors, it is a good thing to take a step back and look for the root cause. Is there a relationship that you need to fix? Is there some sin in your life? Is there an attitude that you are hanging onto?
This verse tells us to no longer steal. Probably most of you haven't stolen a car or possessions. Maybe you shoplifted as a kid, or you 'borrowed' something from someone with no intent of ever returning it. Most of us know that it is wrong to steal from someone else. For those of us who work outside the home, perhaps this might be talking to us in a different way. Some jobs require that a person work hard for every minute that they are on the job - assembly lines or manufacturing or other lines of work. You've probably seen reruns of the Lucy Show where Lucy and Ethel were working an assembly line and couldn't quite keep up. Other jobs require you to police yourself. In this case, you may have a broader task to do that may take as much as a few weeks, months or even years to get it done. For some, it has become easy to accept the paycheck and do about anything besides work at work, until the schedule starts falling apart. This is, in effect, stealing. Paul indicates that we all need to do our work to provide not only for ourselves, but also for others. There are always people in need. Right now, you probably know those who have lost jobs, or suffered tragedy in their lives or many other circumstances. At times, we need to remember how we may have been blessed financially, and ask ourselves if our resources can be used to help others in need.
On the other hand, if you are involved in stealing possessions from others, what does this verse say to you? Perhaps, it might be that you 'use' others and make them pay more for a product or service than what is reasonable. There isn't anything wrong with making a profit, but to do this at the expense of those who can barely make ends meet is something you might need to think about.
We are told to let no unwholesome word proceed from our mouths. Along the same lines as lying, one of the things that people tend to do is to say something 'because it is true'. As was mentioned in the previous lesson, we are to speak the truth in love. Sometimes speaking the truth can be classified as unwholesome words proceeding from your mouth, to some. There are some things that are better left unsaid, and there are some things that we end up saying with the sole purpose of tearing down another individual, either directly or indirectly. On the other hand, at times there are words that need to be said that are meant for correction. Although they may hurt the hearer, they are not intended to cause harm. Are the words you use building others up or tearing them down?
Sometimes it may not be words said about others, but the words that we use. Likely, each of us has used profanity at one point or another. While it may not be something we'd like to admit, it is heard nearly on every TV program today and on the radio - in songs and programs. Many of us work around people that let profanity fly. If you are involved in competitive sports, you will hear more profanity than you ever thought you might. When this becomes part of our vocabulary and is used often, we need to recognize that those are unwholesome words and that they shouldn't be coming out of our mouths. Our words should be used to build others up and not tear them down. Are there areas of your speech that need to change? We are told to speak so that we lift others up. We should spread the grace that we have been given - what right do we have to destroy another person with our words?
We are told to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. As believers, the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us. There are actions that we may do that others may never know about, but in that moment of conscious awareness, we have a choice to make. We can choose to go forward or we can stop. We can ask ourselves a couple of questions:
If the answer to either of these is no, then maybe the next question will really allow you to consider the impact your decision could have on not only yourself, but others that you love.
In each of those situations (and so many others not listed) what I am really yes to is hurting myself and the very of heart of those I love and value. If you are married the action you take says one of two things: I am either for you or against you. You aren't being neutral in that moment and to delude yourself into thinking you are, is a dangerous mindset to have.
Maybe it's not an 'action' you take but there may be speech that we use that nobody else hears. But, when we do those things or say those things, we know that there is something wrong. It impacts our conscience, but more importantly it grieves the Holy Spirit. The more that we go against what we know we should be doing, it impacts the way we live our lives in other manners. This will ultimately impact our churches and fellowship with others, and even our relationships.
What actions in your life are pleasing to the Holy Spirit and what are things that may be grieving the Holy Spirit? Many people tend to want to find "the list" of what we can and can't do. You can look at the experience of the New Testament Jews that created rules to enforce other rules. One problem with that is that life doesn't often give us everything in a neat package (so we make up our own). Our culture has created situational ethics - do one thing or another, based on the circumstance. If we divorce that from God's teaching, we will be grieving the Holy Spirit. Certainly, there are some situations where we need to understand what God would have us do in a specific circumstance, but if you are basing every decision based on situational ethics, you will find yourself on very unsteady ground.
Ephesians 4:32 is my mom's favorite. "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you." There could be and have been lessons upon lessons written on forgiveness. There are books about forgiveness that many people have in their possession, yet they still are unwilling to forgive (or don't understand how they could ever do so). How many lives are hampered at this very instance because of the inability or the lack of desire to forgive another person? At some point, forgiveness has to happen or bitterness will set in. As difficult as it may be to forgive someone, it is much more difficult to cure bitterness than it is to forgive others. Forgiveness doesn't mean that everything is okay and fixed, but it allows positive movement to happen. That movement can often restore a relationship or at least allow a broken relationship to not cause more carnage that impacts everybody involved forever.
I once knew someone who said, "I KNOW about forgiveness". This was said in the middle of a rant they were on about things that had happened well over 6 years ago. This person may very well know what the word 'forgiveness' means, but in the context regarding the 'act' of forgiving, they are in the dark. They have convinced themselves that they have forgiven, but their actions indicate quite the opposite. In reality, by not forgiving, they are harming themselves daily by feasting on their bitterness. They sit down and dine on the "would haves and should haves" and consume the bitter drink of regret all the while those they are so angry at are living full and happy lives. They aren't impacted by the anger of the other person. The only person really being impacted by anger is the one who continues to hold on to it; the one who feeds it daily; the one who has allowed it to consume their entire life. So they say they 'know' about forgiveness but act in a completely contradictory manner. It reminds me of something Yoda once said, "To know and not to do - is not to know" and as Elsa said in Frozen…..(yeah, I know you know where this is going)"Let it go!"
We are called to be kind. It seems to me that you will have a hard time being kind to another person if you are unable to forgive. You may think that you will be kind to another person once they do this or that. However, what did Christ wait for to forgive you and to be kind to you? In fact, Christ was kind to you, even before you were forgiven. Unlike some of the other religions of our day, Christianity involves kindness, even to non believers. There are other religions that would rather kill anyone who chose not to believe as they do. In giving of Himself, Christ is the supreme model of love. He chose to forgive us - there is nothing that we have done to deserve forgiveness. His forgiveness is not just an abstract thought. When you are forgiven by Christ, you know true forgiveness and grace that is not deserved.
So many people are stuck in their lives because of something that somebody did at one point or another. It may not be easy; in fact, it may be incredibly difficult, but it is what we are called to do. There are some people that adamantly refuse to forgive. It is as if they believe they have been issued a waiver saying they have a pass on forgiving someone else. Who do you need to forgive and what is holding you back? What might happen if you wrote a note or called someone to let them know that you forgive them? What might happen if you were the one to receive that note or call?
I have no idea of what you are going through specifically or what you have gone through in your life. You can only change yourself, even though we all wish we could change others. Some things in our lives will always have some impact upon us, but we can choose the things that control us longer term. Often, we have the experience of nursing real wrongs to the point of imagining other wrongs. When we do so, we become slaves to the grudges that are created. Perhaps you could believe that you could convince others of the many reasons you should hold a grudge. If so, perhaps you need to talk to a counselor to find the best way for that grudge or attitude to control aspects of your life. A question that should be asked of believers is if we really have a 'right' to hold a grudge. It sounds cliché - but what would Christ do? In the long run, for a believer, we have to answer this question of what is most important. Is it most important that we get even? Is it most important that you can always have a crutch? It is most important that you stay one up on somebody else? Or, is it most important that you seek Christ? In the end, you can't truly say that you are seeking Christ if you are doing the other things mentioned here.
Whatever your situation is, our prayer for you is that you will experience the greatness of God in your life and that you will align with His will. Let His love fill you and let everything else be minimized. This does not indicate that you do not need to deal with the things in life that require attention, but be careful to not let these other attitudes and thought take root and poison your life!