HOW TO TREAT EACH OTHER
One of the great blessings that Christians enjoy is the opportunity to have fellowship with other Christians. Those relationships can be great and can last not only a lifetime, but an eternity. In fact, in some Christians' lives, the closeness of the relationship they have with their fellow Christians (their spiritual family) is closer than that which they have with their own physical families.
However, those relationships can also be less than what God wants them to be if we do not heed His word concerning the kind of attitudes we are to have toward each other. Sometimes, those relationships can turn sour. Trouble can develop between members of a congregation and it can hurt the whole congregation. Sometimes, that trouble can even lead to a congregation being divided when people begin to take sides. But the worst result is that souls will be lost if the problems are not dealt with according to the Scriptures.
God has given us instruction on how to live and work with our fellow Christians, and what He says in His word concerning this subject is just as binding and just as necessary as any other subject that can be taught from His word. It will be our purpose in this study to see what God's will is for how we treat each other, or the attitudes we should have toward each other as we live and work together for the cause of Christ in the local congregation.
I would like to emphasize as we begin this study that there is no place for those who mistreat their fellow Christians. There is no place for those who fail to show the proper love for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of us needs to examine ourselves to see if we are treating our fellow-Christians in the right way. And if we fall short, this very moment is the time to repent, and to go to the person or persons we have mistreated and seek forgiveness.
Ephesians 4:31-5:2 gives us some very clear and needed teaching concerning this subject. "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
PUT AWAY FROM YOU
Let us first notice that Paul says the things he mentions in verse 31 are to be "put away from you." It is interesting to do a word study and trace the roots of words back to their original source. The New Testament was first written in the Greek language, and it is interesting to go back and see how the Greeks used certain words and phrases because it often gives some additional insight as to how to apply the teaching of God's word to our lives. It also often helps us to remember.
The phrase "put away from you" was used by the Greeks to indicate a crew on a ship weighing anchor and sailing away. I believe there is a lesson for us in this phrase today. The things that Paul lists here in verse 31 are things that we must sail away from spiritually speaking. We are to pull up the anchor that is holding us to these things and leave the place where we are (spiritually speaking) and go to a better place. Paul tells us where that better place is beginning with verse 32.
So, let us determine that we are going to put these things away from us. And if we do that, there can be no doubt that it will go a long way in helping heal any problems that a congregation may have. To put away the things listed in verse 31, and to practice the things mentioned in verse 32 through 5:2, will go a long way in helping us in any relationship -- Husband - Wife; Parents - Children; Relationships with those we work with or go to school with or otherwise associate with every day. But we're particularly interested in this lesson with our relationship with our fellow-Christians in the local congregation.
The first thing that Paul says we are to put away is bitterness. Bitterness is defined as "a condition of extreme wickedness" (Vine; Thayer). The word is used in Acts 8:23 in reference to Simon the Sorcerer who is said to have been "poisoned by bitterness" when he desired to buy the ability to impart the Holy Spirit from the apostles. In other words, Simon was in a condition of extreme wickedness in desiring this ability because he had no part or lot in it. Notice also that bitterness can poison us. Just as poison can kill us physically, so bitterness can poison us and kill us spiritually.
The word is also used in Romans 3:14 where Paul is speaking of the Jews and Gentiles and where he says they are all under sin. He says that their "mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." Thus, bitterness can be a sin of the tongue also. One can speak bitter and evil things and be guilty of this sin.
The word is also used in Hebrews 12:14-15, "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled..." There is a contrast in these verses between peace and holiness on the one hand and trouble and defilement on the other. If a root of bitterness springs up it will grow and blossom and cause trouble and the result is that many will be defiled or contaminated. The peace and holiness that we should desire and that should be a part of our lives will not be there. When we have bitterness as a part of our life, it will cause division between Christians and we will fail or fall short of the grace of God.
When any member of the church begins to develop a disagreeable, sour, harsh, hostile attitude toward one or more of their fellow Christians, nothing but trouble, division and defilement can result. And usually, when this kind of attitude is exhibited toward someone, the person toward whom it is directed will begin to develop a like attitude and things just begin to multiply.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us learn to treat each other in a friendly, peaceful and agreeable manner. Let us speak to each other with the kind of speech that we would want someone to speak to us with. Let us not have a bitter attitude toward each other. Even when we disagree with each other, let us treat each other with kindness and gentleness.
Will we always be able to do this? Probably not. We're all human beings and we have the weaknesses of human beings. But we can all strive to do it, and we can all do better as we grow and mature spiritually.
WRATH, ANGER AND CLAMOR
The next three things that Paul tells us to put away is wrath, anger and clamor. I have grouped these three together because they have similar definitions.
Vine defines the word "wrath" as "hot anger, passion." It's interesting that this same word is translated by the word fierceness in Revelation 16:19 where it speaks of the "fierceness of God's wrath." The word wrath in this phrase in Revelation 16:19 is another word (Gk. Orge) that can be translated wrath. But the word fierceness in this passage is actually the same word that is translated wrath in Ephesians 4:31. Thus, wrath is being fierce, being filled with rage, it has to do with losing or showing one's temper.
Vine, in his words studies of the Greek New Testament makes some interesting statements regarding the difference between wrath and anger. He says:
"wrath is to be distinguished from anger in this respect: wrath indicates a more agitated condition of the feelings, an outburst of wrath from inward indignation, while anger suggests a more settled or abiding condition of mind, frequently with a view to taking revenge. Anger is less sudden in its rise than wrath, but more lasting in it's nature. Wrath expresses more the inward feeling, anger the more active emotion. Wrath may issue in revenge, though it does not necessarily include it. It is characteristic that it quickly blazes up and quickly subsides, though that is not necessarily implied in each case."
I think we can see from Vine's comments that wrath takes place when one immediately becomes angry by something someone has said or done. This anger rises up quickly and often we say and do things we later regret. This is the kind of anger that one guards against when he "counts to ten" before he responds. The principle of being "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:" (James 1:19) would apply here and would help guard against wrath.
Anger, however, is the kind of thing where we dwell on the perceived wrongs done to us. It's where we worry about it, have our minds on it, let things fester, and then we begin to plan to take revenge.
Although both of the words are used in the Bible in reference to God's anger and wrath, and we can be angry with sin as God is and not sin. We have to remember that vengeance is His, not ours. It is never our place to take vengeance on those who have hurt us -- that's God's place. "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord." (Romans 12:19).
In contrast to seeking vengeance, Jesus said in Luke 6:27-28, "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you." It seems to me that this is probably one of the hardest commands in the Bible to obey. It is something that is just as binding as any other command, and yet it is something that is perhaps disobeyed by Christians more than any other. LOVE your enemies, DO GOOD to those who hate you, BLESS those who curse you and PRAY for those who spitefully use you. Is that our natural reaction when someone hurts us? It doesn't seem to be - we want revenge - we want to hurt and destroy them. But there's no place for Christians to be angry in this way and to exhibit the attitude of wrath toward our fellow-Christians no matter what they do to us.
Then we have the word "clamor." This word literally means "to cry out." It is translated in Acts 23:9 as "a loud outcry." In the context of Acts 23, we find a contention between the Sadducees and Pharisees concerning the teaching of Paul. The contention between them was so great that the captain of the guard had to send soldiers among the people to rescue Paul so that he would not be pulled to pieces by them as the Bible says. And so, clamor has to do with anger and wrath being exhibited by contention that exhibits itself in physical fighting and quarreling.
I have sat in business meetings where I thought men were going to physically fight because they disagreed with each other about something that was being discussed in the meeting. I have heard (although I never witnessed it myself) that there has been more than one occasion where men in that situation actually came to blows. There's no place for that kind of attitude in the church. Clamor must be put away from among us.
The next thing we must put away is evil speaking. This is the same word that is translated "blasphemy" in many other passages in the New Testament. It is defined as "injurious speech." Most of the time it is used in the Bible in regard to blasphemy against God, but according to this passage it can occur between Christians too.
How could we blaspheme our fellow Christians? If we speak in such a way that we intentionally injure another Christian or reflect on his reputation (without just cause), we can be guilty of "evil speaking" or "blasphemy." We need to watch what we say to each other and about each other and the kind of attitude we have when we say something to each other. Here is a good rule to follow: If it is doubtful that we should say whatever we are thinking about saying, then don't say it.
Now, this is certainly not talking about approaching those who are in error and trying to correct them. We may hurt the feelings of the erring brother or sister when we confront them with their sin and plead for their repentance, but that's not what this passage is talking about. We may injure the reputation of the false teacher by exposing his false teaching, but we do that with just cause. That is not what Paul is speaking of here. Rather he is speaking of saying something to or about someone in order to hurt them -- with the purpose of hurting them, i.e. giving vent to anger and abusing or insulting someone verbally. When we speak to or about our fellow Christians with disrespect or contempt, when we curse someone or use profanity, then we are guilty of evil speaking. Again, there is no place in the Christians life for this kind of speaking -- whether toward our brethren or toward anyone in the world -- It must be put away!
Then Paul says we are to put away all malice. Malice is the attitude that is always looking out for opportunities to seek revenge by hurting or destroying someone who has hurt you. Webster defines it as "the desire to see another suffer... a desiring or wishing pain, injury, or distress on another." It almost seems natural for us to want to harm or see the person who hurts us suffer in some way. That's what malice is.
But again, there is no place for Christians to take personal vengeance on those who have hurt us or to desire to see something bad happen to someone who has hurt us. God has ordained civil government to deal with those who hurt us in things physical and He has ordained the church to deal with those who hurt us spiritually. If we follow God's will in passages like Matthew 18 where it tells us how to deal with those members of the church who sin against us, then we will not be tempted to have this attitude of malice.
There is no place in the church for spiteful, evil, resentful attitudes toward one's fellow Christians. In fact, the opposite of malice is affection and benevolence. We MUST treat our fellow Christians with affection and with a benevolent attitude rather than one of resentment and spitefulness.
And so, rather than having these things as a part of our lives, we are to have the things Paul mentions in the next verse.
We are to be kind to one another. The phrase "to one another" means this is the attitude and action that we are ALL to make a part of our lives. Not one of us is left out of this requirement.
The word kind means "considerate, courteous, empathetic, friendly, generous, cooperative, pleasant, gracious, helpful, loving, sensitive, and supportive." Now there's not one of us who doesn't want to be treated like this, is there? We all want to be treated with consideration, in a courteous, friendly, generous, pleasant, gracious, helpful, loving, and sensitive way. We all want the support and cooperation of others.
If that's what we want from others, then that's what we must do for others. Jesus said, "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:35-36). If we are to be children of the Highest, then we must be kind even to our enemies, because He is kind even to the unthankful and the evil. The fact that he mentions being merciful in verse 36 shows that kindness exhibits itself in showing mercy to others.
If we treat our enemies with kindness will they treat us in the same way? Not necessarily. But if we treat them the same way they treat us, we cannot be children of God. Paul wrote, "Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:20-21). If a fellow-Christian or anyone else tries to make you his enemy by treating you evil, you cannot treat him the same way. You must do good to him -- and in doing so, you're not overcome by evil but you overcome evil with good. And so, we must be kind to one another. And think of how much just showing kindness toward each other would solve a lot of the problems that arise in a local congregation.
Then Paul says, we are to be tenderhearted. This means "easily moved to love, pity, or sorrow; compassionate, impressionable." The idea of being tenderhearted is the ability to feel for others, to feel their sorrows, their troubles and such like.
This is another thing that is hard for some of us to do. We all have our own troubles and problems and it's so hard for us to get our attention away from them and to think about others. But it is an ability we must strive to develop. There comes a time when we have to get our attention away from our own problems and be sympathetic to the problems and troubles others have. Tenderheartedness is being caring, compassionate, and empathetic.
Then Paul speaks of forgiving one another. Again the phrase "one another" means that it is to be a part of the life of each Christian. This forgiveness is to be as God "as God in Christ forgave you." The supreme example of forgiveness is God forgiving us in Christ.
Jesus teaches that forgiveness is based on repentance. He said, "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4). You see, there Is no end to forgiveness if a brother truly repents. If a brother or sister who has harmed you in some way comes to you and says "I repent" you MUST forgive him -- there is no option. We must always have the attitude of forgiveness -- the willingness to forgive just as God has.
In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus shows us the importance of our being willing to forgive when He says, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." If we are not willing to forgive others, we will not receive forgiveness from God.
BE FOLLOWERS OF GOD AS DEAR CHILDREN
As we just stated, we are to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ. Thus, we are to follow His example in all things. We are to do that as "dear children." Isn't it great that God considers us to be "dear children." Did you know that's how God feels about us? It means we're precious in His sight -- we're valuable to Him -- we're loved by Him. What greater blessing could we receive?
Then in verse two Paul says, "And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." To walk in love is to live a life of love. We are to love our fellow-Christians "as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." We need to ask ourselves, "Do we love our fellow-Christians that much?" My brothers and sisters in Christ, our lives are to be lives of offering and sacrifice for our fellow Christians. Our lives are also to be "for a sweet-smelling aroma.". This language takes us back to the Old Testament offerings being offered up to God and being pleasing and acceptable to Him. Our lives are to be that kind of offering to God. That which is pleasing and acceptable to Him.
It reminds us of Romans 12:1, where Paul wrote, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Not only is it reasonable but it's the most pleasant and blessed thing that we can do with our lives.
Our attitude toward each other is so important. Our working together and our getting to heaven depends on us following Paul's teaching in Ephesians 4 and 5. It is my prayer that each one of us will examine ourselves and see if we have the right attitude toward our fellow Christians. And if we do not, that we will confess it, repent of it and pray for forgiveness, and that we will determine to strive to follow what Paul teaches here the rest of our lives.