God’s Big Promises – 5. You Can Forgive God’s Answer to Resentment
Ephesians 4: 29 – 32
To hate is to live in the past. Hatred is the most damaging emotion, for it gives the person you hate a double victory—once in the past, once in the present. No time to hate? Not if you have learned how to forgive. Forgiving does not mean whitewashing the past, but it does mean refusing to live there. Forgiveness breaks the chain of bitterness and the desire for revenge. As costly as it is to forgive, unforgiveness costs far more.
We’re in a series called God’s Big Promises: God Says You Are, You Can, You Have, You Will. So far we have covered 4 big promises from the Lord:
You are Forgiven: God’s Answer to Guilt - You are Never Alone: God’s Answer to Fear - You Have a Way Out: God’s Answer to Temptation - You Have a Great Future: God’s Answer to Failure. Now we come to the 5th promise: You can Forgive: God’s Answer to Resentment. Let’s begin with these words from the Apostle Paul: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4: 29
1. The Command
I remember it from the KJV: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” NIV translates as “unwholesome talk,” KJV translates as “corrupt communication.” The underlying Greek word means “rotten.” It was used for decaying flesh or rotten fish. The meaning is, “Don’t let any putrid words come out of your mouth.” We might say in street lingo, “No trash talk!”
What qualifies as rotten speech? Here are a few examples: Vulgarity, obscenity, indecent language. Racial or ethnic insults. Abrasive humour. Harsh words. Mean-spirited comments. Gossip, rumours, false accusations. Yelling and screaming. Exaggerating the faults of others. Excusing unkind words by saying, “I was only joking.” Why is this so important? Proverbs 18: 21 “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Every time you open your mouth, either life or death comes out.
Ephesians 4: 29 offers a Christian alternative:
A. We are to speak good words that build up instead of tearing down.
B. We are to speak words that minister grace to those who hear them.
Here is the teaching of this verse put very simply: Every word . . . all good . . . all grace . . . all the time. We all have our excuses for what we say, don’t we? We’re tired or we’re provoked or we weren’t thinking or we didn’t mean it or it’s true so we said it. On and on we go, justifying ourselves. But our excuses don’t excuse us at all. What is God saying to us? No more stinking speech! Paul mentions the sad consequence of our unkind words in Ephesians 4: 30 “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
2. The Consequence
Did you know you can grieve the Holy Spirit who lives within you? You can only grieve a close friend or a loved one. You can’t grieve a stranger you meet on the street. You can irritate a stranger and you can offend a casual acquaintance, but you can only grieve someone close to you. Paul’s advice is both practical and profound. Paul reminds us that our primary relationship is always with God. You can make the Spirit weep because of your thoughtless words. Here’s the reason: The Holy Spirit not only lives in you. He also lives in the Christian brother or sister you just slandered. Evil speech destroys Christian unity. God cannot bless a church where the Lord’s people are divided. This is a word we need to hear today. We tolerate and sometimes even encourage thoughtless attitudes in the way we speak to each other. This does not mean we will never say anything hard or difficult for others to hear. Proverbs 27: 6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Just as a doctor must sometimes cut us surgically to remove what is killing us, friends sometimes say things that aren’t easy to hear. But in those cases, friends first remove the telephone pole from their own eye before they remove the speck of sawdust from someone else’s eye.
3. The Cause Whatever is in the heart must eventually come out in the words we say. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4: 31 These wrong attitudes corrode the soul from the inside out.
Bitterness means “pointed” or “sharp,” referring to the pain we feel when someone mistreats us. If we dwell in bitterness long enough, it produces a wounded spirit. Bitterness leads to wrath - has the idea of the nostrils being flared in anger. We use the same image when we speak of someone being all steamed up, with smoke coming out of their ears. Anger speaks of a settled condition of the heart. Some people get up angry, shower angry, eat breakfast angry, go to work angry, come home angry, watch TV angry and go to bed angry. Angry people usually express themselves in clamor, the 4th word, which means raising your voice and shouting. Slander means to make false accusations against someone. Slander was one of the sins of those who crucified Jesus. They mocked him and lied about him and falsely accused him. When you slander someone, you join with those who crucified our Lord. Malice describes an underlying attitude - congealed hatred. A malicious person can’t get along with anyone. What starts in the heart ends up on the lips. We think, we feel, and then we speak. What starts as a grievance becomes an outburst of wrath that hardens into anger. Stop it early and you won’t have to stop it later.
The Bible tells us to get rid of all these wrong attitudes. When we harbour these things, the Holy Spirit weeps inside us.
4. The Cure
We must replace those rotten attitudes with something much better. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4: 32
Kindness speaks of gentleness in the face of provocation. It reaches out to the unworthy and withholds punishment even when it is deserved. It is “the oil that lubricates the machinery of life.” Compassion says, “I will care for you, and I will not shut you out.” Forgiveness starts with God, comes down to us, and then goes out to other people. We forgive as God has forgiven us. We are to extend grace to others as God has extended grace to us. We, the undeserving, having been showered with God’s grace in Christ, give to other undeserving sinners (who have sinned against us) the same outpouring of grace. From God to us to others. Grace to us, grace to others.
We do for others what God has done for us. He has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. He has put our sins behind his back. He throws them into the depth of the ocean. He remembers them no more. He blots them out. He cancels the debt we owe. He declares us not guilty. He forgave us freely, instantly, totally. Can we not do the same for those who have hurt us so deeply? The message is simple and clear: Go and do for others what Christ has done for you. This is the Big Promise for today. Forgiven people forgive people. But it is not always easy. At some point, our faith will be put to the test. We must then ask the question, “How much do we want to be like Jesus?” He was a forgiving man who came to create a race of forgiving men and women. If you want to know what love is like, go to the cross and fix your eyes on the man hanging there. Then go and do for others what God has done for you.
But you say, “I can’t do that. You don’t know what they did to me.” What if God treated you as you treat others? What if God were as unkind and unmerciful as you are? What if he kept a record of your sins? You’d never get within a million miles of heaven. “I’m going to trash him like he trashed me.” What if God said that about you? Perhaps you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with the Lord and then with others close to you.
Whatever God tells you to do, do it. Stop making the Holy Spirit weep because of your unkind words and your inner ugliness. Cry out to God for his help. Pray for a fresh vision of Jesus dying for you. You can forgive because you have been forgiven. This is the Word of the Lord.
Father, some of us desperately need this message right now. We’re all going to need it soon because we live in a broken world. Deliver us from anger. Clean up our lips. Release us from resentment. Free us from malice. May the river of grace wash away every trace of bitterness. Lord Jesus, make us agents of forgiveness and missionaries of your grace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.