Thursday: Kindness (Not Bitterness)

By referring to “the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30), Paul has just invited his readers to consider their uses of speech in the context of Christ’s second coming. Ephesians 4:31-32, then, may be understood as addressing the use of speech as we approach that grand event.

In the light of Christ’s return, what attitudes and behaviors, related to speech, should be discarded? What attitudes and behaviors should be embraced? Ephesians 4:31-32.

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In the final exhortation of Ephesians 4:17-32, Paul again provides a negative command, this one identifying six vices that are to “be put away from you” (Ephesians 4:31); a positive command to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32), and a rationale. Believers are to forgive one another “even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, NKJV). The list of six vices begins and ends with general, all-encompassing terms, “all bitterness” and “all malice.” In between come four additional terms: “wrath,” “anger,” “clamor,” and “slander” (Ephesians 4:31, ESV).

The last of these translates the Greek word blasphemia, which English has borrowed as a technical term for demeaning speech against God. However, the Greek term identifies speech that defames either God or other humans as “slander” or “evil speaking.” In the list, attitudes (bitterness, wrath, anger) seem to boil over into angry speech (clamor, slander). In essence, Paul demilitarizes Christian speech. The attitudes that drive angry speech and the rhetorical strategies that employ it are to be removed from the Christian’s arsenal. Christian community will flourish and unity of the church be fostered (compare Ephesians 4:1-16) only where these things are laid aside.

Evil speech, though, is not so much to be suppressed as replaced. Our conversations and actions among the family of Christ — and beyond it as well — are not to grow out of anger but are to be motivated by kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness based on the highest standard of all, the forgiveness that God has extended to us in Christ (Ephesians 4:32). Paul presents “vertical forgiveness” (offered by God to us) as the model for “horizontal forgiveness” (that which we offer to each other; compare Colossians 3:13Matthew 6:12Matthew 6:14-15).

Think about the power of your words. How can you use them to be uplifting, encouraging, and faith-building?

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