We have come to the end of a chapter rich with teaching about the church and the individual Christian life. Let’s review briefly. The first three chapters of Ephesians form one glorious doxology extolling the riches we have received in Christ Jesus. Chapter 4 addresses the question of “How then shall we live?”
We are to walk in a manner worthy of such a calling. That means we are to walk in humility and gentleness, with patience and forbearing with one another in love. We are to be eager to maintain unity. That unity is founded on the seven pillars of truth, namely that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.
We also have been given grace to exercise the bountiful gifts given to us by Christ. Equipped by the teaching of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers, we are to be engaged in ministry so that we build up the body of Christ until we attain unity of the faith and of knowledge of Christ, maturing and becoming like him. We are to grow out of being children in faith, where we give in to false teachings. Instead, by speaking the truth in love we grow up into Christ, our Head, connected to one another and, again, building up one another in love.
As Christians we are to be distinctly different from our former way of life as unbelievers. Without the God of Scripture to be their authority, unbelievers will live darkened lives that give way to their passions. That is not the way we learned Christ. In him, we learned to put off the old self, to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to put on the new self that makes us to be more and more like him.
What is such a life like? It is marked by speaking truth, by self-control, by honest labor, and by building up others. In other words, it is marked by being grace givers. That is where we are now. Still learning what the new self as grace giver is about.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
As helpful as a chapter like chapter 4 may be, in which we are given specific instructions about how to live, there is nevertheless a danger of reducing the Christian faith to an instruction manual about how to live. We are not to do this; we are to do that. We should not be like this; we should be like that. Put this off; put that on.
Verse 30 wakes us up to the reality that someone very important is involved in our lives. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” The phrase seems to come out of nowhere. Indeed, Bible commentators cannot agree where it exactly fits in. Is it connected with what was said before about corrupting speech? Is it connected with what is said subsequently about anger? Just what is it that grieves the Holy Spirit?
Consider the role of the Holy Spirit. Verse 30 notes that it is by him that we are “sealed for the day of redemption.” That day is the day of Christ’s return when our bodies and spirits are fully transformed and glorified. Until that day, specifically while in the body, the Spirit is our seal, our guarantee that we will be kept safe in Christ. Ephesians 1:13-14 speaks of this: “In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
The Holy Spirit not only keeps us safe, but is the one who applies Christ’s work of redemption to us, so that we believe and continue to grow in faith and righteousness, otherwise known as our sanctification. He breathes life into us, regenerating us; he convicts us of sin and gives us faith in Christ; he enables us to choose what is right and to follow the path of righteousness and of love (3:16). It is the Spirit who unites us to Christ and to one another (2:22), so that the unity we possess is the “unity of the Spirit” (4:3).
So then, when we speak unwholesomely and act out of bitterness; when we are at odds with one another; whenever we sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit who dwells in us specifically so that we will live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh (cf Romans 8:1-16).
The Spirit is invested in us. Still, that does not explain the particular wording used – grieve, which denotes sorrow. I can be invested in people without grieving over them. I am emotionally invested in the Phillies, as my wife will attest. And when Chase Utley muffs a grounder, or Jason Werth strikes out with men on base, I might be filled with grief but not for them. I am exasperated with them. I question their commitment. I don’t feel sorrow for them, like their wives and their parents do. And if they should act badly off the field, I would get irritated with them, but I would not feel shame on their behalf that their wives and parents might feel. I know I should care about them and feel bad for them when they fail, but you see, I don’t have that kind of personal relationship with them that makes such feelings natural. I mean, it’s not like we are family.
But that is precisely how it is with the Holy Spirit. Listen to Romans 8:15-16: “[Y]ou have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” What is the Spirit doing? He is welcoming us into the family! That most intimate of all relationships – God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is his pleasure to welcome us in, to unite us to the Father and to the Son, to dwell within us so that we are no longer orphans.
And so the Holy Spirit of God grieves for us when we sin. He grieves that we sin, just as a mother or father grieves when their children go astray. He grieves over what sin does to us, again, just as a parent grieves over the effect that rebellion has on his children. Parents, you know of what I speak. And you know that you grieve because you love.
Remember that and take heart. These rules of behavior are not passed out simply to make us behave and keep us in order. They come from our God who loves us, who actually cares about us. The tragedy for the Gentiles who have rejected God ( vv. 17-19) is that the Spirit does not grieve for them, that he has given them over to do what they want. So, again, take heart. A Person cares, really cares about our behavior, because he loves us.
Now then, that takes us to the next putting off putting on exhortation: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We are to put off bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. Paul is heaping one synonym upon another to depict the ugly life of resentment. Scripture’s “ugly meter” does not scan the outer face, but rather the inner heart. How well do you measure? To go back to the Holy Spirit, the heart is where he measures beauty. What does he see?
Take this seriously, because the Spirit sees through the smiles and the pleasant exchanges. He sees through the busy work and volunteering. He knows the thoughts we have in bed at night. He hears and sees the harshness expressed in the home, the slander spoken among friends. He understands how much of what we do – even the seemingly good works we do – are motivated by inner resentment at the unfair shake we believe we have received from…well, from God himself.
Where is the love due us that others have? Where is the appreciation that keeps passing over us? Why have we not received the gifts and the advantages others have and who now receive recognition and good things as a result? Why must I be single? Why must I have the bad marriage? Why must I be childless? Why must I have the difficult child? Why?…well, the list could go on indefinitely. We are sinners who live in a fallen world. Our lives are an accumulation of ills created by the world and by ourselves. As Paul Tripp would say, we live in a “broken-down house.”
How are you going to live in that house? What dress will you wear? Will it be the dress of inner turmoil at the unfair shake you have been given – marked with bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice? Or will you put off such rags and put on the dress described in verse 32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another”?
Note how the three character traits all have to do with response to living in a sinful world. To be kind, to be tenderhearted, to be forgiving are all traits that we exhibit to counter the display and effects of sin. They go beyond giving the other person a fair shake.
We say, “All I want is what is fair.” But God our Father wants from us a spirit concerned about how we might glorify him through mercy. Listen to Jesus’ words from Luke 6:27-36:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Now, if this is the attitude our Father would have us exhibit toward enemies outside the faith, how much more, then, does he desire for us to be kind and tenderhearted and forgiving to one another in his family? How much more, then, does he want us to rejoice in the good fortunes of our brothers and sisters and to mourn with them in their misfortunes? How much more, then, does he want us to exhibit kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness in our homes? How much more, then, in the church, in youth group, in Sunday school, in the pews after the service? How much more are we to treat one another with kindness?
Let’s continue on. We have noted before that with each putting off putting on application, there is an accompanying mind renewal thought. It closes the verse and the chapter: “as God in Christ forgave you.”
That is the clincher, isn’t it? It is the statement that stops our mouths even as we open them to say, “but if you only knew….” “God in Christ forgave you.” Let’s examine this phrase carefully.
First, “God in Christ forgave you.” Some of us may have a great sense of our sins, and some not so great. What matters is how God regards us as sinners. Romans 3:10-18 depicts us in our sinful state:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“ The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
It sounds a bit harsh, I know; nevertheless, this is the perspective of the one true Judge. And it is that sin in us, in all of its vileness, that God forgives. What sin then has been committed against us that we cannot forgive?
Second, God in Christ forgave you. Again, we may have our own concepts of what God is like, but what does Scripture say? Perhaps the best single illustration is found in Isaiah 6, where Isaiah comes into the presence of God.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
He is the Holy God who cannot abide sin, indeed, who because he is holy must destroy sin and whatever sin taints. This is the God who has forgiven us. Who then are we that we would withhold forgiveness?
Third, God in Christ forgave you. What is it to forgive? For God it is to forget.
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19).
Our sins are forgotten. Forgotten! We lie in bed, we pause in the middle of the day, at anytime the guilt of a past sin strikes us. We ache from the hurt we caused; we feel the shame of folly; we mourn what we have lost. We cannot forget. But God does. When he forgives, he forgets. He does not hold our sin over us. Why then would we hold the sins of our brothers and sisters over them? Why would we refuse to forgive and to forget?
Finally, most significantly, God in Christ forgave you. You know the story of Abraham, who after twenty-five years of waiting, was granted the son that God had promised. One day that same God gave Abraham a heart-wrenching command – to sacrifice his son on an altar. Abraham took his son, his only son whom he loved, and traveled three days to a mountain.
7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:7-14).
God did provide an offering – not a ram, not a beast, not any created being, but his Son, his only Son whom he loved. He did not withhold his Son; he did not stay his hand. There, on Mount Calvary he gave his Son to make atonement for our sins. In Christ, through the sacrifice of his Son, God forgave our sins. If God would make such a sacrifice for us, what greater sacrifice must we make to forgive?
To be a forgiver – that is what it takes to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. That is what is required to build up the body of Christ in love. That is the new self one must put on. That is what being a grace giver is all about.
After all, forgiveness is what God has done for us, what Jesus Christ gave his life for; it is why the Holy Spirit is at work in us now – to make us know forgiveness for ourselves and to extend it to others. Will you not give what you have so graciously received?
And if you should not know this forgiveness, I say on behalf of Christ, “Come; come to the Savior, the God of salvation.” You will find him ready to forgive.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By D. Marion Clark. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org