Proper Behavior in the Church

November 25, 2012 / No. 3647

Dear Radio Friends,
With chapter 3 of the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul concludes his development of the doctrine of the church. The instructional part of his letter is completed. But this does not mean that Paul has nothing more to say about the church. Beginning with chapter 4, Paul begins the section of this letter dealing with the application of the truth concerning the church. We receive a series of exhortations here in Ephesians on how we, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, must behave toward one another in the church.
All of this is based upon what we have learned up to this point in this letter of Paul. The mystery of the church is now known. The Gentiles are fellow heirs and of the same body and partakers of God’s promise in Christ together with the church of the Old Testament. That church, chosen from eternity, is built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles. Christ has established the proper offices in the church of the new dispensation in order that through the preaching of the gospel we might grow together as a body of Christ. Now the church is no more a child but has come to the stature of a full-grown man. Believers therefore need not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine that comes along.
On the basis of all these truths and more, we are now enjoined in the next several chapters how to behave as members of the body of Christ in this world. We must put away lying and speak the truth to one another. We must never let the sun go down upon our anger toward another. We must not give place to the devil. We must not steal but labor in order to buy the things that we need. No corrupt communication ought to come from our mouths, but only that which will edify the neighbor. We may not grieve the Holy Spirit by means of filthy or unkind talk.
That last of these admonitions given here in chapter 4 of Ephesians is found in verses 31 and 32. And these are the two verses that we intend to consider in our broadcast today. They read:
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
This admonition teaches us how we are to behave towards one another as fellow members in the body of Christ. If we are members one of another, endeavoring to keep the unity, then this is how we are to do it.
One cannot help but notice to whom the instruction of these verses is addressed. Paul does not write to people who call themselves believers but who will not have anything to do with the church institute. Paul admonishes people who are a part of and members in that church that was organized in the city of Ephesus. This letter is not written to a person who sits in his house refusing to join himself to a church yet reads this letter as if he is able and as if he may apply this to himself without being a part of the church. Paul speaks here to people who together are members in a church institute and, therefore, stand in a close relationship to each other. In these verses and the surrounding ones Paul admonishes how we are to behave together within the realm of that church.
The admonition that he gives has two sides to it: negative and positive. One is the flip side of the other.
What we have in verse 31 is the negative side, that is, what must not characterize us. We read there: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” There are five terms used here: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking. What is not evident in the translation is that these words work toward a climax. It becomes clearer when we translate these words as such: bitterness, agitation, anger, yelling, and blasphemy.
Bitterness is the first because bitterness is rooted in the heart. When something is bitter to the taste it is not merely distasteful but intensely so. When Paul speaks of bitterness, he speaks of bitterness that arises in a person’s heart and soul. One who has turned bitter inside is filled with intense animosity toward another. One is filled with reproach. He is filled with ill-will or even hostility toward another. God’s Word says that this is a vice; this is a sin that ought never to characterize us in our relationship with others in the church. This bitterness is the root of many a problem in the church.
We come from different backgrounds and express oftentimes different opinions. Not everyone in the church has the sweetest personality. Each of us has his own peculiar quirks. Each of us has his own likes and dislikes. What is worse, each of us has his own pet sins—the sins of personality that reveal themselves oftentimes in our words and actions. What happens in the church is that the various members of the church can become hurt or even offended at times with the words or actions of another. Rather than simply shrugging it off, they allow themselves to become bitter toward another. They begin to harbor ill feelings or even hostility toward another.
When such sin is conceived in us it develops into agitation. The King James here uses the word “wrath,” but agitated is more accurate. We become exasperated by what another is saying or doing. To put it in down-to-earth terms, our blood begins to boil. We get ticked off at that fellow member in the church. Mind you, this is still below the level of outward actions. This agitation is going on in our minds. We are not thinking very sweet thoughts about another person.
If this agitation is not controlled, however, it will then break loose into outward action. We will become angry (there’s the third word) at another person. In other words, we will now show this member that we are agitated by saying something that was better off left unsaid. All the hostile and bitter thoughts we have of that person will reveal themselves in an open show of anger.
And if this anger is not held in check, then it will reveal itself in clamor or, better, in yelling at the person (there is the fourth word Paul uses). How often that has happened in the church, too. Two members are not only angry and show their hostility toward one another, but it results in a quarrel between the two. Two saints who are of the same household of faith, who are both members of Christ, actually, sad to say, start yelling at each other. And both go home deeply hurt and offended, so much so that it is almost impossible for them to come to the table of the Lord and partake of communion with each other. Such behavior in the church among fellow saints is forbidden. And it is so because it is sin.
The last step is that of evil-speaking. Actually the word used here in the Greek is “blasphemy.” When yelling begins, a person can be given over to foul language or, worse, cursing and swearing. So when bitterness is conceived it produces agitation, which in turn produces anger, thus resulting in yelling and then blasphemy—all expressions, mind you, of our sinful flesh, our sinful nature.
The command of Scripture here is this: Put all of these, together with all malice, away. Those two simple words, “put away,” are rather telling in the original language. They mean to “lift up for the purpose of casting away.” And the idea expressed is that these vices are not so easy, really, to cast off from us. They are a part of our sinful flesh. They cling to us oftentimes as a part of our own particular nature. They are who we are, sad to say. So the Word of God says here: lift them up (as heavy as they might be) and throw them away! As difficult as they might be to cast off, do it! Put them away. And that, together will all malice, that is, with all the baseness of our character. That is what malice refers to here—all morally inferior or base behavior. Take the base corrupt vices of your sinful flesh and put them away, throw them away from you. That is our calling from a negative point of view.
From a positive point of view and, therefore, the antidote for the negative, Paul instructs us how we are to behave properly in the church. This is found in verse 32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Ah, yes, kindness. That is the exact opposite of bitterness. It basically means mild-mannered or pleasant. We must be pleasant and kind in our attitude toward our fellow saints, easy to get along with, approachable, friendly. Not just to one member or a few members, but to all members of the church. There are those in the church, of course, that are willing to show this to some of the other members since they like or prefer them over others. But when it comes to those whom they do not particularly care for, they are harsh and impatient and at times even snobbish. The command here is that we must be kind to everyone in the church. It must show in our demeanor. It must be carried through in our actions.
And this, Paul says, must be coupled with tenderheartedness. We must be tenderhearted. A synonym of this word is “compassionate.” We must be able to feel sympathy or empathy for others in their need or when someone is hurting. Again, it is easy to be cold and callous when it comes to the feelings of others. We can say things without thinking of what the effect might have on others and what they think. The Scriptures here enjoin us to put ourselves in the shoes of other people. We can have bad days. And this can often affect us in our own outlook on life from one day to the next. Well, others can have a bad day, too. And we must be sensitive to the feelings, the hurts, the hardships that others bear and be ready to build them up and encourage them. Life in this old world is not easy, after all. God’s saints must be there to help each other through with compassion toward each other.
Then, finally, and this is the tough one, we must always be ready and willing to forgive one another. Yes, even if they do not ask us to forgive them.
Now, I am not trying to soft-soap sin here. When a person is openly and rebelliously walking in the way of sin against us and God, then forgiveness is given by way of repentance. After all, we are enjoined here to forgive as God forgives. And God forgives those whom He does according to strictest justice.
We are not talking about these heinous sins into which some can fall in the church. We are talking about the everyday nitty-gritty life within the church of Jesus Christ. We are all sinners. We all have, as I mentioned, our quirks, our oddities, our weaknesses of nature, and even our own sins. There are those in the church with strong-willed natures who do hurt us and who always seem to be carrying a grudge. There are those who, without much thought, can make a sharp remark that offends us or makes us angry. And the easiest thing to do is to let bitterness build up inside of us. It is easy to carry a grudge back again.
The idea of this passage of God’s Word is this: We know who that fellow saint is. We know his or her character. Love him or her for who he or she is. Be ready to forgiven him when he says something that might sting a little bit. Do not be so quickly offended or thin-skinned and then think we have to set them straight. Let the matter slide and simply forget about it. Be ready to forgive. That covers a multitude of sins. And it makes for peace in the church.
The principle that underlines this entire passage is this: Even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. I realize, of course, that Paul writes this in connection with the last phrase of verse 32: forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. But think about it, fellow believers. This is the very principle that should dictate all of our behavior toward others in the church. Take a close look at what God has done for us. Who were we? What was our attitude toward God when we were lost in sin?
Paul writes of this in Romans 5: we were ungodly, we were sinners, we were enemies of God. And then think of what we did to offend God. He commanded you and me to be holy as He is holy. He commanded us to keep His commandments and to walk in His statutes. He said to you and me, “Love Me and love your neighbor.” And what did we do? When we were lost in sin, what was our attitude toward God? We despised Him. And we did what we wanted to do. We walked in the way that seemed right in our own eyes. And how often we still do that, thinking that we know better than God what is right and good for ourselves. I mean, we know the commandments of God. The preaching even reminds us of those commandments (or it should). We even study them in our homes and families. But have we ever sat with those commandments and picked out that one commandment that we are so completely lousy at keeping correctly? We ignore it. We do not like to study that one. We set it aside as if God does not really mean that commandment to be numbered among the ten for us personally.
The point is, look at our attitude toward God and what we do even now. Do we understand that we deserve nothing from God but vengeance and wrath? We deserve to be the objects of God’s bitterness and anger.
But God is rich in His mercy towards us. He is a God of compassion. He is merciful and tenderhearted toward His people in Christ. He understands their sin and He pities them in their misery. Listen to Psalm 103:8-14:
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
There is God’s attitude towards His chosen people who are saved in Christ. He is ready and He is willing to forgive us. Shameful, is it not, when we are not willing to forgive our fellow saints as our heavenly Father forgives us?
So, that really is the principle behind our behavior toward our fellow believers within the body of believers in the church of Christ. God has forgiven us. He sent His only begotten Son into this world in order to merit by His death our forgiveness. God, in His great love, has sent our Savior to fulfill all righteousness according to strictest justice. Now, when we fall upon our faces in sorrow and repentance, God does not retaliate with anger or bitterness or revenge. He is quick to forgive us and to cast our sins far from Him—as far as the east is from the west in distance.
Oh yes, this forgiveness we receive comes by way of confession. But we are forgiven. And so also must we forgive. Why? Out of thankfulness to God for the salvation we have received. The very power behind our being able to be kind and tenderhearted is the power of the cross. Christ has sanctified us. He has cleansed us. We are those who now live out of the principle of thankfulness before God. Put away bitterness, agitation, anger, yelling, and blasphemy. Why? Out of thankfulness to God for what He has done for us. Be kind and ready to forgive. Why? Out of gratitude for what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. It is true that all of this takes a sanctified heart. Our sinful flesh is so strong to pull us in the other direction. But by means of the salvation earned for us, we can put aside (and maybe it will take some effort but we can put aside) the vices mentioned here by Paul. And we put on the beauty that is ours when we are compassionate, merciful, and kind.
There is a reason why we are commanded as we are in these couple of verses that we consider yet today. There is a reason for the admonitions found in all of the verses surrounding this passage. When we follow in these ways, the result will be unity. Yes, the church must be guarded against false doctrine and ungodly living. These are not to be tolerated in the church. But of extreme importance, even in maintaining the truth in confession and walk, is the unity of the church of Christ. We are reminded of how this chapter started. In verse 3 we are told that we must endeavor to keep the unity. By walking in the prescribed way of this Word of God before us, the unity of the church of Christ is maintained. No, not merely the unity of the body of Christ in general, but the unity of the church institute to which we belong. We are a community of believers, called to live together in the bond of faith. We are members one of another. And we strive with all that is in us to keep the unity of the church to which we belong by means of putting away all bitterness and being kind to one another.
When this is done, then the result is unity. Blessed unity. And when unity is found, then there is also peace. And that is the ultimate result. No benefit of keeping the command we receive in these verses is better than that. There is nothing more beautiful than the peace of Zion. We pray for her peace. In those same prayers we ask for the grace to behave properly toward one another. What a beautiful Word of God we receive here.
Fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord who are listening, how good and pleasant is the sight when brethren make it their delight to dwell in blest accord.
Let us pray together.
Most merciful God and heavenly Father, we are thankful for the church of Jesus Christ and that Thou hast called us into this world and placed us into that body of the church so that we might join together with other believers in worship and in praise of Thy name. We know we are called upon to dwell together in peace and unity. Grant to us Thy grace and Thy Spirit that we might indeed love one another and show kindness and tenderheartedness toward one another. And where we have failed (and we all do), Father, forgive us of those sins. Go with us in this day. For Christ’s sake alone do we pray, Amen.