Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (EHV)
25 Therefore, after you put away lying, let each of you speak truthfully with your neighbor, because we are all members of one body. 26 “Be angry, yet do not sin.” Ps 4:4 Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. 27 Do not give the Devil an opportunity. 28 Let the one who has been stealing steal no longer. Instead, let him work hard doing what is good with his own hands, so that he has something to share with a person who is in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come from your mouths. Say only what is beneficial when there is a need to build up others, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of every kind of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling, and slander, along with every kind of malice. 32 Instead, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us.
5:1 Therefore, be imitators of God as his dearly loved children. 2 And walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we might be imitators of God in our thinking, speaking and actions, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let’s see if you recognise this scenario:
You got dirty working in the garden or the shed. Your clothes and hands are filthy. You’re about to step into the house and someone yells out “You’re not coming in here like that! Take those dirty things off!”
So you strip off your dirty clothes and tip-toe your way to the laundry or bathroom so you can clean up. Then, once you’re clean, you’re allowed to enter the rest of the house.
Even though it’s a hassle, you don’t really want your dirt and grime to rub off on your clean things, because if they got dirty as well, there’d be so much more to clean! After all, you know the basic truth that clean things will never spoil dirty things, but dirty things will always spoil clean things.
In a similar way, there are certain words which are never welcome in the house of God. These words will always spoil, threaten, or divide a Christian community.
The problem is that, unlike the dirt and mud and oil which is so easy to see on our clothes and bodies, these unwelcome words aren’t so easy to see coming. The bitter and untruthful words creep into our midst by remaining dormant in our hearts, waiting for the opportunity to do their worst damage.
While some might say our eyes are a window into our souls, I believe our tongues become the slipway for what’s been dammed up in our hearts. Once we let out through our tongues what’s been hiding in our heart we can end up with a great and disastrous mess among the holy people of God!
Perhaps to explain what I mean, let’s think of an example.
Let’s say someone said or did something which hurt you. Perhaps they misunderstood you, told a joke which offended you, didn’t properly listen to what you said, said something you disagreed with, or neglected to do what you expected them to do for you. Whatever it was, it disappointed you and made you angry.
Now, it’s not always a sin to be angry. Even God got angry! We can be angry at injustice, unfairness and unloving actions. Sometimes it’s right to be angry, but many times our anger is self-centred because we figure people have to be punished for making us angry. Therefore, being angry may not be a sin, but it’s what you do with your anger which makes the difference.
So, thinking about what this person said or did which made you angry, what do you do about it?
Well, maybe you’ll let them have it! You’ll yell at them, put them down, call them names, or tell them off! It’s possible this still won’t have the result you expect or desire, so you’ll tell other people about what this person did or said, or at least share what you think they meant by it.
In most cases, your tongue will be your weapon of choice. You’ll say anything you need to say, including exaggerating truths or deceiving with lies, in order to win the argument, put them back in their place, convince everyone else how you’ve been victimised, punish them for their wicked ways, or get your own way.
In this case, your anger has turned into sin. Your mouth has exposed your sinful heart and mind. The hate and unforgiveness and frustration which has been dammed up in your heart comes gushing out the slipway of your tongue.
So, instead of making things better, your tongue has most likely made things worse. Now there’s more than one angry person in the house! Relationships are strained or broken, and everyone’s fuming or slamming doors or running away or yelling or crying.
I suppose the other alternative is to keep quiet and make out nothing happened. You don’t want to make a scene, cause further offence, or make things worse, so instead you say nothing. You choose not to speak to that person and remove your friendship from them. In this case, your tongue is still your weapon, but this time silence is the way you wield it. That silent treatment is also a powerful weapon of the tongue which, when used to punish or manipulate, harms relationships.
But what happens within you as you deliver your sentence of silence? What happens within you as you express your anger through your tirade of temper?
Well, you’ll probably dwell on your anger and the injustice done to you. Inside you’ll be fuming, and your anger might turn into resentment or hate. Because you feel they need to be punished, you’ll withhold forgiveness and hold a grudge.
It could be you’ll be tempted to tell everyone else about what they’ve done. You want people around you to support your anger and agree with your outburst. You may want people to affirm your own sense of righteousness and justify your sinful response.
On the other hand, you might not want everyone to know you’re holding a grudge, so you’ll pretend everything is fine, trying to live a lie in order to ‘keep the peace’ which really doesn’t exist within you. Because you’re not really at peace, it doesn’t take much for the next outburst to slip out the tongue the next time someone pushes those buttons.
This is because, as you hide your anger or pretend it doesn’t exist, it goes underground and festers. You turn into a pressure-cooker. One commentator said: “Those who keep their anger in a crock-pot are only inviting the devil to dinner”.
The bubbling anger, when turned inwards, often turns into anxiety or depression because it eats away at your self-worth and your self-esteem. And yes, the devil loves to play with the filth you keep in your heart and keeps flinging it at you to remind you of the crimes committed against you and harass you with any guilt or shame you feel for your own part.
Because we often use our tongues to lie, tell dirty jokes, abuse, put down and unfairly criticise, St Paul says to us Christians, “Don’t bring those dirty things in here! Take those dirty things off!”
Now, we might think the problem is with our tongues. If only we could control our tongues and know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. But that’s not the problem here.
Our tongues only reveal what’s already hiding in our hearts. The problem therefore is our selfish and self-centred hearts which always want to make everything about ‘me’! Because I’m the one who everyone has to obey and answer to, I’m going to judge and punish people with my tongue!
So, what’s the answer?
Well, the antidote for angry and selfish hearts is the truth of God’s Word.
On one hand we’re reminded of the truth that we’re too often selfish and self-centred. We’re often frustrated because we’re not getting our own way and want everyone to be punished for it. Our hearts have become full of deception and hate and resentment and they desire to hurt those made in God’s image and punish those for whom Christ has already died. Our hearts and tongues reveal how much we’re rebelling against God’s laws of love and compassion. Hearing the truth of our sinful state drives us to ask God for a new heart which will imitate God’s love.
We’re also reminded of the truth it’s not all about me. It’s about the body of Christ. It’s about the other person who has been made in the image of God. It’s about the other person who might be wallowing in despair and frustration who needs to be built up and encouraged. It’s about not giving the devil a foothold through words which tear down, cripple and destroy.
Then, as a powerful cleaning agent, God washes us with more truth – the truth of the Gospel.
So, the truth is this:
God forgives your sin. You’re forgiven for your angry tirades. You’re forgiven for your abuse of others. You’re forgiven for your brooding silence. You’re forgiven for neglecting to love and encourage. You’re forgiven for using your tongue to tell dirty jokes. You’re forgiven for your gossip and unwholesome talk. You’re forgiven for putting others down.
Don’t let the truth of the gospel stop at your ears. Let the truth of God’s undeserving and gracious forgiveness enter your ears, leak into your minds, and trickle down into your hearts.
Jesus died to pay for your sin, including the sins of your tongue, mind and heart. Through baptism you’ve become children of God; members of the one body who have been made holy by the washing of the holy name of God. You are part of the one body of Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
To give you further assurance that your sins are forgiven and to build up your faith, he invites you to receive the holy body and blood of Jesus; and guess where you put it…on your tongues! As Jesus’ body and blood enters your mouth and cleans your tongue of sin, let those forgiving words repeat in your mind, and enter your heart: ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin’.
But then what?
As you go from here to your homes, your work, or your places of leisure, how are you to live as children of the Truth? How will God’s forgiveness help you next time you’re angry?
Well, the challenge isn’t ‘don’t get angry’, but rather, ‘don’t sin when you’re angry’.
But how on earth do you do that?
Well, knowing how often lies go with anger to turn it into sin, truth may be a good place to start. You’re encouraged to speak the truth in love, but you speak it as gently and as winsomely as possible. Don’t use truth to hurt, manipulate or to exact revenge, but use truth to heal and build up.
Instead of speaking words which destroy or harm, use words which edify or build up. With the Holy Spirit’s help, use your tongues to encourage, to speak compassionately, and even to forgive.
Perhaps, even before you open your mouth, consider: “Is what I’m about to say going to build up this person or build up the body of Christ?” If not, perhaps you may need to reconsider what you’re about to say and how you’re going to say it.
Despite the fact your tongues can be your most dangerous weapon, it can also be the most powerful and effective tool for the Gospel. God has given us the most precious, holy, and expensive gift of all time and space – the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus Christ. We imitate God when we pass on this good news out of love for each other.
In this way, imagine your home, your workplace, and even this congregation being a place where people are no longer put down or attacked or manipulated or gossiped about, but rather this is where people feel built up, loved, appreciated, and forgiven. Instead of lies, anger and abuse coming out your mouths, let the love of God spill out your mouths instead!
So, by all means, let God wash those dirty tongues, minds and hearts, and in the place where anger and resentment once dwelt, put on the forgiveness and peace of Jesus Christ.
Don’t let the devil and his lies control your tongue, but let God use your tongue to speak the truth – the truth which builds up, encourages, and above all, announces the powerful and effective truth of forgiveness to those around you through the death of Jesus Christ. In this way, may…
…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your tongues, hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.