Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32
It amazes me how inserting a simple word into a sentence can drastically alter its impact. Oh, how we wish the author, the Apostle Paul, put an out clause when it comes to our anger. If we were the writer of this passage, we’d rewrite it completely. Our version would read something like this:
“Get rid of some of the bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander. Love those who are lovable, but cling to the malice you have for those that caused you pain. Be kind and compassionate to those who deserve it, forgiving others on your terms, because, after all, the forgiveness Christ extended to you was less than those individuals who caused you scars.”
Unfortunately, God didn’t give us a red pen to make corrections. Instead, Paul charges us to get rid of ALL bitterness, rage, and anger. There are no exceptions, fine print or loopholes. Every single emotion that divides and damages our relationships we are told to tackle head-on. In this passage, Paul draws a line in the sand when it comes to those emotions that destroy relationships. He is speaking of those places and situations that have remained off limits for far too long.
Now, I know what you are thinking because I’m wondering the same thing. Is this charge by Paul even possible? Can you truly get rid of A-L-L anger? And even if it is genuinely possible, shouldn’t there be some exceptions to the rule? Because it seems impossible, this command often goes "in one ear and out the other."
Just like you, I have a few stories I can rattle off about past hurts and letdowns. I can point to wounds and scars that still sting to this day. And, chances are good, if you listened to my tale and I listened to yours, we’d feel entirely justified in our anger and bitter responses to situations we had no control over. We’d pat each other on the back and say, “you are right……you are owed something.”
Very few of us possess the strength and courage to challenge our perspective and suggest forgiving those who have caused us pain. And, we would never dare suggest that we are viewing life as a victim.
But, the reality is that’s precisely what we’re doing. When we take on the victim role, we lead the conversation with justifications and excuses. Our story becomes the crutch that prevents us from walking in freedom. It’s what we use to rationalize and excuse not only our behavior, but our heart set as well.
Since we can explain everything away, we don’t need to change or take responsibility for our response, or lack thereof. We can sit back and continue to stew over our rage. The only action required on our part is making sure the other person pays for the deeds done against us.
We think by playing the victim, we’re punishing the other individual when in actuality, we’re the one trapped in prison. The key to unlocking our cell is visible and at our disposal, but, when we look at the word inscribed on it we cringe. It’s the last thing we want to do. Every part of us resists this response. We don't want to submit to God's authority in this area, yet the key sits there every moment of every day.
FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness is what allows us to love those who haven’t loved us back. Forgiveness is what enables us to extend compassion to those who were uncompassionate to us. Forgiveness is the key to letting go of our anger. It’s the only cure for the freedom we so desperately desire.
Only you know those situations where you are resistant to write a different story of your past. Our story may explain our behavior, but it never excuses our actions. We’ve got to write a better story - one where our story collides with God’s forgiveness, and it shapes our response to the world. We don’t want to tell a story of a victim trapped in their past. There is nothing courageous about that tale. Real courage gets displayed in our ability to forgive.
• Who are you struggling to forgive? How is this influencing your anger and your approach to this relationship?
God, may I not use my past to justify my anger. May I not attempt to explain my behavior or excuse my bitterness. Remind me of the forgiveness You’ve extended to me. I will display the courage needed to write a different story founded on forgiveness. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.