Did You Hear What I Said? - Part 2

Ephesians 4:25-32

Tom Pennington  •  June 5, 2005
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For 12 years it was my joy to work in California at Grace to You, and I had a number of responsibilities there, but by the far the most difficult and challenging was to lead the cruises that we occasionally had. And to go with those who came from all around the country to enjoy a week of seeing beautiful scenery, God's creation, as well as studying together in the Word of God the week that we were there. Several years ago, I had the opportunity, we a couple of times took a cruise to Canada and New England in the fall.

And I'll never forget the opportunity I had the first time to go to Halifax, there in Nova Scotia. Halifax, you may not know, is a city with a very tragic past. The date was December 6, 1917. It was during the First World War. That particular day dawned sunny and bright in Halifax, and as was typical in time of war at most harbors, the port was particularly busy that morning. But there was one ship in that narrow port that was of special interest that morning. It was the Mont Blanc. It was a French ship that, just a few days before, had loaded up with explosives in the port of New York, and would soon set sail for Europe to take all of those explosives to be involved in the war effort there. But at 8:45 that morning, another ship accidentally struck the starboard bow of the Mont Blanc. Just a subtle passing. Sparks flew, fire started almost immediately, and that fire began to grow rapidly. The Mont Blanc's crew abandoned ship. They knew what their cargo was, and they knew that within just a few minutes, the whole thing would explode. They knew that there was nothing they could do to stop it.

But tragically, on land, and I said the harbor is very small there, so land was nearby. On land the collision and the resultant spectacular fire began to draw a crowd. On both sides of the harbor, office and factory workers, dock workers, delivery boys, naval cadets, housewives, and school children on their way to their morning classes, all were drawn to the docks and to the windows of the buildings surrounding it to watch the spectacular scene. Almost no one realized the danger of what would soon happen. The saddest part of the story is that the French crew of the Mont Blanc spoke no English. And so, no one understood their shouts as they rowed their boats in some cases, and in other cases as they swam to the opposite shore trying desperately to get away from the ship before she blew up. Instead, more and more people came to watch. Thousands of people gathered there on the docks.

At 9:04, about 20 minutes after the initial collision, the Mont Blanc exploded with a force stronger than any man-made explosion until the atomic bomb. The steel hull burst sky-ward and shrapnel rained for miles around. In fact, the part of the anchor of the Mont Blanc hit the ground more than 2 1/2 miles away. A cannon barrel from the deck of the Mont Blanc landed 3 miles from the harbor. The explosion sent a white cloud billowing some 20,000 feet into the sky, and for almost a square mile, nothing remained standing. Nine thousand people were injured. Fifteen hundred were killed immediately, and hundreds more would die in the coming hours and days: horrific, horrific incident.

This week as I was preparing to come back to the issue of communication it occurred to me what a graphic illustration that event is of what happens when you and I fail to communicate with each other in a godly way. Spiritual destruction results from the absence of godly communication. We too leave a trail of debris and devastation in our wake. James says the tongue is like a wildfire that cannot be controlled. It wreaks damage everywhere. We desperately need to learn how to use our mouths, how to talk like Christians in every human relationship.

We find ourselves toward the end of a multi-week study on marriage and family. We are dealing with this issue of communication, and a couple of weeks ago we began our study of Ephesians 4. Ephesians 4:25 - 32 provide us a comprehensive package, comprehensive instruction on how we ought to talk. Every verse in this passage except for verse 28 deals with the issue of communication. Let me read it to you, remind you of what Paul writes here. You follow along. Ephesians 4:25,

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity." … Verse 29. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

You'll remember that the context of these comments follows a great theological point. In verses 21 to 24 Paul records that those of us who are in Christ have been radically changed by what the Bible calls the new birth: regeneration. We are new creatures in Christ. We are a new man, and yet as Paul details in other places, we retain what the Bible calls our flesh.

Therefore, Paul leads us through this passage. He says even though we're new, we need to begin to put the right clothes on this new man that we are. We must be renewed in our minds by the working of the Spirit of God, using the word of God. And the very first practical issue that Paul addresses is not our relationships. He's going to get to that. We saw that in chapter 5 and the beginning part of chapter 6. Where he begins to apply this change that ought to be happening in our lives is with our communication, with our speech. You see, our communication, our speech, our talk is foundational to our relationships. Think of your own marriage for a moment if you are married. Whatever problems there may be in your marriage, they stem to some degree or other from a weakness in communication.

We started a couple of weeks ago to examine these verses together. And let me just remind you that for the purposes of our study on marriage, I'm doing something that I rarely do, and that is that we're looking at Paul's comment here logically, thematically, and not chronologically through the passage as I typically would. We began by studying verse 29 because it sets the tone for all of our communication regardless of its context. Whether it's marriage, or school, or work, family, church, whatever it is, here's what he says, verse 29. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear."

From this verse we learn the first key principle of Christian communication. Choose your words carefully. Choose your words carefully. You see, God holds us responsible to control the use of our mouths. And He tells us here that the goal of most of our words, did I say most? The goal of all of our words should be to edify, to build others up. In fact, he says, at the most fundamental level, in the second half of the verse, we must think of ourselves as ambassadors for Christ in what we say to others. In other words, through what we say, we are supposed to be an instrument of God's grace in the lives of others. Your mouth isn't your own. You're bought with a price. And now, your mouth is supposed to speak grace into all the lives that you touch.

That brings us to the second key principle of Christian communication that I want us to look at today. We're going to look at two more foundational principles of talking like a follower of Jesus Christ. And the second principle is this: always speak the truth. Always speak the truth. Verse 25. "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another." Truth is a rare commodity in our culture.

Shortly after we moved to Texas we had a plumbing problem. Now, I enjoy doing a lot of things around the house. I enjoy being a fix-it man. I used to work as an electrician through college and seminary. But one thing I don't enjoy, and never will enjoy, is plumbing. So, I called a plumber. And he was there, as typically they are, in a very short period of time, and with a great deal of financial damage. I said, alright, so what do I owe you. And he said, well, it depends. I thought that was an interesting response. And he said if you want to play this straight up here's the bill, this is what you owe me. He said, but, he said if you would be willing to sign this form telling my boss that no work was required here, then you can just write me a personal check for half the bill. I explained to him why I could not do that.

But that is simply symptomatic of the culture in which we live. One writer puts it this way,

Dishonesty has become a way of life in our society: candy bar wrappers twice the size of the candy; [Isn't that a frustration?] plastic toys that have no chance of surviving a few hours of play; advertisements that ignore a product's faults and exaggerate it's qualities; cheating on automobile repairs; cheating in the classroom; infidelity in marriage.

Dishonesty is part of the culture. In fact, a few years ago I had the opportunity to read a survey on lying. Sixty percent of Americans, the survey said, believe lying is sometimes necessary, 60%. Ninety-three percent of those who completed the survey admitted to lying regularly at work, ninety-three percent. And surprising to me, 2% even admitted to lying on the survey. I don't get it. I mean, I guess it's something they can't help. This is a pervasive human condition.

Turn back to Romans 3. Paul highlights this as he presents his indictment of man. Romans 3:10. You remember he says there is none righteous, not even one. There's not a single individual that is righteous in the sight of God. And he goes on to describe what mankind is like. That includes all of us without Christ. Notice what he says about our speech. Verse 13.

"THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE." [There's a graphic illustration.] "WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING, THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS; WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS";

This is true of all mankind. Why is it? Why is it that people lie? This is very important to understand. Lying is never an end in and of itself. Lying is merely a tool that sinners use to get something they want. To accomplish something they want to accomplish. And the Bible is filled with reasons that people lie. Let me just give you a few examples.

Some people lie out of fear. You remember Abraham. He was desperately afraid that if they knew that Sarah was his wife, they would like her so much they would kill him to take her. And so, he lied. He says she's my sister, which was a half-truth. But of course, a half-truth is nothing but a lie. And so, he lied out of fear. And sometimes you and I lie out of fear of the consequences of telling the truth.

A second reason the Bible teaches us that people lie is: to be thought well of. You remember in Acts 5, Ananias and Saphira sold some property. They come, and they bring the proceeds of that property to the apostles. Everything's fine so far, until they say, oh and by the way, we're giving it all to the Lord. Now, why would they have said that? … because they wanted to look good. They wanted to be well thought of. They didn't keep some of it for themselves. They were generous and gave it all to the Lord. So, they lied. And they ended up dying within a few moments too.

Thirdly: sometimes we lie to be considered spiritual. This is related to the other one, but a little distinct. We lie to be considered spiritual. Have you ever said to somebody I'll pray for you and never done it? We lie to be considered spiritual. First Samuel 15:13, Saul says to Samuel, "Blessed … [be] you of the LORD!" I have fulfilled, "I have carried out the command of the LORD." He's lying through his teeth. What did Samuel say to him? He said, well, you did, huh, well what means that sound of the sheep I hear? Sometimes we too lie to be considered spiritual.

Number 4: sometimes we lie to hide personal hatred. Proverbs 10:18 speaks of lying lips concealing hatred. Have you ever disliked somebody but you've talked to them to their face as if you really liked them?

Number 5: in our short little list here, sometimes we lie to gain financial advantage. Proverbs 21:6 speaks of this; wealth gotten by lying; whether lying on our income taxes to keep a little of the money we've earned, or lying at the office to get a little more money than we rightly deserve. We lie to gain financial advantage.

Number 6: sometimes we lie to hide our own guilt. You remember in Genesis 4, the first clear and graphic example of this. God shows up to Cain, and He says, Cain, got a quick question for you. Where's your brother? What does Cain say? "I don't know." Of course, he knew where he was. He just buried him out in the desert, out in the garden there. Now it's a desert. Then it was a garden. We sometimes lie to hide our own guilt.

Those are just a few of the reasons. But Paul's point here in Ephesians 4:25 is this: every believer must completely reject the practice of lying, and become known for telling the truth. He says "laying aside falsehood…." The Greek word that's translated "falsehood" is a word you'll understand because we use it in English as well. It's "pseudos". It refers to what is false, what is a lie. Paul means we are to lay aside all lying. The practice of lying. In the parallel passage, Colossians 3:9 he says, "Do not lie to one another, since you have laid aside the old self with its evil practices." Here in Ephesians he puts it this way, "Laying aside falsehood…." "Laying aside" is a graphic word. It pictures someone taking off a coat. It's used of Saul, or the men around Saul when they took off their coats and laid them at his feet. He's saying, "lay aside, as a coat," the practice of, in any way, distorting the truth. And instead, speak the truth. It's an interesting expression, speak the truth.

The verb tense underlines the fact that this is to be a continual habit, that this is to characterize our lives. Put it this way. Be speaking the truth. Let it characterize your life. This whole passage here underscores the principle of replacement. Lay aside certain things, be renewed in your thinking, and put on other things. So how do you stop lying? Well, here it is. The best way to stop lying is by telling the truth, is by focusing on being a truth-teller. How do you do that? Well, you start by confessing the sin of lying to the Lord and to whomever you've lied against. And then you confess the sin in your heart that was the cause of your lying.

Remember, lying is merely a tool. There was something going on in your heart that caused you to lie, that made you believe you had to lie. Confess that to the Lord, as well, and forsake that. And then, when you realize in conversation that something you've just said is not entirely true, begin a practice of interrupting yourself and saying, you know, wait a minute. That's not exactly right. Here's really the way it is. You do that a few times, and you'll begin to get in the habit of telling the truth. Paul says, speak the truth each one of you with his neighbor. That defines the limit of our responsibility. You remember in the New Testament, Jesus identifies neighbor as everybody God sovereignly brings across your path. So, He means everybody here. There's nobody exempt from this. Everybody you interact with, you are to speak the truth with.

Now, let me give you a little caveat. We're not talking about the kind of truth some people like to tell. You know, they use truth like a club to beat other people over the head, and they say, well, I was just telling the truth, just being honest. Remember verse 29. It sets the framework for our communication. We're not to speak a single word that doesn't build up, so we're only talking here about truth that builds up, honesty that builds up. We're never to speak untruth, but we're to speak truth in a way that builds people up. It's the truth spoken in love. God demands that every believer's interaction with every other person he encounters be without falsehood and be characterized by the truth.

And this is especially true with fellow believers. Notice how he ends the verse. "For we are members of one another." This is look, we're members, why would you lie? Imagine for a moment walking along the edge of a cliff and your eye lying to the rest of your body. You know, there's not really a cliff there. It's okay, you can go on and step over there. That's silly. Your eye wouldn't do that, because it has a sense of belonging. We're in this together. We're trying to preserve this thing. P aul says its true of you. We're members of one another. Why would you lie?

So, how does this truth of honesty, of truth-telling apply specifically in our marriages and families? Well, I love a quote from Paul Tripp in his book War of Words. Listen to what he writes. He says,

Dishonesty occurs when we look out for ourselves first. [And then he gives some examples. He says,] I want your respect or acceptance, so I trim the truth to hide my faults. I want your trust and confidence so I am dishonest about my failings. I find confrontation distasteful so I avoid issues that lead to conflict. There are some things I want from you, so I shade the details to my advantage. I do not want the embarrassment of confessing wrong to you, so I cast past events in a light that's favorable to me. I do not want you to know that I failed you so I concoct some acceptable excuse. [Have you ever done any of those things? We all have. He writes,] Truth is the casualty when I love myself more than I love you, but speaking the truth means I will not sacrifice personal truth for personal ease. [Listen to this, this is the key.] I will not buy what I want with the currency of falsehood. [I will not buy what I want with the currency of falsehood.] Instead, I will exercise the gift of self-control over the desires of my sinful nature, speaking honest words no matter what the consequences may be to me.

Often in counseling it will come out that some things have been bothering one of the members of the marriage for a long time. One of the spouses is absolutely torn up about something. And yet it will come out that for years they've felt this way, and they've never bothered telling their spouse. I'll hear something like this. "I didn't know you felt that way. I didn't know that was so important to you. That's what's been bothering you? I only wish I had known." Do it in love, not in anger, but always speak the truth.

The third principle that should govern what we say is: watch your attitude. Watch your attitude. Verse 31.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

You see, it's not enough merely to watch the content of what comes out of our mouths. We must be especially vigilant to watch our attitudes when we speak. And like it or not, your attitudes are on display every time you open your mouth. Have you ever said, boy, that guy sure has an attitude. How did you know? You see, we can discern attitudes in two ways. We can discern it from verbal communication, that is, the content of what people say; but we can also discern it from non-verbal communication, things like tone. I can say thanks, or I can say thanks and mean two entirely different things with the same word. Tone communicates.

Or sometimes it's body language that communicates attitude. You're talking to your spouse, and you're sighing, uhh, okay. Or there's rolling the eyes. That one does well. You know, you hear something you think is ridiculous, and you don't say, "well that's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard." You just roll your eyes, like "there she goes again". "There he goes again." Or there's the look of amazement, or disgust. You can communicate a lot without saying a word, or by adding to the words you say.

So, what are these bad attitudes that express themselves in our communication? Well, notice verse 31. It's bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. You remember a couple of weeks ago we looked at Matthew 12:34 where Christ says that your mouth and my mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. That means our words are only symptoms of our real problem. Your words don't come from the back of your mouth. They come from your heart. So, if you want to talk like a Christian, you have to address the sinful attitudes that lie behind what you say. What are these attitudes? Well, Paul gives them to us here.

Verse 31, the first one is: bitterness, bitterness. Aristotle wrote that this word speaks of that resentful spirit that refuses to be reconciled. This refers to a hardness that harbors resentment about the past. A bitter person is one who nurses a resentment and keeps a list of wrongdoings. Sometimes it's just in the mind, and sometimes the list is actually written out. It's not unusual for me to have someone come to my office and bring a list of wrongs their spouse has committed against them. You and I may not write it down, but we're often guilty of doing it in our minds; keeping track of a list of wrongs against us. And if we harbor bitterness in our hearts, it will express itself. Psalm 64:3 speaks of aiming bitter speech like an arrow. You see, the bitterness comes out of our mouths as an arrow directed into the heart of the person against whom we're bitter. The verse we read in Romans 3:14 speaks of a mouth full of bitterness.

Almost without exception, when there is a couple who are arguing and fighting in a marriage, and that describes their marriage more than not, almost always they are both filled with bitterness. They have nursed resentments and wrongs just as if they had a book with all of them written down. Let me tell you something. If you nurse that bitterness, it will always come out. Eventually, it will come out.

Sometimes it comes out in the next word: wrath. This word is an interesting Greek word. It comes from a word which means "to burn". It's also translated in the New Testament "rage". Angry tempers and outbursts of anger. The Roman writer Seneca said that this word speaks of an explosion, an eruption. We've all known people who were so prone to walking around, and everywhere they went they erupt. There's an explosion. We call a person like this a person with a short fuse. We say they are an angry person. The Bible calls it wrath, or outbursts of anger. We've used that expression with our children as we've tried to teach them about what's in their sinful heart. That outburst of anger is sinful before God. But there's another kind of anger here.

Notice the third word is: anger. Now this can be confusing because the Greek word that's translated as "anger" here is also translated in other places with the English word "wrath". So just make a mental note, when you see the word wrath in the New Testament in your English Bible, realize it could be either of these two concepts: either the concept of the eruption or the explosion that's the word wrath here, or it could be this word anger. And this word that's translated "anger" here, this Greek word, Seneca says this Greek word refers to "a settled gnawing hostility". This describes the slow burn, festering steadily on resentment. You see, some people blow up, and others clam up. But either way, it's an expression of anger. Sometimes it's an outburst and for others, it's clamming up and holding and allowing that anger to build inside, seething and growing and festering like an open wound. But, left unaddressed, that kind of slow burning anger below the surface will eventually become an explosion.

Picture a volcano. You've read or studied about those in your life. Take these two words. The word translated "anger" here is that lava "building up pressure beneath the mountain, growling and growing every day stronger and more angry". And then the word "wrath" is "the explosion". When the top goes, and it expresses itself in full fury, the sudden eruption. But regardless of which anger is in your heart, whether you're prone to outbursts of anger everywhere you go and in the context of your family or marriage, or whether you're the person who clams up and allows that resentment to grow in your heart. Either way, it will absolutely eat you alive. You cannot take fire to your chest and not be burned. I can't tell you how many people I've counseled who have allowed anger and bitterness to grow in their hearts. And guess what. Rarely does it hurt the person against whom they're angry as much as it destroys their own soul.

The fourth word Paul uses here is: clamor. That's a most unfortunate translation. This is not a word we use all the time, clamor. You probably haven't said to your kids, kids, stop that clamoring. The word literally means "shouting". In fact, let me show you this word in a non-theological context, and you'll get a picture of it. Turn to Acts 22, Acts 22:22. The context here is Paul is in Jerusalem, he's just been arrested, and he's giving a speech. They're listening to him until he says I've been sent to the Gentiles. Verse 22.

They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!" And as they were [there's our word] crying out and throwing off their coats and tossing dust into the air,

That sound like anything that ever happens in your family? You see, this word "clamor" refers to all angry yelling and shouting. It is the violent outburst of a person who has completely lost his temper and begins to yell at others. If you find yourself often raising your voice, shouting at your spouse or family members, you are guilty of clamor. You have broken this command of God. And moreover, let me tell you something else, the only way you'll get over clamoring, shouting, yelling in the context of discussions in your family, is by dealing with the heart issue, what's going on inside of you. We'll talk more about that in a moment.

The fifth word is: slander. You'll recognize this Greek word as well. It's the word "blasphemia". You hear the word blasphemy? It's often used of blaspheming God. When it's used of people doing it to other people, we would call it "verbal abuse". It involves "name calling, belittling, attacking the person." Why do we do those things? If you struggle with this sin of slander, name calling, "you idiot, I can't believe you're so stupid" you suffer from this sin. Realize that it grows out of your heart. Proverbs 10:18 says it grows specifically out of hatred in the heart. He who conceals hatred has lying lips. That's one approach to take. You have hatred in your heart? You can conceal it and lie, or the second half of the verse, you can spread slander. Paul says don't use words to tear down. Don't use words to verbally abuse another person. And instead, deal with the hatred that's in your heart, or the bitterness that's in your heart, the anger that's in your heart that's giving expression to those name-calling, belittling, attacking words.

And he ends with this word: malice. It's usually translated "evil". In this context it refers to "hateful feelings". It's a settled disposition that delights in hurting somebody. It's a desire to harm someone. And if you can't, or don't have the courage to do it physically, you do it with your words. Unfortunately, I've had to deal with wives who had husbands given over to malice. Hateful feelings in their heart. And they didn't have the courage to take it out on them physically for fear of the social ramifications of it, or being arrested, which is what I encourage every wife to do whose husband ever lifts a hand against her. Call the police and have him arrested. Government is a tool of God to punish evil-doers.

But instead of doing that, they take it out verbally. They let their tongue be the weapon of choice. "Malice", it comes from "hateful feelings". Paul says bitterness, anger, whether outbursts or an angry heart, and malice, a desire to hurt someone else. Those are the wrong attitudes that often poison our speech. And those sins express themselves either in silent hostility, in angry shouting, or in verbal abuse. And Paul says let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you along with all malice. Don't put up with the slightest trace of these things in your life, believer. Let me ask you. Is your interaction with your wife or family ever characterized by any of those things? Does one or more of those attitudes describe your relationship? What would your wife say? What would your husband say? Or better yet, what would your children say?

If you find yourself in verse 31, how can you change? How can you stop? Let me tell you something. You cannot by the sheer force of your will stop living in verse 31. It can't happen. Jeremiah the prophet says, "can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? The obvious answer is no, can't be done. Then, if that could happen, you also can do good who are accustomed, who are in the habit of, doing evil. But here's the good news. Christ can change you. I can speak to you personally. I, in my own life, experienced this kind of change. When I came to Christ, I was an angry young man, often in fights, fistfights defending my supposed honor against others. And by God's grace, I'm not what I used to be.

God can change you. If you're in Christ, He can change you. If you're not in Christ, if you'll come to Christ, He can change your heart, and He can give you the capacity to obey and not to speak this way, not to live this way. So how does He do it? Well, God's not going to zap you. Let me just make that clear. There are no divine zaps to get over this kind of speech. He expects instead you to work hard. What should you do?

Well, remember the context of this command. He's just taught us that the process of sanctification is to put off the habits we've been characterized by, to be renewed in our thinking by the Word of God, and to put on new habits. So, what should you do? The way to change is to let the Word of God that you've heard today renew your mind about what you ought to be, and then to put off bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. And you put those off by putting something else on.

What do you put on? Well, verse 32. Here are the attitudes we should foster and promote. Be or become kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you. You want to get over living in verse 31? Then begin by being kind. Decide to be something other than you are. Work at being kind, and as you seek to obey, Christ will change you. Be kind.

Luke 6:35, Christ says, "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 … [God] Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. The sun shines on the house of the evil person on my block as well as the righteous. God is good, and gives good things to all of His creatures. He shows His kindness even to those that hate Him. To be kind means to show a sweet and generous disposition. It's a heart that delights not in hurting the other person, but in doing good to them. Determine to treat your spouse with kindness. The only way to become what you aren't is to work at becoming something else. Work at becoming kind, and you'll be less and less bitter and angry and showing malice.

He says be tenderhearted. This is a rare Greek word. It was used by Hippocrates to describe are you ready for this, the healthy function of the intestines. It's because the Greeks associated the emotions with the digestive organs, and so this word came to refer to being emotionally disposed to someone. Feeling for someone from the depths of your bowels. Thus, the translation "tenderhearted". It means "compassionate, sympathetic". And listen, you know what this looks like. You know what tenderhearted looks like. If you've ever seen a mother hold a newborn, you've seen a tenderheartedness, a compassion. Is that how you treat your spouse? Or have you allowed the years to make you a bit cold and sterile, and perhaps even angry and bitter?

Thirdly, Paul says be forgiving. Be forgiving. This is the right attitude to show. Colossians 3:13, a parallel passage, gives us the context of this forgiveness. There it says, "whoever has a complaint against anyone" if anybody ever has a complaint, if you ever have a complaint against your spouse, if you ever have a complaint against somebody in your life, then Paul says, be forgiving. You've probably heard the quote "a great marriage always has two great forgivers." If you're going to sin against each other your whole life, you'd better get used to forgiving. You say, well, I just don't think I can. I mean after the way I've been sinned against, I don't think I can do that. Well, look at the model back in Ephesians 4:32. "forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you".

William Hendrickson in his commentary writes, "to forgive just as God in Christ forgave means to forgive freely, generously, whole-heartedly, spontaneously, and eagerly." This issue of forgiveness is so important, we don't have time really to look at it in detail, but turn to Matthew 18. Let me just remind you of what the Lord says about the importance of this issue of forgiveness. Verse 21 of Matthew 18.

… Peter came [up to Him] and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" [Now the rabbis taught three times, so Peter thought he was being generous.] Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." [490 times And in Luke 17:4 He says seven times a day. And then He gives a parable.]

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. [And] When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him."

Now, folks, a talent was worth more than fifteen years wages. And he owed ten thousand talents. That means this man owed one hundred fifty thousand years of labor. This was an absolutely ridiculous unpayable debt. Never, in a million years would he repay this debt. Since he didn't have means to repay, verse 25, his lord commanded him to be sold. Alright, I can make a little bit of this debt back by selling you and your family, along with his wife, children, all that he had, repayment to be made. The slave fell to the ground, and he asked for more time. Verse 27, "… the lord of that slave felt compassion [But he didn't give him more time.] … [He] released him and forgave him the debt." [one hundred fifty thousand years of work. What a relief that would have been.]

"But that slave went out [verse 28] and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; [Now, a denarii was a day's wages, so this wasn't a small debt, but it was only three months, three-months-worth of work, 3-months-worth of labor.] … he seized him and began to choke him saying, 'pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him saying, 'have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling, and went and threw him into prison until he should pay back what was owed. [I guess he figured family members would try to pitch in and repay the amount to get him out of prison.] So, when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved … [They came, they] reported to their lord all that had happened."

Verse 32,

"Then summoning him, his lord said to him, You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me." [one hundred fifty thousand years worth.] "Should you not … have had mercy [also] on your fellow slave, in the same way … I had mercy on you" [and forgiven him the 3-months-worth of labor he owed you?] "… his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers" [notice, not the executioners, the torturers,] "until he should repay all that was owed him."

This is a picture of divine discipline. You don't want to forgive your spouse? You don't want to forgive those against whom you have a complaint? You'd better take it up with God. He doesn't take it lightly. Notice the next verse. "My heavenly Father," [Jesus said,] "will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." This is an important issue to God. Forgive as God has forgiven you.

There are three of the four key principles of talking like a Christian:

Do you choose your words carefully to administer grace to those who hear?

Do you always speak the truth in love regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of what it may cost you?

Do you watch your attitude, avoid bitterness and anger and expressing those things in outbursts of anger and in shouting, slandering, coming out of hateful feelings in the heart?

Peter summarizes what we've talked about this morning this way. Turn to 1 Peter 3:8. Peter writes,

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For. "THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS, MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT. HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD. HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT." [Why? Verse 12.] "FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL."

May God give you the grace today to make some things right in your relationships if that's necessary, to deal with your sin and to acknowledge to the Lord and to your spouse that by your communication to your spouse and to others around you, you have slandered the name of Jesus Christ. May God give us all the grace to change.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your Word. We always see ourselves reflected in it. We see our hearts. We see our sinfulness, and yet, Lord, we also see your grace. Thank You that You are forgiving, just as You encourage us to be, that we come to You today and acknowledge our sin with the use of our tongues, and You hear us, You receive us, and You forgive us.

Lord, help us to obey You. Help us to talk like Christians, like those who follow Christ.

And Lord, I pray for the person here today who has no capacity to obey these commands because they are not in Christ. They've never bowed the knee to Your Son. They have no power over their flesh. Lord, I pray that today You would open their eyes. Help them to see the reality of their condition, and to cry out to You for the very forgiveness that's described in this passage.

We pray it in Jesus' name, Amen.