I have always been a bit uncomfortable with the idea that God knows everything in my heart. I’m ashamed, and maybe a little afraid that he will be frustrated with me. You know that God is patient and that he forgives, but he is also frustrated when his people continue in their old sinful ways. Paul wrote, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The scary thing is that one time that God said that people had grieved him, it was right before he sent a flood to destroy them. It is actually possible to frustrate God so much that he gives up on that person.
You already know that you should not do things to frustrate your neighbors, especially when you have to live in close quarters, like in an apartment. Don’t play your music loudly, especially at night. Keep your voices down. Live kindly and carefully. Be concerned about what they want, otherwise there may be trouble.
It is the same way with God. You live in very close quarters—he lives in you. Remember that he has said that you are holy because of Christ’s life and death for you. Don’t provoke him by refusing to live a holy life. As we follow Paul’s line of thought, today we focus on how living a holy life means that we must get rid of our anger, and be forgiving like God is forgiving.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
1. Get rid of the anger.
Paul lists off a number of sins that grieve the Holy Spirit in this part of Ephesians, and a large part of that list is devoted to anger and the sins that come from anger. Anger causes God grief, because when we are angry we are so unlike him—so quick tempered, so unloving, so unforgiving. Paul says get rid of your anger. It is not like God’s heart. It grieves God. Now, last week we heard the verse where Paul says, “In your anger do not sin,” and I said that anger is an emotion, and when we are angry we should not let it turn into sin. But here, just a few verses later, Paul flat out tells us to get rid of our anger, because it is nearly always sinful anger.
Think about your own self-righteous anger and the sins that come from it. When you are angry, do your words and actions show Christ in you, or do you show sin inside of you? Probably every time you show sin inside of you. Now compare what you find in yourself to what we find in God. Our anger is the opposite of what we find in God’s heart. It causes the Holy Spirit grief to have to live around these sins in your heart.
In our hearts we find bitterness—that awful feeling for a certain person whenever he comes around. He is like a spoonful of horseradish to you. He puts a bitter taste in your mouth. This is sin in you, and it is so very different from God’s heart. In God’s heart we find kindness. Can you imagine Christ having a bitter taste in his mouth for anyone, when he knew what kind of sinners we all would be, and died for us anyway?
In our hearts we find rage—the passionate anger that boils over out of control. You lose your temper, and do and say things that are hurtful and sinful. In God’s heart we find patience. Can you imagine Christ boiling over, loosing his temper with anyone? Christ prayed for his enemies’ forgiveness while they nailed him to the cross.
In ourselves we find sinful anger. Here we need to compare our anger to God’s righteous anger. God has a right to be angry, because he is holy and would never do the things we do. Even still, God is very patient with us and very slow to be angry. He would much rather forgive. When he does get angry, it is because people persistently reject his will and earn hell for themselves when they could be saved. God also gets angry when he sees his people being hurt or oppressed. Sometimes that makes us angry too, and that is righteous anger. On the other hand, most of the time we have no right to be angry. We are far from perfect ourselves. Because of our sinfulness, we ought to be understanding and patient. We have more reasons to be patient than God does, but instead we always have less patience than God. Do you ever see Christ being angry at someone for wronging him? Consider how he endured the spitting, hitting, and beatings at the end of his life! It seems, for the Christian, that it would be better to avoid anger entirely, because it is almost always sinful.
Paul also mentions brawling and slander as sins that come from anger, because in your rage you might want to hit someone, or say awful things about them. Can you imagine Christ doing that? Our sinful anger is so unlike God, and so unlike the people that we really are in Christ.
God has said that you are holy people through faith in Christ, and Christ lives in you. Be like him. Imitate God. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” Paul wrote. Do everything it takes to get rid of your anger. God did everything it took to put aside his righteous anger, so that he could come near and bring you back from your sins. Be like God, and do everything it takes to get rid of your unrighteous anger, so that you can forgive those who sin against you too.
2. Be forgiving.
Be like God, who, as Paul wrote, “loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice.” In Christ, God did everything necessary to set aside his anger and forgive. Having every right to be angry and punish the sinner, God the Son himself came to earth to suffer the punishment and satisfy God’s anger. Christ’s life was like those Old Testament sacrifices. If you were an believer back then, you would bring a bull or a goat or a dove to the temple to sacrifice it for your sins. The priests would take that animal and kill it, and they would offer it up to God on the altar. The animal would burn, the smoke would go up to God, and God accepted that animal’s life as a substitute for your life, at least for the time being. You would not die because of your sins. His anger against sin was satisfied. God would smell the smoke of that innocent sacrifice and be pleased. In a better way, Christ was offered up for us, his life for ours. We will not die in hell because of our sins. God’s anger has been satisfied. He has seen Christ’s innocent life offered up in our place, and he is pleased. God’s anger is set aside. He comes near to you and forgives you.
You too, do everything that it takes to set aside your anger, so that you can be reconciled with those who sin against you, and forgive them. Be like God.
It starts with getting rid of that self-righteous attitude that can’t believe that someone would insult you or be inconsiderate of your feelings. Be humble, and admit that you have sinned too, perhaps even doing exactly the same thing to others and to God. Refresh yourself with God’s forgiveness. You are too weak to forgive, but God will make you strong. You need to be fed by God like Elijah in the desert. As Jesus explained in the Gospel, he himself is the food God gives you for your souls. Fill up with his love for you in the Word and the Sacraments. Through these he lives in you, and gives you the patience and love to forgive others.
If you have a problem with your anger boiling over so that you can’t see straight, do whatever it takes. It would be good to walk away from the situation, and spend some quiet time confessing your own sins to God. Read your Bible in a quiet room, and be assured of God’s forgiveness. Learn to pray like David in Psalm 51,
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
When you are full of Christ again and in your right mind, go back and reconcile. Talk through what happened. Confess your own faults, and don’t accuse. Don’t tell the other person what a horrible person he is, or what you would have done if you were in his or her shoes. Then you are just striking back in anger again. Stick to the facts of what happened, what was said, and how it made you feel. Acknowledge where you were in the wrong. Often confession is contagious, and the other person will admit his of her wrong too. If they do, forgive, just like God has forgiven you.
When you forgive, forgive like God does. Don’t hold a grudge, because it is hypocritical to say you forgive but secretly hold the memory of that sin in your heart. God erases the sin from your record. Do that for people who sin against you.
I know this isn’t easy, but it is what you want to do. As Paul said, you are God’s dearly loved children. Don’t little boys want to be like their fathers? Don’t little girls want their fathers to love them? I grew up wanting to be a pastor, in part because my father is a pastor. Growing up, I can think of times when he was working on the car or working in the garden, and I was there too because I wanted to be with him and be like him. In the same way, imitate your Father in heaven. Do the things he loves. Do whatever it takes to have a forgiving heart.
Remember that God lives in you. You have been sealed by the Spirit of God. He is in you, as a seal to guarantee that you will be in heaven with God. Don’t give him grief by your sinful life. Let go of your anger, and be forgiving, because God forgave you. Imitate God. Amen.