Ephesians 4:25-32, NRSV
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[b] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
This one’s tough, because here in this typical Pauline virtue list I hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 22: Love the Lord with everything, and love your neighbor. I hear the sermon on the mount: Bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse… And that’s tough for me sometimes, especially visa-vis those who have gone out of their way to hurt, damage, or slander you. See, the catch with this whole love your neighbor thing is you don’t get to pick and choose who is your neighbor. Your neighbor is just as much the person who might have hurt you the most in this world as it is the nice grandma-type neighbor who bakes cookies for your kids.
So yeah. This one’s tough for me, because this is not some pie-in-the-sky, unattainable vision for Christian utopia or something. These are Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus, trying to get through to them what the “grown up” Christian life looks like. That means it’s God’s will for my words to be gracious, even to the “neighbor” who talked junk about me recently to a friend. No room for bitterness. Be angry, but do not sin. Be a people who speak the truth in love. Don’t grieve the Spirit. Forgive as we’ve been forgiven.
Just like everything else in Christian life, methinks to live that out consistently will take miracles of God’s grace. Lots of them. So I find myself asking the Lord to keep having at me. Change me into the type of person who actually embodies this stuff. Make our church into a people who embody this stuff. Come, Lord Jesus.