A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:31-5:2 e). Don’t be unkind or bitter, but rather kind and loving.
Here is a whole series of six unpleasant attitudes and actions which are to be *put away* from us entirely. *Bitterness (pikria)* is a sour spirit and sour speech. We sometimes talk about a ‘sour puss’, and I guess there are sour tomcats too. Little is sadder in elderly people than a negative and cynical outlook on life. Quoting Aristotle, Armitage Robinson defines it as an ‘embittered and resentful spirit which refuses to be reconciled’. *Wrath (thymos)* and *anger (orge)* are obviously similar, the former denoting a passionate rage and the latter a more settled and sullen hostility. *Clamour (krauge)* describes people who get excited, raise their voices in a quarrel, and start shouting, even screaming, at each other, while *slander (blasphemia)* is speaking evil of others, especially behind their backs, and so defaming and even destroying their reputation. The sixth word is *malice (kakia)*, or ill will, wishing and probably plotting evil against people. Alternatively, it may be inclusive of the five preceding vices, namely ‘silently harboured grudge, indignant outburst, seething rage, public quarrel and slanderous taunt.’ There is no place for any of these horrid things in the Christian community; they have to be totally rejected.
In their place we should welcome the kind of qualities which characterize the behaviour of God and his Christ. We are to *be kind to one another*. The word is *chrestos*, and because of the obvious assonance with the name of Christ (*Christos*), Christians from the beginning saw its peculiar appropriateness. It occurs in the Sermon on the Mount for God’s kindness towards even ‘the ungrateful and the selfish’ (Lk.6:35). *Tenderhearted* is ‘compassionate’, while *forgiving one another (charizomenoi)* is literally ‘acting in grace’ towards one another, as God in Christ has acted in grace towards us. *Therefore*, because of God’s gracious attitude and generous actions towards us, we are to *be imitators (mimetai) of God, as beloved children*. Just as children copy their parents, so we are to copy our Father God, as Jesus himself told us to (Mt.5:45, 48). We are also to follow Christ, to *walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us*. The same verb for self-giving (*paradidomi*) is used of the heathen in 4:19. They give themselves up to licentiousness; we like Christ are to give ourselves up to love. Such self-giving for others is pleasing to God. As with Christ so with us, self-sacrificial love is a *fragrant offering and sacrifice to God*. It is thus a striking truth that sacrificial love for others becomes a sacrifice acceptable to God.
It is noteworthy how God-centred Paul’s ethic is. It is natural for him, in issuing his moral instructions, to mention the three Persons of the Trinity. He tells us to ‘copy God’, to ‘learn Christ’ and not to ‘grieve the Holy Spirit’.