The Exhortation To Love Our Brethren
One of the clearest teachings in God’s Word is that Christians are to love one another. We remember very clearly the words of John in 1 John 3 that if a man say that he love God and love not his brother, he is a liar.
We are going to look at one of the most beautiful of the passages in the Bible which teach us how we are to love one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the first verses of Ephesians 4 the apostle begins with the appeal, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation where with ye are called. with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love: endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
In chapter 4 Paul begins the more intensely practical section of the epistle, and he does so with a broad appeal that we are to walk worthy of our calling. The particular emphasis falls on our walk on the horizontal level: towards one another. Notice the exhortation that we are to walk “with all lowliness and meekness, with long-sufferin, forbearing one another in love.”
Long-suffering and forbearance are graces which we need, not so much in our walk before God, but as we walk with each other. So he says, “Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
It is very plain that we are being called to walk worthy of our Christian calling. And we are to do that as we live with each other as brethren. As members of the body of Jesus Christ, we are to be filled with all long-suffering and forbearing one another in love.
Then, in verses 4-16, the passage goes on to explain the unity of the body of Jesus Christ, the church. The passage explains how the ascended Lord Jesus Christ has given different gifts, all for the edifying of the body of Christ, and that your and my calling as members of the body of Jesus Christ is to edify one another in order that we might be strong and grow up in Jesus Christ and no longer be tossed about by every wind of doctrine, but that Christ might be praised.
Then, in verse 7, the apostle Paul repeats the exhortation that we are to walk worthy, only now in a negative fashion. He says, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind.”
He goes on to describe the life-style of the Gentiles, or of the unbelieving. And he says to us that that life-style grows out of several things. It grows out of the vanity of their own minds, which are darkened in their understanding. In other words, Paul is telling us that they have a totally distorted view of life. They think all wrong about this life. They live out of the pride of their own mind and it is seen in their life-style, verse 19, “Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”
And then he goes on to say in verse 20, “But ye have not so learned Christ.” You are not to have the same life-style as the unbelieving world, because you have learned Christ. You have been taught the truth as it is in Jesus. And Christ has taught you, he goes on to say in verses 22-24, that you are to put off the old man of sin with his deeds, and you are to put on the new man, which is created in righteousness and holiness.
So the setting of this chapter is this: You have a calling, a calling given of Jesus Christ towards each other. That calling is the very opposite of the world. They live out of self, for self. But you must put off the old deeds of your flesh and put on the new man in Christ, specifically in how you live with each other as fellow Christians, daily cleansing your life from all of the old corruptions of lying and stealing, evil speaking and lust, bitterness and envy, and putting on the new man in Jesus Christ in love, in tenderness, and in forgiveness.
Beginning, then, in verse 29, the apostle Paul begins to work that out in a very practical way. He tells us that we must put aside specific sins, and then we must also walk in a specific way towards each other. He speaks, first of all, of the sins of the tongue (verse 29), “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.”
The word “corrupt” means rotten or putrid (as a rotten vegetable). And it means that which is rotten in itself, such as filthy talk, dirty talk (let no dirty talk proceed out of your mouth as a Christian). But it also can be understood in terms of what we do with something that is rotten. We consider it worthless and we discard it. So he is saying, let no worthless communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good, for the use of edifying as the need may be.
Speech which does not become an instrument of grace and upbuilding among the people of God is worthless speech, even though it may not be outright foul and immoral and dirty. If it is speech which does not build up, we are to put it away, says the Word of God, and replace it with the kind of speech which becomes an instrument of grace to the hearer. All such speech which reflects, then, a judgmental attitude towards another, which reflects an unkind or censorious disposition towards another, whether it arises in differences of how a passage of Scripture is to be interpreted, of how we are to regulate the affairs of our own family, or if it is in what we call gossip (talking about someone else and talking in such a way that another person feels that he is being attacked). You see, by nature we are very insensitive. We are very dogmatic towards each other. One man once said that more harm has come to the church through the tongue than by all the opposition and bloody persecution of the enemies of the church.
So we have the exhortation: If we are to possess a tongue which is to be to the honor of God, then we must put away this worthless speech. Rather, we are to speak that which is good, to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers.
We are to have words which, according to Proverbs, are fitting words, words of encouragement, words of loving, sensitive, gentle, kind, wise exhortation and rebuke as are needed. Not the quick, irritable, judgmental response which leaves the person who has received it wounded and bleeding, or words responding in the same kind with more of the same, but words which are calculated to build up and to administer grace to the hearers, wholesome words, sought out of the heart.
Why are we to do this?
Look at verse 30: “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
Why must we have a tremendous awareness of the need to regulate our tongue?
Why must we be on guard against the ill use of the tongue?
The answer is this: because the ill use of the tongue grieves the Holy Spirit of God. How we speak to and about each other as Christians has a tremendous influence on the measure in which the Spirit will minister unhindered in our own lives and in our lives as a people of God. The Spirit of God can, of course, be grieved in other ways. He can be grieved with an unholy walk of life. But the idea here is this: the sinful, the quick, the irritable use of a tongue in marriage or in Christian relationships grieves the Holy Spirit as nothing else.
Now Paul is using a very graphic figure here. He is attributing a human feeling to God. We all know what it means to be grieved. That is a disappointment, a hurt. Then there is a sense of withdrawal in our heart, a sense of broken communication and a desire to turn away from another person and to avoid that person when you are grieved. And the apostle is telling us that that ought to bridle our tongues: the realization that corrupt and worthless and irritable and quick speech will grieve the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit has marked us as the property of God with a seal that cannot be broken.
Now, would you grieve, would you disappoint, would you offend the one who is keeping you unto the day of eternal redemption?
Then you must put away from you all unkind, all careless, all ungracious, all cutting use of your tongue. A speech which comes out of irritability, frustration, anger — put it away.
Now we come to verses 31 and 32. In these verses Paul moves from the sins of the tongue to the disposition of the heart. There is a progression. In verse 31 we see that this list of things is not simply given arbitrarily, but that one thing leads to the other. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
The idea there is that if these things are unchecked they will proceed one to the other. Bitterness will bring wrath. Wrath will bring anger. Anger will bring clamor. Clamor will bring evil speaking. And evil speaking will result in a deep disposition of malice in the heart. Now bitterness is a sour resentment which, if allowed, brings wrath and boils over into evil speaking. Let all bitterness…. Bitterness then is the hot-bed, the culture-dish, out of which anger proceeds. Put away bitterness, that burning spirit of bitterness which as an acid wants to work down into your heart.
You say, I feel I have been neglected. I feel that I am constantly being corrected by my parents. I feel my point of view is not being heard sufficiently. I feel that my ideas are not adequately esteemed. And something happens which causes me feel put-down, slighted, overlooked. And a spirit of bitterness arises in my heart. Let all bitterness be put away. says the Word of God. There is no justification for the bitterness which we like to nurse. We like to feel justified. We like to stroke ourselves in self-pity. That is the work of the flesh. If you do not put away bitterness, the Word of God says the result will be anger and wrath, not a righteous anger but a sinful anger. Your face will become red. Your jaws will become tight. You will begin to see red, and to see everything with a jaundiced eye. And then will come clamor and evil speech, shameful eruptions and arguments and dirty digs put in against each other trying to maintain your own self. Now, put it away. Do not tolerate it. Do not indulge it. Do not call it a constitutional weakness. Do not call it a personality fault. Do not say, this is my learned response. Call it nothing but what God calls it: sin. And put it away.
And put on the opposite. Verse 32, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
You see, the opposite of bitterness is kindness, tenderheartedness. That is the feeling of sympathy towards each other. That is the careful and sensitive handling of each other, when we remember that we are children of God who are very fragile and tender.
We must remember that we are, by nature, very volatile creatures. We are commanded to be tenderhearted and compassionate, forgiving one another. That word implies, of course, that we sin against each other. Forgive means that we are not to keep a list of faults with each other, of the things which have been done against us. Love beareth all things. Love thinketh no evil. Love takes no account of evil. It does not have a ledger book, a list where record is kept of grievances. Forgive, dismiss, send away those grievances.
And notice the motivation: even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you (verse 32).
Do you stand forgiven, as one who deserved hell?
Have you so offended the living God as to provoke His righteous anger?
Are you justly a recipient of death and damnation?
Well, if the infinite God, in all of his holiness and majesty, the offended God, has forgiven us in Christ, graciously, fully, and unconditionally, who are we to do anything less to those who have sinned against us?
The motivation for tenderheartedness and kindness is the awareness, is the felt-consciousness, of God’s forgiving mercy to me in Jesus Christ.
That is what Jesus taught in the parable of Matthew 18. You could cross-reference verse 32 of Ephesians 4 with that parable of our Lord in the last part of Matthew 18. You remember the man who was not conscious of forgiveness, and who was quick to go out to others and grab his brother by the neck.
You remember that parable?
The man who had a great debt that he could not pay and yet was forgiven?
Then he went out from that forgiveness and found someone who owed him a little something and he took him by the throat and demanded that he be paid. And Jesus said, “My father will come in anger and so do to you if from your heart you do not forgive one another.”
If we have tasted divine forgiveness, it cannot but create within us the desire to extend forgiveness to others. A man wrongs me. I must forgive him, then my soul is free. I must not wait until he comes to me. If I do not forgive, I jeopardize my standing before God. The brother who has offended me he has to answer to God. But I must forgive and go and point out his fault as one who is not a stranger to extending forgiveness to him. The spirit of forgiveness must be extended immediately, although perhaps a word of forgiveness cannot be extended until the brother has acknowledged his sin.
Then we come to the verses 1 and 2 of Ephesians 5. Read them a moment.
You remember in Ephesians 4:17 the apostle said not to be like the unbelieving Gentiles. Now in chapter 5:1 he gives the positive: be like God, be imitators, be followers of God.
How do we be followers or imitators of God?
The exhortation is: “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” The idea here is: do not walk as the unbelieving world. They walk in vanity, in greed, in lust, and in evil. But you, who have known the living God, must imitate God. You must show forth the love of God as the dear children of God. And as Christ has given Himself sacrificially for our sins, not thinking of Himself, so also must we put aside all of our sins, and love even as He hath loved us.
We must do that to each other. We began by saying that the test of whether we truly love God and have heard His Word and whether that Word abides in our hearts is how we live with each other. If we say, I have tasted the kindness and the mercy and the forgiveness of God and still walk in evil speech, bitterness, anger, and wrath against my brother or sister, in the home, in marriage, or in church, then our confession is nothing but a bunch of noise. But the proof will be found in the disposition of our heart and in our speech towards each other.
May God use the exposition of this wonderful Word of God for our spiritual good, that we may walk in love as the dear children of God.
By Carl Haak