As we are being transformed into the image of Christ, we are moved in two different directions.  The Holy Spirit within us causes us both to die to sin and to live for him.  We see dual call expressed in numerous passages throughout the Bible.  For instance, in our passage last week Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).”  To die to sin is what the Puritans called mortification, meaning to put to death.  We put to death our sin, our former way of life, the deeds of the flesh.  But this is only half of our calling because we are called not only to mortify our sin, we are also called to live for him.  This process of coming alive is called vivification.  We die to sin and come alive to Christ.

In the passage we will study this week, Paul puts this two-part call of mortification and vivification together.  He says we are “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).”

This putting off and putting on is an important principle to remember.  Too often we focus on only one side of this exchange.  We become consumed with killing a particular sin but never form a vision of what living to righteousness looks like.   We need to do both!  We ask God to pull the weeds out of our heart and to cultivate new growth to take it’s place.  Paul applies this principle of putting off and putting on through the rest of the chapter. He tells us to put off falsehood and put on speaking truth (v.25).  He says to put off stealing and to put on honest labor and generosity towards others (v.28).  Put off corrupting words and put on words that build others up (v.29).

Our study of kindness takes us to the last of Paul’s examples of putting off and putting on:

31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.   Ephesians 4:31-32

So we put off the rotten work of the flesh by removing things like bitterness and wrath and anger and we put on the fruit of the Spirit by being kind and tenderhearted to one another.

#1 Put Off the Rotten Work of the Flesh

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Paul paints a vivid picture here of what we are to put off: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice.  These are noxious weeds that will choke the life out of us.  They have not place in a heart that is ruled by Jesus and occupied by his Holy Spirit.  Three thoughts on this rotten work of the flesh:

-1- Things like anger and wrath and bitterness are windows into our hearts.

Everyone of us has a stated theology and a “lived-out” theology.  For instance, we might plainly state, “I believe that God is sovereign all the time.”  But sometimes when a trial comes into our lives, we start living as if we are God and he is not.  Our real theology, our hearts, are revealed not by what we say but what we do and how we do it.  Things like anger and bitterness, therefore, are windows into our hearts.  How do you figure out what your heart really thinks is most important? One way is to consider what makes you upset.  What arouses anger or wrath within you?  When what we value most is threatened, we get angry.  Anger isn’t always a bad thing.  God displays righteous anger when his glory is threatened.  The problem is we are roused to anger for selfish reasons — our comfort or our pride or something else is threatened.  Therefore, when we feel ourselves getting angry we have an opportunity to peer into the windows of our heart to see what is really going on.

-2- These responses are a false comfort.

When we are wronged by another, Jesus says to turn the other cheek.  But the world says get angry and fight back.  And when your enemy is knocked to the ground, take comfort that he is in pain.  This is supposed to make up for the wrong done to us.  This is a false comfort.  We are told that it’s the medicine that need to take to feel better.  But it’s not medicine at all — it’s poison.  Anger, wrath, bitterness, malice are deadly poisons.  They taste good going down but once that poison is into our system, we begin to rot.

-3- And in the end they will destroy you.  

Not only are these things a false comfort, in the end they will destroy you.  Like a garden that is not tended, these weeds will continue to grow until they choke out the Spirit’s work in your life. Pull the weeds early before they take over the garden, otherwise we run the risk of having nothing but weeds.  This is why Paul says one verse earlier,  “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”  These weeds will replace the Spirit’s work in your life and destroy you in the end.

#2 Put On the Fruit of the Spirit

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

So we put off things like anger, wrath and malice and we put on kindness.  God’s work in our lives leads us to do both — to put off and to put on.

Notice here that Paul does not say “be nice” to one another.  He says “be kind” to another.  There is a big difference between niceness and kindness.  The world tells us to be nice but Jesus says be kind.  What is the difference?  It comes down to a matter of motivation.

Niceness is often motivated out of a desire to gain (or to keep) approval from others.  If I am nice to you, you will love and respect me.  Kindness, on the other hand, is motivated out of love — love for God and love for others.

Niceness has ulterior motives.  I need you to like to me.  And so I will be nice to you to gain your acceptance. Niceness can be driven out of fear.  I am afraid of losing your love.

There are situations where the right thing to do isn’t the nice thing to do.  Like speaking the truth in love to someone who is caught in sin.  A nice person won’t confront because they run the risk of upsetting the relationship.  But a kind person, motivated out of love, will patiently and kindly speak the truth in love.

Niceness is self-centered while kindness is Christ-centered.  Nice people don’t want to rock the boat.  Kind people know if they don’t rock the boat, the boat might sink.  Nice people run from conflict.  Kind people see the necessity of conflict.

Are you a nice person?  Or are you a kind person?  How can we become truly kind rather than simply nice?  Paul tell us:

32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Ephesians 4:32-5:2

Kindness is a fruit of the gospel.  Because God has exercised kindness to us we are empowered to be kind to others.  Because we are forgiven we are able to forgive others.  The world says learn to love yourself and then you can love others.  The gospel offers something much better.  We have become beloved children of God through the sacrifice of Jesus.  We are eternally loved and accepted in Him.  This is the real fuel we need to love others even when its hard to do.  This is how we can be kind even it is costly to us.  To the extent that we are shaped by the gospel, to that extent we are able to love others.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is important not only to “put off” our old self but to also “put on” our new self in Christ?  What happens if we only focus on putting off and never on the putting on?
  2. In what way is anger a window into your heart?  What kinds of things make you angry?  What does this reveal about the idols of your heart?
  3. In what way is anger a false comfort for us?
  4. What is the difference between niceness and kindness?
  5. How can we keep from becoming simply nice people?
  6. How does the gospel motivate true kindness?
  7. Where can you exercise kindness this week?



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