17Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20That is not the way you learned Christ! 21For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves 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. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
There are times in one's own devotional reading when a passage of Scripture speaks directly to one and one's situation. The passage itself needs very little commentary or interpretation. It's a direct shot of medicine to your heart, or a shot of something to wake you up.
I believe this passage above is one of those passages. It's a passage that speaks directly to The Rock PC at this time and where we are, especially in terms of how some people feel about others.
We've used a phrase in our church, not terribly often but often enough -- "Doing Life Together." Now this phrase sounds much prettier and sweeter than what it really is. Like a Hallmark card, "doing life together" can become a sentimental slogan that belies the difficulties of actually doing life together.
Doing life together, as sincere followers of Jesus, is -- if not the most difficult -- one of most difficult things we will ever be called to do by God. So much so that the pages of the New Testament are filled with words addressing how believers should speak and act toward one another in righteousness and love.
In comparison, living alone as a hermit in the woods, spending time in prayer, reading, meditating, and chopping wood looks easier.
Alas, that's not the full Christian life for most of us. We are called, not to live as hermits, but as family members in the household of God. The family bond in the Christian case does not consist of familial relationships but of covenantal relationships rooted in Christ. In such covenantal relationships, certain things are out of bounds. Certain attitudes, emotions, and acts are inappropriate for followers of Jesus. As the passage lists, "bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice" are to be "put away." Instead we are called to "be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."
All of this most of us know, knowing in the sense of getting the right answers on a "Christian behavior or lifestyle" quiz perhaps. But if we are honest with ourselves, we do not "know" in the sense of truly believing it; and since we do not truly believe it, we cannot truly live it.
The difficulty of living it out is the difficulty of "doing life together."
But it gets worse. If we don't live it out, if we foster evil thoughts and attitudes, then a further trouble ensues. We make room for the devil. When someone other than the Apostle Paul speaks this way, we might think "the devil" is just a figurative form of speech. But with Paul, it's never the case in his Apostolic writings in Scripture that he speaks figuratively when he speaks about the devil. It's literal. "The devil" has a real referent.
Another way to put the matter, if we do not put away these evil, destructive forms of attitudes, acts, and words, we have more to deal with than just bad manners or potentially hurting someone's feelings. A darker, graver consequence is in store. A stronger spiritual battle gets invited. And who wants that?
Let's pray: Father God, we come in the merciful name of Jesus and we say to you, "help us." We need your help to overcome the fissures of trust and righteousness in our midst. We need your perspective at this time dealing with strained relationships.
We confess there is hope whenever we cry for help. There is hope as long as your grace is available. And there is hope as long as your Word has the final say. So, help us to do life together in love and righteousness. In Jesus' name, Amen.