“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
When it comes to the matter of forgiveness, you and I will never be without opportunity to practice this obedience. People will hurt us, offend us, disappoint us, and betray us, and when they do, will we be found walking out our talk? When they do, will we be found having a conviction about forgiveness? Will we be found extending forgiveness, just as forgiveness has been extended to us? Or will we allow bitterness to take root in our hearts, beginning a downward spiral of damaging emotions? It will be one or the other. Where will we be found?
I want to begin today by building on the foundation we laid yesterday: the cost of destructive speech. First, I will submit to you today that a root of destructive speech is unforgiveness. Notice, I did not say “the” root but rather “a” root. If destructive speech in any of its forms is a part of your life, it is fair to say that you may have an unforgiveness issue. If gossip comes easily to you, you may have an unforgiveness issue. If your words are commonly laced with anger or bitterness, you may have an unforgiveness issue. In Matthew 12:34, Jesus Himself tells us that our words come from the overflow of our hearts, meaning that what is in our hearts eventually comes out of our mouths. Our words matter, and our words are telling.
The second truth that I want to share with you today in regards to the issue of unforgiveness in our lives is this: Unforgiveness produces damaging emotions. Notice the downward spiral of emotions that is listed in Ephesians 4:31: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. The longer we allow ourselves to hold onto the offense, the more unforgiveness festers in our hearts. The longer unforgiveness festers in our hearts, the further down this spiral we fall. Like a coal from the fire in your hand is unforgiveness to your soul. The longer you hold onto to it, the more it hurts you.
We see in Ephesians 4:31 that it starts with bitterness, which is essentially a smoldering resentment. Bitterness is the mark of the person who refuses reconciliation. It is the record of wrongs written on the heart. What a lemon is to your mouth, bitterness is to your soul. If not dealt with, bitterness leads to wrath, which is a deeply settled anger that is often violent or eruptive. When not dealt with, wrath and anger lead to clamor, which is the noise of relational strife. Clamor is the mark of the angry person who requires everyone to hear their grievance. When not dealt with, clamor leads to slander, which is the depth of evil speech. These are words that are intended to injure, and these are words that are in no way fitting for a child of God. When not dealt with, slander leads to malice, which is ultimately a bad-heartedness. This is the root of all vices. Now stop and think about this for just a minute. It starts with an offense. If not dealt with, it can lead all the way down the spiral to malice.
How do we stop this downward spiral of damaging emotions? How can we avoid a life of unforgiveness? The key to finding freedom from unforgiveness is choosing to remember from how much God has forgiven you. This is exactly what Ephesians 4:32 is saying. Forgive just as freely as God has forgiven you. In the face of every offense, we have a choice. In the moment of every betrayal, we have a choice. We can choose bitterness, which as we’ve seen today leads us nowhere worth going. Or we can choose forgiveness. I’m not suggesting to you that it’s an easy choice. I’m telling you that it’s possible. Forgiveness is an act of the will. We can choose it or refuse it. The choice is yours, my friends.