Church is a place where many different people come together to seek transformation. We know we are supposed to value differences and promote each person’s worth, but it’s much easier said than done. The words that Paul writes to the church in Ephesus speak to us today. Our emotions and frustrations sometimes make us angry and create real challenges for the church growth. The reasons we must manage our anger properly has everything to do with our Christian identity. If we don’t manage our anger, we are unable to forgive and we end up hurting others. If we deal with anger properly, if we get rid of all forms of anger and instead forgive, we are modeling the work of God in Christ “just as in Christ God forgave you” (verse 32). Paul encourages the congregations to give up practices that lead to broken relationships with God and others and engage in practices that build up the community.
Paul’s instructions for human life are so basic that many scholars think Paul has simply borrowed them from classic Greco-Roman ethics. Though there are plenty of similarities, Paul puts a Christian spin on each area of human relationships. The reason we must speak the truth is that “we are all members of one body” (verse 25). Not speaking truthfully destroys the trust. Without the trust, there is no unity in the Body of Christ. The way we speak is part of God’s work of grace in the world.
The letter to the Ephesians takes a completely different approach from anger management. It insists that we are members of the same body, and therefore we have a responsibility toward one another. And that applies as much to the way we speak to and about one another. From this perspective, Ephesians says that our words should convey “truth” and “grace” to each other. “Speaking truth is a practical matter, as the prophet Zechariah puts it: “Speak the truth to one another. Do not plan ways of harming one another.” (Zech. 8:16-17 TEV). From this perspective, “speaking truth” is a way of fulfilling our commitment to relate to one another in ways that promote peace and justice. This is in stark contrast to the anger and bitterness and strife that seems so prevalent in human experience. While we may say what’s really on our minds when we’re angry, that doesn’t mean we’re speaking “truth.” When our words are motivated by anger it seems they are much more likely to be “rotten words” (Eph. 4:29). “Rotten words” come from anger and they are like “rotten fruit”—they are the opposite of the “good fruit” that should characterize our lives in the body of Christ.
God does not forbid anger, which is a natural human feeling. But I think there is anger, and then there is anger. Paul does not support anger that causes something like a road rage but the kind of anger that feels deeply the injustice of oppression. It is an anger that motivates us to do something that will relieve the suffering of the oppressed. We need to avoid anger that destroys relationships.
Paul calls it to relate to each other with love and kindness and compassion. Make no mistake: it grieves our loving creator when we fail to do that. It grieves our creator when we act in ways that destroy the fabric of humanity. Our Christian identity calls for telling the truth in a way that our words “convey grace”.
The way to keep the body of Christ whole and healthy is to practice forgiveness. It is the only true antidote for poison of bitterness and anger. I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t easy. There are people who have harmed me in ways that still make me angry. But if I don’t forgive them, the bitterness consumes me. The only way for Christians to act is to be kind and sympathetic toward one another, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and to imitate our God by walking in love. It is the only way we can fulfill our calling to “be a sign in and for the world of the new reality which God has made available to people in Jesus Christ.”