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A Person, who Knows he is Forgiven, Forgives

 

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Darkness and Light.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1954 to 1962. This volume is the fifth in a series of eight volumes. The contents were originally preached as part of a systematic exposition of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It was published in 1982.

 

`Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, 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.'

Ephesians 4:31-32

 

In the last two verses in this fourth chapter, the Apostle is continuing the list of particular injunctions that he is giving the Ephesians in order to teach them how exactly and in practice to put off the old man and to put on the new man. That is the overruling principle, that is the doctrine which is to cover everything. The Apostle is not interested in conduct as such, he is interested in conduct as it is an expression and a reflection of the new life which they had received as the result of regeneration. In verse 31 we come to exhortations which in general remind us of the exhortations found in verses 25 to 29. There were references there to speech, and to anger, and so on, and some may therefore wonder whether the Apostle is not here repeating his injunctions. But he is not doing so. Though the terms are the same in certain respects, there is an essential difference; and the difference has been brought in by the thirtieth verse, in which we are told not to grieve `the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption'. The difference is that in verses 25 to 29 Paul is looking at conduct in general, giving a very general and broad description of conduct, whereas after verse 30 he becomes much more personal and intimate, and is much more concerned about the state of our spirits. We can therefore regard these two verses as being a kind of practical exposition of what we are to avoid if we are anxious not to grieve the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

 

Notice, in the first place, that the Apostle adopts the same formula as before; he puts his negative first, and then his positive, and then he supplies us with a reason or a motive or an argument. We have seen him doing this in every one of these particular injunctions, so that we have nothing to do but to follow the Apostle's own division and classification. In verse 31, therefore, he brings us first of all to the negative: `Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.' And as we read these horrible words we are again given a picture of the mentality and the outlook and the inner life of those who are not Christian. The Apostle has given us several descriptions of the unconverted world in this Epistle; and, of course, what he wants is that these people should see that old life as it really is, so that seeing it they shall so hate it as to renounce it and turn their backs on it for ever. Put it away from you, says Paul, have nothing more to do with its evils, discard them; these things must never be true of you in any sense. But, obviously, he again feels the importance of particularising. And we too have to do this. It is not enough to confess sin in general, we must confess particular sins. It is rather a dangerous thing to confess sin in general. We bring these things home to ourselves by confessing them in particular. And the Apostle teaches us to do so by giving us these lists.

He starts with the word bitterness, `Let all bitterness be put away.' Bitterness is a state of the spirit. It denotes a sort of persistent sourness and an absence of amiability. It is an unloving condition. Indeed, it is a condition which never sees any good in anything, but always contrives to see something wrong, or some defect and deficiency. The proverb tells us that `All seems yellow to the jaundiced eye', and the same is true about bitterness of spirit. It puts into everything it looks at some unworthy element. Because the person himself is jaundiced and bitter, everything he looks at is tinged by the same thing; it is like looking through coloured spectacles. The Apostle brings this out in many places, as for example in the third chapter of his letter to Titus, `For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.' We need not stay with this. I would remind you that we have already had ample opportunity for seeing the sham, and the pretence and the veneer which the world puts on. It gives a wonderful expression of affability, while the fact is that behind the paint and the powder there is nothing but bitterness, the result of brooding upon wrongs, either real or imaginary. We are all bitter by nature when in an un regenerate state; for which reason, as Christians, we have to put it away from us. I grant that there may be genuine grievances ; but what makes us bitter is that we ponder them and meditate upon them and stay with them; in other words, we nurse our grievances, we dwell on them, we pay great attention to them, and if we are tending to forget them we deliberately bring them back and allow them to work us up again into a state of bitterness. But, of course, this happens not only with real grievances; many grievances are purely imaginary, and have no real substance at all, but because we have become bitter we see them where they really are not, and we nurse them, and, in turn, become more and more bitter.

Bitterness, then, describes the kind of life which has become sour; it is not ready to believe good of anybody or anything, but always ready to believe evil; it is always somewhat cynical, takes the glory out of everything, tries to spoil everything. When it is shown something beautiful, it does not praise the ninety nine per cent that is beautiful but always points to the one per cent of defect. We all know the kind of individual who is always pointing out the troubles and the defects and the faults and the blemishes. There are many such people. Every preacher, I am sure, could name them. There are some people who never write and thank you for sermons, but if you should by a mere slip of the tongue say something wrong they write to you about it. It is the only time they do write. The bitter spirit sees the faults and the blemishes but never seems to see the good. I do not want to stop with this.

     There are, of course, many people who feel that they have had good cause for being bitter; there were many people in the two World Wars who lost a husband or an only son. It is very easy to understand how they have become bitter with regard to the whole of life; but it does not excuse it, it is wrong, they should never have allowed themselves to become bitter. They have been dealt certain hard blows by life, but that is no justification for bitterness or for sourness or for becoming cynical. Even if life is described to them at its best, their very expression lets you know that they are not really disposed to allow themselves to enjoy anything. The saddest people I know in this world are these bitter people; they make themselves miserable and for the time being they make everybody else miserable. It is a terrible thing to be nursing a grievance, real or imaginary. Put it away from you, says Paul, put it away from you; that is the old man, that is the pagan, that is the unregenerate world, it should never appear in the Christian.

 

But let us move on to the second word. Bitterness is something that always expresses itself in speech and in action. So after naming it, the Apostle mentions wrath and anger, as the forces frequently behind behaviour. We have already considered the terms, so I only remind you that wrath means violent excitement or agitation of the mind, a kind of boiling over; whereas anger is a more settled and regular state and condition of the mind. Anger is never at the same white heat as wrath; it is a more settled condition of the mind and of the spirit.

In turn, wrath and anger tend to express themselves in speech. Here again Paul uses two terms, and the first is clamour.

Clamour means a kind of brawling; it includes shouting and violence. We all know, alas! what it means; men and women in a state of rage or of wrath do not speak to one another, they shout at one another, they lift up their voices. What a terrible thing sin is! and what an anatomy of sin we have in this chapter, what a dissection! But it is true! This is life! And this is something with which we are all, alas, familiar, this brawling, this shouting, in an uncontrolled way. It is something that should never be present in the life of the Christian, either in an individual sense or a corporate sense.

But there is something that is even worse than brawling or clamour, namely, evil speaking. And evil speaking means the cool, deliberate saying of things that are harmful to others; it includes, the enjoyment linked with slandering others, deliberately saying or repeating things about others that are calculated to do them harm. Evil speaking! What a description of modern life! What a description of the world today!  and as it has always been! It is an evil that makes so utterly fatuous all the nonsensical talk we hear about development and evolution and progress. The unconverted world was like that two thousand years ago; it is exactly like that today. No change at all! Think of the evil speaking in which the world indulges, and the harm that is done to character, and the harm that is done to life, in this way.

And then, as if all this were not enough, the Apostle adds the word malice. Malice means wicked desires with respect to others, a determination to harm others, again a kind of settled spirit which so hates others that it thinks of ways of harming them, plots such ways, gloats over them, and then proceeds to put them into practice; it is a kind of malignity. Evil, malicious gossip and slander also form a part of this malice that he tells us all to put far from us.

The Apostle says that all these evils must be put away from us once and for ever as something loathsome and blasphemous. Actually the term evil speaking is really our word blasphemy, and therefore the teaching is that we not only blaspheme when we say things that are wrong about God but we can really be guilty of blasphemy when we say evil things about one another. After all, man is made in the image of God, and to speak evil of another person is a form of blasphemy, for you are speaking evil of someone who has been made in the image of God. So the Apostle says that all this kind of thing is totally incompatible with the new man.

But again I must remind you that the Apostle is exhorting the Ephesians to put away all this evil. He does not say that because they have become Christian it has automatically dropped off. So any kind of evangelistic preaching that gives the impression that the moment you become a Christian all your problems are left behind is just not true, and the Apostle realised that the Ephesians were still subject to this kind of thing. And again we notice that he does not merely tell them to pray that these sins may be taken out of their lives. Pray by all means, but do not forget that Paul tells the Ephesians to put them off, to put them far from them, and we must do the same. It is not pleasant. It is not at all pleasant even to preach on these things; it is very unpleasant for us to face them, and to see if there is within our hearts any bitterness of spirit, or any malice or hatred or wrath or anger; but, says the Apostle, we must do it, and if we find any vestige or trace of these things within us, we must take hold of it and hurl it away from us, trample upon it, and bolt the door upon it, and never allow it to come back. We must do just that! Let it, he says, be put away from you! Put it away once and for ever, and realise that it is a denial, a complete denial of everything that you claim to be and to have as newborn people in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Holy Spirit of God has come to take up His blessed residence. If these things are in us the Holy Spirit is grieved, for the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. All that is contrary to this fruit must be put away, says Paul. But, thank God, he does not leave it at that! He goes on to his positive injunction. Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.

 

Thank God, I say; that the Apostle does not stop at the negative but brings us on to the positive. Indeed, as I have already said, you cannot truly deal with the negative unless you are at the same time doing the positive. The way to get rid of the defects is to cultivate the virtues. To use a well-known phrase of Thomas Chalmers, what we need is to apply the expulsive power of a new affection. I use a simple illustration. The way the dead leaves of winter are removed from some trees is not that people go around plucking them off; no, it is the new life, the shoot that comes and pushes off the dead in order to make room for itself. In the same way the Christian gets rid of all such things as bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and evil speaking and all malice. The new qualities develop and the others simply have no room; they are pushed out and they are pushed off.

We must watch very carefully the precise way in which the Apostle gives his instruction. We read `Be ye kind', but what he really wrote was `Become kind'. Not simply be kind, but become kind. In other words he is suggesting here a process of cultivation. We are quite deliberately to cultivate this type of personality and of attitude towards life, and as we do so, our lives will be filled with these positive qualities and there will be no room for those of a contrary kind. Remember again our Lord's own illustration at this point. It is no use just getting rid of the devils that are in the house and sweeping it and garnishing it; if the Holy Spirit does not come in, the spirit you have driven out will come back and bring others with him much worse than himself. Now that is the principle here. That is where, in the last analysis; morality in and of itself never succeeds. And you and I, alas! in the second half of the Twentieth Century are living in an era which is just a visible proof of the breakdown of mere morality. For the last hundred years people have been turning their back upon Christianity, saying that miracles, the new birth, and much else that is supernatural, are not necessary. But of course, they say, there is good moral and ethical teaching in the Bible, so we hold on to such things as the Sermon on the Mount, for example, but we shed the rest; we want the morality, and we will teach the morality only. And what is the result? The present immoral, and even non-moral, state of society! No, you cannot do these things without the positive. Become, says the Apostle; cultivate it, go in for it, give time and attention to it. In other words, you see that the word used indicates that this does not happen automatically. You do not receive it as one critical experience. Instead, become! go on! You cannot suddenly get rid of the bitterness and become kind in a flash; far from it! This is again a settled condition, a process of cultivation, which results from the application of the truth which we have seen and believed.

At this point the Apostle introduces his great positives. Having got rid of all the horrible things detailed, what have we to become? He tells us in great and, glorious Christian terms! And what wonderful terms they are, and how different from the things we have just been looking at! Kind, tenderhearted, forgiving! You will never find these great Christian terms anywhere else. Let us look at them again. What is the meaning of the term kind in `Be ye kind one to another'? It is certainly the opposite of being bitter, but beyond that, the real meaning of the term in its origin is to be useful to, and to be helpful to others. So that it is not merely a condition or a state, but it is a condition and a state leading to a desire; the kind man is a man who is useful and helpful to others. The bitter man, of course, stands apart and looks, and in his sour way he is never helpful, is never useful. Bitterness, as we have seen, always takes from, it detracts, but kindness is that which gives, it is useful, it is helpful, it is always valuable. It means being benevolent towards others.

Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 13, tells us: `Charity suffereth long, and is kind'. Be kind one to another! Have and cultivate this benevolence of spirit and of attitude; instead of always being on the look-out for something you can find fault with, be always on the look-out for something you can praise. Help others. Life can be hard, difficult, and very trying, and in consequence certain people do become sour and bitter. Do not add to that bitterness, but try to help them---help them over the stiles, help them to carry their burdens and to solve their problems and bear their difficulties. That is what is meant by kindness. Be always on the look-out for an opportunity of showing benevolence and of giving assistance and aid.

 

Next, the Apostle introduces another wonderful term---tenderhearted, which scarcely needs exposition. Remember how he had told us that these same people, before their conversion, were 'past feeling'; and that meant that their hearts had become hard, in a kind of calloused condition. The lining of the heart, which is meant to be smooth and soft, becomes hard and like leather; it becomes stiff, and it not only does not move and bend itself, it prevents the heart that is inside it from responding and beating and moving as it should. And the Apostle tells us that as Christians we are to be the exact opposite of that; we are to become tenderhearted, or according to what is probably a better translation, having strong bowels of compassion. It is an appeal for us to become understanding and compassionate and loving. The ancients invariably put the seat of the affections in the bowels. They regarded the bowels, the abdominal organs at any rate in general, as the seat of the emotions. We find Jeremiah crying out, `My bowels, my bowels!' He means that he is suffering anguish in his spirit and in his feelings.

If we are to understand certain expressions in the New Testament it is essential that we should bear this in mind. For instance, Paul says to the Philippians: `God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ'(1:8), by which he means, `I long after you all with the affection and feeling and the sentiment of Jesus Christ Himself'. And then again later: `If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies. ..' (2:1). Once more he is talking about sympathy and compassion and understanding and a loving nature. The Apostle Peter uses exactly the same term in his First Epistle: `Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful' (3:8); where to be `pitiful' means to be tenderhearted; it means that you are not in the calloused condition in which nothing that has happened to anybody else makes the slightest difference to you. It means that you have not come to the sorry conclusion that life is a hard and a terrible business, that it is every man for himself, that you are going to live for yourself, and that you really cannot give your time and energy to others and their problems. Now that is the attitude that you have got to put away. And the opposite of that is to become tenderhearted. This means that you are concerned about other people and that you can feel for others, that you are sympathetic towards others, and that you have got a great heart of compassion towards them; that indeed you can see so much the troubles of others that you forget your own troubles.

Is there any word that is needed so much in this modern world of ours as just this? There is nothing to me that is so appalling about life today as the hardness that has entered into it. I am constantly hearing from people who have this sort of complaint against our National Health Service. Not a few doctors and nurses are good Christian people, and what I am saying does not apply to them, I know, but it does apply to many others. The patient is regarded as a number. It is to me almost beyond comprehension that anybody treating a sick man should never talk to him or explain to him what is the matter with him, or what is happening to him, or give him a word of comfort and of cheer. He is not just a test tube! But, alas! one is given to understand that much of that kind of thing is coming in, and the tender heartedness and feeling for another is ebbing away. That patient can be regarded impersonally in this way passes comprehension. But it is true, unfortunately. Life has become hard. Professions become a means of making money so that men can enjoy themselves in various ways, and the former wonderful personal touch and sympathy is going out of life. And this is happening all around us in all kinds of ways. Are not many problems being avoided and evaded? I know that there are great difficulties in life today, and that many changes have taken place; even so, I find it very difficult to understand people who somehow seem to be so self-centred that they can avoid plain human responsibilities and can harden themselves against the need of others. That is pagan; the pagan does not care for others; he is out for himself and his own enjoyment. Against all this, we need to give heed to Paul's word---`become tenderhearted'!

 

And then the Apostle goes on to say, forgiving!---the opposite of malice. `Forgiving one another', he says. It means that we must realise that men and women are what they are because of sin. Paul does not say, as so many foolish people, who, misunderstanding Christianity, are saying today, that they refuse to see any wrong in people at all. That is not Christianity; that is make-believe. Christianity is always realistic. Certain people, says Paul, have done wrong to you! Forgive them! He does not say, Pretend that they have done nothing; that is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is realising to the full the wrong they have done, and then forgiving them. It means forgetting also, and we are to forgive and to forget readily and freely. And it is only the Christian who can do this, for he has become able to look at the offender now with a new eye. Before, he saw him as a person who was doing him harm; now he sees him as a victim of sin, a pawn and a dupe of the devil; and he says, Yes, he is like that and I was like that, and there are relics and remnants of that in me still; who am I to say I will not forgive that man? He reasons it out in terms of his doctrine and his theology, and begins to feel sorry for the man. The result is that he forgives him. The fact is that his heart has already become tender towards him, he is already kind in his outlook, and quite inevitably the result is that he forgives him.

But we move on to the last section, which supplies the reason why we should do this, or how we are to do this, the grand motive for it all. Listen to the Apostle. `Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you'. Look at this even as. It means that if you forgive and are kind and are tenderhearted towards others you become like God. Our Lord put the same teaching in the following words: `Love ye your enemies, and do good and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest, for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil' (Luke 6:35). Be kind, says Paul, become kind, and as you become kind you become like God, for God `is kind to the unthankful and to the evil'. Do we not want to be like God? That is the exhortation! Read Psalm 103, find the same teaching there: `Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases'. Read that Psalm and become like that. But we need not go back as far as that, for the Apostle himself has said it all in this Epistle. In chapter 2 we read, `But God'---who is so different from man by nature and from man in sin---`who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith He loved us ... and hath raised us up together ... in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us. ...' So that, as the Apostle exhorts us to become kind, he is exhorting us to become the children of our Father which is in heaven, to become children of the Highest, to be perfect, even as God is perfect.

But a second argument is used by the Apostle. He tells us to forgive others in this way because God has forgiven us. Notice that he does not say, Forgive one another because God is going to forgive you. Not at all! He says, `even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you'. It has happened. This is most important, for the only people who will carry put this exhortation of the Apostle are those who know that God has forgiven them. Nobody else! But those who do know that He has done it, will forgive others. The vital question therefore is: Do you know that your sins are forgiven? How can I know, says someone, that my sins are forgiven? I will give you a very good test. If you want to know whether your sins are forgiven or not, here is my test. Are you forgiving others? Are you ready to forgive others who have harmed you and sinned against you? Or look at it in another way: Does this argument of the Apostle appeal to you? As I read out these words, `Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you', are you softened in your feelings? do you feel melted? are you ready to forgive at this moment? If you are, I do not hesitate to say you are a Christian. But if bitterness is still rankling there, and if you are saying in spite of these glorious words, `But after all, I did nothing and I don't deserve such treatment', you had better go back and examine your foundations. I find it very difficult to see how such a person can be a Christian at all.

This is the Lord's argument in a parable found in chapter 18 of Matthew's Gospel. I made reference to it in an earlier chapter. A servant owed his master ten thousand talents; he could not pay, he pleaded for time, and his master said, Very well, my good man, go and take time. But when he went out from his master, he met a servant who owed him a hundred pence, a mere fraction of what he himself owed; he took him by the throat and said, Pay me what you owe me. Have mercy, have compassion, give me a little time and I will pay it, replied the other. Not a bit of it, he said, you owe me this and you must pay it at once. What was our Lord's comment on such behaviour? He said, If you behave in that way you have no right to think that God has forgiven you. The teaching of that parable is not that God forgives us because we first forgive. That is the wrong way round. But the teaching is very definitely this, that the man who realises what forgiveness is, forgives! The man who realises the mercy and the kindness and the compassion that has cancelled his own great debt, says, `I cannot refuse.' His heart is melted, he has a sense of compassion. 'Even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you'! Has He done it for you? Then what God has done for you, you cannot refuse to another.

 

Last of all, consider the way in which God has done it. In Christ! That is the only way in which even God can forgive. Let nobody tell me that he is relying upon the love of God only for the forgiveness of his sins. God forgives sins in Christ, for Christ's sake. He forgives sins in spite of us; it is not because of any goodness in us, or anything we have done or ever shall do, that God forgives us. `While we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly'. It is for sinners that Christ died, it was, `while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son'. We are forgiven in spite of ourselves, not because of any merit or any goodness in us. God does it entirely of His own free grace; it is all of God; it is all of His grace; it is a pure gift; we were enemies, without strength, ungodly and vile and sinners. But God forgave us freely. And you and I must do that to others who are vile and ungodly and enemies and hateful.

Above all, remember how He did it. `Even as God for Christ's, sake'---in Christ---`hath forgiven you'. God, who owed us nothing, because of His kindness, His tenderheartedness, His love, His grace, His mercy, His compassion, not only sent His only begotten, beloved Son into this world of sin and shame, but even to the cross on Calvary's hill that we might be forgiven. `He hath laid on him the iniquity of us all'. He has taken out sins and put them on Him and punished them in Him, that we might be forgiven. That is how God has forgiven you; He bore the suffering Himself in His own Son. If He has done that for us, can we possibly refuse forgiveness to another? It is inconceivable. If you want to know whether you are a Christian or not, here is the test. As I remind you again of how God has forgiven you in Christ, and by His death and by His shed blood upon the cross, and His burial in the grave, I ask you, Is your heart tender? Are you bearing malice at this moment to any individual? Can you refuse forgiveness to any, even though they may have hurt you to the very depths of your being? are you ready now to forgive them? If you are, believe me, you are a Christian. I am certain of it. In the Name of God I tell you that your own sins are forgiven; I loose you from your sins. But if you are still hard and unforgiving, I have nothing more to say to you except this; while you remain like that I have no evidence, and you have no evidence, that you have been forgiven. A man who knows forgiveness has got a broken heart; he realises he is a vile wretch to whom God owes nothing, but for whom God sent His only Son, and the Son has borne all his sin and iniquity; and salvation has been given as a free gift entirely and altogether and only in Christ.

`Become kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.'(278-290)

 

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