So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves 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. Let 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
How to Be a Better Human Being
The challenge of “love your neighbor as yourself” always comes down to the how question: HOW do I love my neighbor? What does that love look like? Jesus made it quite clear that his example was the standard. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34b) Paul also weighs in on what that love should look like, in various parts of his letters. From this section of Ephesians, we are advised:
- to speak the truth to our neighbors (see also Ephesians 4:16, about “speaking the truth in love”)
- to be angry but to not sin. This implies that there are times when it is very appropriate to be angry, but it is what we do with our anger - how we express it - that counts. Anger has an energy associated with it, and that energy can be mobilized to do productive things, like running for office, working to right injustices, etc. On the other hand, we can just go around being angry... and that is of no use to anyone, especially the person holding on to anger. So we also hear, “... do not let the sun go down on your anger...”
- that our honest work should lead to us sharing with the needy
- that our talk should build up - i.e., not tear down - so that our “words give grace to those who hear.” In other words... our words matter!
- to not “grieve the Holy Spirit of God”. We will not grieve the Holy Spirit if we are regularly listening for God’s guidance, and responding to that guidance in a spirit of love and faithfulness.
- to put away certain attitudes and perspectives that destroy us and others: bitterness... wrath (extreme anger/rage)... anger (presumably the destructive form of anger, contrasted with what is said about anger earlier)... wrangling (long, drawn-out disputes that are not productive)... slander (spoken lies about others that damage their reputation) ... and malice (the intention to do evil)
- to develop certain positive character traits, by practicing them: being kind, tenderhearted, forgiving (which all mirror traits of God/Jesus/Spirit)
Do you want to be transformed by God and be a better person in 2018? Strive to grow in your ability to love - unconditionally. And practice the good habits that Paul mentions above, while letting go of the destructive ones.
The world doesn’t need more people who are ridiculously “successful” financially, but who are of low character. The world needs more people who practice love, who know how to use their anger in productive ways, who take time each day to listen for God’s guidance, who know how to build up others with their words, who have compassion and tender hearts for any and all people, plants, animals, minerals, and all of creation.
The world needs more people who are really good at being followers of Christ.