Some will say that the Bible is an old, outdated book because there is no way that it could relate to the situation and life we have today, especially since the modern world is so much more complicated. Well, contextually things are different, but the themes and truths are consistent over the years. Nothing is a better example than Paul’s letters to the Early Church.
We must note that Paul was not writing to a new church as we often say; he was writing to this group of people who converted to a new sect of Judaism that would eventually become Christianity. So while the focus had changed, many of the practices and traditions of the Jewish world became part of the new churches. We see some of those today, but along with those traditions came the problems.
For the people from Ephesus and many other churches at the time, understanding what the church was to be and how this new sect was to operate was central to their faith and practice. Last week we encountered one of those core passages for understanding how the church is to be made up and the role of everyone within the church.
That pericope told us that the church should resemble a body. This was shown by each piece of the body doing its own part, no one part of the body outperforming the rest and so on and so on. This week the passage moves from how the body is constructed to the very real issue of the how we are supposed to live in community together. This was a problem that we see over and over in the early church
This passage is fairly blatant about what is going on: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. (Ep 4:31)” In the body of Christ there is no room for that and if you think about it, in any successful venture there is no room for that because when that creeps in, the focus is always on that and that alone. Just think how quickly you get negative, fight getting negative, or get frustrated with negativity when you are around it?
Paul, in many of his letters and especially here, sets out to humble his community reminding them that they are not God. Moreover, fighting themselves is neither going to get them closer to God nor is it going to create a God-like community. To make his point he reminds them that when they accepted God, they also accepted a God-like life that is based in forgiveness, not judgment, personal gain, or power.
This is not to say that this life is hard. We see people say the dirtiest things when they don't get their way or are trying to further their agendas. We see people who go out of their ways to show where people might have gone wrong in the past or try to destroy individuals' lives instead of finding ways to lift them up or lift up the community. Moreover, it is hard to let go, forgive and move on.
But there is a very good reason for that: forgiveness is hard because it requires us to give away a part of our own identity. It requires me to do that because I have to admit that (with some exceptions) I may have had a part in the very thing I need to forgive. Sometimes it is out of weakness or possibly being complicit in some way in the very thing I have to forgive another for. Of course, there are times that there are no obvious things that we did, but those are rare.
All in all, to forgive, we have to give something of ourselves, whether it be acceptance of our abilities, telling the truth about our relationships, or losing some of our sense of security. But as Paul says, when we live this life and we become fully vested in God, our whole lives take on something new, and each of the things we give up we gain tenfold with the love and promises of God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen