Just like there are inoculations for flu, chickenpox, mumps, and other diseases, consider this an encouragement for tomorrow. At some time, maybe today, perhaps tomorrow, but for sure, one day, we will all be infected. No, not with a virus, but a disease of the soul marked with anger and bitterness. We will surely have good reasons to feel this way. And perhaps we are justified in those feelings. Then we encounter this little word “all” in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians
Paul advised, “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, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31–32, NASB95)
Our reasons for bitterness and anger may be reasoned or unreasonable. It doesn’t matter. Paul recommends that we put away ALL bitterness. ALL wrath (which is anger plus 1000), ALL anger, ALL clamor(shouting), ALL slander, and ALL malice and revenge. “All” doesn’t leave us any wiggle room. If any of these are rising in our hearts and thoughts, we need to be careful.
Today, as I write this, the newness of the novel coronavirus called covid-19 is wearing off. Stay at home orders are consuming an entire month. The strangeness and uniqueness of the situation are wearing thin. For many, they are finding a new rhythm to life. But for others, this is a nightmare. The laying of blame and finger-pointing are beginning. Anger and bitterness are knocking at the door. A condition we will all be tempted to fall into.
But there is a cure. There is an inoculation that immunizes us from the disease of anger and bitterness if we choose it. A preventative and a cure in three parts.
Be kind to one another. Some have found that kindness and the giving of ourselves goes a long way. In a way, kindness can’t be hoarded for kindness begets kindness. Hoard it, and nothing good happens.
Be tender-hearted, Paul says. Be compassionate; having empathy for the feeling of others. I also think that being vulnerable and open is included. Be willing to listen, even when it hurts. But compassion is also a motivator towards action. “Moved with compassion,” Marks writes of Jesus in 1:41 of that Gospel. In that instance, compassion began with a touch.
The last component for this inoculation is forgiveness. Not any old “I’m sorry,” but the same forgiveness of others that we have received in Christ. Let that sink in. How deeply and completely has God forgiven you through Christ? “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18b, NASB95) That is complete and utter forgiveness. That is the same type of forgiveness we must offer to each other.
If we forgive, remain tender-hearted, and express kindness, the virus of anger and bitterness will not infect us. Something I can absolutely promise. Tomorrow there are going to be opportunities and reasons for anger and bitterness. Injustices and trouble will come. The words and actions of others will wound us. Evil will exert itself. Whether bitterness takes root tomorrow is determined by what we do today.
But what if we are already filled with bitterness, anger, rage, and malice? Is it too late? No. The same prescription which prevents also cures. Forgiveness always kills bitterness if we choose to let it. Compassion always kills anger, for it compels us to seek another’s point of view. Kindness always kills malice since it means giving to others instead of taking from them. Or, to put it a different way, light always conquers darkness. Let Christ’s light shine in you and from you today – and tomorrow.