Some Things to Put Off and Put On
As Paul does in other letters, he lists some specific sins which Christians should avoid. It is a good thing to, for it is easy to speak in vague terms and platitudes which allow people to avoid witnessing against their own sins. Citing specific sins causes us to see ourselves in the pages of the Bible and say, “Oh no! There I am in black and white.” Then we may rightly judge ourselves, repent, and strive to kill the sin which so easily besets us.
In this list Paul seems to major on attitudes of anger and bitterness and how those attitudes are expressed in action. He begins with language and how Christians are required to speak the truth “with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” The emphasis is on speaking the truth within the church, but certainly the world is included. To the extent we are caught lying in the world, to that extent the witness of the greater Church is hurt since we are members of one another. He will later add that we are to “let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” In other words, we are not only not to sin with our mouths; we are to minister gracious words to and before others as occasions may allow. We sin with our tongues more than we think, especially when we consider how many idle and coarse words escape our lips. And remember, we shall one day give account of all that we say (Matthew 12:36-37).
Paul quickly moves to anger, a sin which we typically justify by playing the victim. But even if we are, we are still told that we must not let the sun go down on our wrath—a metaphorical way of saying that we should seek reconciliation quickly. Otherwise, we give “opportunity to the devil” to poison our hearts with bitterness which inevitable seeps out on to others. And Paul means we give no quarter to the enemy: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander [there’s the tongue again] be put away from you, along with malice.” The Christian simply can’t afford any of these attitudes to take root in his heart. So Paul’s remedy is not simply not to sin, but to cultivate the virtues: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” And there is the ultimate motivation (Matthew 18:21-35). In like manner, Paul calls upon the thief to work and learn generosity—the point again being to not only not sin but to replace the sin with virtue. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit within us, and that should break our hearts when we think of it. So let us be who we are—people saved by grace who then live like it.