“Mercy in Relationship

Ephesians 4:25-32


            How many of you have heard the joke about what make and model of automobile the early Christians drove? Well for those who haven’t. The make and model of the car early Christians drove was a Honda Accord. Why? Because in Acts 2:1, it says of the early church, “They were all in one accord.

            Now of course they didn’t have cars back in the time of Jesus, but what a wonderful statement that is: “they were all in one accord.” They got along with each other, they agreed with each other, they worked together well.

            Now obviously it doesn’t take long in the Book of Acts before their accord starts having car problems. It doesn’t take long for the peace and working well together of these Christians to be threatened. Disagreements were voiced and hostilities between one another arose. This happened between the people and the disciples as well as between the disciples. Acts 15 says that Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company” (15:39).

            As you read through the New Testament letters of Paul, you find that he is constantly addressing conflict. You see it in his two letters to the Corinthians. Paul’s letter to the Galatians presents a conflict with legalism within the church. His letter to the Ephesians was written to help mend a rift between the Gentile and Jewish Christians. And so goes the rest of the New Testament. It was a challenge in the first century for Christians to be in one accord, to be in agreement with one another.

            Shoot, it’s a challenge today for Christians to be in one accord, to be in agreement. We find it hard to live in harmony with each other. Yet, we are called to be at peace with one another. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s rather difficult. And because of this, we need mercy in our relationships. Thankfully God provides His mercy to us so that we can show mercy to others. We are able to live in one accord in view of God’s mercy.

            Although we seek to be in one accord with each other, frequently we are in discord, in disagreement. Paul says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” (Eph. 4:29 ESV). Corrupting talk is what Paul says causes discord, causes disagreement. But what is corrupting talk exactly? Paul describes it with these words a couple of verses later, “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Eph. 4:31).

            The word that is translated as “corrupting” is frequently used with food which spoils. It’s like this banana. It looks pleasing and yummy. It smells tasty now. But what if I subject this banana to abuse … it doesn’t look so good anymore. And if I leave it on a hot sidewalk for days, or on the kitchen counter for a week or so, it will look and smell even worse. At this point, I’m not going to eat that. This banana is corrupted, it’s spoiled.

            This is also true of relationships which we have with each other. These relationships are beautiful, they’re delightful when we are in one accord, in agreement. But when our relationships are subjected to the corrupting influences of bitterness, wrath, anger, brawling, slander, and malice … things get all messed up! The ugly influence of sin corrupts relationships all over the place. It doesn’t matter if it would be here at church, at work, at school, driving down the road, or walking through aisle at Wal-Mart. There is no place on the face of the earth which is not corrupted with the ugly influence of sin and broken relationships.

            And it isn’t just in the things we say. Yes, Paul may be addressing how the people of Ephesus are addressing each other verbally, addressing each other with their speech but earlier in the chapter, Paul talks about how we should act within our relationships as well. He says that we should be “completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3). It doesn’t matter who the person is you are associating with. We who have been set apart by Christ are called to “Love one another” (John 13:24a).

            In our reading, after Paul says to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths”, he immediately follows it up with what we should be speaking. He says, “but {speak} only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29b). Paul says that our speech should not be for the purpose of corruption or tearing someone down, but rather to build them up. This is what makes for healthy relationships, this is what makes for a healthy society.

            The key element to constructing, for the building of harmonious relationships is that of forgiveness. In our reading Paul says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32).

            When engaged in corrupting talk, if we are the source of that corruption, we are to acknowledge it and repent of it. We are to put it away. We are to get rid of it. We do this through confessing our sins to God and, and to the ones we have wronged. Lent is a penitential season, and so especially at this time of the year we tend to focus more on confessing our sins to God and to one another and seeking reconciliation, seeking forgiveness with those we have wronged.

            The good news for us is that God promises forgiveness. God forgives us our sins for the sake of Jesus. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (v. 19). God reconstructed our broken relationship with Him by reconciling, bringing us back to Himself in Jesus. Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord … God has forgiven you of your corruption and has restored you in your relationship with Him. This is His mercy. This is His grace.

            But sometimes we are not the source of the corruption but rather the recipients of it. This happens when someone else sins against us. This occurs when others direct corrupting talk against us, when they slander us. How are we to respond in order to be constructive in the relationship rather than to corrupt it even more?

            Paul tells us, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). We forgive those who have sinned against us. We forgive those who have wronged us. Why? Because, “in Christ God forgave you.” We forgive because we have been forgiven. We pardon others of their wrongs against us because we have been pardoned by the mercy of God. Since God has forgiven our trespasses, we forgive those who trespass against us. We can’t do this by our own power, but we do it by the power of God working through us. God’s forgiving power is given to us and then it is channeled through us to others as we forgive them. We forgive in view of God’s mercy.

            A young preschooler one day was praying the Lord’s Prayer out loud. She recited the words as she heard them. But, she didn’t get them exactly right. Yet her version captured a significant truth. She said, “Forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”

            Indeed, there are those who put trash in our baskets. They deliver the corrupting talk of bitterness, anger, brawling, slander, and malice. Paul says to put all that away.

            We are to take out the trash and we do so by forgiving. We don’t let the trash spoil in our heads and hearts. We release to God the wrongs done to us, the words spoken against us. We forgive. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We have been forgiven of the trash in our baskets which stunk to high heaven, but was removed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Forgive us our trash baskets” we pray to God in this season of Lent. And in view of God’s mercy in Jesus, we are forgiven. In the power of His mercy and grace, we now go and forgive those who put trash in our baskets. Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.


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