What is the Meaning of Ephesians 4.31-32

“How to Stop Bitterness and Angry Speech” Put off Bitterness and Angry speech, and be gracious like God!

Ephesians 4:31-32

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Ephesians 4.31-32

Eph. 4. This will be our last message in Ephesians chapter 4. Our text will be verses 31-32. And what we’ll do is we’ll read these two verses and as we do see if you can discover the topic this morning …

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Ephesians 4:31-32 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

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Did you notice any similar words, especially in verse 31? As you can see we have these words for anger. Verse 31 bitterness, wrath, and anger. And then we have speech words: clamor and slander. And the last word of verse 31 colors all of these other words to help us know that these things truly are evil: malice. The word malice lets us know that the rest of the words are meant to be evil. Malice refers to cruelty and evil hatred.

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All of these things, verse 31 says, are to be put away from you. So this is a negative command. “Do not do this.”

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But we also have a positive command in verse 32. We are to do this. We are to be kind and tender-hearted, forgiving each other. And then the last phrase of verse 32 is a motivation for all this: just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Be kind and gracious in this way just like God has been this way toward you.

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And this is the exact same structure as some of the previous verses. We are in this section of putting off the old man habits and putting on new man habits. Put off the sinful ways of our sin nature and put on the godly habits of salvation.

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For example, notice verse 25. Ephesians 4:25 we are told first a negative command to lay aside falsehood or lying. And then the positive command to speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, and then the motivation at the end of verse 25 …we are to do this because we are members of one another.

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Verse 26 and 27 are little different. The first is the positive command be angry and then the negative command and do not sin. And then we have two motivations or reasons to not let the sun go down on your anger don’t give the devil an opportunity.

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And stealing verse 28. The thief must no longer steal, a negative command. But now the positive command instead he is to work performing with his own hands what is good. And we have motivation. So that he will have something to share with the one who has need.

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Also verse 29. Negative command: let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth. Don’t do that but instead now a positive command but only allow certain words go through your mouth …. those that are good for edification according to the need of the moment. And we have a particular reason for this so that it will give grace to those who hear and as well the reason is verse 30 so that we do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom we are sealed for the day of redemption.

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And now similarly in verses 31-32 negative command let all sinful anger and all sinful speech be put away from you along with all malice, but instead a positive command is verse 32 be kind to one another …. And the motivation at the end of verse 32 just like God is been gracious to us in Christ Jesus.

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Now, verse 31 deals with two topics that we have dealt with previously and that is anger and evil speaking. We dealt with anger in verses 26 and 27 and we dealt with our speech in verses 29 and 30.

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And the difference in this verse is the progression that’s found in the verse. First, we have three words that address anger: bitterness, wrath, and anger. And then out of that sinful anger come evil speaking, which are the words “clamor” that means shouting and it says “slander” and that means abusive speech.

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TRANS: So what we’ll do this morning is explain the meaning of these words and then focus more heavily on bitterness. And naturally we will give the solution to how to stop anger and bitterness and evil speaking from verse 32.

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So first, from verse 31, the negative command, put away bitterness and angry speech.

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  1. Negative: Put Aside Evil Motives

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Jay Adams, a famous Christian counselor, says 90% of all counseling cases involve anger. This is a serious problem.

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First in our text, is bitterness. Bitterness is anger or hatred that exists from being hurt. It’s not being frustrated because you can’t do something. It’s not being angry because somebody else won’t do something. No, bitterness is anger or hatred because you have been hurt. What happens is you get hurt in some way and then you respond in anger because you feel entitled to something better. You feel you deserve better! But at the same time, a bitter person feels helpless to do anything to change situation.

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The author of the following quote is unknown but it’s been around for hundreds of years. It’s commonly said that “bitterness is drinking poison hoping that someone else dies.”

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We will get into bitterness more in a minute.

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TRANS: But the way the passage works is this inner resentful attitude of bitterness creates an environment in our hearts in which the next two words for anger can flourish. Someone who is generally bitter is more likely to experience, in verse 31, wrath and anger.

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Wrath is a word that is used to describe a passionate and temporary form of anger. It is an explosive form when someone blows up in anger.

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And the word anger here is a general word for anger and could describe normal reasons for being angry like the inability to do something or because someone doesn’t agree with you or whatever. But those words wrath and anger are basically the same thing; there is little difference. Wrath could be a blow up and anger could be more of a settled anger.

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TRANS: But, bitterness is different from these two words.

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Bitterness is a specific type of anger that results from being hurt. Bitterness is the anger that you feel when someone else sins against you.

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And bitterness is one of those tricky negative emotions that people enjoy feeling. People enjoy feeling bitter. Your sinful heart feeds on bitterness. Your sin nature will tell you that you have the right to be bitter.

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And bitter people are typically hurt by someone who is close to them. It’s not those big sins that are far, far away and that are not against you over there in those other countries that cause you to be bitter. No, it can even be small sins by someone who is close to you that tempt you to become bitter. You can easily become angry if someone close to you hurts you.

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Husband to wife, a wife to her husband, and children to parents, parents to children, siblings, friends, church members …. These are all people who could hurt you and you can respond in anger because of that. And then you would be, what’s called bitter.

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If you have friends over and they leave their coat on the floor, you are not bitter at them. You think, “Ah … oh no, they left their coat on the floor. They will miss that … ”

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But if your spouse has left his or her coat on the floor or your brother or sister leaves his or her coat on your floor for the 25,000th time, you are more tempted to become bitter.

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And Hebrews 12:15 describes bitterness like a root. Hebrews 12:15 See to it that … no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…

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Roots of large trees are not known for being weak. They’ve really got a hold deep down within the soil. And so bitterness, like that, can reach down into the soil of your heart and grab hold of you and not let go and it seems quite difficult to root it out.

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And it can be hard to detect. The roots are under the surface. You often can’t see roots, but you know they are there …. You’ve got a cracked foundation next to a large tree … or they may lift up a sidewalk. “Let no root of bitterness springing up and cause trouble and buy it many be defiled.”

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And though you can’t see it with your eyes, the roots are providing nourishment for the fruit of the tree. Nourishment goes from the roots up the trunk to the branches and finally to the fruit.

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Can bitter roots produce sweet fruit? James asks ….

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James 3:11-12 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives…?

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The roots of a sweet fig tree will not cause the tree to produce bitter olives.

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And when you get hurt, you are just like that tree. A hurtful storm comes with violent winds and those winds from that violent storm shakes that tree and the fruit will falls off.

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When you are hurt, the true nature of the tree of your heart will become evident. If you get hurt, if you are an angry person, you will get bitter. But if you get hurt, and you are patient and kind and tender-hearted, you will not get bitter.

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And if you are bitter, your bitterness can spread around like wildfire. Hebrews 12:15 says that a root of bitterness could spring up and by it many are defiled. That means that if you are bitter, other people will catch, like a virus, your bitter spirit. And before you know it, everyone’s bickering and angry.

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And as we saw when we studied anger together, anger is the most viral emotion. You’re more likely to catch the ways of an angry man than any other sinful way. Proverbs 22:24-25 24 Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, 25 Or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.

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What happens is then someone is bitter and angry and he or she blows up and they speaks out of their bitterness and then …. Clamor happens, that’s shouting. Shouting happens, slander ….all that evil speaking and abusive speech happens … All of this, verse 31, Paul is saying must be put away from you. But how do you do that, what does that mean?

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TRANS: So what’s the solution to bitterness? How do you get it out of your life?

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The sinful heart, left by itself, will either keep it in order to blow it up. If you keep it in, you will rot yourself like a cancer. If you blow it up, you’ll rot your heart and others’ hearts, too!

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Bitterness is now being labeled by psychiatrists as post-traumatic embitterment disorder, or PTED. And it’s treated, like everything else it seems, with various anti-depressants. That’s the world’s way of handling it.

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The Bible’s way of getting rid of the root of bitterness is to dig it up and throw it out. The Bible says here, put it away from you. Lay aside, get rid of it!

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So to do that, you first need to know if you are bitter. Determine if you are bitter. Ask yourself some questions …. Do you remember the details of how someone close to you hurt you? I mean the details. … I’m not just talking about that you can recall that it happened, but you remember those exact words the exact situation, where you were or what time of day …. And boy do you remember that!

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But how many good times with that person can you remember and do you choose to remember? You are remembering and constantly reviewing the hurtful situation and you have angry and hatful emotions because of that. This is your problem. You are angry at that person because they either intended or did not intend to hurt you.

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So you must recognize that it’s your problem, not the one who hurt you. It’s not his or her problem. You are bitter and that is your sin.

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So first, determine if you are bitter. Second, recognize that bitterness is your sin.

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Bitter people tend to think that it’s all the other person’s problem. No, you are the bitter one. This is your sin. It is a lie to think that when that other person stops hurting you, then you will feel better. That is a lie. What happens if he or she never stops hurting you?

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It is also a lie when a bitter person says, “when he says that he is sorry, then I will forgive him.” Well, what if he never says that he is sorry? Plus, you have to be ready to forgive before that other person asks you for forgiveness, right? In order to forgive when they ask you, you need to be ready to forgive them even before they ask. So, forgive now!

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My point here is that your sin of bitterness is not tied to the person who hurt you. Bitterness is not connected with the person who hurt you. Bitterness is anger that you feel and it is independent of the supposed hurt that started it all. You have the sin of bitterness. You must own up to it. Recognize that your bitterness is your sin and you getting over that sin has nothing to do with the actions of the other person. No matter if they confess their sin to you, or say that they are sorry, or they stop hurting you, or even if they die, nothing that they themself could do could get you to the point where you get over bitterness. It is your sin. It is your sin that you have to do something about.

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Joseph in the book of Genesis was betrayed by his brothers, but he was not bitter. That was his choice, by the grace of God. King Saul would throw spears at David, but David did not throw spears in return. Job suffered a lot underneath God’s sovereign control. But he did not sin or charged God foolishly. He was not bitter.

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Peter and the apostles were persecuted for preaching Christ but instead of turning to bitterness, instead they rejoiced because they were counted worthy of suffering for Christ sake.

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And Stephen when he was persecuted, yes and even at the very moment of being stoned to death did not turn to bitterness but instead said, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.”

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And even Christ himself is our example ….

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1 Peter 2:20-24 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose [of suffering], since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

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And so what is it then that you are to do about bitterness? First, you must determine if you are bitter or not. If you are, you must secondly recognize that it is your sin that you must deal with and that to properly handle it does not demand that somebody else confesses or stops the sin, or dies.

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And now, thirdly … no surprise here … you confess your sin. This is putting off the ways and habits of the old man. Recognize the sin and recognize that you have sinned and you must do something about it. And so you confess your sin.

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You must say that this is sin and confess it to God. “Confess” simply means to say that it is sin. You tell the Lord that your bitterness is sin. And you tell him that you want to “repent.” “Repent” simply means to turn away from your sin. You tell him that your anger at so and so because they hurt you is sin … You tell God that it is sin and you tell him that you want to turn away from your sin … that you want to repent.

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But now you say to me …. “I am so wrapped up in my hatred and anger because of what has happened that I just can’t do this.”

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Oh yeah? Well, God’s word isn’t true then. Either you are right or the Bible is right. 2 Co. 9:8 …. Do you believe God when He says to 2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

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God says you have an abundance for every good deed. He gives grace … His grace … and His grace is more than enough in your weakness.

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1. Determine if you are bitter

2. Recognize that it is your sin, not somebody else’s

3. Pray, confessing and repenting of the sin of bitterness

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TRANS: As this bitterness simmers down deep in your sinful heart over the years it can lead to outbursts of anger and times when you just boil over. This of course leads to shouting and evil speech. Ephesians 4:31 …this is that clamor and slander that is to be put away from you, along with all malice.

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This all must be put away from you. And now after you have determined you are bitter and you recognize that it is your sin and you prayed and confessed that sin and prayed to repent of that sin of bitterness, fourthly is the purposed attempt at being gracious and tender-hearted.

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So fourth, after having put off those sins of bitterness and anger and abusive speech through confession and repentance, put on being gracious and tender.

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  1. Positive: Be gracious, compassionate, merciful

The human heart is a vacuum. You can’t just remove the sin without purposefully adding something else. You can’t just confess sin over and over again without purposefully adding something to replace it.

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After confessing and repenting of sin, you must purposefully added godly habits. The key word there being purposefully. You have to try…you can’t sit back and flippantly hope that God will change you. No, plan to be godly in your heart and speech.

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What needs to be added is what’s found in Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other.”

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Take the first one …

Be kind to one another: this is speaking of being good and pleasant to somebody. This is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

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Be good and kind and pleasant. Plan on that. Purpose to do that to somebody. And in most situations, you may even need to plan to do that to the one you are bitter against. Before you blew up at him, well … instead, plan on being good to them. Make a plan and do it.

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It also says verse 32 that we are to be tender hearted. This has the idea of being compassionate and merciful.

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This is Jesus heart in Matthew 9:36 … Try to catch the spirit behind this word, tender hearted. You must have a tender-heart toward the person you are bitter against. By God’s grace, you can have a tender heart toward the person you are bitter against. Notice Jesus words … Matthew 9:36 … Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”

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Think of poor helpless little sheep! As they are running around not knowing what they are doing…. Can you have that kind of compassion and tender heart? “Lord, forgive them, for they no not what they do.” Choose to put on that heart. Tell the Lord that in prayer. And then do specific things to be good to somebody.

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Make them their favorite meal. Listen to them as they discuss their troubling day. Enter into their situation and their distress. Express concern to them. And do other things for them. Pray about what you could do for them.

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And the third word that describes the kind of heart we are to put on in verse 32 … “Forgiving each other.”

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This word for forgiveness is not the normal word for forgiveness. I’d like to get you to turn over to Luke chapter 7 so that we can see a few occurrences of this word. Luke chapter 7.

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This word for forgiveness in Eph. 4:32 includes the idea of forgiveness but it emphasizes the gracious nature of the act of forgiveness. Many times it refers to the act of giving something that is not deserved.

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Look at Luke 7:21. It’s used here to refer to Jesus healing of the blind Luke 7:21 [Jesus] cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave [that’s the word …He gave] sight to many who were blind.

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Imagine the heart of compassion and grace that he had towards those afflicted with such diseases. “Look at them, in their distress!”

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It’s also used a little later in the same chapter in Luke 7:42-43. And here Jesus is teaching about someone who lends money and two people owe the guy some money. One owes 500 silver coins and the other owes 50 silver coins. And Jesus tells the story …. Luke 7:42-43 42 “When they were unable to repay, [the money lender] graciously forgave [that’s our word in Ephesians 4:32] them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” That’s our word again.

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This word for forgive is the heart that we are to have towards one another. This is loving heart, a heart of kindness as we graciously forgive others for their faults and shortcomings. Even as they sin against us, we are kind and tender toward them.

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You can flip back to Ephesians 4:32.

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You say, “Now, I know I cannot do this. I’m so bitter and so worked up and so angry that I can’t be gracious and kind and forgive. I can mouth words of confession and say with my lips that I want to turn from this sin and say that to God, but it will come back I will not get victory over this …. I’ll repeat, 2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

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And also, we’re not done. We have a motivation at the end of verse 32.

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Ok, let’s recap again here. To get over bitterness …

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1. Determine if you are bitter…

2. Recognize that bitterness as your sin and it’s not dependent on what anybody else does. It is your sin.

3. Confess and repent, praying to God about the sin.

4. Actively, purposefully put on this heart of kindness and tenderness and graciousness towards one another. And let that spill over into specific acts of kindness towards other people. Pray about what you can do to be kind toward somebody else and actively purposefully do it.

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TRANS: Finally if you think you can’t do this, just look at our example at the end of verse 32

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Ephesians 4:32 you put on this heart of compassion and gracious forgiveness …. “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

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And so if you want a picture of what this heart looks like, just look at what God has done you in Christ Jesus. You need to be motivated and empowered by the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to stop anger and bitterness and using abusive speech. You need to be motivated and empowered by the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to stop anger and bitterness and using abusive speech.

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  1. Motivation: Just like God has been gracious to us

How gracious has God been to you, do you think? How gracious has the nature of His forgiveness been toward you? Think about that. Do you have trouble with bitterness? You need to do a Bible study on the graciousness of God in the gospel.

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The Son of God Himself came to this sin-ridden world. He left his splendor and glory above and left the praise of those marvelous, angelic beings and left his throne above…. In order to empty himself and to humble himself. He took on human flesh and made himself a slave to God the Father.

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And further … it doesn’t even stop there …. he was obedient to the point of death … the King of the Universe obedient to death …. and not just any death … Not an honorable death but the death of a traitor … He subjected himself to execution. And it was the execution that thieves and murderers deserved.

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From his glory above to the death of the cross … for you! And that death that he died he died to take away all of your sin and the guilt of all of your sin and the penalty that your guilt of your sin deserves … all of it … he washed it all away for you! And He raised Himself from the dead to prove that God had received His sacrifice and that it is effective in God’s court of law.

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And then you were born and you lived in entire rebellion against him … and you shoved your shaking fist into his face your whole life … And He showed you patience and kindness your whole life… He lets you eat his food and drink his water and he let you …even though you’ve sinned great sin against Him your whole life, He lets you breath His air … All the while … Even if you were saved as a child, all the while you shook your fist at him. And yet he patiently bore you along and ever so gently at one time led you to Christ! Repent and trust Him for eternal life!

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OH! the marvelous grace of God in Christ ….!! …. And you are bitter? What? What a shame to be bitter in light of the glorious gospel! Do you really understand grace of God in the gospel?! No, you don’t!

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Even if you trusted him and turned from your sin and God has regenerated your heart, you can yet fail to understand in a way that frees you from your bitterness….you can fail to understand the glorious grace of God in the gospel.

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Let the grace of God in the gospel of Christ empower you today to free you from the shackles of bitterness.

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BOW! A moment of silence for prayer, then I’ll call [deacon name] up and He’ll lead us in a hymn.

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#562: A song that has Jesus speaking to us.

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