Summary: God's forgiveness to us moves us to be forgiving to others.
Have you ever overheard a conversation like this between mother and toddler? “I love chocolate ice cream,” declares the mom. “Me too!” echoes the child. “I don’t like rainy days,” observes Mom. “Me neither,” adds the child. “I wish I could get my hair done,” sighs Mom. “Me too,” huffs the toddler. And on and on it would go, the toddler replying “Ditto!” that is “Me too!” to everything Mom says because, well, she loves her and wants to be just like her.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. According to our sermon text imitation is also a sincere form of worship, for the Apostle Paul urges us to mimic God. How do we do that? Simple. Ditto the Divine when you speak from the heart these words to fellow sinners: “I forgive you.”
But is it a simple thing to say, “I forgive you.”? The words themselves aren’t tongue-twisters but speaking them from the heart is quite another matter. You see that when a father urges bickering brothers to apologize and to offer forgiveness to one another. They may say they’re sorry and “I forgive you,” but it’s often clear from the tone of voice or body language that they don’t really mean it. Today the Apostle Paul gives us a couple of good reasons to say “I forgive you,” and to really mean it. Paul said in our text: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:30, 31).
We want to offer genuine forgiveness to fellow sinners because if we don’t, we grieve the Holy Spirit with whom we have been sealed for the day of redemption. Being sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption, that is Judgment Day, is like having a local offer to guide you to safety after you’ve wandered from your tour group and become hopelessly lost on a jungle trek. When you were lost and alone you stumbled from one trail to the next desperate to find your way out and afraid that come nightfall you would still be lost amid the bugs, snakes, and bigger predators. But now with this friendly local at your side all is well. Just follow his footsteps and listen to his instructions. If he tells you not to step on the purple flowers because they are endangered and the locals use them for medicine, then don’t. When he directs you down a certain path, don’t argue that it isn’t the right way. Ignore your guide’s repeated pleas and he’ll finally get exasperated and will leave you to fend for yourself!
Likewise when we refuse to forgive others we are ignoring the Holy Spirit’s pleas to us. We’re saying that we don’t want him in our life as we would like to do things our way. To such a person the Holy Spirit may just say: “Suit yourself.” But without the Holy Spirit there can be no saving faith in Jesus. And if there is no faith, then there can be no hope of salvation – only a certainty of God’s anger. Why do we want to ditto the Divine and say “I forgive you,” to fellow sinners? Because we don’t want to grieve the Holy Spirit and chase him away. If that should happen, we would never find our way home to heaven.
So how do we go about forgiving? Paul said that we should first of all get rid of all bitterness. He used a Greek verb there which means to “carry off.” It’s what you do with the trash underneath your sink. You take it out often so that it doesn’t stink up the house. Likewise you’ll have to carry off your bitterness toward others if you don’t want it to stink up your life. You can’t just suppress it. That would be like ignoring the egg shells and chicken bones piling up under the sink. They’ll just become more stinky and gross – like bitter feelings do when they are not “carried away” from the heart.
“But getting rid of bitterness is not as easy as taking out the trash, Pastor. I’ve tried but the bin keeps filling up faster than I can empty it!” That’s why you’ll have to carry off the bitterness every day just like you do the trash from underneath your sink. Thankfully the Apostle Paul gives us another reason to be so forgiving. He wrote: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32-5:2).