I sat with my oldest brother with, probably, one of the only real honest moments in his life. He had run one of my horses to death. The reason was the same as the holes he had punched up and down the hallway walls; he was angry. As we sat and talked he regretted what happened with the horse but didn't understand why his anger got the better of him, why his rage burst out in torrents of brutality. For a short moment we talked about the six steps to destruction found in Ephesians 4:31. At some level we are all familiar with them.
Step 1. Bitterness. Bitterness is a seed that is planted in the soil of discontent. Something happens that causes pain: someone is promoted over you, your sibling has favor with your parents, your spouse doesn't meet your expectations, a friend doesn't give you the attention you desire, or God doesn't come through for you they way you think that he should. Bitterness is a bad taste that lingers. It reherses every moment of the pain and justifies itself with plausible arguments. It eats away at the soul and can cause physical ailments as well as spiritual. Most of the time the only person hurt is the one who is bitter, and they are miserable. But bitterness isn't satisfied with itself and desires the company of wrath.
Step 2. Wrath. The Greek word for wrath in Epehsians 4:31 means strong passion or swelling anger. When bitterness isn't satisfied it begins to swell into something more hideous. It becomes outbursts of emotion at the most inopportune times. It tries to hurt the perpetrator of its own pain in sublte ways that leave people wondering what is going on. There was a time in my life where bitterness swelled into public ridicule. They were hurtful jabs, stinging jokes, and down right mean. No one but the person they intended to hurt understood its root cause, and I was the one who received the disapproving looks from friends and family. But I didn't care because bitterness had convinced me that my swelling anger was justified.
Step 3. Anger. The occasional out bursts of anger can turn into full fledge vengeance. If not checked the swelling of angry passion can turn into plots to punish the object of bitterness. This can be as simple as deciding not to include them in group activities all the way to plotting physical harm. When bitterness grows to this level the bitter person is consumed with thinking of ways to "get back" at the person who has caused them harm. Vengeance and punishment are justified as the persons right and any harm to the other person is getting what they deserved.
Step 4. Clamor. This word means to wail, cries of sorrow, and lamenting. It sounds as if this word recognizes its sin and reacts in regret, but that's not the case. The cries of sorrow and regret are self centered. When bitterness reaches this level the other friends question and condemn the behavior. The clamor begins as trying to make them understand why the behavior is justified. And when no one buys into the arguments the clamor turns on them, condemning them all for taking sides and not understanding.
Step 5. Slander. Clamor isolates and slander mocks. It begins to call down oaths and curses on everyone, especially the original object of the bitterness. Nothing is hidden at this point, and the bad taste has putrified and nothing good comes out of the persons mouth. Old relationships are broken and new ones kindled with likeminded people. They sit around and commiserate on how unfair life is and how badly those people treated them.
Step 6. Malice. This word means wickedness and depravity. If bitterness reaches this level faith is abandoned, righteousness living compromised, and all contact with the body of Christ severed. When a person reaches the malice stage they blame the church, accuse Christians of hypocrisy, and eventually see God as irrelevant. Their pain has driven a wedge between the past and the present and reconciliation is virtually impossible. Paul said in Romans that God gives them over to their depravity, to experience the fruits of their decisions and behavior.
There is a cure, however, and it is the grace of God. That is why Paul said to lay them aside. It is a choice we make at the beginning, because the reprocussions of neglecting it is devastating. When it comes to the high calling of unity chosing to forgive others is the key to maintaining a healthy spiritual life, individually and corporately. Don't let bitterness take root. I'm just saying...
Ephesians 4:31 "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."