Cleansing the Believer
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:31,32).
Memorial season is a time of remembering what Jesus sacrificed for us. In doing this, brethren often reflect upon the symbols incident to the Passover keeping of ancient Israel, for Jesus was the fulfillment of the Passover lamb. When Jesus said that we must “eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood” in order to receive everlasting life (John 6:53), he meant that our rescue from the curse of death, that came through disobedience, depends on our receiving the sacrifice of Jesus as our ransom and deliverer from the curse.
The symbols Jesus used are indeed graphic. To secure life we must eat — to secure lasting life we must appropriate to ourselves the value of the life of Jesus given for us. This we do by exercising faith and trust in Jesus as our redeemer, and committing to follow the Godly principles that he exhibited.
To “eat the flesh of the Son of man” may have seemed like a difficult metaphor at the time. Jesus lessened the impact somewhat by the words that led up to this statement. He reminded his audience of the life-sustaining manna that God gave in the wilderness, and said “I am that bread of life” (John 6:48). The occasion for these words was in the spring of the year, when “the Passover … was nigh” (John 6:4). The Israelites would soon be eating the flesh of the Passover lamb. So it was timely to introduce symbols that would connect Jesus to that type. As the Israelites had to eat the lamb, so Jesus’ listeners would have to receive the redemptive “nourishment” of the human nature of Jesus, given for their redemption.
Jesus next spoke of drinking his blood, and this was indeed difficult. This symbol involved something that was sensitive to the Jewish mind, inasmuch as the Law specifically forbade drinking blood (Leviticus 17:10). It would take faith in Jesus as a teacher and leader to press through the initial affront and seek the meaning of his words. The audience at hand were those who had claimed to want Jesus as their king (John 6:15). So Jesus was justified to press them on the sincerity of their faith, and these words did just that.
If a thoughtful hearer pursued the symbols in his mind, he may have pierced through some of the confusion. Leviticus 17:11 explained that the sacredness of blood was due to the fact that in it was represented life. Thus the “blood” of the Son of man represented the life that he would give for the redemption of the world. He stated more directly on another occasion, “The Son of man came … to give his life a ransom” (Matthew 20:28).
At the Last Supper, Jesus had a final opportunity to stress the point that redemption was to be found in the ransom price that Jesus was to provide. He explained to the disciples on that occasion that by eating the bread that he passed to them, they were symbolically to receive “my body.” When he passed the cup, they were symbolically to receive “my blood” (Matthew 26:26, 28). All this would become clearer to them after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
When the Israelites prepared to leave Egypt at the Exodus, the last night of their experience in Egypt, they ate their Passover lambs. Those lambs represented Jesus, and their eating of it represented that we must receive the life of Jesus given for us, if we would have deliverance from this world of sin and death. The lamb represented the body of Jesus.
The blood of the lamb had been brushed onto the side doorposts and top lintels of the doorways of the Israelites’ dwellings, showing that those who entered to feast on the lamb were in some way covered by the blood. That blood represented the blood of Jesus. Thus both vital elements that Jesus spoke of at the Last Supper were covered in the Passover type.
But there were other stipulations. The Israelites were to eat the Passover in haste, ready for a journey, sandals on their feet and staff at hand, with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. These accoutrements to the feast do not represent Jesus. They represent things respecting Jesus’ followers that pertain to our keeping of the feast in the antitype.
We should be ready for a journey because we look for a heavenly home, to which we “journey” through this life in preparation. The bitter herbs represent the trials of life, and trials of faith, that attend our Gospel Age feasting upon the lamb. The unleavened bread in this type represents that we who feast upon the benefits of our lamb, Jesus, wish to be purged from the leaven of sin as far as possible during our present experience. 
Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 5:7,8. “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Paul’s words in our lead t/ext, from Ephesians 4:31, are very much in keeping with his advice in 1 Corinthians 5:7,8. Yet they are more personal. In Corinthians, as the context shows, there was a sinful influence among them that Paul said they should cleanse, and Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians shows that they did, for which Paul commended them, even urging a change of spirit toward the offender because he had repented (2 Corinthians 2:6-11).
Ephesians 4:31, however, is advice to the Ephesian brethren individually (and in spirit to each of us) to rid our hearts of the influences of “leaven” within ourselves. These difficulties — bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil speaking — may not afflict us often. There is so much goodness in the hearts of brethren that this is the way it should be. Courtesy and pleasantness are the marks of a Christian brother or sister. This is what we should expect, and consider normal and customary.
However, some temperaments, and some conduct, even among the otherwise sanctified, can spawn these illicit traits, and they can be difficult to overcome. By nature, as some tend toward kindness and good cheer, some can tend toward anger, captiousness, a mean or even confrontational spirit. Even if only a few allow this spirit to fester, it can provide a challenging environment that can sap the helpful and uplifting spirit of our gatherings.
Bitterness is the result of anger allowed to fester. It can result from offenses received, either true or imagined. Bitterness can be hard to root out, even when it is identified. It takes time to build, and it can take time to ease. It casts a pall upon our outlook, and makes it difficult to interchange with persons identified as a cause of it.
How May it be Overcome? Here are some Suggestions
(1) Avoid, at least for a time, the aggravating circumstances, or environment that gave rise to bitterness. By this means the mind is allowed some time and space in which to reduce the intensity, mellow the spirit, and consider the offender in a more dispassionate way.
(2) Lower your expectations of either the person involved, or for the situation at hand.
(3) Consider how others in a similar situation have been able to handle themselves with less distress, and evaluate whether or not there is something there that may assist.
(4) Recognize the value of time in helping bitterness to recede.
(5) Be at peace if you have done what you could. We cannot cure every situation.
If we act toward others as though we were not offended (even if we are) our conduct should be in a direction that our minds can approve. That can help bring the spirit of our minds into the proper channels. If in heaviness of heart we are able to reflect upon our blessings — “count your many blessings, name them one by one” — this influence will be in the right direction. Anger and ill will are incompatible with gratitude and thanksgiving.
In any case, bitterness should not be permitted to continue in our breast, unabated. We can control this. Did Jesus harbor bitterness concerning Judas?
Putting Away Leaven
During the Passover season, the Israelites were to use unleavened bread for seven days. “Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses” (Exodus 12:15). It was not sufficient to refrain from eating leaven during this time. In addition, leaven was to be purged from the homes in order to avoid any option for temptation for the seven days. The search for leaven, and the putting away of it, involved both effort and inspection.
So putting away leaven from us involves more than a casual avoidance of evil fruits. It suggests inspection of our motives, our thoughts, our sentiments. Do they spring from kindly feelings? Do we have the interests of
others at heart? Are our sentiments on a high level? The mere inspection can have a good effect. If we find some area for improvement, then let us give it attention, and trace through our conduct the extent of our progress.
It is a pleasant exercise that can give us cheer, even when others are unaware. Pursuing lofty thoughts, even if only a little loftier than before, will be in the right direction. It will give us a true sense of value within. This is the effect of pursuing values that are dear to us, that is, the values that we see as dear to God.
Paul mentions three things in Ephesians 4:32 that are active things in our efforts to put away bitter or angry thoughts, or darker actions and conduct: kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness. The first pertains to our conduct toward others; the second to developing a feeling toward others in accord with our kind conduct; the third a release of resentment for wrongs suffered.
The word usually used in the New Testament for forgive, or its variations, is the Geek word aphiemi, Strong’s number 863, and according to Vine’s Expository dictionary it means “to send forth, send away.” That is, to release. The noun forgiveness is fromaphesis, which Vines defines as “a dismissal, release.” It refers to a state of mind by which we release the hold of resentment toward another for an ill received from them.
The word Paul used in Ephesians 4:32 is a little different. It is charizomai, used less often, and it contains a more forward spirit than simply a release: “to bestow a favour unconditionally, is used of the act of forgiveness, whether Divine, or human” (Vines). Both words convey a generous spirit.
On occasion, an offended party is so far from such a spirit, that even if the offender makes these overtures, they are dimly esteemed. It should not be so with us. It can be difficult for an offender to see their conduct in the way that it appears to ourselves — and correspondingly difficult for them to acknowledge and make amends for their offense. If we see the beginning of an effort in the right direction, let us encourage it by receiving their efforts appreciatively. If we make moves toward reconciliation, perhaps the other will see this, and reciprocate. But if not, even then, peace may accrue to our heart for making the effort.
(1) The word for bread at the Last Supper was artos, which is the simple and usual word for “bread,” Strong’s number 740, used 72 times in the New Testament. It is the same as the word for bread in John 6:41. The Greek word for unleavened bread is a different word, azumos, Strong’s number 106, used nine times in the New Testament. That word