PASTOR’S CORNER, David Harris, Fellowship Baptist Church, Liberal


“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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.” (Ephesians 4:30-32, NIV)

As a minister, I don’t recall ever meeting with a Christian who expressed a desire to grieve the Holy Spirit. If most believers were asked whether this was something on their spiritual to-do list, I am highly confident the answer would be a resounding “no.” One may expect that for the original readers of Ephesians, the answer would have been similar. But Christians, indwelled by the Holy Spirit as we are, do have the capacity to upset the third Person of the Trinity, which is precisely why we are warned against it.

How could these early Christians avoid doing something so obviously unwise? Verses 31-32 flesh it out by offering more extensive commands to believers, and those imperatives begin with “Get rid of all bitterness” and end with “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” And here is where the rubber meets the road. While many Christians would rightly object to the idea of grieving the Holy Spirit, those same believers (and I am including myself in this sobering assessment) harbor bitterness and fail to forgive like they have been forgiven.

So what does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? The clear indication from this text is that we grieve him by our relational sins against others, especially those in the church. God himself is moved when we act in ways toward his other children that are at odds with how he treats us.

How can we stop grieving the Holy Spirit who has sealed us as God’s people? It begins with releasing bitterness. I think this is the initial move that carries the other commands with it. When we let the bitterness go, we will find that the rage, anger, brawling, and slander will go with it. How so? Well, have you ever wanted to slander someone you weren’t bitter against? (me neither). Releasing bitterness frees us from those sinful accompanying emotions that tend to follow it. I recently heard one Bible teacher explain that wounds accumulate on our souls like barnacles on the bottom of a ship. Just a few weigh next to nothing. But fail to scrape them off and they will eventually weigh down the vessel. So it is with bitterness. Release it, and you will be released from the emotional sins it drags along behind it.

But there is a further grace-empowered step. To not upset the Holy Spirit, we must not only release bitterness, but radically forgive. Just how radical must our forgiveness be? According to 4:32 it bears a sweet resemblance to the forgiveness extended to us in Christ, and that kind of forgiveness is radical both in scope and in sincerity. God forgives those in union with his Son of all of their sin, and he means it sincerely. I often ask Christians struggling with forgiveness, “Have you ever forgiven something done to you that was so incredibly bad, non-Christians would be unable to understand how you did it?” This is the test for knowing if the forgiveness we extend to others is tethered to the kind shown to us in Jesus.

Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. Release the bitterness toward others, and radically forgive them.

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