And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:30–32—NKJV)

Growing up with siblings, it was quite common for squabbles to break out without a moment’s notice, though with predictable regularity. My memory is that my saintly mother took our peevish childishness in stride but my father was a different story. He was an only child and had been a model of childish sobriety, according to his way of telling the stories. And so it was, when we young’uns would have a “dust-up,” my father would admonish us with these words, “If I had brothers and sisters when I was growing up, I would not have fought with them! Quit your wrangling!”

Now, none of us kids knew what wrangling was. It sounded vaguely familiar to us due to the cowboy movies we had seen. Obviously, something was lost in translation. To wrangle cattle is to herd them and round them up. My father was using the term in its other meaning which is to dispute or quarrel angrily and noisily. It is related to the word “wring” which means to struggle, wrestle, squeeze, press, twist, or compress, to get or extract by force, threats, or distress (as in, “I could wring your neck!”). When you learn the root word, it is easy to see the relationship between wrangling cattle and wrangling children, except that cowboys are smarter.

Sometimes I wonder how the Lord endures His wrangling children. Wrangling has been a problem among believers for a very long time. Galatians 5:13ff states, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” The word picture induced by “bite and devour” is reminiscent of wild animals savagely mauling one another, not unlike little children in their turf wars. When believers fail to act according to the law of love, fur will fly and blood will flow.

Fundamental to the nature of a genuine believer is the characteristic of strong belief. So strong, in fact, that theology and convictions always ought to (by rights) trump blood and friendships. Such vigorous defense of ideology will factor in to our relationships, further compounding our difficulties with each other brought on by our fallen nature. Fallen man is prone to misunderstand others in his sinful pride, arrogance, selfishness, and easy offense. Rancorous debate, mean-spirited treatment, and back-stabbing end-runs grieve (from the Greek—pain of mind, sorrow) the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer.

Paul’s list of grievous behaviors include bitterness (resentful virulence), wrath (violent outbreak of anger, boiling up and soon subsiding), anger (indignation, inflamed human passion not corralled by the righteousness of God), clamor (brawling, outward manifestation of anger), and evil speaking (blasphemy, slanderous and injurious speech). Paul declares that every one of these behaviors must be put away (to bear away what has been raised, to carry off and take away—to weigh anchor) from among the saints. These tools are empowered by all manner of malice—general term for evil, the root of all vices. They are off limits, out of bounds, and untouchable by the saints for they grieve the Spirit of God.

It takes a life fully reliant upon the empowering of the Holy Spirit to employ the last command of the passage, even in the face of effrontery, whether intentional or not. The call to “be kind” means to become kind (abandon the maliciousness of harshness and bitterness and move in the direction of benevolent graciousness). He further explains the believer’s required treatment of his adversary as with tender compassion and with forgiveness (the word here means to do a favor to, do something agreeable or pleasant, to show oneself gracious in treating the offending party). This is exactly how God treats us, and therefore it is the way we are required to treat others. God’s treating us with favor is the measure that we must apply to our treatment of each other. May we cease grieving the Holy Spirit with wrangling hearts! Trust and obey.