“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

Maliciousness is a word that sounds as bad as it really is. No matter how we may want to sugarcoat a spiteful act it will never reach a redeeming purpose, for it has its taproot stuck in the muck of malice. In fact, God relegates malice to the realms of the unsaved; never is it to find expression by a saint.

Malice means extreme enmity of heart, malevolence, a disposition to injure others—without cause, for mere personal gratification, or from a spirit of revenge. The word comes from the Latin word malitia from the root word malus, literally meaning evil. Many English words use the same Latin word as a prefix: words such as malediction, malefactor, malevolent, malfeasance, malign, malignant, malingerer, malnutrition, malodorous, and malpractice. No wonder maliciousness has such bad connotations.

The Greek word most often translated malice is kakia. It means character of badness, evil in quality, to be generally evil and vicious. This emphasis is on character and is distinct from another word for evil, poneros, which refers to malignancy—the injurious, and destructive influence of evil. Kakia is the root from which all manner of poneros injury and malignancy arises.

Another Greek word, kalos, is the opposite of kakia. It means excellent, fair, admirable, good character. Kakia is also distinct from agathos, a word signifying a beneficial, useful and good act. In summary, the word kakia signifies evil at its root, useless and incapable of redeeming quality. Instead, it is the breeding ground and launching point of poneros, malignant acts that can only destroy. Now you can easily see the depth of meaning of Lincoln’s words in his second inaugural address, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Since malice has no redeeming qualities it is easy to see that maliciousness is a sign of an unrepentant, depraved heart. The devolution of man’s spiritual condition begins with rejection of God’s spiritual and moral truth; maliciousness is inevitable. Romans 1:21–32 reveals that God gave unsaved man over to “uncleanness” (verse 24), “vile passions” (verse 26), and finally a “debased mind” (reprobate, verse 28). Verse 29 explains the meaning of reprobate: “being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness….” Natural man’s bilious core is a corrosive, noxious poison that taints everything, and must be bridled at every opportunity or it will run rampant over everything good, uplifting, and beneficial to all. God sets Himself squarely against all malice (Psalm 10:14).

When a man becomes born again, God works within him to rid him of his malicious, evil character. Titus 3:2–4 reads, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”

God enlists us to the task of ridding ourselves of malice. Colossians 3:5–10 states, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”

We each have a great need to be constantly putting off sin as God reveals it to us. I find that God reveals my sin to me most often by study in the Word of God (James 1:21). Sometimes He reveals my sin to me through the admonitions of others. But the starkest of all revelations of my sin is when something triggers a malicious response within me and the Holy Spirit chastens my conscience. Sin must be put off in each instance, but when malice is detected it is a sure sign to me that I still have a deep-rooted, depraved nature within that must be put off and the new man put on.

When malice finds safe harbor in the heart of the saint, he is grieving the Holy Spirit. The epistle of 1 Corinthians was written to a spiritually smug church with multiple problems. Malice is mentioned twice. First, in the context of communion, purging out personal sin and church discipline, Paul declares in verse 5:8, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice [kakia, evil in character] and wickedness [poneros, evil in effect], but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Then, in verse 14:20, Paul explains that malice gets in the way of the Holy Spirit’s work.

Though we easily recognize malice in the hearts of others, we rarely remember that malice is hidden away in our “old man” and must be diligently guarded against (1 Peter 2:16), and never coddled or nourished (Ephesians 4:31), lest we become disqualified for the Master’s use (1 Corinthians 9:26f). Trust and obey.