[7] In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. [8] But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

Colossians 3:7-8

This is an interesting list of what being a child of God looks and sounds like to those around us or who have contact with us. If you take slander and obscene talk for instance, these are verbal actions and we can exercise a measure of control over them. We can chose not to speak badly about someone, we can choose not to use inappropriate language or to swear. It is very much up to us, we can just keep our mouths shut and in doing so we don’t fall foul to Paul’s exhortation.

But what about, anger, wrath and malice? These are not just simple choices, here we are looking at the heart, state of mind, passions, even unfairness and deliberate and intentional things that may without provocation invade our very being. Is Paul simply saying stop feeling angry, stop feeling wrath, stop malicious thoughts? Is it as simple as that.

In short, yes! That is exactly what Paul is exhorting the church in Colossae to do and therefore us to do. As was the case earlier in Colossians 3 when it came to sexual desires (Colossians 3:5) now is the case with anger, wrath and malice. We are not only responsible for outward expressions that are not Godlike but also inward emotions that are also not Godlike however they occurred.

This is not new teaching from Paul Jesus also said the following,

[21] “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ [22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:21-22

“Whoever insults” (i.e., saying “Raca”, an Aramaic term meaning empty headed). Jesus refers to the mocking of an individual’s intelligence.

This isn’t a casual reference to a person’s intellect or the equivalent of our calling someone “stupid” or “thick” but rather he has in mind an angry and dismissive belittling that is designed to embarrass and humiliate.

Worse still is the word translated “fool” which is an attack on the dignity or value of a person. It’s bad enough to call someone an idiot, but something worse to call them a “worthless” idiot.

Yes, Jesus does call people “fools” or “foolish” (Matthew 7:26), but this is a reference to a person who displays a stubborn rebellion against God. In Matthew 5 Jesus has in mind the deliberate and angry undermining of a person’s dignity. He is describing a demeaning, denigrating and deliberate humiliation of a person.

So, back to Colossians, the metaphor Paul employs is vivid and to the point. Earlier he instructed us to “slay” sin (3:5). Here he tells us to “put it all away,” to “strip it off,” to “discard it,” to “throw it away.” The word used here is the same word used for undressing or removing clothes. We are to see them as tattered, worn, dirty, old clothes, (If you like, filthy rags!)

The word Paul uses for anger is settled, deliberate, seething, brooding.

Wrath, is a more passionate and spontaneous or uncontrolled outburst of anger. Malice may refer to the conscious desire to harm another or to put down another. Slander can be translated “blasphemy, but is usually the idea of defamation or the destroying of human character. Obscene talk isn’t just bad language but bad language that ridicules and embarrasses others.

Paul is not saying there is no place for anger at sin or injustice. Nor is he saying that we should not repent from sin and receive forgiveness for what we have said or done. However what is stark here is that he is speaking to the church and therefore speaking to behaviour and relationships within the body of Christ.

Although Paul doesn’t address the underlying cause of these emotions, it’s important that we understand our own motivation. Why do we feel such things in the first place? In most instances it’s because of an “entitlement” mentality. Someone defrauded us or failed to respect our “rights.” Things haven’t gone our way and we blame them for it. Or we have been treated unjustly. That may well be true, but does it justify anger, wrath or malice?

So, how does one “put to death” and “lay aside” anger, wrath, and malice? I know of only one way: by meditating on the magnitude of mercy shown to us in the cross of Christ. We must ponder deeply what Christ endured for us rather than fixate on what others have done to create discomfort or pain.

That is to say, focus on what Christ has done “for” you and not on what others have done “to” you. As we saturate our minds with what Christ has done on the cross, it will gradually swallow up and rub out the pain of what others have done to us. This is the power of grace, this is the power of truth, this is the power of the Holy Spirit. For example,

[21] For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. [22] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. [23] When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

1 Peter 2:21-23

There is a much quoted phrase in Christian circles “righteousness indignation” Ah! Here is the excuse I needed to sin. Another being if I lower the standard of my behaviour to my unbelieving friend and family they will identify with my faith more easily. In the end it comes down to this, how much do we want to be like Christ, follow Christ and allow his example to be our model for Christian living?

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.