Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Throughout the Scripture, readers are instructed repeatedly that the heart is what matters to the Lord. It is not to be clear that outwards acts are unimportant, for the Scriptures condemns external, visible deeds, and commends righteous acts that are evident to the human eye (Matthew 5:16). Visible deeds of love for God and neighbor are good only when rightly motivated by the glory of God and not to win the approval of others (Matthew 23:25-26). The Creator does not see as man sees, for He looks upon the human heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

The human heart is also the seat of all impurity. External sins are addressed only by dealing with inward transgression. Focusing on only mortifying the externals does little to address the inward transformation that is needed. Paul makes this point in Ephesians 4:31 when he urges Christians to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. Bitterness, wrath, and anger are attitudes of the heart, while clamor and slander are ways in which these sinful dispositions find their outlet in our lives. Matthew Henry says that bitterness, wrath, and anger refer to, “violent inward resentment against others,” and clamor is “intemperate speech, by which bitterness, rage and anger vent themselves.”

The Apostle Paul isn’t urging readers to give up on being angry at all. If this were his point, Paul would be contradicting his earlier teaching on exercising righteous anger in appropriate situations (Ephesians 4:26). The kind of anger Paul is speaking of here is characterized by malice which he urges his readers to put away. Malice is the consuming feeling of hatred that seeks only the destruction of others and not their restoration to fellowship with God and others. Malice characterizes human anger, so we must by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit’s power to keep our anger in check (Romans 8:5-6; James 1:19-21).

Slander translates the Greek word blasphēmia in Ephesians 4:31, the same word which we get the English word blasphemy. We blaspheme the Lord when we tell others falsehoods about the character of God or when we curse Him. We blaspheme or slander other people when we curse them, spread rumors about others, or even lie about their intentions or acts. Such behavior is entirely unchristian.

We may think that we can just put such sins of the tongue to death and we’re all good, and we will stop slander, but that focuses only on external behavior. There needs to be a mortification of ungodly anger and malice that begins in our hearts and protrudes outward, which is why we need genuine repentance from our anger or other besetting sins. Whenever we feel ourselves getting angry, we should step back and ask ourselves if it is righteous anger we are experiencing and also have close friends at our local church who can help us process these situations with discernment.