“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
As with verse 11 of chapter two, the word “for” here indicates that this section is the reason and motivation behind the exhortations given in verses one and two. The only way for us to sincerely treat others with gentleness and kindness is by first remembering who we were before Christ saved us. The string of descriptions is quite powerful. Before Christ, we were foolish, disobedient, and led astray.
We would do well to remember that non-Christians are deceived by other gods (even if that god is themselves); they are led astray from the truth just as we once were.
Paul then emphasizes the slavery of sin. Most secularists today believe true happiness can only be found in chasing our personal passions and pleasures; however, the Bible is clear that these things will destroy us. In fact, Peter goes so far as to say that the passions of our flesh wage war against our souls (1 Pet. 2:11).
Malice, hatred, and envy go hand in hand. They lead into one another, feeding and making the others stronger. The cycle typically begins with envy. Covetousness is the great enemy of joy because joy has its root in contentment, while envy is anti-satisfaction. As we envy others, our joy diminishes, and our hatred and malice toward others begins to crescendo. Not surprisingly, the Bible’s two books about joy, Ecclesiastes and Philippians, also have much to say about contentment.
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 tells us:
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
Similarly, Paul wrote to the Philippians about his contentment, saying,
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).
In Christ, we leave behind all envy, malice, and hatred for others because we have found true joy and contentment in Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.