My parents frequently quoted Scripture to my sister and me when they overheard us fighting with one another as children. Ephesians 4:32 had to be the most cited. While writing the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul urged the members, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” It should strike us as strange that professing believers need to be told to be “kind,” “tenderhearted” and “forgiving.” However, just as they were often missing in the interactions between my sister and me growing up, these three family graces, as we might term them, are so often missing in the church and in our interactions with one another.
In a day of indifference, coldness, selfishness, opportunism, malice, harshness, brutishness, mean-spiritedness and revengefulness, kindness is a rare commodity. Of course, true kindness has its source in God Himself. Kindness is a subset of goodness as an attribute of God. The kindness of God ultimately finds expression in the person and work of Christ (Rom. 2:4, 11:22; Eph. 2:7; Titus 3:4). Kindness then becomes part of the fruit of the Spirit. It is one of the marks of a true believer (2 Cor. 6:6; Col. 3:12). A Christian man or woman is a man or woman who has been justified in Christ. He or she is also being conformed more and more into the image of Jesus Christ, the righteous One. Jesus was kind and merciful to men. The prophet Isaiah equated “righteous” persons with “merciful” and kind persons (Isaiah 57:1). John Owen wrote,
“[Isaiah] speaks of ‘merciful men,’—men of benignity, men of kindness, men of goodness, good men, useful men, men that exercise kindness in the earth, who are peculiarly the lovely and desirable men in the world. The apostle makes a distinction between a just man and a good man, Rom. 5:7, “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die” (for a justified man); “yet peradventure for a good man” (one who is benign, kind, useful, merciful),—’some would even dare to die’ for such a man. Such are the persons who are here mentioned,—a justified man, and a man of benignity and kindness.”1
A man may have a head full of knowledge about the Bible, but if he does not have kindness and mercy in his heart, he is not a justified man.
True kindness will inevitably lead on to “tenderheartedness.” Sadly, many in theologically strong churches view tenderheartedness as a weakness. Some wrongly conclude that tenderheartedness is tantamount to unbiblical compromise; whereas, others mistakenly chalk it up to being uncourageous softness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tenderness expresses itself in empathy and sympathy to those who are suffering, weak, faltering or grieving. Scripture comforts us with the truth that as our merciful High Priest, Jesus sympathizes with us in our weakness. Owen again noted,
“Consider his mercifulness, tenderness, and kindness, as he is our great High Priest at the right hand of God. Assuredly he pities you in your distress; says he, ‘As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you,’ Isa. 66:13. He has the tenderness of a mother to a nursing child. Heb. 2:17, 18, ‘Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to assist them that are tempted.”2
Jesus Christ did not come to break a bruised reed. He did not come into this world to quench a smoldering wick (Is. 42:3; Matt. 12:20). Jesus came into this world to redeem a people who are weak, sinful, wayward, unrighteous and lost. He came to bear up his own in his arms. He is full of compassion and tender kindness to those he came to redeem. I was recently talking to a friend who has suffered a great wrong at the hand of another professing believer. He said to me, “I don’t know his Jesus. His Jesus kicks you in the teeth when you are down.” The Jesus of Scripture, the true and living Christ, meets us in our weakness with tenderheartedness. We too ought to be tenderhearted to one another. I love the way the hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King” calls us to action regarding this truth: “And all ye men of tender heart, forgiving others, take your part, O sing ye! Alleluia!”
The tenderheartedness of Jesus leads on to the forgiveness of God. At the very heart of the Christian faith is the fact that God forgives us of our sins through the death of Jesus and makes us willing and able to forgive those who sin against us. We are to be a people quick to forgive others their faults and offenses against us because God in Christ has forgiven us. If we do not forgive those who have sinned against us, “from the heart” (Matt. 18:35), then we reveal that we have not been forgive by God. In his sermon, “Living Peaceably with One Another,” Jonathan Edwards wrote,
“If we should do what in us lies to live peaceably with all men, we must forgive one another. If anything is done wherein we think another to blame, we ought to forgive and bury [it] in oblivion, and not to suffer all love to be broken on the account and hatred to prevail, if something is done whereby we are wronged and injured; and not only to forgive upon their manifestation of repentance and upon their acknowledgment, but although they should continue obstinate, and should finally persist in what they had done, we ought so far to forgive, or nevertheless to retain a hearty good will and readiness to do any kindness from the heart, so as to be neighborly towards him and peaceable with him. Those that crucified Christ persisted obstinately in their actions, but yet Christ, even upon the cross, says, Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Eph. 4:31–32, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from among you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Col. 3:13, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye”; and in the next verse but one, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” We cannot make one prayer that is acceptable to God without this (Matt. 6:12). God has told us he will not otherwise forgive us (Luke 11:14–15). We can never expect to maintain peace with men, except we do thus, etc.”3
What a glorious high calling to which we have been redeemed! What opportunities to show the grace that we profess in the way in which we are kind, tenderhearted and forgiving toward one another. Anything less than this not only fails to show the grace of God in the Gospel that we profess, it denies the very One who is “full of grace and truth.” May God give us grace to put this into practice today in our interactions with those we come into contact with, those we live in fellowship with and those who have sinned against us.
1. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 17 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 557.
2. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 81.
3. Jonathan Edwards, “Living Peaceably One with Another,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1723–1729, ed. Harry S. Stout and Kenneth P. Minkema, vol. 14, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1997), 126–127.