By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:32
This year certainly has revealed the worst sides of people. From social media to in public, people have been unkind, unloving, and uncompassionate to one another.
In a world that promotes revenge over reconciliation, personal gain over kindness, and apathy over compassion, we may wonder how in the world we can emulate Ephesians 4:32 "be kind to one another" in an ever-growing hostile environment.
In this article, we’ll explore the context behind this passage Paul wrote in Ephesians, what the Bible says about kindness and forgiveness (as opposed to what our world appears to promote), and how to practically exemplify being kind to one another in our own lives.
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The Context of Ephesians 4:32
The Ephesian church, in the middle of a metropolis in Asia Minor that was bursting full of pagan worship, seemed to start out well. In fact, they were known as “Christ’s church.” Nevertheless, divisions appeared to infiltrate the church later. They’d forgotten the purpose behind their mission and worst of all, had forgotten to carry out all their actions in love (Revelation 2:5).
In other words, they were going through the motions. They did everything else right. They refused to succumb to the cultural norms which worshipped pagan gods such as Artemis. They persevered under heavy trials.
But they had not the love in which they’d started (1 Corinthians 13).
As mentioned in this commentary, Paul uses the first three chapters of Ephesians to give this church a few doctrinal reminders. But for this chapter, he chooses to go the practical route and also to remind them why they carry out certain duties.
After all, we can do all the right things and still get it wrong if we forget our true purpose and forget to love our neighbor in the process.
Although we do live in a different cultural and historical world than that of the Ephesians, the encouragement to seek revenge has permeated the history of mankind. The idea that perpetuates our media to “clap back,” to say the last word, to argue with friends and complete strangers in Facebook comments to prove you’re right, the principle behind all of these—to be rooted in anger—has existed throughout the history of sin.
Instead of taking the prideful, wrathful route, Paul reminds believers about kindness and forgiveness. After all, Jesus has shown both to us, so why shouldn't we, in turn, do the same for others?
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What Does the Bible Say about Kindness?
Our culture sees kindness as a weakness. The Bible says the opposite. Let’s explore some verses below about kindness and its defining factors.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. – Luke 6:35
Kindness involves loving everyone, not just those who treat us well. And not just those who are easy to love. After all, God shows kindness to everyone, even those whom we believe don’t deserve it. See the entire story of Jonah for confirmation of this.
We should especially exercise kindness to brothers and sisters of Christ. No matter if our personalities clash or we don’t always agree with one another, if we have a Christian in need, we should always find an opportunity to show them kindness.
And of course, we can point to Galatians 5:22 and show that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is kindness. Therefore, if we walk in step with the Spirit, if we hope to further in our spiritual journey, we need to bear the fruit of kindness.
For more verses on kindness, check out this article here.
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What Does the Bible Say about Forgiveness?
What about the seemingly harder part of that verse: forgiveness? After all, our culture at best sees forgiveness with apathy and at worst views it as a toxic sign of weakness.
So what does Scripture say about forgiveness? Actually a great deal. We can’t dive into all the instances in this article due to word count restraints. But I’d love to highlight one parable in particular: the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35).
In this story, Jesus tells about a servant who owes his master an inordinate amount of money. In fact, he has so much debt, that even if he worked his whole life, he could never repay his master.
His master decides to relieve him of his debt. The servant rejoices and finds a coworker who is under him who owes him money, a small amount, far less than he had owed his master. The coworker asks for a little more time, and the servant, angry, throws him into debtors’ prison.
When the master hears word of this, he gets angry and throws his servant in jail. After all, the servant, having his debt pardoned, should’ve done the same to the coworker who had a far lesser debt.
Jesus makes the lesson of this parable obvious: we should forgive others.
After all, Christ forgave our debt of sin that we could never repay, not even after a lifetime dedicated to service and good works. Therefore, when someone wrongs us, we choose to forgive.
We should note that this passage does not negate the idea of justice.
If someone commits an illegal act, the Bible does say that vengeance is the Lord’s (Romans 12:19). And that no sin that was hidden will go without notice (Luke 8:17). Therefore, we can rest assured that justice does come and will come in the future, but we should not take that revenge into our own hands.
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3 Reasons Ephesians 4:32 Encourages Us to ‘Be Kind to One Another’
We could explore loads of reasons for why Paul encouraged the Ephesians to exercise kindness to one another, especially to believers. In this section, we’ll lightly touch on three reasons.
First, we want to exemplify Christ.
Christian means “little Christ.” In everything we do, we want to emulate Christ’s example. And as we move further on our walk, we want to look more like our Savior every day. In doing so, we need to show kindness and compassion. Remember, Judas ate too. Jesus washed his feet during the Last Supper, even though he knew how Judas had already betrayed him and how he would betray him later on.
If Christ can wash Judas’ feet, we can show kindness to everyone, even our enemies.
Second, we have a choice to show God’s love.
Revenge is the easy choice to make. We get a thrill from having the last word or showing people not to mess with us.
But in doing so, we forget our mission here on earth.
God calls us to spread the good news of salvation to all peoples. If we choose malice or revenge, we risk failing to show someone the love of Christ. Perhaps it will turn them off to Christianity altogether if they see a believer who engages in hate and revenge.
Third, we remind ourselves of our mission.
Remember, without love, our good deeds mean nothing. When we choose kindness and forgiveness, we remind ourselves as to why God has placed us here on earth.
The Christian walk can often get exhausting. And if we lose sight of the why, we’ll fizzle or grow winded during the race.
Choosing kindness and forgiveness reminds us of Christ’s example. We can remember the parable of the unforgiving servant. No matter how much a friend or family member (or a complete stranger) has hurt us, we can remember the abounding grace of God in our own lives. He has forgiven us and shown us so much kindness. Therefore, we strive to do the same.
Scripture calls us to make two difficult choices: kindness and forgiveness. They sound easy on paper. Living out these concepts, however, is not easy..but it's what Christ desires for us all.
Through Christ’s example of humility, and the lovingkindness he has shown us, he has given us a mission and a mindset that often runs counter-culture. Nevertheless, when we choose kindness and forgiveness, we allow others to experience the grace of God—and we spur other believers to do the same.
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