Be Models of God’s kindness

Eph 4:30–32:  30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

We must be missionaries with our lives to be nation-shaping missionaries with our mouths. We must preach God’s love with our lives to effectively preach the love with our mouths. When the lip proclamation is coupled with life proclamation, the gospel goes out with power. Paul calls us to a lifestyle that reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s love towards us. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” 

Summary: God’s kindness to us at the cross of Christ is the pattern and the power of our kindness towards one another. Our lives must preach the gospel always.  

The Pattern of Christian Kindness

Our passage ends with God charging us to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another “as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32b). God’s kindness in Christ is the pattern, the model, the standard of Christian kindness. “God’s kindness embraces even obstinate sinners; because it is without limit, it calls for unconditional love on our part as well.”[1] The gospel is the pattern of God for the salvation of love and unity; without the gospel of Christ, we have no relationships and no hope for better relationships, in marriage, friends, families, church. 

The phrase “as God in Christ forgave you” shows that the cross is the model of the kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness. God’s kindness is the standard of Christian kindness; we are to be little divines to each other in our kindness. Just as God in Christ forgave us, not counting our trespasses against us, loving us unconditionally, we also forgive, not counting the sins of others against them, and loving them unconditionally. If we forgive with conditions, we are not forgiving the way God forgave us. If our love is conditional, we are not loving the way God loved us. Conditional kindness, conditional tenderheartedness, conditional forgiveness is not Christlike, it is worldly.

Matt 5:46–48:  46If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

There is nothing particularly Christian about being kind to those who are kind to us. We know the quality of our kindness when the object is unkind, for that is how our heavenly Father is kind. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends his rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt 5:45). 

Any church, marriage, friendship, work context where God’s kindness, the gospel, is neglected inevitably will constitute bitterness, wrath, anger, jealousy, slander, defamation. It is beyond question that what the new so called prosperity gospel creates is that kind of community. If the gospel is about becoming rich not giving our riches away for the spiritual riches of others, we robe, manipulate, lie to others to enrich ourselves. 

The Process of Christian kindness—Put off 

Paul gives us a list of six dirty garments that we must put off; they smell with the sweat of our corruption and no perfume can conceal their stench. 

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

Six stinking garments to put off:

  1. All Bitterness
  2. Wrath
  3. Anger
  4. Clamor
  5. Slander
  6. All wickedness

Paul orders them going from the inside out. He shows us that every relational failure is a heart-failure, as it they all flow from within. 

  1. All bitternessill-disposition of the heart. We cultivate bitterness within our hearts because of a perceived or real offence. It lies inside like a volcano or a sleeping lion. 
  2. Wrathintense displeasure towards the offender. The volcano, the sleeping lion, hidden within rises with intense displeasure at the least provocation. It may even take delight in its displeasure against the offender. 
  3. Angerintense indignation towards a perceived or real offender. Because the heart had settled in bitterness, meditating on the evil done against self, any offense and sometimes even innocent actions provoke displeasure and quick indignation. Such a person can get angry with you for greeting them. The bitterness within and the intense displeasure make it impossible to be slow to anger. Everything leads to anger, even good things. 
  4. Clamorcrying out, yelling, shouting at the offender (some may not raise their voices but shout louder in action than those with raised voices). After intense indignation the volcano erupts. The sleeping lion, provoked, now roars, children hide, wife or husband quivers, neighbors hide and listen in secret, as the lion is roaring in pride, spewing bitterness from the mouth issuing from the bitterness within.
  5. Slander—“blaspheme” in Greek. The mouth issues defamatory and denigrating words. The mouth attacks, belittles, deprecates, criticize, call bad names. “You are so foolish, stupid, careless.” “You never . . . . You always . . .” One-time offences take the form of never and always because they are aimed to destroy. The lion is on the offence. The volcano is erupting, all who have sense and can must run for their lives. The bitter wormwood of “you never and you always” is a fruit of always bitterness within and never letting go within. When we give ourselves to always meditating on wrong, never letting them go, we will see in our loved once an unending avoidance to do us good, “you never,” and unceasing offences against us, “you always.” They “always” because you “never let go,” and they “never” because you “always remember.” Those defamatory words say more about our hearts than they do about our loved once. When we create in our minds a spouse or friend who never treat us right, no matter what they do, that is how we will see them. When we create in our hearts a spouse or friend who always does wrong to us, that is how we will see them. If they give you food, you find fault with them for doing so. If you maltreat them and they do not get angry, you get angry that they did not get angry. How foolish! When you slander them and they are not offended, but turn towards you with sweetness, you get offended, and try offend them the more, “what do they want to show that they are.” No, they are not showing off, you are proving yourself a bitter soul.
  6. All malice—“all wickedness.” The term refers to all forms of depravity. Note that the first in the list and his sixth both have the adjective “all.” All forms of bitterness must be put off, and all its depraved fruit, whatever form they take, cut off as well. If we deal with the “all” within, we deal with the “all” without. The outplay of bitterness can take different forms, physical abuse of a spouse, avoidance, isolation, etc. All these must be put off; they are old garment of the old way of life. 

Our laundry basket gets full very quickly with my wife’s clothes because she does not wear a dress twice. If she wears one in the morning, and showers in the afternoon, she will put on different clean clothes. If she showers in the evening, she is putting on another set of clothes. She is always putting off and putting on. She applies the same thing on our kids, but she has not succeeded to draw me into that path yet. I have asked her several times why she and the kids cannot, at least, wear a set of clothes twice, just twice, before taking them off for cleaner ones. She’s responded each time that she is not used to that, and that it is disgusting for her. She is a parable to me of the Christian life. God wants us to put on a new change of clothes often, while putting off the old. Most women tell their husbands this parable; I wish we learned the lesson and applied it to our spiritual life. We must put of the dirty garments, shirts, trousers, of bitterness and put on the kindness, with which we will proclaim the kindness of God. 

The Proclamation of God’s Kindness—Put On

The new garments we are to put on, in place of the dirty stinky gabs of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice are “kindness, tenderheartedness, and mercy.” Paul says, 

Eph 4:32: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

In place of the six sins above, we must now put-on new clothes, transformation from inside out:

  1. Be kind to one another
  2. Be tenderhearted
  3. Forgive one another

Paul is concerned with the disposition of the heart not just actions. It is possible to act without the correct disposition. Actions must flow from a proper heart-disposition to be God-accepted actions. It is possible to give away all I have and deliver up my body to be burned but have not love, which will make me nothing. It is possible to use kind actions to conceal our unkind hearts. The pharisees were excellent at this: 

Jesus says to them:

Matt 23:23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Matt 23:25–26:  25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Matt 23:27–28:  27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, it must be dispositional, it must flow from who we are. 

Be kind to one another—Paul does not say act kindly towards one another. To be kind and to act kindly are different things. “God’s kindness embraces even obstinate sinners; because it is without limit, it calls for unconditional love on our part as well.”[2]

Luke 6:35: 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.

Be tenderhearted—our kindness must flow from easily touched-hearts. This captures how deep out kindness must go; we must cultivate the heart of Christ. Just as his heart was tender towards us, so ours must be towards others. He showed compassion on us, and we are to pour it on others as well. Christ was easily touched by others, weeping with those who wept and rejoicing sincerely with those who rejoiced. In pain he grieved with the pained, in joy he rejoiced with the joyful without jealousy. His kindness was tenderhearted. We should be easily touched in the inside. Our kindness must be heartfelt not shallow. Tenderness of heart is commanded. To not be touched and affected in our hearts in care for others is disobedience to God. 

Forgiving one another—not holding offences against each other. Our heartfelt kindness must flow in forgiveness to others. We must love with the kind of love that covers a multitude or sin. Healthy relationships, marriages, friendships, churches, communities are not sinless communities but sinful and forgiving communities. We can either respond to offences, which are bound to come as we are all imperfect, by cultivating bitterness or kindness and tenderness and compassion, leading to not holding sins against each other. In such communities, people excel; people thrive when they know they are known and loved. One of our greatest fears is to be known, because we fear we might not be loved if known. But when we cultivate a spiritual environment of constant forgiveness, we cultivate an environment of openness and healing. Sometimes all someone needs is to be heard, without being judged, and loved unconditionally. That heals. To forgive does not mean we neglect sin. Forgiveness takes sin seriously, expects payment for the sin not from the sinner but at the cross or in hell, and it is costly, painful, and hard.

The Power for Christian Kindness

God’s kindness to us in his Son is the power for our one kindness towards others. God’s kindness delivers us from selfies to other-fies. God’s selfless kindness overflowing towards us in giving us his Son, his Spirit, his people, is the power for our own kindness. The conjunction “as” can also indicate basis, translated as “because” or “since.” “As” in English and “comme” in French function the same way, so it is not foreign to French and English speakers. 

Be kind because God has been kind to you: Because God in Christ has forgiven us, we forgive each other. His forgiveness is the power for our forgiveness. When we contemplate how much we have been forgiven, we are to gain power from there to forgive others. If we do not forgive others the way God has forgiven us, we may prove that we have not actually be forgiven by God. Our future forgiveness will depend on our present forgiving of others based on our past forgiveness. 

Matt 6:14–15:  14 If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

We forgive as we have been forgiven, because we have been forgiven, so that we may be forgiven. Past grace should empower us to give present grace, while trusting God for future grace. 

Be kind to others because God has been kind to them: We also forgive others because God has already forgiven them. If he has already forgiven your loved one, how can you not forgive what he has already forgiven? Who are we to make ourselves judges, condemning those whom God has commended, frustrated with those whom God has forgiveness? How can we reject those whom God has accepted, mock those whom God has mercied, demand payment for sin Christ paid for completely, punish sins for which Christ was punished?        

Be kind to others because God has given you his Spirit to guarantee his future kindness towards you. We circle back to verse 30—“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” God’s kindness in Christ sealed us with his Spirit. God has been kind to us in Christ, and God in his kindness has given us his Spirit as a guarantee that he will show us immeasurable kindness in the future. How can we, enveloped by divine kindness, not be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving. We grieve the Spirit of kindness, who also bears the fruit of kindness in us, when we give place to the evil spirit (Eph 4:27) through bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and wickedness. 

Be kind because God has kindly given you a community of kind people. By community of kind people, I mean that each of us is a trophy and trumpet of God’s kindness. Natural world, just as the rising and setting of the sun, proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus, in our lives our kindness proclaims the gospel to each other. 

In the immediate context, Ephesians 4:25–32, the commands are framed with “one another” commands. 

  1. Speak the truth to one another
    1. Do not bear grudges
      1. Do not give the devil a place
        1. The thief must work to share with the needy
        1. Make your mouth a means of grace to the needy
      1. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit
    1. Put away wicked heart dispositions flowing in speech
  2. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another

Mirrors are dangerous for Christians. They can keep us from looking at the kindness of God shining through others. Maybe the best way to use a mirror is to stand before it and question ourselves how well we are showing forth the kindness of God. Selfies do a similar thing. We are to see God’s kindness in others and only take selfies to question how much we are showing it.

This one-anothering is the gift of God to show us in each other God’s kindness, which we are to proclaim. Every relational crisis is an opportunity to either preach a lie about God or preach the truth about him, that he is kind. Our lives either say God is kind or unkind, tenderhearted or hardhearted, loving or hateful. We need each other to live out this passage. 

[1] “χρηστός” s.v. Moisés Silva, ed., NIDNTT&E, 2nd ed., vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 687.

[2] “χρηστός” s.v. Moisés Silva, ed., NIDNTT&E, 2nd ed., vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 687.


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