How are your new year’s resolutions going? Mine are going great! I had resolved to lose some weight, so I could get back in to some of my clothes that I’ve not been able to wear for a long time. My plan is going well...so well, in fact, that I am now able to wear the same size shoes I did when I was in high school. The other clothing areas need some more work. But, hey, it’s a start.
If you don’t do the new year’s resolutions thing, I’m right there with you. I figure why make a promise I have no real intention (read here, discipline) of keeping? There is, however, something I’m working on to get in better shape – the inside me. While I can see a lot of room for improvement on the outside of me, trust me, there’s a greater need for improvement on the inside. Can you relate? Great! Let’s start together.
In one of the prison epistles, Paul issues a very interesting command for believers. In the fourth chapter of Ephesians, notice what he writes: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). I’ve preached from this passage many times over the years, and each time I seem to remember emphasizing the “forgiving one another” part. While that’s a good thing, I think I’ve focused on it to the exclusion of the other parts. After recently examining these two verses again, I’ve noticed that the “forgiving one another” only happens when I obey the previous parts of “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” Long before we can forgive others, Paul says there are some things we must remove from our lives. Things like grudges (“bitterness”), rage (“wrath”), smoldering resentment (“anger”), public outbursts (“clamor”), slander (“evil speaking”), and evil (“malice”) must be abandoned. Only when we’ve done that are we prepared to embrace gentleness (“kind”), and compassion (“tenderhearted”) that results in pardoning others for the wrongs done to us (“forgiving”).
Now before deciding that this is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, we need to understand that it’s not. Paul – with his apostolic authority – is commanding believers to follow this counsel. How do I know that? Permit me to call to your attention the simple verb “be” located in verse thirty-two. According to Greek scholars (remember the New Testament was written in Greek), the verb “be” is used here in the present imperative active which means it is a command for the reader to do something right now. Being kind and tenderhearted towards others, and forgiving them is not an option, but rather an obligation for those who wish to follow Christ. And isn’t following Christ the point of our lives here on Earth?
Think for a moment. If the only reason God redeemed us was to take us to Heaven, then why aren’t we there now? It would seem obvious that God must have something for each of us to do while here on this planet. It seems equally obvious that His will is that we become more and more Christlike in our lives. That’s what Paul wrote in the book of Romans: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). If you examine the life of Christ, you’ll discover Jesus was “kind, tenderhearted” and “forgiving.” These were consistent characteristics of His life on Earth.
One more thing. I’d like to remind you of the context in which Paul wrote about being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. I mentioned earlier that the book of Ephesians is referred to as one of the prison epistles. That’s because this correspondence was written while Paul was in prison in Rome (Acts 28). I mention that because I don’t want to excuse my lack of kindness, tenderheartedness, and/or forgiveness because of any difficult circumstances I may be experiencing. If Paul can be kind and tenderhearted towards others while in prison, then why can we? If Paul can forgive others, while he is wrongly imprisoned, then why can we? Just imagine a society – even a community like ours – that is kind to one another, and tenderhearted towards all. Imagine a community where wrongs done are immediately forgiven by the offended.
If this kind of society is going to come in to existence, then it’s got to start somewhere with someone. I think is should start with Christ-followers. I also think it should start now. I further believe it should start with me. Wanna join me in this belated new year’s resolution?
John Burleson is the Pastor of Calvary Church of Conway. Email him with questions and comments at email@example.com.