Today we get a little conversational, informal, and practical.
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. -Ephesians 4:32
I was behind a car yesterday which had a "Be Kind" sticker on the back window. It's a wonderful sentiment (obviously), but I wonder how effective the sticker is. I'm sure when we put stickers or magnets on our cars we don't expect to really change anything, but it can't hurt.
I tried to think about that sticker with my old mind and then with my new mind. As Christians we acknowledge the foundational Christian doctrine (at least it should be acknowledged) of our dual natures. We are born with a carnal, fleshly, earthly nature (old) and when we come to Christ by faith and accept his finished work on our behalf, placing our trust solely in Him, we become "partakers of the divine nature" (new). We can call this the "new nature" or the "spirit" (as it is referred to by Paul).
Before I share my conclusions concerning how my old and new mind would process the sticker, I need to say that the old nature does not always manifest itself in overt wickedness (at least to the human eye). Part of being "earthly" can be craving ritual. Ritual appeals to the senses and gives one a feeling of "holiness." The flesh can manifest itself in many ways. In its religious manifestation, the flesh may be driven by a set of rules rather than by eternal convictions. We will look at how this might present itself in light of our question momentarily.
I would add here that despite the popular, Calvinist teaching that all acts by unregenerate people are tainted with gross wickedness, the scripture speaks otherwise. Just imagine the person who sees a small child fall into a raging river and, without a thought for personal safety, dives in and does everything she can to rescue that precious one. I see no gross wickedness.
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.
Paul's argument here is that no one can claim utter ignorance of the expectations of God. No one can say he/she has no idea there is any difference between "right" and "wrong." Surely, the carnal mind cannot be trusted to fully understand the difference (we need spiritual understanding and scripture for that), but we are all born with a conscience. Even if faulty, it testifies to some degree (before it is seared) that we are not perfect. So, sometimes, the carnal person can be convicted to do what is "right" (or even "less wrong").
When I was in my natural (carnal) mind, I tried to be kind. I was religious and I suppose being kind fell somewhere on the spectrum of natural empathy, learned empathy, and religious duty. This last one would engender pride (even if subconsciously). I enjoyed acts of kindness. I'm not saying that is wrong. Between nature and nurture, every human is somewhere on the kindness continuum. And, as Paul argued, even the unregenerate are capable of doing things according to God's design. (As we do not always do this, we fall short of the glory of God which necessitates our need for Christ, the culmination of Paul's argument, Romans 3:23).
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
So, how does the new nature differ? For me, Paul's words in Ephesians strike at the divine nature. Some read scripture as a manual for "doing what's right." It can be simply a guide to "religious duty." I may have read it that way in my old, religious life, but now it strikes me deeper. My old nature may have even, on occasion, done things "contained in the law" but never on the even higher plane of "the Law of Christ." This greater law ("royal commandment") calls not only for the act of kindness itself, but the bearing of burdens, and the emptying of self. Oh, how hard it is to empty oneself of self!
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
The hardest part may be acting kindly to ALL, regardless of race, creed, color, career, wealth, or political leanings. We may find ourselves prone to acts of kindness for those we love or for those who can repay us or laud us, but true kindness makes no distinctions. That's the hard part. This is where old nature often rears its head.
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons [show favoritism based on an earthly honor or distinction] , ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors...
The words "even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" from Ephesians are powerful. The God of all the universe, the one who has every right to find fault, the one I have insulted and offended in thought, word, and deed... this Omniscient, Omnipotent, Perfect God has forgiven me! He has forgiven me, not based on anything in me nor out of any obligation, but rather on account of the saving work of Christ.
This is an overwhelming thought. I no longer measure my kindness against my fellow man nor do I measure it against some religious catechism or creed. My kindness is measured against the unsearchable kindness of God.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He who has every right to be angry. He who has found no cause in us to be merciful, but his very nature ("God is love") is quick to show us mercy and grace while being slow to anger. And although his anger is righteous, warranted, and just, it is not part of his eternal plan. Part of being kind is being slow to anger and quick to show mercy.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
There is a tremendous truth in the cross, often missed by Christians: "God was in Christ reconciling the word to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor 5:19).
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
-2 Cor 5:20-21
God has already been reconciled to those around us. This is the ultimate act of kindness; absolute forgiveness and the offer of the free gift of immortal life in resurrection. We are wholly undeserving. And it is the contemplation of this unsearchable idea that moves us to be kind.
The main focus of our opening verse in Ephesians is aimed at Christians dealing with Christians. This is an indictment of our old natures and our propensity to function in them. If it is sometimes difficult to forgive even our brothers and sisters in Christ, it can be that much harder to forgive and show kindness to those without. But if we truly want to "Be Kind." we have to start by walking in the Light as he is in the Light and meditating on the act of Love completed on our behalf by our Great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour [a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing God].