There’s an interesting addition in Ephesians 4:32. It’s an adjective: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” We may easily gloss over it without really reflecting on its importance.
Here’s the thing: it’s quite possible to be professionally kind, calm cool and collected and smiling on the outside without being tenderhearted on the inside. But it’s not enough.
God calls not for a change of manners but for a change of heart.
The word “tenderhearted” means “easily touched.” If you stayed out in the sun too long and your skin was tender, then the least touch might hurt. The same idea is being applied to the heart here. When your heart is tender, it feels easily and quickly.
But how can you just decide to be sensitive and compassionate in that way? Doesn’t it come from your inner character? You can’t just switch it on like a tap!
Here’s how the verse goes: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Do you see it? The sensitizing of the heart comes from two strong sources, like hidden springs sourcing a mighty river: the first is the forgiveness of God. The second is the love of Christ.
So when kindness calls for forgiveness, the pattern is the forgiveness of God in Christ. And when love expresses itself in kindness, the pattern is the love of Christ giving himself up for us. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” (Eph 5:2)
Kindness means forgiveness. Forgive your brother like God forgives you. Quickly, thoroughly, completely.
But not easily, off-handedly, dismissively, as if you’re saying, “Ah sure, it doesn’t matter.” God’s forgiveness takes sin seriously and so should ours. Forgiveness is not flippancy toward sin. It sees it and names it—and then covers it. God forgives what he hates.
Nothing is swept under the rug with God. It cost the life of Christ to forgive us our sin. So God’s forgiveness reckons with a real settling of accounts and so should ours. When kindness calls us to forgive a wrong that has been done to us, we are sustained by the truth of God’s holiness. God has forgiven the inexcusable in us, and so we are called to live according to the grace that we have received.
But there’s nothing artificial or theoretical here: God’s forgiveness is real and ours should be too. When he forgives, we are really restored. Nothing is held over our heads for later blackmail. It is gone: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
How does that grace work out in the way we live together? It means that we can’t secretly insist that people earn our approval, let alone our love and kindness! Jesus said in Luke 6:35, “Love your enemies, and do good . . . and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” Freely you have received. Freely give.
Maybe the hardest thing is to show kindness when it hurts. But that is exactly what Jesus did for us, and how we are called to live for one another.
Lord, make me tender-hearted. I’m so ashamed of the “record of wrongs” that I keep playing over in my head. I bear grudges and only forgive grudgingly. I put people on trial and watch how they perform before I give my approval. Forgive me, Lord. Make me exuberantly generous, joyfully gracious, kind, kind, kind.
Like you are to me.