Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:32a “And. . .”
This conjunction vitally connects our present verse with the one before. As Paul has previously done several times in this fourth chapter, he again encourages us to displace negatives (4:31) with positives (4:32).
To do well in Christian living, it is not enough to discard weapons of the old warfare. We fill the resulting void with positives. We leave behind a wrong state of being to press ahead to things immeasurably better. We abandon old traits and grasp their opposites.
The virtues in verse 32, if cultivated, can drive out the vices of verse 31. Outwardly, we displace wrath, clamor, and evil speaking with kindness. Inside, we substitute tender-heartedness for bitterness, anger, and malice.
Eph. 4:32b “. . .be ye kind one to another,. . .”
“Kind” translates “chrestos,” which means benevolent, gracious, helpful. Kindness, the opposite of wrath, clamor, and evil speaking (4:31), is love in action, grace at work. Christianity is not satisfied with passive virtue. For example, when smitten, we must turn the other cheek (MT 5:39), but this is not enough. Our duty also includes performing kind deeds. God Himself has set the example. He is kind (EP 2:7), even to “the unthankful and to the evil” (LK 6:35).
A kind person is one who in word and deed actively seeks ways to ease the pain of others. In word, a kind person uses speech which lifts up others. There is a place for constructive criticism, but we need not go out of our way looking for things to criticize. Such opportunities will come in abundant supply on their own without our searching them out. We should devote ourselves to seeking things to praise. Be a walking benediction.
In deed, a kind person is one who has learned the secret of looking outward, not inward. In an impersonal, harsh world, kindness is “a refreshing rain falling upon the parched soil of human hearts. . .an oasis in a desert, a hospital near a battlefield” (Powell). Believers, hasten to be kind.
W. A. Criswell considers verse 32 “the sweetest verse in the Bible.” In his sermon on this text, he marvelously tells how Jesus exemplified kindness in every phase of life. One example involved the leper who came seeking healing (MT 8:1-4) immediately after the Sermon on the Mount. Lepers by law had to cup a hand over their mouths and cry aloud, “Unclean! Unclean!” Wherever they walked, crowds parted as people drew back in horror. Lepers always had a huge empty circle around them. This explains why the leper could walk right up to Jesus though He was surrounded by a crowd. The throngs drew back, “but the Lord did not move. The Saviour stood right there where He was in the center of that icy, chilling, ever-present, empty circle” (Criswell). Jesus had said some beautiful, loving things in His Sermon on the Mount, but now it was time to embody His words with true kindness. “And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him.” This kind touch in and of itself was half the cure the leper needed.
On another occasion (MT 19:13-15), mothers tried to bring their children to Jesus for Him to “put his hands on them, and pray.” Children cannot help us climb a corporate ladder, help us get elected to positions of influence, or improve our popularity ratings. The disciples, believing Jesus had more important things to do, “rebuked” the mothers, scolded them for trying to bother the Master. The Lord, though, understanding what it means to “be ye kind,” said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me.” Then He, the ruler of the Universe, stopped in the midst of His busy schedule, took children in His arms, and blessed them.
Another day (MT 14:15-21), a crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children had stayed near Jesus all day long. The disciples, knowing a bit of what kindness was about, suggested Jesus should encourage the people to go to town and buy food for themselves. Jesus lifted them to a higher plane of kindness, and said, “They need not depart; give ye them to eat.”
Blind Bartimeus (MK 10:46-52) cried aloud, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.” The people around him, trying to be kind to Jesus, and to avoid an embarrassing situation, told Bartimeus to hush, but the Lord “commanded him to be called.” Bartimeus was healed and “followed Jesus in the way.” Folks always like to be around kind people.
Jesus’ was a kindness which operated at home, also. Even on the cross, He was not concerned about His own welfare to the forgetting of others. He made sure His mother was cared for. Years ago I heard the children of a fine Christian deacon say, “Our dad is kinder to everyone else at church than he is to us.” May it never be! Every Christian grace should incubate and flower in the home. What we appear to be at church let us actually be at home. “Be ye kind” to your own flesh and blood.
Seek not only to end wrath, clamor, and evil speaking (4:31) in our dealings with others. Displace these traits by pressing upward to an even higher level. In word and in deed, “be ye kind one to another.”
Eph. 4:32c “. . .tender-hearted,. . .”
Paul uses a hyphen here to connect two words which “together make up a beautiful little poem” (Parker). “Tender-hearted,” the opposite of bitterness, anger, and malice (4:31), refers to sweetness and softness within. Outward acts of kindness will not last long without a heart of sympathy and love prompting them. We can fake kindness for a while, and sometimes force it out of ourselves grudgingly, but when we love, we must be kind.
The decision to love as a Christian ought to love is the decision to let ourself be hurt. A tender heart is a soft heart, sensitive to the hurts of others. Tender hearts hurt when other hearts do. An iron heart beholds without any concern whatsoever the hurts of others. There is suffering everywhere we look, but we can choose not to see it, and not to be moved by it. A tender heart, though, cannot do this. It allows itself to be affected by what happens to others. It is as concerned about the feelings of others as it is with its own feelings. A tender heart sympathizes with the distresses of others as if they were its own. It looks at an individual who is grieving and makes the effort to share the pain, to take some of the ache away with us to help relieve the over-burdened one.
Criswell tells of how young Frank Rutherford was an intense preacher of the Gospel. The truths of God burned in his soul whenever he preached, but his people gave him little encouragement. One day, after he had preached his heart out, he made his way to the foyer. No one spoke to him. Finally, the janitor came by and exited, his only words being, “It is raining outside.” The pastor walked to his little apartment without an umbrella and became drenched in the rain. Something died inside him that night which could never be resurrected. “He lost his heart and his ability to minister. He left the ministry” (Criswell). Why didn’t someone say a word of encouragement that night? No tender hearts were present. A tender heart knows that even by a word it might hurt or help another.
It takes so little to make us sad.
Just a slighting word, a doubtful sneer,
Just a scornful smile on some lips held dear
And our footsteps lag though the goal seem near,
And we lose the joy and hope we had.
It takes so little to make us sad.
It takes so little to make us glad.
Just a cheering clasp of some friendly hand.
Just a word from one who could understand.
And we finish the task we so long had planned.
We lose the fear and doubt we had.
It takes so little to make us glad. (Criswell)
A tender heart is capable of very deep feeling, and determines not to hurt others, even to the most minute detail. The “tender-hearted” have “feeling so sensitive as to be utterly unable to hurt another” (Parker).
We may be tempted to say this is fairy tale existence, it cannot be done. In our own strength, this is true, but in God’s strength, it is possible. I remind us that this command to be “tender-hearted” was originally addressed to people who at one time “walked according to the course of this world” (2:2), a life characterized as being “past feeling” (4:19). Jesus can change people! The Ephesian Christians had at one time been callused, and partook of the cruel harshness which characterized and dominated the Roman world. Paul, who had seen them come out of that meanness and hardness, urges them to continue their movement in the opposite direction.
If the Ephesian Christians could make progress in this area in the midst of their ruthless culture, we can do the same today. Even the hardest of hearts should be tenderized on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, many Christians do the very reverse of this. Blows of life are internalized and nursed, resulting in a heart which gets harder as life goes on.
If true Christian living requires anything, it requires a tender heart. The eradication of bitterness, anger, and malice (4:31) depends on our rising to a spiritual height where they cannot survive. Aspire to the continual tenderizing of one’s innermost heart. Having a tender heart is the secret to present success in Christian living. Maintaining a tender heart must be our never ending aspiration for the future. Kindly keep the heart tender.