Is it practical or even possible to live a life of kindness and forgiveness in the world we live in?
Can you do this in business, when others around you are cut throat and dishonest?
Maybe you will be seen as a nice person…as you get eaten alive.
What if you are in combat or a POW or up against a cruel tyrant?
Let’s turn the question on its head.
Is it practical or possible to not live a life of kindness and forgiveness in the world we live in?
People in business, or combat or anywhere else who do not come to understand this may survive…for a time…but then their lives disintegrate…they always do.
I have read and I’ve heard firsthand the stories…lots of them by now…from people in business, combat, even former pows…who did not give up what is ultimately true…and they came out whole.
I’m not saying it isn’t difficult to know how to apply kindness and forgiveness…it often is.
How do you apply it to a harsh spouse, or dishonest boss, or unforgiving parent or crooked government official?
Or classmate who betrays you, or friend who talks about you behind your back and won’t stop.
How do you apply it in war?
I had a friend I respected very much. He was much older than me and he was a conscientious objector in WWII.
He was willing to serve the country and he did at home…but he refused to go to war.
He was a committed and consistent pacifist…he believed it was never right to kill people, even to protect lives…his or his family.
I disagreed with him but I respected him.
I believe that there are times when killing people to protect lives is necessary and the right thing to do…I am not a pacifist.
So I believe that our culture needs Warriors…but do warriors get a pass on this kindness and forgiveness?
Are there certain situations, certain people…where Christ’s commands just don’t apply?
No…I believe that if it’s not true everywhere for everyone, its not true anywhere.
Kindness and forgiveness have universal application…but that application is sometimes difficult to employ.
In WWII a German battalion led by a man named Hans von Luck was discovered by a British recon plane out in the open North African desert.
There was nothing to be done, Luck had his men get away from the tanks as they were destroyed by the planes that were soon all around them.
The only person to remain in his vehicle was Luck’s radio operator who was sending off messages.
Then an allied plane came in low for the attack to destroy the armored radio vehicle.
Luck could see the pilot’s face as he came in, but instead of shooting he signaled with his hand for the radio officer to clear off and turned his plane skyward in a great arc.
Luck shouted for his radio man to get of the vehicle and take cover…the plane returned and destroyed the vehicle…nothing was to be gained in the mind of the pilot to kill that single man…so he didn’t.
That act, in a horrible war, impacted Luck…who would go on to be captured by the Soviets and spend 5 hard years as a pow…return to Germany to become a successful businessman.
Its not just in war where the ethics of Christ can be hard to apply…it can be hard in your own home, in your workplace, on the highway.
It is possible to live God’s way…possible for everyone, everywhere…in every situation…difficult at times but possible…and it is the best possible life to live.
Again possible is not easy, and doing what is right will often not get you a medal or the applause of your peers…sometimes it will get you the opposite.
It will gain the pleasure of God…and you will become more and more whole in the process.
By “whole” I mean…more Christ like.
Eph. 4:30-32 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
If it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit of God then certainly it is possible to also please him as well…to bring him joy.
He is pleased when we act towards others as Christ has acted towards us.
This passage is not a set of rules, it’s not all the external “do’s and don’ts” that you are required to accomplish.
Here we find the opportunities and the responsibilities of a Christ follower.
Responsibility…yes…it’s what we are to do…and be.
But opportunity as well…this is who we can become…this is the kind of life we can experience
Remember last week the putting off the clothes of the old life and putting on the fresh clothes of the new life?
This is more of that:
Let’s look at the dirty, uncomfortable clothes we are to continually discard here then the new clothes of the Christ-life we are to continually put on.
- The Put off:
This is not an all-inclusive list, it is a representative list.
Meaning…there is much more that could be said, but these things, in general represent the whole of the old life.
Inner heart issues that flow from the mouth that result in broken relationships.
Again…don’t make this a list of “don’ts”…by all mean “don’t” do these.
But see this as a picture of a life outside of Christ.
- Bitterness: This the opposite of kindness, not the opposite of sweetness
-Not a flavor, it is an internal orientation or disposition
-A bitter person harbors resentment
To harbor something is to keep it safe, protected…like a boat in a harbor.
To harbor resentment is to keep resentment…a form of anger and grievance, protected.
It is like allowing a suicide bomber safe harbor in your home.
If you allow yourself to become or stay bitter (and you must allow it, it doesn’t just happen to you)…then what you resent is what occupies your mind…it takes you over.
You allow yourself to think bitter thoughts and you will allow yourself to become a bitter person.
This bitter resentment is “past-based” it is to hold on to a real or perceived wrong…and it keeps you from moving into a better future.
To live in bitterness is to willingly live with a mental/spiritual/relational cancer inside you.
- Rage & anger:
We can see anger as the ongoing, settled disposition of a bitter person.
And rage is the sudden uncontrolled outbursts or expressions of anger that come from the bitter heart
How often have you heard or thought…about yourself or someone else…”where did that come from?”
The sudden explosion of anger…It came from your heart out of your mouth.
The folks in Hawaii whose houses are burning by lava are rightly distressed but should not be surprised.
They built their neighborhood on an active volcano…this is what volcanoes do.
When rage flows from a person’s mouth…it is because they have harbored a volcano of bitterness inside.
- Brawling: Is not a fistfight here…the word can mean that in English.
Here it is to attack with words.
The same is true with the next word
- Slander: It is false, abusive speech (the opposite of last weeks “speak truthfully”)
-When a person believes they are “at war” with others and they must hurt and defend and attack…then it doesn’t matter what they say or do only that they win.
So slander becomes an acceptable verbal weapon…this is very common and this is terrible.
It like using chemical or biological weapons on your perceived enemies…but the wind will always shift when you do and you will become poisoned yourself by the weapons you have deployed.
Why is Paul so focused on words, verbal expressions?
Because what comes out of our mouths represents what is inside our hearts
James 3:2-10 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
Is James over playing his hand here?
Are words really this powerful?
It is words that became the foundations for Marxism, and Nazism that killed hundreds of millions.
Word have destroyed individual lives and families and friendships.
Words flow from our hearts…
It doesn’t mean that we never say what we don’t really mean…sometimes we do say things that do not really represent what we believe and value in our hearts.
But words form in our hearts…
Luke 6:45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
So this is why Paul ends this representative list with this…
- Malice: depravity. The source of all of this sin is the sinful nature…the malice in our hearts.
It is very difficult for contemporary Americans to accept the doctrine of total depravity or sin nature.
This is because most Americans do not pay enough attention to what is really resident in their hearts…most do not live reflective lives.
Unless perhaps they are locked in a prison cell, or stuck on a deathbed.
Millions have watched a series of movies and played a video game called “Resident evil” but most of them do not understand that this describes the human heart.
Evil is not out there…it is in here…it is “resident” in us.
I read last week of a couple horrified by the reality of ongoing war and were very active in the peace movement.
They firmly decided to raise their two children, a girl and a boy without guns or violence of any kind.
The children saw no violent TV or movies, nor did they read any books with violence in them.
Even pointing a finger and saying “bang” was quickly put down and friends who played that way were no longer invited over.
One afternoon a mutual friend found the two children torturing insects in the backyard…not one but a whole line of them.
Each one neatly pinned to a board waiting its turn to be tortured.
Where did they learn that? They didn’t learn it…it was something that they needed to unlearn.
Malice, depravity is there: It is not put there it is there, it must be put off and the new life must be put on.
Those who don’t realize that this shadow is in them and in their children…are in a dangerous position indeed.
You and I will either put off malice as an ongoing choice, or it will infect us from the inside out.
Let’s move to the clean clothes…enough of the dirty ones.
- Put on
Again this is a representative, not an exhaustive list.
It represents the transformed or rather transforming heart.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
It is important to note that “Be”…as in “Be kind and compassionate, forgiving”
Is actually “become” to “be bringing into existence” these things.
This is closing the gap…not arrived perfection but ongoing direction.
Earlier in this chapter Paul wrote about “becoming”
Eph. 4:13-15 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
We are pursing maturity in Christ.
Moving away from being spiritual infants.
Moving away from spiritual immaturity that is unable to withstand all the various winds and waves that blow around us and against us.
We are to become immune to teaching that is contrary to the truth…whether it comes from contemporary music, movies, professors or friends.
Growing up into Christlikeness.
This is the theme we are looking at this entire year.
Becoming over time…what one writer calls “The Well-differentiated person”
Meaning…they have such a strong internal orientation that they are not influenced negatively by externals.
They are a “thermostat” rather than a “thermometer.”
Their internal temp is not set by external factors, but they are able to set the temp where they go because of their internal set points.
This is essentially what Jesus said in
Matt. 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
This is not merely…”Oh, look…a nice person!”
It is “Look, a transformed person, a person with a settled and good life direction…a compass heading that doesn’t change based on circumstance.”
And others know, that you know…God
This was true of Jesus’ friends after they had been transformed by the gospel.
Acts 4:13 When they (those who opposed the Christian faith) saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
I am belaboring this point so your conclusion will not be to take all this as a mere morality lesson.
“Be kind, compassionate, forgiving…”
“Now, everyone go try to be nice this week…amen.”
This is about internal gospel transformation that leads to relationship transformation and eventually to wide spread change as this infects more and more people.
This is how the world is changed.
Culture is not changed in the long haul by boycotts, and conferences, and political movements.
If it were, Jesus would have used these methods…because he was the smartest man who ever lived.
It is changed through transformed individuals…living faithfully in the contexts God where places them.
This was Jesus’ method of world change…it works, its the only thing that works.
So there are three representative words/actions used to describe putting on the new life.
All describe interactions with one another…and if all were put to practice by any two or more people in a relationship then the relationship would continually grow and thrive.
Just these three things alone.
Keep on forgiving one another:
- Be kind:
This is of course a choice but it in essence a way of “being” not just doing.
It is often said that God doesn’t command us to “feel” anything only to “do” certain things…like love for instance.
This is true but incomplete…because he does command to “be” certain things.
In this case, be “kind”
It is a word that describes a person with a generous and “sweet” disposition.
Sweet as in the opposite of bitter.
Someone who harbors good will towards others…is generous with grace towards others.
- Be compassionate
Compassion is sensitive concern for the needs of others.
It is a word that describes a heart that puts the needs of others first.
The opposite of compassion would be judgment…graceless thinking and living.
-“Others are sick, poor, divorced, overweight, out of work, depressed, lonely, etc…because they stupid, wicked, lazy, rebellious, etc.”
This kind judgment is wrong and is based on a sense of self-righteousness…lacks compassion.
Like the story Jesus told of the man who stood at the front of the church and crowed about how good a person he was and how he was not like the bad person at the back of the church.
Meanwhile the bad person at the back, could barely speak and prayed that God would please show him mercy.
Of course God did show mercy to the one at the back and not the one at the front.
Compassion describes a heart that is able to see people around them differently…to give grace not judgment.
*There is a balance here: namely that compassion does not give people what they want it gives them what they need.
*Sometimes people want what would be bad for them to have.
So how can God possible expect us, command us to “be” something…not just “do” something?
Good question, important question.
In 2005 I supervised a chaplain overseas(2005)…the longer I am away from that situation the more I realize how very poorly I supervised him.
At any rate…he had a disposition and used words that was discouraging the Airmen we were supposed to be serving.
Some of them came to me and told me so…it was not a good situation.
So I told him that I could not order him to change his heart, but I could order him to change his actions.
To his credit he did…on a side note…to my own discredit…I did very little to help him with his heart.
The point of that story is this…I was his supervisor and I had the authority to order different behavior.
I had no authority or ability to order him to change his heart.
God has the authority and the ability to order and to bring about heart change.
This is a very important distinction.
He can order us to “do” and he does…but he can also order us to “be” and he offers the power to change…to become like Christ.
So we have here…not just “do kind and compassionate things.”
We have “Become kind and compassionate people”
Increasingly so over time.
Part of this is due to the fact that “doing, over time can impact being.”
But primarily this is possible because the gospel of Jesus is not just a set of religious/ethical beliefs…it is the power of God for the salvation (transformation) of those who believe.
- Forgiving one another
Why is this here?
If we are truly becoming kind and compassionate…we won’t need to forgive…we will always get it right.
That would be true except that we are “becoming kind and compassionate.”
-We have not yet “become” that.
Since Christlikeness is a life-long process…there will always be the need for a whole lot of forgiving one another along the way.
It is very important that you both expect a Christ-like direction from yourself and others who claim the name of Christ…and that you do not expect Christ-like perfection from yourself and others.
Aim for perfection…but respond well to imperfection.
Receive grace from God and others.
Give grace to others when they fail.
III. Finally we have the example and the power for this
“Just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Jesus addressed this very well, I’ll let him speak for himself.
Matt. 18:21-35 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Wow, that seems like a kind of “works salvation”
If I don’t forgive others then God won’t forgive me.
I believe it is less of a “works salvation” and more of a “salvation works!”
The person who could act like the graceless servant in the Lord’s story…clearly could not have experienced transformational grace in his heart.
He had experienced the grace of his debt being forgiven…he had not experienced the grace of that forgiveness penetrating his heart and changing it…he had not personally accepted it.
The example of the Lord is clear…he forgave those who were killing him on the cross.
But the example itself is not transformational…giving him operational control of your life, your heart is.
I asked the question “Is kindness and forgiveness realistic in the world we live in?”
The answer is “no” and “yes”
No, it’s not realistic for a man or woman on their own power to accomplish this kind of life…not really, not through all that life brings.
Yes, it’s realistic for the man or woman who is learning to trust Christ.
Who is being transformed at the heart level day by day.
The gospel is God’s gift and our opportunity to experience life transformation on the inside and relational transformation on the outside.
What remains is for us to embrace and enjoy this gift…to close the gap on becoming more like Christ.
Do you understand the possibility, the potential, the opportunity God has given you to enjoy this kind of life and relationships?