Seems over the past few days that I’m wearing a fairly consistent filter in terms of what I’m taking away from my morning readings as food for thought. A filter that captures things that I don’t want to characterize me as I get older.
Don’t want to be like Solomon who started well but drifted away with a wayward heart. Keep me Lord, as I get older, from becoming a Jeroboam who fell into the trap of taking Your gifts and thinking he needed to use them and protect them for his glory. And this morning it’s not a warning from the kings but an exhortation from Paul that’s surfaced a yellow flag for this aging man.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV)
In light of our gospel identity, which Paul lays out in the first three chapters of Ephesians, he then turns to how we should live in gospel community in Ephesians 4–how to walk in “a manner worthy of the calling” (4:1). We’re to strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit, and this as we determine to bear with one another in love (4:2-3). We’re to steward the grace enablings gifted to each one of us (4:7) as members of Christ’s “one body” (4:4) for the benefit of the whole body until we all grow up into the fullness of Christ (4:13-14). Each doing his or her part so that the body “builds itself up in love” (4:15-16).
Gospel community involves “one another” work. It’s up close, in your face work as we are tied together “by every joint.” And so it’s gonna come with some unavoidable, interpersonal friction. And, it’s gonna require some divinely enabled, interpersonal skills. That’s just how family life works.
And so, we’re not to walk like we used to walk (4:17). Nor are we to talk like we used to talk (4:29). Instead we are to put on what Paul calls our “new self.” The new man, the new woman, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24).
And one word has captured my attention in all this. Noodling on one character trait that I’ve seen fade in others who have aged and fear it could happen to me. Chewing on 13 letters that I would want, by God’s continuing, enabling, gospel grace to mark me.
Oh, that I might be tenderhearted.
The word is only used twice in the NT. Once here by Paul, and once by Peter where he exhorts another gospel community, “Finally,all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1Pet. 3:8).
“Having strong bowels” is the literal translation. Kind of loses something, doesn’t it? But the Hebrews regarded the vital internal organs as the seat of affections. I’m thinking it would be fair to modernize the ancient literal meeting with something like “having a well-functioning heart.” A kind heart. A benevolent heart. A compassionate heart. A slow to anger heart. A quick to forgive heart. A tender heart.
And there’s something about aging that I think can often harden the heart. The school of hard knocks creating an increasing hardness. Real life experiences resulting in an increasingly cynical perspective.
So, it’s in gospel community where we have a place to exercise the heart and keep it soft and supple. In the family of God where we can continually practice tender mercies so that our heart isn’t compromised by hardened arteries.
And this we do by never forgetting the gospel–never forgetting how “God in Christ forgave you.”
The cross is the cure for the hardening heart. The reminder of the debt paid on my behalf the intrinsic motivation to cut others some slack. His patience with me as I work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Php. 2:12), my power to deal with others who are also but a sanctifying work in progress. The living Christ in me able to be the loving Christ through me.
Oh, that I might be tenderhearted.
By His grace. For His glory.