Kind, Tender, Forgiving

Ephesians 4: 32

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
And finally, be nice, for this is the way of a mature Christian.

Yesterday we read Paul’s directions for the attitudes and expressions we must avoid. Today he shows us the contrast. He said don’t be a party to bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor (complaining), slander and malice. Now he is saying do be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving.

Think about tender-hearted for a moment. That would be the exact opposite of being hard-hearted. You will see the tender heart evidenced in compassion, empathy and sympathy. When something happens to someone else whether that event be large or small, a tender-hearted person would feel compassion for the other person and then would likely express that compassion in gentle words. A tender-hearted person would feel the effect of that event on the other person. A person who is tender-hearted feels things. Their heart is easily touched. This does not mean that they are a slave to their feelings. They just have the ability to understand legitimate emotion. You cannot be hard-hearted and walk as Jesus walked because he was a man of great compassion. We need to allow ourselves to be moved by the condition and situation of others. We don’t become enablers in the dysfunctional sense, but we can respond from a heart of compassion. It is possible to balance these things. Jesus certainly did.

And if you think anyone has done you wrong, forgive them. How many times, really, do we need to hear this? Once a day perhaps. Look, it’s not all about you. It is not about what you wanted, what you thought or what they did to you. It is not even about what they said about you. Let it go. They are fascinated with you because their own life is so boring or messed up. Don’t get in their muck with them by getting all steamed up at their bad acts. Let them wallow in the muck and mire if they must, but get yourself into your place with Jesus far above and beyond all the filthiness of this world. Let your heart of compassion forgive them and for goodness sake pray for them. They really need it.

Be kind, be gentle, be forgiving. It is the way.

Gentle Speech

Proverb 15: 1, 4

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.

This is such an important lesson to learn and I know many of you have. For the rest of us, it is an easy way to fail. I have learned that the same message can be conveyed abruptly or gently, harshly or mildly. It often takes more words to say something gently, but the message is received more easily when it is offered in tender words.

I am the kind of person who likes to just say what I am thinking and move on with life. I don’t like taking the time to craft a sentence with fifteen words when I can say it with five. However, I am learning that gentility of speech is a major leadership skill. The time it takes to make the message more palatable is worth the effort in the way your hearers receive it.

Tone of voice is important too, as you know, and we all need to learn to take the time and effort to speak with one another in gentle tones and with soothing words. Many household arguments could be avoided by answering in a gentle way. It is guaranteed that if you answer your spouse with a harsh word that you are going to stir up the hornet’s nest.

You can make your same point and have it received more readily when you use soothing language, gentle speech. People are able to hear your message rather than conflict with the means of conveyance. When we are short with people, they have already stopped listening from the start. It seems like a waste of time and energy to use flowery speech when two or three words can get the job done but when you consider that the communication involves two people you can also see that not alienating one of them will make our communication more effective.

There is no value in stirring up anger. The value we have for our listeners really demands that we consider the wrapping our message is cloaked in. None of us wishes to crush the spirit of the listener and even though it may feel like a waste of your time, the spirit of the other person weighs more heavily in the calculation. I wish everyone would let me communicate in my communication style but is it obvious from this proverb that there are effective and ineffective ways of speaking to people. If we want to be a blessing, then we have to learn to use gentle language rather than harsh and abrupt. Just consider it a part of your own personal growth and a way to bless God. In the end, you may find that you are the one most blessed by your gentle turn of a phrase.

Rest

Matthew 11: 28 – 30 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

You’ve heard the song and now read the book. Come unto me for I give you rest. Are you tired, weary? Jesus gives restoration and healing. He is not arrogant, demanding or boastful. He is gentle and nurturing. He will not lay on you a burden. He will not charge a high cost for his rest and reassurance. The price is already been paid.

Do you know anyone who is worn out? Who has spent their energy striving only to fall on their faces or find that the prize was not worth the effort? Send them this word of encouragement. I just cannot think of a better word of encouragement. Jesus, himself, offers that which so many people are desperate for. Send this to someone today and spread this great news. We don’t have to strive any more. Jesus already paid the cost for our rest. We have only to go to him and receive that which he is warehousing for us. What do you want? What do you need? Jesus has it in abundance for you today.

Grace is Gentle

Proverb 15: 1

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

One of the fruits of the Spirit is gentleness (Gal. 5: 22). In all our ways we are called to be gentle, even in our speech and our communication with others. I was reading a book this week wherein the author said that one of the biggest problems we suffer in the church is that we tell people the truth but we do it in a harsh manner. The truth ends up offending. People need to hear the truth because only then can they be free but if we deliver it in a manner that they cannot hear it then what is the point? In telling a person the truth we are usually trying to lead them into growth and self-improvement so that they will experience greater victory in their life. However, when we deliver it in a harsh manner they spend all of their energy defending themselves that they miss the truth. They will fight ‘til the death for a lie because their personalities must defend themselves. So, we have just lost the battle.

How can we reconcile a brother to the way if he cannot hear us? How can we stimulate growth in a person if their personality forces them into rationalization? The answer is that we cannot. I confess that I am most guilty of this error. I have always preferred that a person tell me the plain truth rather than the candy coated version because I didn’t want to miss the message. So I was geared for hearing the hard truth and much preferred that to living a life of ignorance or stagnation. Then I mistakenly assumed that everyone else was the same way so I have tended to shoot from the hip. I tell you the truth because I love you and I want the best for you but it does no good if it causes you offense. When a person has received a perceived punch, even if it is verbal, their nature is to defend themselves. It is an automatic reflex meaning that most of us cannot stop this response even if our mind realizes what is happening. Truthfully, though, at those times the mind tends to disengage except to the degree that is serves the personality as it tries to defend and repair itself.

My theory on leadership and parenting is to catch your employee or your child doing something right and praise them. I can’t say I perform perfectly according to this theory but I have seen how powerful this approach is. Too many times we as ministers see what is wrong and spend our breath and effort trying to correct it and perhaps parents and bosses fall prey to the same dynamic. We must recognize, however, that there are times we must correct others. In that time above all others we should embrace the principle from today’s verse. Speak gently with folks. This even applies to your spouse and children. If you are raising your voice and yelling at your spouse, child or employee you are only doing harm. You are damaging the person, your reputation and your relationship with them. There can still be consequences for people’s actions without demeaning their character by speaking to them harshly. A gentle response will turn away wrath while a harsh response will only provoke anger and their self-preservation mechanism. Once that mechanism is triggered then they will, even unwittingly, spend all of their energy justifying their action. So even if they were wrong in their act and even if in their heart of hearts they know they are wrong, that self-preservation instinct is so strong that they will end up reinforcing their position. This is not going to help people grow as Christians, grow into healthy adults, nor help them become model employees. And the damage you do to your spouse with harsh language is incalculable.

So, let us all try to hear the truth without becoming offended but also let us deliver the truth in the love that Christ has for each of us. We must love people into truth and change and inspire them to be all that God created them to be.