Home Improvement: Gospel Affection
by Contributing Author Ryan Reynolds
"Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32 NAU)
Forgiveness is a grace given to all Christians without prejudice, insincerity, or flippantness. God forgives on the basis of the purpose of His will, by which He displays His goodness to a people who are most undeserving. This is the heart of the Gospel. This is the meaning of grace.
Every believer feels the weight on their shoulders when the divine voice speaks from heaven, “I forgive you.” The sinner will buckle their knees, fall to the ground, and make their bed a pool of tears as they contemplate the grand plan of substitutionary atonement: that Christ has become their sin-bearer while they have become the righteousness of God through Him (2 Cor. 5:21). But O how easily this is forgotten, being lost through deep ingratitude by the complacency of sin and the idea of a God who is neither concerned with holiness nor righteous through wrath, for He has only forgiven us because He’s responsible for making a world so corrupt.
We don’t marvel at God’s unconditional grace through forgiveness; therefore we don’t forgive one another with true sincerity. “I forgive you” has in many ways become a trite cliché which finds its apex in the pride of the one who puts on a face as the better man or better woman. It is a noble duty to forgive the person that has wronged you for the sake of reputation rather than to forgive because you have been forgiven. The person that goes first is the person that is looked upon as the better, more noble person. As a result, no true healing takes place in forgiveness; instead bitterness leaks through the cracks of disillusioned godliness as the victim finds no power in the beauty of forgiveness. (It’s the victim because they are the ones in whom it is incumbent on to forgive. They are the victim because perhaps they have done nothing wrong, like Christ and His cross. They are also the ones, if left with not truly forgiving but only a show thereof, that can be left embittered.)
The ability to forgive is found in Ephesians 4:32. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32 NAU). We are able to forgive because God in Christ has forgiven us. This is where we find the ability to forgive when we have been treated unfairly. This is a hard thing to do. We like to downplay it as something easy which takes little effort. “I forgive you” has become like the secular notion of “I love you”: it’s frivolous and skewed.
Forgiveness is very important in the home. A home must be characterized by Gospel forgiveness, just like it must be characterized by Christlikeness and unconditional love. Gospel forgiveness has Christ and His cross as the foundation of all heart-motiving, God-glorifying exercise of kindness given by the one offended. The one who has been hurt by another in the home, which happens all too frequently, should be motivated to forgive by looking to what God has done in Christ at the cross. We will do an exegetical study—that is a technical study for the sake of interpretive accuracy—on Ephesians 4:32, starting with the latter half first.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32 NAU). Godly behavior is motivated by the person of Christ. Just a few verses back Paul mentioned that the reason why we don’t live like the Gentiles who do not have God is because we have been taught the ways of Christ (Eph. 4:21). And the authority to accept and live out His ways is built around one thing: the truth that is in Jesus (4:21). The same comparative conjunction (καθώς; just as) is being used there as it is here in our text. This may not seem like a big deal but it’s actually the driving force of living a godly life. The truth being in Christ and God in Christ forgiving us is what will impassion a person to live in accordance to what they have been taught by the gospel, and is what will inflame a hurt spirit to forgive a wrongful offense. This is because of the person of Christ, whom we strive to be like throughout our Christian pilgrimage.
A home must be characterized by Gospel forgiveness, just like it must be characterized by Christlikeness and unconditional love. Gospel forgiveness has Christ and His cross as the foundation of all heart-motiving, God-glorifying exercise of kindness given by the one offended.
The Apostle Paul knew about the loveliness of Christ being the motivating factor in life. In speaking of not being perfect in this life but striving to be more like Jesus he said, “I press on to make it my own….”(Phi 3:12 ESV) What is he pressing on toward? He presses “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 ESV). We all have heard of the great Apostle Paul (yet not without flaws!) who had been taken up into the third heaven, a place so marvelous and breathtaking that it stole his ability to breathe a word about it, for he was forbidden to speak of such wonder (2 Cor. 12:2-4).
We know that he had the privilege to speak with Christ Himself (2 Cor. 12:9-10) and was inspired to write God’s powerful Word (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Surely the visions and immediate interaction with Christ and the task of writing Scripture was the sole motivating factor in Paul’s life to finish his race and press on toward eternity? Actually we get the real reason for him pressing on in the latter half of Philippians 3:12. It’s “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Christ made Paul, and all believers, His own by ransoming them from sin and judgment. We see that this came at a price (1 Cor 6:20). This price was the Son of God Himself. Again it is the person of Christ in whom we see that believers receive motivation to live out what God has called them to.
Understanding that we have been forgiven on the basis of what Christ has done for us should bring great encouraging power the next time someone deliberately hurts or offends us—the next time we’re called on by God to forgive. Think about what it has taken God to forgive us. He murdered His Son. He poured out infinite wrath because we are incapable of self-control and enjoy watching other father’s daughters on the computer doing shameful acts that send people to hell. He had sinful people whip and flog His sinless Son because we like to boast about our God-given gifts, waving them around in front of others when we know they are not as gifted as us.
He subjected His Son to take on flesh for all eternity because we were bent on lashing out at our Creator, screaming that we are more superior than He and only we are worthy of glory. The broken fellowship within the Trinity for the first time in history is due to our incapability to keep a single command for the sake of our own salvation. God forgiving us is the greatest act in human history, for the eternal Son of God took on flesh, was murdered by His father, and was subject to all the miseries in this life. We have a great forgiveness. We must, therefore, greatly forgive.
Christ made Paul, and all believers, His own by ransoming them from sin and judgment.
At the beginning of our verse there is an imperative, a command: “Be kind to one another.” This command is the last of a long list of commands and prohibitions in chapter 4. Since we are not lost like we used to be—like the Gentiles who do not have God (17-19)—and have been taught in Christ, we are now able to do what God requires. And this is emphasized by a conjunction (Διὸ; therefore). We should, therefore, speak the truth to one another (25). We are able to get angry and not sin (26-27). We don’t steal (28) but say wholesome speech (29), while not grieving the Holy Spirit by sinning (30). We also have character which aligns itself with godliness (31). And now we should show kindness through forgiveness (32).
The command to be kind is accomplished by showing forgiveness. The manner in which we show kindness is by forgiving. “Be kind to one another…forgiving each other.” And this is most definitely needed in the family. Some of the worst kind of suffering is experienced in the home. When we are hurt by another family member, it is usually the hardest to overcome. And for the Christian the overcoming must be accomplished through forgiveness. We must look to Christ and cry out for His strength so that we are able to forgive someone close to us when they bite our hand while we feed them.
There is one other thing we have not discussed in our passage. We passed over the word tender-hearted (εὔσπλαγχνος). This word also means compassionate. Tender-hearted is probably a better word because it fits the idea in the Greek. The idea there actually means to have strong bowels. The word is a combination of an adjective (εὔ) and a noun (σπλάγχνα ) meaning the inward parts, which is often translated heart (see Lk. 1:78; Acts 1:18; 2 Co. 7:15; Phil. 2:1; Col. 3:12; Philm. 1:7, 12, 20; 1 Jn. 3:17 ). There is great depth to this word. Paul is getting at the very core of our affection—the deepest part in us which is the very longing of our desires. And this, he says, should be given to the person that has wronged us. We should give them our very inward affections the same way we would give someone our most sincere compassion while in the best condition.
All this is possible because we have been transformed by the Gospel. Our affections are made new in Christ. We now have Gospel affections that seek the good of our brother, sister, and neighbor, showing a Christlikeness that doesn’t bend with the waves of culture nor sway with the wind of popular consent. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). This has enabled us to obey the teaching of the Gospel from the heart (Rom. 6:17). Before we were Christians we were slaves to sin (Rom. 6:20), unable to truly obey from the heart. But now in Christ we have a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17) that gave us a new person, a new heart (Ezk. 36:26-27). “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself….” (2Co 5:18 ESV). May we continue to look to Christ as the supreme example and the source of all strength as we seek to forgive those who have wronged us both in the home and out.
Ryan Reynolds was born in Houston, Texas and has spent most of his life residing in Houston and the surrounding suburban areas. He grew up in a tightly knit family of six who have encouraged and helped push him along his desired path of advancing God's kingdom.
In a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ through the Word of God, Ryan was graciously saved at the age of twenty-two. Since then he has made it his aim to thoroughly understand the Bible, so that he can help re-insert sound teaching into a culture that has lost sight of godliness.
Ryan is a third year student at Sangre de Cristo Seminary in Westcliffe, Colorado. He is studying for a Master of Divinity, which he hopes to attain after completion of an undergraduate degree in biblical studies.
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