The Kindness that Imitates God (Eph. 4:25-5:2)

Text: Ephesians 4:24-5:2
Proper 14, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

How important would you suppose kindness is? When we talk about what holds a community together, I think we’d agree that kindness ranks pretty high. The reason for this is stated clearly at the end of our epistle reading: kindness is one of the purest forms of imitating God. Think about that for a moment. What would it be like if God were the kind of God who was always making snide or bitter remarks at us? What would worship and prayer be like if we thought God had been talking about us behind our backs, putting us down to others? How would you feel if you thought you couldn’t trust God to tell you the truth, or if he was constantly losing his temper with you? Of course, there are plenty of religions, ancient and modern, where the gods do behave in that sort of way. Well: how do people feel about us if that’s what we’re like? Sadly, there are all too many Christians, and sometimes whole churches, that have allowed themselves to forget that kindness is the very essence of the Christian community. So, this morning we’re going to look at five vices that threaten personal relationships within the Church the reason why we should imitate God’s kindness within the Church.

Examples of Unkindness

First, don’t tell lies, but rather tell the truth. Lies can destroy the community because we’d be relating to others through deceptions. We’d be manipulating them to get something we want. Lying here also includes falsehood in act as well as falsehood in speech. It’s the intention to deceive that makes the lie, whatever it might look like. Lying for a good reason doesn’t make it right, either. We may say something we don’t actually think is true, just so that we may give a compliment. Or we may lie to cover the fault of a friend. We may offer up some half-truth to get rid of a slight inconvenience to ourselves. But it’s all the same. Christ emphatically says no to falsehood in every form. Our fellowship together is built on trust, and trust is built on truth. Dishonesty undermines the Church, and truth strengthens it. Tell the truth. That is it, pure and simple. Have we told any lies lately? Any “white” lies? Are we presently lying? In words? By silence? These are great sins against Christ and his Church.

Second, don’t lose your temper, but rather ensure that your anger is just. That implies that there is proper anger—good anger. God himself is sometimes angered. Jesus was angry when he cleansed the Temple. If God hates sin, his people should hate it too. If evil arouses his anger, it should arouse ours also. But in our anger, we must be cautious because anger often leads to sin, which will give an “opportunity to the devil.” How does this work? It typically begins with healthy anger at sin and its effects on others or perhaps on ourselves. We hate the sin and the damage it brings. But if anger is held or nursed, it becomes highly personal. A life filled with anger—a church full of angry people—is a pain to the Spirit. He will not work there. He cannot work there. Are you angry? That’s fine. Be angry. There may be a good reason. Or no reason at all. Acknowledge your anger, but don’t let it be your master. Don’t act on it; it will never work the righteousness of God. Don’t ignore it. Just take note of it, acknowledge it, step back from it, be dead to it. Offer it up to Christ and have Him bear it. He will use your anger for something good. 

Third, don’t steal, but rather work and give. This isn’t just about stealing other people’s money or possessions. It’s also about employers who oppress their workers and employees who provide poor service or work short time.  It applies to pirating movies and music on the internet. It applies to supporting the Church with your money and time. It applies to only giving money to missions but never to the local Church. It’s theft. So, work hard. Give freely to those in need. Instead of sponging off the community, as thieves do, you will start contributing to it. 

Fourth, don’t use your mouth for evil, but rather for good. Our words reveal what is in our hearts, and we shall have to give an account on judgment day of every careless word we’ve uttered. That includes obscene language, but the emphasis is on a decay-spreading conversation that runs others down and delights in their weaknesses. Instead of hurting people with our words, use them to help, encourage, cheer, comfort others. It isn’t just that bitter or sour speech is to be avoided. Your tongue allows you to bring God’s grace to people by what you say and how you say it. Grace is getting something that you don’t deserve. When Christians build each other up through their words, it displays the grace of God, and it’s a shame to pass up that chance.

Fifth, don’t be unkind or bitter, but rather kind and loving. We sometimes talk about a ‘sour puss.’ Little is sadder in people than a negative and cynical outlook on life. The picture Paul gives us is of a bitter person who has allowed their anger to increase while it is pent up inside them. When it finally bursts forth, what comes out is a malicious, and sometimes slanderous rage. Don’t have a bitter and resentful heart that refuses to be reconciled to others. Don’t be the one who silently harbors grudges and hatred towards others. There is no place for any of these horrid things in the Christian Church. They have to be rejected entirely. Instead, we are to be kind, tender, and compassionate to one another.  

Imitate the Kindness of God

But our text is not just a to-do list, a set of rules. Woven throughout these verses are truths that both motivate and enable us to imitate God’s kindness. Paul gives us a summary, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” Paul likens the Spirit to an official stamp on a document or package. It’s marked out for a particular use or occasion. The seal tells you who the document belongs to and what it’s for. That sealing took place at your Baptism. The Holy Spirit himself, living in us, is the seal with which God has claimed us as his own. The Spirit lives in the Church and your hearts, and that means belong to God and are destined for redemption. The day of redemption is the liberation that will come when God sets the whole world free and gives us our resurrection bodies. That is central to the Christian hope, and possessing this hope gives a particular shape to our present lives.

That means, this isn’t just about our own personal salvation. This is also about how the Church has become our new family because we are members one of another. Paul does not let you think of yourself as an independent agent. There are no lone-wolf Christians because all baptized Christians are united together in Christ. We’re part of the same body and part of the same family, God’s family, the Church. 

That’s why we must be tenderhearted and compassionate towards one another. We are to be imitators of God, as his beloved children. We are God’s children, just as children copy their parents, so we are to copy God our Father. We are to forgive others because God in Christ has forgiven us. God in Christ forgave you. Christ sacrificed himself for you on the Cross. His death has dealt with your sins once for all. That shows you the heart of our God. God showed that he was not bitter and resentful. No, he is the kind of God who forgives us. God demonstrated that he isn’t false with us, instead, he speaks the truth and keeps his word. He doesn’t take from us; he gives us everything, even his own Son. That is the kind, compassionate, and forgiving treatment we get from our loving God. In Christ, he has forgiven us, and his forgiveness moves us to act in the same way toward others. We are not motivated to forgive because the person deserved it. God forgave us, and we did not deserve it. God has every reason to be angry with you, and he still is kind and loving toward you. That excessive love Christ showed us moves us to be kind to someone who does not deserve our kindness. Jesus Christ gave himself into death to pay for our sins when we deserved nothing but damnation. That love also moves us to give freely of our love when others do not deserve it either.

May that peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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