Previous article in this series: January 15, 2010, p. 177.
In the previous article, we focused on a description of gentleness and on its only source for us in Jesus Christ. Now, we follow through with some application of that virtue to our daily life, particularly by means of the admonition of Colossians 3:12. The Lord commands us, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness….” We must clothe ourselves with this virtue of kindness, or, as it is also called in Scripture, gentleness.
What is this spiritual fabric that must be worn by the regenerated, believing, holy child of God? It is certainly not a clothing that we can fabricate. We can neither fabricate the clothing necessary to cover the shame and nakedness of our sin in the sight of God, nor manufacture this holy clothing of gentleness. This is a robe that God has made with the living and golden threads of the holy life of Jesus Christ. For us to wear this robe, the Spirit of Christ must put it on us through His word. He must give us the strength to wear it and to exercise this robe of gentleness in our daily life.
For that robe and the faithful wearing of it, we must pray unto our heavenly Father daily. We must seek the Father for the Spirit and grace to wear it and exercise it.
To whom, then, must we exercise this virtue of gentleness? We must be kind and gentle towards our fellow saints within the household of faith, the church. To those in the grip of grief and sorrow, to those walking in sin, to our covenant children, to our spouses, and to all whom the Lord in His providence brings upon our pathway in the life of the church, we must be kind.
Little children must learn to be kind and gentle. At a very early age, we show by our fighting or by our theft of toys from the unsuspecting sibling that we are prone to be brutal, cruel, and hostile towards others. Instead, we must be kind to one another. We must be gentle towards others who may have disabilities, may be wheel chair bound, or cannot learn and memorize as quickly as others. Diversity in the body of Christ is the God-given circumstance in which to exercise kindness.
In addition to that, we must even be kind to our enemies. In Romans 12:20, we are taught to give to an enemy a cup of cold water when he is thirsty. We are taught to be kind even to the unthankful and evil (Luke 6:35-36). Even in persecution, the believer must be gentle, as Christ was: “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (I Pet. 2:23).
When we consider the wide range of types of people to whom we must show kindness, that brings to mind some important characteristics of this amazing virtue of gentleness.
First, true kindness towards others ought to be unconditional. Just as we did not merit God’s gentleness and compassion upon us, neither must we expect others to merit it from us. Freely must we put on and exercise this virtue of kindness. We must not wait for others to fulfill certain conditions and maintain a level of merit because of which we then exercise gentleness. We must not wait for others to show gentleness to us because of which we will then be gentle to them. God did not require of us to fulfill conditions of gentleness first in order then to be kind to us. God loved us first (I John 4:19). Even when we were His enemies, God in our Savior was merciful and gentle toward us unto our redemption. Similarly, we must not exercise gentleness toward another on the basis of a set of fulfilled conditions and prerequisites. We must exercise a gentleness toward others that is unconditional and free.
It should be clear, then, that kindness should be exercised to the undeserving. There are those who by their behavior make it extremely difficult for us to exercise kindness. In fact, to those who provoke us by their sins, we are prone to retaliate in kind, but never in kindness. Nevertheless, even to the unthankful and evil, we must be kind. Our kindness toward our children, for example, may not be based upon whether they deserve it or not. It is a fact that no man, woman, or child will ever be worthy of any kindness. Yet, Scripture requires us to exercise kindness even to an evil and unthankful man, woman, or child, who in their unthankfulness show themselves to be the most undeserving.
Next, true kindness is constant. God is eternally kind to us. Ought not we, as the children of our heavenly Father, be exercising this virtue constantly? Should we not be fighting diligently against retaliation, cruelty, bitter harshness, and spiritual brutality to others? Should we not be seeking by faith in Christ alone to put on that virtue of gentleness in word and action?
Let us not forget, though, that true kindness is also holy and righteous. We must not think that gentleness is never calling another to repentance. We must not think that a spiritually gentle father would never discipline his children. We must not think that gentleness avoids contending for the faith and doing the hard work of saying sharp words to a stubbornly impenitent sinner. True gentleness does not approve or tolerate sin. This is also illustrated by Christ in John 8, to which we referred earlier. We remember that Jesus forgave the woman caught in the guilt and public shame due to her sin of her adultery. Jesus would not condemn her, but forgave her, because He intended to redeem her as well. However, Jesus did not, then, say to her, that it was permissible to continue in her sins against the seventh commandment. Instead, Jesus in His kindness called her out of her past ways of sin by saying, “Go and sin no more!” Christ’s kindness was both righteous in His forgiveness and holy in His call to forsake the ways of wickedness.
Such is the virtue with which we desire to be clothed upon by the Spirit of Christ. Our kindness may not tolerate sin, but must hate sin. In true kindness, we must call unrepentant sinners out of their sins of wickedness, or even of radicalism, into the holy and wise ways of repentance and faith in Christ. To those who confess their sins, kindness is righteously forgiving on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and kindness will in holiness lead a repentant sinner out of his sin and into the holy and wise ways of the Father. In that way, true kindness honors our heavenly Father, is consistent with His love for us in Christ Jesus, and thereby shows that we are the children of our heavenly Father renewed by the Spirit in the image of Christ.
Finally, true kindness is filled with and governed by the word of God. It follows studiously the examples of the saints in Scripture. It is filled with the words and wisdom of Scripture for comfort, admonition, correction, and instruction in the paths righteousness.
In order that we might bring forth this fruit, the Lord calls or commands us by His word and Spirit: “clothe yourselves with this kindness one toward another.”
That command to do so is based upon the truth that ye are “elect of God.” This echoes the truth of election as taught in Ephesians 1:4. God has chosen us in Christ to be ordained unto eternal salvation through the wonder of our deliverance from sin by His grace alone. God has made this decree of election “before the foundation of the world.” He has chosen us unconditionally and sovereignly unto salvation. According to God’s will, this is what Christ calls us: the elect of God. We have been predestinated in Christ to be the sons and daughters of our heavenly Father in everlasting life with Him.
The goal of that election, according to Ephesians 1:4, is holiness and blamelessness before Him in the bond of love. The goal of that election is that we might be transformed into the image and life of Christ. We shall be like Christ in His glory, which includes all the virtues of that new man in Christ, including kindness. While we bring forth kindness in fulfillment of God’s will and counsel, we know that we are the elect of God.
This finds support in what the apostle Paul taught in II Thessalonians 2:13, where we read: “God hath chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” This teaches us that we are chosen unto that life of sanctification of the Spirit. We are chosen unto that life of bearing the fruit of the Spirit. In fulfillment of that will of God and eternal good pleasure of God in our salvation, Christ commands us to clothe ourselves not only with the new man in Christ, but specifically with kindness over against the cruelty, retaliation, bitterness, and harshness of our old nature.
Secondly, the command to clothe ourselves in kindness is based on the fact that we are called “holy.” It may be a surprise to us, at first, that God would even dare to call us “holy.” In response to our surprise, let us remember, first, that Christ is holy. He is pure in all His glory and being. He is totally consecrated unto the eternal good pleasure, the will, and the purpose of God. So holy was Christ, that He could not yield to the sinful temptations from the Devil. And now at God’s right hand, Christ is beyond and above sin and temptation in His glory. He is holy, as God is holy.
By mentioning that we are holy, the apostle Paul reminds us that this is our new identity as members of the body of Christ, purchased by Christ, and now anointed and sanctified by His Spirit. In Christ, we are holy. That is quite a statement in light of all our present wickedness and sin. Yet, that is true: belonging to Christ, we possess now, in Him, His holiness. Even though we possess only a small beginning of the life of that holiness, yet we are holy in Christ. This we confess in the Apostles’ Creed when we say that the church is not only catholic, but also holy. We learn, of course, that the church is holy, not because of her members but only because of, and in, Christ by His sanctifying Spirit of holiness.
On the basis of that principle, Christ through His apostle declares that since we are holy, part of that life of holiness, in addition to bringing forth all the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, includes wearing the robes of gentleness one toward another. Live in consecration to your Head, Christ, and desire to exercise this Christ-like virtue. Show that thankful love and heartfelt devotion to Him in how you treat those who are also united to Him and to you by His Spirit through faith.
Finally, the believer ought to clothe himself by faith with kindness because the child of God is called “beloved.” The love of Christ for us and in us surpasses our comprehension. We cannot begin to comprehend the dimensions and greatness of His love toward us. He so loved us first that He gave Himself entirely to the atoning death of our salvation. He did that even though we least deserved it and never shall deserve His redeeming love. Still, Christ loves us with His constant, never failing love. Though we sin against Him and sin against His people, yet He does not destroy us. When we experience coming to our heavenly Father in repentance and prayer by the gentle and rescuing mercy of Christ, we also experience that Christ is at the throne of grace, not as our accuser or adversary, but as our gentle and kind Advocate, who pleads with the Father, on the basis of His merits alone, for the grace and mercy that we need moment by moment. That faithful and powerful love of Christ and His faithful supply of the grace and mercy we need provide us the constant motivation to wear the virtue of kindness towards one another. That we are “the beloved” assures us that Christ has poured into us His love. This is prime evidence that we are His beloved. He not only loves us by doing various things for us, but His love carries through to the point where He fills us with His love by His Spirit. He unites us to Himself in love, in the bond of perfection. Because He gave us His love, His life, and His Spirit, we have the possibility and the reality of a life of love toward Him and of a life of the production of the fruit of the Spirit, including kindness.
That reminds us that without the exercise of love, the first aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, there will be no fruit of kindness. We have the hope that with the love of Christ by His Spirit in us His beloved, there will also come forth fruits of gentleness and kindness.
This faithful exercise of gentleness will result in peace. This is not the same as earthly peace, nor the end of all controversy and struggle. We may not expect that, by the exercise of this virtue, suddenly our pathway becomes smooth, flat, and free of troubles, or that it will be much different than it was for Christ in His earthly sojourn. Christ said that as we live like Him, the world will hate us because it hated Him. Though we must exercise acts of kindness, yet do not expect that your lot in the midst of the world will improve because of this faithfulness to Christ. The world hates Christ. As the wicked and unbelieving behold in you the image of Christ, being more and more renewed daily by the work of the Spirit in the way of repentance and trust in Christ, they will despise the spiritual sweetness of your kindness. If not taking advantage of your kindness, then the world will persecute you. The result of your spiritual gentleness, which does not compromise for sin and false doctrine, will be met with cruelty of various sorts from the proud and unbelieving.
Nevertheless, clothing ourselves with the virtue of kindness will have the result of the enjoyment of peace towards your heavenly Father as you seek to be as He is towards you. In that way, you will enjoy the priceless assurance that you are the Father’s children. Furthermore, this exercise of gentleness will bear good fruit in your family homes and in your church homes. Where we exercise kindness one toward another, there strife and schism stop and there healing and the enjoyment of blessed peace begin. Where there is that peace, there is the enjoyment of having our gentle Savior, by His word and Spirit, dwell within and among us.
Consequently, the result of kindness is an occasion for thankfulness. The end of our salvation is that God might be praised and thanked. Our gentleness is blessed by God with the result of thankfulness, sometimes immediately, and at other times over a long period of time, in those to whom we deal in a kind and gentle spirit.
Give thanks to God that He makes it possible by the wonder of His grace that we who were once dead branches are now living branches in Christ Jesus, to bring forth the fruit of gentleness. Believing in the gentleness of His sovereign and irresistible mercy towards us, let us, then, in thankfulness clothe ourselves with kindness toward one another.