Act Like Christians

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            I would like for you to take your Bibles and turn to the fourth chapter of Ephesians and the 32nd verse. Listen, as I read this verse to you. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

            Before we look at this verse in detail, I want to set the background for which Paul issued this command. Paul, in many of his letters, deals with belief before behavior, precepts before practice, and convictions before commitment. Ephesians is no different. The letter in the first three chapters deals with the identity of these readers of Paul. They were Christians saved by God’s grace. Formerly, they were dead in their trespasses and sins, followed the course of this world, followed the prince of the power of the air, sons of disobedience, lived for passions of the flesh, carried out desires of body and mind, and children of wrath.

            But God changed all of this by His grace. He made us alive together with Christ, raised us up and seated us with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We are no longer who we once were because of Christ. Therefore, as Christians we should no longer act like we once did, but now in the way that God desires for us. In other words, our actions are linked to our identity.

            Remember, as a child, when you would fall down or get hurt or had something not go your way and your parents would make the remark, “There, there, you’re a big boy or girl. Act like it.”

            Princess Margaret, as a young girl, sits beside her mother, Queen Elizabeth, at the princess’s presentation to the British public. She is called upon to walk to the microphone and say a few words to the gathered dignitaries. As she prepares to stand, her mother leans over to her and says, “You are a princess. Walk like one!”

            Eighteen-year-old Chuck has gone through twelve of the toughest weeks of anyone’s life in Marine boot camp in coastal South Carolina. During the last week they are forced to crawl under rolls of barbed wire with live machine gun ammunition blazing just inches over their heads. Chuck freezes. He begins to sweat. His hands dig into the red clay beneath him as panic sweeps his soul. Just the, a friend crawls up beside him and says, “Get a hold of yourself, Chuck. You’re a marine. Act like one!”

            So Paul in Ephesians switches from the first three chapters saying “You are a child of God. Act like one!” Paul’s pattern here is not only to have us stop doing the evil behavior, but also to begin practicing godly behavior. We are to replace lying with telling the truth (4:25). We are to stop stealing and instead work hard and give to those in need (4:28). We are to stop using unwholesome words and instead use words that build up and give grace (4:29). So here, sinful anger is to be replaced with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness.

            In verse 31, Paul gives a list of six vices that Christians are to put off like a landlord would an undesirable tenant. Instead, we are to put on a spiritual wardrobe given us by the Spirit of God. Let me just mention briefly the six vices in verse 31, then give you three virtues and the motivation for these virtues.


            Bitterness - is the bearing of a grudge against another, because of some wrong we believe they have committed against us or another. It is a long-standing resentment, a spirit that refuses to be reconciled. In other words, this attitude keeps scores of wrongs.

            Wrath - refers to the explosive outbursts of anger which are common practice to those with “bad tempers” It derived from a word meaning “to boil.”

            Anger – this word is synonymous with wrath, but differs in this respect. Wrath is an emotional outburst that is spontaneous, while anger is less explosive, yet more settled attitude that lingers longer. Often it is premeditated. The purpose is to seek revenge.

            Clamor - refers to loud, angry words, where people are screaming at each other. It includes cursing and calling someone abusive names.

            Slander - is that speech which demeans the other person. It is destructive, not constructive, speech. It is also speech which often falls short of the truth. Slander is accompanied by falsehood, where we stretch the truth or only give enough information to tilt the verdict in our direction.

            Malice - is resentment that has turned even more sour, so that we now bear ill will toward another to the degree that we wish to see them suffer. It is the attitude which, when it conceives, actively seeks to bring harm to another. It is added to cover any anger or hostility that we might justify or okay.

            These things may characterize an unbeliever, but I am afraid that sometimes they characterize Christians. A Reader’s Digest article (Oct., 2007) gave numerous examples of parents who watch their children’s sports activities and erupt in anger to the point of attacking other parents and even the children competing against their children! One father beat another father to death after a youth hockey practice! Another dad clubbed his daughter’s high school softball coach repeatedly in the head and body with an aluminum bat because the coach had suspended the girl for missing a game to attend the prom. The article stated that three-fourths of parents who have attended a youth sporting event have witnessed other parents being verbally abusive. One in seven have witnessed an actual physical altercation involving a parent!

            In fact, I have witnessed this attitude in the life of believers. Churches have split over angry people and Christian homes have been broken apart by angry people. So Paul says there ought to be three virtues that should be true of Christians.


            Paul opens up this verse with a Greek word be which literally means “to become.” The command demands an ongoing process. It is the idea to abandon one mental condition and go in the opposite direction. So what are we to become: kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving one another.

            Kind – is the opposite of hard, harsh or bitter. It is being good and courteous in looks, words and actions. Paul says that love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4) and one of the fruit of the Spirit is kindness (Gal. 5:22). A kind person is not harsh or sharp with others. He allows others room to offend or make mistakes without becoming offended and crawling all over them. A kind person takes an interest in others and tries to understand what they are feeling by asking sensitive questions.

            This describes the character of God. In Luke 6:35, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Paul in Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness is mean to lead you to repentance.” Peter said, tasting God’s kindness should motivate us to put away vices and grow in our Christian walk.

            The idea of kindness is to think as much about a neighbor’s affair as we do our own. We are to be looking outwards rather than inwards. Alexander Maclaren said, “Kindness makes a person attractive. If you would win the world, melt it, do not hammer it.”

            The 1992 Olympics are now history, but while they were in progress a few months back, we remembered the story of Henry Pearce of Australia, who was competing in the single scull rowing event at the 1928 Olympics. He was leading when a duck and her string of ducklings came into view up ahead. They were on a collision course and Pearce reckoned that his scull would cut the string in two and sink a few ducklings in the process, so he pulled in his oars. When the ducks passed, Pearce again bent his back to the task. There’s a happy ending to the story. Pearce won. Usually, acts of sportsmanship result in defeat. Remember Leo Durocher’s pronouncement, “Nice guys finish last”? It happened a couple of years ago in the marathon tandem kayak racing event at the world championships in Copenhagen. Danish paddlers were leading when their rudder was damaged in a portage. British paddlers, who were in second place, stopped to help the Danes fix it. The Danes went on to defeat the British by one second in an event that lasted nearly three hours. But there’s a happy ending to this story too. According to The Wall Street Journal, the British kayakers won what many people regard as the highest honor in sports. They became the winner of the Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Trophy. The trophy is named for the founder of the modern Olympic Games, and it has been awarded annually for the past 28 years to people in sports who have demonstrated nobility of spirit. It is big news in Europe, but it has not been given much recognition in the United States. In the past, the trophy has gone to a Hungarian tennis player who pleaded with officials to give his opponent more time to recover from a cramp, and to a high school basketball coach who forfeited the Georgia (US) state championship after he found out that one of his players was scholastically ineligible. The first trophy went to an Italian bobsledder named Eugenio Monti for a gesture that exhibited a touch of class. In the two-man bobsled event at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics, Monti was the leader after his final run. The only one given a chance to beat him was Tony Nash of Great Britain. As Nash and his teammate got ready for their final run, they discovered that a critical bolt on their sled had snapped at the last moment. Monti was informed of the problem and immediately took the corresponding bolt from his own sled and sent it up to Nash. Nash fixed his sled, came hurtling down the course to set a record and won the gold medal.

            Tender-hearted – This is the opposite of wrath, anger and clamor. It can be translated compassionate. It is used in 1 Peter

3:8-9a, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.” It comes from the Greek word for “bowels,” which they saw as the seat of our emotions. To be tender-hearted means to have deep, “gut” feelings for one another. It means to have genuine concern for another person’s well-being. It is the opposite of being calloused, as we were before we met Christ (4:19).

Despite his busy schedule during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln often visited the hospitals to cheer the wounded. On one occasion he saw a young fellow who was near death. “Is there anything I can do for you?” asked the compassionate President. “Please write a letter to my mother,” came the reply. Unrecognized by the soldier, the Chief Executive sat down and wrote as the youth told him what to say.

The letter read, “My Dearest Mother, I was badly hurt while doing my duty, and I won’t recover. Don’t sorrow too much for me. May God bless you and Father. Kiss Mary and John for me.” The young man was too weak to go on, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and then added this postscript: “Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.”

Asking to see the note, the soldier was astonished to discover who had shown him such kindness. “Are you really our President?” he asked. “Yes,” was the quiet answer. “Now, is there anything else I can do?” The lad feebly replied, “Will you please hold my hand? I think it would help to see me through to the end.” The tall, gaunt man granted his request, offering warm words of encouragement until death stole in with the dawn.

            Just like Lincoln and the young soldier should you and I be toward each other. Tender-hearted is sympathizing with the distress of a fellow believer, as if it were your own.

            Forgiving one another – Paul knew that grievances that are nursed can become an obstacle for being kind and tender-hearted toward others. So he instructs us to forgive one another. We know loving one another puts us at risk of being hurt by those who we love. There are times when we are hurt by something said or did by those that we love.

            C. S. Lewis addressed the fear of risking to love when he said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be certainly wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love... is hell."

            Therefore, we must learn to forgive one another. The word used here points to undeserved favor. It implies that the other person has truly wronged us. To forgive is to choose to absorb the pain and show grace to the other person. If he has to earn it, it’s not forgiveness. If you put it on file and bring it up every time there is a disagreement, it’s not forgiveness. If it doesn’t cost you anything to grant it, it’s not forgiveness.

            Joseph, who was sold by his brothers is a great example of forgiveness. He could have easily repaid his brothers for what they did to him, but he forgave them.

            Charlie Hainline is a layman at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is a man who radiates the love of Christ, and is serious about sharing his faith with others. One year, his goal was to lead 1650 people to faith in Christ (5 a day)! Once, he was out witnessing with a couple of other folks, and though he didn’t share the gospel, he sat there and smiled broadly as a teammate did. When the teammate was finished and asked if the person would like to trust Christ and receive the gift of eternal life, the person replied, “If being a Christian would make me like him (point to Charlie), I want it!” Charlie’s life wasn’t a bed of roses by any means. His daughter was kidnapped, killed, and her head was found floating in a canal. When the murderer of his daughter was caught and convicted, Charlie went to jail in order to witness to the man.

As you can see forgiveness is a supernatural thing given to us by God Himself and we need to ask Him for help. “His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor,” Corrie wrote, “to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.” “Up in the church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.”

“And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force—which was my willingness in the matter—had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.” (Corrie ten Boom)

Finally, Paul ends with the motivation for forgiving. We are to forgive because God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us. As the psalmist puts it (Ps. 130:3-4), “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.”

God forgave us by his grace and not by our merit. Our sin was great and numerous, but God in his generosity has forgiven us of our sins. In turn we are to forgive others because God has shown us grace. And God’s forgiveness is costly because his Son died in our place. Forgiveness for us may be costly, but not as costly as God’s forgiveness.

Jesus graphically made this point in response to Peter’s question about forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35). He told the parable of the slave who owed a king 10,000 talents. A talent was worth more than 15 years’ wages for a laborer, so 10,000 talents represented 150,000 years’ wages, an unpayable debt. When the man begged for mercy, the king freely forgave the entire amount. But then the slave went out and grabbed a fellow slave who owed him 100 denari, about 100 days’ wages. When he couldn’t pay, the forgiven slave had him thrown into prison. The king was moved with righteous anger towards the unforgiving slave. The point of the story is, no one could have wronged you as much as you have wronged God. Since He freely forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture—taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note.

It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did.

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