Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ~Ephesians 4:32
Kindness, which the dictionary defines as “action showing or proceeding from benevolence,” is simultaneously wonderful to receive and really hard to give. Kindness is more than just being nice or helpful; genuine, biblical kindness involves an emotional component as well, a genuine disposition of the heart to pour itself out for the wellbeing of another person. That’s why our Cross Connection verse says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.” Those two words are synonyms.
It’s one thing to do nice or helpful things for people. You can hold the door open for someone without actually caring about them; that action can spring from courtesy, upbringing, habit, or even grudging obedience. Kindness– genuine tenderheartedness that expresses itself in service– actually cares about another person, and in that moment of expression, places their needs above your own.
If you made a list of the people you are truly kind to, it would probably be populated mostly with your friends and family. While being kind to those close to you is certainly a good thing, the type of kindness we’re after in this chapter, and that God is after in your life, goes farther. It may be easier to be kind to those who will love you in return, but Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even sinners do the same?” The gospel’s standard for kindness goes far beyond your circle of friends and family whom you get along with; real kindness, the only type that really counts, is the kindness that reaches out to the unlovely and frustrating, and keeps being kind even when it doesn’t get anything in return.
That’s why I said that kindness is actually a hard thing to give. Where do you get the emotional resources to continue to genuinely care about and act for the wellbeing of someone who doesn’t care about you in return? That’s more than hard; that’s exhausting.
You might be wondering why the symbol for kindness in this chapter is a dollar sign. It’s because of this: kindness costs. It costs you emotional resources, physical resources, time resources, perhaps monetary resources. Kindness costs. The main question for us as we’re considering how the gospel connects to and motivates our kindness is, Where am I going to get the resources to continue in kindness even when it’s not returned to me?
THE RICHES OF HIS KINDNESS
The answer, in a nutshell that we’ll unpack in this chapter, is that God intends for us to draw the resources to pay the costs of kindness from the “riches of his kindness” expressed to us in Jesus. Like an inexhaustible bank account, these divine riches are to continually replenish our feeble resources so that day by day, hour by hour, relationship by relationship, we can continue paying out costly kindness to others.
This imagery and the phrase “riches of kindness” is drawn from two particular Scripture passages that we’ll look at in greater detail. In Romans 2:4, Paul chastises those who, in unrepentant presumption, assume that God exists to bless and forgive them, regardless of their response to him. Those people, Paul says, “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” And in Ephesians 2:7, we get a glimpse of the indescribably glorious future of every believer: we have been saved and raised with Christ “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Looking in greater detail at these two texts will give us a greater grasp on God’s riches of kindness, and how they are supposed to fund our own kindness.
KINDNESS TO REPENTANCE
Romans 2 tells us three crucial things about God’s kindness: who it belongs to, what it rescues us for, and what it rescues us from. Each of those are important for understanding the gospel foundations of God’s kindness, and for building gospel foundations into our own kindness.
Do you suppose that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? ~Romans 2:3-4
WHO IT BELONGS TO
The first thing we must see about the riches of God’s kindness is that his kindness doesn’t belong to us, and it’s not automatically something given to us. This is God’s kindness, and we have no right to expect that God will give it to us.
That might come as a surprise to those of us who are conditioned to think of God the way so many today think of him: as a sort of cosmic grandfather who exists to bless us and forgive us and make us happy. Or perhaps he’s kind of like Santa Claus; he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good… but in the end, just about everyone gets presents.
That’s not the picture of God we get in the Bible. In Scripture, we are confronted with a God who is absolutely free– independent, all-powerful, and unrestrained, never in debt or obligation to sinful rebel creatures. He doesn’t owe us anything, and even if he did, we don’t deserve anything from him.
Exodus 33-34 is the central, defining revelation of God in the Old Testament. After showing his power and mercy in rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt, God has brought his people to himself and given them his law. And the people’s response? They rebel from God, make an idol, and start worshipping it. God threatens to destroy the people and restart his covenant with Moses, so Moses desperately pleads with God to show mercy and remain with them as their God. God, pleased with Moses’ intercession, agrees. And then Moses, perhaps emboldened by his successful petition, goes all in on his next prayer request:
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” ~Exodus 33:18
“Glory” is the shining forth, the demonstration, of all of God’s manifold perfections. What Moses is asking, in essence, is, “Show me the full beauty of who you really are.” This, by the way, is a prayer God loves to answer. He loves to show the full beauty of who he is, and we exist to see, savor, and celebrate this central Reality in the universe. And so he was happy to give Moses what he was longing for:
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, ‘Yahweh.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
God’s response to Moses request to show him his glory was threefold; God revealed three things about himself. These three things are the center of God’s glory, the very definition of who he is in his God-ness. First, he said, “I am good. I will make all my goodness pass before you.” God is perfectly righteous and good and holy. Oh, for us to know all that this goodness means! We will be looking at this again in the next Cross Connection.
Second, God said, “I will proclaim before you my name, ‘Yahweh.’ This is the covenant name of God, revealed to Moses at the burning bush. It means, “I am who I am.” God’s own name points to this central fact about himself: he is the unchanging, independent Reality on whom all other reality is contingent. God’s name declares to us, “This is who I am; before you existed and long after this world has turned to dust, I am Reality. Get on board or perish.” This is no Santa Claus god.
Third, God tells Moses what the first thing he said– that he is good– and the second thing– that is is Original Reality– have to do with each other. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” In other words, “I am unconstrained Goodness, and I am free to bestow that goodness, mercy, and kindness however I want.” God is not obligated to give mercy, and if he shows kindness to one person he is not required to show kindness to another. God is not an egalitarian– he is not constrained to treat everyone with equal measures of mercy. The universe is not a democracy. If one person receives grace and you don’t, he has done you no wrong. This rubs all our notions of human fairness the wrong way, but this is practically the definition of what it means that he is God: he is free.
It is against this backdrop that Paul’s rebuke makes sense: “You presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience,” as if God owed you mercy, as if, “Well, of course God will forgive me; God is a God of love after all!” We must know, and tremble with the knowledge, that God’s kindness is absolutely free– not just free in the sense that his kindness is unearned, but free in the sense that his kindness is unconstrained by anything outside his own heart and will. It belongs to him, and him alone, and he bestows it wherever, whenever, and however he wishes, according to his own heart and will.
WHAT HIS KINDNESS RESCUES US FOR
The second thing we can see from Romans 2 is that God’s kindness is not like that of a jolly grandfather who likes to spoil his grandchildren. No, we’re told that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” The extravagant and free grace and kindness of God is not meant to make us think, “Wow, God loves me; I must be so special!’ No, his kindness is meant to bring us to our knees, saying, “Why, God, would you treat me in this undeserved way? Great is the Lord!”
The key to this response really is to understand everything we just saw about God’s unrestrained character. If kindness is something I deserve, something I’m entitled to, something I have reason to expect, then I’ll be just like a spoiled kid at Christmas– no gratitude, no thankfulness, no love for the Giver. I’ll just have gotten what I deserved, and the gift will only serve to reinforce my notion that I’m deserving.
But God is not obligated to show kindness. And if I have even an inkling of self-awareness to know that I don’t deserve that which he is not obligated to give, then if I do receive kindness from him, I will receive it as the unearned and undeserved blessing it is. And instead of responding with selfish self-centeredness, I will respond to God how he wants me to: with thankfulness and repentance.
Every day we experience untold kindness from God. Every morning when the sun comes up, it is new mercy from God. Every moment you keep breathing instead of falling immediately into hell is God’s extended patience. Every experience of happiness and joy– completely undeserved by rebel creatures– is the overflow of God’s kindness, lavished even on unbelievers.
It is these manifold kindnesses that are intended to lead us to repentance, to lead us to forsake the dust and ash of this world’s treasures and return to the Giver and Treasure who will fully satisfy our souls. The tragedy, of course, is that instead of serving to increase our gratitude, God’s undeserved kindness more often serves to increase our guilt. Romans 2 continues: “…not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” When we don’t respond to God’s daily overflow of kindness rightly, we are actually “storing up wrath” for ourselves. Every time we didn’t respond in gratitude, every blessing that didn’t bring us to our knees, every offer of pardon and forgiveness that we spurned, is added to the record of debt that stands against us.
The fearful truth of the matter is that because God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance– and we so often respond wrongly– we need God’s kindness to do more than save us for something. We need his kindness to rescue us from wrath. And that’s exactly what Romans 2 tells us that his kindness does.
WHAT HIS KINDNESS RESCUES US FROM
The third and most important thing that we learn from Romans 2 about God’s kindness is what his kindness rescues us from. “The judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things (things in the list of sins from Romans 1). Do you suppose, O man, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness?” How often do we not live in light of God’s judgment! Every day, every person on the planet sins with suicidally insane impunity, recklessly gambling on God’s continuing patience and kindness, refusing to respond rightly to God’s overtures of grace, ignoring the looming reality of God’s judgment. It is a mercy we are not consumed in a moment.
Look carefully at what Paul says, and you’ll see that he equates supposing that we will escape the judgment of God to presuming on God’s kindness. “Do you suppose, O man, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness?” When we suppose that we will escape God’s judgment, we are presuming on the riches of kindness to rescue us from that wrath. The “supposing” and “presuming” is our problem, but Paul agrees with equating the escape of God’s judgment with God’s kindness. If anyone is to escape God’s judgment, it will be because of God’s kindness.
Here is where we meet the motivation in the heart of God behind the cross. In the cross, the kindness of God is on full display– the kindness of God that saves us from the wrath of God. “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).
The true measure of the riches of God’s kindness is what his kindness toward us cost him. As I said earlier, true kindness costs. And God’s kindness cost him what was most dear to his heart, the most valuable thing in the universe: the life of his perfect, beloved Son. The Father, out of totally free and undeserved kindness towards rebels like us, put forth his Son as a wrath-absorbing sacrifice in our place (Romans 3:25), so that we who deserve nothing from God could instead receive everything from him. Oh the kindness of God!
COMING AGES OF KINDNESS
If God’s kindness were to stop there, in saving us from wrath by the death of Jesus, it would be extravagant riches of kindness indeed. But God didn’t stop there, and we have only begun to scratch the truly breathtaking surface of the deepness and majesty of God’s infinite and eternal plans of kindness for us.
In Ephesians 2, Paul celebrates the riches of grace and kindness and love that God has lavished on us, and how all these riches are only a foretaste of everything that is to come.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~Ephesians 2:4-7
Why, why would a holy God look on a sinful, hardened rebel like me and treat me with such kindness? This is the mystery of grace, and when you look at Paul’s words here, you can see that he stands amazed, reveling in the grace of God. He wants us to be amazed. He wants us to realize what God has done for us. Look at how he heaps up phrase after phrase. “But God, being rich in mercy”- how much mercy do you think you need? How much mercy did it cost to save you? More than you think! But our God is not stingy with His grace; He does not measure it out penny by penny. Ephesians 1 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished on us.” He is lavish with his grace; he is extravagant with his kindness.
If you doubt this– if you feel like he is a stern Father, if you feel like, “You have no idea what I’ve done; there’s no way God can forgive me,”– he bids you to turn your eyes to the cross and see what his grace cost him. It cost him the infinite riches of heaven: the life of His Son. The blood of Jesus Christ is the highest possible price that could be paid, because Jesus Christ is infinitely valuable, infinitely worthy. When he offered himself as payment, no greater payment could be possible. So when the text says that God is rich in mercy, hear what it means: out of his infinite riches he paid an infinite price to forgive your infinite guilt and welcome you into infinite joy.
You might say, as I often say, “Why? Why would God love someone like me?” I love the Bible’s answer: “because of the great love with which he loved us.” What moved his heart to love someone like you? Was it a little kindness? Was it love comparable to our own feeble, flickering attempts at affection and sacrifice? No– it was great love. It wasn’t just mercy; it was “the riches of mercy.” It wasn’t just love- it was “great love.” Know yourself loved like this, Christian. When you look to the cross, do you see “riches of mercy” and “great love?”
And as you keep reading, it’s as if Paul can hardly believe it: “the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses!” It’s as if he’s saying, “I could understand if God loved us when we got our stuff together and cleaned up our act. But he loved us before that– he loved us when we were still dead in our sins and slaves to Satan and to ourselves. That’s when he loved us!” It’s the same as what Paul says in Romans 5: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners, while we were dead in our trespasses- and Christian, if he loved you like that then, what makes you think he will turn away from you now that you are his, bought with his precious blood?
He made you alive with Christ; your spiritual heart is beating; you’re saved by grace– by free and unmerited mercy. You’ve been treated with sweet and spectacular unfairness. That’s what grace is: getting what you don’t deserve. And day by day, moment by moment, your life is unfair; you are getting what you don’t deserve. His mercy is new every morning, his blood covers every sin, and you stand secure on the rock of his unchanging, unmoving love, bought by the life and death of his precious Son.
All of that, and we haven’t even gotten to what Paul says about the riches of God’s kindness (sometimes you just have to take a page to stand back and be amazed by grace!). After celebrating the past amazing grace of God demonstrated on the cross, Paul turns our attention forward to the future amazing grace of God bought by the cross:
…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~Ephesians 2:6-7
Paul says that God didn’t just make us alive with Christ; he raised us up with him and seated us with him on his heavenly throne. Even though we’re not there yet, Paul says it in the past tense because it’s as good as done; there is a “this space reserved” sign with your name on it hanging on the heavenly throne of Jesus Christ. Consider for a moment what it means that we have been seated with Christ. Today, he reigns in heaven, sitting on his throne, with all authority in heaven and on earth. And Paul says, “That’s your seat. His throne is your seat.”
Do you realize what God has in store for you? We get a few glimpses of it here in Ephesians 2 and elsewhere, glimpses so startling that they take your breath away. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
We are told that we will reign with Christ. You– yes, you, weak, frail, faithless, failing believer– will shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father and will reign over the new heavens and new earth as co-regent with Jesus Christ. That’s so audacious, that it would sound blasphemous and absurd if it weren’t true. Revelation 22:4– “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Oh believer, do you realize what God has in store for you?
And now we’ve finally arrived at the phrase we’ve been zeroing in on– “the riches of kindness.” I love verse 7 here in Ephesians 2. This is sort of a summary of all the promises in the Bible, all the promises of unending, ever-increasing joy and glory when He makes all things new. This promise could be (and, by his grace, will be) unpacked day after day for the rest of our lives and into eternity. He raised us up to reign with Christ “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
You know, if I wanted to show you something, I might say, “Hey, come here for a minute so I can show you this.” If I wanted to show you something really spectacular and detailed, I might say, “Can you come over for a whole afternoon? There’s this really awesome thing I want to show you, and it will take a little while.” And then there are some places– really beautiful, incredible places that you might go to visit– and of course people say, “You really can’t see it in a week; it would take a lifetime to see everything there is to see.”
So hear what Paul says again: “…in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace.” It will take ages upon ages, endless eternities of eternities, for God to show us all the riches of his gracious kindness, because his kindness is immeasurable, without limit, without end. All of this world’s oceans are like a drop compared to the sea of glory that awaits us. Ten million years from now, his mercies will still be new every morning, there will still be more to know of him and experience of him and enjoy of him, and we will still not have scratched the surface. Every day there will be new vistas of glory and new depths of joy, more glory, more joy, more of Jesus to know and love, forever. Remember our definition of kindness: action proceeding from benevolence. Because the benevolence in the heart of God towards his children is unfathomably, bottomlessly deep, there will never be an end to his concrete acts of kindness towards us. Every new day in the new heavens and new earth will be a new opportunity for him to express new depths and heights of love for us. And so heaven will start off glorious and joyful and keep getting more and more, better and better, every day forever and ever without end. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”
Oh Christian, know the hope to which he has called you, and the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. “Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” Plumbing these depths of riches, as we have been doing for the past several pages, is the key to finding the resources to live a life of costly kindness toward others, just as God has expended costly kindness on you.
KIND, TENDERHEARTED, FORGIVING
All of these untold riches of God’s kindness toward us are what will sustain our own sacrifices on the road of costly kindness. Remember our original Cross Connections verse from Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
The very grammatical structure of this verse shows us that we’re on the right track in considering God’s kindness as the fund from which we pay out our own acts of kindness. Let’s look more closely at that verse.
The central imperative command of Ephesians 4:32 is, “Be kind to one another.” The next word that follows, tenderhearted, is a restatement of the original command, be kind. “Be kind to one another; in other words, be tenderhearted.”
Then Paul continues with a participial phrase, “forgiving one another” (for you grammar fans: a participle is a verb in an -ing form that acts as an adjective or adverb). The way “forgiving one another” functions grammatically in the sentence is to describe what being “kind and tenderhearted” looks like. That’s what participles do. It would be as if I said, “Eat all your pizza, enjoying every bite.” “Enjoying every bite” gives further clarification of what “eat all your pizza” should look like. That’s how the participle is functioning in Ephesians 4:32- “forgiving one another” clarifies what Paul means by “kind and tenderhearted.” One of the main ways our kindness should express itself is in our forgiving others.
The last phrase in the verse is the bombshell that takes all of this and makes it explode with significance: “as God in Christ forgave you.” That little word “as” means “in the same way as.” So the last half of the verse means: “forgiving one another, in the same way as God in Christ forgave you.”
Put the two halves of the verse together and you’ll see why I’m making a big deal about this. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted– and in particular, this is what your kindness should like: extending to others the same forgiveness that God has first extended to you.” Paul defines kindness in a cross-connected way; it is God’s forgiveness of us in Christ that defines what our kindness looks like.
This is the Cross Connection at the heart of kindness. You can now see why I said that the riches of God’s kindness is what will sustain our own sacrifices of costly kindness. All of the riches of God’s kindness, everything we’ve unpacked in this chapter with all its depths and heights of glory, is contained in the phrase “as God in Christ forgave you.” These riches of kindness are God’s storehouse of resources that he makes available to us to fund our own sacrifices for others.
As we come to the end of this study of kindness, let’s get practical. What do I mean, practically speaking, when I say that the riches of God’s kindness sustain our sacrifices of costly kindness?
Think of the riches of God’s kindness like a bank account. When you buy groceries, you use the money in your bank account. The money is sitting there until you go to the ATM and withdraw the cash you need to make a purchase. That’s what a bank account is for, and that’s how you buy things. When you need groceries, you don’t go into your back yard and try to dig up some gold. Neither do you take something of equal value to the grocery store and try to barter for your milk and bread.
Now think of your kindness, and the emotional resources it takes to sustain tenderheartedness and its accompanying action, especially when you don’t receive kindness in return. That kind of emotional investment is really hard to sustain. After a couple times of being rebuffed, or ignored, or even belittled in your attempts at kindness, all your grand intentions will quickly wither. You’ll simply run out of the will, out of the emotional resources, you need to continue loving a person like that. Kindness is costly.
If you find yourself in that situation, it’s because you’ve been going about kindness in the same way as digging up gold to pay for groceries, or bartering to pay for an item. What I mean by that is, you’ve either been showing kindness on the strength of your own emotional resources and are quickly running out (just as you would if you had to dig up gold for every purchase you make), or you’re hoping that the kindness you show will get you kindness in return (as if you were bartering for groceries). Both of these ways of showing kindness will quickly run out of resources; you just simply aren’t a kind enough person to keep on showing kindness over and over again while getting nothing in return. And if you only show kindness to those who are kind to you in return, not only are you not going to get what you’re looking for most of the time, you’ve fallen completely short of the biblical standard of kindness– Jesus said that if you only love those who love you, you’re no different than any other sinner. No, the gospel calls us up to a higher standard, and gives us the resources to get there.
Rather than digging in your own heart for emotional resources, or negotiating a tit-for-tat exchange of kindness with our friends, God calls us to draw from the bank account of his kindness towards us in all our interactions with others. Just like every purchase you make draws on your bank account, every interaction with other people should send you back to the bank of God’s kindness for emotional resources to deal with that person.
Here’s what I mean: let’s say you have a meeting with a difficult co-worker later today. As you’re walking into the meeting (or, even better, while you’re at your desk half an hour before the meeting), take some time to meditate on God’s specific kindness towards you. Mull over a passage like Ephesians 2:4-7 that you’ve committed to memory, and thank God for his undeserved kindness towards you. Quietly marvel at his promises of untold future kindness that will be lavished on you (did you realize you could worship while at work?). Fill up your heart in that moment with the assurance that Jesus died for your sin while you were still a sinner opposed to him. And then walk into the meeting with all of that gospel truth in your mind and heart, and you will find that those gospel resources will carry you through your interactions with that difficult co-worker.
Sometimes, however, we are forced into kindness more quickly, and don’t have the time to prepare our minds and hearts beforehand. A chance encounter with someone is an opportunity to demonstrate the gospel in your interactions with them, but doesn’t always give you the chance to intentionally store up gospel resources in your heart. In times like these, drawing on the resources of God’s kindness might be as simple and quick as, “Lord, thank you for all the ways you bless and love me. Help me to treat this person like that.” A simple gospel mindset and prayerful heart like this is a powerful tool in the Holy Spirit’s hands to make you an instrument for kindness and reconciliation in the world.
This is what a gospel-centered, cross-connected life looks like. Daily, hourly, moment by moment drawing on the resources of the gospel for every situation is the key to the Christian life. As we intentionally store up gospel promises and truths in our minds and ask God to apply them to our hearts, the Holy Spirit will answer those prayers by stirring up what we’ve stored up, and will day by day begin to grow the fruit of kindness in our lives.
Father, Your kindness towards an undeserving sinner like me is extravagant and breathtaking. Thank you for taking this a dead, hardened rebel and opening my eyes to see Jesus as a compelling, living Savior, for uniting me to him in resurrecting faith, for taking away all my sin and shame, and for all your promises of future glory. I know that all my experiences of your kindness so far have not even scratched the surface of what you have in store for me. Grip my heart and mind with these truths until they will overflow in my life with the fruit of Christ-like kindness, so that people will see the reality of the gospel and the glory of the Savior in my life.