Here is an excerpt from a sermon from John Piper I read this morning: Click here for the full sermon.
The point here is that Christian kindness is not merely an outward change of behaviors; it is an internal change of heart. Verse 32 says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted. . ." Christian kindness is tenderhearted. If the heart is hard on the inside and the behaviors are gentle and polite and helpful on the outside, it is not Christian kindness.
The idea behind "tenderhearted" is that our insides are easily touched. When your skin is tender, it doesn't take a very hard touch to make it feel pain. When your heart is tender, it is easily affected. It feels easily and quickly.
When you stop and think about it, it is remarkable that this is commanded by the apostle. You can't just decide to be tenderhearted and turn it on like a faucet. It is a deep character quality. Where does it come from? How can we obey this command to make our kindness to each other deep and heart-felt, not superficial and cool?
Four Qualities of God's Forgiveness
What do these two patterns of kindness teach us about being kind to each other? Let's take them one at a time. What does the pattern of God's forgiveness teach us about our own? Four things come to mind:
- God's forgiveness takes sin seriously and so should ours. Forgiveness is not flippancy toward sin. It sees it and names it—and then covers it. God forgives what he hates. When I called a man recently to apologize for something I had said and seek his forgiveness, he didn't say, "It makes no difference." Or: "I didn't hear it." He said earnestly and warmly, "Forgiven, and forgotten." And I got the deep impression he really meant it.
- God's forgiveness reckons with a real settling of accounts and so should ours. Every sin that has ever been committed will be justly punished—either in hell or on the cross. God never sweeps one little lie under the rug. Someone always pays. So when kindness calls us to forgive a wrong that has been done against us, we are sustained by the truth of God's holiness. That wrong is going to be dealt with: either the person who committed it against us will trust Christ in the end, in which case the wrong they committed is punished in the wrath that was poured on Christ when the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4–6); or the person who committed the wrong against us is not going to trust Christ in the end, in which case the wrong that they committed will be punished in the sufferings of hell. And in neither case should we fear to forgive as though there were no settling of accounts in the universe.
- God's forgiveness was costly and so is ours. It cost God his Son. And it will cost us the sweet taste of revenge and the pleasure of savoring a grudge and the pride of superiority.
- God's forgiveness is real and ours should be too. There is no sham in it. When he forgives, we are really restored. Nothing is held over our heads for later blackmail. It is gone: "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). And so we fall short of our divine pattern if we forgive a wrong but secretly plan to keep it in the back of our minds for a later touché. When we forgive, let us really forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave us.