by Eugene Higgins
Be ye kind one to another,
Relationships enrich life. Whether parent-child, child-sibling, friend-to-friend, or husband-wife, relationships were established by God, our benevolent Creator, Who made us as tripartite beings with relational capabilities and needs. Genesis records that God saw it was “not good for the man to be alone.” Many of us have been blessed with wise and godly wives, and we are thankful for the Divine wisdom evident in His gracious plan. But the shelter-at-home demands (commands?) that accompanied the covid virus seem to confirm that it is also not good for the man or the woman never to be alone, that everyone needs her or his “space.” Of course, God knew this as well; notice that the Lord Jesus instructed us to go into our closet and shut the door. Everyone needs “alone” time.
So, to the married men who are reading this, and who work outside the home, let me ask you to imagine what it would be like if your office, or your cubicle, or your work area were constantly invaded with yammering, pestilential, pestiferous people asking you to provide a meal, make a cup of coffee, or immediately stop what you are doing and lend them a hand. Would that be pleasant? How would you like someone attached to you all day by Gorilla Glue, seemingly Velcroed to your right arm? It would be a tad tiresome, no? Well here’s the thing – if your wife works at or from home, that’s her office. Suddenly having you underfoot, all the time, is like, well, forget the “bee in her bonnet” analogy. It’s more like hornets in her hair or locusts in the living-room.
To the married women who are reading this, let me ask you to imagine how you would feel if meal after meal that you provided for your family was a disaster, and if your efforts to care for the children’s clothes seemed only to ruin everything they wore. You would, I am sure, feel like you had two right hands (sorry, I’m left-handed) and be overwhelmed with a sense of frustration and futility. Think then of how your husband must feel. He is hard-wired to provide for his family, to protect his family and to “solve” problems. (This is NOT to say that women don’t feel those things as well. It’s just that men think they’re the only ones who do). All of a sudden, their ability to provide is imperiled, their desire to protect is impaired, and their capacity to solve things is impinged by a perplexing problem created from a thing so small it can’t be seen with the naked eye (or a fully clothed one either, I suppose).
One could surmise that this scenario might lead to a lot more tension than tenderness. And one would be correct so to surmise. For example, a man in Japan stabbed his neighbor because he was making too much noise. An employee at a California sporting goods store was attacked by a customer who smacked her in the face because the store did not have the item she wanted. Coming back to the home front and the family circle, divorce filings in Italy have seen a whopping 30 percent increase since the outbreak began. (Apparently not everyone in Italy is contentedly serenading neighbors from their balconies with tender renditions of “O Sole Mio”). Stabbing, smacking, or separating may be extreme examples, but how do we cope with the conflict of closeness?
I am sure that if you had to describe the Lord Jesus to someone, there are a lot of things that would come to your mind – His love, holiness, meekness, grace, loyalty, compassion, courage. In fact, as Mary Peters wrote in her sublime hymn, “This Name encircles every grace that God, as Man, could show.” I wonder, though, how many of us would think of this term: His gentleness? It obviously came to the mind of the Apostle Paul who, writing to the fractious Corinthians, reminded them by way of exhortation of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” And, of course, there it is – that same oft-overlooked word – in the list of the fruit of the Spirit: “… long-suffering, gentleness,goodness.”
It is interesting to hear that word in the mouth of David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel. He said in Psalm 18:35, “Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation: and Thy right hand hath holden me up, and Thy gentleness hath made me great.” Protection, power, and gentleness – who would have thought to link those three things together! That statement is mirrored in the almost-identical passage in 2 Samuel 22. Other than those two instances it occurs only 4 other times in the entire Old Testament – 3 times in Proverbs and once in Zephaniah. In the three Proverbs passages, (15:33; 18:12; 22:4), it is translated “humility”; in Zephaniah 2:3 we are told to “seek meekness (gentleness).”
The Hebrew word conveys the thought of one’s humbling himself or condescending. Although, in the linguistic world of the 21st century, the word “condescension” has been hauled to the pillory and buffeted with Brussels sprouts and rotten cabbage, its Biblical usage is the exact opposite to how it is often viewed. It is NOT a person haughtily deigning to bless another with a few crumbs from the vast storehouse of his knowledge. It IS a person gladly meeting others on their level and doing everything to serve them and further their best interests. In fact, Romans 12:16 contrasts condescension with haughtiness and conceit and says we should “condescend to men of low estate.” God’s condescension was one of mercy. Christ’s condescension to us in our plight was one of selfless humility and grace. Our “estate” could not have been lower and His condescension could not have been greater. In His dealings with us, as with David, His gentleness has made us great. The greatness of which David spoke may have been the throne and the “dynasty” God promised him. The greatness with which we have been blessed is our having been linked eternally with our great God and Savior Jesus Christ and lifted beyond created thought.
In Ephesians 4:32, Paul writes: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Look at the things he mentions in the previous verse, things that will militate against a tender heart and a forgiving spirit: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil speaking, and malice. Those six sins will make us splenetically stubborn, biliously boorish, and bitterly bumptious. (In case you missed it, please note the ludicrous use of alliteration for purposeful hyperbole). Allow these weeds to grow in your heart and, instead of tenderness, there will be more of tenterhooks and tension in your relationships.
The only other use of this Greek word translated “tenderhearted” is by Peter in 1 Peter 3:8. It is interesting that he moves from discussing family/marriage matters to a broader application which exempts none of us, married or single: “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful (tenderhearted), be courteous.”
Now some of you may be saying, like the Mensa members on Mars Hill, “What is this babbler saying? What problems? I’m Adam and she’s Eve and our home is Edenic.” That’s wonderful! In the words of Leigh Hunt, may your tribe increase. But even Eden had a serpent that tried to spoil God’s ideal and mar His plans. You may say, “If I have been rude to someone, it’s a small matter. He/she should get over it.” But small things have a way of smoldering. Song of Songs chapter 2 warns us of little foxes. Ecclesiastes chapter 10 warns us of a little folly and tiny flies. Twice in Proverbs (chapter 6 and 24) we are warned of the danger of a “little folding of the hands.” Little foxes, little flies, a little folding of the hands to sleep – small things that lead to large problems. So, how do we keep petty conflicts from becoming permanent quagmires? As always, the Word of God has the answer, and here are those words again: “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” The attitude we bring to marital relationships, the attitude we bring to our friendships, the attitude we bring to our interactions with fellow-believers and with our neighbors will either be marked by carnality or “Christliness.”
Leave it to Sir Edward Denney to put all these rambling thoughts into delightfully concise and spiritually insightful words:
What grace, O Lord, and beauty shone around Thy steps below!
What patient love was seen in all Thy life and death of woe!
One with Thyself, may every eye, in us, Thy brethren, see
That gentleness and grace that spring from union, Lord, with Thee.
“He shall feed His flock like a shepherd:
He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom,
and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).