These Three Virtues Are At The Heart Of Christianity
Unity. That is the theme of chapter 4 in the Letter to the Ephesians. It is God’s desire that we all be one in Christ. But the unity that we seek as Christians is not the kind of “unity” that the world seeks with its tendencies toward “group think,” or blind adherence to an idea, or an ideology. These are the ways of the enemy, not of God. Paul gives us three virtues here at the end of his discourse on how Christians should live together in the world: Kindness, Compassion (tenderheartedness), and Forgiveness.
To be kind is to have the good of the other always at the front of one’s mind. It is shown in our ability to be considerate of one another, even when the other makes that difficult. It is the habit of desiring the good for the other. It is a desire to help the other that rises out of a deep sense of fellow-feeling, or friendship. It is the character of being always well disposed to responding to the other as a brother or sister in all circumstances. This means even toward those who are difficult to love. The virtue of kindness grows with our ability to see Jesus in the face of all those we meet. This happens when our faith in Jesus Christ grows ever deeper and more important in our lives. The closer we get to Jesus, the more we are moved to kindness.
Compassion, or tenderheartedness, is the virtue of being able to suffer with those who are suffering. This is not done from a distance. Compassion is not an abstract idea. It is the ability to enter willingly and personally into the sorrow and the suffering of the other, to walk with them, to weep with them, to support them, and to advocate for justice for them, all the way through the struggle, until their suffering is over, or resolved. Compassion is a commitment that can only arise out of love. This is the way of Jesus. This is what Jesus did, and continues to do, for us. This love, this compassion, is what he now asks us to share with one another in the here and now.
Forgiveness is the center of both the Gospels and of love. Jesus’ supreme act of love for us was his death on the cross. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It was for this reason that he came into the world, to forgive us our sins, to redeem us from them and death once and for all, forever. As Christian believers, then, this love that we have experienced from God must become the binding force within all of our other relationships as well. We, like all who have gone on before us, have, on many occasions, broken our relationship with God, and with our neighbor by turning away from that love, either out of false pride, or out of fear. When our relationships with others are injured, so is our relationship with God. The only thing that can heal them again is forgiveness. Forgiveness, therefore, is the center, the core, the heart of love. A marriage, a friendship, a church community that does not love enough to forgive, will not last. On the other hand, a marriage, a friendship, or a church community that is founded on and rooted in love, will not only survive, it will thrive, because of its capacity for forgiveness.
Lord, by your grace, increase in us the capacities for kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Our unity as Christians depends on these virtues. The world needs to see this kind of love and forgiveness in our words and in our deeds. Therefore, we ask that you make of us your true and good instruments of love here and now, through our ever more sincere acts of kindness, compassion and forgiveness toward our neighbors and toward our enemies. In your most holy name we pray, Jesus. Amen!
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