Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. –Ephesians 4:31-32
This string of moral commands come from one of my favorite passages of the moral law in the New Testament; what the NIV labels as “Living as Children of Light”: Ephesians 4:17-5:21. I love this passage so much. It flies in the face of the world, the flesh, the devil, and the hypocritical church. It provides clear, specific demarcations of what social behaviors are considered sinful and inappropriate for those intent on inheriting the kingdom of God and going to Heaven. Among these are a command against cussing: “let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth” (4:29, KJV) and a strong prohibition against sexual innuendos and sexual jokes, and all off-color jokes, along with an anti-materialistic statement: “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking” (5:3-4). This is a very clear passage of Scripture. 95% of the content in Hollywood movies are swept away by these statements. This is the way the world thinks and talks, you see it at school, you see it at the workplace, you see it out in public. But God is against it. Although I believe as the Puritans did, that all moral commands can somehow be linked back to the Ten Commandments, I believe its statements like these that make sinners inescapable from their sinful rationalizations, and really binds them in to keep the law of God totally from the heart, without compromise. Some Bible versions have sectioned Ephesians 4:17-5:21 off as “Rules for Holy Living.”
Within the context of this holy passage, we see what I now believe is the heart of the matter: kindness versus rudeness. We see this in 4:31-32, Paul says to get rid of “every form of malice,” and then he immediately says to “be kind and compassionate to one another.” In other words, “Don’t be mean, but be nice.” These are the sorts of things that parents teach their kids. Its simple. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Jesus said you have to become like a child in order to inherit Heaven (Matt. 18:3). But how many people really think this way? I don’t think very many do. Personally I believe that kindness is the touchstone of all Biblical morals. But someone might think, “But how does kindness counteract profanity and sexual immorality and coarse joking?” Easily. When people cuss, its usually to put someone or something that someone else values down. When people commit sexual immorality, it is hate against marriage, and a rejection of the spouse that God gave you. When people coarsely joke, again its linked to sexual immorality, just in verbal form. All sin can be linked with a hateful, or mean spirit. But all holiness can be linked with a loving, or kind spirit. Jesus said, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). That’s a teaching on kindness. In Jesus’ opinion, kindness summarizes the Ten Commandments; and all the moral law in Scripture. He meant the same thing again when He answered a rabbi about the question of which command is the greatest in the law of God: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40).
This doesn’t meant that theology isn’t important, sound Biblical doctrine doesn’t matter, or that God doesn’t care what you think about evolution or Biblical criticism. Mainline liberal Christianity has pushed this message for over 100 years now. They latched on to Christ’s teaching on kindness and ran with it, ignoring pretty much everything else in the Word of God; and now, many gay people are running their churches, in clear violation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. So, we have to hold in tension Christ’s teaching on kindness with the condition that His definition of kindness fulfills and does not contradict the purity of the Law and the Prophets. The sexual, ethical, and moral commands of Scripture need to be the fence around which the garden of kindness is allowed to grow in the Christian life. If not, then the serpent will enter the garden, and tempt and deceive the mind and heart of kindhearted but naive Christians. To be kind is most important, to be sure, and for this we must thank both Jesus and Mr. Rogers for teaching this to millions of children. But Jesus went further than Mr. Rogers ever did: He said that kindness will fulfill the law of God, when properly understood and applied. Mr. Rogers didn’t do that. It is loving, but pure; kind, but holy; nice, but moral; and compassionate, but ethically driven. Jesus’ type of kindness is the essence of the Holy Spirit: the very nature of God; it should be the thought that every Christian should be running after always, in prayer, in life, with God by faith. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” How did Paul draw these conclusions? Because he had the same view as Jesus did about kindness, or love, which is just another word for it. The LAW OF GOD defines kindness the best: the nice, kindhearted nature is best understood by delimiting what it is not: impatient, envious, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, quick-tempered, extremely judgmental, sadistic, harmful, suspicious, hopeless, weak willed. Love or kindness is none of these things, not even close. Those are obviously the fruits of meanness, or hate. Through understanding and applying the morals of Biblical law to our lives, we get a clearer picture of the mental and emotional purity that God wants us to experience if we follow after that way, allowing our minds to be purified the more we give attention to these things.
So, to come back to my original point: I believe Ephesians 4:31-32, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, and other Scriptures clearly show that love (or kindness) is essentially what God considers “good” (if understood through Biblical morals) and rudeness (or hate) is what God considers “evil.” So what is good and evil? The answer: goodness is kindness and evil is rudeness.