“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Have you ever known someone that could be described as “hard” or “unfeeling?” Sometimes our perception of that person may be wrong, whether we misinterpret his motive or that we simply need to understand his personality better. Yet, there are people who are truly like this, and Christians should not be among them.
Tenderheartedness is the ability of our hearts to be moved with compassion to act for someone else’s good in their time of need. We are commanded to be tender-hearted in both Ephesians 4:32 and 1 Peter 3:8 (translated “kindhearted” in NASB and “pitiful” in KJV). In both passages there are other words surrounding which explain how a tenderhearted person looks and acts: kind, forgiving, harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, and humble. Each of these qualities is rooted in a heart that is easily touched by the sufferings and needs of others.
Of course, we need to be tenderhearted before God. I think we know that very well, at least superficially. We recognize that a person’s conscience can be so seared to God’s word that even the sternest rebuke cannot turn his heart to the truth (Heb. 6:4-6). A callused conscience before God results from ignorance and the deceitfulness of sin (Eph. 4:18-19; Heb. 3:13). Yet the same can happen to us in relation to one another; how often do we consider that?
Ephesians 4 and 5 are full of “put off / put on” exhortations. We are commanded to replace bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice (v. 31) with the qualities found in verse 32. Each sin listed in verse 31 can harden our hearts against another, causing us to fail to be tenderhearted. For instance, if we hold a grudge against someone who wronged us how likely will we be to react kindly and generously when they need something? We can become so jaded by past experience and hurt that we refuse to open our hearts when we ought.
Jesus is our perfect example of tenderheartedness. Certainly, there was a time and place for him to administer some hard rebukes, as to the Pharisees and Sadducees. But how often in the Gospels do we see Him moved with compassion to help someone in need? This included the most disease-ridden leper (Mark 1:41), the grieving mother and widow over the loss of her only son (Luke 7:13), as well the most unholy and profane sinners (Matthew 9:36; cf. Luke 7:36-50). How well do we imitate Jesus’ love?
Do we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15)? Do we help the poor when given opportunity (1 John 3:17)? Do we reach out to the one who has left the Lord (Luke 15; James 5:19-20)? Do we forgive when the erring one returns and repents (2 Corinthians 2:7-8)? Do we seek time spent with sinners (in a wholesome way) for the purpose of shining the light of Christ to them (Luke 5:31-32)? Are we gentle and sensitive towards the conscientious hearts of the spiritual babes (Romans 14-15)? Are we diligent in visiting and praying for the physically sick and distressed (James 1:27)?
Is your heart even touched by any of the above applications?
Not only must we develop tenderheartedness (doesn’t come easily or naturally to all of us), we must maintain it. Calluses grow slowly and silently, often unnoticed until one day we realize (or don’t) that we have no feeling. And so it is with our hearts—slowly but surely Christ-like tenderness can turn into a rock-hard heart unaffected by the cries for help from those around us.
Men, tenderheartedness does not make us flimsy or weak. How could we think so, if Jesus was the toughest man that ever lived? No, this is the very heart of God Himself. If He could be touched by my sinful helplessness, should we not be the same to others?
“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (1 Peter 3:8).