In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells them
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:30-32)
The one word that jumped out at me in this passage was “tender-hearted”. The NIV translates it compassion. The word has the connotation of allowing yourself to feel for the other person, not necessarily pity but an openness. It’s taking the shield off that covers our heart that prevents us from seeking to understand where the other person is coming from and from showing mercy. Yes, compassion.
I tend to have selective compassion. For some, I am very tender-hearted – the abused, the dejected, the struggling, the ones with broken pasts. But for others I load up my heart with spiked armor and just wait for them to cross me – the proud, the self-righteous, the abusers. When my buttons are pushed, I put on my helmet and come out swinging.
But this passage indicates that to our fellow members of the body of Christ, to take off the shield. Allow mercy, especially for those we think don’t deserve it. Know that behind that behavior we find so egregious, there is a multi-facet and complex web of internal triggers that have formed that undesirable personality. It is especially for the ones we find the hardest to be tenderhearted towards, that we should have the most compassion for.
Of course Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our heart. I’m not suggesting that we become stupid and allow unhealthy behavior. But what I’m suggesting is whether than ride the wave of an offense, to take off some of the armor, settle differences, be warm and compassionate.
And I also note that it won’t come if the Holy Spirit is grieved. If we intentionally keep the shield up and our battle stance ready, we are grieving the Spirit and squashing the fruit of the Spirit. Compassion becomes impossible. What’s next? Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. When the guard goes up, these emotions come out and prompt all kinds of atrocious behavior in the body of Christ.
What types of people prompt you to put on your shield and do battle? Be tender-hearted and forgiving, just as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you.