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Put on Kindness, Preserve Relationships

By Dennis Pollock


The apostle Paul liked to use the expressions "put off" and "put on." After telling us to "put off" or "put on" he would then go on to list certain behaviors or character traits that needed to be added to or deleted from our day-to-day lifestyle. In the Book of Colossians, Paul tells his readers to put to death things like sexual immorality, evil desires, and covetousness. He then goes on to insist that believers must also "put off" anger, malice, and filthy language. This is classic Paul. He is always careful to give his readers a detailed list of specific traits, attitudes, and behaviors that have no place in the life of a follower of Christ.


But of course, we need more than to hear what we must not do. We need to be encouraged in those deeds and attitudes that we must embrace and adopt. And Paul is faithful to share these as well, writing:


Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Colossians 3:12-14)


The "Wimpy" Traits


As you look at these specific character traits: tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love, you find that these are what some might consider "wimpy" traits. These things are not quite as much fun to preach or to hear as the "power" traits: boldness, courage, mountain-moving faith, toughness, and so forth. But Paul is going the opposite direction here; he is emphasizing the kindly side of things. He is advocating for a kinder, gentler lifestyle than comes naturally to many of us. We are often quicker to embrace boldness and courage than kindness and meekness.


Why would Paul emphasize these gentle virtues? It is precisely because these things he mentions – love, patience, humility, forgiveness, and kindness are the traits that are desperately needed to preserve relationships. If we are constantly focusing on being bold, tough, forceful, and unmoving, and the person we are trying to relate to as friend, family, husband, or wife is also bold, tough, forceful, and unmoving, there will be constant clashes. His boldness will endlessly clash with your boldness, his toughness and your toughness will  bounce off each other, often creating wounds, hurt feelings, and broken relationships. Relationships between people who are both filled with forcefulness and iron-willed determination typically do not last long. Their relationship is too much like steel rubbing against steel without the benefit of oil. Friction, sparks, and cracks are nearly inevitable.


God is very big on relationships – both with Himself and with our fellow human beings. In fact, He is so big on relationships that He makes it clear that good, solid, loving relationships must be a major goal of our lives. See how many times we are given commands that speak of "one another" – love one another, forgive one another, bear with one another, encourage one another, accept one another, be like-minded to one another, and so forth. There was an old song, supposedly Christian, that said:


Me and Jesus got our own thing going

Me and Jesus got it all worked out

Me and Jesus got our own thing going

And we don't need anybody to tell us what it's all about


"Stay Out of My Way"


I have always disliked that song immensely. It seems to reek with pride and exclusivism. It seems to be saying, "It's me and Jesus, baby. Don't bother me, don't ever correct me, don't even try to encourage me. Just stay out of my way. I've got Jesus and I don't need you or anybody else." This is a monstrous and totally unbiblical concept. Salvation certainly is a personal faith experience between us and Jesus, but the Christian life was never supposed to be some kind of "Lone Ranger" lifestyle, where we put on masks, ride around doing good deeds, and then go off by ourselves into the sunset, shouting "Hiyo, Silver!" The Christian lifestyle is about walking in love and unity with our brothers and sisters and working side by side with them in promoting the kingdom of our Master.


Hardly anybody would argue with this (and if they would argue with it, they need to read their Bible), but nearly every relationship where we go past the "Hi, how's it going?" stage is going to sooner or later face one or more crisis points where a disagreement or a misunderstanding develops. Without exercising these kinder, gentler character traits Paul speaks of in Colossians 3, that relationship will surely be severed. Paul strongly admonishes us to be kind and filled with tender mercies and humility because there will be times when only these kinds of virtues will save important relationships: husband and wife, friend and friend, parent and grown child, brother and sister, and others. If we are all force and fury and boldness and toughness, and have no patience and kindness and humility, we will go from one broken relationship to another, and as we grow older, our relationships will probably grow fewer and fewer.


Not all relationships can be preserved. There are some cases when one individual is so upset, so angry over a perceived (or perhaps real) offense, so determined to go their own way and leave the relationship in the dust that there is nothing the other can do to save it. This is why the Bible says, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18). Two qualifiers are given here, regarding being in peaceful relationships with others. First, "if it is possible" and second, "as much as depends on you." If someone we once loved with whom we had a strong relationship has come to despise us and wants nothing to do with us, and we have tried our best to reconcile, and still they remain adamant in their choice to have nothing more to do with us, then we must get on with our lives. We cannot force friendship; we cannot heal relationships with those who want nothing more to do with us.


But we can at least try. We can humble ourselves and go to that one who has been offended, whether in truth or in their imagination, and make every effort to salvage the relationship. And sometimes, by the grace and mercy of God, that relationship can become stronger and richer after the crisis than it was before.


People God Brings to Us


We cannot love the whole world. God can because He knows us all. But most of the seven billion people of the world are strangers to us. We don't know them, we will never speak to them, and we will never have any kind of relationship with them. But for all of us, there are a few people who are not only in the world; they are in our world. God has brought them into our lives either by virtue of birth or through circumstances, and we enter into relationships with them. They are our family, our friends, or members of our church, or co-workers, or neighbors, or schoolmates, or members of some association of which we are a part. And we end up spending time with them, talking to them, learning about them, laughing with them, sharing parts of our lives with them. Sometimes without really intending it, a relationship or a friendship is the result. And regardless of how we entered and established that relationship, God desires that we maintain it with the bonds of love, patience, kindness, humility, and forbearance.


 Paul tells us to "put on" tender mercies" in our relationships. Not "tough mercies," not "harsh mercies," not "powerful mercies," but tender mercies. You don't need tender mercies or patience or kindness or humility if you are living all by yourself on an island somewhere out in the middle of the ocean. Or if you work at home, never seeing anyone and rarely engage with anyone, there would be no need to try to preserve any relationships – you don't have any relationships to preserve! But this has never been God's way or His desire for His children. He calls us to relate to one another in Christ, to fellowship together, to go to each other's houses, to enjoy meals together, and to be a sociable people. This works out well because He made us to desire this. Very few people who are isolated at home and have no relationships with anyone, are very happy about it. Young people get married, have children, and make friends because we were created to want this and need this.


Even among great leaders, these gentle kinds of mercies are necessary. Moses was a great leader over millions of Israelites, and yet the Bible calls him the meekest man on the earth. Abraham Lincoln was a forceful and decisive president, and yet he drove his associates crazy by being accessible to anyone who wanted to talk with him. Poor, ignorant people would come into the White House, wanting to air their grievances with the President, and Lincoln would frequently bring them into his office and patiently hear what they had to say. He was incredibly strong and steely as a President and Commander-in-Chief, but in his personal dealings with people he was gentle and humble, which is not a bad combination!


Outworking of the Holy Spirit


In the Book of Galatians, Paul listed some of these virtues along with other similar ones in a passage we know as "the fruit of the spirit." He writes:


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)


Here again we see an emphasis on the kinder and gentler virtues. In fact, gentleness itself makes the list this time. Paul is telling us that the Holy Spirit living and working within us will produce gentle, kind, and patient attributes, which, once again, will go a long way in preserving relationships, and not only preserving them but making them beautiful and pleasant.


The greatest of these virtues is, of course, love. Paul calls love "the bond of perfection," or in other translations: "the perfect bond." A bond is a substance that holds things together. In our vernacular we might call it a super-glue. Love is God's super-glue. It holds people together in relationships when circumstances, misunderstandings, and even demons are trying desperately to tear apart that relationship.


And according to Paul we are to "put on" these virtues: put on love, put on patience, put on kindness, put on humility and meekness. We are to make these virtues a major aim of our lives and our spiritual walk with Christ. Once we have been born again through faith in Jesus, we are to consciously aim at these things. Like an athlete seeking mastery of his or her sport, like an artist working long and hard to excel in their artistry, we who love Jesus are to pursue, to put on, to make every effort to make traits like gentleness, kindness, patience, and compassion an integral part of who we are.


Pursuing These Things


Paul instructed Timothy: "Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Paul says we are not simply to grow into these kindly qualities; we are to actively pursue them. Sometimes we find it easier and simpler to pursue "a great ministry" or a big church or a powerful anointing. There is nothing wrong with seeking to do great things in Jesus' name, but we must never forget that there is more. There are those intangibles like gentleness, kindness, compassion, concern for the weak, love for the people everyone else ignores, and so forth – these should be pursued by abiding in Christ and never missing an opportunity to show love to someone who really needs a friend.


We pursue these attributes, knowing that they are available. Jesus, who lives in us, is filled with tender mercies, gentleness, forbearance, and love. As we walk with Him and look to Him continually, these traits which come from His heart will spill out into our lives and personalities. We will love because Jesus is love. We will show compassion because the Compassionate One lives in us. And we will forbear and forgive because that is precisely how our Lord is with us.




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