By Mike Willis
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Col. 3:12-13).
We have previously considered some dangerous works of the flesh (October 21, 1993), so let us now consider some attributes of the Spirit with which we should clothe ourselves. The transformation which occurs when a person becomes a Christian is compared in our text to changing clothes: a person puts off his filthy rags of sinful conduct and puts on the attributes of the Spirit. Look at these things which should characterize every Christian:
1. Bowels of mercies. The Greek words are translated by William Barclay as “a heart of pity.” The ancient world did not display much compassion toward the weak. Female babies were sometimes left by the sea shore to die because they were unwanted by parents who wanted a man-child. The aged and infirm were left to fend for themselves by their children who were without natural affection. The wounded may have been put to death, as the slave did King Saul, rather than mercifully cared for.
This attribute is the ability to feel for the suffering and to react to relieve their pain. Too often, Christians show little compassion for those who are hurting. Someone may say, “He doesn’t deserve any better.” Is mercy ever deserved? Isn’t mercy something which we give to the sufferer without regard to whether or not he brought his painful condition upon himself? Even those who are suffering the horrible pains of AIDS are still human beings in need of compassion. May we show “a heart of pity” or “bowels of compassion?”
2. Kindness. This lovely quality which should be in Christians holds the neighbor’s good as dear to himself as his own. Barclay explains, “Josephus uses it (the Greek word chrestotes, mw) as a description of Isaac, the man who dug wells and gave them to others because he would not fight about them (Gen. 26:17-25). It is used of wine which has grown mellow with age and which has lost its harshness. It is the word which is used of the yoke of Jesus, when Jesus said, ‘My yoke is easy.’ (Matthew 11:30). Goodness by itself can be stem; but chrestotes is the goodness which is kind, the goodness which Jesus used to the sinning woman who anointed his feet (Luke 7:37-50)” (188-189).
The contrast to kindness is caustic, biting speech and mean-spirited actions toward others. We who are Christians must give attention to how we come across to those around us. The tone of our voice, the look in our eyes (sometimes we can say a lot by rolling our eyes and giving a person a harsh, “you-stupid-idiot” look), and our gestures may send the message to someone of strong disapproval, bitterness, and hatred in the heart. We can learn to be winsome and attractive in our speech. If you have trouble with this, watch someone who is more skilled in these areas than you are and imitate his actions. A person does not have to be a wimp to be kind.
3. Humbleness of mind. Humility is the opposite of arrogance. Again. Barclay says, “The Christian humility is not a cringing thing. The Christian humility is based on two things. First, on the Divine side, it is based on the ever present awareness of the creature likeness of humanity. God is the Creator; man is the creature; and in the presence of the Creator the creature cannot feel anything else but humility. Second, on the human side, it is based on the belief that all men are sons of God; and there is no room for arrogance when we are living among men and women who are all of royal lineage” (189). I would add that humility is related to our recognition that we are sinners. I have my standing with God based on grace, not human merit.
There is no room where humility exists for a self-asserting, arrogant, better-than-others, holier-than-thou frame of mind. We Christians must be careful not to come across in this manner to our friends and neighbors. Too often Christians turn off any potential prospects to study the gospel by coming across with arrogance.
Furthermore, humility enables brethren to work together. Paul wrote, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). Where brethren have this disposition toward each other, they are able to watch out for what is best for each other instead of selfishly seeking their own way and self-interests.
4. Meekness. The word prautes may be difficult to completely understand. William Barclay quotes Aristotle as defining the word to be “the happy mean between too much and too little anger.” He said, “The man who has praotes is the man who is so self-controlled, because he is God-controlled, that he is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. He has at one and the same time the strength and the sweetness of true gentleness” (189).
The text in James 1:21 also sheds light on the meaning of the word. James wrote, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Receiving the word with meekness would imply that one brings his life into conformity with the revealed word of God. He is willing to change.
Sometimes men become so rigid and unyielding that in areas of human judgment they are nearly impossible to work with. We need to develop an unyielding and uncompromising defense of the revealed word of God; however, in areas in which no principle of truth is involved, we must learn to work together as one. A spirit of meekness is necessary for this to occur.
5. Longsuffering. The word makrothumos is made up of makros, long and thumos, temper. We speak of a person being short tempered but do not have its corresponding idea of long tempered in our English language. A person who has developed this fruit of the Spirit has learned to be patient with his fellowman. None of us is perfect. Consequently, we have to live with the fact that our brethren have faults faults which sometime injure each other.
Barclay described this trait: “This is the spirit which never loses its patience with its fellow-men. Their foolishness and their unteachability never drive it to cynicism or despair; their insults and their ill-treatment never drive it to bitterness or wrath. Human patience is a reflection of the divine patience which bears with all our sinning and never casts us off’ (189-190).
6. Forbearing. The word anecho means “to hold up.” In the middle voice it means “to hold one’s self erect and firm, to sustain, to bear with, and endure.” There are times when a Christian will be injured or sinned against. When this happens, a person just has to endure until the provocation is past. How a Christian reacts under pressure and criticism reveals the steel of his character. A person who is quick to quit is weak in faith. The wise man said, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Prov. 24:10). The way of the Christian is not always easy; consequently, the trait of forbearance is essential.
7. Forgiving. After the provocation is past and the sinful brother has come to himself, he sometimes confesses his sins and asks for forgiveness. There must be a willingness to forgive in the heart of the person sinned against. Jesus demanded as much when he said, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). He taught the same in a parable in Matthew 18:21-35, concluding with these poignant words: So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matt. 18:35). There is none of us so perfect that he can afford to be unforgiving of others.
Let us abstain from the works of the flesh. However, let us not be content merely to abstain from sin; let us also grow in these spiritual graces.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: No 22, p. 2
November 18, 1993