When I was a child I had several opportunities to go to Wrigley Field with my friends. And after the ballgame we would wait outside the leftfield corner for the players to come out to their cars. This was the best opportunity to get autographs. The problem was that several people came out that same exit: vendors, front office executives and more. Whenever someone would walk out the door, we kids would crowd around them. And inevitably someone would ask, “hey, are you somebody?” You see, it was very difficult to recognize some of the players without their uniforms on.
We recognize lots of people because of their attire. We recognize those in the military because of their uniforms. Those who wear lab coats in a hospital we recognize as medical personnel. In our neighborhood you could recognize the children who went to Catholic schools because of their uniforms. In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul contends that Christians should be recognized by their appearance. Paul of course is not talking about clothes . . . he is talking about character.
The five character traits we see in verse 12 are all similar and that’s why I have combined them. But before we look at these traits we need to look at what Paul says first. He begins with these words, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved . . “. Again, each of these phrases could be a study in themselves. But, for our purposes we need to see why Paul says these things now. Paul wants us to understand that what God is prescribing for us is not due to His desire to make our lives difficult. God wants these things for us because He loves us.
God chose us! He did it before we were even born. He set us aside to be used for His special purposes. He did all this because He loves us. So, understand, that as difficult as some of these things we will read in the next weeks are, they come from a heart of love. Let’s dig in.
The first piece of clothing the Apostle Paul tells us to put on is compassion. The word for compassion is a word that relates to the bowels. In fact, in the King James Version this trait is called the “bowels of mercy”. This is because the Greeks thought of emotions as coming from deep within us . . .from the bowels. So, Paul is calling us to feel for others in a deep way.
Compassion involves feeling another’s pain
To show compassion you must feel with another. . . and not just for a few seconds. It means entering into the pain of another person and truly sharing that pain.
Despite his busy schedule during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln often visited the hospitals to cheer the wounded. On one occasion he saw a young fellow who was near death. “Is there anything I can do for you?” asked the compassionate President. “Please write a letter to my mother,” came the reply. Unrecognized by the soldier, the Chief Executive sat down and wrote as the youth told him what to say. The letter read, “My Dearest Mother, I was badly hurt while doing my duty, and I won’t recover. Don’t sorrow too much for me. May God bless you and Father. Kiss Mary and John for me.” The young man was too weak to go on, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and then added this postscript: “Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.” Asking to see the note, the soldier was astonished to discover who had shown him such kindness. “Are you really our President?” he asked. “Yes,” was the quiet answer. “Now, is there anything else I can do?” The lad feebly replied, “Will you please hold my hand? I think it would help to see me through to the end.” The tall, gaunt man granted his request, offering warm words of encouragement until death stole in with the dawn.
Lincoln showed compassion. He entered into the pain of that soldier. It involves seeing things through the eyes of another. It means taking time.
Compassion involves extending mercy to the one who has fallen
In the life and ministry of Jesus there is a stark contrast in the way He dealt with people and the way others dealt with people. For example, Jesus reached out to the Woman at the well who was treated as an outcast by society. He had dinner with Zacchaeus the despised tax-collector. He extended mercy to the woman caught in adultery. He embraced the children that others thought a nuisance. He forgave Peter, the friend who betrayed Him. He expressed love to the crowd that crucified Him. In other words, when the crowd was pointing fingers Jesus extended friendship.
Do you realize how difficult this is? We love to engage in “neighbor bashing”. The people around us relish another’s failure and we tend to jump on the bandwagon. Maybe it’s because we are relieved that those same people aren’t talking about us. We tend to believe the rumors. We are more likely to point fingers than embrace; condemn rather than support. We are prone to assume the worst about another rather than looking for the pain in their lives.
We need to intentionally go “against the flow”. It means drawing close when others pull away. It means standing up for someone who cannot defend themselves. It means loving the one everyone else hates.
The Greek word for kindness is also used to describe a lovely quality of wine that has grown mellow with age. In other words, it has lost its harshness. That’s what kindness is, treating another without harshness. Kindness is treating another person with respect and honor. It is attributing value and dignity to another.
We live in a harried world. A word or act of kindness can make all the difference.
A Christian worker went into a restaurant to buy an inexpensive meal. A waitress approached him and in a rather brusque voice demanded, “Can I help you?” “Yes, ma’am.” “You want our special for the day?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Coffee with your order?” “Yes, ma’am,” he replied absent-mindedly, for his thoughts were occupied with some important spiritual matters. Suddenly the uncongenial waitress flared up, exclaiming sarcastically, “Is that all you can say?” Before he could catch himself, he once again replied, “Yes, ma’am!” With a curse she stamped away in disgust and anger. When the food was ready, she almost threw it on the table and showed contempt with every action. Although he did not have much money, he sacrificially laid a five-dollar bill on the table as he left. As he was paying the cashier, the discourteous waitress called, “Sir, you left this money on the table!” “Isn’t that the usual place to leave a tip?” he replied, smiling at her warmly. The girl blushed and then began to make apologies for her hateful actions. The missionary said cordially, “I figured you must have some heavy burdens on your heart or you wouldn’t have been so easily upset. I thought a good tip might encourage you.” By this time the girl was brokenhearted, and she told him of the many problems facing her. Before he left the restaurant, he was able to lead that waitress to the Lord!
Kindness can transform a human life. Everywhere we go a person will benefit from a smile, a compliment, a kind word. People aren’t used to people holding a door, helping with packages, doing some other act of kindness. There is no age barrier for kindness. Esther M. Walker underscores ways to be kind to the elderly.
- Blessed are they who understand
- My faltering step and my palsied hand.
- Blessed are they who know today
- My ears must strain to catch what they say,
- Blessed are they who never say,
- “You’ve told that story three times today.”
- Blessed are they who know the way
- To bring back memories of yesterday.
- Blessed are they with cheery smile
- Who’ve stopped on their way to chat a while.
- Blessed are they who ease the days
- On my journey Home with loving ways.
Look for ways to extend a kindness to someone else,
- Make it a point to smile at people you don’t even know
- Look someone in the eye when you say “how are you?”
- Hold a door for someone
- Look for things to affirm in another
- Let somebody out ahead of you in the parking lot (they’re called expressways in Chicago)
- Bring out something cold to the kids playing in your yard
- Share your garden with someone
It may not seem like much at the time . . .but when you do these things, you reflect Jesus.
The third article of clothing is humility. Humility is the opposite of pride. Winston Churchill once said of Sir Stafford Cripps, “There but for the grace of God, goes God.”
Perhaps you have known someone like that. Perhaps you ARE someone like that.
A young woman went to her pastor and said, “Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.”
The pastor replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake.” [Haddon Robinson, “Good Guys, Bad Guys, and Us Guys,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 80.]
Everyone of us can recognize pride in another. We aren’t so good at spotting it in ourselves. Consequently, humility is easier to talk about than to practice. Humility is anchored in an accurate understanding of our own significance. It stems from understanding that we have received everything from Christ. It is recognizing that anything we accomplish has been through His work in us. Humility comes when we understand our own sinfulness in light of His magnificent mercy. Humility is not belittling things we do well . . . it is remembering that we do them well because Christ works in us.
We have no basis for pride. We have every reason for humble gratitude. In Philippians 2:3 Paul tells us to “in humility consider others better than yourselves.” This is not the way we naturally work. You don’t believe me? We see our arrogance and pride when we,
- feel people should drive at the speed we want to travel at, not that which is posted
- become annoyed that people in front of us in line are taking too long (after all OUR time is valuable)
- resent when others receive an honor we are sure we deserved more
- are upset that people don’t seem to care about the things we feel strongly about
- when we feel something is wrong because it is not done the way we would have done it
In each of these cases you see that the point from which everything else is measured is US. That’s the attitude the Bible combats. God wants us to see others not in terms of their relation to US but He wants us to see them as people He loves and cares about.
Gentleness in our society is seen as a weakness. We are taught by everyone that if you want something you have to insist on it. You need to get louder, not softer. We are proud of the times we flexed our muscles and won. We want to be confident and self-assured. Unfortunately the result is often an attitude that is rude, abrasive and obnoxious.
Gentleness is a trait also known as “tact”. It is the character trait that leads you to relate to others with tenderness and softness. If you want to know what it means to be gentle, look at Jesus.
Here’s some practical hints on becoming more gentle,
- prayer that God would make you softer
- in time of conflict lower your voice rather than raise it
- no matter what the circumstance speak calmly
- make eye contact
- remember that most people you encounter are not trying to annoy you . . .they are “just trying to do their jobs”
In talking about this trait, William Barclay wrote,
“This is the spirit which never loses patience with its fellow-man. 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.”
When I worked at a bank in Chicago as a drive-in teller I found myself frequently stressed out by the large amounts of money and the long lines of cars. Frequently I would find myself exasperated by the requests of the customer. At times my Christian character was somewhat tarnished. Then I put up a sign that was a quote of a Bill Gothard statement, “Please be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet!” And do you know what happened? I became more patient. That sign reminded me that the people I met were people in transition. I could not expect them to be perfect, all-knowing or even nice all the time. I became more patient with them when I realized they were a lot like me.
Patience then is
- Giving another room AND time to grow and mature. My growth takes time . . .so does theirs.
- It’s giving others the same “benefit of the doubt” you want for yourself
- Remembering that growing comes through making mistakes . . and most mistakes are not as tragic as they first appear.
- Remembering that things that are easy for us may be difficult for others. Computers make sense to me, Electricity doesn’t. Patience understands that sometimes we have to explain something many times.
The words of this verse (which became a song) are very appropriate
- Let me be a little kinder,
- Let me be a little blinder
- To the faults of those about me;
- Let me praise a little more.
- Let me be when I am weary
- Just a little bit more cheery,
- Let me serve a little better
- Those that I am striving for.
- Let me be a little braver
- When temptation bids me waver;
- Let me strive a little harder
- To be all that I should be.
- Let me be a little meeker
- With the brother who is weaker,
- Let me think more of my neighbor
- And a little less of me.
- Let me be a little sweeter,
- Make my life a bit completer;
- Keep me faithful to my duty
- Every minute of the day.
Don’t you want to be this kind of person? These are the people you love having in a room. These are the people you feel comfortable sharing your struggles with. These are the people that leave you feeling better after you talk to them. You want these kind of people as friends . . .we should desire to BE this kind of person for others.
It is certainly worth repeating that these traits are not natural. They are brought about by God’s Spirit working in the life of His children. So, if we want to become more like this we need to let God have His way in our lives. Every time we follow Him rather than our own desires we make progress in our spiritual life. Every time we act toward another as He has told us rather than by our instinct we reflect Him a little better. Every time we choose His way over our own, joy deepens.
When we choose to deal with others with the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience that come from God . . . .people meet Jesus. And it is Christ, and Christ alone, who can transform, strengthen, and enrich any human life. Where do you start? Start here with each other. And there is no better time to begin than now.