tenderhearted: Ephesians 4

Life with people often seems like a storm of chaos, intending to damage.

We are violent. If we cannot imagine striking out with our fists, then we destroy with a word, a sneer, the quick and lethal rolling of two eyes. With our need to voice disagreement with anything and anyone, as though the world waited breathlessly to know what I think about things that hardly matter.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)

The apostle leans upon the imitation of Christ as motivation for losing our hard hearts.

My heart is so like a boulder, unyielding, lying in wait for someone to break his ankle or concuss his head. I think of myself as stability, but I am simply a threat.

Hard as rock.

God is not like this, Paul writes. Look at how he has forgiven you in Christ. There is nothing unfeeling about that, no lurking danger. Be more like God.

English ‘tenderhearted’ nicely places Paul’s ευσπλαγχνοι, with its etymological nod at a person’s innards. To have heart or viscera positively disposed is to meet people and events with an expectant smile rather than a defensive scowl. It is to imagine what this person could become—what she already is at her best—rather than to seek out the least common relational denominator and then get things over with.

To have a tender heart means being alive to life’s burdens, not in order to weigh down further but to lighten. Not to condemn, but to accompany.

As God in Christ forgave you.

The faint heart is often insomniac. What is it about the 3:00 a.m. hour, so full of worries, fears, and untimely wakefulness? As though on schedule, eyes open and the faint heart races. Life’s shadows loom taller and more menacing than usual. Improbable fears seem perfectly plausible. Things that will shrink into proportion in the light of day take the shape of lethal threats and impassable walls. The sixty-first psalm relieves us of at least one of our disabling fears: that we cannot pray because our heart is faint.

From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. (Psalms 61:2–3 NRSV)

We fearful and trembling insomniacs are shepherded into a place where it is safe at least to cry out to the Lord for peace, for safety, for calm. YHWH does not sneer and turn away because our condition is insufficiently dignified. At least the praying poet who has left his pen’s work to us in this psalm hopes that this is so, while others of this anthology of prayers reassure us that his hope will be met with reality, his prayer with a listening ear. YHWH makes himself available precisely to the faint of heart. Strength may come with the daylight, but it is not necessary here, not now, not at this frightening 3:00 hour. We are weak, but we are heard.

A studied self-interest and the concern for community pervade the realism of the biblical Proverbs.

The wisdom of this anthology is neither romantic nor sentimental. The student applies himself to knowledge because there is a career to forge, a life to plan, a community to construct. Distractions abound, blind alleys lie to the right and left. The environment demands a certain steely, interested resolve.

Only rarely do we glimpse the joy of the attentive spectator of wisdom’s sweaty marathon.

My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right. (Proverbs 23:15–16 ESV)

A father, a mother watch the contest as veterans who can without apology pause from time to time for a rest and an appreciative look.

Blessing comes to the parent who spots a son doing what he has been trained to do, a daughter who has kept to the path and is beginning to harvest the first fruits of living wisely.

Indeed, the language reaches to gladness and exultation. To see one’s children facing hard into the wind, staying true, is no mean victory.

For a moment a father throws back his head and laughs his heart out. A mother sings her mother’s song with none of the customary restraint. Perhaps the young ones cannot yet know how we rejoice, how strong the current of jubilation when we see this part of our work done, and blessed.

Then we too face into the wind and begin the next, hard mile.

Bon appétit!, we say, and we tuck excitedly into the feast. Eyes bigger than stomach. So many dishes, so little time.

Where power is in play and self-restraint is absent, the banquet becomes a feast of death.

When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite. Do not desire the ruler’s delicacies, for they are deceptive food. (Proverbs 23:1–3 NRSV)

The Bible carves out a celebrated space for feasting. The biblical witness is no killjoy. It knows how to fast, when things come down to that, but it enjoys a good meal when they don’t. Continue Reading »

A proverb like this one is sometimes read as though it dismisses one thing in favor of another.

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. (Proverbs 21:31 NRSV)

By this understanding, the cavalryman’s preparation of the horse against the mortal engagement that awaits is seen as futile, because YHWH does it all anyway.

The is almost certainly not what the proverb intends. Continue Reading »

Although true religion can be prescribed, it can never be automated.

There is no mechanical predictability in the way we interact with our Maker. It is true that we must do the right things. But this does not mean that performance of the right actions simply elicits from God the response we require.

On the contrary, motive matters. Continue Reading »

A life that unfolds in the presence of YHWH is dynamic rather than static. Its investments are fruitful according to catalytic rather than summative patterns. Tit for tat and quid pro quo lose their explanatory power.

One gives, and then finds that she’s received more than she’s given. This latter observation is perhaps the most frequently declared testimony of those who have purposed to follow the LORD’s coaxing onto uncertain terrain. Continue Reading »


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