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A little kindness goes a long way

Ephesians ch 4 vs 25 – ch5 vs 2

A sermon preached by Canon Simon Everett

on Sunday, 9th September 2018

at St Martin’s church. Sandford


There is a lovely story told of John Cleese going up to study at Cambridge University.  When he arrived he had a meeting with his tutor explaining how things were done and what was expected of students at this prestigious university.  But what he remembers is how the tutor concluded the meeting, he said, “Finally, don’t try to be clever.  Everyone here is clever, just try to be kind.”

What very wise and thoughtful words, how different society and, indeed, the world would be if there was a little more kindness. (Just look at some of the responses in the press to the Archbishop of Canterbury following his comments in a recently published report on changing the tax system.  The vitriol and meanness of spirit is painful to see).

Kindness lies at the very heart of today’s reading from St Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 4 vs 32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”  Love and kindness are the key ingredients of our faith.  Agape, the Greek word for love, used extensively in the New Testament, is a kind and self-sacrificing love.  It was Christ’s, agape love that took him to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and it is this that we are called to emulate.

This may sound obvious to us, but to the people of Ephesus this would have been quite revolutionary.  They were used to submitting their lives to a pantheon of Greek and Roman deities who could be very unpredictable and often vindictive.  For many in today’s world they will often blandly refer to fate as the instigator of blessings and curses.  All too often we make the mistake of thinking that we are so different to our first century predecessors, but at heart, at a basic human level, we are not so dissimilar.

We still acknowledge that there are forces beyond our understanding or control at work in our lives, and often people feel threatened about them.  Maybe today, in our often insecure and hard-hearted world, people need to be reassured that there truly is a God who loves them and is interested in them.  And they will only know this if they begin to see God in us, both individually and corporately.  If we do not show that love and kindness of Jesus in our lives then we will be just like everyone else, and so it will not matter a jot what we say, our actions will drown out our words.

Our kindness needs to come from deep within and be part of who we are.  Paul says that we should be kind and compassionate.  The word that Paul uses for compassionate is an unusual word that refers to our inner organs like the liver and kidney and spleen etc.  In other words our compassion should be a gut reaction to the suffering and hardship around, not something for our own self-satisfaction or something which comes from a sense of duty. 

Compassion is a word that was often used of Jesus.  Just before he sent out the twelve apostles he looked at the harassed and exhausted crowd and said “I have compassion.”(Matt 9:36)  Again the same is said when two blind men beseech him to be healed (Matt20:34).  Kindness and compassion were at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and according to Paul they should be a fundamental part of our lives.

With this in mind Paul writes practical advice to the Ephesians to guide them into Christian ways (or the paths of righteousness as the Old Testament writers might have said).  Put off falsehood, speak truthfully, do not let anger get the better of you, don’t steal, don’t swear,(4:25-29) get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of slander.(v31)

And why are there so many prohibitions?  The answer is given in verse 30, because when we do such things we grieve the Holy Spirit, ‘…with whom we are sealed for the day of redemption.’   Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, puts it like this “Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.’

When we become Christians by inviting Jesus into our lives, God the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts to help us become more like our Lord and Saviour.  It is a gradual process that will take a life time and more to effect.  But is a process that must be on-going.  It is all too easy to stall when the going gets tough, or to resign oneself to how things are, perhaps saying “I have always been an angry person, that’s just the way I am, maybe God made me that way.”  I am sorry that will not do.  God does not work like that.  If he tells us not to sin in our anger, then he means it and, by his Holy Spirit, he gives us the wherewithal to overcome this problem.

But please note, Paul does not say that we must not get angry.  There are times when it is right and proper to get angry, but we must learn to control our anger and channel it so that it is a force for good and not evil, again quoting from the Message, Peterson interprets this part of the Epistle by saying,  ‘Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.’

Many Christian lives have stalled because Satan has convinced believers that that is just the way that it is.  It is not, in Christ we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our failings, whatever they may be (and they come in many forms).  I wonder how often do you sit down in prayer and talk to God about ways in which you might grieve the Holy Spirit?  And how often do you ask God’s help to overcome these.  It is a good thing to identify negative attitudes and actions and then daily pray for God’s help in overcoming them.  This is certainly what I do, and little by little my life changes, but I have to acknowledge that I will never fully overcome them this side of glory.

Paul says that we are sealed in the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (v30).  The word Paul uses here is one that was used in his day for an official stamp or seal on a document or package, marking it out for a particular use or occasion. The mark indicates who it belongs to and what it is to be used for.  Being sealed by the Holy Spirit means we are set apart by God for his work on earth.  That is not always easy, we will be fighting against the spirit of the age, but one day, ‘on the day of redemption’, we shall be set free to truly live life as God intended all along (to be as God intended us to be).  Until then we are to set our hearts each day on seeking to do what is just and right and good and decent in the world, and being kind to those around us, because when we don’t it grieves God.

Some of you will know my son Freddie has just returned from a tour of the USA, when I asked him what made the biggest impression, amongst the obvious things like the Grand Canyon, and some NASCAR racing, he said it was the kindest shown to him and his mates, throughout their stay.  And when I was cycling from Lands End to John o’Groats, I wrote in my journal. ‘A little kindness goes a long way’.  Let us all try to be kind and compassionate, and see the difference it makes.

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