Comparing lists given in the Bible can jumpstart personal meditation.
It’s a great exercise.
Take for example the two seemingly simple lists given in Ephesians 4:31-32.
On the one hand there is the “bad list” of things that should be put away from us:
On the other hand in the same place there is the list of characteristics that more and more should define us:
These are the terms used in the English Standard Version translation. The first thing that stands out to me is that one list is significantly shorter than the other. The list of good things is much shorter. Maybe that is because the three things mentioned are so difficult. Or maybe it’s a shorter list because the three things mentioned are quite simply all you need to grow as a person.
Kindness is the opposite of bitterness. The words in the original language are used as opposites of each other. So think of bitter food. What does it do to the inside of your mouth? What kind of food would do the opposite? What kind of attitude or actions would cause someone to make a face like they were eating bitter food? What attitudes and actions would cause the opposite effect in someone?
Christ was shown bitterness by the those who should have shown him the opposite. He came to earth knowing that he would receive that bitterness until ultimately he would take the bitterness of the world on himself so that he could offer us the opposite.
Before I go to bed at night I usually have a spoonful of Nutella, a hazelnut dessert spread. It is smooth and creamy and it causes me to grin as I go my room and put on my pajamas. That is the opposite of what a spoonful of bitter dirt would do.
It is as if Jesus Christ took a mouthful of dirt in his death yet offers us spoon after spoon of Nutella in our life. How then can I offer something like Nutella to others in the same way that I have received it?
The word for tenderheartedness translated too literally means to have “good guts”. The guts, or spleen, were thought of as the seat of the passions. How can I have “good guts” toward someone?
Here again looking at the other list helps. Christ was shown wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. An evil passion and rage was unleashed on him as his lying enemies cried out against him and slandered him and his reputation before condemning him to die. We know it is wrong to show this kind of behavior to anyone, yet we have passionately hated others either out loud or in our hearts.
But Christ took our wrath on himself that he might have “good guts” toward us. The story of Jesus healing the leper uses almost the same word. Jesus is filled with “good guts” or that his guts are torn apart for this leper in his suffering. That is the depth of his compassion.
How then can I have compassion on others in the same way that I have received it?
Finally, malice or evil is pitted against forgiveness. But the word for forgiveness here is a derivative of grace or graciousness. By now you can see the pattern. Jesus took the depth of evil and malice on himself, but in his resurrection he gives us more grace.
The one who has a right to condemn us because he was unjustly judged instead freely chooses to forgive us.
Often my heart is like cold metal. It can’t be bent or shaped before it is warmed, heated to a red glow. What can bring the heat that will make my heart so that it can be shaped?
Taking a list like this and beginning with the mental exercise of comparing and contrasting the words brings warmth, then heat, then a red hot glow – not merely to my head, but to my heart.
Then I experience in a fresh way that kindness, compassion, and grace are not cliches. They are words that have been applied to me by the Holy Spirit, and I want to apply them to others. How about you?