In light of how kind God has been to you, how can it be that you are still so harsh with those around you? I know people don’t deserve your niceness all of the time, but shouldn’t we treat other people the way we want to be treated? Or even better, shouldn’t we treat others in the gracious ways that God deals with us?
The most helpful medicine for your harsh mouth is God’s grace. Thinking about God’s grace to us demonstrated on the cross will change the color of your heart like Kool-Aid changes the color of your tongue. Let’s think about God’s grace for a few minutes and then apply what we learn to our hearts.
If you are honest and observant you should be able to come up with a list of sins you have committed in your mind, with your mouth, or in your activities even this very week that ought to earn a full measure of God’s righteous wrath.
Now consider the reasons why God has not acted in justice toward you. The only reason that he did not punish you is that he crushed his Son on the cross for the exact sins that you as a Christian committed this very week.
In addition to the fact that God did not blast you into the lake of fire, God actually responded even more graciously toward you than just that. Instead of wrath you have received blessings. Reflection upon your offenses against such a God and his mercies to them in Christ Jesus will produce powerful waves of thankfulness to God again and again for his repeated abundant grace.
The parable of the Prodigal Son wonderfully conveys God’s gracious heart towards his children. Luke 15:1 discloses that the story was one of three told to religious leaders who were grumbling because Jesus was being so kind to known sinners. The parable is designed to show God’s kind affection for such people.
The younger son takes his inheritance and wastes it on scandalous living. When the famine strikes, the son becomes impoverished and begins to starve. He is brought low enough to feed unclean pigs and even crave their feed. He was brought low enough to return home to his father. The father, representing God, would have had every right to vent his wrath on his foolish son.
Instead the father runs to the son, wraps him with a robe, puts shoes on his callused feet, and a ring of honor on his dirty finger; beyond all of that, he also prepares a feast for him. Christians should consider the similarities with God’s kind dealings with themselves.
The subtitle to Christian mediator Ken Sande’s outstanding book The Peacemaker is A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004). The conflicts considered in this work range from simple sins of speech to the heart conditions that lead to huge conflicts between individuals and blow up churches. In seeking to resolve conflicts, Sande wisely notes the vital place of graciousness, which he says originates from a continual recognition of the grace received from God.
Sande says, “Peacemakers are people who breathe grace to others in the midst of conflict. Since we cannot breathe out what we have not breathed in, this process hinges on our moment-to-moment relationship with God. We must continually ‘breathe in’ God’s grace by studying and meditating on his Word, praying to him, thanking him for his mercy and rejoicing in our salvation, worshipping him, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and enjoying the fellowship of other believers. As we are filled with his grace, we can then breathe it out to others by confessing our wrongs, bringing them hope through the gospel, lovingly showing others their faults, forgiving them as God has forgiven us, and manifesting in our words and actions the fruit of the Holy Spirit…. When even one person in a conflict is faithfully breathing out this kind of grace, others will often receive God’s grace through us. As they do, they are less likely to be defensive and more inclined to listen to our concerns” (Sande, 170).
Jesus illustrated the importance of being gracious out of the overflow of grace personally received. Matthew provides the occasion of the account, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven’” (Matt 18:21, 22). Then Jesus tells the story of the unforgiving servant. The king mercifully forgives the debt of the servant owing him a huge amount of money, but then that same servant throws a fellow servant into debtor’s prison until he can repay the first servant a much less amount. Everything is fine until the king finds out what happened.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. Matthew 18:32-35
Notice a few observations. The forgiven servant had a legitimate issue with the man who owed him money. It wasn’t just an imaginary issue. The amount Jesus said that was owed was a hundred denarii. Certainly it was far less than the first servant had owned the master, but a denarius was one day’s wage—so the total amount was wages from 100 days of work. Our Lord Jesus, however, clearly expects his followers to treat other people out of the overflow of super-abundant grace that they have received from him. The forgiven servant should have been gracious and forgiven the man who owed him the money.
As Christians contemplate the cross of Christ, they should be overwhelmed with the oceans of grace they have received from the Lord. Even when others commit pools or even lakes full of sins against them, they should still be gracious to them because of those oceans of grace they have received. Be kind to them, Jesus would say, not because they deserve it, but because I have been so kind to you.
Because of the significance of appreciating God’s gospel grace in the cultivation of graciousness, you should continually seek after fresh ways to grow in understanding the depth and breadth and height and width of the love of God for sinners. Reading books, listening to sermons, and memorizing specific verses that can all lead to a more profound appreciation and personalization of the grace of God towards the individual, which will in turn result in a greater ability to breathe out God’s grace towards others.