Question: "What does it mean to be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32)?"
Answer: In this day of entitlement, self-promotion, and impersonal, virtual relationships, many people have forgotten what it means to be kind to one another. To Christians, who are called to become like Jesus Christ, the Bible teaches, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32, ESV).
The apostle Paul told the Ephesians to put away six sinful attitudes and behaviors: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. Bitterness is an inward frame of mind that refuses to forgive. Wrath and anger are combined here to refer to violent outbreaks of uncontrolled human rage. Clamor speaks of shouting and loud quarreling. Slander means evil speaking, and the Greek word translated “malice” implies wickedness, which is at the root of all the other sins listed here. All these practices to be rejected center on our relationships with others.
In place of these things, believers are to put on kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness. These three virtues also deal with interpersonal relationships. In the original Greek, the phrase rendered “be kind to one another” literally means “keep on becoming kind toward one another.” The graciousness of God, which is also found in Jesus Christ, shows us what it means to be kind to one another. Because God acts kindly toward us, we are to behave the same way toward others. Because Christ offered grace as the basis for our forgiveness, so too should we.
Being kind to one another is not optional for the people of God (Micah 6:8; Zechariah 7:9; 1 Peter 3:8). In the very next verses, Paul instructed the Ephesians to “imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NLT). Walking in love means following the example of Jesus Christ.
Paul reiterated the teaching on kindness to the Colossians: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12–14). Paul mentioned several virtues that believers were to clothe themselves with or “put on”: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. Again, these all have to do with personal relationships.
Compassion and kindness are closely linked. Compassion can be defined as “heartfelt sympathy or empathy toward those who are suffering or in need.” Kindness is the helpful spirit that sees someone else in need and is motivated to respond through good deeds. Kindness is the tangible action that results from compassion. Kindness goes beyond mere words; it translates into helping and serving one another (Acts 28:2).
Kindness is one of the attributes of God (Titus 3:4), one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and one of the proofs of a faithful minister of the gospel (2 Corinthians 6:6). Being kind to one another is how we show love: “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4).
Being kind to one another involves caring for others, bearing their burdens, and valuing them above ourselves (Romans 12:10; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:3). Kindness motivates us to speak life and encouragement to others instead of death and discouragement (Proverbs 16:24; Ephesians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). Expressing support and affirmation instead of condemnation is characteristic of kindness (Proverbs 15:4).
Being kind to one another means finding a way to forgive rather than blame (Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:36; 10:37; James 2:13). Perhaps the most stunning example of this is found in God’s supreme act of kindness that provided for our forgiveness and salvation when He sent His Son to die for us on a cross: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4, NLT; see also Romans 11:22; Titus 3:4–7).