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(Part 6)

February 2023 GPS

 This month we continue to study what the Bible says about how we are to treat one another as believers. We will do so by looking at two more general, less specific instructions about the way we are to do this. In a sense these instructions describe the overall goal for which we are to exercise the more specific commands like the call to bear with one another.  For example, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote:  “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15, ESV)  

The context of this verse sheds a bit of light on its use in this passage:  “Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:13b–22, ESV) Notice that this admonition is located in the middle of a number of very brief general admonitions which are to guide our behavior as part of the family of God. Furthermore, this set of instructions comes at the end of this epistle. It is as though, having dealt with the primary topics that were the reason Paul wrote this epistle, he felt the need to quickly include a number of miscellaneous but important instructions for the Thessalonian believers whom he loved. It is what we might do when we come to the end of a letter to a loved one that we had written to address one or two important issues. We are about to conclude our letter with the normal end greetings but then remember a few matters that are too important to remain unsaid so we jot them down in brief at the end. That is what Paul is doing in these verses. All of his instructions are important but apparently he is not able to spend more time explaining each one of the responsibilities which he mentions. Still, they are too crucial to be omitted entirely, so he gives them in brief form.  

The content of the verse is especially relevant for us because it is counter intuitive to the natural man. It talks about how we, as believers in Jesus, are to respond when evil is done to us. In that situation, the natural reaction is to get even, to return evil for evil. As believers, however, we are to do what is good for the person who has wronged us. It is insightful to notice the personnel and frequency included in the instruction in this verse: “no one,” “anyone,” “always,” and “everyone.” In other words, there is never a person or situation in which we are not called to do good things, even when we are wronged. This all-inclusive terminology is repeated in the other admonitions in that paragraph. Our whole lives as Christians are to be characterized as those who do good things. I think it is interesting that a pejorative description that is sometimes used to describe certain people today is that they are “do gooders.” In today’s usage it is not meant as a compliment! Still, this is how we are to live.  

A nearly synonymous instruction to returning good for evil is found in a verse which we considered last month in another connection. That instruction is: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV) The act of being “kind” in that verse seems to be very closely related to being “tenderhearted” and willing to forgive those who have mistreated us. That is one way we can return good for evil. God, Himself, is the model we are to follow in being kind to those who have been unkind to us as He forgives those who have sinned against Him. That understanding of the word may be may be seen in two other passages. On one occasion Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” (Luke 6:35, ESV) Notice the sorts of people to whom God is said to be kind: the ungrateful and the evil. In Romans, Paul reflects on this same attribute of God when he warns unbelievers to repent and not to assume that the kindness of God will continue indefinitely.  “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV) God’s kindness in this passage is directed to those who have done wrong in His sight. His judgment will come in time if there is no repentance, but His forbearance and patience are manifested in the fact that He does not execute judgment quickly but rather waits, giving time to repent. 

God calls us to do good and to be kind to one another. We are to behave this way at all times. It is true that in the verses we have looked at in this installment the applications were specifically addressed to situations in which we have been mistreated. I believe the reason for that is that those kinds of instances provide us with the greatest challenges to be kind and to do good. If we do good and kind deeds in those situations, we are certainly to behave the same way in less challenging circumstances. Do others see the character of our heavenly Father in the deeds of goodness and kindness we perform?