Pastor Paul Naumann • Tacoma, Washington
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” (Ephesians 4:32).
Years ago, as a young man stood on the threshold of matrimony, an older Christian friend gave him a piece of advice. “Do you want to know the secret to avoiding marital trouble?” he asked.
The young man couldn’t imagine any trouble ever arising between him and his beloved, but he listened respectfully. “If you can be kind, exactly when you want to be unkind, you will solve most of your problems before they begin. Believe me,” the older man went on, “there will be times when you are unjustly criticized, accused of things you didn’t do and castigated unfairly for words you never said or thoughts that never crossed your mind. You may at times hear bitter and wounding words, and you will be tempted to reply with words equally bitter and wounding. If at that moment you can instead speak kindly, if at the very moment when you are most tempted to say words of bitterness, you can instead find it within yourself to say words of tenderness and love, you will avoid a world of sorrow and win the heart of your beloved.”
The wedding day came and went. The passage of time brought the couple lean years and fat, laughter and tears, joy and heartache. They forged a life together and raised a Christian family. The young man turned into an old man, but he never forgot his friend’s advice. He wasn’t always able to follow it—sinful pride saw to that—but when he did, it worked wonderfully. Disagreements were defused, conflict became concord, and brief bitterness was replaced by tender love as sunshine follows rain.
It may seem like a trick, a tip from a modern counseling manual, but it’s not. In fact, as a formula for a successful marriage it’s as old as the Proverbs of King Solomon, who said, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). It’s as old as the letter to the Ephesians, in which St. Paul admonishes, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
“…Just as God in Christ forgave you.” Therein, of course, lies the key to the whole endeavor. Our Heavenly Father was merciful and forgiving toward us, but not because we deserved mercy and forgiveness. Rather the opposite! When we were lost in rebellion and sinfulness, He gave His Son to redeem us. When what we truly deserved from Him were bitter words of judgment and condemnation, for Jesus’ sake we heard instead the tender and welcoming words of another famous father: “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:22-24).
God has forgiven us in Christ. Christ, “…who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23). And for those of us who have been brought by God into the blessed estate of holy matrimony, it is God, in Christ, who will strengthen us and make us equal to those challenging moments and provide us with “the soft answer that turns away wrath.”
To this help us, dear Father in heaven!