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As God’s people, we are exhorted to be gracious in all our dealings. In his epistle, the apostle Paul urged the Ephesian believers to speak words that “minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph 4: 29), to be “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph 4: 32). However, most of us do not find it easy to heed this Christian duty. This is due to our depraved nature (Jer 17: 9). Often, we are unkind in our dealings with others and are quick to judge them.

What can we do to overcome these sinful tendencies? How can we relate with others in a God-honouring way? How do we cultivate a gracious spirit? For the answer, let us look at Paul’s exhortations from his epistles. During his ministry in various churches, the apostle had to deal with schisms and divisions. In his epistles, he exhorted the believers to unity, love and peace.

o Dwell on God’s grace upon us

The Bible tells us of God’s saving grace upon lost sinners. Before our conversion, we were all “dead in trespasses and sin” (Eph 2: 1). Had not our gracious God quickened us (made us alive) we would still be mired in our sin and unbelief. We would be living carnally, doing our own will, and catering to our fleshly lusts. As “children of wrath”, we were heading towards a lost eternity (vv 2-3). But God loved us and drew us unto Himself by His grace: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” (vv 4-5).

Our salvation is the gracious gift of God so that none can boast of his own merits or good works: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (vv 8-9). Having freely received of God’s grace, let us freely extend grace to our fellowmen. Deal graciously with our friends and neighbours. Respond kindly to their failings instead of reacting negatively toward them.

o “Esteem other better” than ourselves

It is in our depraved nature to think ourselves better than others. With this in mind, Paul exhorted the Philippian Christians to relate humbly with their brethren: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philp 2: 3-4).

“There is no greater enemy to Christian love than pride and passion. If we do things in contradiction to our brethren, this is doing them through strife; if we do them through ostentation of ourselves, this is doing them through vain-glory … Christ came to slay all enmities; therefore let there not be among Christians a spirit of opposition” (Matthew Henry).

Pride and self-glory will result in strife and contention. Let us be modest in the estimate of our own graces and abilities. Think highly of others (v 3). Love our neighbour as ourselves (Matt 22: 39). Be mindful also of their comfort and happiness by being concerned for them (v 4).

o Be patient toward all men

In his letter to the Thessalonian Christians, the apostle Paul exhorted them to “warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak” (I Thess 5: 14a). Interestingly, Paul ended the verse with a call for them to “be patient toward all men”, because “there is no believer who needs not the exercise of patience toward him; there is none to whom a believer ought not to show it” (J F Brown Commentary).

The word “patient” means “longsuffering”. It denotes a slowness to anger; and endurance and forbearance as opposed to hasty and irritable reactions. Webster defines it as “a calm temper, which suffers evils without murmuring or discontent”. Patience is one of the qualities of love: “Charity suffereth long” (I Cor 13: 4).

Commentator Albert Barnes aptly remarked: “We must indulge the friend that we love in the little peculiarities of saying and doing things which may be important to him, but which may be of little moment to us. Like children, we must suffer each one to build his playhouse in his own way, and not quarrel with him because he does not think our way the best. … It is in such gentle and quiet virtues as meekness and forbearance that the happiness and usefulness of life consist, far more than in brilliant eloquence, in splendid talent, or illustrious deeds that shall send the name to future times.”

Brethren, are we “patient toward all men”? To be honest, most of us lack this virtue. We are easily stirred and agitated by the words and actions of others. Often, it takes the slightest offence to provoke us to anger. Rather than respond negatively, let us be patient with the little peculiarities of our brethren in the way they say or do things. Accept them for what they are. Remember that we too have our own weaknesses. So let us learn to bear and forbear.
(… to be continued)

- Pastor