“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 – Read the chapter)
Why be good? Why do something kind for another person who may not be able to return the favor? That’s a question that seems more relevant than ever in our increasingly polarized culture. More and more today people who are different from one another don’t actually know each other at all and are more likely to think of “the other” as the enemy rather than as a fellow human being who happens to believe differently about someone issue than we do. Little good is coming of that. But, if we are going to make any progress toward changing it, we’ve got to have an answer to this question: Why be good?
We could answer by saying something like being good to one another helps make society run more smoothly. But what if I think this other person shouldn’t have a place in society. Being kind and gracious toward them for the sake of society running more smoothly when I don’t want them in it in the first place doesn’t make any sense.
We could say simply that it’s the right thing to do. But, who’s to say what we’re doing already isn’t right? After all, for most of human history, tribalism has been the name of the game. And in a system of tribalism, advancing the good of your tribe is the highest good there is. But, if there are only so many resources to go around, doing something good for someone from another tribe is necessarily taking resources from your tribe and using them to advance another. In a system of tribalism, we can perhaps justify being good toward someone of our own tribe, but it is actually a net evil to do good for someone of another tribe.
Defining what is the right thing requires something external to ourselves, some objective standard, to which we can appeal to understand what “the right thing” is in the first place. As followers of Jesus, we have that external standard: Him.
But, as Christians, we often forget this is the case. Instead, we encourage being good on the basis of something else. We encourage, as Paul does here, people to get rid of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice, and instead be kind, tender hearted, and forgiving, but the source we often cite is the Bible.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Scriptures contain all the words of God for us to understand who He is and what life with Him looks like. But the truth is, we need a better foundation than that. As a matter of fact, we have a better foundation than that. We’ll talk more about that next time.